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The Long Way Down - Part Five

DW-DoctorSarahHarry
Continued from Part Four

Title: The Long Way Down, Part 4/5
Author: llywela13
Show: Classic Doctor Who
Characters: Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan
Rating: PG

Part Five

Sarah had missed something, she realised as she awoke to a murmur of voices. She lay still for a moment examining her recent memory, which was filled with chaos and gunshots and pain, all of which were noticeably absent just now. She'd definitely missed something important.

She opened her eyes half-expecting to be locked up somewhere, because when weren't they, to find instead that she was back aboard the smugglers' shuttle, with Harry and the Doctor hovering over her. Harry promptly began to check her pulse, all professional concern and bluster, while the Doctor smiled his gentlest smile. "Welcome back, Sarah Jane."

Yes, she'd missed something all right. Sarah groaned and tried to push herself upright. "I didn't know I'd gone anywhere."

"Well, not quite, but you did give us rather a scare, old thing." Harry was still fluttering around, trying to help her sit up, and she batted his hands away to do it herself.

"That makes us even, then. I'm all right, Harry, don't fuss." It was all starting to come back now: the Shad in armed pursuit with nowhere to hide, and the sharp, searing shock of pain that had taken her feet from under her. There was blood all over her shirt, so it had definitely happened. She felt absolutely fine now, though, which meant: "The healing unit, you used the healing unit." She looked past the Doctor and Harry in search of Valina. "But you said you couldn't afford to waste a single drop."

Valina was pale and drawn, but she spoke with conviction. "This was not waste."

"Thank you." The words didn't seem enough.

"Valina's been very generous," said Harry. "We've got Brunnal's leg wound all patched up now as well."

"I should have offered it sooner," Valina quietly said.

"So why the long faces…?" The words were barely out of Sarah's mouth when she realised. "Rikard."

He wasn't here – he'd been hit before Sarah and he wasn't here now, and one look at the sombre expressions all around told her everything she needed to know, even before she saw the shrouded shape in the corner.

"No – no, he can't be – no, you had the healing unit…"

"The unit is a powerful tool, but it has limits." It was Ren who spoke. "It can heal almost any wound, but cannot restore life once extinguished."

"Nothing we could do, I'm afraid." Harry took her hand and gave it a sympathetic squeeze, best bedside manner in full force; he'd barely met Rikard but still she read regret in his face and voice. Doctors hated losing patients, she distantly told herself. It was a sentiment she could understand.

"But all this was for him." Less than a day's acquaintance, yet Rikard's passion and drive had made a deep impression; it seemed impossible that he could be gone, and for what? "He was fighting for his people, he had such plans…"

"Well, not just him, Sarah," the Doctor gently said. "Rikard chose to fight for a cause, and he wasn't afraid of dying for it. He knew that others would take his place."

"Others…" Sarah thought about the rag-tag little band who'd gone to the detention centre in search of their captured allies, remembered the massacre at the superstore, so many who'd turned out to protest for fairer conditions, gunned down where they stood. "What hope do they have now?"

"The same hope they always had," said the Doctor, still in that soft yet resolute tone. "Belief in their common cause, in each other – we won't let them down."

"What about the Shad?" She couldn't believe she'd forgotten. "They were right behind us – how…?"

The Doctor rubbed his chin and shrugged in that way he had that meant something he would dearly love to claim as a stroke of genius on his part had actually been sheer luck and nothing more. "I suppose you might say we got away with a little help from our enemies."

Sarah was none the wiser until Harry translated. "The militia showed up just in the nick of time, Sarah."

"Rather quicker off the mark than I expected – not that I'm complaining, of course," the Doctor loftily admitted.

"And the Shad suddenly found that they had more pressing concerns than our theft," Ren finished the story, moving to sit at the low table nearby with a piece of that fruit Sarah had tried earlier.

"So the plan worked." Sarah tried to feel pleased.

"The plan worked," the Doctor sombrely agreed, and then asked Brunnal to check the scanner again. "Best keep an eye on what's going on out there, find out if it's safe to move yet."

Brunnal disappeared into the shuttle's cockpit for a few moments before returning to report that the militia appeared to have gained entry to the Shad building.

