Miya had been waiting for too long now. Both moons were visible in the sky and the house was dark but for their pale light. Scared, she hid in the topmost tower room and waited for Anda and Feya to return.
There had been strange noises and shaking in the street, and earlier when she had dared to creep down to the food storage area to find something to eat, she had heard marching, an unrelenting too-rhythmic beat echoing down the road.
She was sure she’d heard shooting.
Miya shivered. She wouldn’t think that. It couldn’t be that. Nothing like that had ever happened here, not in her short lifetime.
Now, though, curled up in the tower room, she heard a distinct sound of movement downstairs – the door’s muted brushing sound as it opened and shut, and then footsteps as someone – or several someones – crept inside.
Suddenly, she found herself more angry than scared – it was her house, and how dared they break in? She started down the stairs, before she stopped, her courage failing her. It was too late, however – she found two strangers staring back at her.
The taller of the two shone a bright light onto her face and, as she flinched away, said, “Hello.” He showed her all his teeth, but his voice was friendly. “Is this your house?”
“Well, I’m terribly sorry about dropping in like this. We don’t mean any harm, but, you see, Leela and I are burglars and we needed some gold – and it looks rather as if you might have some. Do you think we could borrow it?” He waited for her to reply and when she didn’t, added, “It is very important and we are friendly, I promise.”
Miya thought about this. They didn’t seem as scary as they ought to, but she wasn’t sure she understood. “Gold?”
The other one, who was a little smaller, and probably female (even though she only had two arms, like the male one) stepped forward. “We will not hurt you, young one. Did you see the metal men outside? We can defeat them if you only have gold you can give us.”
“Yes,” the tall one said, nodding. “You see, if we can put your gold in Professor Arayal’s irradiator that should do the trick nicely. We just don’t have enough without it.”
Miya squatted down on the step and thought about it some more. Then she raised her head and made herself ask the question she didn’t want to: “Did they kill people, the metal men?”
“Well, yes, I’m afraid so,” said the man, moving nearer. He didn’t seem scary at all now, despite his strangeness – a whole mass of long tangled fur on his head, and a silly hat. “They do have a nasty tendency to do that – that’s why we want to stop them. Would you like to help us?”
Miya wondered what Anda and Feya would say about this. They definitely said things about not trusting strangers and she was fairly sure they wouldn’t usually give things to burglars just because they asked nicely, but then gold was an odd thing for anyone to want. Anda only had some objects made out of it because she collected old things, especially old things that had come from the ships of the various star travellers who passed by. It wasn’t a metal much found here, and it wasn’t very useful either – it was much too soft. She had heard Feya say that. And when Miya held that in her mind against the marching outside that had made her quiver in fear, she felt she could give away some gold. But if she did, if she agreed, that would mean that she thought – she thought –
No. It couldn’t be true. She wouldn’t think anything could have happened to Anda and Feya.
But they had brought her up to be helpful and never to hurt people, and she could not truly pretend she hadn’t heard any of the trouble outside, so she decided that they would probably give the gold too, if there was any chance it might stop the metal invaders.
“I’ll show you where we keep the artefacts,” she said. She paused. “Feya says they’re not very useful, though. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to borrow something else?”
The man showed all his teeth again, but Miya could see now that it was meant to be a smile, even if it was wider than she was used to. “Thank you very much. I’m the Doctor, by the way, and this is my friend Leela.”
“I thought you said you were a burglar.”
“Only from time to time. When necessary. People are so often unwilling to share things, don’t you find?” He turned. “Leela?”
His friend had moved across to watch at the window some moments ago. “I thought I saw movement, but it must have been one of the people who live here – Yayans.”
“Yaeans,” Miya corrected her, with the correct emphasis.
“Yaeans,” Leela repeated obediently. “Yes. One of your people, young one.”
The Doctor gave a cough. “Do you have a name?”
“Miya,” she said.
“Well, then, Miya, it’s lovely to meet you. Now, how aboutt you come and help me steal the loot, eh?”
“Doctor,” said Leela, as he turned to go, his pockets stuffed full of cold coins and at least one battered gold candlestick. She nodded towards Miya. “That one is too young to leave here alone.”
Miya looked at them both. She didn’t want to stay here by herself again, but she also didn’t want to leave, in case Anda or Feya came back.
“Hmm,” said the Doctor, staring back at her. “I think she’s still a bit small to go battling Cybermen, though. Miya, how about you do something for me? Can you go back upstairs and hide in the safest place you know until we come back? It should take about, well, let’s say two turns of the dial.”
Miya wasn’t entirely sure she liked the sound of that, but she definitely didn’t want to fight the scary metal people. She nodded.
“Good,” he said, and then, scattering a few gold coins, which Leela picked up for him, he pulled something else out of his pocket. Miya wasn’t sure what it was, but when he handed it over to her, it felt soft. It was shaped like an unfamiliar creature, with two dark eyes and a stitched on smile.
“Now this,” the Doctor added, “is my friend Ted. He doesn’t say much, but if you make sure you look after him, he’ll keep you company.”
Miya nodded again. It was a silly thing, the sort of object only the very smallest Yaeans would have any time for, but she did feel a bit better already, clutching it in her arms.
“And I shall send along my other friend to check up on you once I’ve had a quick word with him. He’s about so high, maybe a bit uppity, but I think you’ll like him. Now, come along, Leela – we can’t hang about here all day!”
They were gone before Miya had time to say anything else. She heaved out a sigh and then hurried back upstairs, but the waiting wasn’t as bad as before. At least now she had something to wait for.
The Doctor’s other friend turned out to be a robot, although not at all like the metal soldiers who had marched down the street. He was smaller than Miya and had a funny, piping voice, and said, when she asked what he was called, that this unit’s designation was K9. He didn’t mind playing a game with her when she asked, either. When she explained the rules, he said it was not one he had had in his databanks before and she thought he sounded pleased about that, and told him all that she knew about the rules.
Sitting on the ground play Catch or Fall with K9, holding Ted in her third arm, made the time pass much quicker, even if she felt sick when she thought about the soldiers marching by and the shooting and the way that Anda and Feya still weren’t here.
Halfway through a new round of the game, suddenly there was a huge flash of golden light outside and an oddly flat yet deafening sound.
“What was that?” she gasped, when it had stopped.
K9’s sensors whirred. “Do not be alarmed. The Doctor Master has succeeded. No other explanation is possible.”
The arm of a metal soldier flew past the window even as K9 spoke. It shouldn’t have made Miya feel better, but it did.
The Doctor and Leela were longer in returning than they’d said – nearly three turns of the dial, but when they did, they took her with them to the Central Court, where everyone was gathering together to try and find each other and help the wounded. Miya saw some people she recognised – but not Anda and Feya.
“Are your mother and father here?” Leela asked her.
The Doctor shook his head. “Nurturers,” he said. “It works differently here.”
“How?” said Leela, instantly curious.
“Now isn’t the time for a lecture on alien societies and biology,” said the Doctor. “Aside from anything else, it isn’t polite.”
Leela raised an eyebrow. “Or you do not know the answer?”
“It is not important, though, Doctor. Miya needs someone who will look after her.”
“Yes, well, I expect we should talk to someone in authority,” said the Doctor, straightening up and staring around. “I’m sure they’ll find your nurturers for you, Miya.”
Leela nodded. “After a battle like this, there will be chaos. It will take some time before all the survivors find each other.”
Miya swallowed. She had a heavy feeling inside that had started when they hadn’t come back, turns and turns of the dial ago, and she didn’t want to let herself hope too hard. “I suppose they would find me new nurturers, and then – then I should just make sure I was the person they made me. Anda and Feya.”
“Do not abandon hope so soon, young one,” said Leela crouching down in front of her, and putting her oddly smooth hand on one of Miya’s arms. “But if the worst happens, that is a good way to think – to survive.”
The Doctor nodded, and sat down beside Miya on one of the stone benches that were set in alcoves through the main hall of the Central Court. “Leela, see if you can find someone to talk to about this, eh? I’ve a few words to say to Miya.”
“Thank you,” said Miya to Leela, as she left.
The Doctor turned to her. “I think you’re probably wrong – I’m sure they’re out there somewhere, looking for you – but that’s a brave plan. You must be a very brave person. Maybe the second bravest I ever met – possibly the third –”
“Who was the first?” Miya had to ask.
The Doctor gave his too-wide grin again, and said, “Ah, now, there by hangs a tale – or ten!”
And a while at least as she listened to his stories, Miya forgot to worry.