Tish looks gorgeous in her cherry-red frock and she walks into the House with a swing in her step. She has well and truly earned the right to be here, Martha thinks as she follows her sister inside the immense marble hall. Since the Year That Never Was, Tish has thrown herself heart and soul into this campaign for the rights of abused women and she's on a mission, unlike some of the others who will be gracing the fundraiser with their presence.
Belwood House is hosting this charity event. Now restored to its Georgian finery, Belwood is a stately pile from the mid-eighteenth-century built with wealth generated in the West Indian sugar trade. Martha takes a moment to admire the elegance of the fluted alabaster columns and elaborate cornices, and also to reflect on the unfortunate irony of holding this particular fundraiser in a place founded on the whole scale abuse of human rights.
Scott Foster, a pleasant, open-faced young man, is the lobbyist Tish works with. He comes forward to greet them with a firm handshake and then introduces them to his partner, Ashika Chandirimani.
'Lovely to meet you, Tish. I've heard a lot about you.' Ashika smiles. 'A lot of good things. And this is your sister? Hello.'
She doesn't recognise Martha, but Martha knows her name and now her face falls into place. For a dizzying moment, time stops and rewinds.
'You're Ashika Chandirimani? I'm Martha Jones.'
'So I was told.' Ashika's lank hair is pulled off her face and secured with an elastic band; her lips are set and uncompromising. 'You shouldn't be here. London's not safe.'
'You're here.' Martha lets her rucksack drop to the ground and flexes her shoulders. She stares around the basement; it's the closest she's seen the resistance get to military quarters. On her way here, she's passed a room allocated to weapons and ammunitions and the basement itself holds a range of communications equipment along one wall. A very basic field kitchen has been set up on another, and by a third wall is a sleeping area consisting of a huddle of sleeping bags on the floor.
'I have my reasons,' Ashika says shortly.
Martha meets her gaze with a level one of her own. 'So do I. I believe you have an address for me.'
Ashika hands her a slip of paper. 'Here.'
The monitor behind Ashika is showing a direct feed from the bridge of the Valiant. Or, as Martha always thinks of it, the heart of darkness. She tries to avoid looking towards the images, but it's hard not to when Ashika's own eyes keep flickering unwillingly back to the screen.
'You're the Tory candidate in the Castle Brierley by-election, aren't you?' Martha asks as she shakes Ashika's hand. She thinks she's covered her shock well. The Year That Never Was throws up these anomalies from time to time, where what is and what was collide in the minds of all those who survived on the Valiant. As long as she lives, Martha will never be able to take it in her stride, but she hopes her discomfort isn't obvious.
'Yes, I have that privilege. But I'm not here on the campaign trail; this is a cross-party issue,' Ashika says with a warm smile. She looks stunning, Martha thinks. Poised and assured, her dark hair is immaculate and her sea-green dress an elegant understatement for her good looks.
'And talking of cross-party issues, here's my brother, Danny.' Scott puts an arm around the shoulders of the young man joining them. 'He's a Labour political researcher. Also not on the campaign trail, but looking forward to meeting you, Tish. I think you'll have a lot in common.'
'Shut up,' Danny says, with a younger brother's fond exasperation. He looks like a floppy-haired Public Schoolboy, seeming awkward and out of place, but when his eyes meet Martha's she finds them sharply intelligent. 'Hello, er –'
'I'm Martha,' she says with a composure she's far from feeling. 'This is my sister, Tish.'
But Tish says nothing. When Martha turns to her, she sees that her sister's face is drawn, her eyes full of terrible shadows. A sharp sound breaks the silence and suddenly there's blood dripping down Tish's hand and white wine splashing from the broken stem of her wine glass to leave a dark stain on the cherry-red frock.
'Oh hell,' Danny says. 'Here, let me –'
'No! No, don't!' Tish backs away from him, shaking her head. 'I'm sorry, I can't ...' She drops the shattered remains of the glass and slips away into the press of bodies surrounding them.
'It's all right,' Martha says quickly before any of the others can speak. 'Please, get this floor cleaned up before someone slips and hurts themselves. I'll look after Tish.'
'Is something happening on the Valiant?' Martha tries to keep her voice casual and knows she's failing. But Ashika is too distracted to pick up on it.
'You could say that.' Ashika's fists clench at her sides. 'Someone I know is dying.'
'I'm sorry,' Martha says. The words are utterly inadequate, but there's nothing she can say that would be any better.
