Sky Smith was bored. She had been sitting in the back of her mum’s lime green Figaro for an hour and ten minutes, which was an hour longer than Sarah-Jane had promised it would take. She had done her maths and history homework while she was waiting, and read everything worth reading on Facebook, but now she was as bored as any teenager left in a car on a warm afternoon.
She didn’t even know what it was all about. Sarah-Jane had picked her up from school and then parked up outside Ealing police station with that now broken promise that it would ‘only take ten minutes’.
Sky was hungry for her tea and really annoyed that something was happening inside the police station that she had been left out of.
Not that she wanted to go into a police station. There were some girls in her school who knew police stations very well, but she wasn’t one of those.
Then she spotted her mum coming out of the main door. She was surprised to see a boy walking with her. He looked a bit younger than her brother Luke and a lot stranger – which was saying a lot.
Sarah-Jane opened the back door of the car and told the boy to get in. He looked for a moment as if he didn’t know how to do that, then he bent his head and slid onto the seat next to Sky.
“Show him how to buckle the seat belt, please,” Sarah-Jane told Sky. She did so. It was a good opportunity to get a closer look at the odd boy.
Her first guess at his age seemed about right. Seventeen or eighteen, tall, but very thin. His face was ‘pinched’ as some romantic fiction might describe it. He had green eyes with flecks of brown and black hair with silvery white streaks. The hair was cut in spikes, some of which hung over his eyes so that he was looking at the world through them. Other girls might find that intriguing. Sky wasn’t one of them.
His lips were thin and pressed together nervously.
He was dressed in a leather jerkin and trousers with one leather gauntlet studded with metal and a leather wristband on the other arm that seemed to have coloured gems embedded in it.
“I’m Sky,” she said as the car moved off. “What’s your name?”
The boy said something incoherent.
“I am Loctis Regnik Continiu, Warrior Mage Elect of The City-State of Agussi in the Coveted Realm of the Magenta Empire,” he repeated a little louder.
“That’s a mouthful,” Sky said. “I think I’ll call you Lok.”
“I am Loctis….” he began again.
‘Lok will do,” Sarah-Jane said firmly. “And please don’t keep going on about that Magenta Empire stuff. The police were going to have you Sectioned before one of them thought of calling me. As it is, they’re still deciding whether to charge you over your personal arsenal.”
“Arsenal?” Sky queried. “What was he doing?”
“He was arrested by Transport Police at two o’clock this morning. They found him at Ealing Common station trying to fight a train that was parked there overnight... with a sword.”
“Fight a train?”
“A great metal serpent,” Lok murmured. Sky looked to her mother for explanations.
“The Transport Police called out an armed response team. He’s lucky he wasn’t shot. London these days doesn’t react well to people waving knives and broadswords about – not to mention those other things…”
“Hunter’s shears,” Lok said.
“Like long metal talons, razor sharp – fixed to his hands.”
“The guards used mage magic against me.”
“They tasered him. His weapons have been confiscated, of course. He spent the rest of the night sleeping it off in a cell and most of the day being questioned by anti-terrorist police, two psychiatrists and a social worker. They all decided he wasn’t their responsibility, so he’s been released into my custody until they decide what, if anything, to do with him.”
“Wow.” Sky remarked. She looked at Lok. “Really, a broadsword. You don’t look strong enough to lift something like that.”
“I am a Warrior Mage Elect….”
“Yes, you said. “But what does that even mean?”
“I began my training at the age of seven. I fought my first Maggu beast when I was ten and my first full grown Gatula when I was twelve. I have marched out to a dozen battles with my brother warriors, and a year ago on my sixteenth birthday I began my advanced training in mage fighting. In another year I will have magic in my fingers like those who defeated me this day.”
“Not while you’re staying at my house,” Sarah-Jane told him. “No swords, no mage magic. Just behave. And Sky, don’t ask him any more questions about that sort of thing. I don’t want you taking that kind of interest in his weapons.”
There was a pause. Sky looked at the back of her mother’s head intently.
“That was NOT an innuendo,” Sarah-Jane insisted. “No more talk about swords. But… come to think of it… I’m not sure if a teenage mage warrior…”
“Warrior mage elect….”
