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Bloody Nature

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They can follow us wherever we go, right across the universe—they're never going to stop.

*

One day in February, 1926, a confused-looking man stumbled out of a rough wooden shed. He wandered downhill, toward the sea, his steps losing their aimlessness and gaining more sureness as he got more good salt air inside him. When he reached the dock, he took a deep breath, slapped his upper arms briskly, and stepped into the nearest pub.

And later that day in February, a young woman, moving with purpose and vigour, stepped out of the same wooden shed and went looking for a job.

Other things arrived that day, but they moved invisibly, silently, and quickly, over sea and sand and earth without discrimination. When their paths crossed, they squealed.

*

The equipment wasn't what Martha was used to, but she was practicing medicine. First call of the day, checking the wound and changing the bandage on a a girl's arm. Sally was eleven or twelve and her eyes were enormous as she stared at Martha. "My uncle says people in Africa are black," she blurted.

"Yes, most of them," Martha said.

"But you're from London," Sally said, sounding like the cognitive dissonance made her brain hurt.

"I am."

"Did the...did the fog turn you black? My brother said it's terrible dark and blacks your clothes. Is David going to be black when he comes home?" The girl wriggled in her chair with excitement.

Martha was so bloody tired of questions about her colour, but Sally was a child, so she relented. "My great-grandparents were African. They moved to London, so my grandparents are Londoners, and my parents are Londoners, and I'm a Londoner, see?"

"Oh! Oh, no, Miss. Mam says bones and blood are what you are and I'm Welsh no matter what and so is my brother, even in London. So if he's still Welsh you must be African too! Don't you ever want to go home?"

It was a kind of logic. "My home is London," she said gently. "Now keep that clean and it will heal up beautifully."

"You should go home some time," Sally said. "There's nothing like home."

Second call: Fever. This patient wasn't doing so well. "Will the Communists pay for his coffin? We've got nothing," his weary wife said.

Martha held her hand. "Don't give up yet."

"I'm not giving up, but I'm not blind either."

The Communists had hired her as a free nurse for the area poor. She'd forgot that the party had been so prominent before the Cold War made communism a dirty word. They were certainly doing some good in this little neighbourhood.

Third call, a little boy with Down syndrome. "No," Martha told his mother. "It's nothing you did wrong. It's—" She knew what to say, but it felt awfully strange—"God's will. He'll be—slow, but there's no reason he can't be useful and happy."

DNA hadn't been discovered yet. She couldn't explain about duplicated chromosomes and their effect on brain development. She racked her memory, desperate for Google, but couldn't think of anything else.

"I don't reckon there's anything a young girl like you can tell me about raising children," the boy's mother said, not unkindly. "But thank you."

Then it was lunchtime. Meat pie and cold coffee. She sat on a bench near the sea, glancing only occasionally at a clutch of workers having their luncheon down the road.

Only occasionally letting her eyes find a certain profile, big nose, big ears, cropped hair. She didn't approach him; it was better if she didn't. But she kept track of him.

First case after lunch was an emergency she happened across on the high street. Lorry accident. A man's leg was crushed, his artery spurting through the broken skin. She applied his belt as a tourniquet before he bled out entirely, but he was ashen when his co-workers carted him off to hospital. He'd likely die.

Martha returned to the office to change her blood-soaked dress. "Martha!" Sian cried when she saw her. "How am I meant to get that clean?"

"Bless me if I know," Martha said.

"Well, let me set them to soaking." Sian pointed Martha into the back room to change.

The office was actually a cellar kitchen, and the back room was the former pantry. Gareth, Martha's boss, slept in the former butler's pantry and kept supplies in the former wine cellar. The servants parlour was taken up by his printing press. He created endless leaflets promoting workers' rights.

Martha wasn't quite sure what she thought about the cause. She'd been taught that communism was a failed ideology, just look at the wreckage of the USSR, but right now, at this time, what Gareth fought for were the rights she took for granted. Decent pay. Decent hours. Safety in the workplace. Education for children. Health care. She longed to tell Gareth about the NHS; he'd weep for joy.

The blood had soaked straight through to her skin. She stripped down to her bloomers and mopped herself off in the basin. Thank goodness she had a spare uniform, but she'd have to work carefully not to bloody it before Sian could wash the other. She'd be down to her day dress if she wasn't careful. She only had one day dress.

Clothes were bloody expensive before Top Shop. She got board and a tiny wage for her work, certainly not enough to go around buying pretty dresses.

Martha pulled herself together, smoothed her hair, pinned her cap, checked her cuffs. She gathered up her soiled clothes and brought them out to Sian.

Sian was the girl of all work. She cooked and cleaned. She was a good girl, only seventeen, but steady. "Well, I'll do my best," Sian said.

"Who can ask more?" Martha said.

Four more visits, and then dusk, and then bed.

*

The next morning, Saturday, she woke up to big news. Gareth was cranking off a batch of leaflets. "Good morning, Sister Martha," he said. "The miners were locked out last night. There was no agreement."

"Bloody hell," Martha groaned. The miners wanted better pay for their work. The owners wanted more work for the same pay. It was a hard gulf to cross and it seemed like they were barely trying.

"The workers will strike," Gareth said. He didn't raise his voice; he never raised his voice. He'd taken a lot of damage during the Great War.

She put an iron band around the part of her mind that knew it was the first World War. In 1926, it was the war to end all wars, and they didn't yet know what was coming. She'd never slipped. Looking at Gareth, listening to his soft, rough voice, was all the reminder she needed.

"The Trades Union Congress meets today, but I feel the outcome is certain," Gareth continued. "A general strike. We will stop the nation until the nation listens."

"Would I have to strike?" Martha asked.

"No," Gareth said. "You serve the workers, not the masters."

"Good. I can't just sit by and do nothing."

"I know, sister Martha, and it is your best quality."

