DISCLAIMER: Dr Who in all its incarnations belongs to the mighty BBC and
Russell T Davies. I'm merely a lifelong fan.
SPOILERS: set after end Season 3, "The Last of the Timelords".
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Something Fragile and Afraid
Like K9 and the sonic lipstick it just turned up one day. Sarah Jane Smith looked at the fob watch nestling in the leather and velvet case. The case itself looked like an heirloom, the fine-grained dark green leather scuffed at the edges. The velvet inside was still a rich deep gold, like trapped sunshine. The watch itself appeared to have a silver casing, chaised with what looked like astronomical figures. There was no hallmark, no makers name on either the watch or the box it had arrived in.
Sarah looked at the packaging. A standard Jiffy bag that could be bought at any branch of WH Smiths or the Post Office. Her address was printed carefully, not in a hand that she recognized and the postmark was illegible.
The watch felt warm in the palm of her hand. There was a curious sense of energy about it even though it appeared to be broken or run down. There was no sound of ticking just a sense of anticipation. Not so much a time piece as a place holder.
"K-9?" she asked. "What do you make of this?" She lowered her hand until it was level with his scanner.
"Residual level of artron-energy noted. Chrononometer non functional. Components non-terrestrial origin. Complexity beyond current state of earth technology. Suggest you treat with extreme caution, mistress."
"It's not a bomb it's not going to explode or anything. Or emit poison gas. Or zap me."
"No explosives detected, mistress. No toxic elements beyond residual artron energy already noted. No laser or weapons capability detected. It is safe, mistress." There was a beat. K-9 was never one for unbounded optimism. "Suggestion of extreme caution still in effect."
Sarah nodded, her thumb feathering the catch on the side of the watch. "I understand. Thank you, K-9." `Here goes nothing ' she thought, as the watch case clicked open
And there was light and a sense of time passing ancient and terrible and wondrous. A voice whispered in her ear, soft, feminine. "Keep me safe. Keep me secret."
"K-9. You must speak of this to no one, not even to me. Do you understand?"
It was just an old watch again, an old family heirloom, nothing special at all. It didn't even work. Sarah blinked. She could probably get £30 for it down at the local antiques dealer if she'd a mind to sell it.
Carefully, she put the watch back in its box and took it upstairs to the attic. Beyond the main room that she used as her office was another space where she had stored a lot of her aunt's old furniture and belongings. There was an old black lacquer chest that Aunt Lavinia had picked up somewhere in the Far East that contained some old family papers and bits of jewelry that were too antiquated for Sarah's tastes but too precious as `family' to sell. She put the box in the chest, hiding it in plain sight amongst the other jewelry cases, closed the lid and promptly forgot about it.
Coming downstairs again she tidied away the detritus of the parcel along with yesterday's newspapers and a couple of old magazines before deciding it was time for a cuppa.
The woman shivered and drew her high collar closer around her. The chill autumn day seemed to eat into her bones even through her thick woolen coat. She wasn't used to this kind of weather.
The cities on Gallifrey had been domed, the climate carefully controlled with only the most minor variations in temperature no matter what the weather in the wildlands around them. Gallifrey. It was like a dream to her now. So long ago, so far away.
She blinked, the stray thought/memory disappearing as fast as it had come to her. Dwelling on the past did no good to anyone least of all her. She had to think to the future. Her contact was late. The evening rush hour traffic had slowed to a trickle, all the commuters safely on their way home. The few remaining shops in this run-down arcade were closing their shutters, turning off their lights, locking up for the night. The pools of darkness grew deeper around her. The drizzle was getting heavier, soaking into her hair, darkening it from its usual blonde.
Something was wrong. She should have had a plan B. What the hell was she supposed to do if her contact didn't show? Where could she go? It wasn't as if she knew anyone here. She didn't even have any currency.
It was starting to rain in earnest now. Dusk was rapidly inevitably deepening into night. The people who passed her by seemed almost a different race to those she had seen in daylight hours, enclosed, furtive, watching her as covertly as she watched them. Unease chilled her spine even more than the weather. She wasn't used to being helpless, to feeling afraid. She wasn't used to events being so out of her control.
Giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed no matter how unpalatable. Having events, people and resources in her grasp. Making the decisions no one else wanted to take. Doing her duty to her people. Trying to keep three moves ahead of the enemy whilst trying not to think like them because that would mean she would lose everything she was. Plans within plans. Wheels within wheels. Tick. Tock.
Someone brushed passed her with a muffled curse/apology she wasn't sure which. Spooked and more than a little paranoid, she moved further down the street into the doorway of a shop to get out of the rain and the reach of the intermittent foot traffic, easing her backpack off her shoulder and resting it on the ground, leaning it against her leg. She blew on her chilled fingers. For something to do she started to read the graffiti and layers of posters on the brick wall opposite her stance. Most of it seemed to be for various bands and films. There must have been an election recently, a lot of the newer posters were vote for this or that. Most parties were represented but most of the posters seemed to be for someone or something called Saxon. Many of them had been defaced or torn through, other posters on top of them for Harriet Jones and National Unity. The graffiti tags were the usual mixture of no-brain racism and sexual prowess though an enterprising someone had scrawled `BadWolf' in a once-fluorescent red paint in splendid isolation high up on the wall. In the rain and harsh streetlighting it looked disconcertingly like blood. She wondered what it meant.
A car came around the corner and came to an uncertain halt at the kerb in front of her , it's headlights bright making her narrow her eyes to preserve her nightvision. The car door opened and a young woman got out. She looked to be in her late twenties, her shoulder length dark brown hair pulled back into a pony tail. She wore jeans and a white t shirt under a black leather coat. And very no-nonsense boots. Her expression was suitably fierce until she smiled.
"Sorry I'm a bit late. The Professor wasn't too exact with his directions and you know what he's like about timekeeping. I'm Ace. Are you Fred?"
She knew it wasn't her real name: that was too conspicuous, too well known in certain quarters, if not at the moment known to her. She had plucked this name out of the depths of her unconsciousness someone had called her that a long time ago as a kind of joke. It fitted with this new life, this new way of being. "Fred, yes, that's right," she held out her hand remembering it was the thing to do. "I'm Fred. It's good to meet you, Ace."
"Good to meet you too, Fred. Let's get you somewhere warm and dry, shall we? Then we can talk about what's going to happen next."
The building was even more run down in appearance than the one she had been waiting outside all evening. Inside however was a different story. They climbed the stairs to a loft area. It was warm, comfortably furnished and equipped with a plethora of electronics. Ace had tapped into the local CCTV network nothing happened within a two block radius without her knowing about it.
"Home made chameleon circuit," Ace said with a smile. "Crime rate round here you do best looking as if you've nothing worth stealing. I work a lot of security contracts, surveillance, leg work for an investigative journalist. Sarah Jane Smith?"
Fred stared at her. The chameleon circuit sounded like it was a joke, to which Ace thought she should get the referents, but she didn't. She knew a chameleon was a small lizard indigenous to this planet that had been endowed by evolution with the ability to change its colour to merge with its surroundings but as far as she knew it was a purely organic lifeform and not equipped with any circuitry or cybernetic enhancements.
As far as she knew. Which didn't take her very far at all.
And the investigator Ace had mentioned. Sarah something. Recognition was on the tip of her tongue but recollection failed her again. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "Everything's a little hazy."
"You're probably still suffering from shock. Possibly even PTSD," Ace said. "The Professor warned me you might seem a little disconnected. I tell you what; I'll show you your room and let you get yourself sorted whilst I put the kettle on for some tea. Are you hungry?"
Was she hungry? On reflection, she decided that she was. "I can't remember the last time I ate," she said truthfully. "But I don't want to put you to any more trouble."
Her room had an air mattress on the floor and several brightly coloured quilts and pillows piled on top. There was a low table, a stool and a freestanding radiator. The walls were painted a pale peach colour and one wall was covered in a world map, marked with different coloured pins. Post-it notes in various colours fringed the map, notations carefully made in tiny writing. Those that she could read made no sense, Fred presumed it was some kind of code.
