“Here we are, Jamie, fifty-first century, as promised. Six o’clock in the evening. Just the right time to order a take out, watch a bit of TV, get a good night’s sleep and be bright and early in the office tomorrow morning.”

“Somehow, after all the adventures we’ve had, that doesn’t seem all that attractive an idea,” Jamie answered despondently. “Still, I suppose it IS nice to be home.”

She looked around the TARDIS console room one last time and sighed. Yes, she was going to miss this life. There was a lot she was going to miss. A lot of people she would miss.

“Would you…” she said. “Don’t go yet. Come in and have a cup of coffee… I’ll order take out for three… You’re not in any hurry, are you?”

“We’re in no hurry at all,” The Doctor assured her, and we’d love to have supper with you.” He picked up the large suitcase Jamie had packed, everything she had brought with her on her voyage with The Doctor and all the clothes and other sundries she had bought or acquired along the way.

It seemed a lot longer than six months since she first stepped aboard the TARDIS. And yet it didn’t seem long enough. She wasn’t sure she was ready to go back to being a Time Agent, told what to do by a superior officer she didn’t particularly like, let alone respect, and who liked her even less.

And she already missed Wyn more than she could ever possibly let on to anyone. That was why she asked The Doctor and Stella to stay. She wanted to hold on to a little of that life she had grown to love for just a little longer. If she couldn’t have Wyn, at least she had The Doctor.

They stepped out of the TARDIS together into the Skyke park on the top level of the apartment block where Jamie lived. The TARDIS looked incongruous among the various styles of sky cars parked there, but when all was said and done, where else would it go? He gallantly carried Jamie’s suitcase to the hyperlift to her floor and to the front door of her apartment. Jamie found her electronic key and inserted it into the lock.

“That’s odd,” she said as they stepped inside. The heating is on and the lights…”

There was music coming from somewhere, too. And the smell of cooking. Jamie looked at The Doctor.

“Did you get the day wrong? If you’ve brought us to a time when I’m still living here… Blinovitch…”

The Doctor was slightly worried about that, too, though he was full certain he had the date and time right.

“Jamie, sweetheart!” cried a young woman who appeared at the kitchen door. “I wasn’t expecting you for another hour. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve missed you so much!” The woman ran towards Jamie and flung her arms around her, kissing her.

Stella looked at her in disgust and turned and ran out of the apartment. The Doctor looked at her, then at Jamie, and turned to run after her.

She got as far as the emergency stairwell before he reached her. She was crying.

“All that time,” she said. “All those promises to Wyn, telling her she loved her. And…and everything… and… and… all the time… she had a lover tucked away here.”

“That can’t be right,” The Doctor said. “I know it looks funny right now, but we were here before. There was no sign of anyone else living here with Jamie apart from Wyn. A house with two people in it… looks different. I know I haven’t lived in a house for a very long time, but I know. Even the TARDIS looks and feels different when people live in it. And Jamie didn’t have a girlfriend here before Wyn.”

“Well, she’s got one now,” Stella responded angrily.

Jamie came through the firedoor. Stella turned on her. The Doctor was stunned by the fire in her rage as she poured out her feelings about Jamie’s betrayal of her sister. She even managed to get a punch in that Jamie failed to dodge before The Doctor stepped in and restrained her.

“I haven’t….” Jamie began. “I haven’t… ever… betrayed anyone. I haven’t… Stella, believe me. I haven’t done anything wrong. And I have no idea who that woman is.”

“Well, she knows who YOU are,” Stella answered. “The way she snogged you…”

“That much is certainly true,” The Doctor added. “Whoever she is, she knows you well. I suggest… that we go back into the apartment and… play it by ear.”

He took Stella’s hand gently. She calmed down enough to walk with him back to the apartment where the front door swung open still. The Doctor said nothing. He let Jamie ‘play it by ear’ as they went into the living room. The mystery woman said that supper was nearly ready and told Jamie to pour drinks for their guests. She added that she would have her usual.

“I’ll do it,” The Doctor said, heading towards the drinks cabinet. “I’m a bit of a dab hand at mixing cocktails. You should taste my banana daiquiri. What is your usual, Miss… er…”

“Mandi,” she answered, the unusual ‘i’ on the end almost spelling itself in the air. “Mandi Kaur. Jamie is so uncouth sometimes. She should have introduced us properly. And my favourite drink is a Gibson. The cocktail onions are in the little pull out shelf underneath.”

