Seconds later, the TARDIS landed.Stuart looked at the monitor on the console. “The coast looks to be clear.”“Why wouldn’t it be?” Elle asked, confused. “It’s Christmas. There’d be maybe one or two soldiersmaximum on duty today.”“Christmas?” Stuart repeated blankly.“Maybe it isn’t on whatever planet you’re from,” Tristan cut in, with biting dignity, “but on ours,yes, it’s Christmas.” Elle shot him a reproachful look.
“Why were you getting married on Christmas?” the brunet asked.Elle shrugged. The reasons were too numerous to explain, and they had more important things toworry about. “It was the first day we could get the chapel that Tristan had off work, and Christmashas never been terribly special around here, anyway. You said you had a theory?”
“Oh, yes.” At least somewhat distracted, Stuart cast a glance about the room. “Your siblings toldme what they saw at the wedding, and what they saw leads me to believe that somehow, you’vebeen dosed with Huon energy, and that’s a problem, since Huon energy hasn’t existed since thedark times. The only place you’d find Huon energy now is a remnant in the heart of the TARDIS.Here’s what happened…” He snatched up a pencil and a mug, then bounded up to her. “Say,that’s the TARDIS,” here he held out first the cup, then the pen, “and that’s you. The Huonparticles inside you activated, the two sets of particles magnetized, and whap—" He dumped thepencil inside the mug. “You were pulled inside the TARDIS.”
She nodded slowly. “I think I get it. And you think that all this has something to do with theGeneral?”“Oh, the energy had to come from somewhere. Since the auton that drove off with you washeaded this way, it’s a reasonable guess. Now then, let’s have a look around.”
The three of them quietly filed out of the TARDIS and into a small, sparsely decorated lobby. AsElle had predicted, there was no one at the desk. “Strange,” Stuart murmured, looking aroundquickly. No one appeared, so he crept over to it. Tristan took her hand as they followed him.
Stuart tapped out a few commands on the keyboard. “All right, look at this,” he said after amoment, gesturing for the pair to join him so that they could see the screen. “Here’s the officialfloor plan: three floors above ground that comply perfectly with the regulations. Nothingsuspicious in the slightest.”“Did you expect there to be?” Tristan asked, dryly.“Not on the official plan, necessarily,” said Stuart, “but if we were to look at the lift…”
Here he crossed over to it, opened it, and stepped inside. “There, you see?” He pointed towardthe panel. “There’s a button marked ‘basement.’”Elle and Tristan peeked in at the panel and discovered this to be the case. “How can that be?”asked Tristan.“Quite simple. This place has a whole floor which doesn’t exist on the official plan. So what’sdown there, then?” Stuart grinned. “Let’s find out.”His contagious excitement had Elle rushing into the lift after him, with Tristan following in adisgruntled fashion.
The button to the basement required a key to work, but Stuart’s sonic screwdriver took care ofthat obstacle, and shortly afterward they arrived on the lower floor. Elle took in the scene withwide eyes. “I’m pretty sure this is at least seven kinds of illegal,” she said, after a moment.“I’m fairly certain you made that number up,” Stuart replied lowly. She could hear the smilewithout looking at him, and she couldn’t help doing the same, if only briefly.
The hall they stepped into extended further than they could easily see on either side. In the dimlight, Elle could make out doors dotted along the walls. “Yep, definitely not legal.”“No one’s really above breaking the law,” said Tristan. “Although, it could have been built beforethe power plant blew, and they just didn’t see any reason to demolish it.”Stuart glanced at Elle. “How long ago did you say that happened?”“Five generations.”
“Then no, it was not here before the disaster.” He stepped up to the walls and examined themclosely. “If this structure were, in fact, that old, it would show more signs of wear. Look here. Thismaterial is fairly new, not more than a couple of seasons old at most.”Now that she looked at it more closely, she could tell that Stuart was correct. “So someone camedown here recently and built…this. Whatever this is. They definitely couldn’t have done it withoutthe General knowing.”
“Indeed not. Well, suppose we have a look around. This way!” He began to jog down the hall totheir left.“Why that way?” she called after him.He spun around briefly, a confident, almost cocky grin lighting up his features. “I’ve just got afeeling,” he said lightly, then took off again. Elle giggled, picked up her skirts, and ran after him.
Stuart stopped in front of a door with a caution sign bolted to it. “What did I tell you? This lookspromising.” He listened at the door—to see if anyone might be behind it, she supposed—beforecalmly unlocking it with his sonic screwdriver and striding in, nice as you please. With a quickglance over her shoulder, Elle crept after him.