First case, the fever, which had broken. Mrs Powell wore a weary, happy smile. Then a burn (needed skin grafts—she missed modern medicine so badly), another fever (how she wished for antibiotics), a foot pierced by a nail (what wouldn't she give for tetanus vaccine), and a diabetic (she longed for insulin).

Late lunch. Raisin tart, cheese sandwich, and coffee. Gareth paid her virtually nothing but he did feed her well. He obtained food mostly through barter. He owned the building they worked in but gave the use of it over to the Communists.

She found the familiar shape down on the docks, outlined by the sun on the water. He was rubbing his neck. She couldn't see his face. She took advantage of the distance to take a long, longing look.

Then she went back to work. Pregnancy, fever, a lopped-off toe, and a dog bite. Then dusk, then bed.

*

Sunday, day of rest. Sometimes she went to church, but today she decided to organize her medical supplies.

Iodine. Boiling pots. Bandages. Gareth came in with two massive bags of potatoes and set them under the table. "Is there anything you need, sister Martha?"

"I don't know. How long will the strike last?"

"How long does it take to change the heart of a man?"

"Thirty seconds?" Martha offered.

Gareth tilted his head, which was his method of smiling. "And when money is involved?"

"Could be years, then. I think I'm all right, but I'll let you know."

Martha caught up with his leaflets over tea in the afternoon. "Do you really think you can keep every worker, everywhere, aligned?" she asked, quite seriously.

"We must if we are to succeed," Gareth said.

"You must, yeah, but whether you can--"

"If we doubt then we have already lost."

Martha was a doctor. She didn't see the successful results of long shots, only the failures. She hoped he was right. But she worried.

She took a walk by the sea before dusk. She saw a pair of workers chucking rocks into the water, one with a familiar profile. She turned in satisfied.

*

Monday. Last minute negotiations, according to Gareth. Everyone she saw could feel the action in the air. "WORKERS UNITED" said the leaflet Mrs Davies was using to light her pipe. "They locked our Ieuan out of the pit! How's he meant to live?"

Martha checked her sprained ankle. "And how did you hear that? He's miles away."

"From Mr Jones the carter. He says they locked them all out of the pit! They think we're donkeys, to work and work on nothing but a handful of straw. We'll see what happens when we stop the French wine in the harbour," Mrs Davies said.

Martha laughed. "And unload the gin?"

"That's medicine!" She puffed on her pipe.

"Well, you're doing all right, so keep it wrapped and only drink your medicine when you're already sitting down. If you hurt it again, who knows but it might come off."

"And me a poor old widow."

"A legless old widow," Martha said, wagging her finger. Mrs Davies grinned toothlessly.

Next call, a feverish baby, then a broken finger, then a rash.

At lunch she heard a familiar voice. "Of course we stand together! Because it's difficult, that's why we have to! If times were good, wages were high, and we all drank our tea from cups of gold, there'd be nothing to fight for!"

Martha watched the other dock workers nod. "But we've got nothing," said another man. She recognized him as Little Charlie, father of the feverish baby she'd seen earlier. "If I don't get wages this week then I won't have rent."

"I'll pay your rent, Charlie." A coin held out in a roughened palm.

"I can't ask that, man."

"You didn't."

"The union will see to the necessities. We won't let your family starve. That's why we all pay subs, so the union can see us through the hard times." That was Old Will, senior among the men, the union representative for their group.

She wasn't part of the community—probably never would be, even if she lived there ten years—but she knew them, and she knew this was going to be hard, but the more she heard, the more sure she was the men would stand firm and this would work.

She wished she'd learned her history a little better. She remembered the first half of the twentieth century as death of Queen Victoria, World War I, the Great Depression, then World War II.

And, damn, she must have lost track of time. The men had packed up their lunch things and were filing past her. Old Will tipped his hat, so the others did as well. Including Johnny Big Ears.

Johnny Big Ears said his name was John Smith. He shouldn't have been everyone's friend, with his English accent and lack of any history whatever, but he was, and he accepted his instant nickname with an enormous smile.

"Miss," Johnny said. Martha nodded. He looked well.

After lunch, two more fevers—she made a note of that in her book, to check at the hospital and see if something was going around—and back to Sally to check her cut arm.

Dusk. She was tired, but she borrowed Gareth's bicycle and went up the hill to visit the TARDIS.

"Hello," she said when she opened the door. It felt like the machine was listening. "Doing all right?"

She dusted the console. The light blinked slowly.

"I saw him today. He's looking well."

The light blinked.

"I miss him," Martha said.

*

As she returned home, she passed the pub and heard the calls of "Strike! Strike! Strike!"

*

Tuesday. When she came down to breakfast in her lodging house, she found Mr Jones the carter leisurely reading the newspaper. He stood and pulled a chair out for her. "Good morning, Miss Jones."

"Good morning, Mr Jones. I see you're on strike."

"Yes, miss, I surely am."

"How are you going to spend it?"

"I thought I'd drive to the seaside and let the old cob have a roll in the surf. Are you on strike, miss?"

"No. No, today I'm seeing Gwen's Rhodri for his fever and old Mrs Well for her leg and that's just the start." She tucked into the eggs and toast and tea.

"So tell me then, where are you from? You must be a long way from home."

"London," she said. Every bloody day the same questions. It was starting to get annoying. "I'm from London. It's not far by train." She wrapped up an egg in a piece of toast to go. "Must dash! Have a nice morning, Mr Jones."

She stalked out of the door and bumped into Johnny Big Ears. Her egg and toast fell to the ground. "Oh!"

Johnny doffed his cap. "Excuse me, Miss." He bent to pick up the toast, but stopped halfway and straightened. "That's for the dogs now, Miss. I'm sorry."

"It's all right."

"I'll buy you a replacement, if I may." He looked down at her seriously, respectfully. Always respectfully. He never looked at her as just some kid, just a student, just a girl. Like he said, she wasn't just a passenger.