“So they are,” The Doctor noted as he opened the cabinet and pulled out the tray of olives, cocktail cherries and onions. He mixed a ‘Gibson’ – a martini with an onion instead of an olive, a dry martini for Jamie, a white wine spritzer for Stella, and a single measure of a single malt for himself. Alcohol didn’t affect his Time Lord metabolism the way it would a Human, but the fiery taste with a hint of the peat-infused water of a remote Scots isle where it was made was what he felt he needed right now to clear some of the fog of confusion.

Jamie sat down on one of the wide, comfortable sofas, but Stella wandered around the room, looking closely at pictures on the shelves. She picked up one and showed it to The Doctor.

“If she doesn’t know her, what’s this?” she asked. The Doctor looked and had to admit that Stella had a point. The picture showed Jamie and Mandi on holiday on what The Doctor identified as the island of Lanzarote. They were both in bikini tops and sarongs and were holding hands affectionately.

“I have never been to Lanzarote,” Jamie protested. “My work takes me all over this planet. But I usually take my holidays offworld. I see enough of Earth on business.”

“Well, parts of Lanzarote are a lot like the planet Sarn,” The Doctor answered. “But you probably didn’t take a holiday there.” He took the photograph and looked at it carefully. Of course, trick photography was possible. Even in the early twenty-first century they could do clever things. By now, nothing would surprise him. But if it was fake, it was a good fake. There was nothing to indicate that the picture was any kind of composite.

“There’s more of them here,” Stella said, pressing the button on a pad by the sofa. Colour photographs appeared on the video screen mounted on the wall, pictures of Mandi and Jamie on holiday in various exotic locations, at parties, all kinds of social occasions. They seemed to go back years.

Which didn’t match the facts. Wyn had spend three months here with Jamie before she came away with them all on sabbatical. And this had looked like a bachelor pad then, neat and tidy, fully equipped by 51st century standards, but lacking Human comfort and companionship.

“There are a couple of explanations,” The Doctor said.

“Yes, Stella answered. The obvious one is that Jamie is a liar and a philanderer. And Wyn is going to be so upset about this.”

“Why should Wyn be upset?” Jamie asked. “Why should she have to know?”

“Because she still loves you, and she thinks you still love her, and that you’re still ‘an item’ even though you’re here and she’s in South Africa in a different century. But you’re not because of… her…”

The current picture on the video screen, of Mandi and Jamie in a very passionate embrace, seemed to clinch it for Stella. She sat on a big armchair as far away from Jamie as possible.

Jamie, for her part, looked confused and upset. She turned to The Doctor with a pleading expression.

“Come here,” The Doctor said to her. “If it’s the only way to settle this…” Jamie came closer. He gently pressed her down onto her knees and knelt in front of her. He put his hands either side of her face and concentrated as he slipped inside her mind. The Haolstromnian pheromones that he usually resisted easily assailed him as he found himself wandering through Jamie’s memories. He resisted. He resisted dwelling too long, also, on the memories of her love life with Wyn. He reached back further, to before they met, to Jamie’s life on planet Earth as a Time Agent, back before then, even, to when she left her own planet in search of adventure, back to when she was an Underlander on Haolstrom IV, a planet with a very rigid caste system defined by geography. Love affairs with people of her own kind and with humanoids of other species punctuated her adult life. That was normal for a Haolstromnian. They never married. They never had long term relationships. They fell hotly in love, and when the fire burned down they moved on by mutual consent and without reservation. Jamie’s relationship with Wyn was different in that respect. It lasted much longer than usual, and even though they were apart, they did seem to be still in love, a situation that was already worrying The Doctor before this new, strange complication.

“She’s telling the truth, Stella,” The Doctor said in a quiet voice. “She has no memory of ever knowing somebody called Mandi Kaur, let alone being in love with her.”

Stella looked at The Doctor. He would never lie to her. She knew that. She trusted him implicitly. If he told her that Jamie was telling the truth, then she believed him.

“But then, what’s going on, Doctor?” she asked.

“Two obvious possibilities,” he answered. “Either we are somehow in an alternative reality where Jamie didn’t meet Wyn or this is all some kind of fake, a set up of some sort.”

