The bad thing about using a red double-decker bus as a getaway vehicle is that it’s a bit conspicuous. The good thing about using a double-decker bus as a getaway vehicle is that people don’t give buses with ‘not in service’ on the front, a second glance. Especially since she changed the number plates.
Handily enough, people tend not to try to steal them either, and after so long spent learning to circumvent alarm systems, Christina’s got rather good at building her own. The damage to the top deck proves a bit more problematic; the only people who specialise in double-decker buses are going to be a bit more concerned about exactly where she got one. She has no choice: she buys up a company that builds and repairs stunt cars for the film and television industry. Her new acquisition provides an excellent cover story for the bus, so she keeps it in their garages most of the time. Unfortunately it also comes with the nosiest, gobbiest company secretary in the world — though thankfully one who gets blindingly bad migraines whenever she gets too close to the truth.
Christina resists for a couple of months but eventually the lure gets too much and she takes the bus out for a spin. After so long since her last heist, discretion being the better part of valour she’s been lying low for a while, the thrill of being back in action is amazing. Its about twenty minutes into the journey that she hears the sound that makes her heart freeze in her chest.
“What the ruddy hell’s going on? Where the heck are you taking me you maniac?” announces the dulcet tones of the company secretary.
“Tinted windows,” Christina muses to herself, “are an excellent plan, right up to the point when someone decides they make this the darkest place in the office and takes their migraine for a lie down…”
“Oi, crazy girl,” the secretary grabs her attention back, gesturing out the windscreen, “How the blazes did we get here?”
There are many ways that Christina could have legitimately explained the taking the bus out for a spin at night, why she was wearing the cat-suit, even the contents of her rucksack. However, the whole, half a mile above London issue wasn’t something that could just be explained away. So she decided on honesty:
There was an oddly satisfying thump as the other girl stopped massaging her head and hit the floor.
Half an hour later, the company secretary — her name was Donna, and Christina was really going to make a better effort with remembering staff names, she was starting to remind herself uncomfortably of her own mother — had regained consciousness and a brief argument had ensued on the merits of parking in the middle of Hampstead Heath. After they’d established Christina’s double life and Donna’s gives her a lecture on not stealing national treasures, they cut a deal which involves Donna not telling anyone about Christina’s extracurricular escapades in return for her letting Donna organise said activities. The evidence against her may have mysteriously disappeared but Christina is quite sure DI McMillan is just biding his time; he seems the patient type. If Christina’s going to build herself a reputation as a legitimate ‘art dealer’ and businesswoman, while keeping up with her specialist interests, she’s going to need a damn good PA.
And if it all goes pear-shaped at least she can carry on centuries of family tradition by fleeing the law to a Caribbean island with an attractive woman in tow…
Weeks later she’s working alone on the bus, packing its newly obtained hidden compartments with the tricks of her trade, when she becomes aware that she’s not alone. The feeling of being watched wrenches her out of her musings about the places she could be going on this bus of hers. Donna’s standing in the doorway, eyes wild and red-rimmed, though her voice has this odd air of calm when she speaks:
“What would you say if I told you there was a hole in time and space; in the middle of Cardiff? Like someone, something, had made this big tear in the fabric of reality, big enough to drive your bus through? That you could go anywhere, anywhen that you wanted if you knew what you were doing.”
In deference to it being three in the morning, Christina makes them both a cup of tea before she demands further explanations.
“What if I told you I thought I could build you a navigation system to keep landing in a vast lava plain to a minimal?” Donna asks finally, nursing her cup of tea.
Christina carefully places her own cup to one side and goes looking in the ‘for emergencies only’ cupboard tossing over her shoulder as she goes, “This conversation clearly calls for something stronger than tea.”
The sun is rising again before they stop picking the idea apart, Donna having almost passed out from the incipient migraine by that point. Christina doesn’t join her in catnapping on the back seats though. She hadn’t understood half of what Donna had been talking about — more worrying had been Donna’s lack of understanding of the stuff flowing out of her mouth — but what she had understood had given her food for thought.
A few hours, and a shower, later she’s sitting across from her father’s financial advisor, looking every inch the immaculate, wealthy and dangerous heiress. She pushes a medium sized ruby of uncertain origin (well its been a long night, she can’t quite put her finger on which museum she pinched it from last week) across the desk towards him. “So…” she begins drawing the word out, “tell me about this ‘Torchwood’ that you had my daddy invest so heavily in during the nineties?”
They’re working on the control circuits one night when the talk turns to aliens. For all the evidence to the contrary, up to and including the decidedly non-terrestrial knowledge that seems to be kicking about in her own brain, Donna’s a bit of a sceptic on that front. Christina’s mid description of her encounter with those highly evolved flies, when something trips a memory.
“The other alien, the one who was on the bus with us, he looked human but he wasn’t. Aliens that look alien are easy to accept but aliens that look like us, just seem unlikely but there he was bold as brass, looking like us…not even green or blue, just pale and freckled…” she trails off flailing her hands vaguely.
Thinking about the Tritovore and all the things she’ll never learn about them, if their language has dialects, if male and female look visibly different. Whether they had art or art thieves, if there are small pockets of their species campaigning to keep their own languages, objecting to the homogenisation of their species necessitated by intergalactic trade.
She finds herself smiling despite herself at the absent-minded pat on the arm that Donna gives her without looking up from her work. Right up until the next sentence out of her mouth makes the smile fall right off again.
“You probably looked Gallifreyian to him.”
“Donna,” she asks hesitantly, “where’s Gallifrey?”
“Constellation of Kasterborus — not to be confused with the planet Kasterborus the Fibster which is part of the same system or for that matter the Kasterborus Borealis which can in fact still be seen from Earth on a clear night - Time Lord home planet,” she replies attention still intent on the mechanics taking shape beneath her fingers.
“And how, exactly, do you know that? I’ve never mentioned him being a Time Lord, never mind the rest of it.”
She’s got Donna’s attention now, staring back at Christina with widening eyes. She can hear the panic rising through the other girl’s every word as she starts talking again.
“Of course you have, you must have said! How else could I possibly know something like that, unless you’re implying I’m psychic or something else mad like that? You must have told me. Christina? Tell me you told me that!”
The fear in Donna’s voice is what makes her crack. As much fun as she’s sure Donna is having with this daft bus project of theirs, she’s scared of this strange knowledge of hers. Donna’s been ordinary, worked hard at it, never sought adventure the way Christina chases it. Been, if not entirely happy with her lot, at least content. Now she’s got all this knowledge in her head, memory loss and migraines and the lingering sense that something terrible happened to her that no-one will tell her about. They’re so different, they shouldn’t get on; yet they do. It’s an odd notion but one that lingers, that Donna needs protected and that this is vitally important. So she lies.
Christina’s been expecting a visit from Torchwood for a while now; or at very least for Nathan and Barclay to tag team her for an unofficial UNIT warning off. She’s utterly unsurprised that they choose a day when Donna’s on holiday to make an appearance in her office. Her sources tell her that they have a file on Donna, one that can’t be opened, no matter how much incentive Christina offers.
It’s not, as she expects, one of the boys, but instead an immaculately suited and booted Martha Jones walks into her office all warm smile and cold eyes. If Christina hadn’t been convinced that Donna had been important before, she would be now. She’s got UNIT’s CMO in her office and, if the intelligence she’s been receiving is correct, UNIT’s unofficial Torchwood liaison. A lot of influence is standing across the desk from her; for all that it comes in such a young package.
“Are you here on behalf of UNIT or Torchwood, Dr Jones.”
To her credit Martha doesn’t even blink at that. “Both and neither, Lady DeSouza, Captain Harkness was unavoidably detained in Cardiff, but he asked that I assure you that I speak on his behalf as well. This is, shall we say, an unofficial visit as far as our respective organisations are concerned.”
She thinks of the files she read, the extensive test trials of retcon, the incidents with ICIS and Brimmicombe-Wood, she knows the sort of dubious things that the ordinary intelligence services get up to, she has no doubt that the ones with access to extraterrestrial tech are capable of worse. Yet Christina cannot resist the taunt, she’s never been able to take officialdom seriously. “The official version comes with more staff and sedatives I take it? Perhaps with a side order of retcon?”
Martha gives Christina a look as though she’s barely containing the urge to roll her eyes at that, “No,” she states firmly, “the official version ends with you rotting in a secure containment facility that will make you wish the Doctor had left you to DI McMillan’s tender mercies at Easter. You will simply disappear.”
Christina’s a tiny bit impressed with this one, irritated statement of fact is a good deal more effective than threats and posturing. “Point taken. Does the Doctor not object to you going around threatening people?”
The smile Martha gives before she answers is completely different to her previous one, almost predatory, “Who do you think taught me? No, keeping Donna safe is too important to bother about niceties, but seeing as you’re sort of one of us, you get a friendly warning.”
“I suppose it’s too much to ask to find out what did happen to Donna. PA’s from Chiswick don’t normally warrant the protection of major semi-governmental bodies. Hold on…this really isn’t official, is it? It’s personal; you called her ‘one of us’. She was your friend and something terrible happened to her. Well, she’s my friend too, how can I protect her when I don’t know what I’m protecting her from?”
“What would you say if I told you that for a little while, she was the most important woman in the universe?” There’s something tired and sad about Martha as she speaks, and it’s a jolt to realise where she’s seen that look before. It’s that look Donna gets sometimes when the sheer alien-ness of her knowledge gets to her. Except Donna’s look is overlaid with fear of the unknown, Martha’s is overlaid with a horrible certainty.
“She’s scared of something, something lurking in the memories she’s lost, and you know what it is, don’t you?”
“If she remembers she will die.” Martha pauses for a long moment, and then she opens her briefcase placing two packets of pills, a business card and a small clearly alien syringe on the table. “Worst case scenario, give her this and call this number; wherever, whenever you are and help will come, I promise you that. This on the other hand is what Donna can never know.”
The first trip off planet is to the moon. Not that Christina doesn’t trust Donna’s mad scientist skills, but she’d rather find out there was a problem with the bus’ structural integrity or life support systems high in the earth’s atmosphere, where she can quickly descend to oxygen and solid ground than in the middle of this time space vortex. The last wormhole this bus travelled through did it damage enough. Handily the steel support cage she got the kids in repairs to fit proves its worth and they trundle around the moon for half an hour before returning to Earth. Donna gets really intense when Christina suggests opening the doors, so exploring the moon will have to wait for another day: with spacesuits.
Leaving Donna to sleep off the antics of the night before in the penthouse suite that Christina vaguely calls home had seemed an excellent plan. Right up to the point where she’d come back to pick Donna up and found she’d got bored enough to start reading Russian literature. The forthcoming rant on anthropomorphic penguins and some bloke called Frobisher (Christina is fairly sure Donna’s not referring to Leslie Nielson in a mountie outfit) is partially explained by the book choice. Death and the Penguin is she agrees a fairly accessible place to start, but she thinks — searching under the bed for the rather less pristine English language copy to replace it with — the fact that Donna hadn’t noticed she was reading it in Russian would explain the unexpected fainting fit. She finds herself hoping desperately that this Doctor Jones is right; what Donna doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
It’s early spring and the breeze off the bay is invigorating, even if does keep whipping Christina’s hair into her face. It’s times like this she misses Donna, talking to herself as she tries to take readings of the Rift Storm; also Donna always has a spare hair elastic in her bag. However, there are too many things that could set Donna off in this city so she carries on waving her home-made rift monitor around in the breeze and getting funny looks off the locals who mutter ‘bloody Torchwood’ at her. Torchwood themselves seem to give her a wide berth, as far as she can tell they don’t actively approve of her plan, but nor do they seem to actively disapprove of it either.
The bus is almost ready, but it still rankles with Christina that there was one bit of Donna’s wish list that she’s not been able to obtain. Yet today is clearly different, as there’s a tall man of indeterminate age in period military garb leaning on a lamppost and watching her quietly. She presumes this is Dr Jones’ Captain Jack, and he greets her with a bow and a kiss to the hand and calls her ‘my lady’. Old habits clearly die hard with Torchwood. He gives her an oddly shaped parcel and mutters about avoiding having to fill out forms for things they weren’t supposed to have by giving it to her rather than letting her steal it. Quite what Donna’s going to do with half a lump of alien coral is beyond her but she’s looking forward to seeing Donna’s face when she presents her with it. The Captain just smiles enigmatically when she asks him, only commenting that he wants to see their ship once its finished, whenever that is.
As she’s about to walk away it occurs to her that both he and Dr Jones have emphasised whenever. She points out their bus only travels in space not in time, any time travelling they do will be at the Rift’s whim not of their own volition. He pats her companionably on the shoulder, commenting that it will soon, before walking away. Throwing back over his shoulder his desire for a postcard from behind her; by the time she turns around he’s disappeared again.
The next time she’s in Cardiff she has both Donna and their bus with her. The street is quiet as they wait for the conditions to be just perfect. On the corner a couple are not watching them with casual indifference of police officers everywhere trying to be inconspicuous. However, the discreet thumbs up the woman gives them suggests to Christina that they probably aren’t McMillan’s lot. The storm breaks suddenly, filling the street with strange light, she feels Donna grab her arm as she shunts the bus into gear.
“Ready?” she asks, giving her one last chance to back out.
“Oh yes!” responds Donna eyes lit up and grinning manically. She looks, Christina thinks, suddenly quite beautiful.
Christina finds herself grinning back, grabs her hand firmly and floors the accelerator, her other hand keeping them steady as the head straight for the heart of the storm.
The bad thing about using a red double-decker bus as a getaway vehicle in an intergalactic jewel heist is that it’s a bit distinctive. The handy thing about using this red double-decker bus as a getaway vehicle, is that it can make a sharp left turn into the vortex, which makes it very hard for the local law enforcement to follow you; even if they do clock your licence plate…