"The bathroom's just next door," Ace said helpfully. "And there's hot water if you want to take a shower, though it takes a minute or so to run through so don't jump in straight away. I don't know what spare clothes you've got but there's a bathrobe in there you're welcome to borrow and I can fix you up with a couple of t shirts, and some sweats, though they might be a bit big on you," she frowned, realizing how slender Fred was under the bulky coat she had been wearing.
"Thank you," Fred said. "You've been very kind."
"Don't mention it," Ace said. "Any friend of the Professor "
This was someone else that Ace felt she should know but Fred's mind was too confused to confirm or deny. She had the momentary impression of a tall broad man all hair and eyes and teeth and the raw energy of a volcano on the verge of eruption but his face and form would not settle.
The room reeled around her and she felt Ace's arm around her guiding her to a chair. "Sit down for a while, get your bearings," the young woman advised. "I'll get you that tea and a couple of slices of toast to take the edge off."
Fred took off her coat and Ace hung it up for her on a handy hook behind the door to dry out. Though it had kept off the worst of the rain, the bottoms of her trousers were definitely damp and she felt clammy, the change in her surroundings making her feel chill and overheated at the same time.
She stared at her backpack. At least she presumed it was hers: she had no idea what it contained. She fiddled with the clasp for a moment or two, in two minds whether to open it or not. At last Fred drew back, feeling the need to regroup before any further revelations, pleasant or otherwise.
She went into the small bathroom and quickly shucked out of her clothes, kicking her sodden boots and socks into the corner and stretching her cramped, damp toes. Quickly, she figured out the shower controls and set it going, letting it run until the hot water ran through as she had been advised to do.
She blinked as she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. Strange. She really did not recognize the person staring back at her. The sensation took her surprise. She didn't look how she had expected to look. But then she didn't know exactly how she was supposed to look. It was very disconcerting. Wide green/blue eyes, a tip tilted nose, generous mouth. She already knew she was physically small and slightly built, an air of fragility to her that she was pretty sure was illusory. She ran her hands over her chilled skin, cupping her small breasts for a moment, smoothing over her belly and thighs. Her long blonde hair flowed half way down her back. She supposed, on the whole, that she could be considered pretty. She shivered. She felt like a stranger in her own skin. That couldn't be right.
Someone knocked on the door. Without thinking, she opened it.
"I've er well There's a cup of tea and a couple of rounds of toast waiting for you when you're done. I've put a change of clothes on the bed," Ace said, desperately trying to keep her gaze above shoulder level on her guest, a blush rising in her cheeks.
"Thank you," Fred said. "You've been very kind."
"If there's anything else you need " Ace was obviously getting flustered by her nudity. Perhaps there was some kind of taboo against it that she wasn't aware of. Yet she was sure that it wasn't censure that she saw in the other woman's eyes. It was arousal. Fred also noticed that Ace had very pretty eyes.
It was a spur of the moment thing. It seemed the right thing to do yet at the same time she was absolutely certain she had never done anything quite like this before, certainly not on such brief acquaintance. Fred moved a step closer to Ace, reached up and kissed her softly on the lips.
Sarah Jane Smith sat up in bed, gasping for breath. The dream had been so clear, the destruction she had unwillingly witnessed total. Forests burning, fireballs filling the sky, the cracked and broken ruins of a domed city, the towers toppled, streets ankle deep in ash. Bodies everywhere, some contorted like those found at Pompeii, eyes wide and dark with blood, mouths open trying for one last gasp of air, others lying at peace, their arms around each other, holding on to their children empty vials of pills or potions by their outstretched hands having met the inevitability of death with as much dignity as they could. Aerial battles continued even at these last moments, slim arrow light fighters taking on bulkier vessels, some orb like darting in around and through the shining towers others bristling with protuberances and gun turrets hovering just above ground level. The arrow shaped vessels `her' ships she instinctively knew were fighting a losing battle. Ground troops flooded the city, strange robotic creatures gliding through the ruins, deadly, implacable enemies that both Sarah and this mysterious `other' whose eyes she was watching through knew of old. It would be a hollow victory. It had been her last official act. In her blood and her bones she could hear the countdown. And then she was moving at great speed, up and away. From her vantage point she could see the prelude, how seismic disturbances had almost cracked the planet in two, lava boiling into the sea, clouds of ash and steam blotting out the sun, shrouding the planet she was leaving forever. She could no longer hold back her tears as she bade her home farewell for the last time.
