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Life Goes On - Part Six

UNITUNITUNIT

Part Six

UNITUNITUNIT


"I don't mean to rush you, Miss Shaw, but we are running out of time."

The Brigadier had turned up, in a highly agitated mood – just what was needed.

Liz bit back the sharp retort that was on the tip of her tongue and asked instead how the hunt for the Tyrsians was coming along. "My work here would go a lot faster if their technician were able to help."

Not that he was likely to be willing, of course.

"No sightings yet," the Brigadier said with a frown. "But that scanner of Dr Martin's really is quite remarkable – or so I'm told. We'll be notified as soon as anything shows up."

She rested her elbows on the console and massaged her temples, trying to think. Fatigue was setting in with a vengeance once more, despite the vast quantities of bitter-tasting UNIT issue caffeine she'd consumed over the course of the day. She couldn't afford to rest, though. There was no one to pick up the slack if she took a break – and as the Brigadier had so kindly reminded her, they were running out of time.

"They've probably gone to ground already," she suggested. The Tyrsians would want to decide their next move, and what that might be was anyone's guess. They had nothing left to lose, after all.

"Yes, and the Atarons are growing impatient – we won't be able to delay telling them we've found their machine for much longer."

"Yes, I'm quite aware of that, thank you," she snapped. She'd been acutely conscious of the rapidly approaching deadline all day, without the Brigadier turning up to rub her nose in it.

"Well then, what's taking so long?"

Technology that this world had never seen before, with only a few scant hours to master it and no one to help, on next to no sleep, after being shot and abducted by aliens…and he had the gall to wonder what was taking so long? Liz glared at him in disbelief.

"It's not like putting a car into reverse, Brigadier. This is alien technology, highly advanced. Would you like me to describe some of the principles involved, such as temporal coordinates and relative velocities, subjectivity and dimensional space-time?"

"I'd rather you didn't, if it's all the same."

"I thought you said the device was still locked onto the spot where it dropped them?" Benton interjected, looking confused.

Liz sighed. "It is, but only in a manner of speaking. There are a lot of variables in motion, including Harry and Sarah themselves."

"What does that mean?"

It wasn't easy to explain a concept that she didn't fully understand herself – especially to military minds.

"Imagine you've dropped a pin onto a moving conveyor belt. If you reach out to pick it up again even a second or two later, it will no longer be in the same place that it landed, because the conveyor belt is moving and the pin is moving with it. You have to look around first to see where it is now before you can retrieve it." It was far from an exact analogy, but it was the best she could come up with on the spur of the moment. "Now, this device is…" How best to describe it? "It's still pointing at the general coordinates where Harry and Sarah landed, it knows where it set them down, and it has a record of their biometric pattern, but it lost sight of them, so to speak, the moment the portal closed. Meanwhile, their timeline is moving, constantly, just as time is passing for us, which means they aren't at those exact coordinates any more, either spatially or temporally, so it has to locate them again and re-synchronise in order to pull them back."

She paused to regard the two soldiers closely, to see if they were keeping up. Judging by their puzzled expressions, they weren't. She sighed again.

"Look, all you really need to understand is that the device can't simply pull them back from the exact moment they landed, that's not how it works. It isn't that precise." Not for an inexperienced operator, at any rate, although she'd be prepared to bet that its Ataron creator could pull it off with ease. "I'm hopeful," now, anyway – it had been a different story only a few hours ago, "that I'll be able to fine tune it to within a matter of hours of their landing, but it's just as likely to be days, from their subjective point of view – possibly even weeks, although I really hope not to keep them waiting that long. It all depends on when – and that's when from their point of view – the device manages to latch onto their biometric signal."

The Brigadier looked as if he'd been sucking on a lemon. "I see."

"There's also the geographical variation to compensate for," Liz added.

"Geographical?"

"Well, given that time is passing for them, we can hardly expect them to simply stand still, can we?" she pointed out. "Granted, the journey through the portal causes a certain degree of neurological trauma, which would knock them out for some time, but as they recover they'll need to find food and shelter – they'll be moving about. I sincerely hope they'll stay together and not split up, but nonetheless that's another variable that I have to allow for, while calibrating an unfamiliar alien device to locate them in both time and space, across a divide of hundreds of years – rather like trying to retrieve that pin from the moving conveyor belt using a magnet tied to a long stick, in effect. It can be done, but it's clumsy and inefficient, especially if you've never attempted the manoeuvre before. And we need to get it right first time, we can't afford any mistakes. So I'm sorry if I'm not working fast enough for you, Brigadier, but I'm afraid it simply can't be helped!"