"I must begin my work. I'm not on strike, I'm a nurse."

"At least a bun," Johnny said. He gestured to the tea shop down the street.

And she couldn't resist. She bloody missed the Doctor. And even if Johnny wasn't quite the Doctor, he was closer than anyone else. "Martha Jones," she said, holding out her hand.

"John Smith," he replied, and shook it.

He bought her a currant bun and walked with her toward headquarters. "You arrived in Cardiff a few months ago, didn't you? Like me," Johnny said.

Martha nodded. "I needed work. I'm useful here."

"I daresay. So many more need doctoring than can pay for it."

"But if we all pooled our money, all the workers, everyone in the country, we could pay for it—I'm sorry," she said. "Thank you for the bun. You don't need a lecture."

"And if I like the subject, and wish to hear more?" Johnny asked.

She smiled, hiding it behind the bun. "Comrade Gareth will lecture you all you like, sir."

"But it's better from you."

Flirting with her. Bastard. "I'm otherwise occupied."

"And I'm on strike. I could accompany you on your rounds."

"You hardly know me, sir, and I don't know you. I hardly think that's respectable."

"Ah," Johnny said. "Then I'll have to show you how respectable I am." He smiled and deposited her at HQ. She walked down the stairs grinning.

Oh, lord, what the hell was she doing?

*

At the end of the day, Johnny was sitting on the doorstep outside HQ. He doffed his cap as she approached.

"Mr Smith," she said.

"Miss Jones. May I walk you home?"

"I'm still working."

"As it happens, I'm not busy. It would be my pleasure to wait." Johnny brandished a sheaf of literature from Gareth's press. "I've been reading. Never read so much in one go."

"Don't hurt yourself." She smiled.

"But if I do, will you dress my wounds?"

"Stop it," Martha said, and descended the stairs.

"Your Johnny is very keen," Gareth said.

"He's not my Johnny!" He was her Doctor, and would be again. She cleaned up.

And when she climbed the stairs, he was still there. He took his cap off again. "Yes, you may walk me home," she said. As if there was a question.

Johnny beamed and took her arm.

Late that night, she held the stopwatch against her bosom, rubbing her fingers over the engraved design, and thought three more weeks.

*

He walked her to work again on Wednesday, and Thursday, and everyone noticed.

*

A long day's work made longer by the crowds of men standing around doing nothing but blocking the streets. She'd expected more rioting, actually, more fuss, but everyone was just... on holiday.

Sian clattered up the stairs, meant to be going home, but she galloped back down the stairs into HQ crowing, "That Johnny Big Ears is waiting for you again!"

Gareth looked up, a slight "hem" of amusement echoing up his throat and off his face. He didn't comment, but went back to the books.

"He's been doing that," Martha said.

"He wants to marry you," Sian said, swooning against the kitchen stairs.

"Oh, is that what he said? That's a bit previous." Martha checked the clock. It was time enough, so she wrapped her hands in thick cloth and lifted the rack of scalpels out of the boiling water. They didn't have much in the way of sterility, but this she could do. She set the rack of scalpels on the table and carefully placed the oilcloth cover over it.

"Shall I empty the boiling pot, sister Martha?" Gareth asked with his careful diction.

"Yes, thank you, Gareth."

Sian got up from the stairs. "It's what he meant, not what he said. I told him to pick you some flowers. He said it wasn't right to have frivolity in the middle of the strife. I told him God's pretty things were the comfort of the working class and he went to pick some. So he is courting you, see?"

"It's just a bit of fun while he's on strike," Martha said. "He won't last a minute once they're back on the job."

"We'll see," Sian sing-songed.

Well. Today's work was done. Time to go home, her little cupboard-sized room, and rest up for another day. She fetched her hat and coat.

She wished she knew how long this was going to last. When she walked up the stairs, there was a crowd of ten men or so drinking beer and watching Johnny Big Ears. Oh, Lord.

"Good evening." He offered her a posy of ivy and yellow Welsh poppies. The men cheered.

"Thank you," she said. The flowers were lovely.

"May I walk you home, Miss Martha?"

"Oh ah, oh ah?" an old fellow echoed him.

"You may. But this lot mayn't!" She took his arm. "For heaven's sake, Johnny, in front of everyone!"

But he was grinning, broadly, like sunshine through a cloud, as they walked along at a healthy clip. It wasn't quite running hand in hand through an enemy spaceship, but it was a good bit faster than most men would walk their sweethearts. "I didn't bring them along. They were here already. We had to decide if we would unload the grocer's supplies, see? We formed a committee and decided we would, but only the essentials, food and tea and all, for the good of the people."

"I'm glad to hear it. Food is running low for those without a garden. Gareth is organising some soup and the like; will your lot come and cook?"

Johnny laughed.

"It's not French cuisine," Martha said. "You can cut potatoes even if you do have honest labourer's calluses." She smacked Johnny's hand with her flowers.

He did have different hands as Johnny. The chameleon arch would reprogram him, he said, give him a history and a position and an identity. She hadn't thought it would change his body beyond the obvious, but his face tanned and his hands roughened and even his close-cropped hair looked different somehow under his cap. His big nose and big ears were sunburned and flaking. It made her want to rub sunscreen on him.

It made her want to touch him. Oh, lord. She didn't know what she was supposed to do about this.

She was relieved when they reached the door. He took his cap off politely. "I would be happy to cut potatoes for you tomorrow, Miss Martha," he said.

"For Gareth," she said. "For the poor."

He grinned. "I'll see you in the morning, then."

*

Friday morning, Johnny met her at dawn and walked her to the office. He tucked a poppy into her hatband. She went on her rounds and he stayed behind to cut potatoes under the expert eye of Sian and her mother, freshly hired by the Brotherhood.

