Okay, one more time. I.D. cards. Briefing dossier. Overnight bag and change of clothing, just in case. Tape recorder. What am I forgetting?
Between bouts of packing, running back and forth in confusion from room to room, Sarah Jane kept compulsively picking up the remote and channel-surfing. Every channel was showing the same pictures. The gaping hole in the side of Big Ben. The huge alien ship half-submerged in the Thames.
She kept shaking her head. She couldn't quite believe it. After all these years -- decades, really, she admitted -- that she'd known about alien life, all the times she'd tried to write about it and run into cover-ups, flat denials, and "D" Notices, here, after all this time, was finally something too big for the world to ignore.
Oh -- digital camera. Pen and paper, of course, in case the tape recorder breaks. What else?
And for her, of all people, to get the call to come to Downing Street for a conference with alien experts -- well, someone had to be scraping the bottom of the UNIT barrel pretty hard to come up with her name, was all she had to say about it. But who was she to refuse? If she knew anything that would help, then so much the better. If she didn't, then she was still going to be at the middle of the story of a lifetime.
She stopped short. Oh, right, she realized. I need to tell K9 where I'm going.
She'd take him along, but she was worried these experts might want to take him apart. Most people these days took no notice of her little pet, if they happened to see him. "Is that something like an Aibo, then?" asked the last young man she'd brought home. "Something like that," she'd agreed.
But K9 was different. Her goodbye-and-good-luck present from the Doctor. Which reminded her -- TARDIS key, she thought, and went rummaging through her jewelry box to look for it. The Doctor wasn't going to be there, after all these years she had to get it through her head that he just wasn't coming back for her, not ever -- but just in case.
There it was. She pulled it out into the light, and the metal was so reflective it almost looked like it was glowing --
There was a strange noise from outside. She dropped the key back in the box and stepped away.
"K9?" She said, feeling suddenly alone and vulnerable in the small house. "K9? Is that you?"
She walked back downstairs, into the kitchen. The back door was standing open.
"K9?" She hoped he'd been the one to open the door, at least. "What are you doing out here?"
He was outside. He was standing in the middle of the lane that led to the back gate, and his radar-dish ears were moving back and forth and his antenna probe was extended, quivering. The weird sound -- it was coming from him. A row metallic rumble -- a grating, grinding noise.
When Sarah Jane realized what it was, she laughed. She couldn't help it. "K9, are you growling?"
He spun on his base to face her, the blaster extended. Aimed at her. His eyes glowed a fierce red.
She took a step back. For the first time, she looked at him in horror. Finally realizing that the Doctor had sent an alien machine to live in her home -- one she really knew nothing about, even after all these years. "K9 -- it's me. Don't you recognize me?"
The blaster slowly retracted. The metal tail wagged, low and ashamed. "Apologies, Mistress." The voice was familiar, comfortable, safe. He was her friend again.
"What is it, K9? What's the matter?"
"There is danger, Mistress."
Sarah Jane froze. She could feel the blood draining from her face. The last time he had told her that, she'd ignored him. She'd ended up on another world. "What kind of danger?"
"Is it the aliens? Is it -- is it the Doctor?"
"Unknown, Mistress. There is insufficient data. Apologies, Mistress." His voice sounded -- wrong. The light in his eyes was flickering.
"I was going -- There's a conference, I have to -- "
"Negative! It is imperative that you not go out! There danger is danger Mistress danger! Insuff-i-cient apolo-gies -- danger!" The light in his eyes flared bright now, and his ear sensors tracked back and forth faster than Sarah Jane had ever seen them. Tiny servo-motors inside his metal casing were whirring.
She looked around helplessly. Then looked up at the sky, as if the danger would come from above. It always did, one way or another. She suddenly felt very exposed, out here in her backyard, with the sun setting. Under the oncoming dark.
"Let's get you inside," Sarah Jane said, and pulled at K9's collar. He tried to move, tried to follow her, but couldn't. His blaster slid in and out of its casing, back and forth, back and forth. "Danger," he kept saying, as she half-carried, half-dragged him inside.
Not ten minutes later, all her doors and windows locked, she was on the phone to her government contact. "I can't make it. I'm sorry."
"The car's going to pick you up in just -- "
"Cancel it. Tell them I can't go. My -- my dog is sick." She slammed the phone down. That must have sounded like an excuse. It was the only thing she could think of to say.
She wiped away the first few burning tears. Damn it, she would not cry. He wasn't going to -- he couldn't die, for God's sake, he was a machine. Even if he was -- breaking down, he could be fixed. Right?
She stared down at the phone. She wished she knew who to call. Someone at UNIT? Think Tank? The Doctor? If only she could call the Doctor.
She went back to where she'd left K9, and he wasn't there. He had dragged himself to the back door again, his head leaned down low and resting against the door. He backed up slightly, bumped into the door. Backed up and did it again.
"K9, we're going to get you help, okay? Do you -- Can you think of anyone we can call?"
"Negative -- Mistress. Thereisdanger. Sorry. So sorry, Mistress."
"K9, don't -- " The tears were coming now, whether she wanted them or not. She put her hand between his head and the door, tried with her other arm to hold him still. "It's all right. It's all right, K9. You're ... You've been a good dog."
"Good ... dog."
"It'll be all right."
"Good dog," K9 repeated slowly. Then: "Bad."
"No, K9, you -- "
"Mistress. Listen." She'd never heard that kind of urgency in his small metal voice. "Bad dog. Bad ... Bad wolf. Danger, Mistress. Bad wolf."
" ... What? K9, what do you mean? What is it? K9?"
He didn't answer. She wanted to shake him. She wanted to scream. She wanted the Doctor back to tell her everything was going to be all right.
But the light in K9's eyes had already gone out.