On Saturday they gather earlier than usual for the weekly meeting. It's in the Hub this time, and everyone is present. Luke is thrilled to finally meet Myfanwy, and Sarah Jane gives reluctant permission for him to feed chocolate to the pterodactyl. She feels better when Ianto promises to supervise the encounter.
Everyone is on edge, unable to relax until they see the article. "The proof of the pudding..." Gwen says. Luke wants to know what sort of pudding it is and if he may have some. The friendly laughter that follows does a great deal to reduce the level of tension in the room.
Ianto has hacked into the Chronicle's computer system, and is ready to intercept the article as soon as it is transmitted. If it's "unsatisfactory", they can go to Plan B: Mr. Smith will engineer a power failure in the Chronicle building, and Wilf and Martha will go to Chiswick and transport Donna to a UNIT medical facility, under sedation, if necessary. Nobody likes the idea, but if the worst happens, it will keep Donna alive and sane.
"Incoming transmission." Ianto's quiet voice jolts everyone to attention as effectively as a blaring siren. "Intercepting." The screen in front of him fills with text.
Luke peers over Ianto's shoulder, his eyes skimming the article faster than any graduate of a speed-reading class. "It's okay," he announces. "There's nothing about the Doctor or the TARDIS."
Ianto's printer is spitting out copies, and soon everyone is examining the article for themselves. A collective sigh goes around the room. "Thank God," Wilf mutters, and Jack says something under his breath in the language of his homeworld.
"Better send it on," Sarah Jane says. "We don't want to make anyone suspicious with the delay."
Two clicks, and the screen is blank. "Ladies and gentlemen," Jack announces, "it's party time. Ianto, break out the bubbly." Within a few minutes, everyone has been served with a celebratory glass (lemonade for Luke), and the toasting has begun.
Jack raises a glass in Sarah Jane's direction. "To my lovely co-star. You deserve an BAFTA for that magnificent performance."
She salutes him with her own glass. "You deserve two awards for that double role. I was almost ready to believe you were an alien."
"How do you know I'm not?" he replies in the eerie, inhuman voice of the Zajedir.
Sarah Jane laughs out loud and Mickey sputters. Martha nearly chokes on a mouthful of champagne. Grinning, Jack tugs the Ergossian ring off his hand and tosses it to Ianto. "That can go back to storage."
"What I want to know," Martha says, "is how you managed that teleport. I thought the Doctor deactivated your Vortex Manipulator?"
"He did, the old spoilsport. I used a M'rill jump-belt."
"The one that came through the Rift last year? You said that was broken," Gwen protests.
"It is. Right now it has a maximum range of five metres. Absolutely useless, except for cheap tricks."
Mickey raises his glass. "To cheap tricks."
"To our talented supporting artists," Sarah Jane replies. "Here's to Constables Cooper and Smith."
"And to my favourite murdering maniac," Jack says, with a nod towards Wilf. On the target range, the old man had proven to have a good eye and a steady hand, much to Jack's relief. The charade had required a good shot. Jack would have been willing to endure the pain of a slow, messy death, but the more time that elapsed between shot and resurrection, the more chance there was for something to go wrong.
Jack had insisted on one "live" rehearsal. He knew from long experience that many people who were crack shots on the practice range found it difficult to put a bullet into another human being, and it had been many decades since Wilf had been in combat. He had discovered that Wilf had no problem shooting Jack in the head. I think he could have done it even if I weren't immortal – if that's what it took to save Donna. The thought doesn't disturb him at all. He respects people who know what they are willing to kill for – or die for – and he trusts such people more than those who have never had to face the issue.
Martha joins in the celebration, but feels oddly apart from it. Alone of the members of CoT, she had no active part in the charade. She spent most of Friday at the UNIT hospital, babysitting Chris Turner. She whisked him away as soon as he told the "whole truth" to Gareth Linton. It was partly to keep him incommunicado, but also to arrange for a full psychiatric evaluation. It's her responsibility as a doctor, and as a member of UNIT. Chris Turner was wounded in the course of duty, just as surely as if he'd been shot by an enemy weapon. Whatever is done with him – and that's yet to be decided – must take that into account.
So she sips champagne, and joins in the toasting and the merriment, but though she genuinely rejoices in the plan's success, part of her is still in London, in a hospital room with no windows and a locked door.
She spends the night in a local hotel. The following day she texts Jack. Lunch BlueCowCafe? EOTWSC meeting. She starts to add Come alone, then backspaces and deletes it. Jack knows better than to bring outsiders to a meeting of the End of the World Survivors Club.
The restaurant is in an office district, and though it's normally packed on weekdays, on Sundays it's three-quarters empty. Martha arrives first, and gets a comfortable table in the back, away from curious eyes and ears.
Jack greets her with a smile and a kiss. "What's up? Not that I need an excuse to have lunch with a gorgeous woman…"
"Chris Turner. What happens next?"
He stiffens slightly. "Why ask me? He's UNIT. Not my responsibility."
"He's a member of the club, Jack. I don't want to make this decision alone, and I don't want to consult some UNIT officer who doesn't remember the Year and has no idea what Turner went through."
"What do the shrinks say?" Jack asks cautiously.
She sighs. "They say he still has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but his symptoms are 'markedly less severe' than they were before – even when the Retcon was still working."
"And his delusions?"
"Technically, he's not delusional." Martha sees the expression on Jack's face, and holds up a hand to ward of his protests. "I know, I know. It sounds pretty weird, but you can't call something a delusion if it's based on reality, Jack."