“Whatever. Look… Lok… just you behave yourself around my daughter. And… Sky....”
“It’s ok, mum, he’s not my type.”
“You HAVE a type?” Sarah-Jane’s turn into Bannerman Road involved some heavy braking to avoid the telephone pole on the corner as the perils of raising a teenage girl rose up a notch in her mind. “I need a cup of tea very badly.”
Inside the house Sarah-Jane made Lok sit at the kitchen table while she made a pot of tea and Sky found a meat pie and the makings of a green salad in the fridge and called it a meal. Lok looked at the plate put in front of him blankly. He glanced at Sky and then picked up a fork and clumsily copied her table manners.
“Have you never had pie before?” Sky asked him. “What do you eat in the Purple Empire?”
“Magenta Empire,” he corrected her. “Our ice houses are filled with the meat of defeated Gatula beasts. It is roasted over fire pits and eaten with unleavened bread made from the grain flour.”
“Sounds like a donner kebab,” Sky remarked. Sarah-Jane laughed, despite being very worried about what to do with Lok and whether – type or not - she ought to stop Sky paying him so much attention.
“Look, Lok” she said, regretting the accidental alliteration at once. “What is the Magenta Empire of the Coveted Realm, and how did you get here from there… wherever it is.”
“I know not. I was on duty, guarding the city walls, and there was a great noise as if the sky had split apart. A light grew and enveloped me. When I looked again it was night but the stars were unfamiliar and I was in a place of grass and trees and strange lights in every direction. I walked… and came to the lair of the metal serpent. That is where the guards of your realm took me prisoner.”
“So… you’re lost.” Sky reached out and touched his non-gauntleted hand. Lok drew back as if her touch shocked him.
“You… must not,” he said. “I am a Warrior Mage Elect. You are a Maiden. It is not… not….”
“You’re lost,” Sky repeated. “And that’s tough on anyone.”
“Still, if there are rules about how boys and girls interact on your world, that’s not a bad thing,” Sarah-Jane remarked.
“I am not a boy,” Lok answered. “I am a Warrior….”
“In this world you are a boy,” Sarah-Jane told him. “We don’t even start training soldiers until they’re eighteen. Well, apart from cadets, but they don’t fight anything until they’re old enough. The thought of taking a seven year old and training him to fight is horrendous.”
“But you have legions? You fight wars....”
“Well, yes. But not all the time, and not all of us. The only race I know who are that obsessed with war are the Sontarans, and they’re not so very charming to know.”
“Son…tarans… what Realm are they from?”
“Don’t worry. They come from a long way off. Nobody on Earth needs to fight them. And we don’t have any beasts to deal with apart from Donald Trump. So just relax.”
Lok didn’t look as if relaxing was something he had ever done. His whole body was a tightly wound coil ready to unwind very fast and possibly very dangerously. It was that which kept Sarah-Jane a little distant from him. Her first instinct was the same as Sky’s… to feel sorry for a lost boy a long way from a home that didn’t sound especially warm or comforting. But his defensiveness made it hard to fully empathise.
“I’m going to do the rest of my homework and then listen to some music in my room,” Sky announced when she had finished eating and swallowed two cups of tea. Lok was an interesting distraction, but she had her evening routine. She grabbed her school bag and headed upstairs. Lok studied his tea cup ponderously. He hadn’t quite decided if what was in it was an evil concoction or the drink of the gods.
“What should I do?” he asked a little uncertainly. “You have no battlements for me to defend?”
“Ordinary houses don’t tend to have battlements,” Sarah-Jane told him. “Even our castles these days don’t need that sort of security. Just sit tight there while I wash the dishes and then I’ll bring you up to the attic. Mr Smith will need a long look at you.”
“Mr… Smith? You have a forgemaster under your roof? Can he make me a new sword?”
“Just forget about swords for now. Here… read a magazine. You do read where you come from?”
She gave him an edition of National Geographic. At least he might learn about tiger conservation – as opposed to defeating Gatula beasts, whatever they were.
He COULD read. Sarah-Jane noted that he could read English. He had been speaking English all along, albeit with a strange accent and an idiom that belonged in Dungeons and Dragons.
