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The Idiot's Guide to Foiling Alien Invasions

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Life was finally starting to look up for Mickey Smith. He was no longer a murder suspect, he had his job back and lately he'd caught Trish Delaney giving him speculative looks in the pub.

Oh, yes, and he'd saved the world single handed using only a baseball bat, some pickled onions and his computer. Okay, the Doctor and the military grade missile that had flattened Downing Street had helped a little. But mainly it had been him, Mickey Smith, hero of the hour.

And, yeah, Rose had gotten back in the TARDIS and gone off with the Doctor. But even after that, Mickey was feeling pretty good about himself.

At least, he had been feeling good about himself until his boss called his name unexpectedly and Mickey stood up too quickly and cracked his skull on the underside of the bonnet of the Citron he was working on.

"Ow!" Mickey rubbed the back of his head and gave his boss, Dave, an embarrassed grin. "What's up?"

"We're finishing up for the day. Me and the boys are going to grab a burger at that new place in town and then head to the pub, fancy it?"

Mickey knew that was as close as he was ever going to get to a “Sorry we've been treating you like scum for the past twelve months, only we thought that you'd murdered that fit blonde you were seeing.” 

He decided to accept the apology with good grace. "I've got plans tonight, but next time, yeah?"

"Anything exciting?"

"Nah. I'm just going round to Jackie's for something to eat."

"Jackie Tyler? You're a fast mover, Mickey. It wasn't that long ago you were shagging the daughter."

"Shut up, idiot." Mickey chucked the rag he'd been using to wipe grease from his hands at Dave.

"See you in the morning, then."

"See ya."

*

Mickey nipped back to his flat to get changed. He had a feeling that all the goodwill he'd accumulated with Jackie by turning out not to have murdered her daughter, and saving her from the bog monster from hell would be ruined by trailing engine oil through her flat.

He headed over to Jackie's. He was still getting used to being able to walk around the estate without people whispering behind his back. And without looking constantly over his shoulder for a blue police box, or a leather-jacket-wearing-girlfriend-stealing alien.

When he got to the flat, Jackie had left the door off the latch for him and was bustling around. "Fancy a cuppa?" she asked.

"Yeah, cheers."

"Milk and two sugars in mine. You remember where everything is, don't you?"

Mickey did, and set about making two cups of tea. "You're in a good mood."

"Course I am." Jackie picked up one of the cups as soon as Mickey had stopped pouring. "Rose called earlier. She said her and the Doctor are in some other galaxy, Alpha something or other she called it. I reckon she makes this stuff up, she's probably in Islington."

Mickey grunted in agreement and joined Jackie on the couch.

"She said to give you her love."

Mickey very much doubted that Rose had said anything of the sort, but it was nice of Jackie to say so. "Give her mine next time she rings, yeah?"

"Will do, next year or whenever that is." They sat in silence for a few minutes drinking tea. "I worry," blurted Jackie suddenly, "that something could happen to her and I might never know about it."

Mickey had been worrying about exactly the same thing ever since he'd turned down the opportunity to go along in the TARDIS. 

"The Doctor will look after her," he said, and almost believed it. "Anyway, the opposite is true as well, something could happen to us and Rose would know nothing about it."

"Yeah, right. When was the last time anything interesting happened around here?"

Mickey considered it. "Apart from when Rose went missing and everyone decided I'd killed her, you mean?"

"Apart from that, yeah. Oh, this is pathetic. Let's go into town and get a pizza."

Mickey was in favour of any sort of food Jackie wouldn't expect him to help cook.

*

"When did the pizza place close?" Jackie asked, on their round trip to the abandoned and boarded up pizza parlour and back to the flat.

"Dunno, I hadn't heard anything about it. God, I'm starving, d'you want to just get chips?"

"Can't. The chippie burned down."

"Seriously, when?"

"Monday, I think. Cath from down the road worked there, said that she went down to open up and the place had burned to the ground. She reckoned a chip pan must have caught fire."

"A chip pan went on fire, in the middle of the night, when there was no one there?"

"Well, what else could it have been?"

"Aliens?" Mickey suggested, and why not? It seemed like everything these days was down to aliens.

Jackie elbowed him in the ribs. "Don't be daft. Let's just go back to the flat, unless you can think of anywhere else?"

"Wait a sec, the guys at the garage were raving about a new burger place down this way."

*

The burger place Mickey's co-workers had been banging on about turned out to be a three storey affair right on the corner of the high street. Over the door was a neon sign that said Space Burger. Next to it was a graphic of a flying saucer crashing into Big Ben.

There was something equally scary and reassuring about people using aliens wiping out half the British government as a way to make money.

And it looked like they were making money hand over fist. The place was a pretty big size for a fast food joint, and it was heaving with people. The queue went right from the counter to the door and people were sitting at the tables outside on the pavement, even though it was starting to get dark and spitting with rain.

"The food must be good here," Jackie observed.

A little voice at the back of Mickey's mind told him that going for a meal somewhere with a picture of a spaceship over the door was just asking for trouble. Then his stomach rumbled and the little voice was drowned out.

"Right, let's go in before I faint from hunger."

Jackie put her palm to his forehead in mock concern. "Oh, you poor boy."

Mickey swatted her hand away and headed through the doors. Dave from the garage was sitting at one of the tables just inside demolishing a burger. 

"All right, mate," called Mickey. Dave ignored the greeting completely. Weird, Mickey had thought that things were okay between them now. Right then, Mickey could be as childish as anyone else. He turned his back on Dave and joined Jackie at the back of the queue.

"Do you know what's weird about this place?" she asked.

"Yes," Mickey lied. He'd actually been too involved in studying the menu board to notice anything odd at all. He stayed quiet and waited for Jackie to elaborate.

"No one's talking," Jackie pointed out. Mickey was about to reply that lots of people were talking, the large group of teenage girls standing right in front of him, for example. He had no idea what they were saying; his brain had that bloke filter that edited out the words when large groups of girls were speaking, but they were certainly talking. Then he noticed that Jackie was right. The people in the queue were talking, the people serving were talking, but the people eating weren't saying anything. They were just methodically and silently munching their burgers.

"Okay, that's weird."

The queue was moving quickly and the group in front of Mickey and Jackie were being served.

"Hi there," said a smiling and bright-eyed member of staff, who was wearing an orange and lime green polo shirt and a baseball cap with a picture of a flying saucer on it. "What can I get for you today?"

Okay, that was strange. Mickey had spent quite a lot of time in fast food franchises and was used to the staff looking dead-eyed and as though they were thinking up ways to kill people using only a spatula. This enthusiasm wasn't normal.

The little voice at the back of Mickey's mind was shouting now. He spotted a door off to his left with the words “Staff Only” printed on it. Against his better judgement, common sense and the specific instructions of the little voice in the back of his mind, Mickey dived out of the queue and through the door. He found himself standing in an ordinary looking corridor with a mop and bucket propped against the wall. He walked in the direction of kitchen sounds, his trainers squelched on the wet tiles.

At first glance, the kitchen looked normal. Some people were flipping burgers, others were frying chips in oil. 

And in the centre of the kitchen two people wearing the same grimacing smile as the counter staff were feeding what looked like a large lime green octopus into a mincer.

"Meep," meeped Mickey.

The employees looked up. "Get him," they said in unison.

Grinning staff members approached Mickey from both sides. He tried to back away, but two of them suddenly grabbed his arms. Then just as suddenly they let go, this was because Jackie had just walloped them both across the back of their heads with the mop.

She grabbed the back of Mickey's jacket. "Run!"

Mickey didn't need to be told twice.

They were several streets away by the time they realised no one was chasing them. Mickey collapsed against the wall, totally knackered. Jackie stopped next to him, red in the face and out of breath. Mickey fished his mobile out of his pocket.

"Who are you phoning?" Jackie managed to wheeze.

"Rose," he said. "Then the Doctor, the police, the army and the X-files."

Jackie snatched the phone from him. "Don't you dare get Rose involved in this, it could be dangerous."

"Yes, it could be." Mickey reached over to take the phone back, but Jackie prodded him sharply in the stomach and he doubled over.

"You'd feel better with your girlfriend here to protect you, would you?"

"Yes, actually." Pride was not a character fault Mickey could ever be accused of.

"We just need to think about this. Let's go back to my flat, sit down and have a cup of tea." Mickey snorted derisively at Jackie's suggestion. "What's wrong with that?"

"I don't know about your flat, Jackie, but mine doesn't have a back door. What if that lot come after us? It's not like nobody knows us around here, it wouldn't be hard to find out where we live."

"That's a good point. So what we need is somewhere with more than one exit and lots of people around where nothing can happen to us..."

*

"A pint of lager and vodka and tonic, please, mate." Mickey picked up the drinks and headed over to where Jackie was sitting at a table conveniently close to the pubs fire exit. "The people who run the fast food place are aliens, then."

The bloke at the next table over gave Mickey an odd look, Jackie smiled at him and made the universal drinky-drinky gesture. The bloke smiled sympathetically and went back to his pint.

"We don't know that they're aliens, not for sure." Jackie made a valiant attempt at denial.

"How'd you explain the Invasion of the Body Snatchers staff, then?"

"So they were a bit enthusiastic. That doesn't mean they're aliens, they might be... I dunno, Americans."

"Did they sound American to you?"

"No, but... Yeah, okay, they're aliens. What are we going to do?"

"I still think we should call Rose."

"I've told you, no. I can't protect my daughter when she's out there doing God knows what with him, but I'm not deliberately getting her involved with something that I know could be dangerous."

"Yeah, all right, but we've got to do something."

"We'll go to the police," decided Jackie.

"And say what? By the way, mate, there are aliens selling octopus burgers down on the high street. They'll cart us off to the funny farm."

"We'll say that they attacked you in the kitchen. Then they'll have to go and have a look and if there is good explanation for what happened they'll find it."

"Yeah, okay."

"Right, come on."

"What, now? What about the rest of my pint?"

"Yeah, cause turning up reeking of booze will really make them believe us."

*

Jackie and Mickey stood around the corner from the police station watching people come and go. Jackie straightened up. "Right, let's go."

"I'll see you when you get back, then," said Mickey.

"Why aren't you coming?"

"Cause last time I was in there people kept asking me where I'd hidden my girlfriend's body."

"Now that I think about it, maybe you should wait here."

"Yeah."

Mickey watched as Jackie ran across the street and into the station. He slouched back against the wall and tried to look like he had a good reason for spending his evening loitering outside of a police station. 

Jackie was inside for ages and Mickey drifted off and started to daydream. He was in the middle of particularly enjoyable one about a world with no aliens, and where his girlfriend hadn't left him for a bloke whose ears could pick up satellite TV.

He was jolted out of this pleasant reverie by a racket coming from the police station. Jackie was being frogmarched out of the building by a sergeant. Mickey trotted over just in time to make out the tail end of the shouting.

"... And if you come back I shall have you charged with wasting police time." The sergeant turned and strode back into the station. Jackie zipped up her hoodie and about-turned to face Mickey.

"I'm guessing it didn't go that well," he observed.

"It's down to you and me, Mickey."

"Oh, good," said Mickey out loud. 

We're all doomed, he thought.

*

They walked carefully along the landing towards Mickey's front door. Jackie had pointed out that they had to go home at some point, and if they were going to find themselves confronted with mad capitalist aliens then she'd much rather do it in Mickey's flat, preferably while standing behind him, than in her own.

It was reassuring to see that Mickey's door didn't appear to have been kicked off its hinges, it was still locked too. Mickey unlocked it and cautiously walked into the hall. Jackie gave it a few moments to make sure that nothing was waiting inside to eat them to death and then followed him.

Mickey's flat was a state. There was barely room to stand for all the stuff littering the floor. "Oh God, Mickey, they must have been here while we were out."

"No, this is what it looked like before."

Jackie ran her fingertips over the coffee table and examined the layer of dust that came away. "You're disgusting."

"Yeah, yeah. Make some coffee, would you? I'm going to turn on the computer."

"What for?"

"If this Space Burger lot are trading then they must have a website or have some kind of record somewhere."

"Oh, right. I'll just make the coffee, then."

"You do that. Oh, you might have to rinse out a mug."

