This, thought Donna, was the Doctor’s fault. She wasn’t too sure how the yellow spaceship the size of a building (which was currently, not to mention inconveniently, parked on the lawn of the London Borough Planning Commissions Building) was precisely connected to Martianboy, but the resulting chaos had his little trainered footprints all over it. He’d probably buggered off back to Mars by now.
‘Ruins my wedding and then he ruins my new job. Bloody typical.’
She’d only been at the Planning Commission for two weeks. It wasn’t so bad - it was a reception job like any other, but the benefits and pension plan were substantial. Mind you, now that that spaceship had turned up, the possibility of living long enough to actually claim either of those was looking a bit iffy. Outside, on the lawn, silence had fallen. People stood, or lay, or cowered, in doorways and on the pavement, gaping up at the spaceships. The silence grew. Frank from Security stood at the cracked glass doors, dropping bits from his egg sandwich all over the floor as he stared out at the Unidentified No-Longer Flying Object. And then the ship doors opened and the aliens came out.
Donna Noble had travelled with the Doctor for too short a time to have come across that redoubtable source of intergalactic wisdom known as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, if she had ever found the Doctor’s copy (which was unlikely, as it had been carelessly tossed into the sonic toolbox one day, and was consequently buried beneath tubing, four spanners, a spare catalyser and an extra pair of socks(1), the Guide would have had this to say about the aliens now tramping their way towards the Commissions Building: ‘They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy - not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous.’ (2)
In short, they were Vogons.
They were green. Green and large. At least they weren’t spiders. Donna took a deep breath and held onto the edge of the counter, planning against the moment when her knees would begin going wobbly from fright. She was slightly proud that it hadn’t happened yet. Steve at the next space over was on the floor under his chair. She planted her heels (new and black) into the carpet and stood up straight. Across the room, Frank had come face to face with the head green alien, both of them staring through the glass at each other. Then the alien raised some sort of - laser thingy, maybe? Or sonic? - some sort of thing anyways, and poor Frank broke and ran, diving in a wave of blue serge and egg mayo for the cover of the stairwell door. It triggered a stampede: civil servants running for the back doors, the patrons who had been waiting in their queue even as they stared out the door now scattering and screaming and pushing, frantic to get away. In the middle of the pandemonium, Donna’s intercom light bleeped on. She answered it.
‘London Borough Planning Commission, how may I -‘
‘What the hell is going on down there?’ It was someone from Upstairs, shouting into the phone. What Upstairs did all day, Donna wasn’t really sure; their activities mostly seemed to consist of going out to lunch and occasionally coming back daubed in mud from a building site. What she was sure of was that those Upstairs very rarely lost their calm. In fact, they’d been so impeccably polite with such shark-wide smiles, that her first week here, she’d begun to wonder if they were quite human, but surreptitiously following her supervisor around for a day or so had convinced her that they weren’t an alien threat.
The same couldn’t be said for the aliens who had now entered the building, looking like massive and armed versions of Fungus the Bogeyman, or, Donna thought, really, just massive and armed Bogeys. Then she realized that Upstairs was still shouting.
‘Alien invasion, sir’ she said, overtop of his voice. ‘You might want to head out the back way. Have to go now.’ In the back of her head, she wondered where this new, crisp version of Donna Noble was coming from, and then wondered if it was wise to sound so confident or whether she should copy Steve, who was trying to dig his way through the carpet to reach the basement. But then it was too late, because the Vogons had covered the space between the doors and the counter, and were standing in front of her.
It is at this point, the Hitchhiker’s Guide notes, that the Doctor may very well show up in an attempt to head the destruction of Earth off at the pass. One should keep an ear out for the feel of a breeze springing up from nowhere and a sound not unlike someone vacuuming in the distance.
Donna Noble, facing the Vogons, was listening intently for just such a sound. And then the head green bloke opened what passed for a mouth, and she couldn’t hear anything. Glass shattered. Five computer monitors combusted. Ball point pens exploded, spraying ink everywhere. Fungus stopped speaking, almost, but not quite, looking abashed. Donna raised a hand and very slowly, so as not to cause any confusion for the aliens with the guns, wiped ink out of her right eye. They were just standing there, watching her. She blinked at them. They stood there. And said nothing. The room was very, very quiet. The Vogon leader tapped one finger impatiently upon the counter. Tap tap taptap. Donna looked at the aliens. The aliens looked at Donna. No one moved. Nobody spoke. The clock on the wall went tickticktick . There was a final small shattering sound from the remaining glass in the door. Everyone jumped, and it took all of Donna’s will to stop herself diving under the counter as the Vogons’ hands went to their weapons. The strange half-standoff resumed.
