“He does it deliberately, you know.”
“I do not!” Clyde immediately protests.
“You do! You try and set him off and it’s me that has to go home and deal with the-”
“All I said was that I shouldn't have to... Sarah Jane, she-.”
Sarah Jane looks between Rani and Clyde. “And I used to have such a quiet home. All right then, what happened?” They both start explaining at once and Sarah Jane stops them. “Ah, ah, ah, one at a time please.”
Rani says, “Luke was there, he can tell you.”
Luke glares at her, betrayed. He’s not great with fighting at the best of times, let alone when he’s being dragged into an argument that he had nothing to do with. Rani does feel a little sorry for doing that to him.
Sarah Jane holds up her hand before he can talk, anyway. “I’m sure Luke would be a very accurate witness, but I’d rather hear from the two of you first. The essence of conflict resolution is listening to both sides.”
Rani is pretty sure she should be offended at Sarah Jane comparing them to warring planets. And that is what’s she’s doing, of course. The thing about Sarah Jane is that at least she never compares you to something boring.
Rani says, “He started throwing snowballs. At my dad.” The weather has been funny, lately. Sarah Jane says it really is just climate change, nothing alien or anything like it. Rani has never seen so much snow in her life. It was fun, up until Clyde saw her Dad trying to get the car out of the drive.
“We’re on holiday!” Clyde says. “School’s out, Luke’s back, we’re all here and I was letting off a little steam. I didn’t mean to hit him.”
“So that was an accident, was it? You know he still has to go into school, actually. They have meetings and things and you slammed him in the back with a bloody great-.”
“So he got a bit wet. It’s snow, it’ll dry off. There was no need to go off on one like that.”
“He’s my Dad.”
“I know that!”
They are interrupted by an alarm blaring. Mr Smith powers up and announces, “Alien craft detected. Alien craft detected.”
Sarah Jane crosses the room in quick strides. “Run a scan. Where’s it headed?”
“Deighton Forest, five miles from here. I cannot find a record of the model of ship, but it appears to be in some distress.”
Sarah Jane grabs her jacket. “Right, we can finish this discussion in the car. Let’s go and find out what we’re dealing with. Mr Smith, let me know if you find out anything more.”
“Of course, Sarah Jane.”
Rani, Clyde and Luke follow Sarah Jane down to the car. The engine starts with only a few weird noises, which isn’t too bad considering the weather. It had taken her Mum’s car half an hour to get going this morning, Mum complaining all the while about the plants not liking the cold. But Luke had cleared the driveway this morning, without Sarah Jane even asking. Clyde, of course, had mocked, but it seems like good thinking now. Rani considers calling her parents, but they know she’s with Sarah Jane, so they’re probably not expecting her back for ages, especially after this morning. Rani pokes Clyde’s shoulder, over the seat. “I still can’t believe you did that.”
“It was an accident!” Clyde turns around in his seat to look back at her. “I keep telling you, I didn’t mean to hit him.”
“Yeah? So who were you trying to hit, then? Me? Luke? ‘Cause neither of us were anywhere near, and I seem to remember someone claiming that they were the world champion snowball thrower.”
“Which isn’t really the truth,” Luke points out. “I don’t know how official it is, but there is an international tournament. It’s held in Japan.”
“How do you even…?” Clyde starts to ask. “Never mind. Anyway. I was trying to throw it, y’know, past him. Wind him up a little, that’s all. He winds me up all the time.”
“He’s your head teacher. And my dad. He’s allowed to wind you up.”
“Not off school property.”
“Look, you know he thinks we’re-.”
“Clyde.” Rani sighs. “He thinks we’re dating.” Clyde tries to interrupt but she talks over it. “And I’ve told him we’re not, but any time he asks where I was, I say with you, which is true, but not like he thinks it. So it would help if, you know, he didn’t also hate you independently of thinking that we’re only pretending to be studying every day after school.”
“We are only pretending to be studying every day after school.”
