A smell of singed toast met Charley Pollard's nose as she wandered into the control room early that morning. Shiny black boots peeked out from under the console, an unequivocal sign that the TARDIS was playing up yet again.
Sighing, the Doctor began to withdraw from his position on the floor with a glass box in one hand and a wire in the other. “How did that happen?” He shook the box furiously, it's innards bouncing about against the glass menacingly. “Stupid, stupid Doctor,” he muttered to himself, “another reciprocation circuit burned out.”
“Morning, Doctor,” greeted Charley, with an air of know-it-all politeness.
“Oh,” said the Timelord looking up distractedly. “Hello, Charley.”
“Have you broken it again?” nodded Charley to the glass box and frayed wire.
“What?” said the Doctor indignantly. “Of course not, no, no. Just a few,” he looked about for some help, “just some minor repairs. Tinkering. That sort of thing.” He got to his feet. “Have to keep the old girl shipshape, don't I?” He gave the console a little pat.
The TARDIS seemed to respond by lurching sharply to the right. Books, records, teacups and side tables flew towards Charley as she tried to hold onto the nearest support pole. The Doctor had latched onto the console itself, but was swept off his feet.
“What's going on?” yelled Charley over the smashing of bric-a-brac.
“Ah, not Ella Fitzgerald!” moaned the Doctor as an LP whizzed by.
“Doctor?!” Charley tried again.
“Oh, just a bit of turbulence I expect. It'll all be fine -” the console room began to right itself “ - in a second.” The Doctor beamed at her disarmingly. “Now,” he said, half to her, half to himself, as he began to punch a few buttons and dials on the console. “Let's see, that one, and...yes. Oh, I see...”
“Have we landed, then?”
“Erm, not technically. I mean, we seem to be stuck in transit. Well, not so much stuck as orbiting something. Actually, not so much orbiting as magnetized.”
“You mean you don't really know, then?” said Charley, hands on hips.
He flashed her a grin, “I know, great isn't it? Another adventure for the team! There could be anything out there...”
“All trouble, I bet,” Charley grumbled, pushing him aside with her hips and pulling the view screen into level with her eyes. “It looks like marble — but green.”
“Perhaps we're in Atlantis — I've been meaning to pop back there for ages...”
“I can't see any water or fish or anything.”
The Doctor flicked a couple of switches and vital statistics appeared on the screen. “It all looks safe enough. Fancy a look?”
“Careful, Charley,” said the Doctor kindly as she nearly slid on the shiny green marble on exiting the TARDIS. “Bit slippery. Take my arm.”
She did so, and they moved forward into the phosphorescent light.
“I can still see stars everywhere,” said Charley breathlessly. “I can't even see any trees or buildings or anything. Just marble. It's amazing.”
“It's moving,” said the Doctor, looking about himself keenly. “I can feel it.”
“As in moving around on a planet, or moving forward on some sort of space ship?”
“Doctor,” growled Charley.
“Both,” clarified the Doctor. “Like I said in the TARDIS, Charley, we were attracted here by a magnetic pull — like a strong gravity field. But this isn't a planet...” He trailed off, then added, “it's not a conveyance either. Not really.”
“But you just said we were moving forward.”
“I did, didn't I?” replied the Doctor enigmatically as he bent down to examine the green marble, pulling Charley with him. “What does this remind you of?”
Charley touched the surface with her fingers. It was impossibly smooth and slightly grainy. “It's kind of like tortoiseshell, like a hair clip Cissy used to have.”
“Exactly,” said the Doctor triumphantly. “We, Charley, are aboard one of the great Pre-Historic Turtles — not many left I can tell you.”
“Turtles? You're joking!”
“Oh yes — amazing beings. Just roaming the Universes, picking up food and debris that are attracted into it's atmosphere.”
“Yes, an interesting thing about Pre-Historic Turtles is that they are also per-chronic, meaning that they can float from Universe to Universe in theory without ever batting an eyelid.”
“Yes, Charley, what is it?” he replied absentmindedly as he brushed the shell with his long fingers.
