Dodo rang her up, the Friday after Ben shipped out again. Polly had spent the last three days enduring commiserating phone calls from her girlfriends, but she was prepared—happy, even—to withstand another, if it meant that Dodo was having a good enough week to remember dates.
"Polly, did you see? In the evening papers today—well, the Standard at least; I haven't checked all the others—"
Polly's heart sank. A bad week, then, and a very bad day, if Dodo had made it through the morning papers and started on the evening ones. She set the receiver down, fetched the rolled-up paper from her coat pocket and shook it out. It hadn't been rained on too much. "I'm sorry, love, what page did you say?"
It was all the way in back—no, not a good week at all—just a single paragraph, the sort of thing they stuck in to make the columns come out even: VANISHING POLICE BOX BAFFLES NEIGHBOURS.
Dodo was ready when Polly pulled up outside her flat the next morning, and came running out before Polly could even get out of the car; and that was either a good sign, or an indication that she hadn't been to bed yet. She shut the passenger door behind her, and then looked up in surprise. "Isn't Ben coming with us?" She peered over her shoulder, as though there were room to hide a man in Polly's Mini.
Polly twisted her ring on her finger, and then caught herself and shook her hands out irritably. "No, he shipped out for Greenland on Tuesday, remember?"
Dodo looked down at the much-creased newspaper in her hands. "Oh. That's right." She smoothed out the corner with the date and stared at it. Mortified, as much as anything. And that was the worst of it—that the one thing Dodo never forgot was that she hadn't always been like this.
"It's all right. Listen, maybe we'll find the Doctor at—what was the address?—and he'll know how to fix your memory." If he didn't, he would find a way, he had to. He had caused it. Even the thought felt slanderous, but—well. She'd been through everything Dodo had, with one exception. One couldn't help drawing conclusions.Dodo read off the address, somewhere up in Chiswick, but she was no help in reading the signs or the A-Z, and after they passed the same school three times, Polly left the car idling and ducked into a newsagent's for directions.
The shopkeeper was quite pleasant, until she recited the address, but then his frank blue eyes narrowed. "Here, you're the second person come looking for the Chestertons. Ever since that article in the paper last night."
The name rang a faint bell, but Polly couldn't place it. "Oh. Do you know them?"
"Oh, yes. Nice couple. They teach at my daughter's school—that's Sylvia; she's fifteen." He glanced at a photograph propped above the till, a frowning girl in an ugly uniform. "Mrs. Chesterton, that's her history teacher, she told Sylvia she ought to think about doing it at A-level--"
"And who did you say was looking for them?" He hadn't said, but at least his answer spared Polly any more details of Sylvia's school career. A man with dark hair, the newsagent said. Face like a film star, which ruled out either of Polly's Doctors; and American, which ruled out Jamie as well.
"No one I know, then," sighed Polly. "Please, can you tell me how to get there? Oh—and the Times." Either the sigh or the purchase did the job; the man's directions, however grudgingly given, brought them swiftly to the address, a well-kept little house with boxes of geraniums in the windows, and a surprisingly rugged jeep parked in the street outside.
Polly wedged the Mini in behind it. "Should we just go up and knock? It's still awfully early, for a Saturday."
"They've brought the milk in," Dodo observed.
And that was the old Dodo back, the bright and cheerful girl Polly had known for just a few days, three years ago. Every now and then the fog over her mind would clear, and leave Polly wondering again just how much damage WOTAN had done to Dodo—or to her. She suppressed a shiver. "Well, then."
The bell sounded, tinny and muffled, and Polly swore she heard a laugh, or a whoop; but then there was silence for long enough that she was debating whether to ring again, or turn and go away. But then a woman opened the door—dark, more handsome than pretty, neatly dressed but with her hair still sleep-tousled, and curling damply around her face. "Yes?"
"Mrs. Chesterton?" Polly said, abruptly and deeply grateful to the chatty newsagent. "My name's Polly Wright, I—there was a news item about a police box…"
"Oh, lord," came a man's voice. "Another one?" Laughter followed—masculine still, but not, Polly thought, the same voice.
The woman smiled, and Polly changed her mind about how pretty she was. "I think you had better come in."
Mrs. Chesterton hovered in the front room, and then brought them straight back into the kitchen, where two men were drinking coffee. The one in his dressing gown poured two more cups and set them out. "Well, now. Which Doctor did you travel with?"
And just hearing it, like that, from a stranger, as calmly as if they were discussing a holiday in Ibiza— "Oh, you do know; you know him!" Polly clutched the back of a bentwood chair.
"Easy now." The other man, the one in shirtsleeves and braces, steadied her with a hand on her back. He pulled out a chair and helped her into it. "No, you're not alone; yes, we've all travelled in the TARDIS, in time and space. No, you're not crazy." This was the American, the one who'd asked directions the night before. And stayed, by all indications.
"I didn't know there were others," Dodo said calmly. She sat down beside her and spooned sugar into her coffee. "Not until Polly and Ben looked me up when they got back, and told me they'd watched him change."
And then it all came out, all their stories, overlapping and interrupting all morning long. The Chestertons—or rather Ian and Barbara, because one only ever used first names in the TARDIS—had travelled with Polly's first Doctor, the white-haired old man, and they'd even met Dodo's Steven, and were so pleased to learn that he'd been rescued and come along in the TARDIS. And then, not two months ago, they'd met a younger man, younger than Polly's other Doctor, who had knocked on their door with a girl called Martha, and stayed in their spare room while he tracked down his TARDIS and got it back. The neighbors had all seen it materialize, and watched the Doctor take off again.
"Just my luck," said Jack, who wasn't actually American, unless everyone was American in the future. "I've been waiting a hundred years come Wednesday to find a Doctor who doesn't cross my timeline, tracking the TARDIS all over Earth—well, mostly all over Britain. I just barely manage to avoid meeting the wrong one a dozen times over, and when one who's finally after my time shows up, he comes without the TARDIS." He tapped the face of a wrist-mounted sensor. "I picked up his departure, though. Missed him by hours."
He brooded over his empty cup. Barbara and Ian both drew breath to speak, simultaneously—they were very married—and then laughed at the jinx, Barbara looking down and Ian, unaccountably, blushing. Jack looked up and beamed. "And it turns out, you meet some lovely people that way." His glance lit on Polly's ring. "But you must know that. So. Tell me about this Ben of yours."
And this was the other side of meeting fellow travellers. Polly might have told a true stranger, some chance aquaintance on a train or in a nightclub, about how hard it had been, to go from a year living in each others' pockets, never quite daring to upset the balance with romance but always, constantly, there for each other, and come back to their separate lives on Earth, a few days together between months apart. And in between, no one else Polly could talk to about that year but a vague and half-mad girl who devoured newspapers to remind herself what day it was; and no one at all, for Ben. It was no wonder they couldn't keep their hands off each other, when they met. They were the only people in each other's lives who were truly real.
Once, Polly would have thought that romantic. Now, it made her almost glad when he went away, and she could notice her friends and her job and the whole rest of her life again.
But she couldn't say any of that in front of the Chestertons, so happily ensconced in their house and their lives. Though there was something, if not amiss, then unsettled between them—which was all the more reason for discretion. Polly smiled, and talked about Cybermen and Daleks and how brave Ben was.
By the time Jack got her aside, well into the afternoon, to talk to her alone, Polly thought she had an idea why Ian and Barbara were so odd about meeting his eyes. And each other's. She wished very strongly that Ben were there, and then felt rather ashamed that this was what it took to make her miss him properly.
But Jack wanted to talk about Dodo. "Something happened to her. When she travelled with the Doctor."
Polly shook her head. Across the room, Barbara and Dodo were looking at Barbara's art collection. The Chestertons hadn't brought any mementoes back from the TARDIS, any more than Polly and Ben had, but on her return Barbara had begun collecting pictures—historical drawings when she could afford them, or reproductions— of the places she'd visited: Paris and Peking, Rome and Jaffa and Teotihuacan. Dodo's attention was wandering again, and she kept glancing over at Polly, searching for something familiar to anchor her mind. "No. Here on Earth," she said. "Remember WOTAN?"
"The supercomputer? Voice Operated… Thinking… Apparatus?"
"Will Operating Thought ANalog," Polly corrected, automatically. "I was Professor Brett's secretary," she explained.
Jack looked more impressed at that than people usually were. "And Dodo was one of the ones possessed."
"I was, too, but I came out of it when WOTAN was destroyed. But Dodo was one of the first ones to be taken over. The Doctor did something to break the machine's control. I don't know what, or how. But Ben and I looked her up when we got back—it was only a couple of days after she'd left him—and, well. She wasn't right. She hasn't been, ever since." Across the room, Dodo's eyes darted from a woodcut of Paris to Barbara's face and back again, rapidly, knowing they went together and trying desperately to remember the connection.
"I've got something that might help her in Cardiff," said Jack. "We—the people I work for—have developed some memory drugs. And antidotes."
"Oh, do you think they could help her?"
"There's a chance."
Ian was suddenly at her shoulder; she hadn't even heard him come up. "Bring them along, then," he said, "next time."
If Polly hadn't been watching Jack's face, she would never have heard the pause before he answered. "Next time, huh?"
"Well. I think we should do this again." Ian's gaze was fixed on Barbara. "Don't you?" His shirt collar revealed a mark that the dressing gown had concealed.
"Absolutely." Jack beamed at the world, at Ian, and then at Polly, who didn't know whether to feel more awkward at being a third—fourth?—wheel, or at the notion that she might not have to be.
"Let me tell Dodo," she said, and fled. But she stopped in the kitchen door and smiled back. "And yes," she said. "I definitely think we should do this again."