Jackie washed two mugs, the first proper wash she suspected they'd ever had; made two black coffees and flung out the milk which had gone off. She went through to the bedroom, where Mickey had thoughtfully cleared a path through the debris from the door to the computer.

"Find anything?" she asked, handing him a cup of coffee.

"They've got a website, but it's a fake."

"How d'you know that?"

"For one thing it looks like it's been designed by someone with computer skills of, well, you." Mickey dodged a half hearted slap. "And for another, it says the name of the bloke in charge is James Bond."

"That does sound fake. Still, there isn't a lot we can do tonight." She smacked Mickey gently on the back of the head. "Goodnight. Get out."

"You're chucking me out of my own bedroom?" he asked disbelievingly.

"I've seen the state of your couch. I'm not sleeping on that, and I'm not stopping on my own after what happened earlier."

Jackie had already taken off her hoodie and kicked off her trainers. Confronted with overwhelming force, Mickey gave up and went to crash on the couch.

"Oi," Jackie called just as he was leaving the room. "No funny business while I'm staying here, right."

"No chance, Jackie."

"As long as we're clear on that. Goodnight, Mickey."

"Night, Jackie."

*

There are few more disturbing things than waking up and discovering your girlfriend's mother bustling around your flat as though she belongs there. That was the sight that confronted Mickey as he dragged himself into consciousness.

Jackie shoved a cup of coffee under his nose. "Get up."

"Where are you going?"

"Work." Jackie pulled on her hoodie and tied her hair back.

"Now?"

"This is when I start work. So do you in fifteen minutes. I'd get a move on if I were you." Mickey threw the duvet back and ran to the bathroom. "Didn't know you slept in only your boxers, Mickey," Jackie called as Mickey gratefully slammed the bathroom door shut.

What with last night's excitement, Mickey was a little surprised when he got to the garage to find that the Citron he hadn't finished repairing yesterday had utterly failed to fix itself overnight.

"The owner will be back for that later today," Dave told him. "So it had better be sorted."

"Yeah, it'll be done. Hey, it was nice to see you last night."

"Huh?"

"You know, at that new burger place on the high street."

"Oh, yeah, I love that place. Never tasted food like it."

I bet you haven't, mate, thought Mickey.

"You were there?" Mickey nodded the affirmative. "Sorry, man, didn't see you, must've been really into my food. Get to work on that car."

Mickey worked on the Citron right through lunch and was still at it when he got a text message from Jackie.

GET OUT OF WORK. HAVE A PLAN.

Mickey didn't make a habit of throwing sickies, but a possible alien invasion was as good a reason as any for making an exception. He slammed the bonnet of the car down and pulled his hand out of the way at the last minute.

Feeling like a complete lemon, he screamed and swore violently. "I've broken my hand! I think I've broken my hand!" He would be the first to admit that it was hardly an Oscar-winning performance, but it seemed to convince the other guys in the garage.

"How'd you manage that, you numpty?"

"You okay, mate?"

"You need a lift to A&E?" That was Dave, who, like all bosses everywhere, would prefer to avoid a talking to from workplace health and safety.

"Nah, it's okay. I'll get a taxi."

Mickey shoved his hands deep into his pockets and headed to the headquarters of the Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler Earth Protection league - known to other people as the pub.

"What's this plan of yours, then?" Mickey asked, pulling up a chair.

Jackie shoved a scrap of paper across the table, it was a page torn from the phone book. "I found the address of the head office of the alien fast food place."

"What happened to 'they might not be aliens,' then?"

"Oh, please. Ever since Rose got involved with that lunatic everything's been aliens. How'd you feel about going and taking a look?"

"Let me think, going and staking out an office full of aliens or a nice relaxing afternoon in the pub?"

*

Like lots of people who'd never learned to drive, Jackie compensated by being a back seat driver. Eventually Mickey lost his temper with her, or at least he would have done were he not still ever so slightly scared of her. "I do know where I'm going, Jackie."

"Suit yourself, go the long way round."

"This isn't the long..." Mickey gave up. He would have thrown his arms up in exasperation, only dying in a fiery car crash wasn't part of his plan for the day. Then again, doing the Doctor's job for him hadn't been part of the plan either.

Jackie slumped back in the passenger grumbling about Mickey's car, driving ability and sense of direction. Sometimes she was so like Rose that Mickey was frightened and, not that he'd ever tell her, very slightly turned on.

Out of the window Mickey saw another brand new Space Burger, the third on as many streets. All packed to the gills with people eating their burger and fries while staring fixedly into the middle distance. They were really starting to give Mickey the creeps. He said as much and Jackie took it upon herself to reply, "Your driving is giving me the creeps. Here, turn left now."

*

There must be good money in being an alien because the office they were looking for was in one of those posh buildings that was all glass and chrome, it looked like the inside of someone's bathroom. 

Mickey could tell it was meant to be quite a posh building because it cost him half a day's wages just to park on the same street. The lobby was thronged with people in smart suits, Mickey felt like he was bringing the tone of the place down.

"Try to look like you're delivering something," Jackie ordered. 

Mickey tried his best, but it was hard to look convincingly like a courier without a package, and he ended up looking like an out of work courier who was remembering a particularly unpleasant bout of constipation.

Jackie grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him over to the lifts where there was a handy list giving them the floor of the office they were looking for. They squeezed into an elevator along with ten or so smartly dressed people. They didn't have the same creepy fixed smiles as the staff from last night, but recently it had gotten hard to tell who was an alien and who wasn't.

"I'm delivering something," said Mickey, drawing more attention to them than staying quiet would have done. 

Luckily, other than a withering look from Jackie, nobody paid any attention. Gradually people disembarked leaving Jackie and Mickey alone by the time they got to the right floor. They stepped off expecting to find it as busy as the lobby had been, instead the entire floor was empty but for a reception desk, and a walled off office with the door closed and the blinds firmly drawn.

At the reception desk, a bored looking redhead was flicking through a magazine. Mickey's eyes were inexorably drawn to her very impressive cleavage. 

Bloody Hell, he thought, if all aliens are built like that I should have gone in the TARDIS when I had the chance. 

Jackie elbowed him sharply in the ribs and cleared her throat.

"You've got the wrong place," the receptionist said without looking up at them.

"How are you so sure?" Mickey asked.

The fed-up receptionist tossed her magazine aside and graced them with a look. "Because nobody ever comes here. No one rings, and there's nothing to do. Come and work for the worlds fastest growing catering company in the world, was what they told me. Fat chance, there's no one here but me and the boss. James Bond he calls himself. Yeah, right. Looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. I would have been better off selling double glazing."

Rant over, she was annoyed to notice that Jackie and Mickey were still there. "Can I help you?"

"Can we see your boss?" Mickey asked.

"I don't see why not, it's not like he's doing any work in there. Oi, double oh seven, visitors!"

A small sweaty man, with a face like a half eaten raisin and a smile that looked like it had been painted on, slammed through the door from the office. "Donna, what have I said about interrupting me when I'm--" He caught sight of Jackie and Mickey, "Oh, look, humans... I mean visitors."

"We know who you are, Mr Bond," said Mickey. As soon as he said that he felt as though he should be sitting on a swivel chair stroking a white cat. "What I mean is that we know you're not hu--"

"Donna, go for your lunch!" the little man ordered. The redhead looked put out. This was the first interesting thing that had happened at the office in, well, ever. But after a glare from her boss she picked up her magazine and sulkily left.

The little man sat on the edge of the reception desk. "And what is it that you think you know?"

"That you're an alien!" said Jackie, managing to sound more convinced than either of them felt.

"Yes, I am. As are the majority of my employees, as is the food we serve in our high quality restaurants."

"..." Jackie and Mickey were stunned. To be honest, neither of them had expected it to be this easy.

"It was the psychic meat that gave it away, wasn't it?"

"Psychic what?" That was the most disgusting thing Mickey had ever heard.

"Unfortunately our feed stock has something of an acquired taste, and texture... and colour. A little psychic interference is necessary so our valued customers don't notice."

"And that's why no one talks, or looks around or anything while they're eating - they're hypnotised?" Mickey ventured.

"Quite correct, young man. Well done."

"So that's your plan!" Jackie exclaimed. "You're going to drug us all with this alien grub and put us to work in the fisheries!"

"I really think you've been watching too many films," said the sweaty alien.

"I could say the same to you, James," said Mickey.

"Ah, yes, the name. A most amusing mix up by our research department before our venture into this new market began."

"Is that what we are to you, planet Earth, a new market?"

"Yes, I am a representative of the third largest fast food enterprise in the Milky Way. Recently we've had trouble breaking into certain galactic markets but you," the alien's voice was brimming over with enthusiasm. "I can't tell you how much I admire humans, you people will eat anything. And after your recent encounter with the Slitheen, well, our marketing department barely had to lift a tentacle to get us established."

"You know about the Slitheen?"

"Of course we do. I have to say I think they were mistaken trying to sell off the entire planet when there's so much money to be made in selling to the inhabitants."

"And that's all you're interested in, money?" asked Mickey.

"What else is there? I can assure you we are not here to hurt anyone, there's no profit in killing your customers."

"And what'll stop us from telling people what you're up to?" said Jackie, who clearly hadn't seen any of the films where the character who asked that question was immediately killed.

But the alien just smiled a disturbing, not to mention red and sweaty, smile. "Two things. First of all: no one would believe you, and second of all: if you do I'll have you killed, minced and fed to members of your own species as part of our exciting lunch time menu."

Jackie and Mickey were still totally failing to think of a response to this threat when the smiling alien hopped off the desk. "Now if you don't mind, my inefficient, annoyingly human and yet conveniently oblivious receptionist will be back any minute now, but before you go let me give you some leaflets about our exciting range of meals for the busy human being on the go."

*

After that threat, Jackie would happily have gotten far away from the building as quickly as possible. Instead she found herself hovering in the lobby, waiting for Mickey who'd gone to find a toilet somewhere. Honestly, it was like trying to investigate aliens with someone from infant school. 

She let her gaze wander round the lobby, looking out for Mickey, aliens or Mickey being held hostage by aliens. Over by the lifts she saw a woman who wasn't dressed like she worked here. Jeans and knee high boots at her age, really? Anyway the important thing was that the woman was doing exactly what she and Mickey had been doing half an hour earlier, looking for the office of Invading Aliens R Us and calling the lift down. 

Jackie hurried over, she couldn't just let the woman wander alone into alien clutches; she probably couldn't let the woman wander alone into alien clutches. 

"Hello?"

"Oh, hello." The woman turned to face Jackie with a look of practiced innocence. While her exact age was difficult to place, Jackie could tell she'd had a lot of time to practice her look of practiced innocence. 

"Are you going up to the burger company offices, then?"

"Yes, I'm a journalist. I'm interviewing their regional manager."

The woman pulled a business card out of her bag and handed it to Jackie. "Sarah Jane Smith. Investigative Journalist," it said. 

Did real investigative journalists carry around business cards identifying them as such? Jackie had always thought it was meant to be a bit MacIntyre Investigates.

Sarah Jane was looking at her inquiringly and Jackie supposed she'd better say something. The trouble was how did you tell someone that they were about to interview an alien?

"He's an alien, you know," was apparently how you told them. 

"Oh, I know." Sarah's response was really not what Jackie had been expecting. "It's obvious when you think about it. All those fast food restaurants popping up almost over night, and the way people who eat there regularly go a bit odd, almost as if they've been hypnotised. And that meat they're serving can't be from this planet, but I've never been able to get a sample to test."

"It's some kind of horrible, big alien octopus."

"That narrows it down, thank you."

"It's bright green," Jackie added as a helpful detail. 

"Well, thank you for your help..." Sarah trailed off expectantly 

"Jackie."

"Thank you for your help, Jackie." The lift arrived and Sarah Jane stepped inside. 

"Be careful," said Jackie as the doors closed on Sarah. 

Something touched Jackie's shoulder and she yelped and jumped round, then walloped Mickey as hard as she could on the arm. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" 

"Sorry, sorry. Come on, let's get out of here."

*

They stopped at a cafe on the way home in order to decide what their next move was going to be over a nice relaxing cup of tea. 

"I said it was aliens."

"So did I," said Jackie. "Still, I didn't expect them to admit it that quickly. This uncovering alien invasions is quite easy, isn't it? So much for that Doctor swaggering around like it's difficult." 