Given that he came from some sort of alternative dimension it was actually rather a coincidence that they spoke English there. Sarah-Jane wondered if there was something about passing through interstitial portals of the sort he had described that worked a bit like the TARDIS translation circuits.
He read fast, taking in several articles about the wildlife and culture of planet Earth. Then he stopped and looked curiously at the colour images on one page.
“This building is much like the citadel where our City-Emperor resides,” he said. Sarah-Jane dried her hands from the washing up and looked at the picture that had intrigued him.
“That’s the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul,” she said. “It was a cathedral, then a mosque. Now it’s a museum.”
The words ‘cathedral’, ‘mosque’ and ‘museum’ were all meaningless to Lok. That said a few things about his society. Inspired by the magazine picture he added a few more details.
“The Great River flows around the Citadel, bridged only at the front portal. The river drops down three wondrous cataracts when it is past the ramparts and then disappears underground once more, to reappear many days march away in the wild lands beyond the walls of the City-State.”
“That sounds rather impressive. Your City-State must be beautiful. But if it needs to train children as soldiers it has to be a rather violent place.”
“The Coveted Realm has many City-States. They often go to war. We fought the City-State of Mara-Gree because they tried to annex our metal reserves.”
“Who won?” Sarah-Jane asked.
“Agussi has fifteen thousand mage warriors and many siege weapons. They had only six hundred mages. It was a foolish expedition on their part.”
“Their blood was spilt needlessly. But we celebrated the victory over our vanquished foe.
“Yes, well, let’s keep the talk of blood away from the kitchen table.”
“You… do not like war?”
“No, not much. This world can’t take the moral high ground. We’ve had a lot of nasty wars, wasted many lives. But we TRY to avoid it if we can. It sounds like your lot revel in it.”
“I don’t know any other life.”
“And that’s rather sad. There is more to life than fighting.”
“Not for me. I am a Warrior Mage Elect....”
“Yes, all right. This conversation is just going around in circles. Come on upstairs, now. It is time Mr Smith had a look at you.”
Lok followed dutifully up the two flights of stairs to the attic.
“Good evening, Mistress,” K9 said in greeting. He trundled up to Lok and extended his probe as if he was sniffing him.
“K9, this is Lok, he is a friend.”
“Lok, friend,” K9 acknowledged.
“This realm has many wonders,” Lok commented. “Metal creatures....”
“K9 is something special,” Sarah Jane admitted. “Don’t worry. There's nothing here that can harm you. At least... not if you keep your hands to yourself and don’t mess with anything.”
While Lok stared around at the amazing attic full of the most incredible memorabilia of a life less ordinary, Sarah Jane approached the wall where Mr Smith the alien computer system was concealed. Before she could summon him K9 piped up again.
“Mistress commanded you to keep your hands to yourself,” he said to Lok, giving him a quick zap of electricity that made him drop the JyZobian Obsidian Dagger back onto the table.
“That only works on Formians, the insect evolved enemies of the JyZobian. It automatically turns aside from human flesh. The JyZobian Ambassador gave it to me in case of a Formian infestation on Earth. Leave it alone.”
“I need a weapon. How else can I protect you and the maiden, Sky.”
“Usually we protect each other,” Sarah Jane told him. “Come over here and don’t go all defensive when Mr Smith starts up.” She looked at the wall. “Mr Smith, I need you.”
The fanfare of lights and noise was bad enough at the best of times. Lok viewed it as if a Gatula beast was about to burst out of the wall.
“It's all right,” Sarah Jane assured him. “Stand quite still while Mr Smith scans you.”
“Scans me?” Of course, he had no idea what that meant. He was worried. The fact that nothing happened except for a bright light that moved up and down his body for sixty seconds didn’t reassure him very much. When it was over, Sarah-Jane gently directed him to an armchair where he sagged as if drained of energy.
“The scan can drain protein and essential salts in subjects that have recently been affected by energy surges,” Mr Smith commented. Sarah-Jane wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but she opened a packet of salted peanuts and gave them to Lok while she listened to Mr Smith’s report.