“Sorry, sorry. But I don’t see how him-.”
Clyde stops because Sarah Jane’s phone rings; she tosses it to Rani to answer. Mr Smith says, “A second craft has entered the vicinity. It is cloaked and hovering in orbit above the forest. I believe it may be following the first ship.”
They pull up in the car park and get out. There’s no ship visible, but the big billowing cloud of smoke is probably a clue. Rani can’t see the ship that’s supposed to be following either, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. They walk towards the smoke first. Their footsteps crunch through the snow, and the low sunlight glares in Rani’s eyes.
Sarah Jane grabs Rani’s arm, and Rani stops Clyde and Luke. Sarah Jane says, “There.”
There’s a rustling in the trees. A branch cracks, loudly, and Rani can see shadows moving.
Sarah Jane calls, “Hello? We’re not here to hurt you. Did your ship crash?”
Two figures walk out into the clearing. They’re very tall – eight or nine feet – and covered in white fur. Rani waves hesitantly at them and smiles. They bare their teeth back at her, and it looks pretty threatening when they do it. Sarah Jane has taught her not to judge by appearances though, so she’s trying her best not to panic. It’s the human brain, is the problem. Instincts hardwired somewhere see ‘giant polar bear looking people’ and scream ‘run away’, but she’s better than that. Sarah Jane has made sure of that, or maybe Rani knew it before and Sarah Jane just puts her into places where it gets tested. Anyway, they’re not really like polar bears, when Rani looks properly. They have pointed faces, and their bodies are pretty much humanoid, apart from all the fur on top.
Sarah Jane takes a step closer, hands still held in front of her, palms open. “Was anyone hurt? Can you tell me why you’re here?”
Clyde grins. “And don’t tell us you’re intergalactic fugitives, ‘cause we’ve heard that story a million times now. Why do aliens always think earth is a good place to hide from the rozzers?” There’s a noise above their heads.
The aliens jerk into motion, faster than she would have thought possible, pulling Clyde away from the three humans.
“Clyde!” Rani’s the one who shouts but it’s Luke who moves, standing closest and without Sarah Jane in between to stop him. The other alien grabs Luke too, and they drag the boys back into the forest.
Sarah Jane takes Rani’s arm to start running after them, but then the air hums. There is a flash of blue. The silhouettes show clear through the haloing light, and Rani could say ‘alien’ even before she blinks away the spots to see three bright orange lizard-people. These ones are smaller, maybe her height, with slender arms and legs, covered by heavy armour. Rani turns to Sarah Jane to check for a flicker of recognition but there is nothing.
Rani wants to go after the boys, but the lizard-people take out guns and Sarah Jane is eyeing them with distaste. Rani says, “Sarah Jane.”
Sarah Jane is still looking across the clearing. “You were chasing the others. Why?”
The lizards glance between each other before responding. Then: “They are wanted criminals.”
“Oh yeah?” Rani asks. “Wanted for what?”“Murder.”
* * * *
“What do you think she meant,” Clyde asks, “you know, about her dad?”
Luke says, “I think she meant she was mad at you for throwing snowballs at him and then laughing.”
“No, but, the other stuff.”
Luke’s reply is interrupted, which is probably for the best. One of the snow-people says, “Contact the woman.”
Luke says, “Do you mean my mum?”
“Sarah Jane Smith.”
“Yeah,” Clyde says. “That’s her. But if you think we’re going to let you use us to get her here, you’ve got another thing coming, mate.”
The smallest one peers around the doorway at them, “We need her to speak for us.”
Clyde leans back in the chair. They’re in a little cabin – a shed, really – that’s set up for bird-watching or something, with a horizontal slot cut the length of one wall. The wind is rushing through the gap, and it’s freezing, and Clyde really hates being on the taken hostage side of things. So he’s maybe a little sarkier than he should be, considering they’ve been dragged off by super-fast aliens with claws and sharp teeth. Clyde asks, “And this seemed the best way to do that, did it?”
