Sky Smith knocked on the headmaster’s door nervously. Why had she been summoned in the middle of afternoon lessons? She had done nothing wrong. She was a conscientious student, always getting top marks in all her subjects. She was never involved in fights or smoking, or any of the illicit things that went on in school. People who got called out of lessons were usually in trouble.
Mr Chandra called out to ‘enter’ and she pushed open the door. She was startled to see, in addition to the headmaster, her mother and a man in a suit who had a disturbingly official air about him.
“Come in, Sky,” Mr Chandra said in a voice he probably meant to sound reassuring. “Please take a seat.”
Sky sat on the seat next to her adopted mother, Sarah-Jane Smith. There was a rather awkward pause before Mr Chandra spoke again.”
“This is Detective Inspector Wilson. Now, don’t be scared. There is nothing for you to worry about at all. But the police are investigating the disappearance of Andrea Martin. I understand you have been friends with her since she started here at Park Vale in September....”
“Yes, sir,” Sky answered. “She is in foster care, and I know what that’s like, being in a new house and a new family, new school. I tried to be kind to her. But… she’s disappeared? When? How?”
“She left her foster home on Sunday afternoon,” DI Wilson explained. “Her foster mother didn’t realise that she had taken a bag with her… clothes, money….”
“So… she ran away. She wasn’t… taken by somebody?” Sky asked. “That’s… better, sort of. I mean… nobody is hurting her.”
“She’s only just sixteen and vulnerable,” Mr Chandra pointed out. “I’m not sure it makes much difference. Besides, she might have been persuaded by somebody. That’s why we need to talk to you, Sky. Do you know if she had any other friends… a boyfriend....”
“No, nothing like that,” Sky assured the adults. “Andrea wasn’t really… I know she was sixteen, and it seems like girls our age think about nothing else, but Andrea really didn’t. I’m sure it isn’t that.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Sarah-Jane said. “But a girl of that age… on her own in London, in winter….”
“Exactly why we are anxious to find her,” the DI said. “Is there anything else you could tell us, Sky? Did you see her this weekend? Did she tell you she was thinking of running away?”
“No, of course not,” Sky answered. “I didn’t see Andrea at all since school on Friday. I was at home all weekend. I was finishing some coursework for my exams. And… no. She didn’t say anything. I wish I could help. But I don’t know anything. I’m… I’m really sorry I can’t help.”
Sky burst into tears. Sarah-Jane reached out a hand to her. Mr Chandra passed a tissue, then when that proved insufficient, he passed the whole box.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “But it’s awful… thinking of Andrea…. If only I had known…. I just wish….”
She sobbed again. Sarah-Jane hugged her. Mr Chandra looked at them sympathetically.
“Inspector, I really don’t think there is anything else Sky can tell you. She is very upset about this situation. Perhaps if you give her mother your phone number. If she remembers anything later….”
“Of course,” DI Wilson agreed. He fished a business card from his pocket and gave it to Sarah-Jane. “Please don’t hesitate to call, even if it seems trivial, any little detail might help.”
“Sky, why don’t you go and get your things and your mum can take you home,” Mr Chandra added. “You can hardly concentrate on your lessons after this upset. I’ll drop off any homework you might need at the end of the school day.”
“I think that is a very good idea,” Sarah-Jane remarked. “Come on, Sky.”
They were both glad to get out of the headmaster’s office, though perhaps for different reasons. Neither talked about it, though, until they were home.
Sarah-Jane brought Sky to the attic room that only a handful of people knew about, which felt, for both of them, like a sanctuary from the outside world. She made tea for them both and, still, for a little while, neither said anything.
Then Sarah-Jane broached the subject that most concerned her.
“I know you lied in the headmaster’s office,” she said. “You weren’t at home working on your coursework all weekend. You were out for several hours on Sunday.”
“Mum.... I....” Sky began, then looked away guiltily
“I’m not angry with you,” Sarah Jane assured her. “I’m just curious why you did it. What couldn’t you say in front of Mr Chandra or DI Wilson?”
“It’s a long story,” Sky admitted. “It IS to do with Andrea. She's not just a runaway. It's way more complicated than that.”
“I rather thought it was,” Sarah Jane admitted. “She packed a bag and obviously left the foster home of her own volition, but the police are investigating. London’s streets are full of teenage girls who barely have a file opened. There is far more to this than meets the eye.”
With that Sarah Jane turned and gave the voice command that opened the supercomputer that was a major feature of the attic room.
“Mr Smith, I need you.”
Mr Smith turned on with the usual showy fanfare that Luke, for all his genius, had never managed to cancel from the start up programme.