"How much of a fight are they giving?" Ren wanted to know, to which Brunnal gave a shrug almost as expansive as anything the Doctor habitually mustered up.

"Hard to say – they're a well-armed rabble."

"Well, this is just a splinter group, isn't it," the Doctor mused, and that was news to Sarah, although he made it sound as if it were something obvious that they all should know. "Just starting out, experiencing their share of teething troubles – I believe your little visit earlier today played a part there. A spot of disorganisation is only to be expected. Given time, though, they'd build up a power base, turn this world into a battlefield when the parent organisation came calling. No, they must be stamped out, here and now, before they have time to take root."

"We found a lot of evidence," Sarah told him. "Stolen goods, money – drugs – and there's paperwork, too, so that's an audit trail for the authorities to follow."

"With any luck it'll lead them in some interesting directions," the Doctor said with a sudden grin. "The Shad have been striking deals with a few of the larger corporations, you know: quid pro quo, lots of mutual back scratching being lined up. What a remarkable day for the militia – come looking for dissidents, find organised crime. Let's just hope they have the backbone to do something about it."

"So it's over, then?" Harry spoke up now. "Isn't it? We can leave – just have to pick our moment and sneak away while the coast's clear?"

"Well, on the one hand: yes," said the Doctor. "But then again, on the other hand: no."

Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes at Harry. "We might have known there'd be a catch. So what is it?"

"There are quite a few 'its', in fact, Sarah. I mean, first of all, poor Rikard purchased supplies on behalf of his fellow dissidents and is no longer with us to take possession of the goods."

"I will take care of that," Valina unexpectedly spoke up. "He used my sat-com; I have his codes. I can make contact with his people to pass on the supplies."

"Are you sure?" Sarah was startled by the offer. "It's illegal – what about your job, your family?"

Valina looked afraid, glanced nervously at the shrouded corpse in the corner, but held her head high. "This morning I was proud to have my job, but now…" She shook her head. "No, I won't close my eyes any longer. So yes, I am sure, and I will see that his family group are told of his courage."

There was a sudden lump in Sarah's throat. She reached out to squeeze Valina's hand, while the Doctor smiled gently. "That's a brave decision, Valina, I'm sure it will be appreciated. But we're all forgetting something."

"What's that?"

"The second of our 'its': Rikard's allies from the protest this morning – the survivors, that is. They also chose to fight for that greater cause and don't deserve what this regime will do to them for speaking out."

"Well, they'll be locked up in the detention centre still, won't they?" Sarah remembered.

"Unless they've been processed and moved on already, but I think not, so yes."

Ren gave him a curious look. "You actually believe you can free them, don't you?"

"Oh, I'm certain we can," the Doctor confidently declared, grinning from ear to ear.

"The attempt would be suicide."

His grin widened. "Are you with us?"

Ren let out an exasperated sigh and looked toward her two allies. Dilly chittered in a way Sarah couldn't interpret, while Brunnal threw up his hands in a gesture of defeat, rolling his eyes. Ren nodded, turning back to the Doctor. "I asked your friend there that same question, not so long ago," she said, nodding toward Harry. "And now here we all are. So there it is. We must be mad, but fine, yes. We've come this far. We'll see it through."

"Splendid!" the Doctor crowed. "Now, I've had rather a good idea…"

dwdwdwdwdw

The Doctor was full of bright ideas but the last one had ended in gunfire and blood. Scurrying in his wake through dimly-lit streets and gloomy alleys, darting from one shadow to the next, Harry sincerely hoped that this one would go a little more smoothly, and that what they were fighting for – he was still hazy on the specifics – was worth it.

The Doctor and Sarah thought it was worth it, and even Dilly and the other smugglers sympathised with these rebels. That was good enough for him – had to be, there was no backing out now.

"This way," the Doctor hissed in a piercing whisper and Harry had to run to keep up. They'd circled around the block and were now heading back toward the Shad building once more, from a less visible angle, until at last the Doctor came screeching to a halt and grabbed at his sleeve to pull him down behind a low wall, crumbling with neglect. "Aha, there's one," he murmured, sounding pleased with himself.