Hywel Davies was the first stop of the day. In two more years, Alexander Fleming was going to discover penicillin. Two more years, and she could have saved his leg. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's time to call the surgeon."

"No! No! Get me a proper doctor, you damned monkey!" He thrashed, the fever sweat running down his forehead, and gasped from the pain.

Martha ignored him and looked at Mary, his wife. "You know I'm right. You can smell it. There's nothing more I can do. You have to call the surgeon," Martha told her. Mary nodded.

The hospital was still open. Their neighbor had a wagon and a donkey and his four sons were all home from the docks; they carried Hywel, cursing and moaning, into the wagon and took him away.

She'd done all she could. Two years later—no, even then, penicillin wouldn't be available yet. They didn't have sulfa drugs until 1935. She'd done all she could, and now it was down to the surgeon and the wooden leg maker.

She'd done all she could, and she had to let the failure go. She took a deep breath, let it out, and walked back to the office. She wanted to see how Johnny was doing with those potatoes.

There were warships in the harbour. Martha wondered exactly what they thought the strikers were going to do. Run wild, she supposed; loot and riot and burn down the city. But they hadn't turned into hooligans just because of injustice. There wasn't even violence that she knew of. People just weren't working.

She saw the crowd and smelled the fresh bread as she approached. It looked like Johnny had got his pals to help cut potatoes as well; she saw at least four hulking men ladling out soup from her boiling pots on the pavement outside the office. She hoped they'd washed the pots before they cooked in them.

And she heard a murmur run through the crowd, and then she saw the policeman. "Here! Move along, you're blocking the road," he said. "Clear out!"

"If everyone will move to the side, please? Let's leave the road clear," Gareth said in his soft yet carrying voice.

"Enough of that, Red! I want this road clear. Go home! Or better yet, go to work, you layabouts!"

"Oh no," Martha whispered.

Sian slipped through the crowd and took her hand. She was so small, so slight; when the riot started, Martha would boost her over the fence where she would be safe. Martha could take care of herself. But Gareth--and Johnny--well, Johnny had his friends, and Gareth could go back into the office. She hoped he would go back into the office.

The blokes in the street grumbled. Johnny cleared his throat. "Would you like some soup, officer?" he asked.

"What?"

"One army man to another. Or were you navy? You seem like army, though," Johnny said.

A couple of boys and a girl in plaits climbed the fence beside Martha, watching Johnny. The clank of their feet on the iron drowned out the beginning of the policeman's response. "--and eighteen months in sandbags in the north," he said.

"Blimey, what a mess that was," Johnny said. "You couldn't even dig trenches up north, it was fighting in puddles."

"That's right, that's exactly right."

"Just a line of men, shoulder to shoulder, fighting for the grannies and the kiddies and the sisters and brothers back home. Fighting for them," Johnny said, gesturing. Martha went up on her toes, trying to see what the policeman saw: Grandfathers, grandmothers, thin-faced women clutching babies. The kids on the fence, herself and Sian. The men on the street had melted back, leaving only the bruisers serving the soup.

She wished she could see the man's face. His helmet seemed a bit unsure.

"Us in the trenches, ground down beneath the machines, looking forward to the day when we could come home to our families and our jobs in a free country. When we could work a fair day for a fair pay! When we could feed our wives and mothers--if we're lucky enough to have wives and mothers. I have neither. Do you?"

The policeman cleared his throat. "Yes... yes, I do."

"I thought I might look after the families of my chums." Johnny clapped the policeman on the shoulder. "Corker of an idea, don't you think?"

"Well." The policeman looked around. "Mind you keep the road clear. It's a hazard." And he backed right off.

People didn't cheer, exactly, but Martha could feel the relief. Gareth shook Johnny's hand as the policeman backed off. "We'll have to call him Johnny Big Mouth instead," Sian said.

"Make a queue, hungriest to the front!" Johnny shouted. Sian left Martha and took a skinny young mother by the elbow. It was clear that the woman's bright, fat baby was getting all the food in the house.

And there were warships in the harbor. Martha wondered how much that cost. She'd never considered herself a radical, but when she got home, she would look at politics in a whole new way.

*

A moment of peace in the office after work, after the crowd had gone, while Sian was scrubbing the pots and Gareth was counting the bowls. "Do you know a place called the Torchwood Institute?" Gareth asked her.

"What? No," Martha said.

"Oh; I thought I heard something over the wireless." There was a mess of copper wire and knobs in the corner that sometimes functioned as a radio. "Your name, and Torchwood. But I must have been mistaken," Gareth said.

"I'm sorry, I just don't know anything about it." Oh, this had to be a clue. She had to get to the TARDIS.

But first... "May I walk you home?" Johnny Big Ears asked, offering another bunch of flowers.

Martha took the flowers and tucked a poppy into her top buttonhole. "You may." She slipped her arm in his.

Johnny grinned. "Would you mind if we took the long way?"

"I wouldn't mind a bit."

He'd asked her to look after him while he was human. She was; she thought she was. She wouldn't let the flirting go too far. Old-fashioned manners made it easier. He hadn't tried to kiss her yet or anything. Three more weeks, and he would return to his old mad self and remember they were just friends, nothing more, and nothing more was possible.

"Look. Warship in the harbor," Johnny said, pointing. "What do they think we're going to do, turn privateer and storm the shipping lanes on a barge?"

"I was thinking exactly the same thing earlier. Are they going to shell us? It's a strike, not—" But he'd gone rigid. Martha touched his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"I never want to hear that sound again," Johnny said, his voice hollow. "The whine, the cry of 'exterminate'—"

Exterminate? Where was he? Martha stroked his shoulder. There wasn't much she could say. His Adam's apple worked up and down as he stared out to sea. "It's Cardiff," she said softly.

Johnny sighed and shivered all over like a horse. "Listen to me! As if you want to hear that rot. Look, the moon's out before the sun has gone. I had a dream about me and you on the moon. You were a doctor and I was a patient on a hospital on the moon. We were being held prisoner by the rhinoceros men from Mars."