The taller one speaks again, “We were startled. The Distif arrived.”
Luke screws up his nose. “Why don’t you tell us who you are, first? And why that ship was chasing you.”
“We are the workers.”
“Oo-kay,” Clyde says. “And do the workers have names?”
The smallest one chirps up. “Sab.”
The bigger one hushes the kid; there’s a bit of a dad vibe going on there. Then he says, “Ignore the child, it’s not his place to speak. I am Igin, and this is Quol.” He points to the one who hasn’t spoken so far, the one who has been standing silently against the wall.
“Okay. And I’m Luke. This is Clyde. Why do you need my mum?”
Quol steps forward from the side of the cabin. “The Distif Guard want to execute me. And Sab.”
“What?” Clyde asks. “Why?”
“Because we killed one of them.”
* * * *
Rani doesn’t know if she’ll ever get over being excited at being inside a real spaceship. She doesn’t think she would want to. This one is smooth metal inside, and the walls are warm to the touch. It’s very light as well, like daytime. She can’t see any controls, but when the Distif leader places his hand on the curving surface at the front of the ship, the engines slide into life.
“Wait,” Sarah Jane says. “Stop that, right now. No one is going anywhere until you explain - quickly please, since your wanted murderers have Clyde and Luke - what happened?”
The Distif adjusts the temperature controls – Rani can feel the heat in the ship like a hot breeze against her face. The Distif says, “I am Jan, Captain of the Second Distif Guard. Our ship has chased the three criminals across two galaxies - before we managed to land a hit on their stolen vessel, and forced them into a crash.”
“Yeah, on our planet!” Rani says. “We’re not a dumping ground for your messes, you know.”
Captain Jan looks at her impassively. “Once we have recovered the criminals, we will be on our way.”
Sarah Jane stares at him. “And they’re wanted for murder? Now why would the Captain of the Guard be chasing a murderer? Quite frankly, most governments wouldn’t even bother sending their police forces after a single murderer, once he had crossed the first galaxy.” She pauses. “Unless he had murdered someone the government thought was important.”
There are ten or twelve more Distif on the ship that Rani knows of, but only four here on the bridge. One of them moves towards Sarah Jane with a hiss. “He was important. He was one of us. One of our soldiers.”
Captain Jan says, “Lieutenant Hirit is right to speak of our loss. But we act for the good of our people. The criminals instigated an insurrection, and in that chaos, a guardsman was killed. There must be justice.”
Rani says, “An insurrection’s a bit different from murder though, isn’t it?”
Hirit bares her teeth. “Every death is a tragedy, and we know the cause of this one.”
“Yes,” Sarah Jane says, “of course, but Rani is right. Politics complicates things. Let’s find the boys first. Then we can talk about what’s happening here.”
Lieutenant Hirit hisses some more. “There is no need for talking. We can be on top of them in a moment. We can destroy them from here. Of course, we will be denied the satisfaction of watching the life drain from their bodies but-.”
“Yeah,” Rani says, “we couldn’t have that, could we? Why don’t we just get out and look for them? They couldn’t have got far.”
Captain Jan shakes his head once, right to left. “Our bodies are not suited for your climate. We need the heat.”
Rani asks, “Warm on your planet then, is it?”
“Not any more,” Jan says. “But we have found a solution for the problem.”
That’s a bit ominous. Rani doesn’t really want to ask this question, but she’s going to be a journalist one day and sometimes that means finding out things you don’t want to know. She asks, “What kind of a solution?”
* * * *
Quol and Igin have gone outside to talk. Clyde whispers, “Do you think we should make a run for it?”
Luke considers the doorway. “I don’t think we’d get very far. They’re quite fast.”
“Yeah, but they’re not that on the ball though, are they? Not sure they know what they’re doing, to be honest.”
Sab, on the other side of the cabin, tuts at him. “I can hear you.”