"A militia vehicle?" Harry leaned past the Doctor to get a look at their target, the nearest of a whole string of sizeable air-cars dotted around the building in haphazard fashion. The markings were unfamiliar and yet somehow instantly recognisable as the stamp of authority.

"Just what we need – now to get on board…" The Doctor began to creep out from behind the wall, but then pulled back. "They've left a man behind! That'll never do." He was as indignant as if the militia had insulted him personally by leaving a guard on their vehicles while they subdued the Shad, as if they'd done it deliberately to thwart him.

Harry peered past his shoulder again to get a look at the rear-guard militia, who was lounging in the nearest vehicle and, even hidden behind heavy armour, contrived to look both bored and tense. For what the Doctor had planned, they would need to gain access to one of those vehicles, and that guard was hardly likely to oblige them. "So we need a distraction."

"We do." The Doctor pursed his lips thoughtfully, narrowing his eyes at the guard as he weighed up the options, and then dug deep in a pocket for his sonic screwdriver, which he offered to Harry. "All right, I'll draw him off, Harry. This is what you'll need to do –"

"No, Doctor, not this time." Harry had half-expected something of the kind and was quick to counter the suggestion, which was typical of the man: he'd go out of his way to protect his friends from a perceived risk on the one hand even while leading them head first into danger on the other. They'd done something similar before, to great effect – Harry could follow instruction well enough, that was something he'd certainly learned on these travels, no matter how unfamiliar the task – but it didn't seem the most sensible division of labour here. If time was of the essence, and it usually was, there was a much more straightforward way of going about things. "I can run quite fast, you know. You see to the transmission. I'll take care of the guard."

The Doctor eyed him rather severely for a moment, but then grinned. "Go on, then, if you insist. Oh, and Harry?"

"Yes, Doctor?"

"Be careful!"

dwdwdwdwdw

"Oh, that's better." Rolling her shoulders to ease tension in the muscles, Sarah stepped out of the shuttle's tiny washroom feeling almost human again after a quick wash and a change of clothes, kindly loaned by the smugglers – some kind of flight suit, similar to the one Harry was wearing; it was far too long in both the leg and arm, but at least it was clean. She winched in the belt as tight as it would go to gather up a little of the excess fabric, re-rolled a sleeve that was already falling down over her fingers, and looked around for one or other of the smugglers to say thank you.

They weren't here; busy hooking up Valina's little run-around to the back of the shuttle as planned, presumably, while the Doctor and Harry were still off on their little mission that she was apparently far too recently almost killed to even think about joining. They'd both been adamant about that, a rare moment of total synchronicity, despite the fact that she felt absolutely fine; she'd expect it of Harry, fusspot that he was, but this new version of the Doctor, since his change, wasn't usually. She must have really scared him this time, and that coming on top of the fall from that tower. Valina was alone in the shuttle's living area, pale and drawn, her hair tumbling loose from its formerly elaborate styling, staring pensively at the shrouded corpse in the corner.

Carefully folding the crumpled document she'd taken from the Shad and stowing it away in a pocket of this new outfit, Sarah softly called, "Penny for them," and Valina startled.

"I'm sorry?"

"It's an old Earth saying. It means, 'what are you thinking?'"

"I was thinking," Valina replied, her tone contemplative, "That my life has changed. And that I did not expect that, when I left my home this morning."

"I don't suppose anyone ever does." Sarah sat alongside her. "I know I didn't, the day I met the Doctor."

Valina's dark eyes turned toward her, curious. "What was your life before?"

"I was a journalist, on Earth." She heard herself using the past tense without thinking about it, and it brought her up short. When had she started thinking that way about a career that had once been so important, as important as Valina's job was to her? "Technically, I suppose I still am, when I'm at home – which hasn't been for a while now."

"So instead, you now…do this?" Valina waved her hands in an all-encompassing gesture, to which Sarah huffed a rueful chuckle.

"We travel, that's all. We don't always know where we're going and we hardly ever know what to expect when we get there, but…it often does involve situations like this, yes. And worse."

"Worse?" Valina falteringly echoed. "I went to work as normal this morning and witnessed a massacre in the name of good order, now I may no longer have a job, I'm involved in law-breaking, more have died – and you talk of worse."

