Despite her frequent annoyance with Harry, there were times when Dora Mossop fully understood the frustrations he felt about their daughter.
Such as now.
It was the early hours of the morning, and Dora had been sound asleep when her mobile had begun chirping on the bedside cabinet. She’d known it was going to be Sophie before she’d even answered the call, but perhaps it would have been less irksome if the girl had sounded distraught that Baz had dumped her for one of her friends and marooned her in Hammersmith with no money and no way to get home, rather than imparting this info in surly fashion and, instead of asking nicely if her mother could come to pick her up in the car, had emotionally blackmailed her by saying that if she couldn’t get a lift she’d have no option but to walk home alone through the middle of London at this late hour.
Unable to find Harry, Dora had got dressed and driven the ten miles to Hammersmith herself.
They were now on the way back. Sophie, who looked a mess – Dora thought she was way too old for spiked hair, Goth beads and black lace – made a sullen, unsympathetic figure, despite the eyeliner streaking her cheeks.
‘So what happened?’ Dora asked.
Sophie shrugged. ‘Don’t want to talk about it.’
Dora bit her lip. Thus far, her daughter’s unwillingness to talk had also extended to an unwillingness to apologise for the inconvenience or to express gratitude.
‘I’ve no idea where your father is,’ Dora eventually said.
Sophie didn’t respond to this either, as if his unexpected absence at this late hour was of no interest, which suddenly annoyed Dora no end. OK, she’d taken issue with Harry in the early days when he’d tried to put Sophie on the straight and narrow, but this was the kind of cold indifference he routinely faced from his daughter, whereas she only had to put up with it now and then because most of the time she preferred a quiet life and wouldn’t voice disapproval even if she felt it.
It wasn’t as if Harry had been totally unreasonable with Sophie. The main thing that bothered him about her was that, though she was now studying A levels, she wasn’t showing much interest in them. Life seemed to be a non-stop party, and Sophie was enjoying it by spending money that she couldn’t really afford. Perhaps he was just being a concerned father, Dora thought. But then again – where was Harry now when she needed him? It was all very well him lecturing people, but what exactly did he bring to the family these days? It was so typical that he, who had nothing to do all day, wasn’t around to make this late-night journey, whereas she had to be up in the morning for work.
Frustrated, she fiddled with the heating. It was unresponsive and, in her rush to get out, Dora had neglected to put a coat on. Being late autumn, the air was frigid.
‘Don’t put the heating on,’ Sophie said. ‘I’m getting a headache, you’ll just make it worse.’
‘As a matter of fact,’ Dora retorted. ‘I—’
‘MUM!’ Sophie screamed, grabbing at the wheel.
They’d been cruising through Kensington, which at three in the morning was all but deserted, but now a glaring light filled the windscreen.
Dora grabbed the wheel back and tried to spin it. The car went into a sideways skid. It careered across the road, jolting to a halt on the opposite kerb. Intense light was still shining into the vehicle, but now from all sides.
‘W-what is this?’ Dora stammered.
When someone attempted to open her driver’s door she clung on to it, but the strength on the other side was irresistible – in fact, the door was literally torn out of the frame of the car. A hand appeared, on the end of an arm made from articulated steel rods. As it grabbed the collar of her cardigan, Dora and her daughter shrieked.
‘Zalu!’ the Doctor bellowed, barging back into the Police Chief’s office. ‘Fancy sharing what’s happening on this space platform of yours?’
Zalu looked uncomfortable as he sat behind his desk. He’d been expecting this for the last few minutes – ever since he’d read a report from one of the point-sergeants on the day-shift, and had then spotted the Doctor on a surveillance monitor, speaking animatedly with one of the service personnel.
‘Cowering under your desks may be the new style of policing on LP9, but now my friends have gone missing, that’s not going to cut it!’
Zalu’s hackles rose. ‘No one is cowering under their desk, Doctor.’
‘Tell that to Point-Sergeant 8379 Xelos. She watched on television while my property was stolen and one of my friends got kidnapped.’
‘I’ve already received Xelos’s report. She’s inquired into the incident. It seems your property was won fairly and squarely in a game of Dead Man’s Duel.’
The Doctor leaned forward, and stared into Zalu’s deep blue eyes. ‘How can that possibly be true? I’ve never played Dead Man’s Duel, so I can’t have lost, can I? That doesn’t excuse what happened next. Rory – abducted. Amy – forced to stow away on the ship where he was taken, so she’s gone too.’
‘You need to understand… This is a complex issue.’
‘Zalu, you need to understand that these are my friends, and I want them back!’
‘I have friends too, Doctor! And family!’ Zalu stood up. ‘You and your people can just disappear, but mine have to live here… do you see what I’m saying?’
The Doctor shook his head. ‘Are you really the man I once knew?’
‘Of course I’m not.’ Zalu thumped his desk. ‘How can I be? I’m not like you. I can’t stay young and brave for ever.’
‘You’re the Chief of Police here!’
‘Haven’t you realised what we’re dealing with, Doctor? This is organised crime. Of the most dangerous sort. You’ve seen where we are. Ten billion clicks outside the Inner Rim, and another twenty billion from Torodon itself. You know how it is with these Outer Rim platforms. They’re infested with gangsters and racketeers. Half the casinos and nightclubs here are owned by them. Those they don’t own, they skim. Their claws are sunk so deeply into local commerce that we couldn’t eject them even if we had the authority to.’
‘You don’t have the authority?’
Zalu made a helpless gesture. ‘They’re everywhere. All around us. Involved at every level. If the various syndicates combined their powers, they’d outnumber my frontier police force a hundred to one.’
‘So get reinforcements.’
‘That would be expensive.’
‘And the rule of crime isn’t?’
‘No!’ Zalu seemed embarrassed by what he was now admitting. He strode around his office like a caged tiger, though a tiger minus teeth and claws. Beyond his window, the usual hordes of pleasure seekers thronged the colourful, rain-soaked streets. ‘Look at this place. It’s rough and ready, but, in relative terms it’s pretty law-abiding.’
‘I see,’ the Doctor said. ‘The mob polices it too. Is that what you’re saying?’
‘The mob – as you call them, are first and foremost businessmen. It’s not in their interest for there to be serious trouble here.’
The Doctor pondered this, before smiling coldly. ‘Then they made a big mistake taking one of my friends.’ He stormed out into the next office, only to find several younger police officers already waiting for him, pistols drawn.
‘It’s all right,’ Zalu said, appearing behind him. ‘Doctor, come with me.’