He pursed his lips, expression rueful. "Rather like searching for a needle in a haystack, in fact."

Well, if they were going to switch analogies, "I'd say more like panning for gold, Brigadier – in the ocean."

He was clearly prepared to go to the wire on this, though. It had occurred to Liz several times during her long, frustrating hours of study that the simplest way of pacifying the increasingly impatient Atarons would be to admit that the device had been found and hand it over to them, before they started to get trigger-happy. The Brigadier wasn't prepared to do that, though, not while his people were missing with that machine the only means of retrieving them and not while they still had a bit of room to negotiate, with the deadline not yet elapsed – he was delaying because he trusted her to be able to use that time to master the alien technology and work a minor miracle. The time was fast approaching, however, when he was going to have to make a choice: delay further in hopes of eventually retrieving his lost people or surrender the device to the Atarons before they began to exact retribution upon the Earth for its theft. She could only hope she would be able to prevent him having to make that choice.

Benton was looking curious. "How many hundreds of years?" he wondered. "I mean, can you tell, from that machine – does it tell you where they are? Or…when they are?"

Good question. Liz turned back to the Brigadier. "That's actually something I wanted to talk to you about, Brigadier. I've been running some calculations, based on my interpretation of these read-outs. It's hard to be exact, but I've triple-checked the figures and I'd say they landed sometime in the mid 1830s."

He looked startled. "The 1830s? That's where that chap Craddock came from."

She nodded. "Yes, exactly. As I understand it, he was pulled through from the same approximate spatial-temporal coordinates as Brask – that's the Tyrsian who tested the device – and those coordinates were never altered, afterward, so when the portal re-opened, it came out in that same place."

The Brigadier regarded her evenly for a moment. "Miss Shaw, are you trying to tell me that Lieutenant Sullivan and Miss Smith have landed in the same place that Craddock came from?"

"Approximately," said Liz, "Yes. There'll be some variation, of course – a difference of a few days or weeks, perhaps, temporally speaking, maybe a few miles here or there. But it might be a good idea to bring Mr Craddock here, so that when I pull Harry and Sarah back through," and she was sticking firmly to that when, not if, "He can go through in the other direction. It's the best chance he has of getting back where he belongs, or at least somewhere near to where he belongs." She hesitated before reluctantly adding, "But I'm afraid there's nothing I can do for the other people who were lost. I've interrogated the machine's data banks every way I know how, but I can't find any record of their biometric pattern to search for, or the coordinates they were sent to."

Six people were known to have been displaced in time, all told. After hours of frantic study, she now felt that she had at least a halfway decent chance of getting three out of the six back where they were supposed to be, and fifty percent was a lot better than nothing…but nonetheless her inability to do anything for the other three tasted bitter. Whoever they were, and all she knew of them were the names she'd seen in the reports, they had deserved better.

"I've got some final calculations to run," she concluded, "And I want to check the calibration again, but I will be ready to test the device soon."

The Brigadier nodded, and his expression was surprisingly gentle. "I'll arrange to have Mr Craddock brought here at once."


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Sarah and Harry retired for the night almost immediately after supper, in the end. The house was dark and gloomy, lit only by candlelight once the sun had gone down, and Sarah felt almost ridiculously exhausted, given how much of the day she must have spent unconscious in the woods, with a dull headache that hadn't faded from the moment she woke up, while Harry never had lost that pinched look around the eyes. He'd had a rough day even before getting sucked through that time portal.

A good night's sleep in a proper bed worked wonders, though. After tossing and turning for a while, worrying about what the future might hold and convinced she would never manage to drop off, Sarah was surprised to wake up and find it was morning all of a sudden.

There was a washbasin in a corner of the room, while the clothes that Miss Sutton had shown her last night were hanging on the front of the closet ready for her. She quickly freshened up and then found her way into the unfamiliar and unwieldy garments before making her way downstairs, feeling very self-conscious.

Miss Sutton met her halfway. "Oh, good morning, Miss Smith, are you well? I trust you found the room comfortable, it is where my niece always sleeps when she visits, such a lovely girl. That dress was hers, you know, but she has quite outgrown it now, she is become so very tall. You look very well in it, I must say. And you are quite rested, are you? Oh, I am pleased. I shall go and tell Jane to have breakfast ready, now that you have risen. You will find your brother in the parlour."

