On the Motorway
"Who are you?"
This was a question he received many, many times a day as he travelled from car to car on the Motorway. He had grown weary of answering it, so he quickly deflected the question.
"Never mind. Just passing through,"
It didn't take long to pull away the rug on the floor and open up the hatch leading to the roof of the next car. The passenger stared at him as he dropped down on to the roof with a thump, and quickly set to opening the hatch that would take him down into it.
This was a tiring life he led, but he continued on. Martha was here somewhere, he knew, and he wasn't going to leave her here on this never ending motorway. He had promised to take her home safely, after all.
Finally opening the hatch, he dropped inside, landing smoothly on his feet, then turned to examine the passengers. There were four of them there, he noted, three adults and a young child, perhaps five years old. All of them gaped at him, then one gasped out, "Doctor?"
The Doctor stared at her for a long moment. "Martha!" he barely recognized her. "You have no idea how long I've been looking for you!"
Martha gave him an odd look. "It's been six years, Doctor. Six years!" then her face softened. "You've been looking for me all this time?"
"Of course. I would never leave you behind. Didn't I promise to bring you back home safely?"
"A bit too late for that, isn't it?"
The Doctor paused. Yes, it had been six years since he had last seen Martha. She looked far different from how he remembered her. She had definitely aged, not to mention adapted to life on the Motorway. She also had a child clinging to her, watching the scene in silent curiosity.
He had forgotten, once again, that human lives were puny little things. Six years may mean almost nothing to him, being almost a thousand years old, but to a human it was a long time. Six years was a tenth of a life span to most humans.
Martha had just spent a tenth of her life living in a car on the Motorway, far away from home.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," the Doctor told her simply. What else was there to say?
"But you can return home now. I'll take you there now," the Doctor promised. It had been six long years since he had seen the TARDIS as well. His life hadn't been this boring since, well, never.
Martha paused for a long moment, her hand resting on the shoulder of the child at her side. She looked deeply conflicted.
"I have a life here, though. I can't just desert Milo, Cheen, and little Harper. Besides, my family back home would hardly recognize me. I'll have been missing for years, there. What will they think when I suddenly appear again?"
The Doctor was startled again. He hadn't thought of that.
"You want to stay?"
Martha glanced around the tiny living space she found herself in. "Well not here, necessarily. But I'd definitely want to stay with Milo and Cheen,"
"Can you take us up to the surface?" Cheen asked, sitting up straight abruptly.
"I could," the Doctor informed her, distractedly. He had never simply left his companion in a different world than their own. They had always returned home. But then, he couldn't recall ever staying somewhere for six years, either.
"We could make a new life in the upper city," Cheen started, excited. "Harper could actually go to school!"
"But how do we get out of here?" Milo asked. "All the exits are closed, sealed off. Once you're in the Motorway, you can't get out,"
The car fell silent.
"No, that's not right," the Doctor replied. "Passengers can get in and out, just not cars,"
"So what, you say we all just ditch the car and leave?" Martha asked.
"That will clog up an entire lane until someone figures out what is wrong and fixes it, though," Cheen pointed out.
"Won't make much different, will it?" the Doctor said.
Martha gave him another look. "You may have been here for six years, Doctor, but I'm positive you didn't live as a passenger for that time. We thrive on being able to move, even the few feet a day we are able. If a lane is clogged, possibly closed for several days, it will leave everyone in it in a depression,"
The Doctor stared at Martha for a long moment. "Then before we'll go, I'll just have to have a word with the people of the upper city about what they're doing to people down here. I have seen a lot of people, while searching for you, Martha, and I understand just how desperate they all are. People have been driving here for decades. It's time to set them free,"
Martha smiled at him. "Then let's do this," she turned to Milo. "Where's the next passenger exit?"
Milo turned to a screen. "Uh, about a month away,"
"Well that won't work," the Doctor commented. "Come along, we'll just have to do this my way."
"Your way?" Cheen replied hesitantly.
The Doctor grinned cheerfully at them. "Let's go car hopping!"
"Well that was an experience I'd rather not have again," Milo commented as they piled through the door from the Motorway out into the lower city. Harper was strapped to his back in a makeshift carrier, but the four adults had literally jumped from car to car until they made it to the platform.
"Oh, but it was fun!" the Doctor exclaimed happily.
"Where are we?" Martha asked.
They all paused and looked around. The place was void of life. Dirty buildings filled the area and trash was scattered around.
"Everyone must be on the Motorway," Cheen remarked.
"Where's the TARDIS?" Martha turned to the Doctor.
"But this is nowhere near there. It'll be at least three day's walk," Cheen exclaimed.
"Better than another year on the Motorway," the Doctor pointed out, then turned to the left and led the way.
"Uh, Doctor? Pharmacy Town is that way," Milo informed him, pointing in the opposite direction.
"I knew that," the Doctor promptly spun and led the way to the right. The others fell in behind him.
The three day walk was among the top ten oddest walks the Doctor had ever experienced for only one reason – they met not a single other person the entire trip.
"They must all be on the Motorway," Milo commented when the Doctor mentioned it.
The Doctor looked around at the deserted street lined with buildings that were falling apart from lack of use and age. "But that's not right. Surely some people would have resisted going on the Motorway. Perhaps they've found a way to the Upper City?"
Martha gazed upward. They sky was not visible, and the ceiling that she knew she would find up there was blocked out of view by fog. Even though the city was deserted of human life, the waste they had left behind, and still were with each passing day in the Motorway, was clearly affecting the atmosphere of the under city.
"Impossible, Doctor," Cheen said, holding Harper close in her arms. "The Upper City is sealed to those below. It has been that way for decades. Nobody remembers it ever being open, any more, though the rumours that it once was were abundant."
Instantly, the Doctor whipped out his Sonic Screwdriver and aimed it up toward the sky, pushing the button. It made its usual buzzing sound and the Doctor lowered it and examined it. "It's been sealed from above." he informed them.
"But why? Why would the Upper City completely block off the citizens down here? Why would they trap us all on the Motorway?" Martha asked.
The Doctor looked at her. "Why, indeed," he agreed, looking upward still.
They fell silent as a group and continued walking, little Harper making their pace slower than usual. He insisted on toddling along on his own feet, instead of being carried.
"TARDIS! Oh, I have missed you!" the Doctor exclaimed as he caught sight of the TARDIS, finally. Martha and the others watched with bemusement as he rushed up to the phone box and attempted to hug her, his arms pitifully short and unable to go even halfway around.
The TARDIS was in the same condition as Martha had last seen it, as if only five minutes had passed, not six years.
Within moments, the Doctor had unlocked the TARDIS doors and let himself in, not bothering with the others he had left outside. Martha was the first to move forward and let herself into the TARDIS. The inside was a little dusty, but looked in the same condition as they had left it. Indeed, as the Doctor warmed up the TARDIS, pulling her from a deep sleep, she started up with a humming that sounded like she had missed the Doctor just as much as he had missed her.
"So the TARDIS is okay?" Martha asked.
The Doctor turned around to face her and the others, as if just remembering they were there. "Yes, of course she is okay. She can handle a few years out of commission. She probably appreciated the rest, she is an old girl, after all," he patted the console fondly.
Cheen, Milo, and little Harper looked around in awe.
"Right, let's go to the surface," The Doctor said, looking all too excited to take a trip in the TARDIS again. He rushed around the console, flipping switches and turning knobs while the others looked on. Martha had long ago lost her enthusiasm for watching the Doctor work the TARDIS. Living for six years in a tiny box did that to you.
The trip was flawless and within moments the Doctor had parked the TARDIS and waved them toward the door. "Let's good have a talk with the Senate," he said excitedly and was the first out of the TARDIS doors.
Martha followed him, then Cheen, and Milo, carrying Harper. They all stopped in shock.
"I've never been here before, but I'm certain this is not how it's supposed to look," Martha commented.
"Where is everyone? It's as empty as below is," Milo asked.
The Doctor's brow was furled in bemusement.
"This is not right, not right at all," he murmured.
"We'll just have to release the people of the Motorway ourselves, then," Martha suggested, turning to the Doctor.
"Not possible. I'd have to override the system, which would take power, too much power. That kind of power is not available here. Besides, this isn't just deserted, this is a dead city. Look," he pointed toward the shadows. Martha, Cheen, and Milo looked closer, then Cheen gasped and jumped backwards.
"But those are bodies!"
"This city died out. Perhaps they sealed the lower city so someone would survive. By putting people in the Motorway, they ensured someone survived," the Doctor explained.
"So what can we do?" Martha asked, gazing around sadly at the city that could've been so beautiful.
"We can't do anything. The people are safest in the Motorway, as terrible as it may be," the Doctor said.
"We can't stay here alone, though," Milo protested. "What if whatever killed the people here comes after us?"
The Doctor studied them, then turned to Martha. "Will you go back, Martha? I know it's been six long years, but you do belong on Earth. You could take these three with you,"
Martha considered it for a long moment, still staring out at the city, then turned slowly to Cheen and Milo. "Yes. I'll go back,"
The Doctor nodded, then smiled, "Oh, but your family will be glad to see you!"
Martha gave a half smile. She dreaded going back to her family most of all. What would they think of her disappearance?
"Here we are. Home sweet Earth," the Doctor said, parking the TARDIS easily. Martha left the TARDIS first this time, pulling open the door and looking around. The place looked just like she had last seen it, except for subtle differences. She was on the corner of the street her mum lived on.
"It's exactly six years since you went missing," The Doctor informed her in a soft voice. "But not a single disaster has happened."
"That's probably because you weren't around," Martha informed him candidly, then walked out further onto the street.
"Hey! That's not necessarily true. Granted, they do come after me, but sometimes they do just want to attack the Earth," the Doctor protested.
Martha didn't reply. Milo and Cheen had just stepped out and were gazing around, taking in the new landscape.
"Your descriptions didn't do it justice," Cheen told Martha.
"No, I suppose they didn't," Martha agreed, then paused. From out of her mum's house, there appeared her mum, dressed casually, but heading toward her car.
"Mum," Martha whispered breathlessly.
"Go to her, Martha," the Doctor prompted.
Martha obeyed, running toward her mum like there was no tomorrow. Milo and Cheen followed at a more cautious pace, but the Doctor stayed put, his hands in his jacket pocket casually as he watched the reunion.
He watched as Martha introduced Milo, Cheen, and Harper to her mother and there was a lot of excited talking and confusion. Then, as a group, they turned to go into the house. At the door, Martha turned back to gaze at the Doctor. He lifted a hand in farewell to her. Slowly, she did the same, then nodded, turned, and went into the house.
Sighing, the Doctor turned and entered the TARDIS. Once again, he was alone. But at least Martha wasn't forever gone, like Rose.