“The boy is genetically close to Human,” Mr Smith said. “Ninety-five percent of his DNA matches yours.”
“Apes have been found to be a ninety-six percent match to humans,” K9 piped up. “The boy is therefore one percent less human than.... “
“I’m not sure that matters,” Sarah Jane interrupted. “Mr Smith, what can you tell me about his origins or how he got here? “
“He comes from a pocket universe outside this one. He appears to have slipped through an interstitial opening between universes. He has traces of rift energy similar to that which is found in the Cardiff Bay area. He also has an aura of null particulates. These particulates, which are neither positive nor negative exist in the absolute none space commonly called the Void which separates this universe from other universes.”
“I rather guessed that,” Sarah Jane commented. “What about the possibility of getting him home again to his universe? “
“There is a ten per cent possibility if a stable portal opened up for a sufficient length of time. The likelihood of such an occurrence is remote, but I will, of course, monitor the immediate area for such disturbances. “
“Thank you,” Sarah Jane told Mr Smith. “Well, Lok, it looks like you're going to have to stay with us for the time being. Come on. I'll sort you out a bed in Luke’s room. You can try some of his old clothes, too. Leather gives out the wrong signals altogether.”
“I do not understand all of your words,” Lok told her. “We use signals to warn of impending attack....”
“You understand about camouflage?” Sarah Jane asked him as she brought him into Luke's bedroom and started to pull clean linen from the top cupboard of the wardrobe. He nodded and started to talk about battle strategy again. “Wearing the sort of clothes ordinary boys wear in London will camouflage you. People won’t stare at you as if you come from another universe.”
“But I do. Your machine with a voice said that I had come through a Void....”
“Yes. But it would be better if ordinary people didn’t know about that. Mrs Chandra over the road really doesn’t cope well with the extraordinary, and Mrs Budge on the corner doesn’t even like young people with ear piercings.”
Lok wasn’t listening. He was looking at the pictures on the wall of Luke and his friends enjoying ordinary teenage activities.
“Luke is your son? Is he at war?”
“No, just university,” Sarah Jane answered.
“Your son is an arch-wizard?” Lok's eyes opened in surprise and awe.
“He's a post graduate. I suppose that's similar. Here, put these clothes on and come back downstairs. I'll show you something called television. “
Not, she thought as she left the room, any channel likely to show teaser clips from Game of Thrones.
He looked different in a sweatshirt and jeans – younger, a little less like a warrior and more like a boy. He sat hesitantly on the sofa in the drawing room and looked curiously at the moving images on the television screen. Sarah Jane had actually found the National Geographic channel which was showing a documentary about blue whales. Lok was fascinated by the fact that creatures the size of the Gatula beast he had spoken of earlier lived in Earth's oceans.
Oceans, in fact, surprised him. If there were such things on his world they were beyond the ‘march' of the army he belonged to. He had never seen any large body of water.
Surprisingly, after all the drama of earlier, several quiet hours passed. Lok almost looked sleepy when Sky rushed downstairs and announced that a UNIT vehicle was pulling up outside.
“Why can’t they JUST send an unmarked car,” Sarah Jane complained as the meaty sound of the armoured vehicle’s engine penetrated the living room. “The neighbours ask too many questions.”
“Mistress!” K9 hovered downstairs after Sky. “Mr Smith has detected an interstitial disturbance in Ealing Broadway.”
“I expect that's why UNIT are here,” Sarah Jane guessed. “All right, Lok, come on. This might be your chance to get home. Sky... stay here and....”
“No chance,” she answered, grabbing her coat. “I'm coming, too.”
Sarah Jane sighed and decided there was no point in arguing. She put on her own coat and brought her handbag with sonic lipstick, house keys and ordinary mobile phone in it. At the door two UNIT men were ready to escort them to the Panther Armoured Personnel Carrier. Sarah Jane tried not to think about the twitching curtains at the Chandra house and elsewhere in the street.
“Sorry for the heavy-handed approach,” said the sergeant as the APC turned out of Bannerman Road. “It’s a bit of a flap. Apparently, there is a monster blocking traffic in Ealing Broadway and the boss said you were the local expert. “
“That's Kate Stewart, then?” Sarah Jane was slightly mollified. The late Brigadier’s physicist daughter probably TOLD them to be discreet. The heavy mob would be typical military crossed wires.