She was away again. Sarah closed her mouth, her greeting and thanks for the hospitality unspoken, impossible as it was to get a word in edgeways, and headed off in search of Harry.

He was in the parlour, looking a little awkward in the clothes Miss Sutton had found for him, although not half as uncomfortable as Sarah felt in her borrowed frock, which had layer after layer of stiffly starched petticoat beneath an enormous hooped skirt, topped off with puffed sleeves and a lace collar. It was beautiful, but not exactly practical – the sort of thing you'd admire in a museum and then be glad you didn't have to wear, day after day…unless of course you happened to find yourself stranded in 1834.

Still, if nothing else, the sight of her in it produced the first proper smile she'd seen on Harry's face since they got here.

"Don't say a word," she warned. "I feel like I'm wearing a hot air balloon!"

The smile grew broader and ever so slightly mischievous, but, "You look lovely," was all he said, judiciously enough.

"Thank you." Sarah smiled back at him. "And you look almost as if you belong here. Anyone would think that suit had been made for you – you've definitely got the sideburns for it."

It was meant as a joke, albeit a weak one – and a compliment, since the outfit really was a perfect fit, much better than her dress, he could definitely pass as a local – but Harry's smile faded at once. "Neither of us belongs here, Sarah."

"No, I know that." She wasn't likely to forget any time soon. A heavy sigh escaped. "You know, dressing up like this would be a lot more fun if we could be sure it was only temporary."

The not knowing was the worst part of it. If she knew for sure that this was only temporary, she would be enjoying the experience, walking through history, as it were – with no alien invasion to have to worry about, moreover, at least not in this time zone. Whatever might be going on back home still, there was nothing they could do about it from here. Conversely, if she knew that this definitely was permanent, she would be unhappy about it, certainly, but at least she could then set her mind to forming a proper plan of action. But doing so under these circumstances would feel like an admission of defeat, and so instead she was stuck in limbo. They were stuck in limbo.

"I just wish we knew, one way or the other," she sighed. "What exactly did Liz tell you about the device, again?"

Harry wrinkled his nose. "Not a lot that made a great deal of sense to me – I'm not exactly a quantum physicist, you know. She said something about vectors and calibration, locking onto a signal."

"A signal?" Sarah seized upon that detail at once. "So should we be sending a signal? What kind? And…how?"

He shook his head helplessly. "Afraid I really don't know, old girl."

In the wake of that tiny spark of hope, glumness came crashing down once again, heavier and harder than ever. "We don't have anything to signal with, anyway. Oh, I hate this. I hate not being able to do anything."

Harry muttered something non-committal, his determined optimism of yesterday apparently evaporated overnight.

"Oh, come on, buck up." Sarah gave him a little shoulder nudge by way of reassurance. They couldn't afford to both lose heart at the same time, after all. "You were the one telling me how certain you were Liz would get that portal re-opened for us, and…" A sudden notion occurred. "Harry, I've just thought of something –"

"Breakfast is ready, Dr Smith, Miss Smith, if you'd care to come through." Miss Sutton came bustling into the room, cutting across what she'd been about to say.

Portals, aliens and time travel weren't really something that could be discussed openly in front of the uninitiated. Anxious to share the idea she'd just had sooner rather than later, Sarah couldn't bring herself to do more than pick at her breakfast, fidgeting impatiently as she waited for an opportunity to talk to Harry alone again, too distracted by her thoughts to even attempt to follow the conversation as Miss Sutton chattered merrily away. Harry seemed to be keeping up, though, maintaining the good impression he'd already made – it seemed those old-fashioned manners of his were good for something, after all.

They didn't get a chance to talk alone after breakfast, either. Word had got out that there was a doctor staying at the vicarage, and quite a number of people found excuses to drop in, all very friendly and welcoming. Most of them were just looking to keep up to speed with the gossip, visitors being such a rarity in the village, but one or two took the opportunity to mention this or that minor ailment that they wondered if the doctor might be willing to take a look at, during his stay…

Harry looked heavy-eyed still, that furrow seeming to have taken up permanent residence in his brow – a good night's sleep evidently hadn't revived him as much as it had Sarah – but whatever else he might be, he was a doctor right down to the core of his being. It simply wasn't in him to turn away a patient in need of consultation, even in an unfamiliar time zone without any tools of the trade to hand.

