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Eight Weeks, Three Days

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When the applause died down, Stewart propped her book up on the desk facing the camera and said, "I just want you to know, this book is the most terrifying thing I've ever read."

Martha did a double-take. "What, even with your politicians?"

There was a ripple of laughter at the edge of the blue-white circles of light that circumscribed the stage. Stewart made a face before nodding. "All right, point taken. One of the most terrifying things. You're a doctor, correct?"

"Almost. I took a year off med school to work on the book." She'd considered ringing up the Doctor and having him drop her off on some futuristic spa planet for the duration, but Sarah Jane (in between testing for harmonic frequencies that would reverse the effects of an Iskoort memory-scrambling device) said that was cheating.

"Right. So when you describe in detail all the gory ways a human being can die after a few months without access to modern medical technology, there's actual expertise backing that up."

"It wasn't all gory deaths!" protested Martha. "Sometimes it was gory-but-successful field surgery."

She'd left out the medic-ex-machina ending, preferring to focus on the wealth of human heroism that had been necessary to get there. After all, there was no guarantee the Doctor would be able to pull a Tinkerbell next time.

Stewart leaned across the desk; Martha tipped half-consciously forward to listen. "Here's the thing," he said. "I'm a hypochondriac. You could give me a field-surgery manual and I'd freak out every time it didn't specify to keep the gauze sterile. If this kind of disaster scenario ever came true, I'd probably panic myself to death in the first week."

He'd lasted a bit longer than that, as Martha recalled. Not that she ever knew him personally, but there was a group she'd met in South Carolina who were fans enough to have clippings from when his death was confirmed, tacked in one corner of the aging posterboard with family photos and fraying baby-size socks.

She couldn't remember if she'd mentioned that in the book (faked names and all) or not.

"Hello?" Stewart fluttered his fingers in front of her glazed eyes. "Still with us? Earth to Martha!"

"Sorry," stuttered Martha. "It's just, you know, you immerse yourself in the writing for something like gets you down a bit."

"I believe it," said Stewart, nodding. "The writing is beautiful, by the way. The broken little details, the weight and presence of the post-apocalyptic scenery, the way you can feel exactly how hard it is for the characters to bear themselves up and yet they keep doing it's tremendous."

If only she could explain who really deserved the credit. The best she could do was sneak the truth into the dedication (To the people who never were), and keep her thanks as brief as possible.

Mercifully, the host rolled the conversation forward. "So what's your next book going to be about? Please say puppies, or something like that, because you are a talented young woman and it would be a shame to have you crushed at the beginning of your career by sheer literary despair."

"I think I'll work on finishing my degree first," admitted Martha. "But now that you mention you think there'd be any interest in robot dogs that shoot lasers?"