The cold steel feels heavy in my hand. I should hate this. I should hate this… thing and I should hate what I'm planning to do and I should hate myself for thinking about it but right now I can't feel anything. Not hate, not fear, not anything. Because if I start to feel then I will be back there, in my attic, with my whole world crashing down around me and the hole in my chest threatening to expand like a black hole, destroying everything in its path.
I'm already destroyed.
There's no point in trying to sneak up, chances are they've already sensed my approach. They're probably wondering why I've risked coming, why their threats didn't keep me locked up safe in Bannerman Road. They won't be able to know why just yet, they have to be a lot closer for that.
I step out into sight, my fingers closing tightly around… well, the gun I guess. I know I have been vocal in the past about these things, and I still don't like them very much. But this is the only way. We're beyond bargaining and we're beyond threats and we're beyond ultimatums. They have to be stopped by whatever means necessary.
Luke knew that.
As soon as they see me I can feel it; they are trying to find out why. Why am I here? Why did I not listen? My fingers unclench slightly then tighten again as I raise the weapon and aim it squarely at their console.
The closer ones are pushing now, trying to dig deeper into my mind. After so many travels with The Doctor though, I've learnt a few tricks on how to keep unwanted presences out for just those few minutes I need.
Z, Y, X…
"Why?" one of them eventually says, their voice distorted, unclear.
"I will not let you destroy this world," I reply, lining up for a better aim. Mr Smith was very precise – one shot will do.
"At the risk of your own?" another voice droned.
I clench my teeth, my mind screaming to keep them out. Just a little bit longer.
…P, O, N, M, L…
"Leave. Now." It's not a request, it's not even an order. It's a command. I have to give them one last chance because I can't not. It's not who I am.
One of them pulls out their control, and the band still tight around my wrist pulses slightly. Still connected then.
"You were warned of the consequences."
They don't know then. Strong enough to keep them out then, still got it. This is on my terms. They are moving closer, just a little more. Little bit more.
"Your son's life is forfeit," it says and I could almost swear there was a little bit of venom in there.
"It already is," I reply. "He's dead."
And with that I let it down. Every defence, every barrier crashes down and they feel what I feel, they see what I see and they understand what I am living through.
Hell on Earth.
Luke lies dead on the floor of the attic at 13 Bannerman Road, and they are to blame. My fingers tighten in instinct and the energy pulse is discharged towards its target.
I wish I could tell you that it is all some ruse, that I'm making it up just to strike at them. The trouble with empathic races is that you can't really lie to them. They will feel whatever you feel, and I doubt there's much stronger emotion than those being felt by a grieving mother. This is what I'm feeling and this isn't some ruse. Less than half an hour ago my son died; I held his body in my arms and screamed his name. I would have stayed if Mr Smith had not gently reminded me that now I could stop them.
The console is destroyed, the beacon has been stopped. The call silenced so their race will not come in their droves, ready to wipe out the human race because we are, as they put it, a delicacy. In all my time and all my travels, this was a first. Apparently one of the valves in our hearts is as fine a dish to them as truffles are to us. It's almost enough to make you become a vegetarian.
We tracked them as they arrived, we went to speak to them. We offered them the hand of friendship and would have known nothing of their plan had Luke – my darling Luke – not been so intrigued by their computer system. After that it seemed almost adventure-of-the-week.
Until they turned up in my house.
It must have been a very powerful EM pulse to make Mr Smith stop. Not completely of course, he's not all machine. But the bits of him that are were affected and he couldn't help us.
"We have a proposition, Sarah Jane," one of them droned. "We shall not harm you or your son if you do not interfere."
"And leave you to send every man, woman and child on this planet to their deaths?" I challenged. "Why would I even consider accepting?"
"Because," the same one said, but with the hint of a smile behind their assumed faces (empathic manifestation – we see what we expect), "the consequences of your refusal will be… shocking."
"Shocking?" I repeated, confused at to where the verb had come from.
"It is, as you say, a pun? Word play?"
When they had entered, Luke and I had been separated by them. Now I understood why. When they parted and I saw him, I understood.
"What is that?"
"It is a collar."
"I can see that. Take it off him."
"I cannot. It is bound to his life source."
"What do you mean?"
"It remains on while he lives, removing it will result in his death."
I don't know what I was planning, I don't think I was. Every instinct in me, every fibre of my being compelled me to be with Luke and I started towards him, but one of them grabbed me around the wrist. It took a few seconds for me to realise that they had clamped this bracelet on.
"Listen very carefully, Sarah Jane, for this is your only chance to save the one person who has power over you."
I relinquish the gun and I let them surround me. There's no point now. I have done what I came to do and after that I'm not sure I care. They were stopped and without the console they can't get home. UNIT can't have failed to have noticed the great big energy drain and subsequent communications burst. More guns will be arriving soon enough. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll be waved off home.
