A random series of numbers, identical, appearing on her mobile phone, her laptop computer, and Mr. Smith simultaneously? Impossible.
“I think it’s alien code,” Clyde offered as he paced the floor. “A detonation sequence?” “Could be the cure for cancer, for all we know.’ Rani frowned at her friend’s rolling eyes. “Not everything is a bomb, you know.’
“Too short to be a cure for cancer. Could be an algorithm–maybe crack the code to the New York Stock Exchange?” He looked hopefully at Sarah Jane. “Who wants to be a zillionaire, right?”
Sarah Jane shook her head. “It’s not the time for jokes, Clyde,” she said as she punched a series of commands into her laptop. She was fast, but not that fast. Keeping up with Mr. Smith was a job for K-9 or Luke. “There, I’ve got the last of the synchronizations done, Mr. Smith. I don’t understand why–“
“The numbers are encrypted coordinates, Sarah Jane. As there was no logical need to deliver the message to three separate devices, I am attempting to decipher the code by cross-referencing the coordinates of the three devices to receive the communications with the code.”
“And how long do you think that will take?” Sarah Jane was about to start pacing, but realized Clyde was already covering that and leaned on the desk instead. “An hour? A day?”
“That was quick,” Rani said.
“So? And??” Clyde insisted.
“The message is indeed coordinates. And there was an audio-visual message embedded into the communications. Playing now.”
Before any of them could respond, a face appeared on Mr. Smith’s view screen. A human woman, perhaps in her early 40s, with curly blond hair and a big grin on her face dominated the screen.
“Sarah Jane Smith! Oh, I’ve been meaning to look you up for ages now. Anyway, I know this is kind of late notice, but I so want you to be there. I’ve sent the coordinates to your gadgets. Dress casual, gifts welcome but not mandatory. Oh, and please don’t bring that damned robotic dog! And sorry–this gathering is adults only, so Clyde and Rani will have to stay behind too. Sorry, kids. We’ll have our own adventure later.”
The three humans stared at each other, then back at the screen.
“Oh, I forgot. Sarah darling, when you get to the coordinates (please don’t be late), tell them Dr. Song sent you. Ta for now, my lovelies. Oh, in case you do want to bring a gift, I wear a size six shoe and I adore Sergio Rossi. Or Jimmy Choo. Whatever you like is fine. See you there.”
And the message ended.
“Well, this can’t be right,” Sarah Jane murmured into her watch. The coordinates Dr. Song had sent led right to St. Pancras International.
The Champagne Bar, to be precise.
She was about to call Mr. Smith and double check the coordinates when she heard a voice calling her name above the sounds of the station.
“Sarah Jane! Darling, over here!”
She turned to find the source of the call, then laughed as she saw Jo Grant Jones practically wobbling on her tippy-toes, waving frantically to get her attention. “I see you,” she said, gesturing broadly so she wouldn’t have to yell over the station noise. It was mid-day during the week, so the place was crowded with business travelers, tourists, and the general rabble one finds in a busy train station.
Sarah Jane pocketed the sonic lipstick she’d been holding reflexively since arriving at St. Pancras, knowing that if Jo was there, it was probably okay. Not necessarily safe. Or sane. But probably okay. It took no time to cross the way to where Jo lingered with a small group of women. There was a gasp at Jo’s bear hug, then another hug and kiss on the cheek as Jo started her rambling greeting.
“Oh, Sarah Jane, I was so hoping you would be here. You look smashing, darling. I love the hair.” Another hug, and Sarah Jane was offered a seat between Jo and a striking brunette in her mid-thirties. “Everybody, this….” Jo gestured towards Sarah Jane as if introducing the newest luxury car or turning letters on a game show. “This is Sarah Jane Smith. Third incarnation. Fourth incarnation.” Jo screwed up her face for a moment. “Don’t tell me–I remember. Third, Fourth, Tenth…and Eleventh, right?”
Sarah Jane laughed and nodded. There were four women in all, Jo, herself, the young brunette in the stylish clothes, and another brunette with a serene face and quiet loveliness. “Hello, all. I had no idea this would be a reunion.”