“Good hearing,” Clyde says.
“Perhaps you are just bad at whispering,” Sab suggests.
Luke laughs. “It’s true, though. You’re not very stealthy.”
“I’m all about stealth! Ninja-like senses, that’s me.”
“Right,” Luke says. It’s not the most eloquent sarcasm in the world, but it gets his point across.
Clyde glares at him. Then he looks at Sab. “All right. Now that mum and dad have gone away for a bit, what’s the real story?”
“You don’t look much like a murderer so I’m guessing there’s a little more going on than that. Why do you lot think Sarah Jane would help?”
“They talk of her,” Sab says, “the negotiator, the peacemaker. She who does not allow violence on the world she protects.”
“That’s mum,” Luke agrees. “So why do you think she would help you? She doesn’t normally interfere with sentences passed on other planets, unless they-.”
“Quol did not mean to kill the soldier,” Sab says. “We were escaping and he tried to…” Sab uses his clawed hand to part the fur on his left side. There is an ugly scorch mark burned there.
“You were escaping?” Clyde says, while Luke walks over to have a look at the wound. “So what was your first crime then? Why were you in prison to begin with?”
“Not prison,” Sab says. “Work.”
Luke stops. “The workers. You’re slaves.”
Igin comes back in. “Not slaves. We were made to do this.”
Clyde asks, “How’d you mean ‘made’?”
* * * *
“They deserted their duty,” Captain Jan says. The ship lurches as he tries to pull them in closer to the trees.
Sarah Jane whirls around to face one of the Distif who hasn’t spoken, like she can’t bear to talk to Captain Jan any more. She’s been getting angrier and angrier as his explanation progressed. Rani doesn’t feel much better herself. She knows that space is vast and complicated and that she’s never going to understand everything about it. But this is just wrong. She can’t make what they’ve been saying fit in her head.
Sarah Jane asks, “And what is their duty?”
The Distif she is looking at hesitates. She’s trying to make Sarah Jane understand. She says, “They- we have a partnership. The planet grew colder and we could not continue on the surface. We have wonderful technology but it takes power and resources and we could not- the factories must be on the surface.”
“So you grew people?” Rani asks. That’s the part she can’t get over. Who looks at a problem on their planet and decides, you know what, I’m going to create a new species of people and force them to take care of it for me?
“They were designed to withstand the cold,” the Distif says. “We didn’t plan on…”
“Ensign Ruy,” Jan snaps. “Enough.”
But Sarah Jane hears the unspoken words. “You didn’t mean them to be clever.”
Hirit sneers. “They’re not clever. They just know how to talk. And kill things. Animals can do that.”
“Yeah,” Rani says, “but you said ‘insurrection’. You wouldn’t use that word about animals. You wouldn’t say ‘murder’ either. And animals don’t steal spaceships.”
“Take us down to the surface,” Sarah Jane says. “Now.”
Captain Jan’s expression is blank. “We must destroy the traitors first.”
Rani takes a step forward but Sarah Jane catches her hand. She squeezes it gently. Sarah Jane whispers, “Wait.” She speaks louder. “Captain. If I could suggest an alternative? One that might make both of us happy?”
Rani breathes out. Sarah Jane has a plan.
Sarah Jane says, “Firing the ship’s weapons is going to be very conspicuous. And violate a number of conventions of the Shadow Proclamation - I’m sure you’d rather not get on the wrong side of them, would you? If I can get you safely onto the planet’s surface, without your soldiers having to worry about the temperature down there, can we try and do this peacefully?”
“An arrest,” Captain Jan asks, “and not an execution? Or not on Earth, at any rate.”
“That would be a good start,” Sarah Jane says. She looks at Rani. “I need your help.”
Rani lets Sarah Jane press something into her hand, and then she listens as hard as she can to what Sarah Jane is and is not saying.