Higher she flew leaving the planet behind, passing the hulks of spaceships, dead and open to the atmosphere, the debris field slowly spreading outwards. The planet was the size of a coin, the thick layer of volcanic dust and steam turning it silver in the reflected light from its sun, when the end came. The last resort, the great doom. The explosion was devastating enough to set a chain reaction through the surrounding system and even the sun itself.
But she was long gone when it went nova. The last of the Timelords.
Sarah had already known that Gallifrey and all it represented was long gone. The Doctor had told her one evening during their battle against the Krilltanes. Finch, the lead Krilltane had tried to tempt the Doctor into joining him with the promise that Gallifrey could be restored if the Doctor wished it so. That no one need die. This was the third time in a week that Sarah had had the same dream. Her initial thought on waking the first time was that this was some kind of dream-memory of the Doctor that somehow she had relived. But the more she thought about it over the rest of the day and those since the less sure she was of that. The `presence' had been distinctly female, the voice she had heard raised in lament as Gallifrey fell strangely familiar yet she was sure she had never heard it before.
`Keep me safe. Keep me secret.'
Something was going on, that was for certain. It was still early, barely light but she knew she would get no more sleep that night. A cup of tea was in order. And a little chat with K-9. At least she could start to put the day to rights. She checked her diary. There was a meeting tonight. That was fortunate. Sara hadn't been to one for a while but her instincts were screaming at her. This whatever it was involved the Doctor. Maybe one of the others had heard something. Maybe, just maybe, she wasn't the only one having the dream.
Ace had found Fred a job working in the bookshop of a friend of hers. It meant that Fred had a little money of her own and she wasn't alone in the flat all day. Sally, the co-owner of the shop was kind, outgoing, exuberant. And there was an expression, an otherworldliness in her eyes that Fred somehow recognized. She saw it in her own reflection. Ace had it too. They had seen things, experienced things that few others could even dream about. And they could never tell because who would ever believe them. And she couldn't ask them just in case her instincts were wrong. When you seemed to have fallen fully formed into the world only a few weeks before and didn't even recognize your own reflection it was difficult to know who and what to trust.
Fred already knew she was `different' above and beyond the fact of her strange amnesia. She never felt warm and everyone else felt as if they were running a fever when she touched them. She could see in the dark as well as she could in the daytime and so far she hadn't heard a language that she couldn't speak and understand. On the downside, the sight of her reflection still unsettled her every time she saw herself. And the sound of her own blood pulsing in her body sounded wrong off somehow. On more than one night she had woken from a nightmare convinced that she had two hearts and that one had stopped beating and she was going to die. The last time it had been so bad she had crawled into Ace's bed, shaking with terror and the other woman had just held her until she relaxed enough to fall asleep again. Something about her had brought out Ace's protective side. Not that Fred needed protection but still, it was nice to have someone who cared.
Waking the next morning curled up against Ace's body had been one of the most pleasant `new' memories she had. There had been no awkwardness between them and even though it had been a completely `innocent' encounter, Fred still glowed inside at the memory of it.
The shop was busy enough but didn't really need another assistant and Fred knew that Sally was doing this as a favour to Ace. Still it was pleasant work. Sally and her boyfriend Larry were both good people, taking Fred's eccentricities at face value.
It frustrated her often that there were things she did not know, things that should have been commonplace. Ace had explained Fred's eccentricities and curious gaps in knowledge to her and her new employers as amnesia following an accident. Most but not all of the things she found complicated or just plain did not know could be put down to her amnesia. Money for example on her first morning in the shop Larry had had to explain to her the coinage system, the different denominations of the notes, the whole decimal system, the free market state as opposed to socialism...
"So it all comes down to base 10 mathematics," she said.