But a monster on Ealing Broadway! That and the interstitial disturbance in the same place couldn’t be a coincidence.
When they reached the usually busy shopping street she knew she was right about that. Sky exclaimed in excitement. Lok was even more moved by the sight of an actinic blue blob like a house sized lump of mobile chewing gum lifting the trailer of an Iceland lorry and swallowing the contents.
The creature was slightly transparent and the frozen food was visible going down its throat.
“It’s a Flab!” Lok exclaimed. “They sometimes attack our food warehouses. “
“It didn’t eat the lorry driver?” Sarah Jane asked.
“No, ma’am,” the Sergeant assured her, pointing first to a tipped over front cab of the lorry and then to a mobile UNIT medical centre. “He’s being treated for shock.”
“Iceland don’t just sell food,” Sky pointed out. “They also do soap powder and toilet rolls, bleach and stuff.”
She was right. As they watched in astonishment, it was possible to see bottles of detergent going into the creature's stomach.
“Sergeant... I think it would be a good idea if everyone pulled back,” Sarah Jane suggested.
But before the order could be given something rapid started to happen inside the Flab. An orange glow began to expand its stomach so that the pliable flesh bulged like a balloon. Everyone watching started to guess what was going to happen next. The soldiers who had cleared the street of civilians took cover behind abandoned cars.
The Flab exploded noisily and wetly. The bulletproof windscreen of the Panther was spattered with semi transparent flesh. A large portion of Ealing Broadway was coated with the nasty, gooey mess.
“Yuk,” Sky remarked.
“Yes,” Lok confirmed. “They do that when attacked.”
“Lovely,” Sarah Jane commented. “They should get together with the Slitheen.”
There was an urgent message on the radio. The driver quickly began reversing the Panther and swinging it around into a new direction.
“Hold on, everyone,” the sergeant said. “Another monster turned up on the Common. This one sounds nastier. “
“What does it look like?” Lok asked. “Could it be a Gatula... or a Karybak.”
“Carry bag?” Sky queried.
“Karybak,” Lok repeated. Sarah Jane said nothing. She was reading the data sent to her wristwatch receiver by Mr Smith.
“Another interstitial opening,” she confirmed. “It looks like these things HAVE come from the same place as you.”
“Does that mean he could get home?” Sky asked.
“I hope so,” Sarah Jane answered. “I mean... it would be best for him, wouldn’t it?”
Going back where he belonged WAS surely the best thing for him. It was the best for anyone, usually. But Sarah Jane was suddenly less certain. Especially now he was wearing Luke’s clothes and now that she had seen the sort of monsters he had to fight on a daily basis she wondered if she wanted him to go back to such a world.
But if he didn’t, what would he do in this world that was so very different to his own?
She firmly squashed the idea that had been trying to form. He COULDN’T stay with her in Bannerman Road long term.
He was NOT a replacement or a substitute for Luke.
No, he absolutely wasn’t.
She told herself that as the Panther turned through the front gates of Ealing Common and then struck off the path onto grass. The already powerful engine changed up a gear and the ride was much bumpier as they headed towards a bright white light in the distance.
The light came from several UNIT vehicles with huge arc lamps mounted on them. They were focussed on something that looked like it came from a very expensive special effects laden monster film.
Actually, it was two somethings. Both were house sized like the Flab. One had thick grey hide like a hippopotamus, two pairs of fearsome ‘buffalo' horns and a short, wrinkled trunk.
The other, attacking the giant horned hippo/elephant and gouging terrible wounds in its flanks, was a house sized spider or crab. Sky and Sarah Jane both recoiled from either possibility.
“A Karybak,” Lok said. “Attacking a Gatula.”
“That’s a Gatula?” Sky queried. “You fight them? It's just a giant cow. Look at the mouth at the end of the trunk.”
But she was wrong about that. The Gatula turned and fought back against the Karybak by expanding that small mouth at the end of the trunk until it could swallow two of the Karybak's huge armoured legs. Of course, the Karybak fought back. Those legs ended in sharp pincers that sliced the inside of the Gatula’s mouth until it let go.