"Reality? I'm starting to think you're losing your grip on it, Dr. Jones. He says the Doctor is an archangel."
"Yeah. And his definition of an archangel is a member of a race so advanced that they can alter time and causality on a massive scale. Sound like anybody we both know?" She falls silent as the waitress hurries over with their plates. "Turner understands that his interpretation of events sounds bizarre to anyone who wasn't there. He's able to deal calmly with 'non-believers'. He can function in a normal, unstructured setting, and he's not a danger to himself or others—"
"—as long as he keeps his mouth shut," Jack says.
Martha nods. "That's the bottom line. I think we can trust him."
"Think isn't good enough. We have to be absolutely sure, Martha. It's Donna's life."
"I know. Damn it, Jack… I just don't want to see another life ruined. Not if I can do something to help." The alternative, she knows, is some kind of confinement. It wouldn't be hard to arrange. Turner violated the Official Secrets Act by talking to a reporter.
Jack reaches across the table and clasps both of her hands between his. "That's what makes you a good doctor," he says softly.
"I don't feel like much of a doctor right now," she says, staring down at her linguini carbonara.
"Think of it as triage," Jack suggests. "Sometime you have to sacrifice one patient to save another."
"There has to be a way to save them both," she insists. "If I can just guarantee that Turner will keep quiet."
Jack shrugs. "I'd threaten him again if I thought it would do any good."
"Threats won't work… Jack!"
"How do you feel about a bit of blackmail?"
He leans back in his chair. "I'm your man." Flashing a wicked grin, he adds, "you can take that any way you like. Who's the target?"
As Martha explains her plan, Jack's grin grows wider and wider.
Martha stands in the hospital's reception area. "Thanks for coming. Jack explained the situation, didn't he?"
"He did." The visitor sounds unhappy, but resigned. "I suppose it's necessary."
"I can't see any other option. Fortunately, the reporter didn't believe him, but we can't risk it happening again. This way." Martha walks briskly down the hallway, stopping in front of a closed door. She shows her ID, and gestures for the soldier on guard duty to unlock the door. "Chris? It's Doctor Jones. I've brought you a visitor."
Chris Turner, dressed in loose-fitting fatigues without insignia, looks up from the chair where he has been listlessly skimming through a paperback novel. For one split second, he freezes, and then it's as though he's been struck by an electric current. The book falls to the floor, and the chair nearly topples over as he scrambles out of it, then drops to his knees. "My Lord!"
"No… please, don't. Stand up, there's a good chap. I just want to have a word."
"I'll leave you two to chat," Martha says cheerily, ignoring the look of barely-concealed panic that the Doctor is shooting in her direction.
Jack is in the staff lounge, frowning at a cup of murky coffee. "How's he taking it?"
Martha correctly interprets which 'he' Jack is referring to. "He looked miserable. I'm starting to feel guilty."
"Don't," Jack says firmly. "He's survived worse in nine hundred years. It's just a two-minute conversation, and then he'll be off to the tranquil purple beaches of Epsilon Eridani in the thirty-seventh century."
"Jack, you didn't tell him about CoT, did you?"
"And have the full wrath of the Oncoming Storm descend on me? Do I look crazy? Don't answer that."
Martha doesn't answer, because she is distracted by an issue of medical ethics. It's dreadful of her to even think of such a thing. Still, she can't help wondering… since they all know about Chris Turner's case, would it really violate patient confidentiality to bring a copy of today's security video to the next CoT meeting? Reluctantly, she decides that it would.
They both turn as they hear the Doctor's rapid footsteps in the hallway. The Time Lord enters the lounge. He nods stiffly at his former companions. "All right. He's given me his promise, and I believe him. Even took a quick peek to make sure." He makes a sour face.
Martha gives him a quick hug. "Thanks, Doctor. I appreciate you making the trip."
He shrugs, thawing slightly. "I was in Cardiff, refuelling. Not much of a detour to hop over to London." He begins edging out of the room. "Gotta run. I have a little errand on Perkhad VI."
"Perkha—" Jack stares. "The Chula homeworld? Doctor— nanogenes?"
The Doctor shrugs again. "They might be able to do something for Donna. If I give their biotechs DNA samples, they can try to custom design something. But even then, might not work. There are just too many unknown variables."
"While there's life, there's hope," Martha says quietly. "You taught me that one, Doctor."
He nods. "Right then. Carry on, Dr. Jones. Captain…"
"Sir!" Jack snaps to attention, and executes a regulation salute – with a very unmilitary grin on his face.
The Doctor sighs. "Try not to get into too much trouble." And then he is gone.
"Well, I have some discharge papers to fill out," Martha says, "and then I should tend to the reports in my inbox, before they reach critical mass."
"And I have to get back to Cardiff before the contents of my inbox break free and start terrorizing all of South Wales."
"It's not like this in the movies," Martha grumbles, as they emerge from the lobby into the weak sunlight of an early November morning. "No one ever warned me that saving the Earth would involve so much bloody paperwork."
"Some things remain consistent throughout the galaxies, across the farthest reaches of space and time," Jack intones.
"Shut it, Harkness. I'll bet Luke Skywalker never had to fill out Form 2078-B in triplicate."
"That's what you think. Wait until you see the 75th anniversary edition – director's cut. Then you'll see the real reason that everyone was so terrified of the Emperor."
Her delighted laughter follows him down the pavement, until it is swallowed by the noise and bustle of ordinary humans going about their ordinary day.
-- THE END --