Sarah waited. The village had no doctor of its own, it seemed, the nearest lived eight miles away, which was a substantial journey by the standards of rural 1834, so she tried not to resent the imposition on their time. It was only fair that they give a little back, after receiving such generosity. Besides, she had said that they needed to make a good impression. If Liz couldn't get them back, if they really were stuck here for good, the friendships and goodwill forged today by Harry's willingness to doctor these strangers could prove invaluable.

But.

But she really needed to talk to him, away from all these people, sooner rather than later.

But sitting idly by doing nothing while he worked was anathema to her. If this was what their future was likely to be like, she might just go mad.

But she wanted to go home and needed, desperately needed, to feel that she was doing something, anything, that might help achieve it. Even though there was nothing she could do.

She smiled and made polite conversation with each visitor, fiercely repressing the urge to scream her frustration, and seized upon the first opportunity to escape that arose. "Miss Sutton, it's been a real pleasure to meet so many of your neighbours this morning, but my brother and I really do need to attend to our business now – there's so much to do if we're going to put our affairs in order, you see."

"Of course, of course, I quite understand."

Five minutes later, they were on the doorstep, saying goodbye to their hostess, thanking her for her hospitality and agreeing that they were glad it wasn't raining again today. Five minutes later again, they were still there, waiting for the kindly little woman to stop talking so they could thank her and take their leave.

"You're a real Good Samaritan, Miss Sutton," Sarah gratefully told the other woman as soon as she could get a word in edgeways. "Thank you so much for everything you've done for us, I don't know what we'd have done if you hadn't been kind enough to take us in – I'll never forget it."

That set her off again and it was another good few minutes before they finally managed to get away.

"All right, Sarah," said Harry as soon as they were out of earshot. "What is it?"

"I think we need to go back to the woods," she told him with no further preamble.

"Why?"

"Because…" It sounded ridiculous now that she came to say it out loud. "Because that's where the portal opened, before, when we landed here. And if it re-opens in the same place and we aren't there…"

Harry frowned. "I'm not sure it works like that, Sarah."

"Well, how does it work, then?"

He sucked in a breath through his teeth and looked pensive. "I don't know."

"I know it sounds silly," she admitted. "I know the portals can move around – Tom Craddock was taken from his neighbour's garden, right here in the village. But ours was in the woods and I just…I need to do something. Even if it is crazy. I know we can't just sit there and wait indefinitely, just in case it happens to open up again one day, but if we go back and check, just in case…"

Harry was quiet for a moment. "All right, then," he said at last. "If that's what you want to do, that's what we'll do."

She was fairly certain that he was mostly agreeing just to humour her, and because he didn't have any better ideas, but at least they were doing something semi-constructive at last, however pointless it might turn out to be.

"I have to say, though," Harry added as they walked past the well and out of the village once more, "I don't like our chances of finding the exact spot…"


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Liz checked her figures one last time and made another minute adjustment to one of the more delicate controls on the alien device. It had to be exactly right and fatigue was hanging over her like a fog now, after hours of intense concentration and next to no sleep, running on little more than caffeine and stress. It would be so easy to make a mistake at this stage, ruining everything. She checked the figures again and then looked around.

Tom Craddock, the time-stranded man from 1834, was looking wide-eyed and anxious as he sat against the far wall, having a soothing cup of tea with Ruth Bellamy, the sergeant acting up as MO in Harry's absence. Over in the exterior doorway, meanwhile, the Brigadier was locked in some urgent discussion or other via the field telephone. Benton was close at hand, however, yawning as he struggled to stay awake, so it was to him that she addressed her next remark. "We're almost ready to begin now, Mr Benton, if you'd like to warn Sergeant Bellamy to get Mr Craddock ready and to be on standby to receive new patients."

He frowned. "You mean you think they'll be out cold when they come through, like that chap was?"

"Well, I've refined the calibration to the best of my ability," Liz told him, "Which I hope should minimise the damaging effect of transit through the portal, but unfortunately there's very limited data available to base those calculations on."

He didn't appear to be much the wiser. "Limited data?"

"Two previous journeys through the portal: one human and one Tyrsian – Mr Craddock and Brask. Those are the only case studies available to me," she explained. Scientifically speaking, it simply wasn't possible to draw any definitive conclusions from such a small and unrepresentative sample, but she'd been forced to hypothesise as best she could, in the circumstances. "Brask remained comatose a lot longer than Mr Craddock, and while the cumulative impact of two such journeys in rapid succession must be taken into account, Tyrsians also have a much denser molecular structure than humans, which…"

The blank expression on Benton's face told her she'd lost her audience. This was another aspect of working for UNIT that she hadn't missed after her return to Cambridge: the need to find a way to explain complex scientific principles to military minds.

