Sarah Jane had been watching the viewscreen for a glorious hour now. The Doctor had been in no hurry to reach their dinner destination. He was taking her the ‘scenic’ route out to the edge of the solar system – Earth’s solar system, that is. Only Humans who had never left the planet called it ‘The’ Solar System. She had been to many other systems in her time. She knew just how much there was out there. In a way, travelling at a leisurely pace from Earth to that small, cold blue ball called Sedna that scientists had decided was the tenth planet of their system a few years ago, was no more dramatic than driving to Brighton. It was ‘local’.
But it had been a long time since her last real TARDIS trip, and it was all new again. Besides, as The Doctor remarked, you could never grow tired of something so beautiful.
“Come and look,” he said and reached out his hand. He brought her to the TARDIS door and opened it. A forcefield protected them, of course. She looked out into space. In the far distance, the sun that warmed her home planet was a glowing disc smaller than a five pence piece. Earth and the inner planets weren’t even visible. Jupiter and Saturn were another pair of discs in the starfield. Uranus and Neptune looked like those plastic bouncy balls that kids usually managed to lose in the guttering of houses when they bounced too high. Pluto was a marble. Sedna was a dull looking thing that was hardly worth getting excited about. Except she was in orbit around it, and that made her the most travelled Human being of her generation. Earth astronauts hadn’t even reached Mars yet.
“They will, though, of course,” she said. “Humans, we’ve seen them, all over the galaxy. We get out here eventually.”
“Yes, you do,” The Doctor said. And there was a hint of pride in his voice. “Mostly doing good. There have been times when I’ve wanted to slap you all for sheer stupidity, but mostly doing good.” He hugged her around the shoulders and waited as the TARDIS slowly revolved around until it was facing out from the solar system into deep space. Sarah Jane gasped in surprise as she saw more than just a starfield come into view.
“That ship. It’s enormous. What is it? Is it invading?”
“No,” The Doctor answered. “That’s where we’re having dinner later. That’s the SS Isle of Capri.”
“The Isle of Capri is a diplomatic ship,” The Doctor explained as they were escorted to the day room he had booked by one of the stewards. “It is owned by the Intergalactic Diplomatic Service, a completely neutral organisation that makes this ship available for treaties, conferences, diplomatic engagements of all kinds in neutral space. The staff are Vulpesi. They are just about the most neutral beings in the world. They have no political allegiance except to the IDS. They take no sides in any dispute. But they do take pride in providing the best possible service to their guests aboard what is said to be the most luxurious space ship in the galaxy.”
“And they have fantastic tails,” Sarah Jane noted, watching the steward curl his long, lilac-furred tail around his arm. He was perfectly humanoid, wearing a smart uniform of deep purple and beige, but the uniform was cut to accommodate a tail. Two females of the same species, dressed as cleaning staff passed by, their tails also wrapped around their arms. Sarah Jane resisted the temptation to stroke them.
“They do indeed. Don’t stroke them, no matter how much you want to. That would be considered inappropriate.”
“I’m sure it would,” she agreed. “I won’t do that. This does all seem a bit… I’d be less overpowered by Buckingham Palace! Where are we going exactly?”
“Day room,” he answered. “Place to relax and freshen up, get into your posh frock and have a couple of pre-dinner drinks.”
“Your room is as ordered,” Doctor, Madam,” said the Steward, stopping at a beige door with a purple handle that matched his uniform. He produced two plastic cards about the size of a credit card and handed them to Sarah Jane and The Doctor. They were biometric keys, he explained. Once they touched them their personal identity was imprinted on the keys to prevent unauthorised access. The Doctor gave a wry smile at that but he opened the door and stood aside to let Sarah Jane step inside first.
“Oh, my!” she exclaimed as she looked around. The room was furnished exactly like the office of the first magazine editor she ever worked for when she was a young journalist. It was, at the time, the most luxurious and up to date room she had ever seen. It had a plush carpet - a slightly lighter beige than this one, but otherwise it was exactly right. There was a long desk with a polished top, shaped like an elongated ‘s’, that stretched across the room in front of a big picture window that looked out over London. In another part of the room was a long, luxurious sofa of beige leather and an ‘s’ shaped glass coffee table the length of the sofa on which were glass bowls and trays in geometric shapes containing fruit and sweets. On one side of the sofa was a drinks cabinet, on the other a coffee machine that was always bubbling away with hot coffee. Sarah Jane looked longingly at the sofa and the coffee, but first she went to the desk. She sat at the chair with her back to the window and reached to hold the beautiful fountain pen in a glass and silver holder. He pulled a pad of fine vellum paper towards her and wrote “Sarah Jane Smith, Editor” on it in a smooth flourishing handwriting.