Beyond the door lay a massive laboratory—at least, by Elle’s definition of massive—with aspacious workstation that seemed almost as wonderful to her as the inside of Stuart’s TARDIS.“Oh, I’ve never seen a lab this nice,” she enthused, moving forward into the room.Stuart stayed close to her side. “Did you read one of the sciences at university?” he asked.
“No, I was a Mathematics major, but I’ve always been good at Science and English too. Wemostly did dry labs for assignments, though—there wasn’t a lot of space for a real lab.” Ellesurveyed the area, careful not to touch anything, but feeling as though she could happily sit downand work there for hours in any other situation.
“Come and tell me what you think of this, then,” he said, bounding over to another part of theroom, where a tank of bubbling water stood against the wall. She crossed over to have a look,but the sight of Stuart grinning up at it distracted her. “Oh, this is brilliant.”
“What is it?” she asked. “It just looks like bubbles to me.”“Particle extrusion,” said Stuart. He looked down at her. “Tell me, is there a large body of waternearby?”
“Yeah, there’s a lake behind the military base, near where the power plant used to be.” Shecouldn’t help a smirk. “We’d have seen it on our way in, but somebody had to go and materializetheir spaceship right inside, like a showoff.”
He chuckled. “What can I say? I take pride in my ship. Regardless, they’ve been manufacturingHuon particles.” He tapped the glass. “My people got rid of them, you see, unraveled the basicatomic structure, but this lot have been rebuilding them. They’re using that lake! Extruding theparticles through a flat hydrogen base until—hang on.” He hurried back to table and inspectedthe tubes on the racks.
“Your people?” Elle questioned, following him. Stuart waved a dismissive hand. Sighing, sheglanced to the side and frowned in puzzlement. “Stuart, there’s a giant hole in the middle of thefloor—"
“Is there?” He barely glanced over his shoulder. “Odd. I’ll give it a look in a minute, here.” He tookone of the tubes from the rack and held it out to her. “This is what they were trying to make: Huonparticles in liquid form.”She took it and looked at it, queasiness beginning to bubble up inside her. “Is this what’s insideme?”
In response, Stuart fiddled a bit with his sonic screwdriver and pointed it at the tube. The liquidinside it began to glow with a golden light, and as Elle watched, she felt something inside herreact to the activated energy. Her hand, curled around the tube, began to glow as well. Shelooked down to see that her whole body gave off the same light. “Oh, my plumbbob,” she saidsoftly, cold terror freezing her in place.
“Genius,” Stuart said. “Because the particles are inert, so they need something living to catalyzeinside, and that’s you.” He took the tube back and turned his screwdriver off. Elle exhaled heavilyas her body returned to normal. “They saturate the body, and then—oh, of course! The wedding!”He sprang back in excitement, startling her. “You were getting married! That’s it!”Still unsettled by his demonstration, Elle frowned. “What’s it?”
“Don’t you see? It’s a big day for you, the best of your life, and while you’re walking down theaisle, there’s a chemical war going on inside you! Adrenaline, acetylcholine, endorphins—you’relike a great big pressure cooker! The particles reach their boiling point, and shazam!” He clappedhis hands, startling her. “The particles activate early and pull you into the TARDIS!” He gave hera triumphant grin, but it quickly fell away from his face. “What’s the matter?”
“Are you enjoying this?” she demanded, every limb of her body shaking with anxiety.
He bit his lip. “A little, I’m sorry. Not your predicament, of course not, but that moment wheneverything falls into place—"
Elle knew the feeling, but it was a different matter when they were dealing with somethingunnatural that had somehow been catalyzing inside her for plumbbob only knew how long. “I getit. Look, just tell me…are these particles dangerous? Am I safe?”
Stuart took a step toward her, eyebrows furrowing. “Oh, yes.”“But your people got rid of Huon particles,” she said, holding up a hand to stop him. “Why didthey do that?”
He sighed and looked her in the eye. “Because they were deadly,” he said quietly.
Elle covered her mouth with her hands, more terrified than she had ever been in her life. Stuartrushed up to her and took her by the elbows. “Ellie, listen to me. I’ll sort it out; whatever’s beendone to you, I’ll reverse it. Trust me. I am not about to lose someone else.”“Oh, I don’t think you’ll have any say in the matter.”
Their heads whipped in the direction of the double doors to the side, as they opened to admit twolines of autons without Santa disguises on. Her breath caught in her throat. There were ten in all,every one of them armed, and they took up position in a V shape, five on each side of the room.As they came to a halt, a tall, dark-haired man followed them out and stood calmly in the apex ofthe V.
“Raikov,” Elle ground out. They had been right to suspect his involvement.“Oh, so this is the good general,” murmured Stuart.
“Elle Fitzhugh,” Raikov said, deceptively pleasantly. “How kind of you to join us. I see you’vebrought a friend.”