“Did you just mention something about the big turtle attracting food into it's atmosphere? Does that mean us?”
The Doctor cocked his head slightly. “Hmm, I suppose that is one way of looking at it.”
“What's the other?”
“Maybe it's lonely. Fellow travelers and all that. I'm sure it must attract hitchhikers from time to time. And in any case,” the Doctor stood and resumed walking and Charley slid along in his wake, her hand firmly about his arm, “it probably hasn't even noticed us yet.”
The landscape didn't change much as they walked along the shell of the giant Pre-Historic Turtle. The stars around them did, and it left Charley feeling slightly breathless and tiny. If it wasn't for the Doctor anchoring her, she'd feel utterly lost, she thought.
“You alright there, Charley?” the Doctor asked after a while.
“I just feel so small out here amongst all these stars. All those places and people.”
“I know,” said the Doctor. “Doesn't change after you meet them, either.”
“How many have you been to?”
“A few,” said the Doctor dismissively. “Charley, can you see something over there?”
“See what?” asked Charley, looking in the direction the Doctor was pointing.
“Where's C'Rizz when you need him?” muttered the Doctor, squinting his blue eyes.
“What is it?”
“I'm not sure, Charley, but I think,” he paused slightly as if giving the matter great consideration, “ we should head back to the TARDIS just in case.”
“Knowing our luck I'm sure it'll be something awful.”
The Doctor put his arm around her waist, “come on. Let's hop it.”
“Is it getting closer?” The Doctor kept looking over his shoulder every five seconds and it was making Charley nervous.
“Could be,” said the Doctor in his flakiest voice. She turned and peered round him. A huge red burgundy coloured shape seemed to be set upon collision with them.
“It's going to hit us, isn't it?” Charley asked shrilly.
“Yeah, I think so,” admitted the Doctor, then said in a soft voice that made the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, “don't worry, I've got you.” She felt even more tingly when he drew his arms completely around her, shielding her with his body. His velvet coat smelt like tea and honey. “Hang on, Charley,” he whispered.
Seconds later a cascade of viscous red fluid cascaded over the Doctor's back. She felt him shudder against her.
“Doctor?!” she squeaked in alarm into his cravat.
“I'm okay, Charley. Just cold, and wet....” he drew away from her, trying to keep the goo from dripping into her hair.
“It looks like strawberry jam!”
“Can't be that lucky twice I don't think,” the Doctor said, mournfully inspecting his velvet coat. “I really need to start buying these in bulk.”
“I can't see it anymore,” said Charley, looking about her. “The big blob.”
“The Bertram,” said the Doctor, “and it's at my feet.”
Charley looked down to see a pool forming about the Doctor's boots. The goo seemed to be regrouping.
“Ewww, what is it? It's all gluey and shiny.”
“A life form that needs a constant source of moisture. It actually traps molecules of water within it's gel.” The Doctor stepped carefully out of the pool of Bertram and slowly sluiced ahead towards the TARDIS.
“If it needs to get more moisture, and it does that by leaping on people, how come it left you all wet and sticky?”
The Doctor turned to face her, bedraggled but beaming. “Well, no system's perfect, Charley. Bertram's are relatively new on the evolutionary scale. They still have a lot to learn.”
“Well, I've learned,” said Charley, affectionately reaching up and tucking some hair out of the Doctor's eyes, “that you have a nose for trouble, and that next time I'm sticking with C'Rizz.”
“What, staying in bed till half-ten? You know what I always say, Charley? Sleep is for -”
“Turtles,” laughed Charley. “Yes, I know. Let's go home and wake the Turtle, shall we?”
“After you,” said the Doctor, indicating for her to go ahead of him in a gentlemanly way, but looking more like a vagrant out of the sewers.
“Thank you, kind sir,” smiled Charley.
“You know what I'm going to do when we get back?” asked the Doctor excitedly.
“Have a shower?” suggested Charley reprovingly.
“No, well, yes - after that. I'm going to have a big pot of tea, and toast with lots of strawberry jam!”