“Why would it be a fake?” Stella asked. “That makes no sense. And how would we be in an alternative universe? Can that happen?”

“Yes, it can,” The Doctor said. “I was already in a different one to where I started when I met you, Stella. But when the TARDIS came through the void that time, I knew about it. There were lights, explosions, noises, weird colours in the vortex. It was noticeable. If we can slip into another reality without me knowing, then I’m worried. I’m… beyond worried. I’m scared.”

“You? Scared?” Stella looked at him. “What of?”

“Of not being able to get you home where you belong,” he answered. “It doesn’t matter about me. The wanderer, forever roaming. But you… I have to get you home. And Jamie, too. If this isn’t her fifty-first century then I can’t leave her here.”

“Oh, you sweetie,” Stella told him. “You’re worried about me? That is so nice. Having somebody who worries about me.” She smiled warmly at him. Jamie managed a thin smile. Whatever explained this odd situation, it didn’t look good for her.

“Supper’s ready,” Mandi announced and told them all to sit at the table by the big picture window that looked out over the River Thames – or rather the curving glass roof over the river that stretched from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier. Here at what was still called Canary Wharf, the view was spectacular, especially at night when so many of the skyscrapers were uplit. If she wasn’t so worried, Stella would have happily looked at it all evening.

“I noticed you were looking at our holiday photos,” Mandi said as she poured wine for her guests. “We had some fun last time. Mexico. Remember that, Jamie, in the ruins of old Mexico City, the historical section preserved after the 4587 earthquake.”

“I remember Mexico,” Jamie answered. And she did, but she had visited there in the twenty-first century with The Doctor, Wyn and Stella. She had never been there in this century. She knew of the 4587 earthquake as history, but after seeing the colourful, vibrant city of the past, she knew the last thing she would want to do is visit the dead ruins that were preserved there now.

And she knew she had never done so.

Mandi chattered on about places the two of them had visited.

“Where did you two meet?” The Doctor asked, playing along for the moment. Finding out as much as he could about this alternative life might be important.

“Didn’t she tell you ANYTHING about us?” Mandi replied. “Honestly, Jamie, you didn’t tell your friends all about us? I told EVERYONE when we first fell in love. I always tell people about my fantastic Time Agent girlfriend. I even told the robo-serva unit at the supermarket check out. All it said in reply was ‘have a good day, miss,’ but I was so much in love and so full of the joy of it all that I wanted to tell someone.”

The Doctor snuck a glance at Stella and thought that her sister, when she was the same age, would have been making pretend sick noises at this story. She hated ‘mushy stuff’ when she was younger. And this qualified as mushy stuff. Stella was a much more romantic soul. She should have appreciated it more, but she was still so annoyed about the whole situation.

“We met at a party,” Mandi continued. “On Earth Day, six years ago. It was eyes across a crowded room. All I could see was her. Nobody else mattered. She walked across to me and asked me to dance. And we danced all night – literally all night.” Jamie looked at The Doctor and wondered if he understood fifty-first century metaphors. He did. She sighed as Mandi continued her narration of how they watched the sun come up and kissed in its morning rays and they’d been together since. Six years now, and she still wanted to tell the robo-serva at the supermarket how lucky she was.

The Doctor was almost tempted to make some sick noises himself. it was just a bit too easy. A bland, boring little story that could apply to just about anybody and couldn’t really be questioned.

“Clever,” he thought. “A more elaborate story could be picked to pieces. But this simple one can’t.”

Mandi gave him an odd look then and he wondered if she might be psychic. But even if she was, reading HIS mind was a much harder trick than him reading others. He had years of experience of keeping his thoughts behind a wall. It must have been coincidence.

The possibility of some kind of telepathic mind though, made him wonder about everything else. He made a pretence of looking at his wristwatch, then reached and pushed at Jamie’s sleeve as if synchronising watches. But her watch was on the other wrist. He was looking at the LED display on her Time Agent wristlet. The lifesigns monitor showed the presence of two Humans in the room, Stella and Mandi.

That made the alternative universe scenario more likely than anything else he could think of. And that was the last thing he hoped it was.

After dinner they returned to the sofa with their coffee and Mandi played the video photo album properly, with the soft, romantic music that was dubbed onto it. It was, on the face of it, a dull kind of entertainment, looking at somebody else’s holiday pictures, but The Doctor watched intently, even avidly, looking for something that jarred, something that didn’t fit, apart from the idea of a Haolstromnian in a six year relationship.