"I think it's the stopping them that's going to be the difficult bit." Mickey pointed out. 

"Right, so how're we going to stop them?"

"We could..."

"There's always..."

"I think we should..."

"You haven't got a clue, have you?" said Jackie. 

"Why's it up to me to think of a plan?"

"I dunno, how about because you haven't bloody shut up about how you saved the world since that business at Downing Street."

"Sorry, but I don't think that this lot are going to be sent packing by me chucking a jar of pickled onions at them."

They drank their tea in sulky silence until Jackie said, "You know, when you think about it, this isn't really our responsibility."

"Yeah," Mickey agreed a bit too quickly. "And it's not as though they're dangerous. Not really, properly, dangerous. It isn't like people are disappearing off the street or anything."

"There have got to be people whose job it is to run around doing this sort of thing."

"And they probably get paid a damn sight more than the minimum wage for doing it." 

"I think I saw one of the Doctor's lot there," said Jackie. 

"What, a Time Lord?"

"I'm not sure. It was just this woman. But she knew that bloke wasn't human, and she seemed to know all about different sorts of aliens."

"Best leave it to the experts, really."

"We'd probably just get in the way."

"Yeah, we're best off well out of it."

"I'm glad that's decided," said Jackie. "Fancy another cup of tea?"

"I think we deserve it." 

"Give us a couple of quid then."

*

Four o'clock in the morning and Mickey couldn't sleep. He'd tried reading (a months old copy of Auto Trader he was using to prop up the kitchen table), he played a shoot 'em up on his computer, he was usually pretty good at it, but tonight he kept getting his head blown off before he'd finished level one. He drank several cups of milky tea, and the even if he'd been able to sleep his bladder would have woken him up in no time.

Every time he got close to drifting off he had a vision of that gleaming kitchen full of aliens that could almost pass for human, if not for the fact that they never stopped smiling. And that thing they'd been cutting up. Food that could change what you thought, that was the creepiest thing Mickey had heard since, well, since he'd met big bog monsters who wore people's skin. 

God, his life had gotten weird lately. Jackie had been right though, there was really nothing they could do about it. There must be people out there who could handle this, people whose job it was to deal with alien butchers. Right now Mickey's job was to get some sleep before the sun came up.

He was tossing and turning and contemplating another cup of tea when his mobile rang. How was it that he could use the computer in his flat to nick a medium range missile from the British Army but he couldn't change the ring tone on his mobile from the Crazy Frog? 

"Jackie, you okay?" Mickey said, glancing at the name on screen before answering. 

"Mickey, I'm sorry to wake you..." Jackie's voice was hoarse, she sounded like she'd been crying. Mickey had plenty of experience with sobbing women phoning him in the middle of the night. Rose had used him as a shoulder to cry on during the Jimmy Stone debacle. This was different in two main ways 1) He wasn't trying to shag Jackie, and 2) he was almost completely certain that Jimmy Stone wasn't an alien. 

"It's all right, I couldn't sleep anyway. Are you okay, you sound a bit off?" 

"I tried to call Rose's mobile earlier."

Mickey felt a weight lift off his shoulders. "When's she coming home?"

"She didn't answer. I let it ring for ages and ages and she didn't answer." 

"She's probably busy, or she'll have lost it. It's probably lying on some alien beach and she's wandered off without it, you know what she's like."

"What if she's dead? Oh, Mickey, what if she's lying dead in some alien ditch somewhere. I'd never even know--"

"Jackie, Rose will be fine." Mickey tried to sound confident, as if the image of Rose dead or hurt somewhere wasn't one that haunted his every waking moment. "The Doctor will be looking after her. I mean he's clearly a bit of a wanker, but I think he really does love Rose." Mickey was quite proud of himself for saying that last bit out loud without actually being sick. 

Jackie sniffed. "You're right, I'm sorry. It's just that I worry."

"Do you want me to come over?" 

"Don't be thick, it's the middle of the night. I'll see you tomorrow." 

Mickey hung up and drifted off to sleep with the words "Bloody Doctor" floating merrily and repeatedly through his head. 

*

Rose ran as fast as she could through the marketplace. The crowds made it difficult to make any headway or to see how close her pursuers were getting. She elbowed an alien stallholder in what she hoped wasn't a delicate part of his anatomy and turned sharply right. Here the crowds were thinner and she picked up some speed. The downside was that the palace guards were speeding up as well. 

Cries of "stop in the name of the emperor" were sounding worryingly close. How could people wearing sandals run so fast? Okay, the fact that they had three legs probably helped but the sandals had to be slowing them down a bit. They were still coming up behind her with worrying alacrity. It was lucky the Doctor hadn't landed them on this planet at some point after the invention of the running shoe, Rose wouldn't have got five meters away. 

Someone grabbed her from behind, and a hand was clamped over her mouth before she could scream. Not that screaming would accomplish anything other than bringing the palace guards down on her all the quicker. 

She was pulled back into an alcove cut into the side of a building. "Hello, Rose. I was wondering where you'd wandered off to."

Rose twisted round and threw her arms around her abductor in joy. "Doctor!" she exclaimed, then she pulled back and whacked him on the shoulder, "What do you mean 'wandered off?' Have you any idea what--"

"Quiet!" the Doctor ordered, twisting so that Rose's back was to the stone wall and her face was pressed into the leather of his coat.

Shouts that the emperor would quite like the fugitives to stop in his name, and the sound of sandals slapping on flagstone came closer and closer, and then disappeared into the distance.

The Doctor pulled away from Rose and grinning he offered her his hand. "That was fun, wasn't it?"

"Oh, yeah," Rose agreed. "Fantastic." 

"Come on." He tugged her out of the alcove and back towards the market. "Back to the TARDIS."

"Oh, hell."

"What's wrong?" The Doctor turned to her, looking concerned. 

"I've lost my mobile, I must have dropped it when I was running through that market."

The Doctor rolled his eyes, making what Rose called his 'silly little human' face. "Is that all?" 

"Well, what if my mum rings?"

"Then you've got a good excuse for not talking to her. That's brilliant, Rose. I'm surprised I didn't think of it myself."

Rose poked him in the ribs. "Oi!"

"Tell you what, if it's that important to you I'll buy you a new one. We'll go to the second great era of communications. It's fantastic there; they can make mobiles the size of microchips, they fit right inside your ear." 

Hand in hand, the Doctor and Rose walked back to the TARDIS with the Doctor waxing lyrical about the second great era of communications.

Unfortunately, the fruit stallholder in the marketplace was having a less good day. First of all, he'd collided with that strange yellow haired girl who'd struck him in a most unfortunate body part. Then he'd been questioned by the palace guards who suspected he'd aided the girl's escape. And now that he'd finally been allowed back to his stall he was being tormented by a strange sound coming from the direction of the melons, a peculiar sort of tinny sound that melons certainly weren't supposed to make.

You could almost describe as a ringing. 

Whatever it was, he hoped it stopped soon.

*

One of the many things that Mickey had failed to take into consideration when he'd sloped off work by pretending to break his hand was that it took more than one night for broken bones to mend. So he'd taken a while off work while he waited for his fictional injury to heal.

He had a bit of a lie in - until around lunchtime - then headed over to Jackie's to make sure that she was okay after last nights phone call. 

The door was slammed open. Mickey hadn't realised a door could be slammed open as well as closed but somehow Jackie managed it. 

"Oh, it's you again," Jackie sneered, turning her back on Mickey and marching away down the hall. Mickey looked quickly over his shoulder to make sure that no unexpected Jehovah's Witnesses were standing behind him. Nope, apparently it was him Jackie was mad at. He nervously followed her inside closing the door behind him. 

Jackie was thundering around the living room, picking things up and hurling them down. If those had been alien cushions Jackie was pummelling she'd have just saved the planet single handed.

"If you want some tea you can make your own, and if you're going to keep popping in uninvited would it kill you to bring some milk round?"

"Has Rose called back?" Mickey asked. 

"Has she hell. It's thoughtless, that's what it is. Running off with the Doctor with hardly a goodbye. And me, her own mother, with no way of contacting her."

Ah. Mickey understood what was bothering Jackie. His gran used to do the same thing whenever he'd done something particularly stupid or thoughtless. There was a point with parents where worry turned into a sort of directionless rage. Mickey carefully took a step back to make sure he was well out of slapping distance. 

"She just doesn't think," Jackie carried on. "Anything could be happening here."

"Like a big intergalactic burger van could be planning to give us all alien food poisoning?" Mickey joked, after making sure he was well out of Jackie's immediate striking range. 

"And that's another thing I've been thinking about, we can't just ignore it."

"We can't?" asked Mickey. Jackie glared at him. "No, you're right, we can't."

"We've been assuming that someone else will come along and sort it out for us, well what if they don't and it's just us. No, we'll have to put a stop to it ourselves. I mean, if that big eared alien can do it, how hard can saving the world really be?"

Mickey thought that if there was ever a textbook example of a hypothetical question then he'd just heard it. He decided to answer with another hypothetical question. "D'you fancy a cup of tea?"

"Nah," Jackie answered surprisingly. "That's gone half past one, let's go to the pub."

*

"A pint of lager and a vodka and tonic," said the barman. It wasn't a question. 

"Yeah," said Mickey, sheepishly fishing the exact change out of his pocket. He picked up the drinks and headed over to their usual table where Jackie had A Plan. 

This could be said about Jackie, she had taken to saving the world from aliens like a duck to... well, not water. More like a duck to black ice, it wasn't exactly graceful but you had to give the poor little creature some credit, it was trying its best.

She moved their empty glasses to the next table allowing Mickey to place the fresh drinks down. "So, what next?" he asked.

"First we have to find out what's going on." 

"I thought that's what that little trip to their office was about." 

"That was different," Jackie dismissed. "That was management. Have you ever met a manager that could tell his arse from his elbow?"

Mickey thought about all the bosses he'd ever had, from the stockroom manager at Tesco when he'd been sixteen, to Dave at the garage, and had to concede that Jackie had a point. "What do we do instead, though?"

"You watch the shop on the high street. See if anyone goes in who doesn't come out, if anyone else is watching it, that kind of thing."

"Why me?" 

"One of us has to go to work. We can't both skive off indefinitely."

"Fine." Mickey sipped his pint. "But if the council chucks me out for not paying my rent then I get to come and live with you."

*

Mickey was sitting behind the wheel of his car watching the Space Burger on the other side of the street. As always it was filled with silent, expressionless and hungry customers. A bag of cheese and onion crisps and a can of coke sat untouched on the passenger seat. Spending the afternoon watching idiots choke down minced up little green alien could really put a dent in your appetite.

God, was there anything more boring than watching other people eat? He picked up his mobile and called Jackie, wondering if he was currently the only bloke in England with his sort of ex-girlfriend's mother on speed dial. 

"Mickey, how are you getting on?"

"I've spent all day sitting in this car, bored out of my skull, and my legs have started to go numb, that's how I'm getting on." 

"Hmm." 

Mickey felt that Jackie's response lacked the level of sympathy he was really looking for. 

"This is a waste of time, I think we should..." Mickey trailed off, distracted by what looked like most of a presidential motorcade pulling up outside the Space Burger.

"Mickey? Mickey, what--"

"Shut up. The Men in Black have just turned up."

"Oh, that's clear as mud, that is."

Mickey opened the door and got out of his car. He adopted a relaxed and casual pose. Well, as casually relaxed as it was possible to look when you were crouched beneath your wing mirror with a mobile phone clamped to your ear and peering nervously over the bonnet. Jackie was still warbling in his ear demanding to know what was going on. 

"Three big black jeeps have just pulled up outside, and what looks like half the cast of Spooks have gone inside."

"They might just have gone in for lunch." 

"I don't think so, it looks like they're arresting people." Mickey left the cover of his car and crept further along the street for a better look. "They're from Torchwood," Mickey announced with some authority. 

"How'd you know that?"

"Cause the jeeps have the word 'Torchwood' written all over them."

"That might just be the name of the jeeps though." 

"Nah, I'd have heard it be-- Hang on, they're coming out. A load of big guys in black with those posh hands free things in their ears, they've got one of the aliens with them."

The alien in the ugly fast food uniform was manhandled into a jeep by what looked like a member of the SAS crossed with a player from the New Zealand All Blacks, but he was still smiling manically. 

"They've shoved him into one of--" Just then the alien turned round to face Mickey, and not the way a normal person would turn round, no, it was more the way Linda Blair had turned her head in The Exorcist. Its dull eyes fixed on him and its unnaturally wide grin got wider. 

Mickey yelped, dropped his mobile, stumbled backwards, tripped over someone's shopping trolley and ended up sprawled in a shop doorway. He scrambled to his feet, apologising to the person he'd fallen over and snatched his phone up. Remarkably dropping the phone into a puddle hadn't ended the call. 

"Sorry, sorry. One of those things looked at me." 

"What, did it shoot lasers out of its eyes, or something?"

"No," Mickey tried to sound like he wasn't worried that the aliens might actually be capable of shooting lasers out of their eyes. 

"Then what was all that screaming about?"

"I wasn't screaming, it just took me by surprise, and I wasn't screaming. Anyway those jeeps are leaving now."

"You'd better get after them, then."

"You want me to chase after three, probably military, jeeps in a yellow mini?"

"Yeah, call me when you know more. Bye."

*

Half an hour later Mickey phoned Jackie back.

"Where are you?" she asked. 

"In a shop."

"Doing what?"

"I'm paying the congestion charge." There was an unimpressed silence from Jackie. "And buying a mars bar." Mickey wasn't sure why he thought the mars bar thing made him sound more impressive.

"Oh, get me a flake while you're there, would you?" chocolate order made Jackie got back to business. "Have you lost the jeeps?"

"For the moment, yeah, might be able to catch them up though."

"Really?" Jackie did not sound convinced. 

"Yeah, it's rush hour so they can't have got far. And if they're meant to be low key then they're not doing a very good job. There are more lights in the back of those things than there are on most Christmas trees." 

Mickey leaned over to grab Jackie's flake and inadvertently collided with someone. He looked up to apologise and recognised the woman he'd bumped into as the red haired receptionist from the Space Burger head office. She didn't look bored today, in fact she looked like she'd been crying. She also looked cross, make that really, really cross. 

"I'll call you back," Mickey told Jackie and ended the call. 

The redhead glared at him. Mickey took a careful step back and lost his place in the queue. "Don't mind me, I was only walking there," she said.

"Sorry, I was--"

"On the phone, I know, I'm not blind." She stepped forward and easily took Mickey's place in line. Mickey glanced down at her shopping basket which contained, among other things, a bottle of vodka. 

Mickey did some quick sums in his head, adding red-eyed crying woman to alcohol and asked the only question it was possible to ask. "Are you okay?"

"That's none of your business."

"Sorry, yeah. It's just that we've sort of met. I was in your work the other day."

The woman sniffed. "Ex-work. Bloody weird bastards. I wish it had been me that phoned the environmental health on them."

"You got the sack?" Mickey asked. 

"Ooh, give the boy a prize."

Mickey grinned, which didn't do much to mollify the woman. "I'm Mickey Smith."

"Donna Noble."

"Look, getting fired is rough. Let me buy you a drink?"

Donna gave him a scathing look, sizing him up. She decided that if he was a mad stalker or an axe murderer he was a decidedly unimpressive one who she could probably beat up and said, "Okay, but no funny business."

"I've got a girlfriend," said Mickey. "Sometimes, when she's on this planet and can be bothered." Luckily, Donna seemed not to hear that last bit. 

*

After a couple of drinks in the pub down the road Donna seemed to be feeling more herself, if by more herself you meant loud, mouthy and bitter.

"So, how'd you lose your job?" Mickey asked, taking a swig from his bottle of beer. 

"Have you got some sort of fetish for unemployed women?" Donna replied.

"I don't think that's actually a fetish anybody has."

"It wouldn't surprise me. All blokes are a bit weird one way or another."

"Know what I like about you Donna? It's that you don't make gross generalisations." 

"Ha bloody ha. Why are you so interested in where I used to work anyway?"

"No reason, I'm just interested."

"Oh, that's what the rest of them said."

"I'm not the only one who's been asking?"

"Hardly," Donna drained the last of her gin and tonic. "Let's see, there was you and your little friend. Then that journalist who I don't think was quite right in the head, since she kept going on about aliens - completely mad."

Mickey choked as a mouthful of beer went down the wrong way. "Aliens. Mad. Completely. Yeah," he spluttered. 

"Then there was that American; Harker or Harkness or something, the one who fancied himself, I told him to get stuffed. Then the men in black--"

"Torchwood?" Mickey interrupted. 

"Yeah, that's what they called themselves. What sort of a daft name is Torchwood, anyway?" 

Mickey shrugged, he'd been wondering the same thing himself. 

"Then," Donna carried on, "the fit soldier boys in the red berets. Oh, and for the last couple of days the entire place has been overrun with environmental health officers."

Donna looked longingly at the bar. Mickey took the hint and went to get another couple of drinks. When he arrived back at their table Donna picked up her drink and carried on talking as if Mickey hadn't left, which was a talent. "That's why they sacked me, you know, they reckoned it was me that reported them. The bastards."

"Why environmental health?" Mickey mused to himself, and then decided that he must stop musing to himself out loud because Donna responded.

"Mad cow."

"Come again?"

"I think that they've got mad cow disease in the meat and that's why the environmental health are crawling all over the place. That's it, isn't it?"

"Hmm," Mickey mumbled noncommittally into his drink. 

"Oh, God, is it something worse than that? Could I have caught something working there?" 

"No, it's nothing like that," Mickey assured her. 

Donna looked immensely relieved. "Why are you so interested in all this anyway, haven't you got a girlfriend?" 

At that question Mickey looked so pathetic and sorry for himself that Donna, a woman who'd just been sacked from her job inadvertently helping aliens invade the earth via the means of fast food, looked at him pityingly and offered to buy him another drink.

Eventually both Mickey and Donna realised that spending a wet Wednesday afternoon in a dingy pub with no one but the landlord and an elderly bloke that looked like he'd been drinking the same half pint since 1979 for company was a bit sad. 

"I should go," said Mickey, draining the rest of his beer.

"So should I," agreed Donna. "I've got a busy afternoon of being unemployed to get on with."

"I've got to..." Mickey thought about what he actually had to do. He had to go and get a parking ticket for his car because he was too drunk to drive home, get the bus back to the estate, explain to Jackie how he'd lost that Torchwood lot, then try to ring Rose to tell her how much she was worrying her mum. 

"You don't fancy heading into town for a few more drinks, do you?" he asked.

Donna knocked back the rest of her drink in one gulp. "That sounds like a plan to me, Sparky."

Before they could head off in search of more alcohol they had to buy a parking ticket to stop Mickey's car being clamped. 

"A yellow mini," Donna cooed. "That's really sweet." 

"It's not sweet." Mickey insisted. He began telling Donna about the improvements he'd made to the engine as they walked to the nearest underground station, her eyes glazed over the way most women's did when blokes started talking about cars. 

"I like yellow," was Donna's sole contribution to that conversation.

They found a bar that was a bit livelier than the pub they'd been in before, in that there was music and there wasn't dust that was older than Mickey on the bar. By the time they got there the after work crowd was arriving, something that made Donna decide that she was desperately in need of another drink. 

Mickey headed over to the bar and returned with two more drinks.

"Right," Donna said, accepting her drink and poking Mickey in the chest with a fingernail. "Tell me why you're so interested in where I used to work." 

"I'm not that interested," Mickey lied, badly.

"Yeah, right. Either you're trying to find out something about that place or you're trying to chat me up. And whichever it is, you're not doing it very well."

"I'm definitely not trying to chat you up." 

Mickey might have put a little bit too much emphasis on that sentence because Donna bristled and said, "You should be so lucky, mate."

"Er..." Mickey flailed and desperately searched for a way to return the conversation to safer topics, such as aliens and Donna's recent firing.

"Oh, calm down. Seriously though, how'd you get into this daytime-soap-private-investigation thing?" 

Mickey took a sip of his drink, he was starting to lose track of how many he'd had, which was probably why, instead of lying, Mickey answered honestly. "My girlfriend does this sort of thing."

"You're going out with Miss Marple?" 

"Oh, very funny. Rose, that's my girlfriend, sort of girlfriend--"

"Sort of girlfriend. Oh, it all becomes clear."

"She hasn't dumped me. Okay, she met this bloke, this older bloke, and went travelling with him. And, yeah, they're inseparable and they have all these little in-jokes that I don't get, but that doesn't mean I've been chucked."

"Course it doesn't, Sparky." Donna slammed her empty glass down on the table. "I've been sacked and you've been chucked for an older man, I think that this calls for another drink."

"So," Donna said, returning from the bar. "Your girlfriend dumped you--"

"Haven't been dumped," Mickey mumbled into his drink. 

"And you've decided to win her back by, what, uncovering an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in London?"

"Nice try. But I told you it's not foot and mouth and it's not mad cow." 

"What is it, then?"

"Aliens," said Mickey, realising just too late that he'd said it out loud and tried to explain. "Thing is, my girlfriend, this is what she does."

"Your ex-girlfriend's an alien?" Donna asked with a sneer.

"No, she sort of investigates them. That thing that crashed into Big Ben, we were there. And that time those shop window dummies went mental."

Donna was giving him a worried look, as if it was just crossing her distracted and mostly drunk mind that she didn't know Mickey from Adam. "This man your girlfriend left you for, he wasn't some kind of mental health professional, was he?"

Mickey laughed at that. "He was a doctor." 

"You're taking the piss," Donna accused him with a frown. 

Mickey gratefully accepted the way out of the conversation. "Course I am. Aliens, who believes in that stuff? You should have seen the look on your face though. Tell you what, the next round's on me, yeah?" 

It turned out that having more than a few drinks is an equally good cure for being sacked and for realising that you were more than likely dumped months back. And for the first time in ages Mickey found himself having a really good time, it seemed to go a long way to cheering Donna up as well, and at close to midnight they were asked to leave the bar for throwing peanuts at the karaoke singers. 

*

The next morning - afternoon actually - Mickey woke to find a text message on his mobile from Jackie asking him to meet her in the pub after work. 

Mickey chugged as much water as he could drink without throwing up, drank four cups of tea, took two aspirin and by quarter past five he felt just about ready to face the outside world and headed over to the pub. He had to stop outside the doors and brace himself for a minute, just the smell of alcohol made him feel sick. After a moment, he headed inside and found Jackie seated at their usual table, which was positioned conveniently close to both the emergency exit and the bar. Under normal circumstances, Mickey would have wondered when he and Jackie had acquired a usual table but at the moment all his concentration was going into not falling down or being sick. 

After the epic journey across the lounge he reached the table and slumped into a chair. Jackie pushed a pint glass over to him, "Bought you a beer." 

Mickey's surprise and gratitude vanished beneath the wave of nausea that washed over him and he was forced to rest his forehead on the sticky pub table until he felt better. 

"What's wrong with you?"

"I've got food poisoning," Mickey lied unconvincingly. 

"I didn't know you could get that from beer."

"Don't make fun of me, Jackie, I feel awful." Mickey felt just about well enough to risk lifting his head up. 

"Where'd you vanish to yesterday, anyway?" 

"You'll never guess who I bumped into." 

"An alien made entirely of Guinness?" Jackie guessed gleefully. 

"That receptionist from the Space Burger office, the ginger one, I ran into her in a shop and we went for a drink." 

"More than one drink by the look of you." 

"Do you want to hear this or not? Because you were the one going on about how managers know nothing and we should be talking to someone lower down."

Jackie tried to shrug casually, but her expression gave away the fact that she was dying to know what Mickey had discovered.

"Anyway, Donna said--"

"Ooh, first name terms now, is it?" 

"It's not like that." Mickey said, embarrassed. It really wasn't like that, for one thing he was still sort of with Rose, and for another Donna scared him a little. "Anyway, moving on, Donna's just been sacked--"

"Oh, she'll be a fantastic source of information, then."

"Shut up. The reason she's been sacked is that someone called the environmental health and they're crawling all over the place, might even shut the entire company down." 

Jackie was actually very impressed, she expressed this by saying, "And I suppose you had to get her drunk to get all this out of her?" 

"It's a highly underrated investigative technique," Mickey said with a watery grin. 

"I supposed you didn't catch up with that lot in the black jeeps?" 

"No, but they call themselves Torchwood and drive about with fairy lights in their cars so I don't think they're anything to worry about."

"You're probably right. What else did your new girlfriend have to say for herself?"

"I had some drinks with her, just this once. Nothing happened!" 

"I'll believe you, thousands wouldn't. But what else did you find out?"

"That we're not the only ones sniffing around this." At that Jackie looked so hopeful that Mickey felt dreadful saying, "Not Rose and the Doctor, sorry."

Jackie tried to shrug nonchalantly and failed miserably. 

Mickey carried on. "There's been us, Torchwood, some camp American, what sounds like the army and a journalist--"

"Journalist?" Jackie interrupted.

"Yeah, one who kept talking about aliens. Donna thought she was off her head."

"I think I met her. She was there the same day as us. I said so, remember?"

Mickey didn't, but then it had been half three this afternoon before he was entirely sure that his name was Mickey Smith. 

"In fact, I think I've still got her business card in the flat somewhere." Jackie pushed her chair back and began to gather up her things. 

"Hey, where are you going?" 

"To see a woman about an alien," Jackie announced over her shoulder as she made a beeline out of the pub. "You drink that pint. Hair of the dog, it'll do you the world of good." 

Mickey looked at the pint of lager in front of him and was forced to put his head back down on the table for a little rest. 

*

It's perhaps worth mentioning that the same morning Donna Noble had woken up with a slight headache, the vague memory of having her ear talked off by some guy who couldn't get over his girlfriend leaving him, and the impression that having been fired from her last job had been a very narrow escape indeed. 

She made herself a cup of tea and phoned round some temp agencies. Later that day one phoned her back to arrange an interview with a company called HC Clements, who apparently were some kind of posh locksmith. 

Donna had a very good feeling about working at HC Clements. 

*

Jackie looked on top of the fridge, in the cutlery drawer and down the back of the couch, all the usual places that bits of rubbish she didn't think she'd ever need normally fetched up. She eventually turned up Sarah Jane Smith's business card in the pocket of the jeans she'd been wearing that day. It was quite lucky that worrying about the possibility of an extra terrestrial McDonalds invading the planet meant that she hadn't done the washing in a good few days. 

The card showed a home telephone number, a mobile number and an e-mail address. The fact that Jackie hadn't the faintest idea of how to send an e-mail simplified the choice somewhat. She picked up the phone and called the mobile number; it rang and rang until eventually it rang out. Jackie hung up and called the landline. She wasn't the sort of woman who let the fact that someone obviously didn't want to talk to her get in her way, if she had been she wouldn't have got more than a dozen words out of Rose over the entire course of her adolescence. 

Eventually the phone was answered. "Sarah Jane Smith speaking." 

It occurred to Jackie that all she knew about Sarah Jane Smith was that she was either a journalist posing as an alien hunter or an alien posing as a journalist. 

"Er..." was Jackie's less than eloquent opening line. 

"I'm sorry," said Sarah, probably labouring under the misconception that this was prank phone call. "This isn't a very good time."

"Is that because of the fast food peddling aliens trying to take over London?"

"Who is this?" Sarah demanded, sounding nervous.

"Jackie Tyler, we met the other day. I was the one who warned you that you were about to go and interview an alien. I'm glad that you didn't get eaten to death."

"So am I. What can I do for you, Jackie?" 

Jackie wasn't actually sure that there was anything Sarah Jane could do to help, all she knew was that hanging round the pub with Mickey talking about aliens wasn't getting them anywhere. "I need to talk to you."

"About what?" Sarah asked. 

What a stupid question. "About the weather," Jackie sneered. "Strangely enough, I want to talk to you about the aliens."

There was a long pause and then Sarah said, "You don't work for Torchwood, do you?" 

"The ones who drive around in the vans that look like Oxford Street at Christmas, no chance."

"And what if I don't want anybody else involved in this?"

"I've got your telephone number, I'll look you up in the phone book."

"I'm unlisted."

"I'll google you." Jackie didn't actually know how to use google, but she was fairly sure that Mickey did. 

"I admire your determination, Jackie, but--"

"Listen," Jackie insisted. "There are aliens running all over London feeding people psychic meat--"

"Psychic meat?" Sarah sounded aghast. 

"Didn't know that, did you? And you probably know one or two things about this that I don't, and I think it might be helpful if we compared notes." 

"Have you got a pen and paper handy? I'll give you my address."

*

Deciding that Mickey probably wasn't up to driving, Jackie left him to his hangover and got on a bus. She found the right address without difficulty. It was a nice house, big and with a garden. There was obviously good money in fighting aliens. The next time Rose graced the Earth with her presence Jackie was going to have a word with her and find out if the Doctor was paying her properly, at the very least she must be due hazard pay. 

On the other hand, Jackie still wasn't convinced that Sarah wasn't an alien, Sarah Jane Smith certainly sounded like a made up name. The house could be a spaceship in disguise for all she knew. 

Jackie headed up the drive and knocked on the door. When there was no response, she pushed the door open and called, "Hello? Hello! It's Jackie, I phoned earlier about the...thing..."

The brunette Jackie had met at alien HQ hurried down the hallway to meet her. "About the aliens, yes. Hello."

Jackie winced a little. Okay, she'd accepted that there were little blue boxes that could appear and disappear at will, and big eared aliens from up north, and different aliens that could wear people's skins. But whenever someone talked about aliens out loud she felt that the men in white coats were about to turn up and take her away.

"You'd best come inside," Sarah continued. 

"Hang on," there was something Jackie had to be sure of first. "Before I go wandering into your house, which for all I know could be part of some big alien trap, I want to know what sort of alien are you?"

"I'm human." 

"Ah." Jackie was actually more surprised than she would have been if Sarah Jane had announced she was a Martian. 

"I have a DNA scanner in my attic if you don't believe me."

"That's not even a little bit reassuring, you know."

Sarah smiled. "No, I suppose it's not. But if you want to talk you'd better come in and have a seat."

Jackie followed Sarah further into the house. She got her first look round, this place was even messier that Mickey's had been. But whereas Mickey's flat was in the state it was because he was allergic to cleaning, this place looked more like-- "Have you been robbed?" she asked. 

Sarah sighed and stopped just outside the door to what Jackie presumed was the kitchen. "Not in the sense that anything's been stolen. I have had some unwanted visitors." 

"There's no chance you mean the Inland Revenue, is there?"

"No."

"Thought not," Jackie sighed, totally unsurprised. Looking around, the house did look well and truly trashed. "Did they break your kettle?"

"No, at least I don't think so."

"Right. kitchen in here, is it?" without waiting for an answer Jackie pushed past Sarah and gasped. The kitchen table had been smashed clean in two, the chairs had been overturned and the cabinets pulled out. But Jackie had the enviable talent to make a cup of tea in any location under any circumstances so it didn't take her long to plug in the kettle, locate the teabags and find two miraculously unbroken cups.

"What did you do to make the Kentucky Fried Aliens want to smash up your house?"

Sarah laughed at that. "UNIT haven't been able to come up with a name for this species of alien, perhaps I should suggest that to them." 

"What's a unit when it's at home?" Jackie passed Sarah a cup of tea and sat on one of the two chairs that Sarah had righted.

"UNIT are part of the army."

"Which part?"

"The part that knows about aliens," Sarah replied. Mickey had been right, Jackie thought, they should have called the army at the beginning. "I called them the day after I met you."

"And that's why they came after you?" Jackie blew on her tea to cool it. 

"I think perhaps the main reason might be that I reported them to environmental health, and now their branches are being closed down."

"That was you!" Jackie exclaimed. "I must remember to tell Mickey. He can tell his little friend and she can ask for her job back."

"Excuse me?"

"Sorry..." And Jackie told Sarah all about Mickey befriending the receptionist and what she'd said, and about meeting the alien who called himself James Bond and how he'd threatened them. 

"And you kept investigating?" Sarah Jane sounded impressed. 

"Well, he said they didn't want to hurt anyone and he sounded pretty sincere." 

"Yes, it came as a terrible shock to me too when I discovered that sometimes invading aliens fib."

"If you're going to take the mick," Jackie said, "I'm not going to offer to make another cup of tea."

"So how did you get into this alien investigations thing?" Jackie asked over their second cup of tea. 

"I had this friend..." and the word friend was so loaded that Jackie instantly decided she was never going to ask Sarah to elaborate. There was doubtless some sort of long, tragic and dull story behind it. Sarah pulled herself together, "And someone has to investigate these things."

Jackie agreed. Someone did have to look into these things, She'd just prefer that person wasn't Rose, or, in fact, herself.

"How did you get involved in this, anyway?" Sarah asked.

Jackie thought about the Doctor, and Rose and her constant worry that her daughter was dead or hurt somewhere. She shrugged and said, "It's something to do, isn't it?"

*

Mickey's sworn vow to never again touch another alcoholic drink lasted a grand total of two and a half days, and then he was back the pub enjoying a pint and watching the match. At least he was trying to watch the match. The bar was packed, and Mickey had to crane his neck and cock his head at a painful angle in order to see the television at all. Plus, Jackie kept trying to talk to him about... something. 

"Are you listening to me at all?" Jackie demanded.

"Yes," Mickey lied. Hang on, hang on, surely that was offside. 

"There are more important things than the FA cup quarter-finals, you know." 

"I know that, course I know that. The semi-finals and the finals are still to come."

"I thought you'd jump at the chance," Jackie said, mistakenly assuming that Mickey had been following the conversation thus far.

"What chance?" Mickey asked without taking his eyes from the TV. 

"To give up this Space Burger stuff once and for all." 

"You mean now that they're being shut down by the environmental health?" Mickey asked. It was true, all over London Space Burger restaurants were being closed down by stern looking men in suits who were carrying clipboards.

"Uh huh, and because UNIT are involved now. Sarah Jane seemed to think they knew what they were doing."

"Yeah, that's a weight off-- Foul!" Mickey screamed in dismay along with half the pub. 

"And what with the aliens turning up at Sarah's house looking for her, it's not exactly safe." Jackie looked to Mickey for some kind of response but he was too busy mumbling something about penalties into his pint. 

Jackie sighed and decided to leave him to it. "Oh, I give up. I'm going home."

*

Mickey probably wouldn't have bothered answering his phone when it rang half an hour later, but it was half-time anyway, and he was feeling a bit guilty about ignoring Jackie when they should have been celebrating getting their lives back to normal.

"Hi, Jackie," Mickey shouted over the general din of the pub.

"Mickey," Jackie whispered urgently. "There's someone in my flat!"

"Where are you?" 

"I'm outside, at the bottom of the stairs. But there's definitely something inside. I can hear it moving around." 

Mickey wasn't reassured by the word 'it.' "Don't move," he told Jackie, pushing his way through the crowded bar towards the door.

"What if something comes down the stairs?"

"Then you should probably move. I'll be there in a minute." Mickey hung up the phone as he made it outside, behind him he heard a roar of "Goal!" and, to his credit, he only considered going back inside to see who'd scored for a second before he turned and ran in the direction of Jackie's flat.

Mickey found Jackie exactly where she said she was going to be, lurking at the bottom of the stairs leading up to her front door. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I don't think whatever's up there heard me. But, Mickey, you didn't see Sarah's house, it was wrecked, if she'd been there she could have been killed." 

Mickey tried to think of something reassuring to say, "You don't know that it's the aliens upstairs. It could be, I dunno, a stray cat."

"Mickey, I was standing right outside the door, it sounds like a herd of wild horses are in there."

"We're not going to find anything out hanging around down here," Mickey pointed out.

"One of us should go up and have a look."

"That sounds like a plan."

"Right," said Jackie, giving him a little shove. "Up you go." 

"Let me get this straight, you think that there are carnivorous aliens waiting to kill and quite possibly eat us up in your flat?"

Wondering where her life had gone so wrong that that was actually true, Jackie said, "Yes."

"And you want me to go up and see them?"

"Uh huh."

"Why me, what do you think I'm going to be able to do?"

"You're a bloke," Jackie said, figuring that it was at least mostly true. "When they attack you you'll be able to defend yourself better."

"Yeah, well you're older than me. It'll be less sad if you get killed."

Jackie thumped him between the shoulder blades with quite impressive force. "Upstairs. Now," she ordered. 

"We'll both go, yeah?"

And so, clinging together like limpets, Jackie and Mickey slowly ascended the stairs. 

"Why am I in front?"

"No reason."

"You go in front then."

"No way!"

"Yes way."

"Ow! Jackie, stop elbowing me."

"They'll hear us," Jackie admonished as they reached the landing. The door to Jackie's flat was slightly ajar, and from behind it came a voice. 

"As a matter of fact we heard you bickering all the way up the stairs."

The door swung all the way open, and Mickey and Jackie stared open mouthed at the half a dozen or so people in the flat. 

"Jackie, do aliens usually wear red berets and carry guns?"

"Not in any film I've ever seen."

Most people have a fight or flight reflex. Mickey, at least when faced with half a dozen people wearing military fatigues and carrying guns, had a fight, flight or stand there with an open mouth looking like a mug reflex. Fight and flight put up a brief struggle, more for the look of the thing than anything else, but standing there looking like a mug won the day. 

"I'm sorry," said the man standing closest to the door, waving to the others to lower their weapons. "Didn't mean to alarm you." 

"Alarm us?" Mickey squeaked. "You didn't alarm us, did they, Jackie?"

Jackie risked a peek out from behind Mickey. "Just to check, you're not aliens here to kill us, mince us then put us in burgers are you?"

"No, ma'am," said the soldier. "That wasn't part of my orders."

Neither Jackie nor Mickey found that particularly reassuring. The soldier held out his hand for Mickey to shake. "Sergeant Benton," he introduced himself. 

Keeping a nervous eye on the gun holstered at the soldier's belt Mickey shook his hand. "I'm Mickey Smith, and this is Jackie Tyler," Mickey gestured towards Jackie, who was still pressed against his back with her insanely sharp fingernails digging into his shoulders. 

"I have orders to take both of you into protective custody," said Benton. 

"Hang on," demanded Jackie, annoyance overcoming her fear. "Orders from who?"

"UNIT, the unified intelligence taskforce." Benton got a far away look in his eyes. "You know, I remember when it was called the United Nations intelligence taskforce, ah, the good old days."

"Who do we need protecting from?" Mickey asked. 

"We received some information that you've been investigating a recent series of alien sightings in London. We believe this may have placed you in serious danger. We ask that you come with us for your own good." 

"It's not that I don't trust strange armed men who break into my flat--"

"I thought that'd be right up your street," muttered Mickey under his breath. 

"Be quiet," Jackie ordered him. She then turned her attention back to Benton. "You've just broken into my flat, waved a gun in my face and scared me half to death. Why should I believe anything you say?"

Benton mused this over. "Because the aliens threatened to mince you and put you in a bun?" 

Jackie thought about this, it was true that she didn't see much of a future in being a hamburger. "Good point, well made. We'll come with you."

"Hang on," objected Mickey. "Don't I get a say in this?"

"No," said Jackie, keeping her answer short and to the point. 

Benton shot Mickey a sympathetic look. "Jenkins, get on the radio and get the jeeps brought round."

A very young looking soldier exited the flat, apologising to Jackie and Mickey as he brushed past them.

*

The UNIT jeeps weren't as shiny or high tech as the Torchwood ones Mickey had followed. But on the plus side they didn't have what looked like most of Blackpool's Christmas decorations hanging in their windows, this meant that you could get in and out of them without wearing a pair of dark glasses and affecting a welsh accent. 

Mickey slid into the back seat next to Jackie. "Where are we going?" she asked. 

"UNIT HQ, ma'am," said Benton. 

"Oh, you can call me Jackie," Jackie said with a girlish giggle. Mickey rolled his eyes and began reconsidering his dark glasses and fake welsh accent plan.

"Where's UNIT HQ when it's at home?" Mickey asked, feeling that they were drifting away from the original question.

"Our London HQ is near Tower Bridge, but..." Benton trailed off awkwardly. 

"But..?" Mickey prompted.

"They opened up a Space Burger next door."

"Yeah, I can see how that would be a problem for you."

"It's more embarrassing than problematic," Benton said. "So we're taking you to one of our HQ's in Surrey."

Mickey briefly wondered what sort of secret alien fighting organisation had more than one HQ in Surrey. "Aliens invade Surrey a lot then, do they?"

"You'd be surprised," said Benton. Mickey believed that he would and settled down for the long drive out of London. 

Rose had told Mickey many horror stories about her mum's flirting and Mickey had always laughed along and assumed she was over-reacting, but as Jackie adjusted her cleavage in the hope of attracting Benton's attention in the rear view mirror Mickey thought he'd better do something to distract her. After all, the poor bloke was trying to drive.

"How'd you get involved in the secret alien fighting business then, Sergeant?" 

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Mickey's girlfriend had been pinched by a time travelling madman and he'd spent the last few days as part of an alcohol based resistance against the evil forces of the Burger King aliens. He thought people had pretty much lost the right to tell him what he would or would not believe.

Jackie voiced Mickey's thought for him. "If we could handle the fact that aliens were feeding minced up green octopus to most of London then I think we can handle your army stories."

"I was frozen in time."

"Say again?" said Mickey, who had underestimated just how open his mind was. 

"I worked for UNIT back in the seventies, back when it was called the United Nations intelligence taskforce. We were infiltrated by aliens, I was captured and frozen. There was even an evil doppelganger of me. Well, I say evil, he was a used car salesman. That was how they finally worked out he was an impostor."

"Why," asked Mickey, "was he a really bad used car salesman?"

"No, he was a really good salesman. I'd be terrible, I'm too honest."

"Ooh, I like an honest man," said Jackie and Mickey cringed. 

"Torchwood managed to unfreeze me last year. They offered me a job, but it was all a bit too..."

"Flash?" Mickey suggested. 

"Hi-tech," said Benton. "The last thing I remembered it was nineteen seventy three, even mobile phones were beyond me."

"I can't use predictive text," said Jackie sympathetically. It was true, she couldn't. Mickey had received some seriously garbled text messages from her before he'd shown her how to turn the predictive text off.

"I found out that UNIT was still around, it had changed a lot since my day, but they can always find a job for a good sergeant and here I am."

"So, like, you went to sleep in nineteen seventy three and woke up in two thousand and six." It made a certain amount of sense to Mickey - no one who wasn't from the seventies would deliberately have those sideburns. 

"I suppose you could say I'm something of a time traveller," said Benton with a smile that Mickey could see reflected in the mirror. 

"Oh, good," said Jackie slouching back in her seat. "Another time traveller, that's just what we need." Sergeant Benton had just lost his shine for her

They'd long since left the worst of the traffic and were driving along empty country roads through fields, fields, and yes, more fields. Mickey had never been a great fan of the countryside, it smelled funny and you could never find a pub with a telly to watch the match. 

"We're nearly there," said Benton.

"Where's there?" Jackie asked. 

Benton didn't have to answer because just then the small convoy of UNIT jeeps swung off the main road and proceeded up the driveway of the sort of posh stately home that practically had the word aristocracy stamped on it. Jeeps were parked outside and UNIT soldiers in their black and red uniforms were everywhere.

Mickey admired his surroundings and said, "I knew I should have joined the army." 

"It used to be a country house hotel, until UNIT took it over. It's where we're keeping all the civilians who have put themselves in danger by investigating these aliens."

"Does this happen a lot then?" Mickey asked. "Do you get a lot of... freelancers?"

"Oh, not in the old days, back then alien invasions were more subtle. Not now, now it's all shop window dummies and spaceships crashing into Big Ben. You can hardly expect people not to notice."

Benton pulled the jeep to a halt and stepped out, Mickey and Jackie followed. The gravel crunched under Mickey's trainers. "The Brigadier will want to talk to you soon," Benton said. "I'll have someone escort you to where you can wait. Private Jenkins!"

"Yes, Sergeant?" the painfully young looking soldier from the flat trotted obediently over. 

"Take Mr Smith and Mrs Tyler to the conference room and go through the usual civilian procedure with them." 

Once Benton had gone, barking orders at a group of soldiers loitering by some jeeps, Jackie asked Jenkins, "What's the usual civilian procedure?"

"You have to watch the video." 

Jackie and Mickey were led through corridors bustling with soldiers to a conference room where it turned out that there actually was a video to watch. It was called So Now You Know About Aliens. 

*

While Jackie and Mickey were watching the introduction to aliens video, two hundred and fifty years in the future and slightly to the south of Surrey Rose Tyler was shopping. She was examining a mobile phone half the size of her pinkie finger. 

"Excellent choice," said the salesman popping up behind her. Rose couldn't help but flinch. Travelling with the Doctor meant that you developed a negative association with people popping up behind you, they were usually about to kidnap you. "My apologies, I didn't mean to alarm you."

"You didn't alarm me," Rose lied. Another lesson of travelling with the Doctor: never let anyone see that you were scared of them, even if they were only a mobile phone salesman. 

"Anyway, that's an excellent choice of phone. Full universal roaming, it gets a signal even in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Not that you'd have any reason to be inside the atmosphere of Jupiter..." the salesman laughed at what he obviously thought was a very funny joke. 

Rose gave a weak little laugh, because it wasn't like the Doctor had gotten them lost on the way to take her mobile phone shopping and only the protective shielding on the TARDIS had saved them both from suffocating in the atmosphere of Jupiter.

The salesman started telling her about the prices of various phone contracts. Rose tuned him out, the Doctor had given her his credit card which as far as she could tell had unlimited credit. He'd once left her alone for two days on the fashionable shopping world of Alpha Centauri VII and Rose had made it her mission to try and empty his account with no luck. 

Of course when the Doctor had returned he had been less than impressed with some of her purchases, but, as Rose had pointed out, they never knew when they might end up needing their own personal asteroid.

"So what do you say?" the salesman asked hopefully.

"Oh, I'll take it." Rose wasn't really bothered by any of the technical details, but she was feeling a little lost without a phone. She hadn't spoken to her mum in nearly a week. It wasn't as though she really thought anything could have happened to Jackie or Mickey, nothing interesting ever happened in twenty first century London. But she rather thought that Jackie might be starting to worry, so she should probably call home. 

Rose was queuing waiting to pay when the phone was snatched from her hand. "Where'd you get this?" the Doctor asked, "the antiques department?"

"Where did you get off to?"

"Supermarket. We're nearly out of teabags on the TARDIS."

"Can't have that," said Rose, who'd been there the last time they'd ran out of teabags. Keeping the Doctor in tea was now up there with running for her life as one of her top priorities in life. "Anyway, what's wrong with this phone?"

"It's too big," the Doctor said dismissively. 

"It's the smallest mobile I've ever seen."

"Yeah, but your era always was a bit backwards," said the Doctor, neatly sidestepping to avoid Rose's playful elbow to his ribs. "Hey, my friend doesn't want this one anymore. She's after one of those inner ear mobiles that have just come out."

"Are you sure you can afford that, sir?" asked the cashier with a smirk. 

"Rose?" the Doctor prompted. Rose dug his credit card out of her pocket and handed it to him before the Doctor handed it over with a grin.

Rose had never seen the Doctor's credit card declined, this was quite impressive seeing that the cardholder's name was given as only "the Doctor" and the name of the bank was the "Bank of Money."

Twenty minutes later the Doctor and Rose strolled out of Bad Wolf Electronics. Rose was carrying a bag containing what she thought must a microscopic mobile phone, because however much she took apart the packaging she never found the actual phone.

*

"Sorry," apologised Jenkins, turning the video off at the end. "But all civilians have to watch it, and UNIT never did have much need of a public relations budget."

"It wasn't that bad," said Jackie feeling bad for the poor boy. "Was it Mickey?"

"I liked the bit with the model aliens," Mickey said. "What were they made of, bubble wrap?"

"Yes, Sergeant Benton likes them. He says he remembers when aliens actually looked like that."

"All that time on ice must have gone to his head," Mickey joked.

There was a knock at the door and Sergeant Benton walked in. "The Brigadier would like a word with our guests, Private." Jenkins nodded and stood to attention.

Benton was followed into the conference room by a black woman wearing what Jackie now easily recognised as the UNIT uniform, the only difference was that hers was shinier, that must mean she was in charge. Jackie had been involved with a sailor when Rose had been younger and all she'd learned about Navy ranks was that the more sparkly the uniform the more senior the person wearing it. 

"I'm Brigadier Winifred Bambera," both Jackie and Mickey opened their mouths to introduce themselves but the Brigadier waved them into silence. "Congratulations on realising that aliens are real, this makes you more intelligent than ninety five percent of the British population. However making yourselves known to the aliens was exceedingly unwise. You will be kept here at UNIT headquarters until the danger has passed."

"Hang on!" shouted Jackie. "You can't just keep us here against our will." 

"I'm sorry, did Sergeant Benton fail to explain the concept of protective custody to you."

Jackie glared at Benton, he avoided making eye contact with her by standing to the most attention it was possible to stand to. 

"Yeah," said Mickey. "But you still haven't told us what we're being protected from. Cause we went and spoke to one of the aliens and he didn't seem that threatened by us. He barely seemed to notice us."

"Things have moved on," Bambera answered reluctantly.

"How?" demanded Jackie. "Look, you said yourself that we're not idiots."

"What I actually said was that you were more intelligent than most British people, the two are not the same."

"If we're in danger you should tell us what from. I don't know about any of you but if I'm about to be killed I damn well want to know why."

Bambera looked at Jackie with an expression of vague horror. She was a high ranking military officer, she met very few people who dared to give her orders. However Jackie Tyler was the mother of an occasionally stroppy nineteen year old, and was absolutely convinced of her right to give orders to anyone. It was no competition.

"Sergeant Benton will explain the situation to you, I have work to do." Benton gave a salute as Bambera left the room, mostly succeeding in not looking too amused. Jenkins was younger and less experienced and was openly staring at Jackie as though she'd just successfully proved there was no God.

Benton joined them sitting at the table. "What do you want to know?"

"What the hell's all this about?" said Jackie, this was no time for detailed questions.

"What she means," interrupted Mickey, "is that the last time we looked all the Space Burgers were being shut down for having the alien equivalent of cockroaches and this whole thing was nearly over. So how come everybody here's acting like they're characters in Apocalypse Now?"

"I love that movie," chirped in Jenkins. 

"It's about money," said Benton. "In the nineteen eighties the government allowed several alien corporations to use the UK as a tax haven."

"Let me get this straight," said Mickey, "we're like some big intergalactic Swiss bank?"

"Depressing, isn't it?" said Jenkins.

"Our new Prime Minister is not too keen on this policy," continued Benton. Another reason to quite like Harriet Jones, decided Jackie. 

"The fact that she had a bad reaction to one of those burgers helped make up her mind," added Jenkins.

"Anyway, the aliens lost quite a bit of money and they seem to think that destroying the government will reverse this policy."

"Or at least make them feel better."

"So the fast food aliens really are trying to overthrow the British government?"

Both Benton and Jenkins nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, we know."

*

"Mickey, is that short for Michael?" Jenkins asked.

"Yeah," Mickey confirmed. The UNIT soldiers would really have preferred it if Mickey and Jackie would stay put in the conference room. But after establishing that they couldn't get reception on the TV in there they both decided that they'd much rather have the run of the place.

They both had to have security checks run to make sure that they'd never attempted to overthrow the government or take over the world by hypnosis.

Jackie's check printed out first, Jenkins glanced over it until he reached the criminal convictions part. "Drunk and disorderly, really?"

"Just because you're not old enough to drink," Jackie retorted. It was true, UNIT uniform or not, Jenkins looked like he was barely out of short trousers.

"Another count of drunk and disorderly?"

"It was more the singing than the drunkenness the police objected to, I think."

"That's true," said Mickey helpfully. "She couldn't carry a tune in a bucket."

Jenkins continued casting an eye over Jackie's misspent youth. "Lewd behaviour?"

"That was more Pete's fault that mine."

"And drunk and disorderly again. Well, as long as we keep you away from the hotel bar I don't see anything that would stop you getting a security pass, I'll print you one out."

Next Mickey's security check printed out. Knowing that his past was less unsavoury than Jackie's he waited cheerfully. Jenkins took one look at the printout and all colour drained from his face. 

"Don't move." Jenkins barked orders for two soldiers two come in and guard them while he hurried from the room.

"Anything you want to get off your chest, Mickey?"

"Not that I know of," said Mickey casually, because he wasn't worried. He was just in an isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere with a load of armed soldiers who'd clearly just discovered something they didn't like about him. Nope, not worried at all.

*

Mickey squirmed in his chair. He was being stared down by Brigadier Bambera, it was actually kind of scary. She was scrutinising his security report.

"Mickey Smith?"

"Yes."

"You were a murder suspect for a year?"

"Yes," Mickey squirmed some more. "Sort of."

"Sort of?"

"I didn't kill her. You can tell on account of how she isn't actually dead."

"And only last month you hijacked a military asset and used it blow up number ten Downing Street?"

Ah, what with all the excitement Mickey had forgotten about that. He could try to explain to Bambera that the only reason he'd done that was that a mad alien with a little blue box had told him to, but what were the chances that she'd believe him? 

"No, sorry, that must have been some other Mickey Smith."

*

It wasn't that Jackie was eves-dropping, it was just that she happened to be standing outside the Brigadier's office with her ear pressed to the door. And anyway if Mickey was going to be put up against a wall and shot for being a traitor she thought she deserved some warning, it would be terribly upsetting for her. 

"Listening at doors, I thought that was meant to be my job."

Jackie turned, trying to think of a valid reason for her not eves-dropping and found herself face to face with Sarah Jane Smith. "Oh, it's you."

"Yes, hello. I see they got you out of London."

"Oh, yes. Kidnapped at gunpoint, I was."

"Really?" asked Sarah, "That doesn't sound like UNIT." 

"Well, it was a very polite kidnapping."

The soldier who was escorting Sarah Jane cleared his throat. Sarah rolled her eyes. "I've been working with UNIT for thirty years and yet they insist on running a security check on me every single time. Try to stay out of trouble."

"Believe me," said Jackie, "I'm really, really trying." Sarah was escorted away and Jackie was just about to turn her attention back to the door when the office door was opened and Mickey was escorted out. He was smiling, so that probably meant he wasn't about to be executed for treason. Still, it was probably best to check. 

"Are you going to be put up against a wall and shot?"

"Not unless they're going to do it as a surprise."

*

Later, once they'd established that no one was going to be shot as a traitor, Jackie and Mickey sought out lunch.

The canteen was still decked out like a posh hotel restaurant, the trouble was that when UNIT had taken over they'd sent all the staff packing. So Jackie and Mickey were eating army food, which really could make a person long for an octopus burger.

"I heard Benton talking earlier," said Mickey around a mouthful of what could charitably be called lunch. "He said the aliens attacked in London, he reckoned they were trying to kill the Prime Minister."

"What the hell have we got ourselves involved with here?" Jackie said with sigh.

Mickey looked around at the UNIT personnel who were making valiant attempts to enjoy their lunch. "There's the best part of an army here, we'll be perfectly safe."

And that, of course, was the moment when an almighty explosion rocked the building. Soldiers ran out of the room, looking purposeful and shouting. Jackie yelped and made an effort to hide under the table, Mickey stood up so quickly that he tipped what was left of his lunch onto his lap. 

Everyone else looked as though they knew exactly where they were meant to be. "Where do we go?" Jackie asked clutching at Mickey's arm.

"Er, we could always go hide in a cupboard?"

*

The cupboard contained all the UNIT letter-headed stationery, the emergency red berets, a broken coffee machine, several defunct (or mistakenly labelled as such) alien blasters, and Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith. 

"Do you think this is a bit pathetic?" Jackie wondered. 

"Why's it pathetic?" Mickey asked, listening to the bangs, thuds, whizzing bullets and alien blasters making alien blaster type noises coming from outside. 

"We're hiding in a cupboard while people are fighting aliens right outside." 

"We're not hiding, we're just..."

"Hiding in a cupboard?"

"Hiding in a cupboard, yeah."

*

The chaos from outside died down until there was silence. "Should we go outside and have a look?" Jackie asked.

"I suppose we can't spend the rest of our lives in this cupboard," said Mickey, even though he could see the attraction of living in here. 

"I can't hear anything?"

"Maybe UNIT won?"

"What if the aliens won?"

"What if they're all dead?"

"Oh, that's a lovely thought. Thank you very much."

"We're not going to find anything out standing here in the dark."

"Right, let's open the door. On the count of three."

"One, two, three..."

"Which one of us was meant to turn the handle?"

"Oh, for the love of..." Mickey opened the door and clutching hands with Jackie he stepped out into the corridor. 

He was aware of a dull pain thudding across the back of his head. He heard Jackie calling out as he slumped to the ground, then everything went black. 

*

Jackie had decided that her being taken prisoner by mad aliens was all the Doctor's fault. She didn't know exactly how, but she was convinced that it was his fault. 

And Mickey being coshed on the head, somehow that was the Doctor's fault too. 

Bloody Mickey, fat lot of good he turned out to be, Jackie thought, trying not worry about him. Jackie had no idea what had happened to him, one minute she and Mickey had been at UNIT HQ, next thing she knew Mickey was gone and she was being frogmarched down an unrecognised grey corridor by two of the ever smiling aliens, they were still wearing their fast food uniforms. That was aliens for you, Jackie thought. 

"Oh, my God!" Jackie exclaimed as she was marched past a window, out of which she could see the Earth, as in the whole planet. Which had to mean she was in space. Jackie Tyler in space! Just wait until she told Rose. 

"Oi! Hang on!" the aliens insistently marched Jackie past the window, paying no attention to her desire to play tourist. Jackie was hurled sideways into a small room. She nearly collided with Sarah Jane Smith and the door hissed shut behind her.

"What the bloody hell is going on here?" Jackie demanded.

"Well, it's just a guess but I'd say that we've been taken prisoner by the aliens for some probably nefarious purpose."

Jackie turned and banged her fists on the door, demanding to be let out.

"That won't work," Sarah said. "I've already tried."

"You're very calm about this."

"Oh," Sarah muttered dismissively, "this happens to me a lot."

"Great." Jackie rolled her eyes. "I'm with a professional hostage, who doesn't know why we're here or how to get the door open."

"Oh," said Sarah with a smirk. "I never said I couldn't open the door."

*

Mickey had this to say about being whacked over the back of the head: it was still less traumatic than being swallowed by a wheelie bin. 

"What happened?" he groaned. 

"The Sergeant was wondering when you were going to come round." Mickey's vision was filled with the grinning face of Private Jenkins.

"What happened to Jackie?"

"Ah, I'll just go and get the Sergeant."

"Where's Jackie?" Mickey asked again when Benton arrived.

"We believe Mrs Tyler was one of the prisoners taken by the aliens."

Oh, God. Mickey struggled to sit up. He'd let Jackie get kidnapped by aliens. Rose was going to go mental. Jackie was going to kill him.

"Hang on, though," said Mickey. "Why would aliens kidnap Jackie?" It was a good question, were the aliens masochists?

"They attacked every UNIT base in the country simultaneously. We believe they were looking for the prime minister after failing to capture her in London."

"And they took Jackie instead?" Someone had mistaken Jackie Tyler for the prime minister? This could only happen to a man with a concussion. 

"They took a number of people," Benton explained. "We don't think they're very good at telling one human from another."

"Course they're not," said Jenkins. "I mean look at their disguise: smiling fast food staff."

*

Rose had found a bikini in the TARDIS. She would have asked the Doctor what he was doing with a skimpy red bikini on board his ship, but she honestly wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer. He was an alien, God knows what he got up to when she was asleep. 

Anyway, she'd found this bikini and a pair of oversized eighties sunglasses and was reclining on a sun lounger, on what the Doctor assured her was the only island on this entirely oceanic planet. A hundred yards out into the water the TARDIS bobbed up and down. Another fine example of the Doctor's driving.

Rose looked over at him, his sole concession to the heat had been to remove his boots and don a pair of sunglasses. So he was lying in his trousers, jumper and bulky leather coat. He was fiddling with the sonic screwdriver and something else that Rose couldn't quite make out. 

"What are you doing?" Rose asked. 

The sonic screwdriver gave a brief buzz and the Doctor turned to her looking pleased, he held his hand out. Rose could just about make a tiny metallic chip nestled there. "What's that?"

"New mobile for you," the Doctor said. 

"And how am I supposed to use it?"