"Look, what I'm trying to say is that I've done everything I can to minimise the neurological trauma caused by transit through the portal, based on my limited understanding of how the machine works, but can't eradicate it altogether, not in the time available and not without a lot more test data to study. So –"

"Mr Benton!" Interrupting her mid-sentence, the Brigadier was charging across the factory floor toward them, waving the handset of the field telephone and looking highly agitated.

Benton snapped to attention. "Sir?"

"Word from Control – they've got a read on those creatures –"

"The Tyrsians?" Liz clarified.

"Yes, they're on the move – and they're heading this way, fast."

There was nothing quite like a jolt of adrenaline to get the synapses flowing freely again, no matter how tired you were. "Are they sure?" she demanded, mind racing as she calculated possible implications.

"As sure as they can be," he confirmed, "Given the technology we're dealing with."

"Why would they come back here?" wondered Benton.

"Because we've taken both their ship and the time travel device," Liz pointed out. "They've got nothing left to lose and no way off the planet. So they're trying one last desperate push to reclaim them, at a guess."

"Or die in the attempt, perhaps," the Brigadier grimly suggested.

"Can we hold them off?"

Benton looked anxious. "Not easily. Well, you were here during the battle we had last time, Miss. You saw what it was like. This time we'll be the ones with our backs to the wall, defending the location – and they've got that shroud thing to protect them. Our bullets bounced right off it when they scarpered before."

Liz looked at the time travel device, thinking fast. They were so close…

"Maybe," she slowly suggested, "What we need is a shroud of our own."

"I beg your pardon?" said the Brigadier.

"That ship out there," she explained, "Also has a shroud device, one that can be extended to surround this whole site. I sabotaged one of the receptors last night to turn it off, but if we can get it up and running again…well, it wouldn't be a long-term solution, but it might buy us a little time."

The Brigadier nodded. "Do it."


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"Ow." Sarah wrenched her hem free of yet another bramble that had been lying in wait to ensnare the unwary. These 1830s dresses really hadn't been designed with cross-country hikes in mind.

"The thing that's worrying me," Harry was saying, sounding very pensive, "Is that we don't know what's happening back there."

She played dumb. "You mean in the village?"

"At UNIT. They were in the middle of a battle when we…left."

Sarah sighed. "I've been trying not to think about that," she admitted. "There's nothing we can do about it from here."

"Well, no. But the outcome for us rather depends on the outcome for them," Harry pointed out.

It was true. Anything could have happened back there, after they got pulled through that portal. The time travel device could have been damaged. UNIT could have lost the battle. All their friends could be dead and the world taken over by aliens. Anything. That was why she'd been trying not to think about it.

"So what are you saying? That now you don't think they'll manage to get us back? Are you giving up already, Harry?"

"No, not at all," he countered. "But…I'm saying there could be reasons why they might not. And we should be prepared for that."

Sarah trudged along silently for a moment, wrestling with herself. "Perhaps," she reluctantly said, "We should decide how long we're going to give it. How long do we wait before we give up, settle down and get on with our lives as Victorians? Or…no, wait, Victoria isn't on the throne yet, is she? That's how early this is." Now she really was depressed.

Despite having raised the subject, Harry didn't seem to know what to say. Sarah, on the other hand, found she couldn't stop, now that she'd started.

"Well, you'll be all right," she gloomily hypothesized. "You can stay right here – you've got half the village eating out of your hand already. You just need to send out a few invoices for the work you've already done and bingo, you've got your very own country practice."

"I think there'd be a bit more to it than that," Harry mildly objected.

"I just don't know what there'd be for me to do," she disconsolately admitted, kicking at a stone that lay across the path, slightly hampered by her many layers of skirt. "Maybe someone would take me on as a maid."

Except that she was fairly certain she would make a horrible maid. Subservience did not come naturally to her, and neither did housework.

"Well, now you're just being silly."

"No, I'm serious. It's 1834 and that village hasn't even been touched by the industrial revolution yet – jobs for women aren't exactly going to be growing on trees. And don't even think of saying that I won't need to work because you'll look after me," she quickly added.

Harry lifted an eyebrow. "Wouldn't dream of it, old thing."