As far as that goes, he had actually been coming around to the possibility that Jamie could break the mould and be faithful. But not with somebody called Mandi. He understood Stella’s hurt and anger, because he, too, had thought Jamie and Wyn were going to ‘go the distance’ as they say. He had hoped that after a few months, maybe even a year, keeping in contact by videophone, swapping endearments over the centuries, Jamie visiting the twenty-first century to spend quality time with Wyn, that maybe they might decide to get together again permanently. He really had thought such a scenario possible and had hoped for it, for both of his friends.

But Mandi, whoever she was, threw a spanner in those works.

If he didn’t have all these doubts, he would have had no fault to find with her. She was pretty, with a dusky, Mediterranean complexion and a petite figure. She was talkative but not in an especially annoying way. She was a good cook and a charming hostess, everything a working man – or woman – was supposed to want in a partner.

A perfect wife.

But she just shouldn’t have been there.

Jamie listened, too, taking in a life she was supposed to have lived, a life that sounded idyllic, loving, happy, everything anyone could wish for in a relationship.

But it wasn’t her life.

And as the evening wore on, she realised something.

Mandi expected her to go to bed with her.

“I’ll make some cocoa,” the beautiful cuckoo in the nest said. “Then we’d better sort out the sleeping arrangements. Stella, you can go in our spare room. There’s a futon bed, but it’s quite comfy. Doctor, would you be all right on the sofa?”

“It’s the comfiest sofa I’ve been offered in a long while,” he answered graciously.

That seemed to settle it. Mandi went to make cocoa. The Doctor suggested to Stella that she helped. That gave him time for a quick word with Jamie.

“What do I do, Doctor?” she asked. And not for nothing did he claim to be a genius. He knew just what she meant.

“I think you’d better pretend to be very tired and go to sleep quickly,” he answered. “Jamie, don’t worry. I’m going to stick around until we find out what’s going on. I promise you, that.”

“Thank you,” Jamie replied. “For that promise. I was… scared. I know it’s stupid. There’s no obvious danger here. But I just feel I need somebody I can trust. And that’s you, Doctor. But you were meant to go before now. I kept hoping…”

“I’m staying to see this through,” The Doctor assured her. “Apart from anything else, there’s Wyn. I don’t want this to ruin things for her. And for another, I’m nosy, and there is one big mystery here. I’m going nowhere until we find out what’s going on.”

Jamie smiled, reassured. But she could say nothing more. The cocoa was done. The Doctor noticed how close Mandi sat to Jamie as they drank their bedtime drink. He could appreciate Jamie’s dilemma. She was still in love with Wyn and had no intention of getting involved with anyone else behind her back. But she might have to compromise herself now.

But there seemed no way out of it as bedtime arrived and Stella was shown the spare room and The Doctor arranged a duvet and pillows on the sofa. Jamie found herself taken by the hand to the master bedroom. The Doctor watched them and lay down on the sofa, on top of the duvet. He was fully dressed apart from his jacket and shoes and didn’t need a cover in a room that was automatically set to the most comfortable temperature for its occupants and had already adapted to a Time Lord metabolism now he was alone in the room.

He didn’t sleep. He had no intention of doing so. Even though the danger was an apparently benign one, he regarded himself as in enemy territory and in case there was something that threatened his friends he intended to stay awake, protecting them. That was his job right now.

It was just after an hour later when he heard a soft noise and felt the ambient temperature adjusted very slightly to accommodate a Human dressed in a cotton petticoat and a bedsheet. The Doctor sat up at once and snapped his finger near a table lamp to switch it on.

“I don’t want to sleep on my own,” Stella said. “It feels… I know I’m being silly, but I keep wondering if everything will be the same when I wake. Will I have a strange boyfriend I don’t recognise who will claim to have known me for ages? Anyway, would it be all right if I sleep in here with you?”

“Come and lie down on the sofa,” he said. “I’ll be fine in the big armchair. Actually, I think I agree with you. I don’t want to be left alone, either and find myself married to another Mandi. We’ll look out for each other.”

“I am being daft,” she insisted as she snuggled under the duvet The Doctor had relinquished for her. “But I was thinking awful stuff. That alternative universe…”

“Yes,” she had paused as if uncertain what she was going to say next. The Doctor’s tone was encouraging.