"Of course what other number would it be based on?" Larry frowned. His face cleared as he thought he had the answer. "You're thinking about the old pounds shillings and pence system didn't think you were that old, Fred."
"I'm not," she said. "It's just "
"Complicated," they all said in unison. Her new favourite word.
Sometimes Fred felt she had just been dumped here from another planet entirely. But that was impossible. Wasn't it? The shop stocked plenty of books on the subject both for and against and in her spare time Fred was slowly working her way through them along with histories, biographies and anything else that took her fancy. Which led to something else weird about her. Apparently it wasn't normal to be able to read and perfectly recall books at the speed she was capable of doing it. She could get through a three hundred page history book in her lunch hour. Larry thought she was faking it until he tested her recall and understanding.
Fred had no idea how long this `complicated' life could continue so she tried her best not to get used to it, not to rely on Ace and Sally too much. Someone somewhere must be missing her, surely. Nothing lasted forever. It was difficult thought, to remain detached. Every time she saw Ace or thought about the young woman she felt a smile touch her lips.
After they had kissed for the first time, Ace had just smiled at her and touched her cheek. "I don't think either of us is quite ready for this yet," she said gently. "You need to get yourself together a bit more. Give it a week or two, okay and if you want to take `this' further, then we'll talk."
Recognising the wisdom in the other woman's words, Fred had readily agreed. She had finished her shower, feeling much better afterwards and dressed in the t shirt and sweats that Ace had left for her. The outfit swamped her slender frame and she used the belt from the robe to tie around her waist to keep the sweatpants from descending of their own accord.
Ace had been unable to bite back a grin when Fred emerged into the living area again. "I'm sorry, but you look like a kid playing dress up," she said. "We'll have to get you something more your size tomorrow."
"Thank you " Fred said. A thought struck her. "I don't have any currency, I can't pay "
"Don't worry, already taken care of," Ace said. "We've got you some money and some basic ID that should pass most checks. You're going to be okay, Fred." Ace passed her a slim black leather wallet. Inside there was currency Bank of England Pound Notes she noted in various denominations, a plastic card with some numbers and a name `Winifred Hope' embossed on it. There was also a certificate of some kind stating that Winifred Hope had been born in London borough of Hackney on 23rd October 1977 and her father's name was John, a teacher, her mother's name Dorothy.
"This isn't me," Fred said. "I wasn't born "
"It is for now," Ace said. "Fred, don't worry. You're among friends. You can stay as long as you need to."
"Thank you," Fred said. She sat down at the table and put the wallet beside the plate of toast. Ace made them both a fresh cup of tea.
"Ginseng and lemon," she said. "Supposed to be good for what ails you."
The delicate scent from the tea pricked at her memory. A dark haired woman, a long thin face with an almost brittle beauty and pale amber eyes. Then it was gone. She shivered, took a cautious sip of the hot liquid. "It's delicious. Thank you." She nibbled at a slice of toast, discovering within a few seconds that she was indeed very hungry. The pile of toast disappeared in short order.
She watched as Ace picked up a satchel and got out a laptop, setting up on the other side of the table. "Look, I've got a bit of work to finish up. You won't disturb me if you want to watch TV or put in a DVD or some music."
"It's okay I thought I'd try to sleep for a while," Fred said, finishing her tea and getting up. She took her plate and mug and rinsed them in the kitchen before retreating to the spare room. She had left her jeans over the back of a chair near the heater and they were almost dry again. Her backpack sat at the foot of the mattress. Sitting down she pulled it towards her, unfastening the buckles that held the webbing straps closed.
Inside, there was a change of clothes a plain white shirt and jeans identical to the ones she had been wearing earlier and a couple of sets of underwear (disappointingly plain) and several pairs of socks. A key ring with one copper coloured key. The worn leather fob had a picture of a structure of some kind and the worlds `Bienvenue à Paris".
Running across a busy road in the rain hand in hand with him towards the Eiffel Tower, that ridiculous hat she had insisted on wearing threatening to blow off with every step. Being completely happy even in the face of the probable collapse of the whole time/space continuum. Time Lady. Chronic Hysteresis. The Countess smiling in the face of death.