* * * *
At this point in Clyde’s life, spaceships suddenly appearing above the roof probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. He still ducks down low when he hears the engines, dragging Luke with him. Sab squeaks and throws himself flat on the ground. Quol and Igin are still outside and Sab screams for them. Clyde can hear Quol calling out. “My baby,” she says, “my son.”
Luke says, “We need to do something.”
“Not getting killed would be a start.”
“Yes, but after that.”
“Yeah,” Clyde says. “Yeah, we need to do something. Finding Sarah Jane and Rani might help with that.”
As if by magic, Rani teleports into the cabin. She has one of the Distif with her.
Clyde lifts a branch and holds it in front of him and Sab. “They’re not murderers.”
“I know!” Rani says. “We need to light a fire.”
“Now, Clyde. Hurry up.”
The lone Distif is shivering horribly. He - or she - is a lizard, Clyde guesses. They’re more desert dwellers than snow. Clyde still doesn’t think that’s an excuse for growing yourselves a bunch of slaves.
Sab runs outside, shocking white against the dark ground. Clyde hopes that the snow-covered trees above his head are some kind of camouflage against whatever guns the ship has. The kid rushes back in, branches in his hands. “For the fire,” he says. “Ruy, I…”
“Later,” she says. “Later, Sab.” Her teeth chatter together.
Clyde’s not sure how they’re going to get the damp wood to light, but Rani has made off with Sarah Jane’s sonic lipstick again, and that does the trick.
The lizard – Ruy – looks better almost immediately. She huddles close to the fire and doesn’t seem about to shoot anyone, so Clyde relaxes.
Rani sits beside Clyde and looks at the fire. “You cold?” Clyde asks.
“Yes, I’m cold, it’s minus ten or something out there!”
“Still mad at me?”
Rani turns her head to look at him. She smiles slowly, and taps his arm with her fingertips. “No, course not.”
“So, now what?” Clyde asks.
“Now I have about three minutes to tell you what I think Sarah Jane is going to want you to do, before you and Luke have to go and do it.”
Luke frowns. “You don’t know?”
“It was sort of hard to discuss the plan in detail, what with the angry soldiers with guns being right there. Sarah Jane must think we’re smart enough to understand it anyway.”
Clyde grins. “Lucky thing she’s usually right about that then, isn’t it?”
* * * *
Rani watches the two of them across the fire. Ruy and the kid – Sab, apparently – don’t talk. They sit very close to each other and don’t speak.
Clyde, of course, breaks the brief silence. “So. You two know each other.”
Ruy says, “I worked with the residential units.”
“She got me into trouble,” Sab says.
“I did not! I asked you some questions. You’re the one who answered them.”
“All I said was that we needed a new name. One that was ours. You told Jan.”
“I didn’t think he would…” She trails off. “I thought he was different. I didn’t think he was like that.”
Quol and Igin are sitting in the doorway, unbothered by the cold. Quol says, “They’re all like that.”
“I’m not,” Ruy says, quietly.
“Only because you…” Sab looks down at the ground.
“Because I talked to you.” Ruy completes the sentence. “Yes. You were far too intelligent to be what they said.”
“And what did they say,” Rani asks. “That they didn’t mind it? That they were made for…?”
Ruy shakes her head. “That they weren’t really people at all. Because they were made.”
Clyde bangs that branch he’s carrying on the ground. “Well Luke here was made and he’s worth a billion of any slave-creating lizard-people, so that’s one argument blown out of the water.”
Luke blinks, surprised. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Clyde glares at Ruy. “So why are you down here shooting at this lot if you’re all converted and enlightened now?”
“I have my duties,” she says. “If I…. I would be killed too. And I hoped we would not catch them. Forgive me Sab but,” she looks at him, “I prayed never to see you again.”
He grins at her, and it doesn’t look threatening to Rani’s eyes any more. “And I you. Though I’m not completely disappointed to see you.” Ruy smiles back.
There’s a flash of light and Sarah Jane teleports into the middle of them, with ten Distif soldiers at her back. She says, “More wood for the fire, please, Luke.”
