The manor house was built in 1689, but it had been remodeled so many times since then that little remained of the original structure but the history. The last remodel in 1980 had converted the building into a nursing home complete with lifts, railings, ramps, modern pluming and wiring and a state of the art medical facility. The gravel paths in the park had been widened and paved, and raised beds had been added so the elderly residents could enjoy the garden without difficulty. It had been hard for Harriet to ask her mother to leave the house she’d lived in for all of Harriet’s life, and harder still for her to put her mother in someone else's care. But then, she’d always made hard choices. She could still see her mother as she’d left her, sitting in her chair on the lawn where the handsome young nurse had wheeled her. The disease had eaten away her flesh, leaving only bones, transparent skin and pain, but she still managed to give the nurse a coquettish grin. He’d smiled back, leaning forward to whisper something as Harriet turned to walk away. One more decision made.
The French window shattered and Harriet stood, turning to face the three Daleks.
“Harriet Jones, former Prime Mister,” she said.
“WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE.” Harriet wondered briefly if the electronic voice was meant to be mocking. Strange how empty it sounded. Harriet took a breath, and felt a sudden rush of confidence. She’d made the right choice.
“Oh, you know nothing of any human, and that will be your downfall.” Harriet squared her shoulders. She heard the grating command, and waited for the blast, remembering the smell of violets and, underneath it, the smell of disinfectant and ammonia. This was an easy death.
She had meant to face death head raised, eyes open, but at the rush of hot air and flying metal her arms flew up, and she was pushed violently backwards. She lay with her arms wrapped round her head, and her legs tucked up to protect her stomach as debris rained down. Downing Street all over again, she thought. Well, at least this time someone else was in charge. She wouldn’t have to explain why aiming a missile at the Prime Minister’s residence was a good idea, and, more importantly, she wouldn’t have to sit through planning sessions with that pokey little minister from Milton Keynes who was more concerned that his wine at lunch would be marked down as a government expense than in getting any actual work done. She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you alright?” Harriet looked up. A woman was leaning over her, her light brown hair pulled back in a lose ponytail, and her soft mouth shaped into a concerned half smile.
“I’m fine, thank you.” Harriet struggled to a sitting position. The woman sat back to give her room. She was dressed in jeans and a bomber jacket, and held a baseball bat loosely in one hand; the picture perfect image of the rebellious young that Harriet knew even now were looting the city. But her face told another story. It was unlined, but rough and lightly pockmarked with old scars, and the fear in her eyes was over set with determination and purpose. Harriet held out her hand, “Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister.”
“Yeah, I know,” said the woman, taking the hand and pulling. “I’m Ace.”
Harriet let herself be pulled to her feet, and stared at the room. The far was wall was gone, and the floor was covered with twisted pieces of metal and splintered wood. Plaster dust slowly settled, coloring everything a ghostly white. She stared at the rubble where the Daleks had stood.
“They’re gone, but how?” She asked.
“Oh, those tin cans? All taken care of,” said Ace. She hefted the bat, then laughed as Harriet gave her a doubtful look. “Alright, so there might have been some industrial grade explosives involved as well. Sorry about the house, by the way, best I could do with what I had to work with, and you didn’t exactly give me much time to find you.”
“Oh, that’s quite alright. I’m very grateful to you for saving my life,” said Harriet. Who was this woman?
“No problem,” said Ace absently, her eyes flicked round the room. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a back door in this place, only I don’t think the roof’s going to hold.” Suddenly Harriet was aware of a low vibration: the slow groan of the house as it tried to settle. The space left by the missing wall had shrunk to half its size. Suddenly, the groan turned into a rough grating sound and then to screech as something gave, and the ceiling dropped another two feet, cutting off that exit.
“This way please,” said Harriet, grabbing the woman’s arm and pulling her back into the house. They moved rapidly, not speaking, moving through rooms that suddenly seemed unstable: walls creaked and floors sagged as the house began to collapse. Ace followed close behind Harriet, unperturbed, it seemed, by the danger. She moved with no more caution than if she’d been walking through city streets: aware of possible threats, but unworried by them.
They moved through the corridor, into the kitchen and out the back door. Harriet lead Ace into the garden, aiming for the relative protection of the garden shed. She tried to pull Ace into the shadow of the structure, but Ace had stopped, and, half turning back the way they’d come, watched the house sink into itself. Something had started a fire: the wiring, the pilot light on the gas stove. Ace stared at the destruction with an intense fascination, pushing wisps of hair out of her face. She was afraid. Harriet could see that. The knuckles that still gripped the bat were white, but the flames reflected in her eyes, and Harriet could see she was still flying from the adrenaline rush. High off the end of the world.
“Not half bad, yeah?” asked Ace, turning back to Harriet. Harriet’s sides ached from her fall. The strange planets hung over the ruin of her home. She felt like she was standing on a child’s model of the solar system: paint and Styrofoam and so fragile. The woman was still watching her, waiting for an answer.
“Well enough,” said Harriet. She wondered what she’d do next. She’d set her plans in motion, completed the protocols, and now what to do, just wait?
“I’ll say,” said Ace, with a sudden smile. “Good job on sending for the Doctor, by the way, that was well clever.” Ace started to move towards the back gate.
“But, that was untraceable.” Harriet spun on Ace, suddenly afraid. If this Ace had listened in on the subwave network then anyone might have. She stumbled after the other woman.
“You set your program to trace anyone who could help find the Doctor, right?” Ace asked, then went on without waiting for an answer. “You know he’s ancient? And he goes through companions faster then he goes through regenerations, and that, let me tell you, is saying something. You let him go off on his own, and, the next thing you know, he has a thing for velvet and can’t remember his species. You should have picked up buckets more of us. Probably did. You just got the ones with fancy computers, while the rest of us were left yelling at our Telies.”
Ace paused at the corner of the fence and looked up and down the road. A car sat abandoned, its doors left hanging open. Further along, Harriet saw a body collapsed in the middle of the street. She started to move forwards, but Ace caught her arm. Harriet tried to shake herself free.
“I might be able to help.”
Ace shook her head. “The Daleks got her on her way in; you don’t get up from that.” She gave Harriet a long look, all humour gone from her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said. For a moment, Harriet got a glimpse of the Doctor, her Doctor, all big ears and sad blue eyes, standing in the center of the cabinet room at Downing Street. Did all his girls become like him? She wondered.
Ace led Harriet forward. Her eyes moved back and forth, scanning the street. Once something caught her eye, and she pulled Harriet behind a car. They stayed crouched down, listening carefully, shoulders pressed together. Ace reached into her pocket and pulled out something heavy. She weighed the object in her hand. After a moment she let out a breath. “All clear I think.” She moved out from behind the car still holding the object, a canister, in her hand, and Harriet followed.
The motorcycle was parked about ten yards farther on, hidden from view between two cars. Ace hooked her bat to the back of the vehicle, then got on and motioned to Harriet to climb up behind her. Harriet hesitated, giving the motorcycle an uncertain look. She doubted the Daleks could miss the sound of the motor on the otherwise silent streets, and even if they could get through, what then? She let out a heavy sigh, and looked seriously at the other woman. “What are we going to do?” She asked.
Ace looked back at her, her eyes suddenly bright. “Well to start, we’re not going to leave everything to the Doctor. The professor doesn’t get to have all the fun.” Ace patted her motorcycle. “I’ve got a short-range time jump installed. If you wire that to the linear shield from a vortex manipulator, you can get it to do space as well. I thought we’d hit UNIT HQ in Scotland. If any of the UNIT lot got your message, they’ll head that way, and if Bambara’s still around, she’s not completely useless. So, are you coming?”
“I’m coming,” said Harriet. She climbed onto the motorcycle, rapping her arms around the younger woman’s waist. Ace started the engine, then, catching her passenger’s hand, handed Harriet her canister.
“What’s this?” Asked Harriet, shouting to be heard over the motor.
“Nitro 9,” Ace replied. “I need both hands for the jump. If you see any Daleks when we come out of the vortex, chuck this at them. I didn’t have time to set up a trigger, but that shouldn’t be a problem, if it hits the ground hard it should go off. Now hang on.”
They lurched forward leaving Harriet clinging to Ace. Harriet fought the urge to laugh. She doubted very much that riding off with a young woman while armed with an unstable explosive device figured in any of the emergency protocols for alien invasions. In the moment when the world vanished, Harriet wondered if maybe it should.