A breeze gusted across the room, whisking two sheets of paper off the counter and onto the floor, and Donna turned despite herself, looking for the shape of a police call box materializing in the ruins of the lobby. Nothing. No sign of the Doctor. She was on her own for this one. So she turned back to the Vogons, summoned up all the skills acquired in a lifetime of temping and said, as graciously as she could:
‘I’m sorry sir, could you please repeat that, a bit quieter this time?’
A great long-suffering sigh filled the lobby, but the voice was well within a human aural range this time around, despite sounding deeply irritated.
‘I said, we’ve come to demolish the Eastern Hemisphere to make way for an Algolian Hyperspatial Service Station. You need to sign here.’ He thumped a stack of papers onto the counter.
‘You’re going to what?!’ said Donna.
We really ought to take a moment here to discuss the processes of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council, its administrative body and construction policies. But that would be incredibly boring, so we won’t.
It was almost five minutes later, and the Vogons were getting restless. ‘Resistance is useless ’ shouted someone at the back. Groop Vogon Khort IV (because that was Fungus’ proper name) whipped round (inasmuch as a Vogon can whip) and glared horribly at the malcontent, and then turned back to the desk. Only to find himself on the receiving end of an equally horrible glare from the tiresome Earthling standing in front of him.
‘Look’, he said, trying and miserably failing to adopt a tone of conciliation, ‘Just sign the contract, will you? I’ve got better things to do than stand here all day.’
‘Yeah, and I’ve got better things to do than stand here while someone tries to turn my planet into a bleeding filling station ’
It was the tone of moral indignation that really bugged him. Groop Vogon Khort (the IV) put both of his hands on the counter and used his considerable bulk to loom over the Earthling.
‘I’ll make you a deal, you irritating little ape. You sign the contract and I won’t read you my poetry.’
The ape actually snorted with laughter. ‘What, you write poetry? You ponce about the universe carrying a book of your poems with you? You need to get an agent, mate. And possibly a life.’
An appalled silence rose from the massed ranks of the Vogon troop. To sneer at Vogon poetry...either the Earthling was very very stupid or very very brave. Groop Vogon Khort began to feel the slightest twinge of unease. The Earthling managed to control her amusement and folded her arms. She raised her head and looked him square in the eye. The twinge of unease became a steady, slow welling of certain misery for the Vogon leader.
Donna saw Fungus take a deep breath. She saw him reach for the inside pocket of his jacket and begin to withdraw something that looked suspiciously like a little white book
She saw him open his mouth. And then she jumped in.
‘Besides, you can’t just waltz in here and expect us to sign these without any notice at all; we need up to four months just for an office block application, which means that the time frame for something the size of your Algolion Service Station should’ve been in, ooh, about twenty years back at least.’
The alien suddenly relaxed. Oh bugger. Bugger and damn.
‘We’ve had all the plans and orders available for public viewing in your local department for the past thirty years. No one’s come in and complained.’
Donna was beginning to develop a nasty suspicion. ‘And just where is our local department then, ‘cos it isn’t here.’
The nasty suspicion was more than a suspicion. ‘And where exactly is Alpha Centauri?’
‘Ooh, only about 4.4 light years away. Really, you’ve had plenty of time to lodge a grievance or complaint’.
Donna took a nanosecond to marvel at how the Vogon’s smugness could have given the Doctor’s a run for its alien currency. Then she took a deep breath, sighed, took on the demeanor of a disaffected receptionist and turned to the one remaining undamaged computer.
‘I’ll have to see if we’ve got the rest of the paperwork on file, then.’
The frown that appeared on the Vogon’s face was a frightening sight. ‘What do you mean, the rest of the paperwork?’
‘I mean, the rest of the paperwork.’ She ran through documents, scanning for a suitable form. ‘You know. The paperwork where you’ve got to sign off on insurance and agree to compensation against damages to home and lives etc.’ She paused for effect. ‘The bit where you’ve got to actually pay everyone who lives in the Eastern Hemisphere for depriving them of their homes. That’s more than 75% of the Earth’s population.’ She let that one sink in. ‘You’ll have to negotiate a compensatory amount before you’re allowed to progress with construction according to Earth law.’ She was winging it as she went along, but that was all right, wasn’t it? When dealing with aliens, do as aliens do... ‘It’ll have to go through Earth courts as well. That’s a fair bit of money.’ And then, almost as an afterthought. ‘That’s a lot of individual forms to sign.’ Pause. ‘In triplicate.’
The Vogon was beginning to look just the tiniest bit panicked. He reached for his own stack of paper. Donna swivelled her chair round, scooped them off the counter and had a hasty flip through them. They all appeared to be densely worded forms which boiled down to the Vogons requiring any human signature which would in turn authorize them to wipe the Eastern Hemisphere off the face of the planet.