"I've always paid my own way," she stubbornly insisted. Then another thought occurred. "Maybe we should head for the city – there'd be more opportunities there. Or…" she hesitated, uncertain. "I could go on my own, if you'd prefer to stay here…"

"So you'd abandon me to Miss Sutton and her friends, would you?" There was just a hint of a smile playing at the corners of Harry's lips now. "We've already agreed that we'll stick together, Sarah."

They had agreed that, yes, but she felt better for hearing him reaffirm it. If she had to be stranded in the past for the rest of her life, at least she wasn't alone.

"Hey, I won't hear a word against Miss Sutton," she said. "I don't know what we'd have done without her last night."

"No, nor do I," Harry admitted.

They walked on for a while in companiable silence, dodging puddles leftover from yesterday's rain.

"I suppose your Helen will be upset if you don't make it back, though," Sarah remarked after a while – expecting slightly more of a reaction than the exasperated eye roll he shot in her direction.

"I've been out with the girl twice, Sarah. I imagine she'll get over it."

She was so surprised that he'd actually responded openly and evenly to teasing about his personal life, instead of getting flustered and tongue-tied as usual, that she didn't know what to say next. "I don't suppose anyone will miss me at all," she said before she could stop herself.

"Well, now you really are being silly," Harry began in his most reassuring tone.

"No, I mean it," she told him. "And that isn't self-pity, it's just…I've been coming and going for so long now, most of my friends have barely even realised I'm back, so I can hardly expect them to notice I've gone again, can I?"

"No one is going to miss either of us, Sarah," Harry firmly replied. "We won't be away long enough to be missed."

And just like that, his determined optimism of yesterday was back. She only wished she could share it. "Do you think if you say that often enough you can make it come true?" she grumbled, and immediately felt guilty. "Oh, I'm sorry. Here you are trying to be positive and I'm just being a wet blanket. I don't know what's wrong with me. Well, aside from the obvious."

Harry glanced sideways at her as he walked, then turned his eyes back to the path ahead, ducked a low-hanging branch, and asked, "Is anything the matter, old girl?" just a shade too nonchalantly for the question to be as casual as he no doubt intended it to appear.

"You mean apart from being stuck almost a hundred and fifty years in the past?"

"Yes," he said, "I do mean apart from being stuck almost a hundred and fifty years in the past. You've not seemed quite yourself since you got home, you know."

Well yes, she did know. She'd been feeling fidgety and loose-endish, unable to settle to anything, ever since finding her way back to London after the Doctor dropped her off in Aberdeen. That malaise must be more obvious than she'd realised, though, if Harry of all people felt moved to ask her about it.

"I don't know what you mean," she evaded…but the thing about facing monsters like Cybermen, Daleks and Sontarans alongside someone was that as a result of the shared adversity you got to know each other extremely well, which made it a lot harder to get away with that kind of defensive fibbing.

"Yes, you do," said Harry. "Sarah, you've been hanging around UNIT like a bad smell lately –"

Oh, charming. "I don't come in every day!" she indignantly protested.

"Well, near enough. And nice though it always is to see you, somehow I don't think it's the pleasure of my company that you're looking for." He paused before adding, rather awkwardly, "I just wondered if there was anything you'd like to get off your chest, that's all, since we seem to have all this time on our hands. And you are my sister, after all…"

And suddenly, in spite of everything, she was laughing. "You aren't going to forgive me for that, are you, Dr Smith?"

Harry smiled. "Maybe not for a while."

They walked on in silence for a moment, and then Sarah gave him a little dig in the ribs. "It is, actually."

"What's that, old thing?"

He was never, ever going to stop calling her that – he didn't even know he was doing it, half the time. She was so used to it now that she hardly ever even bothered complaining any more. It was just Harry. "It is you I come to see when I call in at UNIT. Well, mostly."

"Only mostly, eh?" He was smiling as he said it, teasing, and then gestured at a large tree stump at the side of the road and suggested they take a break from their journey.

Sarah wasn't tired; in fact, she was fairly certain that nervous energy could keep her moving for miles yet. Harry still had that tight, pinched look around the eyes, though, not quite as well recovered from the stresses and strains of the last few days as she was – he'd been through a lot more than she had, prior to being sucked through the portal, after all – so she agreed. They sat on opposite sides of the stump, since it wasn't wide enough to sit side by side, and she leaned against his back and tried to think of words to describe the unrest she'd been feeling lately.