“Mr Smith, can you please access the Metropolitan Police Database. First, I’d like to know what information they have about a runaway girl, Andrea Martin. Also, anything you can find about a Detective Inspector Wilson.”
That done, she sat down again and picked up her tea cup. Sky knew she was waiting for the explanation.
“Andrea is an alien.”
“That’s sort of what I expected you to say,” Sky admitted. “Well, maybe a little bit more than that, but I knew you would believe me, anyway. But there is no way I could say that to Mr Chandra, and certainly not to that policeman.”
“No, you certainly couldn’t,” Sarah Jane agreed. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Yes, I do. I really wanted to tell you ages ago, but Andrea begged me not to tell anyone else. She was so worried about anyone knowing.”
“That’s understandable. People are not generally understanding of these things.”
There was an electronic equivalent of a throat clearing. Sarah-Jane turned back to Mr Smith.
“According to the electronic files of the London Metropolitan Police, Mrs Ivy Atkinson reported the disappearance of Andrea Martin on Sunday night at eight pm. Mrs Atkinson is Andrea’s foster parent and was concerned. However, because she is over sixteen and had apparently left home voluntarily the police were unable to do more than take a description and place Andrea Martin on a database of missing young adults.”
“You mean there ISN'T an investigation?” Sky queried. “Then... who...?”
“Good question.” Sarah-Jane looked again at the supercomputer.
“There is no record of any Detective Inspector Wilson currently working at the Metropolitan Police. The only officer of that rank and with that name retired in 1984.”
“Then something very odd is going on,” Sarah-Jane concluded. “Something involving aliens and my daughter. I don’t like the sound of that. Mr Smith, please send a Code Seven to Kate Stewart at UNIT if you would be so kind.”
“Mum, it’s ok,” Sky assured her mother. “Andrea is safe.”
“I sincerely hope so. But that man who isn’t a real police officer knows that you were her friend and he knows where you live. Let's not take any chances.”
“I suppose I really ought to explain about Andrea,” Sky continued as Mr Smith made quite unnecessary noises that mimicked an old dial up modem.
“At this stage, I think so,” Sarah-Jane answered encouragingly.
“I started to notice things were a bit odd about Andrea right from the start. Her knowledge was really uneven. She knew science formulas like Bernoulli from memory, but she looked at her dinner money as if the coins were new to her and couldn’t remember how to do the date on top of her coursework… like she really didn’t understand that February was after January and Tuesday was followed by Wednesday or why the days had numbers. And she had never read a novel or poetry. She was really out of her depth in English Lit class. I helped her with some of it. Then suddenly, overnight, she went from never even opening a copy of Jane Eyre to knowing it almost by heart, and all of the notes from the study guide. I don’t know why, but it made me sort of angry. I felt like she had been pretending to be clueless and taking advantage of me, except she hadn’t. But I shouted at her and called her some things I shouldn’t.”
“That was….” Sarah-Jane began.
“I know, mum, not my finest hour. Afterwards, I cried about it and so did she. Then she asked if I could keep a secret. And she told me that she wasn’t really a Human orphan stuck in the care system. She was really a princess from Cadastria, a planet in the Andromeda sector. That’s how she got the name Andrea, from the constellation. Anyway, her father died when she was fourteen, murdered by a man called Aradi, only they couldn’t prove it. After the King was killed, this Aradi called himself Lord Regent and took over ruling the planet. I'm making a mess of telling this bit. There was a load of stuff about a princess not being able to inherit the throne until a certain age and her mother was only married to the king and wasn’t royal enough and all that.”
“I think I understand. A bit like a cross between Hamlet and the ambitions of Lord Conroy to control the young Queen Victoria. Remember the film about that we saw a while ago.”
“Yes, it was something like that, except that Lord Conroy wasn’t nasty enough to think he could kill Victoria and take her crown. Andrea's mother knew Aradi would do that if he could. So, she begged a friend to get Andrea away from him. The friend... he decided that the best place to hide her was on Earth, disguised as an ordinary human girl.”
“Now it’s more like Snow White,” Sarah-Jane suggested. “Ironic that she is unaware of Earth literature when she seems to be living so many parallels to it.” Then Sarah-Jane thought for a moment about what she had just been told and then groaned aloud. “This friend. He didn’t travel around space and time in a blue box.”
“That’s the one,” Sky answered with a conspiratorial grin.
“Of course! The daft idiot didn’t think to let me know so I could have kept an eye on her. Typical of him, doing things the hard way. He could have brought her here, even. I could have looked after her as well as you and Luke.”