The Judoon. That was how they met. He was still in there, it was still him.

"And it was very important that I kiss you," he said. They'd stopped walking. He turned, drawing her in by the simple pressure of his warm, rough hand. He looked down at her with wide eyes framed by big, geeky ears. "May I kiss you?"

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! "No," she said. "I'm a good girl, here with no relations to protect me. Would you take advantage of me?"

Johnny inhaled. The flare of his nostrils and the set of his jaw said maybe. Her heart said yes yes yes. But—"Never," he said, turning away and looking over the water. She tucked her hand back into the crook of his arm. "I love you too much to ruin you. Will you marry me, then?" he asked. He touched her hand again, and his thumb brushed over her smooth nails.

Her heart caught in her throat. "You scarcely know me," she said.

"I know you," he said.

"A week," she said.

"I make decisions quickly and they're never wrong." Johnny's voice was so intent that he sounded like the Doctor. God, she missed the Doctor, and she only found sketches of him in this man. Johnny was a clown, a carouser—until he spoke of the war, until he stood up to the police, until now, when he looked at her like she was the most important person in the world. The Doctor treated everyone like they were the Queen. Nobody was unimportant to him.

"Oh," Johnny said. His face shattered, like something had broken inside. "You shouldn't be afraid to look at me. No, that's all wrong, and I'm sorry." He pulled away.

She grabbed him back. "I'm not afraid of you. I just don't know what to say. Ask again in three weeks," she said in a moment of inspiration. "Three weeks from today." That made it two days after the deadline for the Family to die, when they would be safe.

He met her eyes; then he smiled, suddenly, brilliantly. He had more teeth than any other man in Cardiff. "Three weeks!"

"And then I'll give you a proper answer." After he'd come to his senses and the whole question was moot. She sighed and asked, "You do know I'm black, don't you? You're not colourblind?"

"You're the colour of a smooth river stone. Your hair is like the stormy sea at midnight. Your eyes are like gemstones, like dark garnets from the heart of a nova. You're a raven, not a sparrow. Strong and clever. The companion of the gods." He beamed.

Her heart fluttered at the word "companion." She hugged Johnny's arm. They looked at the sea.

*

She bicycled to the TARDIS after dark, when it was safe.

"Hi," she said to the ship.

It glowed in response.

"Are you all right? You seem all right."

It glowed.

"Right. Do you know of something called the Torchwood Institute? I'm sorry I can't ask you in the special way the Doctor does, but he's out of his head at the moment. Can you humour me?"

It glowed. Then, in a corner screen on the console, an image flickered to life; it showed Cardiff, but the Cardiff contemporary to Martha, the Millennium Centre. She recognised the combination of English and Welsh words on the building. Then a series of portraits flickered across the screen, many of them featuring the same man in a variety of outfits.

"So it's the same bloke from the 1880s through the 1980s? Is that what you're telling me?" Martha asked.

The TARDIS froze on a picture of the man in 1940s military gear. He was posing with his gun in a James Bondish way.

"Okay. Look out for this man. Is he connected with the Family of Blood?"

The TARDIS showed her a picture of two women in what looked like 1926-current clothes. They were posed with... the TARDIS itself.

"These are friends?" Martha asked.

The screen blanked out.

"I wish you could talk," Martha sighed. "It's twenty questions here, and I don't even get a yes/no."

*

Saturday she couldn't get out the front door. ”What's going on?" she yelled to Mr Jones.

"Blacklegs, Miss! Scabs! Coming to take our jobs! We can't let them through!"

"Taking your jobs! Bugger that," she said, and Jones blanched and the men next to him hooted. "Let me through, I'll go stand in front of the tyres."

And they did, her and several other women. It wasn't until she was locking arms that she remembered she probably shouldn't interfere in historical events. Well—bugger that too. Behind them, the men locked arms as well, row after row between the vans and the docks.

The van driver leaned out the window. "Come on, the ships are sitting idle! We need to unload to supply the city!"

"Fair pay for fair work!" a man shouted behind her. Johnny, right behind her.

"I can't change that!" the van driver said.

"We can!" Johnny yelled back.

The van driver sighed and sat back down. "I'll just sit here, then, shall I?"

"So will we!" Johnny yelled.

The woman beside Martha started singing, and they all joined in. Martha slipped out of line as soon as she could. She had patients to see.

Johnny Big Ears stayed.

*

Sunday, Martha went to church. She stood by Sian and sang with the neighbourhood, all together.

The vicar started to talk about the value of work, how labour was the righteous path of man, but lost momentum as some of the men started coughing. He faltered, then read a psalm, and moved along ahead of schedule.

Johnny met her outside the church. He held flowers again, yellow poppies in a twist of coloured paper. "Miss Martha," he said.

"Mr Big Ears."

He grinned. "Would you take tea with me?"

"The shops are closed."

"I brought tea," Johnny said, holding up a newspaper packet and a flask in a net bag. "Cheese and cakes and laverbread."

"Laverbread. How could I turn that down?" Laverbread was seaweed. She...nearly had a taste for it. Nearly.

They walked to the seaside, overlooking the stilled ships choking the harbour. And maybe she didn't have a taste for seaweed yet, but it seemed right to eat it here, strange food with a strange man in a nearly familiar place. Besides, it was a good source of vitamins. She didn't want to come home with scurvy.

"Were you a nurse in the war? No, too young," Johnny said, catching himself.

"No. Just missed it." The war was over in 1917; she would have been fourteen years old. "My mother was." Her mother had worked in an old age home until she'd married, so she probably would have been a nurse if there had been a war on.

"And you were in London? How was it there? Did you hear the bombs?"

"I'd rather not—"

"I'm sorry," Johnny said. "I'm sorry."

She tore off a bit of cake and offered it to him. He ate it from her hand.

