Sarah Jane turned at her name and saw someone behind her on the path. It had to be this woman, with a truly spectacular head of curly hair that complimented her tanned skin, who had spoken. Gunnersbury Park was quiet and no one else was around.
“Can I help you?” she answered.
The woman smiled and took a few steps closer. “I thought I recognized you. I’ve read all your work. Well, at least what I believe is all your work.”
She was dressed casually much like Sarah Jane herself: trousers, boots, loose blouse although a deep sapphire unlike Sarah Jane’s white with pinstripe vest. She had learned from being a journalist how to read a lot about a person. Something told her that this woman who appeared to be a little younger than herself might actually be younger still. The bearing and body movement held elements of youth.
Sarah Jane smiled back. “I thought I might do a piece on the Park renovations. Can’t miss something in my own town.”
“I thought it might be the extraterrestrial life readings coming from Princess Amelia’s bathhouse.” The barest delight touched on Princess Amelia’s name, but that wasn’t what raised a warning flag. Sarah Jane had played this game of feigned ignorance plenty of times. She knew she gave nothing away.
“Extraterrestrial? You can’t be serious.”
“You know I am,” came the even answer. The shrug came more from the woman’s voice than anything she did with her body. “It’s only a group of Flibanathi.”
“Flibanathi?” The sarcasm was feigned, but her ignorance wasn’t. She really hadn’t ever met them before.
“I ran into them in my first university years. A microscopic life form from the outer moon of K'Zag. They're totally benign. This group is just out for a little universe sightseeing. Not everyone can steal a blue box to get about.”
The woman’s expression didn’t change from the casual encounter in a park she had used from the beginning. She had obviously played this game too. Sarah Jane shifted her purse strap on her shoulder, covering her hand moving to open it quickly if she needed to get at her sonic lipstick. At least, she hoped the other woman didn’t notice.
“Sorry, am I supposed to know what that means?”
They stood close enough that she could see those eyes were green or a blue green. They crinkled in the corners as they warmed. “You first met him as Doctor John Smith at UNIT when scientists were being stolen and sent back in time. You believed he was behind it all and aided Sir Edward Irongron in the plot. He became one of only three people you let call you Sarah instead of Sarah Jane. The second was Professor Kettlewell’s poor K One when you faced the SRS under the guise of the Think Tank. The third is your aunt's ward Brandon.”
Sarah Jane wondered if an enemy could have pulled those details from the Doctor’s head. “Alright, that was impressive except for one thing. His memory is so full of holes, I can’t believe he supposedly told you all of it.”
The other woman suddenly bared teeth behind tight lips and her eyes held fire. Sarah Jane nearly took a step back. Something in that stance reminded her of the Doctor’s stories about warrior Leela. She decided against that step, because she realized the anger was aimed at something over her shoulder.
“You do anything to her and you’ll bring his younger version here,” the woman bit out. “I’m only preparing her for what’s waiting, nothing else, but he’ll start a war if you harm her, and what would happen to your fixed point?”
Anyone would turn after hearing that and Sarah Jane found a nightmare behind her. The painting Scream didn’t equal those eyes staring out of the body towering over her with those long hands and arms reaching for her. Now she took that step back and spun to ask who were they, but face to face again with the other woman, she had no idea what it was she was going to ask.
“Sorry. You were saying he probably didn’t tell me all those details.” The fierce expression and the stance to go with it were gone. Instead, the blonde curls bobbed as the head underneath them wagged back and forth while the woman gave a small grin. “True. He told me what he could. The Tardis filled in the rest.”
She said his name for the first time. “You know the Doctor?”
“So what’s the real reason you’re here?”
The other woman moved closer. The grin was gone and the eyes stayed locked on hers. “I have a message.”
Sarah Jane’s heart lifted and her fair skin coloured. “From the Doctor?”
“From me. The universe is about to shiver, Sarah Jane.” The words tugged at her memory but it wouldn’t come back. “When it does, I hope you can remember the times you recently shared with Jo Grant to get you through this.”
“Look, why all this secrecy?” Sarah Jane snapped. “There’s no one here. Just tell me what you mean.”
“Not everyone shows up scans or in memory.”
“Does this have anything to do with that beacon from a short while ago? It said it came from a bubble universe and the Doctor needed help. I answered it, but never heard back and now there’s stories everywhere about the person who sent it.”
