“I can’t believe that creep got released.”
“I think he was only bailed, darling, not let off,” Mrs Brown said.
“What if he comes back, Mum?”
“He won’t. He knows what’s good for him. Your father certainly gave him something to think about.”
Jenny leaned back in the chair and went back to her homework. She couldn’t concentrate; her mind kept flitting back to last night—or rather half one that morning. A single floorboard creak had woken her to find a figure in her room. A scream and a whack later, and she was staring down at an unconscious man on her floor.
She stabbed the book with her pen in irritation. Something was bugging her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. He’d been familiar, somehow; like she should know him—
A light flicked on in her mind.
Someone bumped into her, muttering an apology, and she glanced back, giving a quick “It’s all right, don’t mention it” sort of smile, before turning back to her conversation. A moment later, though, a shiver ran down her spine, and she glanced back over her shoulder.
A man stood several paces away; quite tall, in a long brown coat, and he was staring at her with his mouth hanging open in the most undignified manner.
“Jenny, you okay? Hey, Jenny!”
Samantha waved a hand in front of her face, pulling her out of her reverie. “What’s up?”
“I’m being stared at,” Jenny muttered. Her friend turned to look too.
“The tall guy?”
“Blimey, he looks like he’s seen a ghost.”
“Yeah,” Jenny murmured. For some reason she couldn’t tear her eyes away; She had a flash, of him standing closer to her, with a similarly shocked expression—perhaps not quite the same one—flanked by two women …
No, the image had gone as quickly as it had come. Her imagination going overtime, her mum would say. She’d always told Jenny she should be a children’s writer with all the fantasies she wrote in her diary.
She tore her eyes away from the man, and went back to her conversation, but her mind wasn’t on it. For the rest of the day, she kept looking over her shoulder, almost convinced at one point that she’d seen him following them …
“What is it, darling?”
“I knew I’d seen him before. He bumped into me in White City yesterday, he must have followed me all the way back home.”
“Like you said, honey, a creep.”
“But there were hundreds of girls my age there, why would he follow me?”
Her mother sighed. “Jenny, don’t you think you’re trying to make this into something it isn’t? He’s a pervert who deserved what he got, he won’t be coming back, and I think we should put it behind us. Jenny?”
Jenny didn’t reply. The man had frightened her, certainly, when she’d found him in her room. But before that, in the town, he hadn’t seemed creepy. Just a bit lost. For some reason she felt a pang of sympathy for him.
Where had that come from? She shook herself. Her mum was right, it was stupid to obsess. She threw her homework aside; if she couldn’t focus on fractions, she was going to distract herself with a good book.
“Your daughter? Sarah Jane almost dropped her coffee mug. Her houseguest nodded. “Doctor … I thought your family were … I mean … are you sure?”
“Maybe I am going crazy,” he muttered. “Maybe I’m seeing things and she’s just a normal human.” There was a pause. “No, she’s not, she can’t be.”
“Doctor.” Sarah Jane lay a hand on his arm. “What makes you think she’s …”
“She looked at me!” He looked up triumphantly. “When I saw her, she looked at me, like, like she recognised me but couldn’t place my face. I know she did.”
“You weren’t staring at her, by any chance?”
“No. Well, yes, maybe, but—”
“Then maybe she was staring because you were,” Sarah Jane suggested.
He shook his head. “No, it’s her. I know that’s Jenny.”
“There’s a lot of Jennys out there, Doctor.”
“I know! But she looks like her, like my Jenny. Identical, absolutely; it has to be her.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“What?” he asked, wrong-footed.
“When was the last time you saw your Jenny, discounting yesterday.”
“About … I dunno … four months ago.”
“Really?” Sarah Jane was taken by surprise. “But I thought …”
“That I was seeing someone long dead,” the Doctor finished for her. “Well, I’m … not.”
Sarah Jane noticed the hesitation and pointed it out. The Doctor sighed in response.
“She was dead. Or dying, rather. Of a gunshot wound on Messanine. I thought … I waited … but maybe not long enough ...”
“But if she regenerated, wouldn’t she look different now?”
“No, she, she might not have regenerated as such—there was the terraforming …”
“Doctor, I think you’re grasping at straws.”
“Sarah Jane, you’re a parent.” He let that one sink in. “If you lost Luke, and then you thought there was even the tiniest possibility he might be alive after all, wouldn’t you pursue that?”
“Of course I would. I just … think you should be prepared to be wrong, Doctor. Because everyone’s wrong sometimes, and let’s face it—you want this girl to be your Jenny.”
He swallowed, and allowed a tiny nod.
“So let me help you. You can’t be seen near her, the Browns will call the police and you’ll end up in jail again.”
She sighed. “I’m not sure. Finish your breakfast, and then tell me all about Jenny.”
He looked down at the half-buttered, now cold toast, and nodded.
The Doctor got out of Sarah Jane’s car, thanked her, and then turned towards the TARDIS as she drove back home. The ship stood on a street corner right where he’d left her, looking good as new. He sighed, and unlocked the door.
On the inside, what usually seemed a warm and welcoming interior now felt incredibly empty. He closed the door behind him, and leaned against it, staring at the console.
He could just see her now, his daughter, the young Time Lady, running around the room; helping him fly her, teasing him, asking question after question. For a moment the image of her moving around was almost real. The ship seemed warmer somehow because of it. A lump arose in his throat and he shook himself.
“You don’t even know it is her,” he said to himself. “Get a grip.”
He stepped up to the console, which now felt a lot more solitary, and set the co-ordinates for Sarah Jane’s.
“You do realise he’ll probably have long gone,” Luke said as he unlocked his front door.
“Worth a try though,” Rani said. “Ouch, Clyde, stop jostling me.”
“I can’t help it, I feel like we’re about to meet the Prime Minister or something. Only much more interesting.”
“That’s only if he’s still here. Mum?” Luke stepped into the hall, very closely followed by his friends.
The three of them looked at each other.
“Guess that answers the question,” Rani said, and the three of them raced up to the attic.
Clyde got there first, and paused in the doorway, or tried to—the others pushed him inside so they could see too.
“Doctor?” Luke said tentatively.
The stranger in the room was eyeing them in mild amusement. “Correct. I suppose you three must be Luke, Rani and Clyde.”
Sarah Jane, who was on the phone, motioned for them to be quiet and left the attic, probably to find somewhere quieter. Luke noticed Mr Smith was out. On the screen was a photo and biography of a teenage girl. “Who’s that?”
“She’s pretty, whoever she is.”
The Doctor gave a low growl, and Clyde stepped backward. “Er, are you sure you’re the Doctor?”
“Not that we’re complaining that you’re here or anything,” Rani said, “but .. why are you here?”
The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck absently. “I was hoping Sarah Jane might assist me with something.”
“Who’s she?” Luke asked, nodding at the screen.
The Doctor hesitated. “I … don’t know.”
“Shall I repeat the information, Doctor?” Mr Smith asked.
“Jennifer Brown, date of birth 26/04/1993 in Edgware Hospital. Raised in Mill Hill until six months ago when the family moved to Ruislip.”
“Okay,” Clyde said slowly.
“And?” The Doctor pressed, but not enthusiastically.
“I cannot confirm the authenticity of the records either way. If it is faked then it is the most expert fake I have seen before.”
“I don’t get it.”
Sarah Jane came back upstairs. “Who was that?” the Doctor asked.
“I’m not sure. Some defence laywer, insisted on giving me their details. They must have got my number from the police.”
“Police?” Rani asked. “What’s going on?”
“You’d better tell them, Doctor. They might have some ideas.”
“Okay, kids, pull up a chair.”TBC ...