Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Genre: Gen, drama
Spoilers: Minor spoilers for the first two episodes of Series 4.
Summary: A star empire is menaced by deadly creatures from the time of Rassilon. Will one lone Time Lord and a human companion be enough to defeat them?
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes.
A/N: This story takes place sometime between Planet of the Ood and The Sontaran Stratagem. The Doctor is still recovering from The Year That Never Was -- an experience that he has not mentioned to Donna. Thanks, as always, to my tireless beta, wendymr
Chapter 9: Emergency Measures
"It is a mark of extreme good breeding to be able to meet all emergencies calmly and without uncontrolled anger or excitement."
Book of Etiquette
By Lillian Eichler, Oyster Bay, New York, 1921
Donna has no more time to think about job descriptions. For one instant she blanks, but then her quick fingers – 100 words per minute! – are pressing the release keys on the vapour-jet. A fine, pale blue mist fills the air above her, merging with an identical cloud from Gher’s canister. It is as odourless as bottled water. Her hand tightens on the nozzle of her vapour-jet. “Maybe we’ve been stood up,” she says, forcing a laugh, and then she smells something sweet and insipid, like candyfloss.
She shouts, “Doctor! They’re here! Get ready!” The woven-light walls of the trap may look and feel solid, but they don’t block sound. The centre of the trap is less than thirty yards from where she’s standing.
“Right!” The answering shout is clear and confident – which does not comfort her one little bit. There are far too many ways for this to go pear-shaped.
The teleport could fail. Unlike the maze at Hampton Court, with its many branching paths, this labyrinth has only one spiral route to the dead-end at the centre where the Doctor is waiting. If he can’t teleport, the Doctor will have no way out that doesn’t lead straight to the Hrul.
The first Hrul could reach the Doctor before the last ones are safely inside the trap. He told her that hive creatures like these usually travel all clumped together. (In Doctor-speak, that means “sometimes”.) He also said that the aetheric energy in the trap should slow the Hrul down “just like guppies swimming through golden syrup.” He sounded very certain about that, but he always sounds certain about his plans, even when he’s making them up as he goes along. She knows that he’s never done this before.
And that brings her to her worst fear: what if the trap doesn’t hold? Genius, Time Lord, and all that, but it’s been a million years since anyone’s had to battle the Hrul. He’s based this crazy contraption on scientific guesses, vague memories, and a bloody alien fairy tale. A fairy tale that you showed him, an inner voice whispers. If you hadn’t done, he would’ve found a proper solution. I’ll bet Rassilon didn’t do it this way. Her clenched hands on the nozzle of the vapour-jet begin to shake. She loosens her grip, and does a bit of the slow breathing she learned in her first and only yoga class. (Sharyn Cooper, the lying cow, said it would help reduce her hips.) The Doctor’s no fool about technical stuff. Rassilon probably did do it this way, though from what she’s heard, he would’ve convinced some other poor bugger to play bait.
“It’ll be fine,” she says. The sweet odour grows stronger. She had expected something different: foul, like a polecat; or harsh, like disinfectant. No reason to think that, she knows. It’s just a chemical reaction, not how they really smell. And she has seen enough alien worlds to know that she can’t always trust her senses. She thinks of the hideous Ood and their gorgeous singing, and those Pyrrtexian “daisies” that were really poisonous insects. Still, as the cloying sweetness fills her nose and mouth, she thinks that she may never eat candyfloss again.
Her hands ache slightly, even though she loosened her grip on the nozzle. How long have they been standing here? She’s given up on wearing a watch – something about travelling in time seems to mess up the works. The Doctor, waiting in the heart of the trap, must know to the second how long it’s been. He always knows. Time Lord ability, he says. Does it make the waiting easier or harder?
“Donna?” Gher Besik asks, “is the smell fading?”
“Yeah, I think it is.” It is fading, but is it gone yet? Is there still a trace lingering, or is that her imagination? She looks at Gher, sees his confirming nod. “Oi! Doctor! They’re in!”