Sarah took a moment to think carefully before she replied, because Valina was right, in a sense, and yet there was so much more to it than that – for her, at least.

"You know, I'd never seen death before I met the Doctor," she said at length. "My parents died when I was only a baby, so I never knew them, or my grandparents. There was no extended family, not like yours – just me and my Aunt Lavinia, and she's indestructible. So I'd never known death, until I met the Doctor and began to travel with him. We've seen wars and invasions – terrible things, you never get used to it." Her eyes were drawn once more to the shrouded shape in the corner, all that energy and passion extinguished forever, and she thought about how close they'd come to losing Harry, how close she'd come to losing her own life, more than once today. "But I've learned that what matters is what you choose do about it. Do you stand by and let the terrible things happen, or do you make a stand, in whatever small way you can?"

She'd said something similar to Ren earlier – had thought it to herself many times during many adventures, when she'd been cold and hungry and scared, and needed reminding. They'd all had choices to make today, Valina no less than the rest of them, and those choices had brought them all here, to this point.

Valina let out a shuddering sigh that was pure regret but then nodded. "I didn't know, when I agreed to help you, that I was making a stand. But I knew about the protests, since the unrest began, I'd seen the news reports and was glad of my own comfort and security. I never stopped to think…"

"Until you saw it with your own eyes," Sarah softly finished for her. "I'm sorry I got you involved in all this."

"I'm not." Valina had her chin up again now, almost defiant. "I didn't intend to become so involved, but I know that I can't now go back."

"No – no, you can't go back." Sarah thought about the career she'd abandoned without a second thought, time and again when the Doctor came calling, how it had once been everything to her and now seemed so small. Perhaps this couldn't last forever, travelling like this with the Doctor in the TARDIS, she didn't know – couldn't know – but she did know that it had changed the way she viewed the universe forever. And it was worth it, worth all the rotten, miserable worlds and the wars and the invasions and the terrible things, the battles and the near-death experiences. Even when she was miserable, as she had been for most of the day after falling off that tower, it was still worth it.

And this particular fight wasn't over yet. Sudden yelling outside rather rudely reminded her of that, seconds before the Doctor and Harry erupted back into the shuttle, closely followed by the three smugglers. They were all shouting at once, but the gist was "go, go, go!" and Ren plunged straight on into the cockpit to do just that.

"It's done?" Sarah asked, stupidly because the answer was obvious.

"It's done," said the Doctor with a grin.

dwdwdwdwdw

A raid on a militia detention centre in the heart of the most strictly regulated zone in the citadel should have been the most difficult and dangerous thing they'd done yet today, but in the end it turned out to be something of an anti-climax.

Or perhaps, Harry pondered, he was simply growing far too accustomed to these things.

The Doctor had triggered an alert, he proudly explained numerous times while they were on their way, exactly as if he hadn't already told them the plan beforehand. He'd snuck into a militia vehicle, while the bulk of the guards were busy subduing the Shad and the lone watchman left outside was off chasing Harry, and he'd activated an in-built failsafe to trigger a full-scale alert that would bring every available militia guard in the citadel running, leaving their bases decidedly short-staffed and therefore vulnerable to a sort of covert commando raid to free the prisoners.

That was the theory, at least. Harry did wonder if it could possibly be as simple as that, since very little ever was, especially where the Doctor was concerned, but in fact…it all went like clockwork, more or less.

Perhaps there really was a first time for everything.

The Doctor and Dilly seemed to have great fun, joining forces to remotely spoof the security systems and cameras in and around the detention centre. The Doctor was delighted by Dilly's ingenuity and Dilly was delighted by the Doctor's technical ability, and eventually they managed to stop congratulating one another long enough to get the job done.

Harry and Sarah rolled their eyes at one another, "At last!" and then phase two got underway.

There was rather a lot to do, it transpired: a few remaining rear-guard militia to evade and/or distract and disable, political prisoners to release and databases to scrub of any trace of their identities – to say nothing of trying to avoid being seen lurking in the vicinity, sneaking in and out via the maintenance shafts that ran between the militia tower complex and the next and weren't supposed to allow access from one building to the other but did if you happened to have the Doctor with you.