*

Monday, talks were still on, the strike was still on. She wished someone would give in already. Her landlady was out of tea.

At lunchtime she saw the man the TARDIS had shown her, picking his way along the streets on a black horse, of all things. He held the reins in one hand and stared at his wristwatch on the other. Definitely something going on.

After work, she found Gareth glued to the wireless. Johnny sat beside him, sober and unsmiling. Gareth said, "The Flying Scotsman was derailed, sister. It's come to violence."

Johnny walked her home. "I feel like we're losing, Martha," he said.

She didn't chide him for using her Christian name. She rested her head on his shoulder instead. Once home, she waited until he'd gone and then bicycled out to the TARDIS.

She found the man there, trying the door. Martha hid behind a tree. The key turned but the door slammed shut again as soon as he opened it. "Come on, old girl, it's me," the man crooned, but the door slammed shut again. He sighed and straightened up. "Doctor!" he yelled. "Doctor! It's me! It's Jack!"

Who the hell was he? He had a key; that meant he was another one of the Doctor's friends, right? He didn't hand out TARDIS keys like peppermints, surely?

Only one way to find out. She stepped out from behind the tree and cleared her throat.

Jack whirled. And grinned. "Martha! You're a sight for sore eyes! Love the hat, it really suits you." He opened his arms.

"I...don't think we've met," Martha said.

His smile faded. "Damn. That's the trouble with time travel, isn't it?"

"Are we going to break the universe by talking?"

"No worse than I break it just standing here. Captain Jack Harkness. We're going to be great friends, as long as you pretend not to know me when we meet."

"You've done a smashing job of that," Martha said.

"Me and my big mouth," Jack grinned. "Where's the Doctor?"

"Hiding. I shouldn't say."

"Hiding." Jack frowned. "I'm with Torchwood; we've lost track of some agents. This is bad."

"They're called the Family of Blood. They can only live another three weeks and then they die like mayflies, so the Doctor is hiding rather than fighting them. They want to take over the Doctor's body and use him to live forever. Maybe they found us? They hunted us this far."

"Maybe the ladies are chasing them. I'll keep hunting. You keep safe." He stroked her cheek, which Martha found annoying, but she didn't shrug him off. "You'll be fine. We haven't met yet, after all." And he grinned.

*

On Tuesday, Martha started the day splinting a year-old baby's arm. It was a clean break; the baby would heal in no time, if his young mother could keep the splint on him.

And if she could stand the screaming, poor love. "I know gin is bad for baby," Winifred said, "but my mother dosed us with laudanum, is that bad as well?"

"Very bad. I'm sorry." Laudanum was a mixture of opium and alcohol. Aspirin carried the risk of Reye's syndrome, but there was literally nothing else. "Aspirin," she said. "A tiny dose. I'll show you." The risk of Reye's syndrome was smaller than the risk of the mum dosing the baby with liquid heroin, she felt bloody sure of that.

Penicillin, paracetamol, and MRIs. Her second stop was a woman she was nearly sure had stomach cancer. "Laudanum for the pain," Martha told her. "Visit the hospital when you can. Surgery may help you, but I can't be sure."

"Oh, and where would the money come from? I can bear the pain," Mrs Jones said. She patted Martha's hand.

After a lunch of a meat pie, cheese, and fresh milk, she removed a large splinter from a small, stoic boy's foot. "All right, love, the hard part's over," she said, setting down the scalpel.

Nye sighed with relief, watching the blade. He didn't speak English, as it happened; his family had just arrived in the city. His brother Folant, an even smaller boy, translated her into Welsh for the lad and his mother. "He says it doesn't hurt a bit," the tiny boy reported. "He's fibbing."

"I won't tell if you won't, dear." She'd just got a good grasp on the three-inch splinter with her forceps when she heard a cry from the boys' mum and felt a hand in her hair, pulling her backwards. "Oi! What the hell!"

Folant gasped. "I can't say that! I'm a Christian!"

Martha twisted and slapped the stranger's hands away from her hair. "What!" she yelled, finally getting a look at the person who'd grabbed her. It was a tall, thin, middle-aged woman in a motoring costume, and she was sniffing Martha's hair.

"Where is he?" the woman asked.

Oh, bloody hell. She was one of them. The Doctor had said they could look like anyone; they inhabited a body, burning out the mind of the original owner. This woman was a Nordic blonde with a blunt bob haircut and gorgeous, glamorous tweed and leather clothes—wait, she was one of the women the TARDIS had showed her! It looked like Captain Jack's agents had been taken. "Where's who? And who do you think you are, grabbing me?" Martha snapped.

The motorist grimaced. "Humans are so worthless," she hissed, and she stalked away.

Martha smoothed her hair.

"Was that lady mad?" Folant asked. "Daddy said English women are mad."

"Not all English women! Just her," Martha said. She needed to find Johnny and unleash the Doctor. Waiting time was over.

*

"Any word on the end of the strike? Have the masters caved in to the servants yet?" Martha called out as she descended the stairs to HQ.

"If you could wait just a moment on the stairs, Sister Martha," Gareth said.

She stopped, but bent at the waist, peering under the ceiling. "You all right?"

"Oh yes. But not entirely decent. It's all right now, sister."

Under the ceiling, in the slit above the stairs, Martha caught sight of him adjusting his face mask. He must have taken it off. Lord, how she wished she knew how to ask him if she could see underneath that thing. It didn't seem decent to make the request.

"They must see the might of the underclass," Gareth said in his normal calm tones as Martha jogged down the stairs to join him. "We stand united in adversity."

"I had a strange encounter today. A woman attacked me while I was seeing to the third Cooper boy, this mad English woman. Has anyone been asking about me?" Martha stripped off her apron as she spoke, folding it on the work table to be cleaned. Tweezers and such clattered in her pockets, but she could deal with that later.

