Rani felt very self-conscious. She’d tried to blend in
places to spy before, but this felt different. Like there was more at stake if
she failed. Maybe there wasn’t more
at stake, but what was at stake this time was more personal.
She was as prepared as she could be, she thought. She’d thoroughly combed the club website, and read all the members’ poems that were posted there, as well as thoroughly researched the genre so as to be able to sound like she knew something of what she was talking about. She had even gone armed with a mental list of the poems she’d particularly enjoyed.
The club meeting began with notices. Rani only half-listened, trying to spot the girl from the photograph in the audience. There! A blonde ponytail in the front corner. The owner turned her head to whisper something to her neighbour, and Rani was convinced—that was Jenny.
Target acquired, she thought to herself with a mental laugh. Locking on.
She kept her eyes on Jenny while the notices finished, and listened through the talks, thinking she’d be wise to pay attention. Finally, poetry readings were announced.
After the first poem had finished, everyone politely clapped and then Rani’s eyes were caught by Jenny standing up. She was reading too.
She looked a little nervous, and began reading from a small notebook. After the first couple of lines her voice grew stronger and the hesitancy disappeared. Rani, captivated by the words, found her mouth was hanging open slightly in the most undignified manner and hurriedly closed it.
A world passes on
At a hand not its time;
Shadow wreathes the great sky-ball,
Silver leaves to rust in the fire
Leaving ash in the heavens,
As a planet, engulphed,
Sings its final song.”
Jenny’s poem was met with a more enthusiastic applause, and her cheeks went pink. Rani kept her eye on the girl as she made her way to her seat, counting the minutes till she could catch her.
After the fourth reading, the meeting broke up into social. Rani tried to make a beeline for Jenny without appearing to do so, and managed to catch her as she finished a discussion with the main speaker.
“Hi,” she said.
“I just wanted to say, I thought your poem was amazing.” Rani wasn’t lying either.
“Really? Thank you,” Jenny replied, blushing again. “Um, are you new? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“Yeah, this is my first time. I’m Rani.”
“Nice to meet you. So have you been coming here long?”
“Just a couple of months.”
“Yeah. Are you a poet?”
“Right now, strictly reader,” Rani said quickly. “But I’d love to branch out, and you seem a good person to ask for tips.”
Jenny laughed. “Wow, no, there’s loads of people here far more experienced than me. I’m pretty much a newbie.”
“Didn’t sound like it, out there.”
She blushed harder. “Well, I am. You could ask David, or Lily, they’re probably the most experienced …”
“Well, I also thought—might be easier to ask you, since we’re kinda the same age,” Rani said.
Jenny giggled. “Okay, I understand that. Don’t want to ask the oldies for help.” She dropped her voice on the ‘oldies’.
“Yep,” Rani said with a small laugh.
“Okay then. Want to go and get a milkshake?”
Sarah Jane entered the attic, where he was playing with her alien equipment. “Doctor, please be careful with that stuff.”
“What, don’t you trust me?” he said, sounding hurt. “Anyway, what did you want?”
He half-dropped the gerfabrilator. “How’s it going?”
“Quite well, she says they’re bonding nicely over milkshakes. Jenny’s even invited her back to her house.”
“Brilliant.” The Doctor paused thoughtfully. “How long do you reckon before we know?”
“Doctor, I admit it does look hopeful, but it might be a while still.”
“Please don’t tell me to be patient,” he muttered. “I hate it.”
“Being patient or being told to be patient?”
“I’m not. Try and take your mind off it.”
“Why do you think I’m up here? By the way, did you know you’ve got a deactivated bomb in this lot?”
“Hey, what’s this one?”
Rani and Jenny had developed a firm friendship very quickly, which Rani was extremely grateful for. They’d begun talking about science fiction poetry over chocolate and banana milkshakes, moved onto mainstream poetry, and from there moved to school and boys and music and all sorts of everyday things. Rani was quite enjoying herself. By the time they arrived at the Browns’ house, the conversation had moved back to poetry, and Rani had found out that Jenny also painted.
“It looks like your poem, the one you read out,” Rani said.
Jenny had taken out a few paintings to show her new friend, all of very alien-looking landscapes. The one Rani was holding looked like a great fireball, but the picture was fractured, the painting showing different places and closer perspectives.
“It is. Sort of. The poem’s based on the painting,” Jenny replied.
“I wish I could paint like this,” Rani said wistfully. “I’m not much good at Art class; my stuff’s usually impossible to understand what it is. Where do you get your inspiration?”
“Including this one?”
“Yeah … that’s an odd one,” Jenny said, slower. “It’s been a recurring nightmare for a while, and I thought, I wanted to turn it into something beautiful. Although I ended up turning it into two things.”
The days dragged by. The Doctor understood that it was important to gain Jenny’s trust, he really did, but the wait was driving him insane. As the one who usually did the infiltrating, he was finding it difficult to leave the whole thing to Rani, as much as he liked and respected her.
But if she didn’t find something solid soon, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself doing something stupid, he was sure of it.
“For goodness’ sake, Doctor.” Sarah Jane sounded unusually cross with him. He couldn’t remember many instances of that before. “I know this is hard, but—”
“Sarah Jane, I can’t keep waiting. I need to do something.”
“Have you tried asking Mr Smith to find something for you to investigate?” Sarah Jane suggested. By ‘you to investigate’, what she really meant was ‘us to investigate’, as right at that moment she wasn’t sure she trusted the Doctor to stay focused.
“Yes, and he said he hadn’t picked up on anything lately.” The Doctor was pacing Sarah Jane’s living-room, hands in pockets. “All the aliens that try and invade this planet all the time, and they choose now to take a break?”
“Stop pacing, you’re going to wear all my carpets out. Why don’t you try the lawyers again?”
He paused. “I couldn’t detect anything unusual last time, didn’t get anywhere.”
“Well don’t give up.” Sarah Jane shook her head in exasperation. “Go back and find something, Doctor. Even if there’s nothing unusual going on, ruling it out will kill some time, won’t it?”
The Doctor shuffled his feet, looking down at the ground. “All right, fine. But I’m going in properly this time.” Sod subtle. This was his daughter.