Donna shook her head and held up a form. ‘And this won’t be enough, I’m afraid. You can use them, but you’ll have to get them notarized by the EU. And NASA as well. Again, triplicate.’
A slow murmur of dissension could be heard arising from the rear of the Vogon ranks, and she crossed her fingers under the desk, and her toes as well. She’d always been good at disruption.
Groop Vogon Khort IV could hear the dissension as well. It did not make him happy. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has stated that while Vogon dissent is generally a rare occurrence (the vast majority of them are mindless conformists), it is not wholly unknown in the history of Vogsphere. Furthermore, said dissension has ended, if not in outright mass violence, than in general unpleasantness and a tendency towards the irrational, which is a far worse outcome to the minds of the Vogon authorities. If there was one thing that Groop Vogon Khort IV was not keen on, it was having to deal with Dissenters on a planet with unfamiliar paperwork and receptionists who weren’t scared of him.
Donna seized her chance much as she’d seized the paperwork. She thrust the forms back across the counter and into the Vogon leader's hands.
‘So, you go away and get all the insurance and the notarizations done now, and then come back with all the forms, aaaand we’ll see what we can do.’ Best inter-personal relations smile. ‘Have a nice day. ‘Byeeee.’
The dissension was getting louder, and mutters of ‘I’m not getting paid to be a paper-pusher, you know’ and ‘I signed up ‘cos I thought we were going to get to hit things, not negotiate’, were rather distinctly heard. Vogons aren’t bright, but they know when they’re beaten.
‘Well’, said Groop Vogon Khort, shuffling a bit. ‘Well...’
Donna beamed at him. Beam, beam, beam.
‘Well...You’ll be hearing from us.’
Beam, beam, beam. ‘In triplicate, mind.’
Back at the controls of his large yellow spaceship, Groop Vogon Khort IV looked at his little stack of forms. He tried to picture how many forms he would need for 75% of that miserable planet’s population. He pictured that multiplied by three. As the Vogon Fleet left the ground and broke atmosphere, their Fearless Leader tried very very hard not to cry.
Getting out of work early was a bit of a given. Donna strolled down the street in the mid-afternoon sun, feeling rather justifiably pleased with herself. It was all here. Her part of the planet was here and alive and it was a glorious spring day. Birds were singing, the grass was never so green, that traffic light was a beautiful shade of red, the police call box in that alley she’d just passed was never so -
She stopped, turned around, took off her heels and ran.
It was still there. She skidded up to the door and tried the handle. It turned, but the door didn’t open. She knocked, breathless, elated, hopping a bit from foot to foot.
‘Doctor ’ No answer. She knocked harder and shouted louder. Still no answer. She tried the door again.
‘Doooctoooor ’ Nothing.
‘I don’t believe it; the jammy sod must be out.’ She flopped down against the front of the TARDIS, and caught her breath. And then she waited. And waited. And waited some more, until the streetlights went on and then slowly began to fade out, and the stars dissolved into the pink streaks of dawn and her world began to wake up again. And then she got up, found a pen and an old receipt in her coat pocket, stuck a note to the TARDIS and left. Back to her own life.
Behind her, the little scrap of paper fluttered a bit on the door of the TARDIS, and any curious passer-by who took a closer look could have read the following:
Don’t know where you were, but I was magnificent.
(1) The toolbox, the Guide notes, would appear to work on the same principle as the TARDIS. It is rather unfortunate that the entry for the latter consists only of ‘Sentient; Bigger on the inside.’ Previous editions held a fuller description of the Time Lords and Gallifrey; however, upon the planet’s demise, the Guide edited them out. After the discovery that the Doctor survived the Time War, several attempts at updating have been made; however, this is problematic due to the fact that many informants are unavailable for comment (trapped in parallel universes; walking the earth; otherwise occupied with building a secret base beneath the Millenium Dome in Cardiff etc.) Researchers should please note that Attempting to Enter the TARDIS While It Is In Flight is Highly Unadvisable if Not Downright Impossible. Should you ignore this advice, You Will Not Be Compensated For Injury or Loss of Life - Your best chance is to pose as a young humanoid female in distress from a random force bent on invading Earth, and keep an eye out for either a large blue box and/or a Time Lord with a pin-striped suit and a nose for trouble. The entry on the Doctor himself has largely been removed as its conflation of fact, legend, guesswork and highly salacious speculation upon Time Lord anatomy proved to be detrimental to any true understanding of the lost Gallifreyen culture.
(2) On page 41, for those who wish to seek further information, though quite frankly, why anyone would seek further information after reading that description is difficult to fathom.
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