“If we were in one of those, then Jamie and Mandi would be normal, right. They would belong together. And Wyn would never have been her girlfriend. Maybe me and her wouldn’t even exist in this universe…”

“That’s a possibility,” The Doctor told her when she again paused to see if what she said made sense.

“Then we’re not in an alternative universe,” she said. “Because look…” She gave The Doctor her mobile. “I got a text from Wyn, asking how we all are, and telling me she misses me. And I sent one back to say we’re ok, but missing her, too. I didn’t say anything about Jamie. She thinks we’ve dropped her off and gone. But the thing is, if she can send me text and I can send her one back, then we’re not in an alternative universe. it proves that, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it does,” The Doctor told her. It proved it, indeed. They could not communicate across the void by mobile phone. That small, almost important detail clinched it. He was relieved.

“I almost wish it was,” Stella said. “Because then me and you and Jamie could just leave in the TARDIS and I know you would work out how to get us back. Because you’re brilliant and so is the TARDIS and you’d sort it out.”

“The vote of confidence is appreciated,” The Doctor told her.

“But if we’re in the real universe, I mean, our universe, because I suppose the other one is real, too, then it isn’t something that we can just get away from. Jamie can’t, because this is her world. And it’s all wrong. And… Doctor, do you know Invasion of the Bodysnatchers?”

“The 1956 classic or the terrible 1978 remake? Or the 2135 appalling holodisc remake?” The Doctor asked.

“Any of them, I suppose. Do you think that’s what it’s all about?”

“Mandi isn’t an alien using somebody else’s identity,” The Doctor answered. “She’s a new identity. A person who wasn’t here before. That doesn’t quite work.”

“There’s something creepy like that about it, though.”

“Don’t think about creepy things before you go to sleep. You’ll have nightmares.”

“Too late,” she answered. “I’ve been thinking about that sort of thing since I went to bed. I was even wondering if Mandi had a zip-up head.”

The Doctor laughed, softly. “I already checked,” he answered. “But the same applies to them as to the bodysnatcher aliens. They need people who already exist to take over. Mandi is new. But if you’re not going to stop thinking about creepy things by yourself, I’ll have to help you.”

“How?” she asked.

“I’m a Time Lord. I have power over time and space. An ordinary Human mind is easy to manipulate. I could give such a mind the sweetest dreams or the worst nightmares.”

“Could you? Give people nightmares.”

“Yes, but I don’t. It’s too cruel. But I’ll make your dreams soft and sweet if you let me, Stella.” He sat on the edge of the sofa next to her and put one hand over her cheek, his thumb against her left temple. He gently slipped his mind into hers and first soothed her to sleep. When she was in full REM mode he searched her memories for a pleasant dream. He found one. She was with her father on a long beach. It must have been somewhere in South Wales. It didn’t look quite warm enough for anywhere more exotic. She was younger than she was now, about twelve or thirteen. She ran along the beach a little and then ran back. Her father hugged her and they walked along side by side, stopping occasionally to examine examples of seaweeds on the sand. Stella obviously didn’t care about seaweed any more than she cared about the fungus that occupied so much of her father’s imagination. But she loved being with him. That memory brought to the forefront of her unconscious mind as a dream evinced a soft sigh from her as she slept. The Doctor shared the dream with her for a while, and noticed something as it went on. Something that her own mind had made happen, nothing to do with him. She was no longer walking on the beach with her father. The figure walking with her, holding her hand gently, making her smile, was himself. She was dreaming of a perfect moment of contentment with him.

It wasn’t a romantic moment. He could tell that. She had no secret fantasies about him. It was simply what he had known for a long time, that she had confessed to him when they were in South Africa a few days ago. She did see him as her surrogate father. She loved him the same way, and trusted him implicitly.

He probably should have left her to that dream. But it pleased him, too. He found himself remembering times when he and his granddaughter had shared quiet times like that. The same love and trust was between them.

In the few months before he had to take her back to her own family, he should try to find time to have one or two days like that with her, he thought. Just the two of them, surrogate father and daughter, with nobody and nothing interrupting their peace. He probably needed it as much as Stella did.