'His name is Danny Foster.' Ashika delivers his name with a chilling formality, inducting him into a roll call of the dead. She stares up at the screen. 'And there she is. The lovely Lucy Saxon, consort of the Demon King himself, pale and pretty in her scarlet gown. All hollow-eyed and tragic. And Danny, bloody stupid Danny, just had to set himself up as her champion.'
That was never going to end well, Martha thinks. She says nothing. She has words in her head which she prays will end all of this horror, but there are no words right here and now to ease anyone's suffering.
Ashika's voice turns flat and leaden. 'My partner is Danny's brother. When he couldn't bear to watch ... this anymore, he gathered up all the ammunition and weaponry he could carry and went out to take the fight to the Toclafane.'
Martha flinches. That was a suicide mission. And Ashika knows it.
Martha tracks Tish to the ladies' cloakroom, which is slowly emptying of tight-mouthed and disapproving women, whispering under their breath. Martha doesn't even bother to look at them; she knows how to pick her battles, and this isn't one she wants to engage in right now. Tish is all that matters.
Tish is standing by the sink. She's fumbling at the taps with bloodied hands, tears streaming down her face. 'How could I have been so stupid! Scott talked about Danny so many times, and I just never ... Oh hell.'
Silently, Martha takes Tish's injured hand in her own and gently sluices the palm under a flow of cold water. In spite of all the blood, the cut is clean and not as deep as she'd feared. In the mirror, Tish's eyes are anguished as they meet hers.
'The Year That Never Was.' Tish all but spits the words out. 'I try so hard not to think about that year. Telling myself that if it never really happened then it doesn't matter. But the memories, those bloody awful memories ... . We have to live with them and it does matter, Martha. It does.'
'Yes,' Martha says quietly. 'It does.'
'And Danny ... .' Tish stops for a moment to swipe away her tears with quick, fierce movements. 'Danny was on the Valiant, though I suppose you've worked that out by now. I liked him. A lot. He was always there for us. Taking care of things, trying his best to shield us from the worst of the Master's excesses.'
'How was he able to do that?' Martha is genuinely curious.
'Danny seemed to have this way of saying things that the Master found amusing, of defusing the situation. The more blunt and honest he was, the more the Master seemed to like it. He called Danny his Court Jester.'
'So what went wrong?'
Tish's lips twist. 'One day the Master stopped being amused. And then he changed the rules.'
'Didn't Danny realize?'
'Not until it was too late. None of us did, but when the Master got that look in his eyes, we all knew what it meant. So Danny told the Master exactly what he thought of him. He knew he was going to die, so he thought it wouldn't make any difference. But it did. The Master laughed. And then he shot him in the stomach.' Tish blinks back fresh tears. 'Five hours. It took him five hours to die.'
It could easily have taken longer, Martha thinks. She says nothing, but puts one hand on Tish's shoulder and squeezes very gently.
'Of all the dreadful things the Master did, this one was the worst.' Tish swallows. 'We watched Japan burn and it was horrific, but we weren't there. But that sick monster made us all watch while Danny died in front of us.'
And Tish had liked him. A lot. Martha sighs and puts one arm around her sister. 'I'm so sorry.'
Martha can't help looking up at the monitor, even though she dreads what she might see. The tightness in her chest eases as she realizes that her family aren't there, or else are out of camera shot. It's an unexpected mercy, and one she's grateful for.
But the Master has placed the Doctor centre stage in his sick little drama, right alongside the dying man. Of course he would. There's a history between these two, an old and terrible history that Martha doesn't care to think on.
'Master, don't.' The Doctor's voice cracks, his eyes sorrowful in an old and unfamiliar face. It pains Martha to see him like this, but shifting her gaze only brings into sharper focus the young man he cradles in his arms, and the terrible wound inflicted by the Master. 'You're better than this.'
'No, I'm not. Really, I'm not. Do try and keep up, Doctor. You're such an embarrassing old codger these days.'
'If you want me to beg, I'll beg,' the Doctor says simply.
'Too late,' the Master says in mock sorrow. 'Danny boy is dying. Can't fix that with a sticking plaster.'
'He doesn't have to die like this.'
'Ooh, Doctor!' The Master taps his lips, his eyes sparkling with malice. 'Whatever are you suggesting? A mercy killing? How perfectly outré!'
The Doctor doesn't answer.
The Master grins and twirls, crooning softly, 'Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, From glen to glen, and down the mountain side...'
That voice. Martha clenches her fists. And that stupid smile. One day she'll wipe it right off his face, she promises herself with a flare of pure rage.
The Doctor bows his head, his gnarled hands stroking the mess of hair out of Danny's eyes, rocking him like a child. And the Master lets him because this isn't about easing Danny's suffering, it's all about causing the Doctor pain. Because the Doctor can't do anything. He can only hold Danny and watch him die a piece at a time.
'I'm sorry.' Martha tears her gaze away from the screen. She drags her pack up across her shoulders and moves towards the door. 'I have to go.'
'Of course.' Ashika's voice is like ice. 'You have to run along and tell your tales to all those who'll listen. Do you really think your storytelling can fix this?'
Martha glances back for a moment and then lifts her head. 'Yes,' she says. 'It has to.'
There is a movement from the doorway, and Martha turns to find Ashika standing there, a large white handkerchief in her hand.
'Are you all right?' Ashika lifts the handkerchief. 'Danny insisted I bring this for Tish – he assures me it's clean,' she adds wryly.
'I'm fine,' Tish tells her. 'Really. Thank you.'
'Danny was all set to ride to your rescue until he realised you'd taken refuge in the ladies loo,' Ashika says, looking at Tish curiously. 'He was worried he'd upset you in some way.'
'It wasn't him. Just some old memories. Bad memories.' Tish swallows and dredges up a small smile. 'He seems very nice.'
'In many ways he is, although that fluffy-bunny appearance of his doesn't tell the whole story.' Ashika's voice holds more than a touch of asperity.
Martha raises an eyebrow as she takes the handkerchief and then binds it around Tish's hand. 'It sounds like you two have a history.'
'Beyond him being the brother of my partner? Yes. And right now, we two have a truce. Or as close to one as a die-hard Labour activist and an aspiring Conservative MP are ever likely to get.' Ashika turns to Tish. 'Are you ready to head back into the fray?'
Tish grimaces. 'Not just yet. I feel like I need some fresh air. Is there a way outside?'
'The fire exit's this way.' Ashika pushes at the bar and opens the door wide.
The night breeze sweeps over them as they step out into the gardens of Belwood Hall. The stone terraces gleam pale in the moonlight and the bright colours of the flowers are muted, their scent sweetening the air as the women pass by. Three steps down from the last terrace is a formal garden. Low-growing shrubs are clipped to geometric shapes around a pool of water containing a surprisingly modest fountain. As if by some unspoken agreement, they each seat themselves on the low wall that rings the pool. The breeze flutters at their dresses, and the fine droplets from the fountain fall against their faces in a light mist.
Martha tips back her head and stares up at the glitter of stars in the dark velvet of the night sky. It's beautiful, she thinks. All the more so now she understands this world's fragility. The horror of the Year That Never Was remains just a heartbeat away, forever bleeding through the cracks in her memory. She's slowly making her peace with that; it's the way things are and now she has to move on as best she can.
'This is better,' Tish says after several minutes have passed. She's trailing one hand through the cool silk of the water, and Martha can see that she's looking much more composed.
'Yes.' Ashika glances back to the bright warmth of the conservatory. 'I think we all needed a break. But now I must get back. Scott will be looking for me.' She pauses a moment before adding, 'And Danny will be looking for you, Tish.'
Martha slides a sidelong glance at Tish, a question in her eyes. Tish had liked Danny. Maybe, just maybe, Tish will be able to see beyond the memories better than Martha ever could with Tom.
'What do you want to do?' Martha asks Tish.
'I want to go back in there and do what I came here to do.' Tish stands up and smoothes her hair, squaring her shoulders.
'Then we'll ride shotgun for you,' Ashika says briskly. 'We can explain how you were taken ill, but are bravely struggling on for the Cause. Only not quite in those terms, because that sounds more than a little patronizing and I don't mean it to be. This is important, I know that.'
'Thank you,' Tish says, and then frowns. 'But first I need to make another visit to the cloakroom. My make-up must look like crap and -'
'No, you don't,' Martha tells her firmly. 'We can fix that for you out here. Can't we?' She looks at Ashika.
'Absolutely,' Ashika confirms.
It only takes a few moments for Martha and Ashika to effect repairs, and Martha finds herself reminded of girls' nights out with her sister, back when they were light-hearted teenagers. It's just a few years since and already it seems a lifetime ago. Or like someone else's life entirely.
'There. All done.' Ashika tucks her lipstick away and looks expectantly at Martha and Tish. 'Ready?'
'Yes,' Martha says. 'We always are.'
And she and Tish share a smile as they link arms: the Jones' girls, ready to take on the world one more time.