Martha ducked out of the boutique and started walking quickly, staring at the pavement in deep embarrassment.
It was supposed to be a simple shopping trip, an opportunity to buy a few new clothes when by chance they'd found themselves in her recent past. Stupid of her not to remember that the twenty pound notes in her wallet weren't legal tender yet. Stupider to refuse the Doctor's offer of money in the first place out of some sort of misplaced pride in paying her own way. Then again, knowing him he'd have given her some weird alien currency without noticing. Or Euros.
She turned, alarmed at being recognised, but relaxed on seeing who it was. "Adeola!"
They hugged. "How are you doing, cuz?" asked Adeola.
"Oh, fine, fine. All the better for seeing you ..." Martha caught herself before finishing "alive and well".
"Didn't expect to see you of all people out hitting the shops. When I spoke to your Mum she said you were really busy at the hospital at the mo."
"Er, yeah, well, you know what these shift patterns are like. Got to take the opportunities where they come."
"Speaking of your Mum, this thing with your Dad ... is she OK?"
"She will be," Martha said with a slight smile.
"You seem very confident."
It was easy to be confident when you knew the future. "Mum's a survivor."
"Listen, I've got to rush off now, but since you're in the area do you want to meet up for a coffee in a bit?"
"Yeah, sure," Martha said.
"There's a place just round the corner. Meet you there at three?"
"Great. See ya!"
They exchanged another brief hug, then Adeola vanished into the crowd.
* * *
The Doctor had said to meet him at the Diogenes Club. The upstairs room was an expanse of high-backed leather chairs and mahogany furniture that seemed unchanged since the Victorian era (though Martha rather suspected she'd never have got in the front door back then, let alone up here). Only a few chairs were occupied, and all of the occupants were hidden from view by their newspapers. She only recognised the Doctor by his trainers, and the fact that his copy of The Times came from next week.
The Doctor lowered his paper and put his finger to his lips. Then he got up and led Martha through a maze of corridors to another room.
"Stranger's Room," he explained when they finally arrived. "Only place you're allowed to talk in here."
"Riiiiight. So anyway, guess who I just saw."
"The Queen of Sheba? Alexander the Great? Freddie Flintoff?"
"Wrong, wrong and wrong. My cousin Adeola."
Deep shadows appeared in the Doctor's eyes. "The one who died at Canary Wharf."
"What did you say to her?" the Doctor asked urgently.
"Nothing much, she had to leave in a hurry. But we arranged to meet for coffee later."
"And are you going to go?"
"Of course I am! I can warn her not to get involved in the battle."
"Bad idea. Very bad idea. You know you can't cross over into established events."
"Except for cheap tricks, that's what you said. Like that showing off with your tie."
"Saving someone's life's not a cheap trick, Martha," said the Doctor quietly.
"No, it's much more important."
A look passed between them, an unspoken acknowledgement of all the times they'd saved each other's.
"We talked about how easy it is to change history," the Doctor said. "All it takes is for one person to be alive who should be dead."
"Yeah, yeah, like Marty McFly and his picture. But this isn't going to make anyone fade away, it's going to make Adeola appear!"
"Martha, any change to history, even a small one like saving one life, rips the fabric of the universe apart."
"You're making it up. You change history all the time." She looked him straight in the eye. "You save lives all the time."
The Doctor glanced away. "That's different."
"How?" she demanded. "Because you're a high and mighty Time Lord?"
"Well, yes. No. Look. I was there at the battle. It's in my past, my history. Yes, a time traveller can change established history, but changing the established history of a time traveller is a whole other level of complexity and risk ..."
"So because you were there at the battle I can't save my cousin?"
"I'm sorry, Martha. I truly am."
"Bullshit," said Martha fiercely.
There was an awkward silence.
"Come on," said the Doctor, putting on a veneer of cheeriness. "Let's head back to the TARDIS. We can go anywhere! How about Metebelis III, the fabulous blue planet of the Acteon Galaxy? ... Wait, that's probably a bad idea. I know -- Barcelona! The planet or the city, up to you. Anywhere at all."