He withdrew at last and looked at her, sleeping peacefully, a soft smile on her face. He kissed her cheek gently and then moved to the soft armchair. He put out the light and sat there, watching her in the light that came through the window from the city beyond. The dream had been pleasant for him, too. He was glad to have it as a comfort in this strange, uncertain time with so many questions still to be answered.

The next morning, early, Mandi made a cooked breakfast for everyone. As usual she was bright and chatty, asking The Doctor what London sights he and Stella planned to see later.

“That is the plan, isn’t it?” she said, noting Stella’s confused expression. “Jamie said he wasn’t likely to have too much to do on his first day back, so he’d drop into the Agency and sign in and everything and then take you two out sightseeing. I thought we might all meet up for lunch. We could go to the Old Westminster terrace restaurant, in the old Parliament Building. That’s an absolute must for visitors to London.”

“That sounds a great idea, sweetheart.” Jamie, in male form and dressed in his Time Agency uniform leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. Let’s say, half past twelve in the entrance hall?”

“Wonderful,” Mandi beamed.

The Doctor and Stella both looked at each other as Jamie kissed her on the lips fully and smiled lovingly. Ok, he might be acting. That was the most likely explanation. But if he was, he was acting very convincingly.

To say that Stella was not happy about it was an understatement. But she said nothing and kept her face impassive through breakfast. She even managed nothing more than a disgusted ‘humph’ when Jamie and Mandi locked lips for a full minute at the door.

After ten minutes in the Skyke, flying upriver towards the Time Agency headquarters at the Tower of London, listening to Jamie talking about how Mandi was so pleased that she was home after their extended field trip and how they had thoroughly made up for his absence last night, Stella decided enough was enough. Her tirade was even hotter than the one last night and lasted a full five minutes before The Doctor managed to calm her down.

“Enough is enough,” he said when Stella stopped shouting. “Jamie, put the skyke down, right now. We have to talk.”

Jamie brought them into a smooth landing at St. Katherine’s Dock. They all got out and walked as far as the preserved twentieth century sundial sculpture that offset the view of the even more preserved 19th century Tower Bridge before The Doctor stopped Jamie and made him face him. He adjusted his sonic screwdriver and shone the bright blue pulsating light in his eyes. At first he tried to turn his face away, but The Doctor told him to look right at it. He did so and after a few minutes he gave an astonished cry.

“Doctor! I remember. I do, now. Yes, I do. Wyn…. Oh, no. She’ll never forgive me. Last night… I don’t know how she did it, but Mandi… she… she put memories into my head. Six years of memories, of life with her. She made me forget Wyn… Oh, Doctor… I…”

It took a lot to embarrass a Haolstromnian, but Jamie blushed with embarrassment and shame now. The Doctor reached out and touched him on the shoulder reassuringly.

“Stella,” he said calmly. “Right here and now, both of us are going to promise, solemnly, never to ask what, if anything, went on last night between Jamie and Mandi, and the three of us will promise never to discuss any of what did or didn’t happen with Wyn. Is that clear?”

“But he…”

“Anything he or she did, was under the influence of a powerful kind of mind control capable of implanting realistic memories in her head and suppressing her real memories of her life with Wyn. Jamie is in no way at fault. We are not going to hold any of this against him. Understood?”

“I understand, sort of,” Stella conceded.

“Doctor…” Jamie’s gratitude was clear in her eyes. “Thank you.”

“Ok, let’s get to your office and see if anything there can help us work out what’s going on here. After all, the sudden appearance of mind-bending women surely comes under the purview of the Time Agency. You do more or less the same work that Torchwood used to do, preventing anomalies in the space time continuum and monitoring unlicenced non-terrestrial activities.”

Jamie couldn’t think of any reason not to go along with that plan. They walked back to the Skyke and he brought them the rest of the way to the Tower of London. He landed the vehicle on the roof and it was immediately transmatted down to the underground skyke park. After Stella had stopped looking such a bright shade of green from that experience, they continued down in the turbo-transporter to Jamie’s office, Central Command of the Time Agency.

The open plan office was busy as Jamie brought his friends to his own workstation near the Lieutenant’s inner sanctum. He told them to sit down there while he went to fetch coffee from the office machine. The Doctor and Stella sat, both feeling a bit out of place in Jamie’s own domain.

He returned with the coffee and a worried expression.