“Molto bene! I’m go—” His voice cuts off abruptly.
“Doctor? Is all well?” Gher calls.
“Doctor? You all right?” No answer. “Gher, keep spraying the stuff. I’m going to look around.” Donna sprints to the far side of the labyrinth, then looks behind the TARDIS. No Doctor. She turns the key and looks inside the console room, even though it’s supposed to be impossible to teleport into the TARDIS. Empty.
As she turns around, her heart skips a beat, but the person standing next to Gher is another Paalgi. Coming closer, she sees it’s the crabby old professor who insulted her this morning. He doesn’t notice her. He’s staring at the labyrinth portal, which is still open. It’s contracting, just like one of those little evening bags when you pull the drawstrings, but slowly. Much too slowly.
Gher mutters something that the TARDIS doesn’t translate. The professor gives him a sharp look.
“Gher, I don’t see the Doctor anywhere! Oh, God – what if he didn’t get out?”
Lord Professor Tragan Vehik is holding a gadget the size of a deck of cards. “There is no corporeal lifeform in there,” he says calmly. “And this would detect the Time Lord, living or not. Most likely his teleport overshot. With all these energies flowing, it would not be unusual. He could be as far as two kilometres away.”
“And why isn’t the bloody door closed yet?”
“Because the Hrul are carrying residual Vortex energy that interferes with the aetheric pulse frequency. Are you any wiser now, Human?”
He says “Human” like it’s a dirty word, but Donna figures it’s a step up from ehkak. “Tell me something useful, Methuselah. How can we get it shut faster?”
“Any minute now, those Hrul will figure out that their gourmet lunch has gone missing, and they’re gonna exit the restaurant. Can you do something about that?”
“I am considering possibilities.”
“Oh, fat lot of help that is! What are you doing here, anyway? Thought the Doctor told you to clear out.”
“I am not here to assist the Doctor. I am here to assist my student, Gher Besik. Would not the Time Lord do the same for his— for you?”
“Yeah. All right, possibilities.” Donna glares at the slowly shrinking portal, as if she could will it to close. “If we can’t shut the door faster, can we do something to hold them back?”
Donna looks at Gher. He is still spraying mist into the air, and his gaze is fixed on the portal. “Gher? Have you got any brilliant ideas?”
He glances sideways at Lord Professor Tragan Vehik. “No, Donna Noble.”
Hell! Must be one of those ‘keep your gob shut in front of the boss’ rules. “Gher, spit it out. We haven’t got time to play Twenty Questions.”
He looks again at the professor, as if requesting permission. The older Paalgi nods. “Respected Lord Professor, Donna Noble…we could possibly direct a flow of quedhin particles into the trap. It would not harm the Hrul, but it would annoy them, and might drive them back.”
“Like turning a garden hose on an angry dog? Brilliant!”
“That is a possibility,” the professor agrees. “It might also provoke them into attacking the source of the annoyance. That would be counter-productive. Still, it is an option worth reserving for emergency action, when all else has been tried.”
“You don’t call this an emergency?” Donna demands.
“According to the few remaining records, the Hrul are no more sentient than a swarm of kleh flies,” Tragan Vehik drones, as if in a lecture hall. “They are creatures of instinct. Once their feeding impulse is triggered, it will control their movements. It should take them some time to realize that the food they sensed is no longer in the vicinity. Only then will they attempt to exit the trap.”
A hint of sweetness drifts into the air. “Okay, I’m officially declaring this a bloody emergency. Gher, can you get those whatchacallit particles going?”
“No!” the professor commands. “Save that for the very last, Gher Besik. There is a surer way to delay hungry beasts.” He looks first at Donna, then Gher. “A primitive and a youngling – they would have to be hungry indeed to desire such scanty fare. I think you will be safe.” He stoops slightly, then springs forward, hurling himself at the still-gaping portal of the labyrinth.
“Noooooo!” A man’s voice howls, raw with outrage and fear. The Doctor has returned.
continue to Chapter 10