He turned his gaze to Stuart, who took a step forward. “Yes, hello. The name is Stuart. I must sayI do like what you have done here. A secret underground base, built in direct contravention of theby-laws of Sierra Plains, which state that a building must be built to a foot print of only eight unitsby eight units. Did a bit of reading while you were being reunited with your family and fiancé.” Thefinal sentence of his speech was directed over his shoulder to Elle, before he returned hisattention to the General. “Yes, I have to say it is all very neat.”
Raikov gave a humorless smile. “Our work here is far too important to be constrained byregulations I drew up to preserve building materials.”“Your work?”“We keep order here in Sierra Plains, Stuart. I have nothing but the best interest of the people atheart. Anything else you might have heard is simply not true.”
“And this keeping order, that includes drilling great big holes in the ground does it?” asked Stuart,wandering to the edge of the huge hole in the centre of the floor, and peering down into it.“I noticed that before,” said Elle, with a questioning glance at Raikov.
“How very astute of you,” he replied easily.“Why? What’s down there?”The satisfaction that lit up his face at being asked made her stomach turn. “‘What’s down there’ isan artifact I believe to be related to the beginning of the apocalypse.”“But the power plant caused that.”“So it did. However, I have scientific records that prove that there were more forces at work thana mere accident. The records were buried so deep that the public has no knowledge of them, butI inherited access to them when I was promoted to General.”
“Records of what?” Elle tried to keep her focus on Raikov, but as she asked the question sherealized that Stuart had not spoken in a while and glanced at him briefly. He was still inspectingthe hole, eyebrows knit together in concentration and a little alarm.
The General’s smile widened. “Miss Fitzhugh, if you’re attempting to get me to monologue, youwill be very disappointed. Your involvement in my work doesn’t require your knowing all about it.”
Elle frowned, but before she could press him on the matter, she caught sight of someonesneaking along the wall behind him.Tristan.
Her heart leapt, and she knew she had to give him the chance to get behind Raikov without theGeneral realizing he was there. “All right then, why me?” she asked, trying to avoid looking atTristan. “You were the one who had me dosed with these Huon things, weren’t you? Wouldn’t ithave been easier just to use some grunt from the regiment?”
“You hadn’t figured that out on your own? I was led to believe that you were the intelligent one inthe family,” Raikov said, a hint of a sneer tainting his smile. “Your family has been nothing buttrouble to me and everyone who came before me. It is high time a Fitzhugh made herself actuallyuseful to me.”
Trying to ignore how much his words stung, Elle glanced at Tristan, who was now directly behindRaikov. What was taking him so long? Raikov’s attention was solely on her, Tristan wouldn’t geta better chance. She saw him draw back his arm to throw a rock at Raikov’s head. “Now!” shecried, unable to help it, as Tristan hesitated. Raikov whirled around and stared Tristan straight inthe eye. There was a terrible moment when Tristan seemed stunned and dropped the rock hehad in his hand, and then…
Tristan smiled. “Hello, Dennis.”“Tristan. I was wondering where you were.” They shook hands.
“I don’t understand,” Elle said, looking between her fiancée and her enemy as her heart began topound with dread. “How do you know the General, Tristan?”
Tristan smiled condescendingly. “Why, Elle, the two of us have known each other for a long time.Didn’t I mention it?”
“But…but…”As she floundered she became aware of the fact that Stuart was once again at her side. “I amsorry, Elle,” he said quietly.She glanced up at him. “Sorry for what?”He touched her elbow with a light hand. “In order for you to be dosed with Huon particles, youhad to ingest them. That needed to be done by someone whom you trusted to make you drinksand prepare you food so that they could add the liquid particles to it. That person then needed toget you here at the right time.”
Realization hit Elle like a sledgehammer. She remembered all the times Tristan had brought heran instant drink or prepared her a salad. Even the glass of water he had poured for her the daythey met could have been drugged. “He was poisoning me.”
“Well done,” said Raikov, giving him a slow handclap. “When did you work that out, I wonder?”Stuart ignored the question, saying instead, “I am intrigued, Tristan. What do you get out of it?”
Tristan gave a smart salute. “Colonel Tristan Smith.”“You did this because you were ordered to?”
“Oh no. Dennis and I are old friends. When I was assigned as his second in command here inSierra Plains, he told me that some sort of alien artifact was buried here. We came up with thisplan together.”
“The fact that you would be abusing the trust and love of an innocent woman did not faze you atall I suppose?”“Don’t be so naïve. I’m a soldier. My job is to protect the people of this country, and morespecifically at this time, the people of Sierra Plains. I will do whatever it takes to do that.”