Somehow they all made it safely out once more – after one or two hairy moments, admittedly, but not a single shot fired – and regrouped in the impromptu hideout they'd found in a goods loading bay at the neighbouring tower, conveniently shut down for the night.

Ren was laughing as she re-joined the group, as enthused as Harry had seen her yet. "I never would have believed it was possible," she said. "Earth man, I am very glad it was my shuttle you fell into today, I would not have missed this for worlds."

"Seems to have worked out rather well all round," Harry told her with a grin that became something of a grimace as a chortling Brunnal unexpectedly slapped him across the back in the jovial sort of fashion he remembered from victorious locker rooms in his sporting youth. He supposed that meant he was well and truly forgiven for interloping into their crew and damaging their shuttle.

The Doctor was looking for Valina and proudly informed her that, since he'd been hacking into the militia databases anyway, he'd taken the opportunity to wipe any trace of her from the system, as well. "Security camera footage, vehicle registration checks, the lot. Your record is clean."

"Then my job is safe, I won't be locked up." Valina was so relieved she threw her arms around him for a spontaneous hug and then was embarrassed by this show of emotion. "I meant what I said," she added. "I'm thankful, more than I can say, my salary is sorely needed, it would take so little to push my family group over the edge into poverty – but I know now what that means, what lies behind our comfort. I won't close my eyes again." To the rebels she added, "I mean to help your cause, if I can."

"You think you can help us?" The freed prisoners were dubious in the extreme.

"She had the idea." Head held high, Valina nodded toward Sarah. "The rich and powerful are on one side, the poor on the other, outweighed, a struggle you cannot win – but there are also many like me, in between, neither rich nor poor but getting by. You need us, our sympathy and our support, voices to take your side. I mean…" she faltered slightly now. "I can make no promises. I am only one person. But I will do what I can."

"Winning hearts and minds, one individual at a time," said the Doctor with a smile. "Not the fastest route to social change, but effective in the long run, perhaps – and with the exposure of corruption on the part of some of the larger corporations…well, it's still far from a level playing field, but it's a start."

"There's also this." Sarah pushed past Harry, digging into a pocket, and pulled out a folded sheet of very thin plastic, covered in print. "I found it in the safe at the Shad's headquarters – it mentions the deal from this morning, the one that was attacked by the Shad."

"Yes?" Ren and the others were instantly interested, but Sarah's focus remained on the freed rebels, her expression troubled.

"Did you know you had a traitor in your group?" She held firm in the face of their outrage at the mere suggestion. "It's true, it's on record here – there was an informant, that's how they knew about the deal."

"I knew it!" Dilly burst out. "I said someone squealed – didn't I say?"

"Who does it accuse, may I see?" asked one of the rebels, reaching for the document, a tall creature of indeterminate gender, with rat-like features and all-over-body fur that was longer around the face and styled in neat braids. Studying the page intently, the alien let out a shout of rage. "No! No, it can't be. We trusted him!"

"What? Who?" The other rebels clustered around, trying to see the document for themselves, and there was a moment of confusion as they gabbled furiously among themselves. Then the furry one turned to the three smugglers.

"We have not spoken before, Rikard and Gilac handled trade, but both are now gone. I am Enime. I give my word that this will be dealt with, that future deals will be safe – my word. We ask for assurance that trade will continue. Please. The supplies are needed, so very much."

"Today's trade was not profitable for us," said Brunnal with a scowl, but Ren elbowed him in the ribs.

"Don't worry them like that when we all know we'll be back. We appreciate the custom – although fewer days quite like this one would be preferred."

The rebels brightened, and one of them now thought to ask, "Where are the supplies? We sent payment; each household gave what they could."

"I have them," said Valina, gesturing to her vehicle, now uncoupled from Ren's shuttle once more. "I'll show you – how do you arrange distribution…?"

As Valina and the freed prisoners wandered away, deep in conversation, the Doctor chuckled. "That woman is a store executive, you know, a professional businesswoman – she'll have the trade and distribution arm of their group whipped into shape in no time!"

"Probably," Sarah agreed with a smile, watching Valina go.

It was all very heart-warming, Harry was sure, and he wished them all well, and all that, but he was also beginning to feel what a terribly long day – and night – it had been. "So it actually is over now, is that right?" he hopefully asked.

"Almost," said the Doctor, turning to the three smugglers. "I have just one last favour to ask, if I may."

"You would like to retrieve your blue box," Ren guessed, and Harry had to grin at the Doctor's surprise.

"It's at a waste depot," he said – in unison with Sarah, who grinned back at him and said, "Snap!"

The Doctor chuckled. "Glad to see we're all on the same page. So what of it?" He turned back to Ren. "Is a lift too much to ask?"

"I'm almost certain," said Ren, "That we still owe a favour – although I admit it's been hard to keep track."

"We probably do," Dilly agreed.

"I stopped keeping score," said Brunnal with a shrug.

Sarah looked from one to another. "Does that mean yes?"

Ren sniffed. "Well, what else are you going to do? Walk?"

It was her way of saying yes. Harry smiled. "Well, we'd rather not," he said. "So thank you."

dwdwdwdwdw

Sarah spent the journey to the waste disposal centre trying to work out how long it had been since she last managed any sleep – and being unconscious after her shooting didn't count. They'd been on the go all day and all night, she knew that much, even if she didn't know exactly how long those were on this world. It had been morning when they arrived and a new dawn was just beginning to tinge the sky once more as they approached the sprawling complex that was the waste disposal centre. No wonder she was tired.

"There it is," said the Doctor, fresh as a daisy as usual, leaning forward over the pilot's chair with his brow furrowed in thought. "What's the security like in there?"

Dilly punched a few controls and studied the output on a small screen. "Tight. Who'd want to steal junk?"

"Desperate people," he replied. "Perhaps the same desperate people who'd stage a protest at a store selling goods they need but can't afford."

"And us," Sarah chipped in. "Obviously."

He grinned. "And us – obviously."

She turned her head sideways trying to see past his elbow to the display on Dilly's screen, which she was unable to make either head or tail of anyway. "Well, we've already broken into a pirate base and a militia detention centre today…"

"So this should be a doddle?" Harry's voice dryly chipped in from the doorway behind her – paying attention again now they were almost there. He'd spent most of the journey in the lounge with Brunnal, chatting amiably while stuffing his face with that rank alien food; Sarah might have joined him, because she was hungry, except she wasn't sure she'd ever be that hungry.

"I think so," the Doctor confidently declared. "Well, all we want is our property back, no point waking anyone when we can just pop in and take it, no harm done – just a matter of finding it in there."

If Sarah could make neither head nor tail of the display on the shuttle's computer screen, then she had no hope of understanding the technical details of what the Doctor and Dilly did to track the TARDIS down in the labyrinth that the waste disposal centre appeared to be. All she knew was that they managed it, by remotely manipulating the computerised systems, did much the same thing to bypass all the electronic security, and then it was just a matter of gaining entry and finding their way through the maze to the section where the TARDIS had been stashed.

It was in a vast warehouse full of broken-down machinery and vehicles, neatly organised by size and function, some of them already stripped down for whatever purpose was found for salvaged parts on this world. In the dark of night, lit only by handheld torches, there was something almost spooky about the place, like a sort of industrial graveyard.

But the TARDIS was there, safe and sound, and that was what mattered. The Doctor ran over to pat at its walls the moment he saw it, all but crooning, "There you are, old girl. What have these nasty people been doing to you?"

"Is that it?" Brunnal incredulously asked.

"What do you mean, 'is that it'?" the Doctor indignantly retorted. "This is it: my TARDIS. Isn't she a beauty?"

Brunnal didn't seem impressed. "I thought it would be bigger."

"Oh, it's bigger than it looks, I assure you," said Harry with a grin. None of the smugglers looked convinced.

"How do you plan to get it out?" Dilly rather dubiously asked, edging nearer for a better look, eyestalks swivelling to squint sideways at the TARDIS, antennae wiggling and wafting.

"I shall pilot it out, of course." The Doctor had that dignified note to his voice now that meant his pride remained ruffled; how he hated any jibe at the expense of the TARDIS.

Ren lifted an eyebrow. "Perhaps this time without dropping your crew off tall towers – do you trust your pilot, Earth man? There's a place on my crew if you don't."

There was a mischievous glint in her eye, the suggestion was a joke – at least, mostly a joke, Sarah thought, but with an edge of sincerity. They liked him. If he said yes they'd let him go with them, and the thought of it brought her up short, the idea that he might choose to stay out here, that such a choice could be possible from where the two of them had started…but Harry only laughed. Of course he did; his roots back on Earth ran deeper than hers, career military that he was. "Thanks all the same," he said, resting a palm against the side of the TARDIS. "But this is my ride."

"I should think so, too," said the Doctor in indignation that was now only feigned; he'd clearly never doubted for a moment what the answer would be. "Queen's officer jumping ship – that would never do, what would the Brigadier say? Incidentally," and he turned back to the smugglers now, "It's been a pleasure, and I do so hate to cut a long goodbye short, but do you realise you've got just four-and-a-half minutes to get out of here before the security systems reboot…"

"We're going – goodbye!"

And they were gone, just like that: gone to repair their shuttle and head off-world to set up more dodgy deals, no doubt. This was a lousy world – crushingly unfair to its neediest citizens and unwelcoming to strangers – so it was some comfort to know that there were decent, if technically criminal, people out there, doing their small bit to make this society a better place, one illegal deal at a time.

Somehow, though, it still didn't feel like enough.

"Yes, and so should we be going." The Doctor unlocked the TARDIS door and led the way inside. "A good day's work, I feel. We've radicalised a shop worker, brought down a nest of pirates, exposed corruption, and supported a campaign for social change. Yes, a good day's work."

"Do you think so?" There was a rickety old hard-back chair in a corner of the console room and Sarah flopped onto it with a sigh. "I'm not sure we actually achieved all that much – nothing's really changed here, has it? I wish we could have done more."

The Doctor shrugged and wrinkled his nose in contemplative fashion. "Well, these things are all relative, you know. This is a very young world, Sarah, it has to find its own way forward; all we can do is offer a nudge in the right direction and hope they make it. Any real change has to come from the people themselves if it's to have any meaning."

He'd said something similar earlier. Sarah told herself to let it go. They'd done what they could; it was up to Valina and the others to fight their own battles now. No outsider could hope to do it for them, not really. "I suppose you're right – you usually are."

"Yes, I usually am," he boasted and she could have kicked herself for setting up that little bit of self-aggrandizement – he didn't need any encouragement. He all but danced around the console, scarf trailing, setting controls. "Time we were off. Where next, do you think?"

"Oh, Earth, surely," said Harry at once. "The Brigadier's waiting for us."

Career military: case in point. It seemed a far stronger pull than Sarah's career had ever been for her, for all the burning ambition that had driven her before meeting the Doctor, and she wasn't sure if she envied or pitied him for that anchor, tethering him to the life he'd left behind however far they roamed.

But if Harry was the needle on a compass, always pointing due home, then the Doctor was the wind, blowing this way and that as the fancy struck him. His impressively elastic face contorted into a grimace of epic proportions at the thought of a return to duty. "Bah. Something deathly dull, no doubt. We can do better than that – we all almost died, we deserve a holiday!"

"We always almost die," Harry observed – rather pointedly, Sarah felt.

"Sometimes rather more 'almost' than others," she said, remembering that tower and the sickening terror of freefall, how it had felt when she thought Harry was dead, and the shock of her gunshot wound. "I think the Doctor's right. I don't know about you, Harry, but I could do with a rest before the Brigadier puts us all back to work. Somewhere fun, perhaps."

She could see Harry wavering, liking the idea in spite of his commitment to duty, and the Doctor saw it too. He chuckled, dematerialising the TARDIS with a flourish. "Somewhere fun it is."




~end~





© JB, July 2014

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
jennytork
Aug. 16th, 2014 02:41 pm (UTC)
That was QUITE the ride! Thanks for taking us along!
llywela13
Aug. 16th, 2014 09:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I had a lot of fun writing this, so I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )