Inquiring Minds by Margaret Price © 2001

INQUIRING MINDS

Soldiers. There were lots of soldiers up here. At least, they looked like soldiers.

The dark haired little girl drew back into the storeroom in which she had hidden herself, thought hard and then peeked back through the crack in the door. Yes, they were soldiers all right. They carried guns. Only soldiers carried guns. Not policemen. "They must be guarding the alien," she whispered to herself, thinking that this was much more interesting than sitting in the Pediatric unit watching cartoons. The other kids will never believe she had the courage to sneak up here to see if the rumors were true. She hadn't even bothered to put her slippers on. Mum will be angry if she finds out. Girls aren't supposed to be so inquisitive; that's what she'd always said. But now she was so close. She just had to see and waited until the soldier she was watching had moved away before creeping quietly from her hiding place.

"Now where did you spring from?"

The voice was calm and quiet, but it still made the girl jump. She spun around, saw the looming figure of a man standing over her and turned to run.

"Oh no, you don't," the man said gently as he caught hold of the now terrified child's arm, turning her around. He knelt down to look into her face. "Now, what are you doing here?"

The little girl stared at the floor and tried desperately to keep herself from bursting into tears. She could not stop the stray one or two that managed to make their way down her cheek. "I came to see the alien," she announced as forcefully as a six year old could manage.

The man's bright blue eyes lit up, an amused smile spreading across his face. "Alien, hmm? Now what makes you think there's an alien here?"

For the first time the little girl looked at him and scowled. His wavy brown hair was long. Longer than hers. Even longer than the Beatles! And his clothes weren't right, either. His coat was fancy and long, and he had a funny gray scarf thing around his neck, the stickpin through it badly off-center. Normal people didn't dress like members of a Rock and Roll band, Gran had said. And if they did, they must be…

"My mum says I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," she said at last.

A delighted laugh burst forth. "Fair enough," he replied, holding out his hand. "How do you do? I'm the Doctor. And you are…?"

Again the child scowled. "You can't be a doctor. You don't even have a white coat," she said logically.

A second delighted laugh. "Don't always judge by appearances, young lady. You have an inquiring mind. That's good. Just don't close if off by jumping too quickly to conclusions." He lifted her from the floor and then headed towards the lift. "And speaking of conclusions…" He tugged on the robe covering her pajamas. "I think you belong in the Pediatric unit, yes?"

The little girl lowered her eyes guiltily and nodded. "It's so boring," she moaned. She looked up in surprise when a soldier suddenly rushed up to them. Was he going to shoot her for tres­passing? she wondered. To her amazement he saluted the man holding her.

"I'm sorry, sir. We only just sealed off the floor," the soldier said guiltily looking pointedly at the wide-eyed little girl.

"Inquiring minds, private," the Doctor replied enigmatically. "I'm taking my young friend here back to her room. Just see to it no one larger slips through."

On the Pediatric floor, the Doctor stepped from the lift, putting the child down. "Do you want me to see you back to your room?" he asked gently.

"No," came the curt reply, followed quickly by, "Thank you." Then tossing her head back the way she had seen someone do on television, the child started down the corridor.

"By the way," the Doctor called, "you never did tell me your name. Does that mean we're to be strangers forever?"

Turning, the little girl considered and then smiled brightly. "I'm Sarah. Sarah Jane Smith."