“I think the idea was for her to have a NORMAL life, mum,” Sky pointed out, glancing at Mr Smith and at K9, the mechanical dog who was hunkered in front of the supercomputer pretending to be a real dog sleeping in front of the fire. Occasional doggy snores authenticated the performance. “Nothing here is normal, and besides, this house is a homing beacon for trouble. That’s how you got me and Luke.”
“You may be right,” Sarah-Jane admitted.
“Andrea said she was all right in the foster homes. Moving around every six months or so meant that she felt safe and the people who looked after her were kind enough. And it was hard to keep up with school work. That’s hard even for ordinary Human kids in foster care. The moving about breaks up their education. I read about it in social studies. But ordinary kids at least know about the books to read and how to count their change. There were huge gaps in her knowledge. The Doctor had given her some things called ‘info spikes’ that were meant to help, but she muddled them up. She never found which one had the basic help about currency and dates, seasons, and things like that, and it was sheer luck that she found the one about literature and caught up on all that. She showed me the info spikes. They were like miniature perfume bottles and all she had to do was hold the glass against her forehead and press the top and years and years of information just got fed into her mind. I asked her why she didn’t use them all at once and then she wouldn’t have missed anything. She said it was so weird getting everything in her mind at once. She was scared of overloading. I tried it… with the English literature one, and I know what she means.”
“You tried it?” Sarah-Jane was concerned.
“We were doing Animal Farm after Jane Eyre and I tried to read that and I didn’t like it. I know it is important as an allegory of Communism and all that, but I just couldn’t get into it. So I thought it would be good to just know it without the trouble of reading it. And I do, now, but I also know just about every other book in literature and some of them are really long and boring, like War and Peace and Les Miserable in the original huge, fat, original FRENCH copy.”
“Heavy going,” Sarah-Jane agreed.
“And even worse, some of them are books I would have really liked to have read for myself on the sofa here with cocoa and biscuits and really enjoyed doing that, but now I can’t. And I’m not sure being able to do English Lit. O’Level with my eyes shut is worth losing out on that sort of experience. Plus, it really did feel like my brain wasn’t big enough for so much information at once. I’m not surprised Andrea was a bit scared of it.”
“I never liked Animal Farm, either,” Sarah-Jane admitted. “For that matter, I wasn’t keen on Jane Eyre. And even less now that I AM the mad woman in the attic!” She laughed with Sky at a joke they could share before getting serious. “I ought to be worried about you doing something so daft as trying out an alien device – even one The Doctor had something to do with. ESPECIALLY something he had to do with. But it sounds like you learnt for yourself what the drawbacks of that sort of thing are. We’ll say no more about that.”
Sky was relieved. The telling off about that bit hadn’t been so bad as she had feared.
“Well, anyway, once I knew what it was all about, I was able to be a proper friend, and help her with anything that might give her away. And I was able to tell her all about myself, as well. That made having her as a friend special. I can’t tell my other friends about the Metalkind and growing from a baby to age twelve in a single day.”
“Does that bother you, not being able to talk to others about where you came from?”
“Not really, but it WAS nice having somebody who I could confide in. I hoped she would stay around a lot longer. It would have been nice to do our exams together. But last week she got a message from her mother.”
Sarah-Jane raised an eyebrow but said nothing. She waited for Sky to tell her the rest.
“It was the first time she'd had ANY message at all from her world. And it was really brilliant news. Aradi was dead. He went too far trying to rule like a tyrant. There was an uprising and he was executed. The people wanted Andrea back as their new Queen. They were sending a ship to bring her home.”
Sky sighed deeply. The good news for the exiled royal was bad news for her, the end of the special friendship.
“I was glad for her. I AM glad. Two years away from her home and her real mum was hard. It was great that they were coming for her. But it had to be secret. They had found out that a secret spy had been sent to Earth to find Andrea. If he got to her before them, he would have killed her just out of spite.”
“That sounds like it was getting dangerous,” Sarah-Jane suggested. “You really should have told me at that point.”
“I know. I should have. But I did promise her I wouldn’t tell anyone, and we worked out a plan. The ship would be in orbit on Sunday and they would send down a shuttle to Hampstead Heath. There are plenty of places there to hide a cloaked ship, and they can do it quietly without loads of UFO conspiracy nuts turning up. She just had to get there and wait. But, obviously, that was a bit scary for her on her own, especially getting the trains.”
“A young girl on Hampstead Heath by herself… even without alien assassins that’s not the best of ideas. I’m not sure two of you was much better. You really SHOULD have told me.”