“See that man, there, at the second workstation along. His name is Cavana Desselle. I’ve worked with him for years. I was at his wife’s funeral two years ago. She died in a skyke accident.”

The Doctor looked. There was a helium filled balloon in metallic blue colour tethered to his desk. The words “Happy 5th Anniversary” were printed on it.

“To his right, Harris Kennel, 35 years old, confirmed bachelor. He’s got a picture of his wife as his computer desktop wallpaper. And I would swear she is Mandi’s older sister. Behind him, Tobie Razavi. He goes through relationships faster than I do. Male and female, he doesn’t care, a real fifty-first century man, love them and leave them. And he’s wearing a wedding ring.”

“So…” The Doctor seemed to take a long time working it out as he glanced around the room at the examples Jamie had pointed out. “People who were single, for whatever reason, suddenly seem to be couples?”

“Like you and Mandi…” Stella guessed.

“How many…” The Doctor asked.

“I’m just looking,” Jamie answered as he brought up the Time Agency personnel records. He read them carefully for a long time, pointing out names who used to be single, who used to have their mother or a sibling listed as their next of kin, and now had a wife or girlfriend listed instead.

“I make it nine altogether,” he said. “All single men, not the women, and not the men who prefer other men, which excludes about a quarter of the staff, of course. None of these men were in relationships six months ago when I went off with you guys. Obviously, six months is a long time. Some of them could have met women and settled down in that time. It IS the fifty-first century. Relationships happen fast. But that doesn’t explain Cavana and ‘fifth anniversary’ and I don’t believe Tobie would ever get as far as a marriage bureaux with anyone. I think they’ve all been ‘infiltrated’ the way I’ve been with Mandi.”

“Funny sort of alien invasion,” Stella commented. “Making single people into happy couples.” She looked at the man called Cavana. Somebody had passed his desk and pulled the balloon string so that it wobbled. Cavana laughed and asked the other Agent if he was coming to the party. He looked a happy man. Not a sad one whose wife had died. She still had an idea that something like the Bodysnatchers scenario was happening. But if it was, it was happening in a nice kind of way…. Sort of.

“If you weren’t with Wyn, Mandi really would be a nice person to come home to at the end of your day,” she said to Jamie. “But it doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t.”

“Not if you’re thinking on the lines of alien invaders conquering the planet,” The Doctor said. “But maybe that’s not what it’s all about. Maybe it’s something else. I think we need to talk to your lady friend, Jamie. Why don’t you call her and say you can’t wait till lunch to see her and meet us for mid-morning tea instead.”

Jamie nodded and reached for his phone. The arrangement was quickly made and he told Cavana that he was heading out of the office for several hours, and if anyone wanted him they could leave a message on his voice mail.

“Are you and Mandi joining us tonight?” he asked. “I didn’t send an invitation as I wasn’t sure if you’d be back in time…”

“I’m not sure,” Jamie answered. “I’ll let you know, later.” That was the best he could say. He tried not to catch anyone else’s eye as they headed for the turbo-transporter. He didn’t want to lie to anyone else and he wasn’t entirely sure what the truth was at the moment.

They met at Westminster, on the balcony that was once the private domain of MPs, and was now a public restaurant. Tea was served. For a few minutes there was small talk of a general sort. Then The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at Mandi.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “This won’t hurt. I just want to double check something. There must be some kind of residual pattern. Yes, I’m getting it now. A Mark Five Transformation Arch if I’m not mistaken. I’ve come across the Mark Three before. But that was a temporary transformation. The Mark Five is permanent.”

“What are you…” Mandi began. “Jamie, what’s going on? Why are you…” She looked at Jamie, whose expression was cold. “I don’t understand.”

“I think you do,” The Doctor answered. “No, sit still, please. There’s a lot we all need to talk about. I promise that you won’t be harmed. What was your original species? Going through a full DNA transformation must have been painful. That takes some courage. I’ll give you that. But why? What’s it all about?”

Mandi looked at him for a long moment. Then she sighed and spoke to him in a language that did not originate on planet Earth.

“One of the Medusan dialects,” The Doctor said. “But you’ve covered your original DNA so completely even I’m stumped about your home planet.”

“Khivrus,” she answered. “Do you know it, Doctor?”