Gareth raised his eyebrows. "No, sister."

"Tell me if they do, yeah?"

"Certainly. Have you seen Sian today?"

"No, wasn't she here?"

"No."

"I'll go by her lodging."

"Be careful. There is a strange element in the air. I feel there may be trouble," Gareth said.

Martha nodded. She crossed to the drawer and pulled out the Red Cross armband and hat she had obtained by subterfuge. If people didn't know her, they would know the emblem.

"Excellent thought," Gareth said.

She didn't see Johnny when she left the office. She took the short route to her rooms, picked up her bicycle, and biked to Sian's lodging first.

The rooming house was empty. The door swung open when she knocked; when she went inside, none of the rooms were disturbed, but they were uninhabited. It was seven o'clock. This was not right at all. She should find striking workers at home, the landlady preparing the communal supper. Where were Sian's mum and brother?

She found absolutely nothing. She closed the door behind her on a house as silent as a tomb. Then, feeling uneasy, she bicycled to the TARDIS to make sure it was all right. It wasn't. It was gone.

That sealed it. She needed the Doctor. Things had gone pear-shaped and it was time to bring him back.

First, of course, she had to find him. She thought of the warship in the harbour and headed in that direction on her bicycle, blessing loose dresses and sensible shoes.

She saw Will Carter on the high street. "Mr Carter! I'm looking for Johnny Big Ears!" she called out.

"Oh, he's in the middle of it, Miss Martha! Best go home!"

"If you see him, tell him he has a question to ask me, and he'd better be alive to ask it!"

It wasn't quite a riot, but it wasn't far from one. She heard a lot of shouting down at the water. As she biked closer, she heard one voice in particular.

"Are we not brothers? Northerners, southerners, Cardiff, London. But are we not men and brothers?" Johnny Big Ears shouted. He was standing on the base of a street light, hanging from the post. "Stand together! And we—"

Which was when the half-brick glanced off his head. Johnny fell from the post and Martha screamed wordlessly. "Fuck off!" some male voice shouted.

Martha elbowed through to Johnny. He was conscious, holding his head and scowling. "Come with me," she said.

"Not before I find that bastard and give him sixpence for thruppence," Johnny growled.

"No! You're hurt!"

"I'm perfectly sound!" He struggled to his feet.

"Please," Martha said.

Johnny looked at her.

"There's a question you still have to ask me," she said. Shameless. Perfectly shameless.

But he smiled at her, wider than his face and all full of teeth, and her heart thumped in her chest. "All right, then," he said.

Martha left her bicycle and led him out of the crowd. She just needed to find an out of the way place and open the watch—

The watch. She felt in her pockets, but no, nothing. It was in her bloody apron. They'd have to go all the way back to the office.

Jack clattered by on his horse. He saluted her and kept going, unholstering his gun as he galloped into the crowd. Johnny's head turned as he watched Jack go. "Do you know him?"

"A bit. Come on, we have to go."

They weren't a hundred metres from the office when shots rang out and Johnny spun. "Martha—"

She dragged him along. "This is more important."

"Martha!"

She didn't let his hand go. She let determination move his greater bulk along to the office. "Let me get my watch and all this will make much more sense, I promise, Big Ears."

She ran down the stairs into the kitchen office. "I left the watch in my apron, come on now," she said. Johnny followed. The office was pitch black.

"So what's so special about the watch?" a woman's voice asked. Martha's breath caught in her throat. It was the motorist.

A green, sickly light illuminated the room. It came from a lantern held by little Folant. Beside him was a second middle-aged woman, just as harsh and threatening as the motorist.

The motorist held Gareth with what looked like a blobby green gun to his head. The other woman, who was dressed in a factory worker's overalls, dangled the watch by its chain.

The door closed behind them. Martha whirled. Oh, no. No. Behind her and Johnny on the stairs, one hand on the door and a mad look in her eyes, was Sian. "She wants the watch, Father of Mine," Sian said.

"Sian, what are you doing with these people?" Johnny asked.

The two women and the boy all laughed. "Martha," Gareth asked, "they're not human, are they?"

"No. I'm so sorry. I didn't know it could come to this," Martha said. Gareth nodded calmly. He was always so composed.

"Aren't they sweet, Mother of Mine?" Folant said. "Which one should we kill first?"

"We can't kill anyone until we know who the Doctor is. It's one of these, isn't it, Martha? You keep these two men and this girl close," the motorist said.

"But it's not the girl," Sian said.

"I don't think it's this one. He's broken," the factory worker said.

"I want to kill him," Folant said.

Gareth turned, silently and without any signal, and drove a scalpel into the motorist's eye. She fired one shot, wildly, and dropped to the ground. So did Gareth.

"Mother of Mine!" Folant cried out as the factory worker shouted "Wife of Mine!" Sian screamed wordlessly and shoved Johnny forward, knocking him down the few stairs onto Martha. The air was knocked clean out of her; she had a moment of panic until she managed to breathe again.

Sian fired into the office over and over, aiming at nothing Martha could see. The boy screamed. "Sister of Mine! What happened to you?" Sian called out. There was no answer.

Johnny covered Martha with his body. "We can creep up the stairs," he whispered into her ear.

"Find the watch!" she replied.

"Devil take the watch!"

"They want it and they mustn't have it!"

Johnny took a firm tone. "Martha, you're hysterical! You don't know what you're saying!"

She shoved Johnny off her. He wasn't the Doctor. It wasn't his fault that he was an idiot. The factory worker had the watch last; she'd been standing over there, by Gareth's desk. With any luck she'd dropped it when Gareth stabbed the motorist. But Sian was standing in the middle of the room, pointing her gun into the green shadows. "Insects!" Sian yelled. "Worms! Loathsome!" She fired into the stove, shattering it into slag.

Martha pushed forward on hands and knees, feeling for the watch.