* * * *
Clyde looks at Sarah Jane. “Don’t turn around, Sarah Jane, but there are ten lizards with guns behind you.”
She sighs. “Yes, Clyde, thank you. The fire, Luke?” Luke runs outside to pick up some more wood to feed the flames. Clyde’s not totally sure they want to make the Distif quite that comfortable. If they’re shivering, they’re less likely to hit him when they shoot.
Luke has tilted his head to regard the Distif leader. “Why grow people? Why not… robots, or machines? Why not build yourself better armour?
“This was easier.” He glares at Sarah Jane. “We didn’t come here to listen to you stand judgement against us. We saved our people – would yours do any less?”
“No,” Sarah Jane agrees, “probably not. That’s the sad thing.”
Rani’s mouth purses. “We wouldn’t do- not that. Not now, I mean.”
Sarah Jane is quiet. She touches Rani’s shoulder. “We wouldn’t, and that’s what matters at the moment. Now, Luke, I have another task for you. Ruy is going to show you the Distif ship. They have some very interesting technology onboard, and Captain Jan has agreed to let you take a look.” She puts particular emphasis on technology. Must be something she wants them to see. Sarah Jane says, “Perhaps you should take Sab with you as well.”
“I think Sab should stay here,” Clyde says. “You need to listen to what he says – he’s the one it happened to. Both sides, remember?”
Sarah Jane smiles at him. “Quite right. Still, I think we should have one of both sides on the ship, just to avoid any misunderstanding. Igin, is it? The one who isn’t accused?”
The really angry looking Distif on the end hisses. “He stands accused of treachery.”
“Yes, well,” Sarah Jane says, “apart from that. He didn’t kill anyone.”
“He just aided the escape.”
“He was saving his family,” Clyde points out.
“That makes no difference.”
“Yeah, it really does.”
Sarah Jane says, “Clyde, you should go with Luke as well.”
Clyde was going anyway, but he still makes a token protest before the four of them are teleported up to the Distif ship. He’s pretty sure that Sarah Jane’s story to the Distif had been that the kids shouldn’t be in the room when they make the arrest. Clyde’s not sure how Rani got herself excused from that, but it does seem to happen every now and again.
They reappear in the ship and start looking around. Luke touches one of the panels up front. “What do you think Mum wants me to do?”
“Still not sure. Save the day, like always? There’s something here she wants us to see.”
Luke bites his lip. “She must have noticed something she thought I could… something about the ship. Ruy?”
Ruy shrugs, which is an interesting looking move for a lizard. She says, “It’s a simple craft. Fast, with a short-range teleporter, and basic communication functions, but that’s all.”
Igin nods. “It’s just like the other one.”
Clyde pulls up short. “Maybe she means the other one.”
“Can the ships talk to each other? Like could you teleport from one to the other?”
Ruy thinks about it. “At this range, and with the other ship inactive, I imagine so. Her defences will be down, so there’s nothing to stop it.”
Luke touches another panel, which lights up under his hands. “Oh.”
* * * *
Rani whispers, “Do you think this is going to work?” They hadn’t had enough time to properly talk, and now they’re standing here hoping the boys can put the pieces together. Rani trusts them to figure it out – she really does – but the timing has to be right and they need Captain Jan not to get suspicious too quickly.
“Which part?” Sarah Jane asks.
Sarah Jane whispers, “I don’t know. I hope this part works. I’d rather not have to resort to the back-up plan.”
Rani agrees, but they do have to resort to their plan Bs quite often, so she’s not holding her breath for this one to work the first time.
Sarah Jane takes a deep breath. “Now. Let’s talk.”
Lieutenant Hirit says, “It’s not your place to-.”
“It’s our planet,” Rani says. “I think we should get a say in whether or not you get to kill people on it.”
“This is how justice works on your world?”
“Not always. But maybe it should be. Maybe if we all just did a bit more listening, then things like this wouldn’t happen.”
Captain Jan looks at her. “We don’t need to hear what they have to say.”
“No. But if you don’t, it’s just going to happen all over again.”
“Not when we bring home the traitors’ bodies.”
“Yeah,” Rani says, “even then. ‘Cause that’s what happens when you spend your whole life getting stepped on. You step back, even if it’s going to get you killed.”
Quol coughs. “Freedom is worth the risk.”
“You lasted for years without it,” Hirit says.
“Yes. And then I had a son.”
“We die in the plants. We die for disobeying. Better to die fighting.”
Sab goes to stand beside his mother. “You didn’t need to…”
“He would have killed you. I turned him away. The death was an accident but I would do it again.” She looks at Hirit. “I would do it again. And if you cannot see why then we truly do have nothing in common.”
Captain Jan steps forward. “Naturally, the issue of worker safety is one the government is debating. But this was no way to go about-.”
“There has to be one of you!” Rani says, looking at the Distif. “You can’t all think this is right. One of you must see that…”
None of them speak.
Quol smiles. “Even if they did, little one, they would not say so. They have their duty. That comes first.”
“Yes,” Jan agrees. “And I will do my duty.” He raises his gun.
* * * *
“Now!” Luke shouts, and they flash into the cabin again. The Distif Captain has his gun out.
Clyde steps into the space, in front of the gun. Luke and Rani are on either side of him a moment later.
The Captain looks at them. “You would risk your lives for three criminals?”
“Well,” Clyde says, “it all depends how you define a crime now, doesn’t it? But yeah, we would.”
Sarah Jane is trying to call them back but the thing is, Clyde knows that if she wasn’t doing that, she’d be the one standing in front of the gun. It’s funny, what being a mum does to you.
Anyway, Luke is talking now. He says, “You have the technology already.”
“What?” Jan asks.
“To protect yourself in the cold. You have it in your ship. You could make it from that technology easily. I could show you how to do it but I think… I think you already know that.”
The ship is amazing. Clyde doesn’t understand half of the things Luke said about it but he could still see that the tech is easily at the level that the Distif could fix their problems without creating a species.
Ruy looks at Jan. “Captain?”
“Ignore their lies, Ensign.”
“Is it a lie, Captain?”
Clyde is looking at the other Distif, behind the captain. They don’t say anything, and they keep their guns pointed, but he can see them look at each other. He doesn’t think they knew. But the captain did.
Luke turns to Quol and Sab. “I fixed the other ship. You can get away, if you want.” He pauses. “Ruy too, maybe.”
Ruy’s eyes widen. “I need to go back. People should know that the government is lying, that we’re- people should know.”
“Yeah,” Clyde agrees, “but maybe it’d be easier to do that if you weren’t in prison for treason. Which seems to be the most likely set-up, if all these guns being waved around are any sign.”
Clyde looks around at the Distif with their weapons, and then Quol and Igin and Sab. It shouldn’t have to be like this.
* * * *
Sarah Jane says, “Make your choice now, Ruy. I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’re going to get another chance.”
Ruy sighs. She takes Sab’s hand.
Sab looks at her. “We’ll go back, I promise. We’ll fix things.”
Captain Jan turns to Sarah Jane. “How do you intend to stop me and my soldiers – my loyal soldiers – from killing the traitors now?”
Sarah Jane says, “Luke. Now would be a good time.”
Rani wishes Plan A had worked. There is a flash, and two sets of teleporters pull the Distif and the others away. Rani trusts that Luke made it work the way it should. Jan and the soldiers back in their ship – disabled for at least a little while – and the others to the stolen ship. Now working.
Rani turns to Luke. “How’d you get the timing right?”
He holds up his phone. “I used this. It’s all just computers, really.”
Sarah Jane wraps her arm around Luke’s shoulder. “I knew you could do it.”
Luke laughs. “I wasn’t sure.”
Sarah Jane says, “I’m always sure.” She stretches further, putting a hand on Clyde and Rani’s shoulders. “Now, home?”
* * * *
Sarah Jane calls Mr Smith on the way home. “Igin, Quol, Sab and Ruy are safe,” he says. “The Distif ship will not be able to travel quickly enough to intercept them. Thanks to Luke.”
Clyde punches Luke lightly on the shoulder. “See? Day saved.”
Luke nods. “Do you think they’ll find a name for themselves? The workers, I mean.”
“Oh, I expect so,” Sarah Jane says. “When they find out what they can be. Names are important.”
Luke nods. “And it’s good to name yourself.”
Sarah Jane smiles at him through the rear-view mirror.
Clyde says, “I still think we should’ve done more.”
“We did what we could, Clyde,” Sarah Jane says.
“Yeah, but those people are still going to be...”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sarah Jane says, “With young people like Sab and Ruy, I think the planet has a chance.”
“But we still should have- we could have done something.”
Rani turns around in the passenger seat to look at him. “We did do something. And maybe the next time we see them – if the Judoon ever let us off the earth! – we’ll be able to get them to tell us what happened next.” She smiles at him. “We listened, Clyde. That helps. And we got them safely away. They’ll find somewhere to go.”
“It’s still not fair,” he says, but he knows what she means. They can’t go around trying to fix the whole world, especially other people’s worlds. Sarah Jane has always been pretty clear about that. But Clyde’s not going to be earth-bound forever – he’s not going to be a kid forever – he’s going to make a difference.
Rani is still looking at him. “We make a difference,” she says, though she can’t know what she was thinking.
“Yeah,” he says. “And you and Sarah Jane didn’t do so bad with the diplomacy stuff. At least they stopped to talk to each other for a bit. Even if it did…”
Luke says, “Clyde.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Clyde says. “We do okay.”
“We saved four lives today,” Sarah Jane says. “That’s more than okay.”
Clyde supposes she’s probably right.
Sarah Jane pulls the car up outside her house, and they all pile out into the snow.
Rani says, “I should check in with mum and dad first. I’ll be round in a bit?”
Luke nods. “I’m going to make hot chocolate.” He shivers, somewhat dramatically, but it is bloody cold.
Clyde says, “I’m gonna walk Rani to the door, I’ll be up in a few.”
“Of course,” Sarah Jane says. “We’ll leave the door open.”
Clyde follows Rani down her driveway. Her dad opens the door. Clyde smiles as brightly as he can manage. “Good evening, sir.”
Mr Chandra raises his eyebrow. “Langer.”
“Sir. I just wanted to apologise about before. You know, with the snow and everything. Not that I meant to hit you. And I didn’t know you had to go into school, that’s crap. But I’m still sorry. Okay?”
“Hmm.” Mr Chandra looks at him. “Apology accepted, I suppose, in the circumstances. Don’t let it happen again.”
Mr Chandra walks down the hallway. Rani steps into the house and turns around to look at Clyde. She leans down, her hand on his elbow, and kisses his cheek. “Thanks.”
“Thanks anyway,” she says. “I’ll see you in a bit. Try to stop Luke drinking all the hot chocolate before I get there.”
“Making no promises,” he says, grinning.
She smiles back at him before the door closes. He walks down the driveway, whistling. The sky is really clear above him, so the stars shine off the snow. One of the stars might be a spaceship. Some people, Clyde knows, feel small, looking up at that, but mostly he just feels lucky. People are alive – up there and down here – that wouldn’t be if not for him, and Sarah Jane and Luke and Rani. (And Maria, and Mr Smith, and the Doctor, and there are a lot of good people out there, if you think about it properly.) So anyway it’s hard to feel bad about that.
The lights are on in Sarah Jane’s house and he opens the door. Sarah Jane calls his name from the kitchen. “We’re in here.”
“Coming,” he calls back. “Just give me a minute.” He looks at the sky a little longer before closing the door.