"Do you ever miss it, Harry?"

"Do I miss what?"

They'd talked a lot, since she'd been home, about the adventures they'd shared, as well as those he'd missed after returning to Earth, but she'd always veered away from this particular subject up till now, nervous of where it might lead. "Being out there, among the stars – the adventure, the excitement, never knowing what's around the next corner."

"Well," said Harry. "Life on Earth seems exciting enough to me, just at the moment."

She let out a long breath and then quietly admitted, "I keep thinking he'll come back." She didn't bother explaining who 'he' was; Harry would know. "I haven't been able to settle to anything since I've been home and I think that's why. No, I know that's why. Because for so long we'd barely be back here long enough to blink, never mind anything else, and then we'd be off again, so I got into the habit of…well, of not settling, I suppose. And now I can't seem to break that habit." Just like she couldn't seem to stop talking, now she'd started. "I mean, why bother getting back into old routines, the daily grind, when he could be back any minute and we'll be off again? I suppose that's why I go to UNIT. Because we always did, it was his home when he was on Earth, so if he comes back, when he comes back…that's where he'll go – where the action is."

Except that he hadn't.

Sitting behind her, a warm presence at her back, Harry was silent for so long that she wondered if he'd actually fallen asleep in the middle of her emotional confession, but eventually he said, "The Brigadier doesn't think he's coming back this time."

"Maybe he isn't. I don't know anymore. He said he'd been summoned, he had to go back to Gallifrey and couldn't take me with him, and it's a big universe, after all, lots to see, lots to do, and we both know what he's like, anything might have happened. But we were his friends. He's always come back to us before, in the end…"

Harry was quiet again for a moment. "Don't take this the wrong way, old girl," he said at last. "But you must have better things to do with your time, surely."

Sarah snorted. "I don't, actually. Oh, you know what it's like…well, actually, no, you don't, do you? You disappeared off in the TARDIS for months on end and all the Brigadier had to say about it was, 'Oh, you're back are you, Sullivan? Jolly good; back to work, man.'"

Behind her, Harry huffed a soft chuckle at her impression of the Brigadier, but otherwise stayed quiet, waited for her to finish making her point.

"The editors I used to sell my stories to, they aren't quite as understanding," she quietly explained. "A lot of my old contacts have moved on and those that haven't don't seem to want to take a chance on me any more, after I dropped off the radar for a couple of years with no warning and no good explanation. I have to start again from scratch, and it just all seems so…so mundane and…oh, it's a moot point now anyway, isn't it? Maybe I could have rebuilt my career, in time, but now we're stuck here, so I just have to get over it and get used to being a Victorian. Come on, let's get moving again."

Unable to sit still any longer, she bounced to her feet and set off again, without waiting to see if Harry was following.

She'd been walking for quite a few minutes before he caught up, either because he'd waited for a while before following or because he'd deliberately lagged behind to give her some space.

"There were female writers in the 19th century, you know," he rather unexpectedly said as he came alongside her. "There was Jane Austen. The Brontë sisters – oh, and what's her name, the one who wrote Frankenstein?"

"Mary Shelley." Sarah shot a quizzical look at him, unsure what kind of point he was trying to make. "Harry, what do you know about Jane Austen and the Brontës?"

"I'm not a complete Philistine, Sarah. And the point is, if they can publish their writing in this century, so can you."

"They were novelists," she pointed out. "I'm a journalist."

"Well, I'm not saying it would be easy. But I've never known Sarah Jane Smith to back down from a challenge." His eyes were fixed on the path beneath his feet and his cheeks were starting to turn pink, motivational speeches weren't his usual style at all, but he ploughed on. "You've been fighting for what you believe in for as long as I've known you, old thing. Why stop now, just because we're stuck here? You'd have to start again at the beginning, work five times as hard, but your career means a lot to you, so…you should fight for it. I know you'll succeed."

Sarah didn't know what to say, which was okay because she wasn't sure she could even speak, her throat was so tight. And that was okay, too, since Harry was already so embarrassed at having said something so personal and mushy that he couldn't even look at her. She settled for tucking an arm through his and squeezing it tight, and eventually, when she thought she could trust herself to speak, whispered a very heartfelt "thank you."


UNITUNITUNIT

UNITUNITUNIT


It was beginning to grow dark again, outside the confines of the derelict factory Liz had been sequestered in more or less ever since the raid on UNIT.