The key was warm to the touch, its presence strangely comforting. She tried to hold on to the stray memory for as long as she could but like all the other flashbacks she had experienced it faded away all too quickly.
A bag of sweets. Jelly babies. They had got a bit squished and had obviously been in the bottom of the bag for some time. Some of them were distinctly furry. She set them aside and picked up the next object. Something that looked like a cross between a magic wand and a ballpoint pen but was neither whatever it was, it fit snugly in her palm and she clutched it to herself for a moment, willing some kind of memory to appear. But her mind was still a blank.
A notebook. Only the first few pages had writing in them, an impatient bold scrawl that spoke to her of too much to say and too little time to say it.
It almost looked like a letter to herself from herself. But she had no memory of writing it. With a sickening jolt, she truly realized something for the first time. She had no real cogent memory of anything before waiting in the rain for Ace to pick her up. If memories were the real tally of a life, then she was only a few hours old.
This is a letter from well, me, Fred. Confusing I know. But there are some things you need to know.
Your memory will return. All of it. Though some bits I think you might wish had stayed forgotten. Don't worry. It's safe. Everything is going to be all right. It's part of the plan that I you devised to keep one step ahead of them. So, yes. You did this to yourself. You made yourself amnesiac to protect yourself and those who are trying to help you. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First things. Your name is Fred. Although if the process worked properly you should already know that. Trust Ace and her friends. They know enough to keep you safe, though they don't know everything. Ace will fill in all the details you need to know for now.
You have enemies. Bad ones. That's why we're doing this, to hide from them in plain sight. This was the best time and place to come because whilst these people don't know you personally they know enough about you to know how important it is that you are protected.
I can't tell you much more than that. It isn't safe. And it could put the others into danger as well. Keep these things safe the key, the sonic screwdriver [Fred picked up the object that she had thought was a pen and looked at it thoughtfully what the hell did you do with a sonic screwdriver?], and most especially the object you'll find wrapped in the cloth underneath everything else. [Fred looked inside the bag again and found a bundle of fabric at the bottom with something hard and round inside] As for this journal. Write in it. Tell me about Fred, about her life and her adventures (because you wouldn't be you if you didn't have adventures). When this is over, I don't know how much of `Fred' will survive when `you' become `me' again. And you might want to remember this time later.
I know you're scared and unsure of everything right now. But you're a strong person, Fred, resilient and adaptable. You will get through this. We both will. So my final advice to you is to make the most of it. Have a great life as Fred.
Until we meet again.
The bundled material was velvety black, shot through with silver, and was the softest thing she had ever felt. Somehow it made her think of `home' wherever that was. Inside was a silver filigree egg or perhaps it was a flower bud. It was beautiful, whatever it was. Like the key earlier the metal was warm to her touch and there was a sense of something almost alive about it.
Fred sat the object on the table. Somehow it kept itself upright. She stroked down one of the filigree like petals and to her surprise the bud opened up, the edges peeling back as if it was a flower opening. She heard music and it started to glow softly with a silvery pink light. She felt happy and sad and loved and lost and a thousand other emotions that she had no name for. Somehow it reminded her of everything she had lost and everything she had to live for.
Time passed. How much she wasn't sure. The music died away, the light faded and the flower shape closed back up into a bud again. No, bud was the wrong word. Seed.
"That was beautiful," Ace said softly from the doorway. "Something from home?"
"I think so," Fred said hesitantly. There was an initial engraved on the side of the bud, an `R' so ornately decorated you had to look very hard to see it. She wondered if it was the same `R' who had written the letter.
No that wasn't it. It was strange this not knowing and yet knowing.
"How do you know when you don't know something?" she asked aloud.
"Sorry, that's far too philosophical for me," Ace laughed. "Look, that looks like it's a family heirloom or something probably really valuable and far too portable to leave out in the open. I'll show you where you can keep it safe."
