The afterlife was a train, Ian noticed. Apparently there was one, and it took the form of a train. He wondered whether this was independent, or whether it was influenced by something he’d read or seen, some suggestion that had stuck with him: whether, in fact, he was effectively imagining all this.
He couldn’t seem to bring himself to care much one way or the other. Probably was dead then; death anaesthetised the mind. He’d read that somewhere, definitely, and had thought some cynical comment in response. Made things a lot easier somewhere along the line, he imagined, if the dead just accepted everything, meek and pliable; stunned by the sudden absence of life babbling away incessantly to the senses, a constant distraction, they just watched as colour bled away and the details of the train blurred...
Barbara was with him. His stomach jolted. Please, no. No, no, it was all right, not all right, but better: Barbara wasn’t there like he was. She was like a ghost: no, she was alive. Sharp with vibrancy, she was the most real thing there was, and the train was the shadow with himself somewhere in between.
She was sitting sideways, facing him, holding his hand tightly - he could just about feel her touch — and she was speaking. Her meaning entered his mind instantly, but he struggled to hear the actual words. It was important.
He found it difficult, like tuning the wireless to a particular station without knowing the frequency to look for, but was rewarded by a slight strengthening of her grip as he heard, “The Doctor’s going to find the antidote, Ian. He says it should be simple once he’s located the...something or other. I’m no good with scientific names. And I’m afraid I wasn’t really listening to that part.”
She laughed shakily.
“Barbara?” Ian said, and started at the sound of his own voice.
“You’re going to be fine, Ian,” Barbara continued, sounding very much like she was trying to reassure herself as much as him. “Then, once this is all over, you’re going to promise that you’ll never do anything so stupid again. I’m quite sure we can save the world without you going around throwing yourself in front of poison darts.”
She fell silent, but the pressure of her fingers round his was reassuringly stronger again. He concentrated on it.
I am your navigator, Ian. I will lead you back.
He focused on the details: the way the skin would be pulled tight on the back of their hands; the crescent marks of her nails; the whisper of skin against skin, and fancied they came clearer, closer. It came as a surprise when she spoke again, quieter than before.
“I won’t leave you, Ian.”
And she took him by the hand and he followed her touch and her words.
“I need you.”
Sometimes, in the midst of whatever battle it was they were fighting, he’d half-believed he could not die because it was impossible to imagine leaving Barbara alone, not while she needed him, and maybe that wasn’t so ridiculous, after all. This wasn’t death, merely a feverish dream his mind had conjured up while the poison seeped through his body and he would
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