“It’s her,” the Doctor announced as he walked through the
front door. “I was right.”
Sarah Jane closed the door for him; he was too worked up to think of small things like that. “How do you know?”
“Loukum admitted it. But he wouldn’t tell me why. ‘All in good time, Doctor’,” he muttered. “I’ll all in good time him when I get to the bottom of this.”
“Doctor,” Sarah Jane said gently.
The phone rang. The Doctor groaned and flopped onto the sofa. “You get it.”
“Please,” Sarah Jane gently chastised him as she picked it up. “Hello?” There was a pause. “How did you find out?”
The Doctor looked up, hope stirring in him despite his best efforts. “Sarah Jane?”
“Hold on, I’m putting you on speaker-phone, say it again in a moment.” Sarah Jane took the phone away from her ear and pressed the button.”
It was Rani. “Jenny has no navel,” she said. “I saw it when she changed her clothes. There’s your proof, Doctor.”
“Thank you, Rani,” he said quietly.
“There’s something more weird, though, cause she doesn’t seem to realise. That she hasn’t got one, I mean.”
“Must be a perception filter,” the Doctor said. “It can be broken, if you draw her attention to it, make her see.”
“Right. She’ll take that well.”
“I think it’s the best chance of convincing her,” Sarah Jane said. “If we just go barging into her life talking about aliens and biological rewrites, she’ll think we’re all insane. We need solid proof that she’s not who she thinks she is, and that’s all we have.”
“So … should I tell her now?”
“Do you think she trusts you, Rani?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure she does.”
Sarah Jane and the Doctor looked at each other, and a silent agreement was made. “Then do it.”
“I’m going to need something …”
Sarah Jane held up a small bag. “I had to go to five different jewellery stores to find these. So I really hope this works, Rani.”
“It will. Trust me.”
“Are you two alone?”
“Yeah, the Browns are out. It’s now or never.”
Sarah Jane nodded. “Good luck.”
Rani went back upstairs, where Jenny was tidying away her makeup. “Where’d you go?”
“Guess what I have.” Rani waved the bag.
“I dunno, what?”
“You’re supposed to guess,” Rani said, and opened it. Jenny’s eyes widened.
“Relax, they’re clip-ons. You wanted to see what it looked like, right? Come on, there’s two, we’ll both try.”
“Thought you said your dad would never let you get a real one?” Jenny said, taking the pack of navel rings and splitting the plastic.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t pretend. So, do you want the gold or the silver?”
“Good, ‘cos I like the gold.”
They both giggled. Rani could hardly breathe as Jenny passed her the gold navel ring. “On three?”
“One,” Rani said.
Jenny looked down on three, lifting her top, and Rani let the hand holding her ring drop to her side. Jenny blinked slowly, frowning, as if dazed, and placed a couple of fingers on the smooth skin where her navel should be. Rani could see her struggle to process what she was seeing, as if there was some invisible barrier.
“What—” Jenny gasped, poking herself more firmly, and looking up at Rani, shock and confusion on her face. “That’s—that’s impossible—”
Rani found herself speechless for the first time, as her friend looked back down, and up again, and down … “What—I—I don’t—”
Rani found her voice. “I’m sorry,” she said gently.
“Sorry? Sorry for what?” Jenny’s voice rose higher with each word.
“I noticed earlier, when you were changing.”
“So you knew … I don’t understand!”
“Jenny, look at me.” Rani dropped her ring and took Jenny firmly by the shoulders. “I know this doesn’t make sense now, but I have friends who have answers, okay? Just—you’re not breathing. Keep breathing.”
Jenny inhaled shakily.
“N-no. I don’t understand … how can I not have … how? I’ve always had …”
“Jenny—this isn’t going to make much sense to you, and I’m really sorry I have to say this, but you have always been like this.”
“But I remember—”
“Your memories are wrong.”
There was a long silence. “Who are you?” Jenny whispered, taking a step backwards. “I thought you were my friend.”
“I am your friend, I promise.”
“Oh, yeah? Really? Then what’s all this about?”
“I’m not going to deny I sought you out,” Rani admitted. “I knew who you were when we met. Better than you do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“This is going to be hard for you to hear.”
“It’s not just about your navel. That was a way to prove to you what I’m saying is true.”
Jenny’s frown deepened. “And what are you saying?”
“That you’re not who you think you are. You’re not Jenny Brown. Your memories have been altered.”
“Altered? How? By who?”
“Um, not too certain on that front yet. But I know who you really are.”
“All right, I’ll humour you. Who am I?”
“Your name’s Jenny. I’m … actually not sure what your surname is. And your—your dad has been going out of his mind trying to find out what happened to you.”
“My dad hasn’t—”
“Jenny, Mr Brown isn’t your dad. Mrs Brown isn’t your mum. I know your real father, he’s an old friend of my best friend’s mum.”
Rani waited. Jenny was struggling to process, which wasn’t surprising. “So, basically what you’re saying is … I’m adopted.”
“Never mind the memory thing, Rani, this is too much on its own!”
The conversation was interrupted by a sound. It wasn’t an extraordinary sound, or a particularly loud one, but they both stopped and stared at the window. Rani’s heart started pumping double-speed.
It was the sound of a car in the drive.
“Uh oh,” Rani muttered. That wasn’t good timing. She’d messed up; she should have taken Jenny somewhere her ‘parents’ wouldn’t show up before Jenny could process everything.
“That’ll be them.” Jenny went to walk out the room. Rani caught her arm.
“Jenny, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m going to ask them if what you’re saying is true.”
“But you can’t—”
“And why not?”
“Jenny, I’m begging you, please.”
“Rani, they’re my parents!”
“No they’re not! Please, Jenny, that’s the memories talking, they’re not real. For all we know they’re the ones that altered your memories in the first place, and if they didn’t then they still probably know who did. You can’t trust them.”
“What part of they’re my parents are you not getting?” Jenny wrenched her arm out of Rani’s grip and ran down the stairs.
Rani raced down the stairs after her, cursing the bad timing and scolding herself for bad execution. Mr and Mrs Brown entered the front door just as Jenny landed in the hall.
“Mum, Dad,” she said.
“Am I adopted?”
Rani closed her eyes in horror and swore under her breath.
Mr and Mrs Brown looked at each other in confusion. “Of course you’re not, honey, you know we’d have told you if you were. Where’s this coming from?”
“Rani says I am.”
Oh for goodness sake. For the daughter of a genius she wasn’t half acting stupid.
Mr Brown turned to Rani, angry. “What kind of thing is that to say? Get out my house!”
“Look, Mr Brown, I—” Rani had no idea what she was going to say, whether she was going to tell him it was a joke or what, but Jenny interrupted.
“So why don’t I have a navel?”