The Doctor was taking their hand luggage from the Steward and tipping him. That done, the Vulpesi and his wonderful tail turned and stepped through the door they had entered by. Sarah Jane blinked as she saw the door merge seamlessly into a wall that had a beautiful mural on it. The office of her editor had a mural, too. It was of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London skyline. This looked like something similar. Except it was certainly not London. There was a domed building in the centre, but it was almost certainly not a cathedral, and there was a graceful, arching bridge that had been built by people much more technologically advanced than the ones who built the Tower Bridge that appeared in the mural she remembered.
“Where is that?” she asked.
“Gallifrey,” The Doctor answered. “I know it should have been London for strict accuracy of reproduction, but I hope you’ll forgive that one indulgence of my own.”
“You are forgiven,” Sarah Jane told him. “That’s what Gallifrey looked like? I always wondered. You never took me there.”
“I know. I wish I had. Another of my regrets about our time together.”
Sarah Jane turned in the chair and looked out of the window. Of course, it was some sort of optical illusion, a recreation. So she was not at all surprised that she wasn’t looking out over London, the view her editor had. Instead, she was looking out from a building that was even taller than the great domed building she recognised from the mural. She was looking down on a city of such glittering spires and towers and domes that if New York was combined with Constantinople at its most glorious it would still be outdone. It was beautiful.
The Doctor walked around the desk and looked at it with her. He didn’t say anything. He was smiling, while at the same time his eyes were glassy as if he could easily have been crying. Sarah Jane stood up by his side. She put her hand in his. She felt him squeeze it gently.
“I think,” he said. “Only you, of all my friends, could look at this with me right now. Even Martha… she asked me about Gallifrey many times… but you are the one it feels right to be with.”
“I’m honoured,” Sarah Jane told him.
“No,” he answered. “I am.”
They stood and looked at the beautiful reproduction of what was once the city of the Time Lords, the greatest people in the universe. They both tried not to feel sad that it no longer existed. Then The Doctor turned to Sarah Jane and told her that the coffee served aboard the Isle of Capri was at least the second best in the galaxy.
They sat on the big sofa and The Doctor poured coffee. They drank it quietly for a while. Sarah Jane reached and took one of the shiny sweets and ate it. She was rather surprised to find that it was less like a sweet, sugary and sticky, and more like a piece of mouth-watering fruit. The Doctor ate one, too.
“How did you know about this?” Sarah Jane asked eventually. “This room. You’ve never been there, surely? And if you did, how could you have known that my ambition was to have an office like this?”
“I saw it in your mind, long ago,” he answered. “It always struck me as a very honest ambition. You didn’t want the power that went with it, to lord it over struggling writers like yourself. You just wanted the space and the view and the coffee machine. And… maybe you’d have got it eventually if I hadn’t turned you away from your career as a journalist.”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But I had… so much more with you. I know a lot of it was horrible. Daleks and mud and people dying, things trying to strangle me, being hypnotised, blinded, shot at, scared out of my wits, hypnotised…”
“You said hypnotised twice.”
“I usually was. Once by the alien enemy and then again by you. But inbetween, it was wonderful. And it changed me. But it changed me for the better. I had more ideas when I came back to Earth than just being editor of a women’s magazine with a fancy office. I wanted to do something, change things. Be… like you.”
“Again,” The Doctor said quietly. “I am honoured. And you’ve done a good job of it, too. I’ve been taking notice. The way you handled the Myosa… nobody ever threatened to step on their ship before. That was very nicely done.”
Sarah laughed and told him her side of the story, the tale she so wanted to share with Luke. Then she found herself telling him all about her son and his friends and how wonderful they were, and how much she was missing them at the moment, how envious they would be when she told them she had been to the edge of the solar system to have dinner on a spaceship.
The Doctor smiled and listened to her talk. He enjoyed hearing all her news. He was especially glad to hear her talk about Luke. He was never sure if it WAS his fault that she never had an ordinary Human life, marriage, children. But by chance she had been able to be a parent after all, and she was experiencing what she had missed out on in the ordinary way. And he was glad of that.
“So, this dinner?” she said after a while. “What’s it all about? Obviously on a ship like this it’s not just going to be a table for two by the window. There’s some sort of function going on?”
“Tomorrow, there is a conference going on, that is intended to safeguard Earth from acts of aggression. You’re a class five planet at the moment, you haven’t had official contact with other races. You’re supposed to be protected. So the more ‘advanced’ races in the galaxy are going to discuss the best way of ensuring that protection. But wherever two or more diplomats gather together, there has to be a whole lot of spectacle, so before we get down to business, there’s a grand banquet and ball tonight. And you, Sarah Jane, as my guest, will represent the planet we are here to talk about.”
“I’m… representing Earth… the Human race?” Sarah Jane gasped. “Oh, my.” For a moment she felt completely unworthy of that role. Then she remembered that The Doctor had chosen her, of all the Humans he had ever known. He had faith in her.
“I’m glad the TARDIS wardrobe had plenty of dresses to choose from,” she said. “What are you going to be wearing, by the way?”
The Doctor smiled.
“That’s a surprise,” he answered.
To Be Continued...