While everyone else was getting their heads around that development, Lok opened the door and jumped out of the Panther. He ran towards the two battling beasts wielding a pair of long knives.
“Those are from my kitchen!” Sarah Jane remonstrated. “The thieving....”
He was doing a surprisingly good job of fighting both creatures, dealing deep slashing cuts to the unprotected underbelly of the Karybak and stabbing at the eyes of the Gatula, rendering it blind. The screeches of both creatures filled the evening air.
Sarah Jane and Sky both got out of the Panther. They grasped hands fearfully as they watched Lok’s solo assault on the two monsters. He moved fast and leapt with the agility of a martial artist as he avoided dangerous armoured legs and slashing claws before stabbing again and again.
And quite unbelievably, he was succeeding. Sky watched from behind her fingers, hardly able to bear to look. Sarah Jane would have done the same, but she was reading the data Mr Smith was sending her.
“The interstitial gap these things came through... He might be able to go back through it,” she said. “He CAN go home.”
“That’s... good....” Sky said very slowly and in tones suggesting the very opposite.
He was covered in blood and ichor as he inflicted increasingly deadly wounds on both creatures. He was winning, though all Sarah Jane could think about was getting Luke’s clothes clean again. It was a ridiculous thing to be thinking of, and she knew it.
It was a way of not thinking about a teenage boy fighting monsters with a pair of kitchen knives while soldiers with real weapons stood gaping. Of course, they couldn’t fire on the creatures while Lok was there. He had pre-empted any action they had planned to make, but they did look rather foolishly ineffective.
“He did it!” Sky was the first to say it, but the triumphant cry went up around the troops as the gruesome Karybak collapsed with one last eldritch screech and the dying Gatula fell on top of it. The sharp sound of Karybak legs snapping under the weight was one nobody wanted to hear again.
Sky and Sarah Jane both ran to Lok as he walked away from the battle. Both stopped short of hugging him because he really looked awful covered in monster slime. Sarah Jane took the two kitchen knives from his unresisting hands. She had intended to read him the riot act over their theft, but in the end, she didn’t care about that as much as she had thought she did.
He was alive.
Around them, UNIT people sprang into action now. Some of them were pulling tarpaulins over the two dead creatures and making arrangements to have them transferred to a warehouse somewhere. Others were busy with a small motorised machine that might have been one of K9's less evolved ancestors. It was being sent towards a patch of grass that looked just like any other patch to anyone without advanced scanning equipment.
Sarah Jane DID have advanced scanning equipment – at least Mr Smith did and he was relaying information to her through the wristwatch device.
“Lok,” she said. “This IS your chance. Mr Smith says that the portal opens onto your world. You can go home. “
Lok looked at the still unremarkable place where the robotic probe was moving towards the invisible but powerful doorway between universes.
“I... I will often think of you,” he said. “Both of you. Your kindness to me...”
“We’re not going to forget you in a hurry, either, Lok,” Sarah Jane promised. Sky didn’t say anything. She was too choked. Lok had only been in their lives for a few hours, but he had etched himself onto them indelibly.
“Come here. I don’t care if you are grimy,” Sarah Jane said. “Or if they don’t do hugs where you come from. You’re getting one anyway.”
She hugged him, getting some unsavoury stains on her coat. Before he could protest Sky hugged him, too.
“Go on, now,” Sarah Jane urged him. “Good luck.”
Lok turned and ran towards the portal. Suddenly there was a desperate cry calling him back.
Actually, two cries. One came from Kate Stewart who burst out of the back of the Scientific Support Vehicle. The other came from a small, odd looking man in a lab coat and goggles who came after her. His call was far more dramatic.
“Noooooooo.... No, no, no, nooooooooooooo!”
The odd man charged after Lok, lab coat flapping. Sky looked at him, then she, too, ran towards the young warrior. She reached him first, wrapping her arms around his neck to restrain him.
“Wait, please,” she said. “There’s something wrong. Come back.”
Lok looked at her, then at the odd man and at both Sarah Jane and Kate hurrying towards him. He looked towards the place where the robot had vanished from this realm. Its telemetry tether was apparently cut off at the interstitial threshold.
