The night air clung, damp and chill, to Sarah's skin. Tall grasses swished at her knees, impeding her gait and sending moisture wicking through her jeans.
If there were Darcy sisters back at the house on Bannerman Road, they would surely disapprove when she arrived, in the wee hours of the morning (if she was lucky), damp, bedraggled, and short of breath.
Of course, she was not Lizzie Bennet, and Bannerman Road was a two-hour drive from this remote moor, but such an expedition would certainly violate propriety.
Fortunately, one thing Sarah Jane Smith had never stood on was propriety.
An engine roared and gravel scattered from beneath tires as headlights cut through the thick blanket of night.
Sarah rolled her eyes.
The SUV's doors flew open and shouting people leapt out, torches cutting through the dark.
"Suzie, down and to the left! Owen and Tosh, fan out right. I'll search up ahead." Coat fanning out behind him, gun drawn, Captain Jack Harkness barrelled ahead.
In her head, she could hear the Brigadier's clipped voice, "UNIT is a security organisation." It was almost amusing to think of his response to the black SUV with a top-secret name stamped in the fender. Perhaps she would tell him, next they met for tea, just to watch his long-suffering sigh.
Sarah shook her head then flipped open the scanner watch the Doctor had left inside the new K-9 model he'd given her. Cupping her hand to conceal the glow, she dialled down the brightness and sound. "Mr. Smith, any further data on the alien presence? And keep it down. We've got company."
"I am aware, Sarah Jane." Even Mr. Smith's sotto voce was a drone. "Torchwood Three is anything but subtle."
Sarah couldn't help smiling fondly before whispering urgently, "Do you have any readings for me?"
"There seem to be no indications of weaponry or intent to malice."
"Other than that of the humans from Cardiff."
"Mr. Smith, have you identified a precise location yet."
"Of course. Your target is less than 100 feet from you in a north-by-northwesterly direction. I am transmitting the data to your device."
A blinking dot appeared on her readout. "Thank you, Mr. Smith."
Sarah turned slowly until she faced the dot, then moved with care in that direction. The ground squelched beneath her boots in the aftermath of the fall rains that had blanketed the West Country for weeks, and, but for the moisture seeping into the toes of her socks, she was glad she'd grabbed older boots.
"Mr. Smith? Are any of your readings noting species or other data?"
"No, Sarah Jane. I would, of course, have told you if there were more information."
The shouts of Torchwood Three echoed in the distinctly wrong portion of the moors. Even these weapons-happy idiots would cover those areas quickly and head this way soon. Sarah moved faster, praying she didn't turn an ankle or fall on her face. She was nearly to the location indicated by the blinking light on her data screen when the air was suddenly filled with a floral scent, and the space in front of her went...missing.
Double checking the scanner readings did no good. The screen had switched off as if out of power. Sarah reached out a tentative hand into the void. The floral scent shifted to something more akin to cut grass.
"My name is Sarah Jane Smith. I'm here to help." She reached out the other hand, palms outstretched.
Her stomach dropped like she had fallen, and her head spun, then Sarah toppled forward.
She fell but didn't fall, and then was standing in an echo chamber, a room that wasn't a room, space that wasn't space. But for the absence of a sinister tone and giant jewels, Sarah might have thought she had stumbled into the Mandragora Helix.
She saw no one, nothing, but the scent and sense indicated a presence.
"You've landed on Earth. I'm Sarah Jane Smith. I mean you no harm. I just want to help." Her standard greeting echoed back at her, the sound bouncing off the non-existent walls. Her scanner watch was still blank, she saw in a glance. Not helpful.
"Are you trying to get into my head? If you are, you'll see that I have no interest in hurting you." She carefully examined every part of the blank, white room, but nothing stood out as wrong.
"Look, if you didn't want my help, you wouldn't have brought me into this...illusion? Realm? You can trust me. If you have any way of scanning for the truth, you'll be able to see that."
Sarah began walking in methodical rows. She listened, looked, felt for places that weren't quite right, that looked almost like heat steaming off of pavement in the summer. Swallowing her own fears and frustrations. Sarah made sure to keep her tone reassuring and conciliatory. "I have friends who can help you. And if you don't want to go to them, I can find out how best to help you. We can work this out. Can you trust me?"
As she spoke, the air itself seemed to vibrate, and a powerful sweet scent filled the air. The air seemed to wobble for this moment until it coalesces into a tiny humanoid. The creature appeared to be a young woman, and her smooth, dark skin glowed with a deep purple cast that matched her eyes and hair.
"How?" Her eyes darted side to side. "How do I have understanding with you?"
So few of them asked. "It is a special technology or magic. It was given to me as a gift."
The young woman blinked rapidly. "You have understanding with me." More rapid blinking. "You offer friendship with me?"
"Yes. I'm here as a friend. I want to help."
Another shout came from over the ridge back on the moor. Time was running short.
"I'm called Sarah Jane. What can I call you?"
The being's eyes went wide, and lilac scent filled the air. "I am being called Lylaflorin."
"Lylaflorin," Sarah extended a hand, "Those people out there are not here to help you. Can you take us back to the moor and come quickly with me?"
Sarah reached out her hand, and Lylaflorin grasped it, six extra-long fingers wrapping once and a half times around Sarah's hand.
The white room or realm wavered, and the moor was back.
Lylaflorin giggled. "We have been being in this place. The space you saw was a creation I have made."
"We need to move quickly and quietly," Sarah whispered, pulling the alien along as she scrambled up an embankment. Her Volkswagen was tucked behind a stand of trees, and she ushered Lylaflorin into it, manoeuvred onto the country road, and drove slowly, lights still off, careful not to rev the engine.
From the other side of the ridge, they could hear more shouting, then a horn being sounded repeatedly.
Sarah picked up speed, turned onto a wider road, and switched on her headlights. "Lylaflorin, my friends and I are going to find a way to get you safe and get you home."
The car filled with a scent of honeysuckle, and Sarah took that as a thank you.
A horn sounded more distantly behind them.
"Bloody Torchwood," Sarah muttered, picking up speed as she headed eastward for London.