"Father of Mine? Sister of Mine? Answer me!" Sian said. "Mother of Mine?"

There was no answer. Martha dared a look under the desk and saw the watch. She grabbed it. When she looked up, Sian was staring at her, a wild snarl on her pretty young face. She raised her gun and pointed it at Martha.

Johnny tackled her before she fired. The shot went wild into the wall, exploding the brick into a shower of dust. Martha grabbed the watch. "I have it! I have it!" she shouted, gesturing to Johnny. "Come on!"

"I think I killed her," Johnny said.

His voice was hollow. He sat up, slowly, and wiped his hands on his trousers.

Gareth loomed up from the shadows behind him, a scarf draped around his head. He knelt beside Sian. "No, she's not dead. Just knocked on the head," he said. He looked at Martha.

"I don't know what to do. I don't know if we can make that thing come out—" She rubbed her hands over her face. "There's a thing inside her that made her behave that way. It possessed her, like it walked right into her skin. You heard how they were talking."

"I understand," Gareth said.

"Martha, now, really," Johnny said. "I know this is hard, but there's no such thing—"

"Oh, give it a rest," Martha said, opening the watch.

She regretted her haste when he screamed. He fell against the stairs, writhing, as the energy surrounded him. "He's not human either, but he's good. He had to...store his brain in the watch. He's really much smarter than he has been. Oh, God, where's the TARDIS?" she whispered to herself. "Damn it."

When the Doctor stopped screaming, he panted; when he stopped panting, he said, "No. No, this is wrong."

Martha took his hand. "Hold it together, all right? We have to find the TARDIS."

"You killed them," the Doctor said.

"Is it possible to remove the malevolent spirit from this girl?" Gareth asked. "Martha doesn't know, do you?"

"No, it's not possible, but—"

Gareth fired the gun again. Sian dissolved. "No!" the Doctor shouted.

"Don't allow the enemy a foothold," Gareth said. "Surely you learned that in the war." His voice was even softer than usual, muffled behind the scarf, without its usual resonance.

The Doctor, his face twisted and unfamiliar, jumped to his feet and ran up the stairs. Martha, after an awful split second, followed him.

Outside, the riot had moved down to the harbour. The Doctor stared at it, his hands clenched by his sides. "We lost," he said. "There's nothing I can do about it."

"You're not a magician, you're a doctor," Martha said. "Believe me, I know the difference."

The Doctor looked at her. He slowly unclenched his hands. "I suppose you do, at that."

"You tried to save them. Trying is enough."

"Is it, though?" The Doctor looked in his hand. He held a crumpled bit of copper and tin. "I had better fix this."

"What is it?"

"Your friend's face. Isn't it ingenious?"

They sat on the low wall surrounding the house. The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and moved it over the bit of metal, restoring it to its original painting and shape. It took a while, as the sounds of the riot faded. As people got arrested, she supposed.

"Good as new," the Doctor said. He admired it.

They descended the stairs again, where Gareth was sitting looking at the blobby gun. He had a scarf tied around his face.

"Gareth."

"Hello, Martha," he said, standing. "I suppose you're leaving."

"Yes. We just—we found your mask," she said. The Doctor held it in his hands. "Johnny fixed it."

"Oh, thank you," he said. His voice was so mild. In his place, she'd be screaming. "It's rather queer to have people look directly into my skull." As he spoke, he loosened the scarf, exposing the vacant cavern that was his mid-face. Scar tissue covered the space across his cheekbones and above his teeth. His nose was gone, leaving two holes between his soft blue eyes.

His face mask, made of copper and tin and painted beautifully to match his skin, was attached to the frames of his glasses. A large moustache blurred the line between the mask and his intact lower jaw. It would never fool anyone once he spoke, but it made him look quite ordinary when he stood there. "Tell me," Gareth said to the Doctor, "before you go. Were you really in the war?"

"Yes. The war. It's all the same war, really, people wanting the same things and killing each other to get it."

"Is there any place free of war, on this world--or others?"

"No," the Doctor said.

"So there's no hope at all, then."

"There's always hope!" The Doctor grabbed Gareth's hands, holding them to his chest. "Hope is the heartbeat that exists in the void. Hope is life! Pure life! Hope is the space between blackness! You little man, you precious little flame! You are tiny, yes, but the life you live is as big as the life I live, and I'm nine hundred years old, so enough with that." He patted Gareth's hands and let him go.

"Oh," Gareth said.

"And there's the NHS," Martha said, and by the time she finished telling him about it, his eyes were wet.

*

Jack was waiting in the TARDIS outside. "So, I found this in the hold of an invisible spaceship and thought you might want it back. Martha, did you find my people?"

"Downstairs," she said. "I'm sorry. I'm not even sure if there are bodies left."

"That's about what I expected. Well—look forward to meeting me. I enjoyed meeting you. Doctor." Jack nodded at him.

"I love meeting future friends," the Doctor said. Jack passed them and descended the stairs.

Inside the TARDIS, Martha made a cup of tea for both of them. "Good to see you again," she said.

She didn't mention his offer of marriage. Neither did he.

"Where to?" the Doctor asked. "Would you like to meet Shakespeare? See Cleopatra? Glory days of Mars?"

"Are you all right?" Martha asked.

"Why wouldn't I be?" He gave her a grin. She didn't believe it.

The TARDIS started blinking a pretty pink light. The Doctor sat bolt upright. "Mauve!" he cried.

"Mauve?"

"Space junk! And it's mauve and dangerous!"

"Mauve means dangerous?"

"Of course! Nothing more dangerous than mauve!"

"What happened to red?" Martha asked.

"Don't be so Earth-centric! Man the blinky thing, we're going in!"

They wound up going less than twenty years and 150 miles, as it happened, but it felt a world away, and she met Jack for the first/second time, and then the Doctor danced.

*

"Everybody lives! Just this once, Martha, everybody lives!"

*

the end.