“You’re Khivran Overflow?” He nodded. Jamie and Stella looked to him for an explanation. “Khivran is a planet with vastly more people than it can afford to feed. When I say people, if I remember right, you’re actually a sort of monopedal vertebrate with a lot of tentacles. It really would take a lot of transforming to make you Human enough to fool a lifesigns detector. It must have been painful. But obviously you thought it was worth it.”

“It wasn’t our choice. We were forced into the transformation,” Mandi told him,

“Yes,” The Doctor continued. “Yes, I have heard something about it. The Khivran government regularly rounds up the homeless and jobless and puts them on space ships, promising them a new life on other worlds.”

“That’s what they say. The common belief is that the ships are blown up in deep space. Instant disposal of the unwanted. Nobody ever comes back, anyway. Being selected for transportation was certain death, we thought. So when we arrived on this world, when we were given these bodies… and given the means to take on new identities…when we were able to form relationships… beautiful relationships… with people on this world, such as we could never have on our home world… it was… when you expect a sudden and violent death, and instead you are given a life…”

“How many of you are there?” The Doctor asked.

“There are three thousand of us, scattered across this city,” Mandi answered. “We arrived six weeks ago by the time scale of this planet. But our technology allowed us to appear to have been in relationships for much longer. The memory implants, the evidence like the holiday photographs, marriage certificates… it meant that we were able to assimilate ourselves into this society fully. We felt safe. We also… felt loved. You cannot imagine what life was like on our planet. We were not allowed to form relationships. We were not allowed to love or to be loved. Here, we have all known love. Except… My placement was a mistake I found out too late that the individual I was paired with was not on the planet. I had to wait for her return in order to fully assimilate myself into her life. It takes about five hours to implant the memories in the subject’s mind. I did it overnight…”

“And I undid it in five minutes,” The Doctor said. “My technology is better than yours.”

“You can’t just make me have a relationship with you,” Jamie protested. “I don’t belong with you. I have a woman I love. Wyn… I want her.”

“I realise that, now. This is why your technology broke through the implant, Doctor. Because Jamie already has a lover. That, too, was a mistake. I am sorry.”

“But…” Stella looked at her. “But… tentacle things being transformed into Human – is that possible?”

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor answered. “It’s a drastic process. And it’s not exactly ethical. But since we Time Lords use a similar process in something called a Chameleon Arch we can’t exactly take the moral high ground. And I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do now. This is wrong, but undoing it would do more harm than good. The Khivrans are victims of a cruel policy by their own government. But coming to Earth has given them peace and freedom and happiness. To take that from them would be cruel. And what of their Human partners? Jamie… your friend, Cavana… He’s getting ready for a party tonight celebrating five years of happy marriage. Should we take that away and make him a grieving widower again?”

“Putting it that way…” Jamie shook his head. “No, I wouldn’t do that to him. I couldn’t. Or any of the others, either. They’re happy. Even Tobie. But I’m not having it. Wyn is my girl. I’m sorry, Mandi… last night… would never have happened if you hadn’t tricked me. I’m not even sure if last night DID happen. If it took five hours to implant the memory then… Then nothing could have happened. I haven’t done anything to be ashamed of, Stella. Do you see that?”

“Yes, I do,” she answered. “Sorry for doubting you, Jamie.”

“Are any more Khivran ships likely to bring their tired, poor and huddled masses to this world?” The Doctor asked.

“I do not know,” Mandi answered. “But if they did… in cities teeming with life such as London or some of the other places I have heard of – Paris, New York… we would never be noticed. This planet is perfect for our resettlement. If only we would be allowed.”

“Jamie,” The Doctor said after looking out over the Thames for a long, thoughtful time. “I think Mandi should move into your spare room. Flat share. Get a better bed in there than a futon. She doesn’t deserve that. Work with her. Use your contacts in the Time Agency to trace any new arrivals from her planet. Help them to resettle themselves. Mandi, get a job, make friends, find a real relationship that isn’t based on implanted memories. And… basically… Welcome to the Human race.”

“It’s as easy as that?” Stella asked. “Welcome to the Human race?”

“Why not? I’m still not happy with the ethics of this. But I can’t see any other happy ending to this.”

“It sounds like a good plan,” Jamie agreed. “As long as you’re the one to explain my ‘flatmate’ to Wyn.”

“I’ll do that,” he promised. “I used to be a diplomat in my younger days. I think I might be able to keep the peace there.”