Martha slept fitfully on the rocket ship. Space travel was not a new sensation to her–she'd been to her first alien planet while still at university and to many more since then–but it had been a much more advanced ship that had first ferried her across the void of stars. Not a human ship–which were still crude and ungainly things more than a century after the Apollo Project–but an alien vessel: a living ship that traveled through time and space at the flick of a switch and the turn of a dial.
Earth's rocket ships, she was given to understand, tended to get where they were going more often.
“That's the Wheel, then,” she said quietly as the deep space station came into sight. It was Earth's first. A miracle, she thought, that the human race would have progressed so far by the closing years of the twenty-first century and a miracle that she would have lived to see it.
They had her perform the autopsy on Gemma. How lucky, Martha thought, that she'd been en route to visit the station when the attack happened. Her stomach felt hollow, but Martha noted with pride that her hands did not shake as she made the incision. It was hard to believe she was dead. Once upon a time, Gemma Corwyn had been Martha's favorite student.
Years ago, of course. More than a decade. The Wheel was still in construction then and Gemma was still Gemma Franklin. Martha had been matron of honor at her wedding. Gemma and Andrew had been so happy together, so of course it couldn't last. Dead before fifty, that was the chance you took when you joined the space program. Gemma had only outlasted her husband by three years.
“She died to save us,” the girl said. Zoe, her name was. Acting Commander Ryan had assigned her to show Martha around the Wheel.
“Good,” said Martha softly.
“I could tell you everything that happened,” said Zoe. “About Jamie and the Doctor and the Cybermen.”
“Please,” said Martha and her voice trembled a bit. If Zoe noticed, she didn't say anything.
Martha had a bottle of wine she'd brought from Earth. She'd shared it with Zoe and listened to the stories of the dead: of Gemma Corwyn and Jarvis Bennett; of Bill Duggan, Kemel Rudkin, and John Chang.
“It's strange and frightening,” said Zoe. “You shouldn't think that things like Cybermen exist, but there they are. Jamie had met them before. He told me about it.”
Martha stroked her hair. “I know. It's hard when something strange like that happens to you. To have to fight for your life...”
“I didn't think I could do it,” said Zoe.
“You did though,” said Martha.
Zoe looked up at smiled at Martha. “Yes, I suppose I did. Dr Jones–”
She shook her head. “Martha, Zoe.”
“Martha, then. Do you think they'll cut funding for the Wheel now?”
“They might try,” said Martha. “I don't think it'll succeed, though.”
“Why not?” said Zoe. “All they have to do is say it's silly to throw money at a project that's just going to have alien robots attack it.”
“They didn't cut funding for the Gravitron,” Martha pointed out, “and Cybermen attacked their moonbase.”
Zoe blushed. “I didn't know that. Did they really? I suppose it must have been in 2070 when they say it went haywire. I was just a tiny girl then.”
Martha nodded. “It's all right that you didn't know. When I was two years old they landed in Antartica and the UN did a good enough cover-up job that I never found out until I came to work for UNIT. Though, of course, it all came out in the 2030s.”
“Martha,” Zoe whispered, “just how many times have the Cybermen tried to conquer Earth?”
Martha bit her lip. “No more than thirteen times,” she said. “Perhaps not even that. It was only ever really a rumor that there'd been an incident in China during WWII and Carnary Wharf...” She bit her lip. She still missed Adeola, even after all these years. “They were from an alternate universe. Not true Cybermen. That's what I was told, once someone had actually told me.”
Zoe's face was white. “I don't suppose you brought a second bottle of wine?”
Martha hadn't, but some light detective work established that Gemma had hid a few bottles of her own in the back of the medical supplies cabinet. It was, they agreed, the way she would have wanted to be remembered.
Somehow near the end of the second bottle, Zoe ended up on Martha's lap, head against her shoulder.
“It's hard to believe you're over a hundred years old,” said Zoe. She reached to touch a white braid. Martha let her. “I wouldn't have thought you past sixty.”
“When I was hardly any older than you,” said Martha quietly, “I traveled with a man in a police box through space and time. It did something to my physiology. Changed it. There's a kind of energy you're exposed to.”
“A police box...” Zoe shook her head. “That sounds very like the Doctor. He had a box, a blue one, that said POLICE on it.”
“He was exactly like your Doctor,” said Martha.
“I would have liked to travel with him and Jamie,” said Zoe. “I wish I had.”
Martha closed her eyes, trying to call back the number of a mobile phone eighty-five years out of date. “Perhaps you can still.”
Zoe yawned. “Could I?”
“Perhaps,” said Martha. She sighed softly and stroked Zoe's hair. “I can't promise anything. But I'll try.”