"You just drop it right into your ear like — hang on, come here."

"Careful!"

"It's like the aural equivalent of putting in a contact lens, you've just got to--"

"Ow!"

"Stay still!" 

"Stop poking me!"

"Ah ha! That's it in."

Rose sat back and shook her head. "So how do I dial with this thing?"

"Now that's really clever, you apes are going to come up with some good stuff in the twenty third century. You just think about the person you want to call and it dials them."

"So if I think about my mum her phone will ring?" Rose was impressed, and at the same time horrified at that prospect.

"Oh," said the Doctor, always a sign of good things to come.

"What do you mean 'Oh?'"

"I didn't exactly remember to program Jackie's number into that thing."

"And exactly whose numbers did you remember to put into it?"

"The number for the TARDIS phone is in there."

Rose looked into the distance where the TARDIS was bobbing further away into the ocean. Thank God it could float, really.

"Maybe if I phone the TARDIS it'll float back over here?" Rose suggested.

"Nah, that's what this is for." The Doctor stood up and, like a magician producing a really long handkerchief from his sleeve, he produced a length of rope ending in a noose from his coat. Rose had long since given up being surprised at the things he kept in there. 

"You're going to lasso the TARDIS? From here?"

"Oh, yes!" The Doctor planted his bare feet firmly in the sand, wiggled his hips and began swinging the lasso. 

Rose pushed her sunglasses up her nose and made herself comfortable, at least if she was going to be spending the foreseeable future trapped on this island the Doctor was going to provide some entertainment. 

*

"No," said Benton, trying his hardest to stride purposefully away from Mickey.

"Why not?" asked Mickey, trailing after him. 

"The Brigadier won't like it."

"So don't tell her."

"You're a civilian, you could get hurt."

"So could Jackie, you've got to let me come."

Benton gave him a sympathetic look. "You're really worried about her, aren't you?"

"Yeah," said Mickey. "Plus, if you lot go and rescue her and I stay here looking like an idiot she'll never let me live it down."

"You'll do exactly what I tell you and if there's any fighting you'll stay well back."

"I'd do that even if you didn't ask me to. So I can come on the rescue mission?"

"You've come this far I don't see why you shouldn't see it out."

"Result!" Mickey stopped and let Benton walk ahead. He pulled his mobile from his pocket, it was worth a try.

*

Jackie was watching Sarah attempt to pick the lock. The woman seemed to carry most of a safe-breaking kit around with her, and Jackie almost certainly did not want to know why. Her mobile gave a little bleep, surprised she pulled it out of her pocket. Surely there couldn't be a signal in orbit? That one time she'd gone to visit Mo in the Lake District she couldn't get a signal all weekend. But there were three bars of signal and a picture of a little envelope on the screen. The text was from Mickey. 

WE'RE COMING TO RESCUE YOU. 

Well colour Jackie not remotely reassured. "UNIT are apparently coming to rescue us."

"That's good," said Sarah, who was engrossed in her lock-picking. 

"Yeah," agreed Jackie. "Being rescued by soldiers who wear bright red hats that do nothing but show the other guys where to aim makes me feel much better."

Sarah's lock-picking paid off and their cell door hissed open. Sarah peered carefully up and down the corridor before stepping outside, with her head bent over her phone Jackie followed. 

*

Mickey was admiring himself in the mirror, he'd been given some UNIT fatigues to wear. They'd refused to give him one of the red hats though, which was a shame, he liked those hats. He heard the customary beep of his mobile receiving a text. He bent to retrieve it from the pocket of his discarded jeans and opened the message. 

DO U EVEN KNOW WHERE WE ARE???

Jackie had a point, Mickey ducked out of the room and almost bumped into Private Jenkins. "Sorry, mate, but do we actually know where Jackie and the others are?"

"Of course we do. We picked the space ship up on radar ages ago. They're setting up the passenger space shuttles in the grounds now." 

Mickey looked out the window, earlier he'd noticed two huge shapes covered in tarpaulin on the grass, now the tarp had been pulled back. 

"We're going into space in those things?" Mickey asked, aghast. 

"Yeah," said Jenkins, oblivious to Mickey's horror. "They were talking about using the new teleport system, but that's just a prototype and I can't say I'm wild about having every atom in my body scrambled." 

"No," Mickey agreed that didn't sound like fun, but neither did flying to space in what looked like a giant lawnmowers. 

"Anyway, we'll be ready to leave in fifteen minutes."

"Uh huh." 

Jenkins strolled away while Mickey typed something furiously into his phone. 

*

THEY'RE MAKING ME GO INTO SPACE IN SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE A WASHING MACHINE WITH WINGS. 

Jackie read the text from Mickey and turned her attention back to Sarah Jane. "What are you doing?"

"These are the transmat controls--"

"The what?"

"It's a teleport. If I can work out the controls, I can get us back to Earth."

Sarah Jane was starting to remind Jackie a little bit of the Doctor, it was really starting to make her dislike the woman.

*

Mickey had never gotten travel sick in his life but it turned out that being in a homemade space shuttle heading for orbit was a bit different from getting carsick. He clutched his stomach and put his head between his knees. Sergeant Benton, who'd obviously done this more than once, casually handed him a sick bag. He held it to his face and wondered if Jackie really needed rescuing? 

And adding insult to injury he got a text from Jackie that simply read: SCAREDY CAT. 

*

Secretly Jackie was quite glad that Sarah couldn't work the transmat, they'd probably have ended up turning themselves inside out. 

"I'm quite glad you can't work that thing," she said.

Sarah looked as though she was about to say something in response when they heard the hiss of the door to the room starting to open. Sarah touched Jackie's arm in what was obviously meant to be some kind of comforting gesture. "Don't do anything threatening," she instructed. "They'll probably just throw us back in our cell."

The door opened fully and revealed Sergeant Benton and some other UNIT soldiers. "Why am I not surprised to find you here, Miss Smith?"

"Sergeant Benton, you haven't aged a day."

"Thirty years on ice will do that for a man."

Jackie cleared her throat. "As much as I hate to interrupt this little reunion..."

"Mrs Tyler, Private Jenkins will take you back to the shuttle. Mr Smith is waiting there. Miss Smith, would you like to come with us to see the people formerly in charge of this ship. 

Jenkins escorted Jackie to one of the shuttles where she found Mickey sweating and being sick in a paper bag. "You call this a rescue?"

"It's the thought that counts."

*

The Doctor lounged against the outside of the TARDIS, waiting for Rose to get back from her mothers flat. Rose had insisted they come back to the Powell Estate, she said she had a bad feeling that something was going on. He'd scoffed at her. But now that they were here, there was something in the air. It was strange because he'd double checked the date before they'd left the TARDIS and this was meant to be a quiet month, no invasions worth speaking of. A chance for him to take Rose to some of his other favourite haunts without worrying that the earth was being devoured by a giant space dwelling lizard or anything. 

"Doctor," Rose called out, jogging over to the TARDIS. 

"Hello, find your mother?" the Doctor was actually surprised Jackie hadn't followed Rose down to tell him off about something.

"No, she wasn't at home," Rose frowned. "I went to Mickey's too, and I couldn't find him either."

"Not being able to find Mickey the idiot, now there's a tragedy."

Rose elbowed him in the ribs. "I'm serious. I haven't spoken to either of them since I lost my phone, what if something's happened?"

"Rose, it's your mother and Rickey, how much trouble could they have possibly gotten into?" The Doctor heard what he'd just said and realising the horrible possibilities he said, "You know what, I'm sure I've got some things in the lab that I could use to knock up a Jackie Tyler detector."

*

Mickey's humiliation about getting sick on the way up was lessened slightly when Jackie started to look slightly queasy on the way back down. 

"So the aliens just left when you asked them to?" Mickey asked Jenkins, "That seems a bit easy."

"We were pointing guns at them."

"I can see how that'd help."

"God, I feel awful." Jackie complained. "I wish I'd got myself turned inside out by that teleport when I had the chance."

Mickey patted her on the shoulder and passed over a sick bag. "So that's it, nothing else happens?" he asked the soldiers.

"There's paperwork, if that's what you mean?" said Jenkins. "You can fill in my reports for me."

"I meant more like a party. I mean, we just saved the world from an alien fast food company. We've got to have some sort of celebration. What do you say, Jackie, feel like a drink?"

"Oh, God..." moaned Jackie, diving for the sick bag.

*

The landlord of the pub on the Powell estate was somewhat surprised by the arrival of several dozen men wearing red berets, not least because this wasn't that kind of pub. But they were all drinking heavily so who cared. 

"Friends of yours?" he asked Mickey Smith, who'd just ordered twelve pints of lager and a vodka and tonic. 

"We're celebrating."

"What's the good cause?"

"We've just saved the world from cheeseburgers."

The landlord considered cutting Mickey off but a quick glance at his over flowing till changed his mind. He could see about getting the poor lad sectioned under the mental health act tomorrow. 

"Is one of these mine?" Jenkins asked. Mickey handed him a pint, he wasn't entirely sure Jenkins was old enough to drink but the world was safe so what the hell.

"Hey, I got you a present," Jenkins produced one of the red UNIT berets and popped it on Mickey's head. 

Mickey adjusted it to what he thought was a jaunty angle. "How does it look?"

"You look gay," said Jenkins, picking up his pint and wandering away. Mickey looked around for Jackie. She was sitting on Benton's lap and drinking directly out of a bottle of champagne. 

Pleased that she was getting into the spirit of the occasion Mickey picked up his pint and started drinking.

*

The Doctor strode along the street staring keenly at the miniature screen on the homemade contraption he was holding. Rose had to hurry to keep up. 

"So, that thing can track down my mum?"

"Yup, the Jackie Tyler tracking device version 1.2, modified from the Rose Tyler tracking device version 1.1." 

"Hang on, you've got one of those things that'll let you find me wherever I go?" 

"Yeah, got to have one. You humans, always wandering off no matter how many times I tell you not to."

Rose was working up a good head of steam to tell the Doctor that he couldn't go around designing little gadgets to keep track of her when he stopped so suddenly that she walked into his back. 

He thumped his little machine, declared, "Down here!" and started running. Rose had barely run two steps when the Doctor stopped again, cocked his head to the side and said, "Can you here that?" 

Rose strained her ears but could hear nothing, she was about to tell the Doctor as much when she did hear something. A noise that could charitably be compared to cats mating, and could even more charitably be compared to singing. It sounded almost like... and then it struck Rose exactly what it sounded like, it sounded exactly like Mickey coming home at four in the morning after the FA cup final. 

"WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS MY FRIEND."

Rose and the Doctor looked on in fascination and horror as Jackie and Mickey lurched around the corner. 

"AND WE'LL KEEP ON FIGHTING TILL THE END."

Jackie was using a half empty bottle of champagne to conduct them and Mickey was wearing a red beret at when might have been a jaunty angle had he been sober. 

"WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS. WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS. NO TIME FOR--"

"Mum!" Rose managed to imbue her tone with the horror that only a nineteen year old seeing her mother drunkenly singing Queen songs while hanging all over her sort of boyfriend could manage. 

"Rose!" Jackie exclaimed running forward, dragging Mickey with her because she needed to lean on him in order to not fall down. 

"Ew, mum, you reek of booze. What's been going on?"

"There were these evil hamburgers, and Mickey saved me, sort of." Mickey swayed and looked drunkenly proud of himself. Jackie let go of Rose and rounded on the Doctor. 

"And where the bloody hell have you been?" She tried to shove him in the chest but forgot she was still holding the bottle and succeeded only in sloshing champagne over him and falling into his arms. 

The Doctor pulled her upright and glared at Rose who was pulling a giggling Mickey's arm round her shoulder. "Let's get you to bed," she was saying to him. 

Mickey whooped in delight and Jackie reeled away from the Doctor. "Hey, I'm not letting him put me to bed, as if I haven't had enough aliens over the last couple of days." 

The Doctor gave a put upon sigh and passed Jackie over to Rose, taking the brunt of Mickey's weight instead. Mickey stopped his rendition of the Queen back catalogue long enough to look up at the Doctor and say, "I'm not going to bed with you either."

The Doctor glared over at Rose. 

"I'm glad we left the tropical oceanic paradise of Avendis III in order to save these two from a couple of nasty hangovers."