“Introductions all around,” Jo said. Pointing to the stylish young woman, “This is Dorothy McShane, better known as Ace. Seventh incarnation,” she clarified. “And everybody calls her Ace.”
“Of A Charitable Earth?” Sarah Jane asked.
“Yeah,” Ace said, reaching out to shake Sarah Jane’s hand. “Read your piece on monkey mind control in the Guardian. Not bad work.”
“Monkey mind control?” the other woman asked with a laugh.
“A prototype exoskeleton developed by scientists at Duke University in America,” Sarah Jane explained. “A brain implant allows monkeys to move an avatar's arm and feel objects in a virtual world. They’re hoping to develop it for use by the paralised.”
“Oh, dear,” the other woman laughed. “I can’t believe Ian hasn’t mentioned it. Ian’s my husband,” she added, extending a hand to Sarah Jane. “I’m Barbara. Barbara Wright-Chesterton.”
Sarah Jane’s eyes widened slightly. “The Barbara Wright?”
Barbara blushed, and Jo hugged her jovially. “One and only. Very first companion to the very first Doctor.”
“Ran over a bleeding Dalek in a lorry,” Ace said, raising her champagne glass in admiration. “Woman after my own heart.”
“Stop it, all of you.” Barbara’s smile was almost shy. “You make me sound like an historical figure.”
“Well you are,” Jo countered, grabbing the bottle of Voirin-Jumel and pouring Sarah Jane a glass. “None of us would ever have had our adventures if you hadn’t trained him to be something other than–“
“A right old piss,” Ace said, grabbing the bottle from Jo. “Not that he ever got over that.”
“Have some oysters,” Barbara offered. A platter of shellfish was spread out before them in all its glory.
“Blimey,” Sarah Jane whispered. Rock oysters, crab, lobster, shrimps, prawn, cockles and razor clams in a healthy quantity to share.
“Courtesy of our mysterious host, Dr. Song,” Barbara clarified, nodding to the expensive champagne. “I’m sorry, but I must admit I have no idea who she is.”
“Other than she’s obviously got something to do with the Professor,” Ace said, taking another prawn. “Great food, though.”
Jo looked at Sarah Jane. “Well, you’ve had the most recent experience with the Doctor. Fill us in, Sarah Jane. Who is she?”
“No clue. I’m as much in the dark as the rest of you. First thing I heard of her was an invitation and a request for designer shoes.” With a slightly annoyed expression, she added, “Bloody woman hacked my computer.”
“Mr. Smith?” Jo looked up. “Impressive.”
“Cheeky,” Sarah Jane corrected. “Who asks perfect strangers to bring her expensive shoes?”
Barbara and Ace both reached down, pulling up wrapped shoe-box shaped gifts.
Jo shrugged. “Hard to shop for overpriced footwear when you’re getting thrown into the nick by New York’s finest for protesting corporate greed.” She laughed at their horrified looks. “One minute I was eight to a cell with a bunch of great kids, sharing stories from the good old days and planning a social revolution, next minute I was told I’d been bailed out by someone named Dr. Song, handed a first class ticket back to London, with only a quick call to Cliff in Borneo to tell him where I was off to before I came here.” She leaned down and lifted a worn hemp shoulder bag. “Didn’t even stop to drop off my gear at the old place we keep in London. Wonder if she’d like some wool muc-lucs? I picked them up a co-op in Ithaca–that’s New York, not Greece. Some of my old hippie friends were celebrating their fortieth non-anniversary…”
“More champagne, Jo?” Ace interrupted with a grin. Obviously she’d learned quickly about Jo’s tendency to ramble.
“Well, I for one can’t wait to meet her.” Barbara lifted a glass in toast. “To our benefactress!”
The rest joined in the toast, sipping champagne in convivial humor.
“Well, that’s the way to start a party.”
They turned as a single unit, eight eyes lighting on a curvaceous blonde in a tight black skirt and low cut tiger striped blouse. It was Dr. Song, who stood grinning wickedly at the sight of her guests. “Hello, my lovelies. I’m River Song. And welcome to my hen party.”
No introductions were necessary, at least as Doctor Song was concerned. After a quick glass of champagne, she began immediately making the rounds. “Ace, dear, you look fantastic!” She hugged the younger woman, who wore a confused expression. “I know you may not remember this, but we met in 1963. Oh, we just bumped in the street, outside Coal Hill School–yes, Barbara, we were there. Just a day or so after you went on your adventure.”
She turned to Barbara, whose eyebrows were raised quizzically. “Barbara Wright-Chesterton. Oh, how he speaks of you!” She pulled Barbara into a full hug, kissing her sweetly on the cheek. “You taught him to be almost, well, bearable! He loves you so very much.”
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Dr. Song.” Barbara managed to be stiff and slightly aloof without the hint of unkindness; one of those good old-fashioned British ladies they don’t quite make anymore. “You are obviously a companion of the Doctor…”
“Hey, wait up!” A pale, slender redhead in an impossibly short skirt hurried cross the station toward the bar. “River, I told you to wait whilst I--.” The redhead rolled her eyes as she joined the group. “Oh, you’ve all made it, I see.’ She surveyed the women quickly. “Lemme guess, Ace, Barbara–TARDIS showed me a picture of you–Jo Grant…”
“Jones,” Jo corrected.
“And…” She took a moment to survey Sarah Jane. “Boots, vest, jeans, lipstick…sonic, of course…” She craned her neck slightly for a rear view. “…great bum. Yup, you must be Sarah Jane Smith.”
“Don’t mind my mother,” River said. “She’s very forward.”
“Mother?” Ace stared at the redhead, who had to be twenty years or so younger than her so-called daughter.
“Amy Pond Williams,” the redhead said, her Scottish accent thick and casual. “Yah, River’s my daughter. It’s a long story.”
“All very timey-wimey,” River shrugged. “These things happen when you’re with the Doctor.”
“And I thought Luke was hard to explain,” Sarah Jane muttered under her breath.
“Well,” Jo said, pulling River, then Amy into giant bear hugs. “I for one am glad to make your acquaintance. I heard all about you, Amy, and your husband, the last time I saw the Doctor.”
Barbara put down her glass, taking a deep breath, the center of calm in an otherwise topsy-turvey moment. “Dr. Song, as enjoyable as all this is, and as much as we’re enjoying your generous hospitality, you still haven’t told us why we’re here.”
“Haven’t you told them?” Amy frowned at her daughter. “River, that’s just rude. Didn’t that one-eyed monstrosity teach you any manners?” To the rest, she said, “Well, you see, River’s gotten herself married. And because it was quick, and well, the universe was unraveling at the time…”
“Not to mention the Silence trying to wipe us all out,” River added helpfully.
“Because of all this, we never got to have a proper mum and daughter wedding. You know, buying the dress, choosing the flowers…”
“Getting pissed at the hen party,” River inserted.
“So, we thought about it and decided, why the hell not? So, we decided to invite a few of the women who might really get it, and have a party.”
Ace was frowning. “River, we’re all very busy women. And, no offense, but we don’t know you or your…mum…from Adam. Why on Earth would we be invited to your party?”
“Because of whom I married, of course.” River smiled radiantly.
“Who?” Jo asked.
“Why, the Doctor, of course!”
It was as if a bucket of ice water had been ceremoniously dumped over the heads of the women gathered. Shocked expressions, silence, a few classic double-takes.
It was Ace who finally broke the spell. “Bloody hell,” she swore. “You married the Professor?”
“The Doctor?” Jo asked. “Our Doctor?”
“He’s not ‘our’ Doctor,” Barbara corrected. As expected, she was the first to regain her composure. She offered her hands to River, squeezing them tightly as she pulled her into a warm embrace. “Congratulations, dear. I hope you have a better time civilizing him than any of us did.”
River laughed out loud, squeezing Barbara impulsively. “Now why on Earth would I do something like that?” She smiled at the gathered women, clearly comfortable with being the center of attention. “Now, ladies, I know this comes as a shock. I want you to know I owe each of you a debt of gratitude. It was your friendship, your guidance, your…” She hesitated, with a careful effort not to look directly at Sarah Jane. “…love, that made him the man I fell in love with. Without you, and a few others who couldn’t make it, he would never have–“
“Oh, stop it, you,” Amy said, rolling her eyes. “He’s a nutter, and you’re perfect for him because you’re a nutter, too.” But her words were tinged with affectionate humor and she winked at River broadly. “Now, come on. Let’s get this party started.”
The others laughed, well, most of them. Amy gathered the women together with the tact of a footballer, herding them toward the door. “Alright, let’s get going. The TARDIS can barely wait for the fun to start.”
“The TARDIS?” Barbara exclaimed.
“Don’t worry. Himself is off in the jungles of Aibali IV. We just popped in and borrowed her. Have’er back before he ever even notices she’s gone.”
“You just…took her?” Ace laughed.
Amy nodded proudly toward River. “Best TARDIS pilot alive. Actually gets where she wants to go and everything.”
Barbara laughed in spite of herself. “Novel concept….”
“Never did get to Florana,” Jo said. “Ah, there’s the lovely. Never more beautiful.”
The TARDIS seemed to glimmer in front of them, shiny and ready for her adventure without the Doctor. Sarah Jane could almost feel the TARDIS humming with happiness. “Hello,” she whispered under her breath, surprised that the sight of a blue police box could fill her with so much peace and well-being, even after all these years. A quick scan of the others’ faces, and she knew they were feeling the same way.
She felt a hand at the small of her back, smelled the fragrance of River’s perfume before she even turned. It was subtle, beautiful…alien. Sarah Jane forced a smile into her eyes and turned to face the younger woman. “I didn’t…” she said softly as the others piled into the TARDIS ahead of them. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you before, but…congratulations.”
River merely smiled enigmatically at her, the palm of her hand still flat on her back. When she finally spoke, it was softly, without the audacity she’d shown to the others. She nodded towards the TARDIS. “We’re connected, she and I. She…” River reached for the proper word. “She sings to me.” Before Sarah Jane could stop her, River had pulled her into a gentle embrace. Whispering, she added, “You’re one of her favorite songs.”
There was the expected hubbub as Barbara and Ace adjusted to the new décor. They were, after all, the only ones who hadn’t seen the TARDIS since the Doctor developed his more…eclectic…sense of design. Sarah Jane chuckled softly as she entered, remembering the endless whiteness, bare walls, very Scandinavian in its ascetic design.
Now the TARDIS was like the Doctor himself, more chaotic, more colorful, more unexpected than ever before. Sarah Jane hugged herself lightly, holding back as Amy led the others to the wardrobe for their evening wear. She’d traveled more than any of them, had absorbed more artron energy than any human had the right to, except for maybe Rose and Donna. The TARDIS was a vehicle to them, she suspected, but Sarah Jane could feel the pulse of her in her cells.
She jumped when River eased up behind her, a single hand on her shoulder. “I knew you would stay behind,” she whispered in that husky, amused tone Sarah Jane was beginning to associate with the new Mrs. Dr. Doctor. “She’s got an outfit for you, when you’re ready. But I was hoping you’d help me with the last arrival. This is…a bit delicate.”
Sarah Jane raised an eyebrow, but nodded. “She’ll…let you fly her?”
River grinned, caressing the console lovingly. “She taught me everything I know. Now, man that station there. We have a stop to make before the fun begins.”
It was almost imperceptible, but Sarah Jane could feel the TARDIS controls conforming to her hands, as if inviting her to participate once more in this magical experience. “Every time I travel in her,” she said softly, working the controls smoothly as River instructed. “I think it’s my last.”
There was a low chuckle as River swung around her, working five stations to Sarah Jane’s one. “We all feel that way, I think,” she said, never losing her focus as she set the coordinates and the TARDIS began her journey into the vortex.
“So, erm, where are we off to, any way?” Sarah Jane wondered aloud.
It took a moment before the name registered in Sarah Jane’s mind. When it did, she almost lost her grip on the controls. “Are you mad?”
“Oh, definitely.” River twirled slightly as she sidestepped Sarah Jane to crank on a particularly stubborn crank. “But you needn’t worry. I’ve got that all figured out. For tonight, anyway.”
“The Doctor said she could die,” Sarah Jane urged.
But the TARDIS was already materializing. River winked broadly. “A little faith, Miss Smith. I would sooner spend my wedding night unbolting Daleks than miss a chance to party with La Donna.”
Sarah Jane had her doubts, but followed River out the TARDIS. Apparently, the Doctor’s new bride could match him in the irresponsible department.
“Cheatham, Bennington, Weaver, Inc. Please hold.” Donna pressed the hold button and quickly answered the next line. “Cheatham, Bennington, Weaver, Inc. Please hold.” Fifteen minutes until tea break. Fifteen minutes, thirty-six seconds, if the clock on the phone display was accurate. She nodded to the two women approaching the front desk and picked up Line 4. “Ms. Weaver is in conference until half-four. Can I take a message?” Holding the phone with her right shoulder, she wrote the message with one hand while waving the visitors to the waiting area with the other. “Yes, yes, I’ll make sure she gets it. Thank you for calling Cheatham, Bennington, Weaver.” She disconnected the call and looked up. “One moment, loves,” she said and picked up Line 1.
“Mr. Fitzpatrick, I checked the schedule and Mr. Bennington is unavailable for the dates you requested. I can clear up an hour in two weeks–no, that isn’t poss–no, sir. Yes, sir, I know who you are. No, sir, that doesn’t mean you can see him tomorrow. Two weeks, sir, and that’s my best offer. Yes. Yes, I’ll put you down for the 16th. Thank you, Mr. Fitz–“
She frowned at the receiver as the caller cut her off. “Arse,” she muttered, then turned to the two women sitting in the reception area. “Sorry about that. How can I help you, then?” Donna put her hand on the panic button, just in case. One of the downsides of working for a company like Cheatham, Bennington, Weaver, Inc. was that the esteemed partners had a habit of pissing off former clients, business partners, and customers. Yeah, bomb threats and protests were part of the fun here.
The blonde with the wicked curls spoke first, while the brunette simply frowned and looked nervous. “Actually, Ms. Noble,” she said… No, that was a purr. Definitely a purr. Donna eyed her warily as she pulled out an old-fashioned atomizer. “Actually, the question is how can I help you?’
Before Donna could stop her, the woman had spritzed her square in the face with some sort of perfume. “Oi, can’t you read? It says ‘Absolutely no solicitation.’” She wiped her nose, squinting hard as the perfume overwhelmed her. “God, this is awful. I’m not full-time here, ya know. Just a temp. No need to include me in your protest–“
“What is she talking about?” the brunette asked.
“Cheatham, Bennington, Weaver, Inc. is a military contractor,” the blonde said. “By the end of the 2010s, well–“ The blonde stopped, as if remembering something important. “Hey, spoilers! No scoops for you, Ms. Smith, unless you earn them yourself.”
“Hey, come on,” Donna said. “Leave Sarah Jane alone.”
The brunette stopped, eyes wide as she stared at Donna. “You know me?” She turned a frantic look at River Song–
“How do I know you?” Donna blurted out. “Sarah Jane Smith. River Song….oh, my god–“ Donna put her hands to her head, afraid of the burst that was about to come. “Oh, my god, I remember.”
“Just for tonight, love,” River said. “You know me, eh? I guess that means we meet up some time in my future. Don’t tell me. Spoilers. Now, come on then, grab your things.” She leaned over the desk to double-check the date and time on the phone display. “Oooh, I would definitely grab all my personal belongings, too. Nothing to worry about, mind, but you’re not going to want to come back here in, oh, say…forty-three minutes.”
“What are you talking about?” To Sarah Jane, she repeated, “What is she talking about?”
“I’ve only understood a tenth of what she’s been talking about since I met her.” Sarah Jane smiled broadly as Donna rose from behind the desk and pulled her into a warm hug. “Oh, Donna, I don’t know how she did it, but it’s wonderful to see you again.”
“Nanotransmitters,” River said as she eased in for her own hug from the red head. “In the perfume. Only last a dozen hours or so, but in the meantime, she’s transmitting all that extra energy into a willing and able receptor. Namely, me!” With a shake of her amazing mane, River let out a loud ‘whew!’
“You’re…draining all the Doctor-Donna energy from my brain?”
“For the time being. Man, what a rush!” River laughed, hugging Donna again. “Come on, ladies. We’ve got a private room waiting for us at Studio 54, and I’ve got energy to burn.’
Donna gave one last look at the blinking lights on the phone.
“Trust me, you don’t have to worry about getting fired,” River sing-songed. “I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that Ms. Weaver’s conference call is not going to make her popular with her partners. But it may get her a suspended sentence.”
“Lord,” Donna said as she tucked a picture of her mum and Wilf into her bag. “I don’t want to know.”
“I do,” Sarah Jane began.
“You’ll read about it in tomorrow’s Guardian,” River promised as they hurried out the front door.
“Not this one, Sarah Jane. I promise, there’ll be other scandals for you to bust.’
“But… The last thing anyone might have heard, had they been listening, was Sarah Jane’s disgusted voice saying, “The bloody Guardian???”
The private room at Studio 54 was extravagant to the point of immodesty. It wasn’t Sarah Jane’s first time in the legendary New York hot spot, but the perspective of age allowed her to see it in a new way. She smiled as she sipped a glass of champagne, enjoying the younger women in their disco finery, laughing and shaking to the ubiquitous music. Satin, glitter, spandex–even Barbara, who utterly exuded class, had changed into a gorgeous satin black dress that sparkled in the strobe lights.
Sarah Jane had opted for a more conservative–well, maybe not in the 70s--outfit, choosing a tailored white man’s suit with a purple shirt underneath. Her boots worked well with it, and she felt a little less conspicuous among the scantily clad party-goers.
“At least we have a private room, eh?” River Song eased up behind her, nodding to the throng of dancers below. “I think I saw Jo down there a moment ago, doing the Hustle with Liza Minelli.”
“I was here once before,” Sarah Jane said softly.
“I know.” At her surprised look, River shrugged. “The TARDIS keeps track of you all. I know…about…”
Sarah Jane felt her heart grow cooler at the younger woman’s gentle tone. “About my misspent youth?”
“She worried about you, the TARDIS, after he left. He did, too, but of course…”
“Look, I don’t think it’s appropriate, us discussing this and all. My time with the Doctor was a long time ago. I’m completely over him.”
“I’m not suggesting…”
“That I worked myself into a cold, bitter person because of him? That I threw myself at the world because I was empty and abandoned? Believe me, Dr. Song, I’ve been through this all in therapy.”
“Traveling with the Doctor…changes us,” River said, her arm easing around Sarah Jane’s waist. She didn’t pull away when Sarah Jane stiffened; rather, she maintained a friendly contact until the older woman relaxed. “He gives us so much, and yet–“
“We lose something,” Sarah Jane whispered. A look into River Song’s eyes confirmed that this woman, too, had lost much for loving the Doctor. “And it doesn’t matter one bit, does it?”
The broad grin she received in response was like a drug, far more powerful than any of the illicit ones circulating in the club below. “Not a bit.”
Sarah Jane laughed. In another lifetime, she could have been fast friends with this woman. “I hate this place, you know.”
“It’s much more fun when you’re stoned, I imagine.” She raised a hand at Sarah Jane’s shocked look. “Oh, I wouldn’t touch the stuff. Are you kidding? Nobody else in our party is indulging, for what it’s worth. We’ve all been privy to much more intoxicating things than cocaine.”
“I’ll say,” Sarah Jane murmured, turning back to the dancers below. From her vantage point, she could just make out Jo Grant doing the bump with Liza Minelli on one side and Donna Noble on the other. “Now there’s a sight to see,” she laughed.
“Never in my entire life,” Barbara was saying as she followed the rest of them into the TARDIS, “did I picture myself closing down Studio 54!”
Ace laughed as she tossed her platform heels under the console. “Amy, you are wicked mad, you know that?”
“Hey, I only wanted to see if Grace Jones was actually female….”
“She is,” Sarah Jane said too quickly, then blushed as the others turned to stare.
“Sarah Jane’s disco past is coming back to haunt her,” Jo laughed. She pulled the shawl from around her shoulder, unable to fully abandon her Bohemian roots even in the heart of the glam capitol of the 70s. “Is it true you dated one of the Village People?”
Sarah Jane blushed even more as the others laughed wildly. “Just the Construction Worker. I met him when I was working as a stringer for Reuters. He was very nice–we discussed books and music.”
“Um, you know those guys were–“ Amy started.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t really looking for–“ Sarah Jane blushed furiously, then turned to River for help. “Hey, didn’t you mention something about a second part to this party?”
River came to her rescue. “That’s right, Sarah Jane, I did. Ladies, to the wardrobe. We are going one place none of you has ever been before.”
Ace rolled her eyes. “So you mean, not a bleeding quarry/”
“Here, here,” Jo and Sarah Jane said in unison.
“Wherever we go,” Barbara stepped out of one of her shoes and massaged her heel gently. “I hope the dress code is a little more relaxing. My high heel days are long behind me, thank heavens.”
“Oh, I think you all will enjoy this,” River insisted with a wicked look in her eyes as she started up the TARDIS controls. “A place of rare beauty, a place where the waters are effervescent…”
“Florana!” the companions all cried together, laughing.
“I was beginning to think that place didn’t exist,” Jo laughed.
“He could barely get us back to London,” Barbara said. “Much less this alleged paradise planet.”
“I thought he made it up.” Ace said.
“No, it exists. Not that he’ll ever see it again.” River worked the controls with a flourish. “But the TARDIS feels guilty about you ladies missing out. She just wouldn’t let him play when there was work to be done.” A whoosh from the TARDIS, and River nodded happily. “There now. We should be there in just a mo. Come on, ladies. Swim gear on. It’s almost sunrise, best time for bathing.”
Sarah Jane followed the others as they traipsed toward the wardrobe. The heck with another lifetime. She liked River Song right here and now.
The sun was just rising over Bannerman Road when River and Amy let Sarah Jane off. She was the last of the companions returned, and all those goodbyes had left a pall of sadness over her. She stood outside the TARDIS with River for a moment, watching the sun drench the empty street with a pinkish gold glow.
“It seems I do nothing but say goodbye anymore,” she murmured.
River’s smile was both smug and reassuring. “I think you have a few more hellos in your future,” she said. But when Sarah Jane turned a questioning gaze at her, she raised her hands and said, “Spoilers!”
“You love that, don’t you?”
“Best part of my day.” River Song leaned forward, kissed Sarah Jane on the cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“For what? I didn’t even bring shoes.”
But River’s eyes were moist. “He learned to be open with Barbara. He learned to be kind with Jo.”
“And Ace and Donna?”
“Donna taught him humility, and Ace taught him about Nitro-9.” River shivered in delight. “I must remember to thank her for that. But I think,” she said, brushing a strand of hair from Sarah Jane’s cheek and looking much older than she could possibly be. “I think he learned to love with you. Thank you.”
Sarah Jane wiped away a tear, grateful she’d had the opportunity to meet this remarkable woman. “Keep him out of trouble, will you?”
“Not bloody likely!” River’s laugh was contagious, and they hugged once more before Sarah Jane turned to Number 13.
“Oh,” Sarah Jane said, turning slightly. “About those hellos?”
“Not a hint. But believe me, anytime soon, your new hello is going to fall right out of the sky.” River blew her a kiss, then went back into the TARDIS.
Sarah Jane Smith watched as the police box faded from view, then turned back towards home, her mind reeling with possibilities. It was only after she’d gone inside that she realized the TARDIS hadn’t made the ‘woossshing” sound at all.