Kneeling alongside the fence, she carefully set the receptor she'd been working on back in place and squinted doubtfully at it, biting her lip. Necessity was the mother of invention, they said. Well, as crash courses in alien technology went, the last couple of days had been quite the whirlwind, she hadn't learned this much this fast since…well, since her last stint at UNIT, working alongside the Doctor. She was on her own this time, though, brain already on overload and adrenaline at war with her fatigue. And she hadn't, when she sabotaged the receptor, anticipated any need to repair it again, never mind at speed. It was lucky that the sabotage had also been carried out at speed and had therefore been perfunctory, rather than thorough.

"Is it done? Is it working again?" Benton was peering around as if he expected to see some visible sign of the invisible shield he thought might have sprung up around them while she worked. If only it were that simple.

"Not quite," she told him. "I believe the receptor is functioning again, but won't know for sure until the shroud is switched back on. It's controlled from the Tyrsian ship, so it'll have to be turned on from there."

And just how that was going to be achieved was a rather daunting prospect that she hadn't quite thought through, when she suggested to the Brigadier that they attempt to use the shroud. She'd never even seen inside the ship, never mind had any idea where to find the shroud controls.

"Right then." Oblivious to her doubts, Benton straightened up and looked over toward the alien spaceship, still sitting on the forecourt outside the factory building, utterly incongruous with its surroundings. "We'd better get to it, pronto."

"Yes." Liz wearily pushed back to her feet and followed him across the yard at the briskest jog she could muster, wondering if this interminable day would ever end – and if they could possibly all still be in one piece, when it finally did.

Before they reached the spaceship, the Brigadier came hurrying across from the perimeter, where he'd been thrashing out strategy and contingency plans with his troops. The field telephone was clamped to his ear still, keeping him in constant communication with the team of radar operators using Martin's scanner to track the Tyrsians, and as he matched stride with Benton he anxiously demanded, "Are we ready yet?"

"Not quite," Liz repeated.

He waved the handset. "That alien vehicle is bearing down on us, fast – only minutes away. If we don't get our defences in place before they get here, we've had it."

As if she didn't already know that. "I'm working as fast as I can, Brigadier," she snapped, pushing past him to stride up the ramp into the alien ship…where she came to an abrupt standstill, all that irritation and anxiety and exhaustion simply melting away at the sight of the interior.

It was an alien spaceship. Of course it was, she'd known that, but she'd been so caught up in what needed to be done that she hadn't felt it. That first glimpse of the inside, though…there was that thrill again, just like that first glimpse of a new alien in UNIT's sick bay, back at the start of all this.

It was the glorious contradiction that was UNIT, always had been: that constant conflict between aggravation, danger and exhaustion on the one hand, and the thrill of exploration and discovery of the unknown on the other.

She allowed herself just a second or two to be awed at the sight, and then got down to business, examining each and every console in search of some clue as to which switch controlled what. It was a very different kind of technology than the time travel device she'd spent the last God-only-knew how many hours studying, product of an entirely different culture, but the layout seemed logical, as had the circuits in the receptor she'd just repaired. So if this controlled the steering and that was the engine…

"They're two minutes away, Miss Shaw," the Brigadier called from the doorway, his voice sharp and urgent.

This was some kind of communications array and over there…were the same symbols she'd seen marked on the receptor casing, quite distinct from the symbols marking any other control panels in the room. So was that it? There were several switches on the panel, all different colours…

"Sixty seconds, Miss Shaw!"

She'd seen and used a few Tyrsian tools while working with Rahl and Martin on the time travel device. The controls had been similarly coloured, the different colours denoting the various functions of the switches. So if the sequence of the colour coding here was the same…

There wasn't time for doubts or for second guessing.

Liz picked a switch and flipped it.



On to Part Seven

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
acciochocolate
Sep. 11th, 2012 11:12 am (UTC)
re: Life Goes On - Part Six
*hugs all the characters* The lovely thing is that you have their voices down fairly well. :) If I think that I can hear a character speaking the words written, that's always wonderful. :)
llywela13
Sep. 11th, 2012 11:24 am (UTC)
Re: Life Goes On - Part Six
Thank you! It can be really hard to get a character's voice spot on, especially when they also need to respond in a particular way to specific situations, so it's always gratifying for me to know that readers recognise the characters in the dialogue I give them. Phew!

Some character voices are easier to capture than others - and not always the ones you'd expect, either! Writing is such a learning curve, every time.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )