Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Leo Jones, Martha Jones, Francine Jones, Clive Jones, Tish Jones
Word Count: 6191
Summary: Clive, Francine, and Tish were taken prisoner, Martha escaped via vortex manipulator, but the Master never caught Leo.
Notes: Written for the Doctor Who Minor Characters Ficathon at
Gunning the sputtering engine of the lorry, Leo tapped on the steering wheel and glared at the dirty mob pressing in on him. They didn’t so much as flinch at the threatening roar, but as soon as he released the brake and the vehicle lurched forward an inch, they scrambled out of the way.
“Clear off! That’s right,” he called, though no one would hear him through the closed windows. The French rolled off his tongue far easier than he had ever imagined as a boy in school, struggling to memorize je suis, tu es. Nearly a year of trying to blend in with the locals does that, though he’d never deceive himself that he appeared to be anything other than a Brit. He’d been lucky to be here when it had all began, when people had still had hope and tried to protect each other from the threat in the skies. He’d made friends and managed to find a position that commanded some respect. Nowadays, anyone new was a threat; if they found a place to live, it meant someone else had been doomed to a slow death in the slave camps.
“Next up, DP 4,” he stated as he patted the dashboard. “Then back home, girl.” Announcing the destinations and thanking his trusty lorry: those were the rituals he’d developed doing this run every other day for ten months. They helped him keep his mind off the empty streets around him and the crowds clamouring, almost clambering over each other, for the onions he delivered. At this point in early summer, sometimes he had turnips or radishes. Sometimes he had nothing, but he still drove the routes, because communications were forbidden, except to and from the Master. The people would never know why they starved that night or if he’d ever come again, and so he drove.
The lorry rumbled along, slowing rarely. Electricity had long ago been deemed unnecessary for the populace and rerouted to the munitions factories to the east, leaving the traffic controls dead. Not that they were needed, since the only vehicles on the roads these days were delivery lorries like his, medical jeeps, military transports, and personnel carriers. Leo chewed on his tongue. The euphemisms they all used tasted bitter, but the real words were worse. Slaves, he reminded himself. We’re all slaves, and those are slave lorries, taking us forty at a time to work and die. He kept that firmly in his mind, for he knew that all was lost if they allowed themselves to forget. Just then, a coincidental reminder descended from above and floated just beyond the bonnet, the afternoon sun buffing the grey metal to shining silver. Shading his eyes with a hand, Leo watched the blue lights winking malevolently at him until the sphere, apparently satisfied with what it saw, whisked off.
A sea of people surrounded the fenced warehouse that was DP 24, and Leo groaned to himself. There was always a mob of hungry people waiting for shipments to arrive at every distribution point, but the size of this one told him that things were bad. Turning in to the drive, Leo stopped the lorry at the chain-link fence and rolled down his window as the gatekeeper approached. “Pierre,” he drawled as he handed his papers over.
“Good afternoon, Jacques,” Pierre replied as he checked over the credentials. “I hope you have a good delivery for us today. There’s a shortage from the northern farms and, well, you’ve seen the crowds.”
“Sorry, I’ve got as much as usual,” Leo said. “Can’t help this time, but I’ll talk to Jeanne and see what we can do for the next shipment.”
Pierre grasped Leo’s shoulder through the open window. “Please. Things are getting desperate.”
“Things have been desperate for a year now.” Leo shrugged just enough that Pierre could feel it, but not enough to be seen. He couldn’t allow himself to favor one distribution point over another.
“Come on! Unload and pass it out!” yelled a man from the crowd. He was answered by ragged cheers and pleadings.
Pierre handed the papers back to Leo, then stepped toward the crowd. “He’s going in right now and the food will be distributed through the proper channels.”
“Proper channels, my arse,” someone yelled.
“You’re just going to keep the food for yourselves,” came another cry.
“Sold out to the Master, have you? Filthy lapdogs! ”
Leo grabbed his rifle from the seat and, hopping out, fired into the air. The crowd went immediately silent. “Rules are!” he shouted, then continued in a normal voice. “Rules are, claims are honoured in numerical order. Same goes for me.” He pulled his sleeve up to show his identification- his “existence number”, as the Master termed it - burned into his arm, stark white against his dark skin. “Same goes for them,” and he thumbed at the gatekeeper and the guards standing inside the gate. “So you can pipe down or I’ll head back to DP 11. I just have to deliver my goods somewhere. Doesn’t have to be here.” Muttering to each other, the crowd drew back.
“Good one,” Pierre murmured as Leo climbed back into the lorry. “Go on through.” He returned to the gatehouse and a moment later, the fence rolled aside.
After backing the lorry into the loading bay, Leo jumped out, leaving his rifle on the seat. He didn’t need it here. “Marie!” he called to the small, stern woman in the grey jumpsuit scribbling something on her clipboard as she approached.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes. It’s a mess out there.” She strode right past him to the back of the lorry. “Tell me you’re not empty.”
“Not empty. Here’s the manifest. More onions than you can eat. No, I wish that were true. But I’ve got the promised shipments.” Pulling his keys from his pocket, he stepped up to the back door, unlocked it, and slid it up until it latched open. Onion fumes washed over him and he coughed into his sleeve. “I will never get used to that smell. Here comes.”
Over the next few minutes, he hauled out crates of onions, which he handed to the various workers. Once the vegetables were unloaded, he disappeared into the shadows one last time and appeared with his most precious cargo, a young woman clutching a threadbare coat around herself, a worn rucksack hanging on her back. Her stringy hair hung down over a face covered in grime. She squinted up at the gray light filtering in through the greasy windows set just below the high ceiling, then scowled at the woman stepping forward to help her climb out of the lorry, her distrust plain.
“You’re safe here,” Marie nodded, coaxing her forward.
Leo shook his head. “She doesn’t speak a word of French or English,” he explained. “Her name’s Lidiya. Engineer, one of the first taken when they plundered Moscow. Worked in the St. Petersburg shipyards, got out just before the Experiment.”
Marie eyed the woman with new respect. “And where’s she headed?”
“South to Spain.”
Marie gasped. “Across the Razing? Oh, no. We don’t send anyone that way anymore. You know that.”
Lidiya had been staring at them with wide eyes, and though she didn’t understand French, Marie’s denial was plain in any language. She jumped forward and blurted out a long string of pleading Russian. Crossing her arms, Marie waited until she fell silent again, then eyed Leo for a translation.
“No idea,” he admitted, shaking his head. “All I know is they made her work by telling her that they’d shipped her husband and daughter to the Madrid prison city. It’s all she’s got now and she’s determined to get there.”
“We can’t take that kind of risk, not for one person,” Marie insisted. “There’s nothing south of Bourges, just les Abominations combing the wastes for refugees to drag to the Pyrenees Mine. You get close with any kind of vehicle and you’re mincemeat. We’ve got more important work.”
Leo stepped into her, towering over her with a sneer. “This is family we’re talking about here. There’s nothing more important.” He turned back to look the woman over. “She may not look like much, but she made it all the way across Poland and Germany on foot, around the radiation pits and through the Brandenburg Blastlands. She’s not asking for a free ride. She just wants to be taken as far south as we’re able to go.”
Marie bit her lip, then sniffed, and Leo guessed that she was swallowing her pique to continue her facade of ruthless efficiency. “All right,” she relented. “We can ship her down to DP 5 tomorrow and then to the southern farms. She’s on her own after that.” As Leo nodded, she turned and beckoned the woman with a hand. “This way.”
Lidiya nodded, then turned to Leo and grabbed his hand, squeezing gratefully. “Thank you very much,” she pronounced in slow, stilted French.
“Удачи,“ Leo replied with a nod. It was one of the few Russian phrases he knew and it was surprisingly applicable; she was going to need all the luck she could get. A hint of a smile twitched on her lips, then she turned to follow Marie deeper into the warehouse.
Leo took one last look to make sure the lorry was empty, then pulled the door closed and secured the lock. He climbed into the cab and, waving one last time at the distribution workers, started the engine and headed out. He tipped a two-finger salute to Pierre as he passed the gate and tried to not look at the starving crowd shaking their fists at him.
His deliveries done, Leo headed west, navigating the deserted streets with the certainty of a man who’d done this trip a hundred times before. Once he’d left the outskirts of the formerly thriving town and slipped onto the motorway, he settled into the long drive back to the farm. He had nothing to occupy him, as all media except the Master’s infrequent broadcasts had gone silent as soon as the Toclafane had descended, so he thought about Lidiya’s story. He retold himself the scant details he knew of her journey across Europe: one woman trudging across the ruined continent, hiding from soldiers and dodging the blades from above, just to get to her family. She had hope, and now Leo did as well. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people died cruelly every day, but one person at least was surviving and snatching her life back. Well, to be honest, two people were, if the stories whispered in the small pockets of resistance were to be believed…
“God, is it hard to breathe back here.”
Leo jumped straight up, smacking his knee on the steering wheel, and nearly lost control of the lorry as it swerved. He yanked the wheel around and barely kept it from going right off the road. As soon as he got the thing back on the road, he twisted in his seat to try to peer through the narrow window into the cargo area. He knew that voice, and it was speaking English.
“Martha? Is that you?”
“Course it’s me. At least I think so. I can’t see a thing, and all I’ve got is lungfuls of onions. Does this smell ever go away?” Despite her light words, Martha sounded weary and rough, but it was the sweetest music Leo had ever heard.
“Never,” he replied with a fond lilt. “How’d you get in there? I know the back was empty when I locked it up.”
“I’ve been back here since three stops ago, same time you picked up that Russian woman.”
“How in the world -?”
“I’ve got this thing. It makes me sort of invisible to people. That’s why you didn’t know. She didn’t either.”
A year ago, Leo would have laughed and asked his serious, studious older sister if she was delirious from three all-nighters in a row, but now, he just shrugged. Nothing seemed too strange or impossible anymore. “God, am I glad to see you! I mean, I’d heard the stories, that Martha Jones was walking the earth to find a way to end all this, but I didn’t dare hope it was really you.”
“Well, it’s me here now. What about you, though? Here I thought I was just lucky that of all the onion lorries in the world I could’ve climbed into, I found yours, but here you are, running the Underground Railroad.”
Leo shrugged. “This is nothing. Other people, they’re the ones sticking their necks out. I’ve just got extra space, is all. and the spheres, they don’t care about onion movement. They’re too busy with their blood games. What are they, anyway?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to find out. It’d help to know what we’re fighting.”
A moment of uncomfortable silence descended between them, then they both started talking at once. “So I wanted to ask -” “How’re Shonara and Keisha?”
Leo swallowed his words and coughed. “Yeah. I don’t know. It was too dangerous keeping them here. Those things like to kill kids who aren’t old enough to work and drag their mums off to the yards, so those who could fled. There’re places, safe spots, hidden away. They take the kids and their mums. The one Sho went to was in some cellars that the French Resistance used in World War II. Strange how that works, eh?” Despite his words, his tone was cold and dead. “I doubt they’ve seen sunlight in months.”
“Sorry,” murmured Martha. “But you all got out, at least. I’ve been wondering all this time if he’d got you, too, eventually. I wasn’t sure if you’d taken me seriously.”
“Blimey, Martha! Who do you think I am?” He smacked the steering wheel in exasperation. “You were screaming at me, top of your lungs, and then he came on the line. That voice.” Even after a year of running from the Master, the memory of that voice on the phone, silky smooth and smug, made Leo shiver. “Sho thought I was bonkers. We didn’t even go back to Boxer’s for our stuff. We stopped only for the cashpoint, and then it was Ashford and Lille. I thought everything would blow over and we’d turn right back around, but we caught the broadcast at a cafe the next morning, and that was that. I managed to stuff Sho and Keisha in a closet while those things chopped up the people at the table next to ours.”
Leo fell silent. He was sure that Martha had seen far worse during the past year - the rumour was that she’d been the only person to escape the destruction of Japan - but the memory of that family being torn apart still nauseated him. By the time the orbs had flown off, the cafe had been painted with them.
“What did you want to know?” came a quiet murmur a few minutes later.
Leo wasn’t quite sure if he truly wanted an answer to his question, and he remained silent for a while, staring at the road in front of him. “What happened?” he finally asked in a bare whisper. “You know, back then? I mean, you warned me a day before it all went down. How’d you know?”
Martha coughed some onion before taking a deep breath to answer her brother. “We found out who Harold Saxon was, and he’d been at Mum, to lure us into his trap. I only had enough time to call to warn you, and, well, you know what happened next.”
“By ‘we’, you mean you and your bloke from Tish’s party, right?”
“He’s not my bloke,” Martha murmured. “He’s the Doctor.”
“The Doctor. Right.” Leo had a vague recollection of what the man looked liked. He’d only seen him once, a year earlier. At the time, he’d thought him nothing more than a tall, ungainly boffin with a big mouth and little sense. Since then, his mental image of him had changed considerably. “That was him in the broadcast, wasn’t it? The Master turned him into that old man.”
That’s what the name “Doctor” brought to mind now: a broken old man, too frail to move without assistance. “He shows him off, you know. Wheels him around in that chair.”
“Yeah, I know.” Martha’s voice was so quiet and despondent, Leo didn’t have the heart to say anything more. Despite her protest, he was convinced that if the Doctor wasn’t her bloke, she wanted him to be.
The lorry rumbled along in silence, and Leo kept his eyes trained on the black asphalt strip that cut through the countryside. Much of northern France had been spared the devastation in Germany and in the south, but without care, the unsown fields and the land around the abandoned homes were weedy and overgrown. As the blue sky began to fade to the cream that presaged the coming twilight, a faint glimmer caught his eye and he sucked in his breath.
“There’s a Toclafane flying around up there.”
“Is it coming here?” Martha sounded concerned but not frightened.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. Everyone whispered when the spheres were around. “It’s always best to assume so. They like nosing into things and making trouble.”
“I think it’s coming here. It’s getting bigger.” He kept his eyes on the growing dot as it drifted back and forth in the sky, though he knew he couldn’t ascertain its intentions. It’d likely flit between five different purposes before it even arrived.
“I am!” he hissed through clenched teeth.
After another minute of silence, Leo sighed. “Yeah, it’s definitely coming here. I’ve gotta stop, Martha. If I don’t, it’ll tear us apart.”
“Don’t worry about me, Leo. It won’t see me. I’ve got that thing, remember.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t have the highest confidence in his sister’s safety, as he’d seen the floating death orbs sniff out concealed victims countless times, but he didn’t have a choice. Refusing to stop would put them both in greater danger. He pulled off onto the verge and turned off the engine, then grabbed his badge and hopped out of the cab to face the eerie floating sphere.
“Identify,” crooned the orb as it descended in front of him, its watery voice trilling out the French vowels. “Why are you on the long road alone?”
“Jack Carter, West Midplain Farm,” he replied, a shaky hand holding up the badge. “My licence. I can travel, from the farm to town and back.”
Floating closer, it scanned the badge and then Leo himself. “You are not French,” it stated in English.
“No. English, from Croydon.” He pointed at his badge. “Says right here. I was on holiday here with my mates when the Master took over.”
“It is always holiday with the Master,” the sphere warbled, looping around in the air. It circled Leo, then dropped to hover right in front of him, less than two feet from his nose. “Who were you talking to?”
“What?” Leo didn’t hide his cringe. The Toclafane expected subservience and enjoyed their slaves’ fear.
“You were talking. To whom? You do not have licence for radio.”
He blurted out the first excuse that came to mind. “I wasn’t talking. I was singing. You know, to pass the time.”
“Little people do not sing. Little people scream. We sing and we fly.” It trilled as it circled around its victim. “You were talking,” it stated again as it came to rest.
“I was not,” Leo insisted.
“Who is with you?”
Leo’s heart juddered. It wasn’t taking no for answer. “No one. I tell you, I was singing.”
“Open the moving box. Show me who is with you.”
Leo didn’t have a choice, and as he stalked around to the back of the lorry, he swallowed hard against the dread in his stomach. He considered fumbling with the lock, but any delay would only infuriate the sphere. “Here. Take a look,” he grunted as he threw the door up.
The Toclafane flew in and circled through the empty cargo area a few times before whirling back out. It spun and whistled its disappointment.
Not having believed Martha one whit, Leo was just as surprised to find the space empty. He crossed his arms and glared at the sphere to cover up his confusion. “I told you, no one.”
“You will sing for us.”
Caught off guard, Leo choked before he finally blurted out, “What?”
“You were singing. We wish to dance. Sing for us.”
“I can’t just sing like that.”
“You were singing. You will sing now.” Leo hesitated, and with a sharp metallic swish, the orb extended its blades. He jumped back, cowering. “You will sing for us.”
“Er.” Leo hadn’t honestly thought of music since he came to France and started belting out the first thing that came to mind. “Ooo, boy, you looking like you like what you see. Won't you come over and check up on it? I'm gon' let you work up on it. Ladies, let 'em -”
“That is not singing,” the sphere grumped at him. “That is noise. You should not sing. You will stop that now.” Twirling, the sphere flew off, the late sun glinting off its blades.
With a relieved sigh, Leo closed and locked the lorry, then climbed back in the cab and resumed his journey. When he was sufficiently convinced that the sphere was long gone, he ventured a short phrase, to convince himself that his sister had actually been back there.
“You really are invisible.”
“Unnoticeable,” she corrected him. “You saw me back here, but this thing convinces you to look away, is all.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t have made it this far without it. The Doctor gave it to me and…” She fell quiet for a moment, then coughed. “But yeah. It makes the whole ‘walking the Earth’ thing a far less impressive feat, doesn’t it?”
“No. You’re still a legend, Martha.”
Martha snorted. “Legends are just stories we tell ourselves to give us hope. That’s all I’ve been doing. Spreading a story.”
“Right,” Leo grunted.
Martha did not reply, and the lorry fell into rumbling silence until Leo spoke again.
“You know, I turn twenty-two tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I know. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” He and his sister were alive. That was about as happy as he could hope for. “A year ago, all I was worried about was making sure Keisha had clean nappies and trying to get Mum and Dad to stop fighting over a party I didn’t even want. Now… What do you think’s going to happen to them? And Tish?”
“I don’t know, Leo. I don’t even know if they… well, you know.”
“They were two months ago,” Leo was quick to assure her. “At least, I saw Mum in the back on one of the broadcasts. Dressed as a maid.”
Martha laughed. “Oh, she’s enjoying that, I’m sure.”
“At least she’s alive. Martha,” he urged, his hands tightening around the steering wheel, “you have to save her. Get her out of there.”
“Leo, you know I can’t promise that. I have to do what I have to do. That’s the important part. I can’t worry about anything else right now, not even Mum.” She suddenly sounded so tired, far more exhausted than he..
“Yeah,” he groaned. “That’s the worst part, you know. Sitting here watching it happen and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”
“But you are!” The knocks from behind him told him that Martha had scrambled up to peer through the window. She couldn’t reach her brother to encourage him, but she could talk to him directly. “Look at you, risking your life every day to bring food to the hungry, and transporting refugees under the noses of the Toclafane. Every little bit helps, Leo. You’re helping everyone survive until we take the Master down for good.”
“Yeah, but not like you, walking the Earth and all that. You were always the rock. Mum and Dad could be arguing all day and me and Tish screaming and crying, and you’d be carrying on, making it all work.” He grinned. “My big sister. You were more Mum than Mum.”
“It was never like that. I was as scared as the both of you.”
“But you never showed it.” He reached up and tapped on the grating in the window. It was the closest he could get to touching her. “I believe them, you know, the legends, that you’re going to do it. I believe in you.”
“No, don’t believe in me. Believe in the Doctor.”
“Him?” he snorted. “What’s he going to do about it all? I seen him on the broadcasts. The Master loves showing him off. I’m surprised he hasn’t keeled over yet.”
“He’s got a plan, Leo. I shouldn’t be telling you this, and you can’t tell a soul, but I swear, everything I’m doing is getting things ready for him. He’s the only one who can end this.”
“How?” His disdainful grunt spoke volumes.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I just know that he’ll save us all. He’s done it before, countless times, and he’ll do it again.”
“No!” Leo pounded the steering wheel, punctuating his protest. “Look at me, Martha! Look at all of this around us! I’m hauling onions through what’s left of the French countryside because otherwise I’d be dead in the slave pits by now. My girlfriend and daughter are hiding underground, if they’re still alive at all, I don’t know. In a few days, the Master’s going to launch those ships we’ve been dying for, then finish off the rest of us before going off to battle the universe. How’s an old man in a wheelchair going to stop him, huh? Throw his dentures at him? He can’t even move without help.”
It felt good to rant. The Toclafane made sure everyone was silent and guarded, and finally giving voice to his frustrations strengthened him more than anything else had for a year, even if it was ultimately an admission of defeat. “Hope’s gone, Martha. It flew off, abandoned the world a year ago. We don’t have the luxury of faith anymore. All we have is you and whatever means you’ve found to kill the Master.”
“That’s not true, Leo. There’s billions of people, still alive and still fighting, and still believing. We’re going to defeat the Master, not through any weapon I’ve found, ‘cause I haven’t. It’s all down to the Doctor, and he’s going to save us, as long as we believe he will.” Leo could hear her tears in her words. “Leo, just listen. Let me tell you about the Doctor, what he can do, what I’ve seen him do.”
“No. I’m done waiting for miracles.”
“Please, Leo,” she persisted. “I’ve seen him do the most amazing things. You saw him at the party. He stopped Lazarus, that thing he’d become. And I’ve been travelling with him and I’ve seen him do things you won’t believe. He can do anything.”
“Except stand up to Mum.”
They both laughed. “No,” Martha admitted. “No one can do that.”
Leo sighed, the smile forgotten on his face. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I have it in me, not anymore. You, I can believe in. I don’t know about this Doctor bloke.”
“It’s only a few more days. Just have hope for a few more days. The Doctor’ll stop the Master when that launch countdown ends. Believe in him just for those last sixty seconds.”
Leo couldn’t see what good that would possibly do. “I’m sorry, Martha. I can’t promise that.”
With a sigh, Martha slumped against the wall. Leo chewed on his lip as he continued to guide the lorry home. The human race couldn’t afford Martha losing conviction now, but he couldn’t lie to her, couldn’t pretend that the world wasn’t going to end a few days hence. All he could do was try to turn her attention back toward her quest.
“So, where are you heading now?” His murmur was barely audible over the rumble of the engine, but it was clear to them both.
“Back home. I need to be back when it’s time for the rockets to launch.”
“You got a way across?” he asked, a little louder.
“I got something arranged. But I can’t say -”
“- because the less I know, the less I can betray.”
“I’m sorry, Leo.”
“Don’t be,” he replied, shaking his head. “That’s SOP. You can’t afford to trust anybody anymore.” A flash of light in the darkening sky caught his attention. “Hold on. Shit, there are seven Toclafane, coming this way. That’s going to be trouble, if they’re coming back.”
“I’m sure it’s just routine.” She didn’t sound confident.
“No,” he declared. “They never come back unless they suspect something. And if they suspect something, they never let it go. They’ll shred this lorry.” His eyes trained on the seven dots growing larger against the ochre twilight, Leo pulled the lorry onto the verge and shut off the engine. “I’m sorry, Martha. I don’t know this Doctor bloke from Adam. Maybe he can save the world. Maybe he can’t. Doesn’t matter, though. Thing is, I know you. You held the family together as best you could when Mum and Dad were tearing it apart, and now you’ve walked the world to hold it together. I believe in you. All you need is a chance and you’ll make it right. So here’s me, giving you that chance.”
Leo grabbed his badge, then patted the dashboard. “Thanks, girl. You’ve been the only thing I could trust this past year. Sorry it had to end this way.” Sliding out of the cab, he walked to the front of the vehicle and leant back against the grill. He toed the smooth asphalt as he waited; a highway designed for high traffic that hadn’t seen much for a year didn’t degrade quickly. When the spheres flew near, he held up the card for them to see, but he suspected they weren’t even looking.
“You are the one who should not sing,” called one of them.
“Yeah, that’s me, not singing,” Leo replied. “What do you want? I need to get back to the farm, to work on the next shipment of onions.”
“We do not think you were singing. We think you were talking.” The orb bobbed up and down in front of him. “The walker. The one who ran away. They say she has come here, to cross to the islands north. You look like her and you speak her language. We think she is here. We think you have been talking to her.”
“You searched my lorry already. You know she’s not.” He spun on his heel and stomped off to the back of the vehicle and threw it open again. “Look again. There’s no one here.”
“She is hidden.” Sharp blades sprang from each of the spheres and they twirled with the air of children eager for their ice cream. “We shall find her.”
“There’s no one here!” Leo insisted.
“And we shall cut your tongue from your mouth for daring to sing,” announced one of them, descending toward him.
As she slipped out of the van and sprinted toward the last streaks of orange in the evening sky, Martha had never been so uncertain of her invisibility. She plastered a hand over her mouth to muffle her gasps as she ran, her brother’s screams and the squeals of shredding metal chasing her away. She couldn’t let his sacrifice be in vain, and she forced herself to push on, refusing to look back. It wasn’t until she reached the relative safety of a tiny copse of trees, a mile or so from the lonely road, that she fell to her knees and allowed herself, for the first time in months, to cry.
“There’s nothing like a year of slavery under an evil psychopath to cure your mid-life crisis,” Clive grunted as he stared into his coffee. “What’s really important is so much clearer now.”
“If nothing else, it did that right.” Francine, next to him on the sofa, smirked at her ex-husband, then turned to her daughters sitting in the armchairs opposite. “But he did his best, you know. Tish, you saw how he tried to keep the Master off our backs.” Her voice turned soft. “It reminded me why I fell in love with him in the first place. So, I thought, why not? It worked once.”
Mum and Dad not only on speaking terms, but hooking up? Tish and Martha glanced at each other to reassure themselves that pigs hadn’t just wandered in from the kitchen and started flying about the room. Crossing her arms, Tish flopped back in her chair. “You can’t be serious,” she finally breathed.
Clive nodded. “I know, I know. But we talked it over, your mum and me. I got my head on straight, well, straighter, and so we thought we’d try again. Not like full on. A few dates. Family dos. See if we can find that old magic.” He glanced at Francine, who favoured him with a sad half-smile, then took her hand in his. She stiffened, but allowed it.
“It’s gonna take nothing less than Voldemort to get that magic going again, but I hope it works,” Tish declared. “At least Leo’ll be happy either way. Easier to get you to babysit without Annalise hanging on you, Dad.”
“Tish,” Martha warned.
“What?” Tish continued, oblivious to her mother’s stormy glare at the mention of Clive’s ex-girlfriend. “I don’t know why you’re so concerned about him. He was on holiday in Brighton. That’s all he knows. He doesn’t remember the past year. Only us.”
“Lucky us,” Francine murmured.
Shooting her sister an angry glare, Martha jumped up and stalked to the front window, to stare out at the empty street where a worn blue police box stood, incongruous against the neat modern terraces.
“What?” Tish repeated, whirling between her parents. “What did I say?’
“That’s him,” Martha murmured. “That’s his car, up at the corner.”
Squeezing Francine’s hand again, Clive heaved himself up from his seat and walked out to go greet his son. A few silent minutes later, Leo strode in, followed by his father. “What the hell’s going on, Mum?” he demanded as he peeled off his jacket and threw it over the back of the sofa. “You know we just got back from France. I didn’t even get the chance to put Keisha down when you told me to come over, and no Shonara?”
“Leo, this is a family matter,” Francine began.
“Shonara’s family. Just ‘cause we’re not married yet -”
“I’ve never said a word against her -” she protested, but Leo shushed her with a dismissive wave.
“Oh, you don’t have to. You’ve never liked her. I can tell.”
“Shut up, will you?” Tish called. “This is important.”
“And Shonara’s not?” he shot back, then spied Martha standing behind her. “And you! You scared the hell out of us with that phone call, Marth, and then you’re all on the telly with that bloke of yours when those aliens kill the President and the Prime Minister is shot by his own wife? What is going on?”
“Oh, Leo,” sighed Martha. Scooting around Tish’s armchair, she ran to her brother and threw her arms around him. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
Leo stared down at her, holding his arms up to avoid returning the hug. “You’re glad I’m safe? What’s gotten into you all?”
Clive resumed his seat next to his ex-wife and cleared his throat. “Leo. After your sister’s done, sit down. We’ve got something we’ve got to tell you. It’s a long story, so hush up for once, will you?”
As Martha let go and went off to fetch a chair from the dining room, Leo sat down in the empty armchair next to Tish. “This sounds serious.”
“It is.” Martha set her chair so that the family gathered together amicably for the first time in over a decade. It felt awkward, but oddly comforting. “Very serious. You’ve got to promise us you’ll listen and you’ll believe us, and you won’t talk back until the end. Because we’re going to need your help to get through this and you have to know why.”
“Just promise,” Tish groaned, rolling her eyes.
“All right,” Leo sighed. “I promise.”
Martha glanced at her parents and took a deep breath. “I know you saw us only a few days ago, at Tish’s do, but it’s been a year for us.” Leo frowned but kept his silence. Martha nodded. She knew how crazy this must seem to him; she’d felt the same way as she’d looked out on the surface of the moon, only a few days earlier in strict linear time. “It was a hard year. A really hard year. You were there, too, only you don’t remember. But you know? You were brilliant…”