The reply was sad and far away. “I’m sure there is.” She pulled back and her body gave off a barely noticeable droop. “If you don’t remember what you and Jo shared, then I’m sure you’ll find a way to track me down.”
“Will I? Even though I don’t know your name?”
“Yes. You’ll be too angry to let me go, and, sadly, discovering my name won't be a problem very soon.”
Her visitor took a true step back this time and slid her sleeve up her arm revealing a vortex manipulator. Sarah Jane’s “Wait!” came too late and blended in with the electric sizzle of time induced lightning and smoke.
She stood and stared at the spot while she worked on, What was that all about? It went round and round in her brain during the short drive home, but the sight of an armed squad of UNIT forces waiting at her house pushed everything else out. Small and unintimidated K9 guarded her drive and she could hear his imperious voice refusing to allow the soldiers on her property.
She jumped out of the car. “What is this!”
The squad’s leader, a tall man with dark hair and military bearing, stepped forward. “If I could have a word in private, Miss Smith?”
“Negative, Mistress!” K9 exclaimed. “UNIT forces have refused to comply with your instructions!”
“He’s right,” Sarah Jane said and got a brief moment of satisfaction from the man’s wide eyes at being put down by a robot dog.
“I'm sorry, Miss Smith, but I must inform you that your friend, the Doctor, is dead. A group calling itself The Silence and Academy of the Question is taking credit for his murder. It was done by their assassin Melody Pond on the 22nd of April around 1700 hours in Utah, America. A place called Silencio Lake on the Plain of Sighs. ”
She looked around her, everywhere but at them. Prepare her, the woman said. This didn’t prepare her at all. She had gone through this already and even though the Doctor had ended up alive, the pain from it still scarred her and Jo.
Jo Grant Jones.
I think the whole universe might just shiver. The Doctor had said that in his old man’s voice, about what it would be like if he died, before startling her with a laugh. She and Jo swore they would feel it if he was gone. But they hadn’t felt it, so they believed...
The Doctor was alive.
“Are you sure?” she asked the UNIT leader. Her voice quivered. Good because if the Doctor wasn’t dead, she should sound like he was.
“Quite sure. Melody Pond confirmed it on behalf of her leadership. She had proof and eyewitnesses were brought to her trial.”
“Eyewitnesses?” No. No, please no, maybe he was dead after all.
“The Doctor’s friends, an Amy Pond and her husband Rory Williams. They’re somehow related to the assassin. She pled guilty at her trial and has been sentenced with 12,000 consecutive life sentences in a maximum security prison.”
Sarah Jane’s mind reeled. What to believe? They had proved the Doctor was dead.
No, Melody Pond claimed he was dead and had the Doctor’s only married companions confirm it. If this was a ruse, anyone who traveled with the Doctor would do the same. That beacon: some said the person who sent the message was the woman who killed the Doctor. Sarah Jane had ignored that until now.
But to let yourself be thrown in prison for longer than anyone could live: was Melody Pond really doing that to keep the Doctor’s secret safe?
A message. From me. The universe is about to shiver. I hope you can remember the times you recently shared with Jo Grant.
The Tardis filled in the rest.
The Tardis? Because? ...Because the Doctor wasn’t sharing his secret, but the ship, who loved him more than anyone, chose to share with Melody Pond what to say so Sarah Jane would believe her.
If the Doctor was dead, his assassin had no reason to give any message at all.
Tears stung her eyes and one fell.
“I’d like to be alone. I hope you understand. Come on, K9.” She walked slowly with her shoulders slumped until she could close her front door behind her. She sank against it and let out the breath stuck in her chest. It shook as it left her.
The tears. The tremble in her breathing. They only looked like grief.
She was betting everything on this belief, but she couldn’t let the Doctor’s friends be devastated over his supposed death. She also couldn’t just blurt it out and ruin everything he and this Melody Pond had done to protect him. Not everyone shows up on scans or in memory. Somebody was listening -- this Silence.
The Silence was listening. The irony in that didn't escape her.
She rushed upstairs to Mr. Smith, bringing K9 with her. She needed to call everyone and spread the truth quickly. She also needed to be subtle.
She stopped on a stair before deliberately stepping forward again.
The phone risked too much. She had to bring them here.