Not sure what that means any more.
I don't know if it's me or if that's just the face they chose to project, but one of the empaths near me looks like a young girl. Young woman, really. She (if it really is female) is looking at me with a curious expression.
"What?" I snap.
"I'm… sorry," it… she says eventually.
"Luke. I'm sorry. The pain…"
She felt it, along with the others, when I let go. When I let them understand what it was they did to me.
"It was meant to be a way of controlling you," she says quietly, "we could feel the bond between you. He had a power over you that no one else could ever have."
The power she is referring to is love. Luke is – was the only person in this whole Universe I would do anything to save, even sacrifice the rest of the world.
"There has to be something," Luke sighed, his fingers deftly running over the collar that was flush against his skin.
There is not, was Mr Smith's metallic reply.
I'd barely moved, still sat on the step, my own fingers tracing my shackle. A plan so simple it left little room for manoeuvre. The collar around Luke's neck would deliver a fatal shock should he try to remove it. Trying to remove my bracelet would result in the same. If either of us left the attic, if we were separated by more than ten metres, if Mr Smith sent out any signals… All the same conclusion.
"Mum, we have to do something."
"Sometimes we have to let someone else save the world," I told him gently. "UNIT…"
"…don't know where they'll be. We do."
"I can't risk it, Luke. I won't."
"Clyde and Rani…"
"So we just sit there and let them… ring the dinner bell on our planet?"
I couldn't help but smile at that. In just a few short years he had become so human. He was human. He may have been grown, switched on at the age of thirteen, but he was as human as any other teenager. Just smarter. Different.
"How did you escape?" the girl asks me, her question appearing in my mind as clearly as if it had been spoken.
I hate empaths. Well, if she wants to know then I will show her. And she can take everything that comes with it.
"You're just going to sit there and do nothing?" Luke challenged me.
"What can I do?" I asked. "If I go, you die. If we go, you die. If we do anything, you die."
"I just can't, Luke. I can't risk you, I won't."
"Some things are more important."
I looked up at him, and right now I wish I'd paid more attention. I can see his face in my mind, of course I can, and I know how his eyes light up when he smiles, but there was this… spark that came whenever he got an idea.
He got ideas all the time, maybe I just got used to seeing it.
"You could stop them," he declared. "Mr Smith's already calibrated the firearm for a suitable energy discharge."
But in order to fire the weapon, Sarah Jane would need to leave the attic. Doing so would cause your death.
"You have to go, Mum. If you don't then everyone on the Earth will be killed."
"We don't know that," I said. I was trying to justify it, trying to tell myself that I hadn't just handed humans over on a literal platter.
"But we know that if you go now, you can stop them from coming."
"Luke…" I sighed, already fed up of this.
I should have looked up sooner.
He was closer to the door than I was. They'd placed charges on the frame, marking the boundary of our little prison.
"I love you," he said.
This was nothing new. He wasn't like teenagers in that respect; wasn't afraid to show his old mum some affection. We'd hug and we'd exchange the l-word and we were close.
But this time…
I looked up too late. He was by the door and by the time I'd got to my feet, his name on my lips, a futile command to stop, he'd taken that final step.
The collar was quick. He was dead before he hit the floor.
"I'm so, so sorry," she whispers as I relive that moment.
Closing my eyes I watched him crumple. I ran to catch him but didn't get there in time. I crashed to my knees (they were really starting to hurt now) and pulled his head into my lap, sobbing his name over and over as if it would call him back somehow.
Sarah Jane, you can go now.
"Bit late now isn't it?" I spit back. "You killed him."
"We did not," she replied with definite confusion. "He made his own choice. I saw that in your mind."
"He sacrificed himself so that I could stop you. But you still put that thing on him. You are still responsible."
"I do not understand your logic."
"Of course you don't," I mutter.
You need to leave now, Sarah Jane. I detect that the array is being initialised. They will begin transmitting their location shortly.
I couldn't leave him. I wouldn't leave him. My beautiful, beautiful son. The tears ran down my face, dropping onto my hands, my legs, the wooden beams, Luke's face but I hurriedly wiped them off.
Sarah Jane, you must go.
"I'm not leaving him," I yell.
You must. Luke did this so that you could go. If you do not stop them then his sacrifice was in vain.
He was right, I knew it. Of course I had to go.
"I love you," I whispered before gently lowering his head to the floor.
I stopped only to grab the gun. I ignored Clyde and Rani's calls as I drove off, concerned more with wiping the tears away so I could see to drive.
"He was not your son," she said.
"He was," I spit back.
"He was made. You did not birth him."
"That doesn't stop him from being my son."
"It was not meant to be this way. You must understand, we need to eat."
"Need to eat? We're a delicacy. You have a choice," I reply.
"No, you misunderstand," she says, and her voice is soft and kind. "We need it. Without it our life span is considerably shorter. We can live for a number of your centuries but without it we are limited to decades."
"Most humans only have those decades. Luke could have had another sixty, seventy years. Maybe more."
There is a scream – the console is indeed beyond repair. They cannot summon the others and they cannot go home. I can see that they are coming this way. Well, they can do what they want to me now. Doesn't matter any more.
Are they sirens I can hear?
UNIT. Of course it was UNIT. Clearing up, nothing more, but I still have enough pull to just slip away quietly. One of them tells me to 'get off home' like I was some 1950s schoolgirl, and normally I would have given him a serve before doing just that. Instead I get in my car and just leave.
I end up at the quay and walk out along the waterfront, stopping only when the only option is to double back on myself. So I stop, stare out to sea, and begin to sob.
After half an hour I still haven't made a decision and that's not like me. I don't want to go home but I can't not. I don't want to go home to Luke, to that… I could just get in my car and drive, just leave London, maybe England? Just get out of here.
Could I do that? Walk away from everything and everyone?
It's tempting, but the rational part of me knows that running away doesn't solve anything. Just ask The Doctor. He runs, all the time, and he takes his pain with him.
Knowing him, he'd come looking for me.
I have to go back. I can't just leave him there. Not sure what story we'll… I'll have to put on this. Some sort of freak household accident. Turns my blood cold just thinking about it.
God, I'm hearing things now. I want to hear him…
I turn around, wiping my eyes free of tears and I have to blink. Twice. Hard.
I want to believe it's really him, I want it to be him so badly but I know. I know he's gone. I held him in my arms and I know that he is…
…standing right in front of me.
"It's me," he says.
He glances over his shoulder and only then do I noticed Clyde and Rani. Of course, they must have gone into the house…
"First Aid course," Clyde shrugs. "School made us do it."
"But…" I reach out, carefully, pressing a hand against his chest. He's real alright, and I can feel the soft thrum of his heart, slowing down from his race to find me.
"Clyde and Rani performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, while Mr Smith provided the shock needed for defibrillation to restart my heart," Luke explained and it's just him. "The collar detached as soon as my heart stopped, after that there was nothing to stop me from leaving and coming after you."
"By the time we got there you'd gone," Rani continues, "we had to get Mr Smith to search for that watch of yours."
But I'm not listening any more. I'm just looking at my son, my beautiful and perfect and alive son. The next sob from my mouth is one of relief and when I grab hold of him I am never, never, never letting him go again.
His new project involves telescopes in the garden. I did ask, but I understood about every third word so I left him to it. Until tonight. Tonight I have made us both hot chocolates and even though it's nearly midnight I'm taking them out into the garden because I am sick of avoiding the issue.
When Luke sees me standing there he sees through my peace offering and flimsy excuse to speak to him and so we take a seat.
"We can't just ignore what happened."
"I don't understand why we need to talk about it."
"Luke! You…" I can't say it. I hate even thinking about it. Which is why it is now invading my dreams and I am fed up of having nightmares about holding my dead son. "After what you did…"
"I had to," he says as calmly as if he'd just explained why he'd eaten dinner than night. "You had to stop them. They thought that by using me…"
"Not that long ago," I interrupt, "I had nothing. Not really. Just me, rattling around in this house. I thought I was fine, that there was nothing I wanted or needed. I thought that after all my time with The Doctor that I was done, that I'd experienced enough for one lifetime.
"Yes, I was lonely, but that was OK. I couldn't talk to anyone about my life and I couldn't share my life with anyone I couldn't talk to! I coped. Just.
"Then this girl moves in across the road and everything changes."
"You met me," he says.
"I met you," I reply with a smile. "I thought I understood love before, what it was, how it worked, but you? You redefined everything, Luke Smith."
"How can one person redefine what is?" he asks. "Things were as they have always been."
I can't help but smile. "You will understand one day," I say, absent-mindedly brushing the hair from his brow. "One day. You are everything to me, Luke. My whole world. Without you… When I thought I'd lost you I nearly gave up."
"One thing I don't understand," he says quietly. "They said I had power over you?"
I smile. "The power to stop me," I explain. "I can't do anything that would put you in danger."
"That is why I had to... By taking myself out of the equation…"
"Luke, you're making this so simple."
"But it was."
"Nothing about losing a child is simple," I say and for one brief second I'm there, three weeks ago, holding his body.
"I'm sorry," he tells me and I know he means it. He put me through hell because it was the best option – the only option – but I can see now he wishes he could take back the pain.
"Just… don't do it again," I say, forcing a grin.
"OK," he replies and we clink our mugs together.
"So… what are you doing again?" I laugh and when he smiles at me it is the best thing in this Universe. No contest.