Elle looked up at Tristan, and flinched at the contempt etched on his features. “But I love you,”she whispered.
“I think we’ve explained enough,” said Raikov shortly, looking toward the autons. “Kill him.”“Don’t hurt him!” cried Elle, moving in front of Stuart.He put a hand on her shoulder. “Ellie, it’s all right.”“No, I won’t let them!”
“Take aim,” Raikov commanded.They raised their weapons.
“Ah now, hang on,” said Stuart, letting go of Elle. “There is one thing you should know, before youdo that.”“Please, don’t concern yourself with whether the drones will hit Elle. They are very good shots,”said Raikov, eerily casual.
“No, it is not that.” Stuart fumbled for something in his pocket. “You see, the Huon particlesactivated early, and caused Ellie to be pulled into my ship. By the same reasoning, if I reverse thepolarity,” here he did something to his sonic screwdriver, “then the ship will come to Ellie.” As hefinished speaking, the TARDIS started to materialise around him and Elle.
“Shoot him!” yelled Raikov. The drones opened fire, but their bullets thudded harmlessly againstthe outer defenses.
Assured that they were safe, Stuart ran for the console. “This ship could withstand a nuclearexplosion,” he called back to Elle. “They’ll never get in. Oh, do you remember what you saidbefore, about a time machine? Well, I lied.” A pause. “And now we’re going to use it.”
She heard the switches flip, felt the ship shake as it began to dematerialize, but did notcomprehend any of it. She simply stared unblinkingly at the TARDIS door as tears coursed downher cheeks. ***
The TARDIS was still in the process of fading away when Raikov whirled on Tristan in a rage.“You idiot,” he snarled. “This is your fault. Elle was the only person I asked you to bring here, nowlook what’s happened!”
Tristan flinched, but stood his ground. “They were coming on their own,” he said. “I allowed itbecause it was less suspicious that way.”“And in doing that you’ve ruined everything. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t have you shot.”
The autons turned their weapons on Tristan, waiting for the command. He crossed his arms,forcing himself not to look at them but at his friend. “They’ll be back, Dennis. Stuart intends tostop us—he’s not the type to hide when things get dangerous.”
“It doesn’t matter whether he comes back or not, Elle’s the one we need!”“She’ll be with him,” Tristan said, with certainty.Raikov glared at him. “She’d better be.”
“She will be. And we’ll be ready.” Lifting an eyebrow, Tristan turned away. “Besides,” he added,as he strode back to the side door he had entered from, “I wasn’t the one who let the interlopertalk instead of just shooting him.” ***
“Ellie?”“What?”Her forcefulness startled Stuart so much that he looked up from the monitor. Elle was sitting withher back to him, but turned just enough that he could see her fists lying in her lap, clenched sohard the knuckles had turned white. He cleared his throat. “I know this is a bad time—"
“It’s always a bad time,” she said bitterly, voice thick. “What do you need?”
Heart wrung with sympathy, he left the console and laid a hand on her shoulder in an attempt atcomfort. She stiffened. He felt a pang in his stomach and had to remind himself that this was notabout him, that there were some things he did not have the ability to fix. “We’ve arrived,” he said,removing his hand. “Do you want to see?”“All I want to see is my bed,” Elle muttered, but she stood up anyway.
Stuart went back to the console. “Hmm, the scanner’s a bit small. Maybe your way is best.” Hegave her a quick smile and went to the doors. When she had joined him, he opened them.
Elle stepped out of the TARDIS and onto the bare ground below, eyes widening in surprise.“There’s hardly anything here,” she whispered, echoing his own thoughts. “And look at all thisgrass!”“Sierra Plains in its earliest days,” said Stuart. “Your great-great-grandfather was still atuniversity, if I’m not mistaken.”
She let her eyes take in the whole scene before she spoke again. “So this is how it all started.That puts the wedding in perspective, a bit.”“You’ve every right to feel hurt, Ellie.”She shrugged. “What are we looking for?”
Stuart walked forward until he was standing just over her shoulder, then gestured below them.“The power plant accident that began the whole affair is about to happen. I was hoping we wouldget a glimpse of what caused it.”“They said it was an internal mishap,” said Elle, looking bewildered.“It may well have been, and yet, the good general believes that something else was involved.”
Her expression turned thoughtful, and after a moment, she nodded. “You know, that actuallydoesn’t surprise me now that I’m thinking about it. Rhys’ daughter Ursula wrote a bit about theearly days in her memoirs and mentioned that a lot of media coverage had been redacted.Maybe they didn’t want everyone to panic too much.”“That may be,” said Stuart, “given that someone had Raikov’s ‘artifact’ buried and the recordshidden. The question is…what was it?”
He was watching Elle, not the surroundings, so it took him off guard when her mouth fell open indisbelief. “Stuart, look,” she cried, pointing above them with a shaky finger.
He looked upward. Something was falling from the sky in a ribbon of flames. “Get back in theTARDIS!”
From the doorway, they watched as the projectile crashed into the power plant, creating anexplosion so powerful it turned the sky orange. “Oh, plumbbob,” Elle breathed, her fingerspressed to her lips. “All those people…”
“Shut the doors,” Stuart murmured. She complied, and he ran back to the console. “This won’tgive us as good a view as I would like,” he added, pulling the scanner back up, “but it’ll keep usfrom radiation poisoning, which is what matters. Aha.” He pointed to the screen, and Elle joinedhim to look over his shoulder. “You see that?”
Through an alarming amount of smoke and some fire licking at the corners of the image, theycould see a blackened hunk of metal radiating a soft, golden glow. “The artifact,” said Elle.
“Precisely.” Stuart ran a hand through his hair. “It’s part of a spaceship—harmless in itself, butdosed up with enough Huon energy to cause widespread damage on impact. Sierra Plains waslucky, all things considered. If that had been a nuclear power plant—"“It wasn’t?”“No. If it had been, there would have been nothing left, and a much wider area would have beendecimated.”
She pursed her lips. “They must not know. They must think they can harness the powersomehow…but if the artifact itself isn’t much more than a piece of metal…”
“They must not know that, either.” Stuart left Elle at the monitor and went back to the controls.“But they wouldn’t need the artifact to cause another disaster. They don’t know how to use Huonsproperly. No one does. We’ll have to go back.”
“Of course,” Elle said quietly.Her tone made him pause. He looked up, hand poised on a lever, and met her eyes. Her fearwas obvious. “I don’t have to bring you with me,” he said. “I could take you home first, if youwanted.”
She shook her head. “No, I can’t go home until this is over. I’m not safe there and my family’s notsafe with me there.”
“I can’t guarantee your safety if you stay with me, either.” He hated saying this, but aftereverything that had happened, the least she deserved was his honesty.“…I know.”
He looked at her a moment more, taking in her rising determination, and thought, with a pang ofinexplicable sadness, that Bertie would have liked her. Quickly, he crossed over and kissed heron the forehead. “I will do my best,” he said softly, then turned back to the console so swiftly thathe missed her astonished smile.
A twist of the lever sent them back to present-day Sierra Plains and the underground base.“We’re about two hundred yards to the right of the lab,” Stuart explained, as the two of themhurried out of the TARDIS and down the hall.
He stopped in front of a side door and pressed his ear to it, listening carefully. “So, what’s theplan?” Elle asked breathlessly, skidding to a stop beside him.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Honestly, I am making this up as I go. Don’t worry, my track recordis excellent.”“I’ll take your word for it,” she said dryly, “but I’d at least like to know what the goal here is.”
Stuart frowned a bit. The sounds behind the door were not helping determine much in the way ofan alternate entry to the lab. “Well, ideally I’d very much like to see that no one in Sierra Plainshas a chance of making or using Huon energy ever again, so we would have to get rid of all theparticles made in this lab as well as all records of them. “
“That will not be as hard as it sounds, I don’t think, given that Raikov’s records are so secret heprobably keeps them down here with the rest of this lot. So really, when you think about it, all weneed to do is—" He turned.“Oh, blast.” ***
“Let me go!”Raikov did not even look up from his work. “Relax, Miss Fitzhugh. This would have been overalready if you hadn’t run away. You do want those particles out of your body, don’t you?”
Elle glared at him, trying once more to tug her arms from the uncomfortably tight grips of thedrones holding her. “You can’t use them! You’ll only hurt people!”“I suppose Stuart was the one who told you that,” said Tristan, with folded arms.“Maybe he did, but you should’ve been able to figure that out for yourselves anyway! Yourrecords said—"
“Why don’t you stop parroting your precious Martian’s facts and leave this to us?” Tristan saidcoldly. She froze with dread as he stepped up to her. “Unlike you, Dennis and I have done theresearch and know what we’re talking about. You’re so trusting you believe everything you’retold.”
Her stomach twisted at the uncomfortable truth. The Tristan she knew would never have saidsuch a thing to her, never—yet he had already amply proved that the Tristan she knew did notexist. She looked away, fighting back fresh tears.“Tristan, I suggest you move out of the way,” Raikov said idly.“Certainly,” the redhead replied, stepping aside with a parting smirk.
The odd feeling Elle had had when Stuart showed her the Huons inside her suddenly returned,and she looked down to see her body glowing again. Once more she tried to struggle away, but itwas useless, and made no difference anyway—the glow began to dim as the particles left hersystem and flew down into the hole. The process left her feeling a bit dizzy, but half-relieved. Atleast she no longer had to worry what the particles might do to her if they stayed.
“There now,” Tristan said, approaching her again, with a nod to the two drones holding her. Theyrelaxed their grips. “Was that so bad?” He reached for her face.Elle recoiled. “Don’t touch me!” She ripped her arms free and ran.
Behind her, she heard him swear, then heavy footsteps…and then a sudden, frightened shout.She turned back just in time to see Tristan tumble into the hole. “Tristan, no!” she cried, runningforward, but it was too late.Seconds later, the impact of his body at the bottom reverberated through the room like a cannon.
She stood there, numb, as Raikov left the lab counter and looked down into the hole. “It looks likehe broke his neck,” he said clinically, stepping away.“He was your friend!” Elle shouted. “Don’t you care?”
“It is a shame,” said Raikov, after a pause, “but he’s done me a favor—this will be easier to cleanup, as it were.” He smiled. “Tristan Smith was so devoted to Sierra Plains that he died for it.Doesn’t that sound appropriate?” Before she could reply, he turned and fixed her with ameaningful look. “And speaking of cleaning things up…I’m afraid to say that you’ve now entirelyoutlived your usefulness, Miss Fitzhugh. At arms!”
Elle backed a step, looking around wildly at the autons, who raised their guns in unison. Sheknew she would not be able to outrun them. Defiantly, she wiped her eyes and raised her chin.“What about my family?”
“I have no reason to harm them, so long as they do as they’re told, like everyone else,” Raikovsaid calmly. “Take aim!”
The guns clicked. Elle closed her eyes.“And—"
“Relax.”The drones lowered their weapons with a whirr, and Elle looked up to see Stuart standing on thecatwalk above them, grinning in triumph. “Stuart!” she cried, practically wilting with relief.Raikov swore. “How the hell did you do that?”
Stuart ignored him, keeping his gaze solely on Elle. “Guess what I’ve got, Ellie?” He brought fortha remote control device, and winked. “Pockets.”“How did that fit in there?” she asked.He smirked. “They’re bigger on the inside.” Here he spared Raikov a brief glance. “You reallyought to hide your toys better—as it happens, manual control overrides voice recognition, luckilyfor me.”
The General scowled. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve already activated the particles.”
“Oh, I’m certain you have, but what you haven’t done is activated the artifact. I know what it is,General, and it will do little more than absorb the energy because it is nothing more than a pieceof scrap metal.” Stuart’s eyes hardened. “But,” he continued softly, “you could still harness it inother ways, so I have to stop you.” He fiddled with the remote, and the autons turned so that theyfaced the walls—and the water mains.
“No,” Raikov growled.“You may wish to run,” said Stuart, as they opened fire on the pipes.
He did just that, dashing under streams of water that grew thicker as the bullets opened moreholes in the pipes. Elle watched him go, and watched the water begin to flood the room and pourinto the hole…and then she looked up at Stuart, who had not moved. He stared at the doubledoors without really seeing them, and his expression had gone very flat, almost dead.
“Stuart!” she yelled. His head snapped to look at her. “We have to get out!”Life returned to his eyes. “Come on!” he cried, running down the steps to meet her.
Once he had parked the TARDIS safely above ground, Stuart dashed right back out the doors.“We’ve got to make sure the job’s done,” he called back to Elle, who tried to keep up as best shecould.
At the edge of the cliff, he skidded to a halt, and Elle grasped his wrist to keep fromoverbalancing as she did the same. “Have we…” she trailed off, looking at the scene. “Stuart,have we drained the lake?”
A slow, exhausted smile crept over his face. “Well,” he said, turning to her, “if that hasn’tdestroyed the laboratory, I am honestly not sure what would!” ***
“Well, all the Huon particles have gone. You should be fine now.” Stuart pocketed his screwdriverand gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
Elle smiled slightly in return, folding her arms against the evening chill. Even though her lovelyupdo had disintegrated into a scraggly mess, and her dress would never be the same again, sheretained the beauty that had thrown him off guard when he first saw her. “Good to know.” Shelooked over her shoulder. “I should probably get inside,” she said, looking reluctant. “My familywill be worried.”
He grinned. “Seeing you safe would be the best Christmas present they could have. Oh, Iforgot…you don’t care for Christmas much, do you?”She shook her head. “No, like I said, we’ve never put any special value in it. Things are…well,different, in my family. And now…now it’s the day my fiancé fell to his death after betraying me inone of the worst ways possible.”
“I’m sorry.”Elle tried to smile, but her eyes were bright with tears. “At least I didn’t actually marry him, right?”
Stuart could not bear seeing her so upset. “The fact remains,” he said jovially, retrieving hisscrewdriver once more, “that it is Christmas, and as such, it isn’t quite right without snow.”
Here he pointed to the light fixture atop the TARDIS roof and clicked a button, sending a little ballof light high into the air. It dissipated into a thousand tiny sparkles, which began to fall again,bringing little flakes of snow with them.The demonstration had the desired effect. With a delighted laugh, Elle spun around in a circle. “Ican’t believe you did that!”“It was only a little atmospheric excitation,” he said, unable to help grinning as he watched her.
She turned to look at him with an honest smile on her face. “Merry Christmas.”“And you.” He leaned against the corner of the blue box, regarding her thoughtfully. “So…whatwill you do with yourself now?”
“Continue on with the work, I suppose,” she said, after a moment. “I’ll find some job. We’ve stillgot Politics to contend with, and that definitely won’t be me…but something else will be, I justhave to look for it.”
“Well, you could always…” He hesitated, wondering if he dared finish the idea.“What?”“Come with me.”
Excitement flashed in her eyes, but it was immediately quelled by an expression of deep regret,and he knew the answer would be no. “I can’t. It isn’t that I don’t want to, but—"“No, that’s fine—"“I have a job to do,” she said insistently, and he made himself look at her. “There’s no one else,I…I can’t disappoint my parents again.”
“Disappoint them? Elle, if your parents are disappointed that you didn’t marry a man who didn’tlove you, they’re wrong. I don’t care how good his connections were.”
She laughed slightly. “That’s very sweet of you to say, Stuart.” Suddenly, she closed the distancebetween them and threw her arms around his neck. Though it surprised him, he was quick toreturn the embrace. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You saved my life, and my home, and I’m notgoing to forget that. Or you.”
“Likewise.” He pulled back enough to grin at her. “I won’t forget you, either.”Elle bit her lip. “I do hope you’ll find someone, though. I’d hate to think of you traveling on yourown.”
“I don’t need anyone,” Stuart replied, hiding the lie with a relaxed smile.“Yeah, you do,” she said, with conviction.He maintained a calm face with difficulty. “Right, then. Thank you, Ellie. Give your family mybest.”
“Will I ever see you again?” she asked.“If I’m lucky.”
With a quick smile, he darted into the TARDIS, shut the door, and leaned against it, trying not tolet sadness overcome him.
Elle turned away before temptation could get the better of her and plodded downstairs into thehouse. On the second floor, she ran into her siblings, and the sight of them relieved her so muchthat she forgot to be morose.
“Ellie!” Azula grabbed her in a tight hug, and Billy wrapped his arms around both of them. Elleclung to them in silence until she heard the creak of the departing spaceship above them, thenpushed away.
“You’re dripping,” Billy said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “What happened?”“We had no idea where you’d gone,” Azula added. “Tristan said he’d get you but we swung backto pick you up and you were gone. Where is he, by the way, and that Stuart person?”
Elle sighed heavily. “Let me change, and I’ll explain.” ***
Elle carried on with her duties as heir, just as she said she would. She found a job in the Slackertrack and rose to the top without much difficulty, relaxing Sierra Plains’ strict labor laws in theprocess. Raikov had been arrested and deposed shortly after the debacle at the military base,allowing one of Elle’s cousins to rise to leadership in his place, so martial law presented noobstacle for once.
Everything seemed all right, except for the fact that Elle had no prospects of marrying again anytime soon.“You really ought to be considering it, at least,” Mya argued, late one afternoon after Billy arrivedhome from college. “It’s been long enough.”
She had been saying things like that the entire season, and Elle was just about at the end of herrope. “It’s not that simple, Mother! It’s not like I have potential husbands just dropping into my laplike Tristan did!”
“Well, maybe if you’d just go out and meet people, they wouldn’t need to—"
Elle ignored the uncomfortably sensible statement and held up a hand in defense. “And who areyou to decide how long is ‘long enough?’ It’s still too soon for me, okay? I’m doing my best, Ireally am, but you can’t rush things like this!”
With that, she began to leave the room, in order to end the conversation before she gave in tothe urge to scream.“You can’t mourn him forever!” her mother called after her. Elle ignored her, clattering down thesteps and out to the street.
Once safely outside, she leaned against the building and pressed her hands to her face. Contraryto what she let Mya think, Tristan was not the problem. She regretted that their relationship hadended the way it had, but she was not sorry it was over. He hadn’t been any good for her, sheknew.No, the problem was that she could not even begin to consider giving her heart to someone newwithout thinking of him. She knew she would never be able to banish his face from her mind,would never forget his flashing green eyes or confident smile. More than a season had passedsince she had seen him, but she still thought of him every day.
A squad car pulled up to the curb in front of her. Her brother leaped out almost before it hadparked, waved a goodbye to the driver, and turned to her with a grin. “Hello, dearest of sisters!”Elle forced a smile on her face. “Hi, Billy.”
“Everything all right?” he asked, gathering her up in a tight hug.“No,” she said miserably. “Mom’s been trying to talk to me about a husband again. I couldn’t justsit around and listen to it.”
“Sorry, Ellie.”“Oh, don’t apologize. You’re not the one hounding me about it.”
Billy looked at her for a moment, as if he were trying to make a decision. “Maybe you should getout of town for a while,” he said seriously. “Take a vacation, get away from Mom and Dad for awhile and focus on you.”
The memory of listening to the TARDIS dematerialize flashed behind her eyes. She shook herhead rapidly to get rid of it. “Yeah, maybe.”He hesitated. “You know, Elle—"
His words were cut off by a sudden whoosh of air and a strange, yet familiar wheeze soundingabove them. Startled, Elle looked up toward the roof and caught a glimpse of a flashing light anda faint trace of blue wood rapidly solidifying.“It can’t be,” her brother murmured.A surprised, delighted laugh escaped her. “It is!” She dashed up the stairs, Billy at her heels, andmade it to the roof just in time to see the TARDIS fully materialize.
For a moment, all she could do was stand there with a large grin on her face, which only widenedwhen the doors opened and a brunet head poked out. “Oh, hello!” said Stuart, smiling as helocked eyes with her. “Fancy seeing you here. I was tracking a…thing. Space and timey thing.”He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and began to scan the area.
“Liar,” said Elle, the grin never leaving her face.He looked at her. “You believe I have just told you an untruth?”
“I think so. What are the chances that Sierra Plains is at the center of another…thing you need tosave us from? Pretty slim, I’m guessing.”
Stuart put his sonic screwdriver away. “I did not fool you, then. Very well, I came to see how therelief has been progressing. And…I wanted to see if you had changed your mind, if you wantedto travel with me after all.” His voice became more intense and excited. “There is a planet calledCallabian which has rivers of freezing fire and forests of crystals miles high that stretch furtherthan the eyes can see. I have never been there before, but I was wondering if you would like tojoin me while I visit.”
“Stuart,” Elle began, her smile finally slipping. He looked so hopeful that she hated to say no, andyet… “I would love to, you know I would, but…if I go with you, I’ll never come back.”
“You don’t have to,” said Billy.She whirled toward him. “Billy!”“Ellie, you don’t have to stay here,” he said, looking her in the eye.
“But I’m the heir—"“Not if you don’t want to be. I’m more than capable of taking over for you, and unlike you, Iactually have a fiancée ready and waiting to marry me.” He smiled a little. “There’s no reason youhave to stay if you don’t want to.”
“I can’t ask you to do that,” she said.“You’re not. I’m offering.”
She stared up at him, the full meaning of his words beginning to sink in. She had done her part.She could go, if she wanted. Her family wouldn’t be left in the lurch if she did. Billy, and probablyeven Azula, would be there to make sure the next generation carried on their work. “Thank you,Billy,” she said, hugging him tightly.
He grinned. “I’ll tell our parents for you. Get going.” Looking at Stuart, he added, “Take care ofher.”
Stuart laughed. “I will do my best, but…I rather think she’ll be the one taking care of me.” With awink, he offered her his hand, and she took it.
Once they were inside with the doors shut, he turned to her. “So, Callabian? Or would you ratherstart elsewhere? We do have the whole of space and time at our disposal.”
She smiled. “Callabian actually sounds fantastic. You mentioned freezing fire?”
CastStuart Legacy as The DoctorElle Fitzhugh as Donna Noble
Tristan Smith as LanceDennis Raikov as Empress of the Racnoss
WithAlbert Legacy as Rose TylerSophia Sartor as Pete Tyler Azula Fitzhugh as Nerys Billy Fitzhugh as Wilfred Mott
Mya Fitzhugh as Sylvia NobleHarry Fitzhugh as Geoffrey Noble Gabriel the Servo as Himself
William Legacy as The Autons Extras: Snow Bohemian (The Bohemian Legacy), Dominic Doran (The Boolpropian Round Robin Legacy), Ezra Howard (The Regacy), Andrew, Peter, and Celestia Harrison, Bethany and David Smith (A Victorian Legacy), Riku Fox, Michael Holm, Edith Pitts (A Villainous Apocalypse), Derrial Book Whedonberry (Whedonberry)
Written by Russell T. DaviesAdapted for The Sims 2 by smoothiequeen87 and Dicreasy