“Mr Smith was wrong,” Sarah Jane gasped, remembering when she could have run a short distance without being breathless. “You can’t get back that way.”
“We got back pictures,” Kate said. “Everything on the other side is on fire... Buildings, trees, the sky. Malcolm... Can we get the probe back?”
The strange man was feverishly pressing buttons on a remote control pad. Slowly the robot reappeared out of thin air, stumbling like a wounded animal on its damaged wheels.
Every part of it that wasn’t metal had melted. Even some of the metal was bending under such an extreme heat that parts of it glowed red. Malcolm reached out towards it and then quickly realised the folly of that and snatched his hand back. Sky clung even more tightly to Lok in case he thought it worth trying to get back to a place where metal glowed like that.
“What happened?” he asked. “My world… what happened to it?”
“I don’t know,” Sky told him. “But these people will find out. Come on. They want us to get under cover.”
Lok nodded in a dazed way and didn’t seem to mind the way Sky clung to his hand as they walked towards the room-sized trailer of the Scientific Support Vehicle.
Inside, there were mugs of tea and a lot of activity. Somebody found Lok a towel and a UNIT jumper to put on as Doctor Malcolm Taylor cued up the brief footage the probe had sent back before the camera fried. The images were horrific. A world was burning.
“There must have been a Realm War,” Lok said. “All the City Empires of the Coveted Realm feared such a thing. It finally happened. They destroyed it all. My home... is gone.”
“I’m sorry,” Kate told him sincerely. “Doctor Malcolm has sealed the portal from this end. We’ll have to seal any others that might appear, to protect Earth from what happened there.”
“I understand,” Lok said in numb tones. Perhaps he was thinking of friends, fellow soldiers that he had trained with since childhood. Perhaps even people he loved. He was holding in his feelings in a way that modern humans, with their grief counselling and encouragement to ‘let it all out' rarely did.
He didn’t ask what would happen to him now. In the short term there was no question. He came back to Bannerman Road where he was introduced to the concepts of shampoo and a ‘power shower’. He ate hurriedly ordered pizza and slept in Luke’s room.
After a week in which the people of Ealing were encouraged to pass the appearance of the Flab in the Broadway as a film stunt that went awry and rumours of monsters on the Common as just student pranks, Lok was coming to terms with his loss. He watched a lot of National Geographic documentaries and came to understand how much bigger and more fantastic Earth was than anyone, even those born and raised here, ever realised.
Sarah Jane had several long chats over tea with Kate Stewart. Between them they came up with a possible future for Lok.
They put the idea to him.
“I told you before that we don’t even start training soldiers until they turn eighteen,” Sarah Jane said to him. “But when you do, Kate thinks you would be an asset to UNIT. You would have to do the basic training that all soldiers complete before assignment, but you'll probably fly through that. Kate will sort you out some paperwork, birth certificate, passport, that sort of thing, to make you a British citizen. We thought, in the spirit of continuity, you might have Smith as a surname.”
“That... would be my honour,” Lok answered. “And... to be a warrior again... defending this Realm... would be my honour, too.”
“I thought you hated the army and guns and stuff,” Sky said to her mother.
“I don’t hate them,” Sarah Jane answered. “I would be doing a disservice to so many good people. The Brigadier, Mike Yates, Sergeant Benton... I owe my life to them a thousand times over. I just didn’t want Luke to be a soldier, or Clyde. And I rather hope you have other ambitions. And I know that sounds a bit hypocritical – anyone but my own children. But I don’t hate those who do their utmost to protect us all. As for Lok... I doubt if there is anything we can do to STOP him being a soldier. He might as well be one of the best soldiers... And with a Lethbridge Stewart as his boss.”
“My honour,” Lok said again.
“I’ve cleared up your problems with the police,” Kate added. “There will be no charges over your carrying offensive weapons in public.”
“Does that mean I can have my sword back?” Lok asked.
“Certainly not,” Sarah Jane answered. “You’ll have enough deadly weapons when you get to the army. While you’re under my roof there will be rules. Number one is that knives stay in the kitchen.”