"Anywhere else, you mean. No way. I'm going to meet Adeola and you can't stop me. I know you're not gonna leave without me." She gave him a defiant glare, but her heart raced briefly at the thought that he just might.
"No, I can't stop you," said the Doctor sadly as she walked out.
* * *
Martha wrapped her hands greedily around the mug of mocha that Adeola put in front of her.
"So how's your love life?" asked Adeola, without any preamble.
Spring 2006, spring 2006 ... Had she had a love life in spring 2006? That was an easy one. "No time for a love life," she said. "Well, there's this one guy at the hospital -- one of the other students, Morgenstern -- who's been mooning around after me. He's very sweet, but not, y'know ... well, anything really. I'm sure he'll give up soon enough and fixate on someone else. What about you? Any boyfriends?"
"No ... boyfriends, exactly," said Adeola with a sly smile.
"But you're still having plenty of fun, am I right?" Martha smiled at her cousin, then leaned in closer. "You are being sensible, aren't you?"
"Of course I am," Adeola replied, adding with heavy sarcasm, "Doctor Jones."
"Sorry, it's just you see some things at the clin--"
"Don't need to know, thanks!" Adeola held up her palms in a "stop right now" gesture.
The momentary pause gave Martha a chance to steer the conversation the way she needed to. "So what are you up to these days?"
"Oh, still temping. Da-ta en-try." Adeola mimed typing with a zombie-like stare.
"Place called GCI. Used to be Global Chemicals, but they've long since dropped any sort of actual manufacturing, so they just go with the initials. The 'I' is for 'Innovation'. Apparently."
Cover story, of course. Torchwood had been top secret. "Sounds posh. Is that one of those ones who've got their offices in Canary Wharf?"
"Not likely!" Adeola laughed. "It's a converted warehouse in Kentish Town."
Obviously the cover story had more than one layer. "Really?"
"Er, yeah," Adeola said.
"You're sure you don't work in Canary Wharf?"
"I think I'd know if I did, wouldn't I?"
Dammit, this was getting nowhere.
"OK, forget where work is. Just ... don't go wherever it is on the 3rd of July next year."
Adeola's eyes widened. "You what?"
"Just trust me. Book a holiday for then. Pull a sickie. Take a duvet day. Whatever. Just stay away from Canary Wharf on July the 3rd, 2007."
"For the last time, I don't work at Canary Wharf. Are you sure you're OK, Martha?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Absolutely fine."
There was no use. Adeola was just looking at her as though she was mad. There was no way to persuade her. To all intents and purposes, Adeola was already dead. Suddenly, she couldn't stomach being around her. She pretended to look at her watch. "Shit, is that the time? Sorry, I've got to go."
"Martha, you've only just got here--"
"Sorry, Adeola. I'll see you 'round."
All she could think was that it had been a beautiful memorial service. A memorial service, not a funeral; the body had never been recovered.
She fled from the cafe, and for the second time that day, Martha found herself running along the streets of London. She was desperate to get back to the TARDIS, away from this time zone. Anywhere else, just like the Doctor had said.
As she got closer to the alley where the timeship was parked, a seed of doubt germinated in her mind. Perhaps the Doctor really had left without her, stranding her to live through the next two years without being able to stop the things she knew were coming.
Turning the final corner, she was relieved to see both police box and Doctor present and correct. The Doctor was standing outside the TARDIS, talking to some tourist who was snapping away madly on his camera. "Yeah, authentic bit of London history, this," he was saying, patting its wooden side. "Obviously, totally outmoded these days with mobile phones and everything. But in the olden days, if you needed help this was where to come." He looked up. "And I'm sorry, but it looks like that still applies to my friend."
It was only then that she realised there were tears running down her face.
* * *
Martha had slammed her door before the Doctor reached her room. He stood outside until the sobs coming from within subsided into sniffling and finally fitful snores. He put his hands in his pockets and walked slowly back to the console room, head down.
She'd get over it in the end. They all had. From Barbara to Rose, a long line of humans each learning their own way, all learning the hard way, that they couldn't change history the way they wanted to.
Back in the console room, he thought about everything he'd been through with Martha. He couldn't pretend he was taking her on just one more trip any longer. They were in it together for the long haul. Through thick and thin. For better, for worse.
And worse could be very bad indeed. He should record a message for her in case anything happened.
Suddenly seized with the idea, with the prospect of activity to distract him, his fingers sprang into action, calling up the interface to the holographic system. The list of previous messages blossomed onto the screen: the message he'd made for Rose after their encounter with the Beast, the emergency message his previous self had made for her ... He scrolled further back, all the way to the first one in the system. Centuries old now. Three regenerations ago. Sheer curiosity compelled him to access it.
His earlier self appeared in a haze of flickering blue light. Had he really been that short? "Mel! It feels like a hundred years since I saw you..."
Mel? He didn't remember leaving a message for Mel. Oh yes, of course, that unpleasant business with the CIA and their early attempt to create a humaniform TARDIS. They'd succeeded in the long run of course, after a fashion ... He tried to close the door on the painful memories, of how he hadn't been able to save Compassion, and then had had to forget her when he--
No. Don't think about what he'd had to do then to save the Time Lords. Don't think about what he hadn't been able to do the second time. Listen to the message, let it evoke some other, happier memory. "You'll find an address and time on the scanner now, courtesy of Louis not being as good at computer security as you or I." That was better. The Doctor smiled as he thought of the way Mel's face would light up when she appreciated the subtleties of an algorithm, or saw how she could use her skills to attack the weak spots in a network. "And let him bring you along. Oh, just one thing, Mel: try not to let him see you ..."
But the hologram did not switch off at the end of the message. Instead, it turned to face him. "Doctor! It feels like a hundred years since I was you. Longer, even."
"You're not really there," the Doctor challenged.
"Of course not. But, frankly, how your guilty conscience chooses to manifest itself is no concern of mine."
"For what you've just done. Completing the puzzle, squaring the circle, retying the Gordian knot, feeding the Ouroboros its tail." The hologram paused. "You want me to spell it out for you, do you? Then I will. You know full well that Adeola doesn't work for Torchwood yet, and never would have. Except that now you've guaranteed she'll be picked up by their rather eccentric recruitment policies. Thanks to her uncanny resemblance to Martha, as far as Torchwood are concerned, she's been seen meeting herself, and then in short order meeting you at the TARDIS. Recruiting someone who seems destined to become your companion is quite the coup. Exactly as you knew when you persuaded that tourist to take so many photos. Exactly as you knew when you told Martha so stridently not to go for coffee, fully aware that she'd ignore you.
"And so the chain of causality marches onwards into your past. Adeola will be there at Canary Wharf at the right time to be taken over by the Cybermen. Yvonne Hartman will be so repulsed when you show her what's been done to her employee that a small part of her personality will survive her own Cyber-conversion and she'll fight back at the crucial moment. All of it to buy you the vital few seconds you need to open the breach and collapse the Void. All of which has already happened. It's wonderfully neat. Almost worthy of me." A feral smile flashed across his face.
"I am not you," the Doctor said with determined ferocity. Then, suddenly, gabbling, "I mean, apart from the utterly trivial way in which we're the same individual. But I certainly don't give speeches that long, and, and-- I. Am. Not. You."
"No, you're worse, a thousand times more dangerous," snarled the hologram. "I had a safety net in the Time Lords. I had plans and traps and snares. You're on your own, improvising madly. I played chess, but you're playing poker, going all-in with every hand. I just hope the stakes don't get too high."
The hologram faded into nothingness.
For a long time, the Doctor stared at the empty space and considered the accusations it had made.
And finally he resolved: he'd tell her in the morning. She deserved to know.
She'd get over it. Ace had.