“It was a bit scary. It’s quiet on the Heath, but at the same time, it’s not. There were people around. Some of them were men who were a bit creepy. But I don’t think any of them were aliens, just ordinary creeps. We were told to go to the Hampstead Ponds. It was very quiet there. Nobody wants to swim in February. We sat on a bench and had crisps and pop. Andrea said she probably wouldn’t get to eat crisps again. They have different food on her world, especially for queens. She said she was a bit scared about being the Queen. It’s a big job, and it didn’t end well for the King, after all. And she is really young. Way younger than any of the queens we’ve had in English history. We talked a lot about how she was going to do it. I tried to be reassuring, telling her that she was born to be queen, and there would be her mother and plenty of other people there to help her. What I really wanted to say was ‘stay here and do your o’levels and be an ordinary girl and be my best friend’, but I knew I couldn’t.”
Sky was crying softly as she described doing ‘the right thing’ instead of what she really wanted.
“That’s called being grown up and sensible, and very unselfish,” Sarah-Jane assured her. “And, by the way, I know this is how you cry when you’re really unhappy, not the way you did in Mr Chandra’s office when you just wanted them to stop asking awkward questions. It’s a good act, handy in situations like that. But remember I know the difference.”
Sky laughed through her tears before going on.
“We were there for ages, and we were starting to wonder if they were coming, when we heard a weird noise. Then the water on the mixed bathing pond rippled as if there was a wind just above it. The shuttle was there, in cloaked mode. A door opened in empty air and a stairway came down…. A royal stairway in Cadastrian blue. A load of soldiers came down like an honour guard, and a man in blue robes carrying a crown on a cushion. It was a really fancy crown, with huge jewels in it and lined with blue velvet. All I remember thinking was that it really was a good job nobody was around to see all of this going on. But, anyway, the man came to us while we were still sitting on the bench and started to kneel in front of Andrea, calling her the rightful queen and everything, and acting as if the old bench was a golden throne. Andrea called him Lord Assiba, and told me he was the High Chamberlain of the Dastrian Court.”
“Very impressive,” Sarah-Jane admitted.
“It would have been, but that wasn’t the whole of it. One minute we were looking at a royal blue carpet coming down the steps from nowhere, the next we were still sitting on the bench but inside the TARDIS console room, materialised around us. The Doctor was there, and Andrea’s mother, the Cadastrian Queen Mother, and two guards who jumped on the man with the crown while another one ripped the blue velvet stuff off the inside of the crown to find a poison capsule that would have killed Andrea if she had put the crown on. It turned out that Lord Assiba was a secret follower of Aradi, the usurper. They only found out after the ship had set off for Earth, and the Queen Mother called The Doctor to help her. They got there just in time.”
“Well, thank goodness for that. Did he say hello? The Doctor, I mean.”
“He said lots of things. You know he’s always your best friend and biggest fan and everything. But Andrea still wanted to keep things secret, so he saw her safely on board the shuttle, along with the traitor and the crown without any poison, and then he dropped me off at the corner of Bannerman Road and said goodbye. And that was that, basically. Andrea was off to be Queen and I had double maths in school the next day. And then that policeman came to school asking about her.”
“And that still seems funny to me,” Sarah-Jane admitted. “I really think….”
“Mistress, there is a visitor at the door,” K9 announced. Mr Smith displayed the security camera image of the front doorstep of number thirteen Bannerman Road. Sarah-Jane smiled and told Mr Smith to open the door. A few minutes later Kate Stewart of U.N.I.T. stepped into the attic, one of only a handful of people who wasn’t startled by that remarkable room.
“You were right,” Kate told Sarah-Jane. “The fake police inspector WAS an alien spy trying to get hold of the Dastrian queen. We got him.”
“Where did you get him?” Sarah-Jane asked, grasping Sky’s hand tightly.
“Too close,” Kate answered with a tight lipped expression. “Yes, he had your address from the school records, and he was obviously going to watch Sky in case she knew where the queen was hiding out.”
“She isn’t hiding on Earth. She’s gone home to be Queen,” Sky confirmed. “He was too late.”
“Then that wraps that up,” Kate replied. “We’ve got a dark, unpleasant, secret prison for people like him. He’ll stay there forever, or until the Dastrians ask to extradite him back to their own punishment. Anyway, we’ve taken his shimmer cloak and he’s going nowhere on this planet with a bright blue face and silver hair.”
“Oh, yes,” Sky remarked. “That was Andrea’s other really big secret. She switched off her cloak and showed me ages ago. I didn’t mind. She was still my best friend, even with blue skin.”
“Quite right, too,” Sarah-Jane told her. “Kate, would you like a cup of tea and some cake, and more stories about your dad tinning U.N.I.T. in the seventies?”
“Excellent idea,” Kate agreed.