She crossed to the corner of the room behind the door into the bathroom and peeled back the edge of the carpet. Part of one of the floorboards looked slightly newer than the others and didn't fit perfectly. Ace teased it up revealing a metal box beneath with a keypad set into the surface. "It's a lock box," she said. "Like they have in bank vaults. You'd pretty much have to take up the whole floor to get it out now." She pressed a code and the lid popped up. She reached inside and took out a black leather pouch and a metal canister. "I can stow this stuff somewhere else for now. I've cancelled my code. Put whatever you want in here, shut the lid again, put in your code, press enter, zero twice then put in your code again and press enter. That secures it to your personal code."
She straightened up, smiled brightly at Fred. "I just came to check if there was anything else you needed before I head off to bed. Are you going to be okay?"
"I think so, yes," Fred smiled.
"Good night then " Ace hesitated then leant forward, brushed her lips against Fred's. "Sleep well. If you need anything in the night, just shout okay?"
Before Fred had chance to reply, she was gone.
The kiss hadn't been repeated in the days since but Fred was increasingly aware that she would like it to happen again.
The back room of the shop was occasionally hired out to various groups. A writers group met Wednesday afternoons, a read-a-long-a three year old group Thursday mornings and a University of the Third Age book club took over the room on Friday afternoons. A D&D group met there most Saturdays; the first time Fred saw one of the role-players in full Troll get-up she seriously thought aliens had landed.
Ogron. Maybe Judoon.
The headpiece lifted up his head piece revealing the all-too human face beneath. "Sorry Fred, didn't mean to startle you. Just finished making this last night wanted to show off to the guys." She recognized him as the guy who got seriously tweaked if the second hand novelisations of original Star Trek got mixed in with those for Next Gen and Voyager or God Forbid, Enterprise. Both Sally and Larry had assured her that the RPG'rs were harmless. Mostly. And entirely human.
"The shop's staying open late tonight," Sally told her as they were opening up the shop on Tuesday. "The group that's meeting well, Ace is a member as well, so you might as well stay around as well, get a lift home again with her. Actually, you might find the meeting interesting."
Fred looked in the diary. "F.o.t.D," she read aloud. She knew that Ace was involved in various activist groups, anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmentalist concerns and figured it was one of those. As long as it didn't get too preachy, she might actually learn something.
Ace arrived just after five to help Larry set up the back room. "Sarah rang me earlier, said she'd be here tonight," she told Sally before glancing over at Fred. "It's about time you met Sarah Jane. She started this group originally."
"This group " Fred said slowly. "F.o.t.D what does it stand for? What are you meeting about?"
"It's kind of a support network," Ace said. "You'll see. They're a nice bunch." She finished setting up her laptop. Fred knew she wasn't working on all cylinders exactly but she was painfully sure that Ace had just avoided answering her question.
Fine. There were several boxes of new books in the stock room needed adding to the inventory. She could get that done whilst they were having their stupid meeting.
By six thirty there were twelve people sitting in the back room drinking the wine that an elderly couple called the Chestertons had brought and nibbling on the snacks and sandwiches that other people in the group had come supplied with. Fred doggedly continued with her inventory of the new stock trying not to listen to the buzz of conversation and occasional bouts of laughter coming from the other room. Occasionally words filtered through, most meant nothing to her but one or two sent shivers down her spine. Tardis. Skaro. Dalek.
She felt physically sick for a moment, hot and cold shivers racking her body. She closed her eyes against the dizzy spell.
"Fred? Come on, everyone's dying to meet you!" Sally said. "Have a glass of wine with us at least hey, are you feeling okay? You look as if you're going to throw up."
"I'm okay I don't want to intrude," Fred said. "It's your meeting."
"No everyone wants to meet you. Everyone knows about you. We're all friends here," Sally said earnestly.
Fred remembered what she'd written to herself in the journal. This was the best time and place to come because whilst these people don't know you personally they know enough about you to know how important it is that you are protected.
Was that why she was getting flashbacks? Was it part of the secret that was her life? Sally took the pile of books out of her hand and put them down on the work table.
"Come on. Please. You're not the only one who's new to the meetings so you're not alone. Martha and Tish it's their first time here too."
Fred allowed herself to be led into the room. Ace smiled at her reassuringly and she felt a little better. Sally introduced her to the Chestertons, Ian and Barbara. They were both ex-teachers. Liz Shaw who looked to be in her late fifties was a Cambridge professor whilst Jo Jones was some sort of eco-activist. There was another elderly couple whom Ace seemed to be particularly close to the Leithbridge-Stewarts. Tegan Jovanka introduced herself. "I'm the token colonial," she said. "Aussie, if you hadn't guessed already. Though I live here now."
"And these are our other new people tonight. "Martha sorry, Doctor," Sally stressed the words making the young woman look embarrassed "Martha Jones and her sister Tish."
"Martha just qualified," Tish explained, hugging her sister. "It's good to meet you, Fred."
"And last but not least, Sarah Jane," Sally said, introducing her to slender middle aged woman with dark hair.
"Sarah Jane are you the journalist Ace works for sometimes?" Fred asked.
"That's right," Sarah smiled, holding out her hand. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Fred." Their fingers touched.
And they knew.
Fred fell back with a cry. The towers were burning, people running for their lives, the citadel guards directing as many as they could to the transport system which was on the edge of failing completely. The last spaceship that had tried to escape had been destroyed before it cleared the atmosphere.
Someone was holding her up, strong arms around her, her head pillowed on a breast. Ace. Ace was holding her, whispering to her that she was all right.
Sally appeared in her view with a glass of water in her hand. "Get her to drink some of this," she advised. "I thought she looked a bit peaky earlier."
"Who is she?" she heard Sarah ask. "What just happened? I saw I saw the same things I've been dreaming about for weeks."
"She's a friend of the Professor, I told you. He asked me to look after her."
"You mean the Doctor," Martha said.
"No, I mean my Doctor," Ace said fiercely. "I know he's not the same now, that he's changed at least three four times since I traveled with him, but somehow he was my Doctor, the Professor."
"It must be serious for him to mix timelines like this," Liz Shaw frowned. "She sorry, Fred, didn't mean to talk over you like that," she apologized. "Especially as you probably have no idea what we're talking about."
"Ace said that you're amnesiac," Martha said. "Have you been to a hospital to get checked out? You could have a head injury."
"No no hospitals," Fred said suddenly very certain that going to a hospital would be a very bad idea. Once a doctor examined her, found that she had two hearts and she shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. That had only been a dream she was human. One heart, not two. "I'm fine really. I'm fine."
"Okay," Martha backed off, obviously not wanting to upset her any further.
"I'm looking after her," Ace said firmly. "And she's okay. She just got a bit of a shock that was all. Sarah I don't know what's going on with you, why you're having these dreams but why do you think it's connected to Fred?"
"I'm not sure myself. I know I've never met you before but something about you is very familiar," Sarah said, coming closer to Fred again. "And the dreams the war you've dreamt it too you've seen it!"
Automatically Fred drew back, pressing herself against Ace. She felt the other woman's arm around her waist holding her close. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said firmly. "I don't remember anything, certainly not about a war. And frankly if that's what my memories were, I don't want to remember. I'm a different person now, a different life." Somehow Ace's grip on her had transmogrified from support and protection to care and concern and love. "A life I happen to like very much. I have a job, friends Ace. I don't think I had this before. I don't think I was loved." She looked up at Ace, who looked down at her with a smile on her face, her hand gently touching Fred's cheek. To those watching it was clear for the moment that the two women had forgotten there was anyone else in the room.
Martha touched Sarah's arm. "Leave it alone, please," she said softly. "Sometimes sometimes it's just best to leave things alone. Let the mystery be a mystery."
Sarah glared at her indignantly, obviously unused to being over ruled then her expression softened. "Okay. Fred, I'm really sorry to have upset you. It's just I've been having strange dreams lately and something about you reminded me "
`Keep me safe. Keep me secret.'
Suddenly Sarah understood. " look. One day perhaps, if you change your mind. I think I can help you."
"Thank you," Fred said. "And I'm sorry I flew off the handle like that. It's "
"Complicated," Ace, Sally and Larry said in unison. Fred laughed.
"See what I mean?" she smiled at the older woman. "Whoever I was, she's gone. Who I am now I think I'm going to be just fine."
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