In the TARDIS control room, the Doctor was flipping various controls when Sarah Jane and K-9 came in (K-9 had apparently been functional enough to observe the way they had taken to come in, and was quite useful in guiding Sarah out).
"I think I may have found just the place, but I want to make sure there's some atmosphere. Hate opening the door into a vacuum, dries out my sinuses," he said in a conversational tone.
That terrifying flash of self-hatred seemed to have vanished into thin air, but Sarah knew better: it was still out there, waiting to come back, it could be reflected back to him at any moment. But the longer it took, the longer she could keep him occupied and cheery, the more stable he ought to be in his new body.
She remembered UNIT, and dear old Dr. Harry Sullivan, who had had his hands very full for a day or so with a just-regenerated Doctor who did not want to be doctored. At all.
When did I start thinking of Harry as old? she wondered.
Aloud she said, "On a planet or off a planet?"
"What?" The Doctor looked at her. "Oh, it's off a planet, certainly, it's clear off the galactic plane. A spaceship. Seems to be, no, it's definitely unmanned, engines cold, no course set, but there's still atmosphere in the main hangar bay. And -"
He touched a control, and the TARDIS was filled with what seemed to be a dozen competing electronic warbles, high whistles, and gabbling language that Sarah couldn't capture.
"What's that noise?" she half-shouted.
"It's," the noise was silenced, "it's distress signals. Multiple distress signals. But they are all on very low power; nobody could possibly hear them out here. And there's no life form signals."
"Sounds perfectly safe, except for all the people yelling for help then," Sarah suggested.
"Oh not people, no. These must be automated distress signals. I'll just bet" - the Doctor touched his finger to the side of his nose - "I'll just bet that this is some sort of automated repair facility."
"A space towing service and garage, combined?" asked Sarah. "Let's hope they are up to their safety inspections, then."
K-9 had already wheeled himself to the TARDIS doors, and was sitting there with his nose to them, wagging his antennae of a tail. "I am ready to begin sensor scan testing, Mistress," he announced.
The Doctor shrugged, and opened the doors, and K-9 rolled outside.
Outside it was cold, and rather dim. In front of the closed doors of the TARDIS, K-9 spun on his axis, scanning in all directions.
It was a large metal hangar, with one end open to space; had been open, rather, but was now sealed off by a door the size of a small building. Scattered around the metal floor, in no particular order, were spaceships, or spacecraft, or satellites, or empty fuel pods.
Many of these spacecraft, the larger ones, were emitting electronic signals that K-9 interpreted as cries for help, for aid, for assistance.
Most spectacular was the giant dent in the metal deck, to one side of the room. The dent was ringed by burn marks and debris; it appeared that the ship resting there must have exploded. There were holes punched in the deck and the ceiling, and the surrounding ships; K-9 calculated that the debris must have passed through several decks, if not entirely through the ship.
He scanned for life forms. No.
Life encapsulated, life in suspension, is still life. But the beat and the pulse of such life is slow, slow. It seemed like there might be, might be, something like life in one of these ships: the rather small yellow one, shaped like a sine wave with a narrow rim raised off the floor all the way around. K-9 moved forward to investigate, and something moved forward to investigate him.
It was a robot, small and boxy, and it crept towards him - and stopped. K-9 scanned it; saw that it had also run out of power. The style of it, its age, suggested that it might be a part of the hangar ship's components.
The sensor testing seemed to have run perfectly, but K-9 was very much in favour of double-checking results. Since the Mistress was here, and he did not scan any danger, it seemed logical to ask her if she would like to investigate the possible life forms herself; this would please her, and also serve as a check on his sensor accuracy.
K-9 wagged his tail and turned back to the TARDIS, signalling for re-entry.
* * *
"Mistress, I have scanned the exterior environment. It appears to be a storage facility for spaceships and space going craft in distress. The facility has been damaged by debris, presumably originating from an exploding ship. The composition of the hull is eighteen percent-"
"Oh very good, very well done K-9," said Sarah, not really wanting to hear all the technical details of what the ship was made out of. "Any people?"
"Negative. There are no biological units in evidence. However, I detected faint life form signals from one of the stored ships. Mistress would like to investigate?"
"Well, I don't know. Do you think it's safe, Doctor?"
The Doctor frowned. "K-9, could the damage from the exploding ship have caused this ship to say, fall out of hyper and been unable to return to home base?"
"Unknown. I have not fully scanned the extent of the damage or the propulsion methods of this vessel."
"Well, perhaps we should both have a look around, do our good deed for the day. Give back to the universe what it has given us, and all. So-," he rummaged around, and found a long tan coat that he slipped over his suit, "let's go look see."
Once the three of them were outside, K-9 led them to the yellow ship. Sarah thought it was shaped rather like a helmet, or one of those smooth leafhopper bugs that disguises itself as a thorn on a stem. There was a green door on one side of it, which was about halfway open. With a little shimmying in its slot, it was induced to slide all the way back, and Sarah and the Doctor entered.
It was very dark; the inside lights were faint glows over their heads. The Doctor stopped and said, "No."
"No what?" said Sarah, peering through the gloom.
"No, I'm not stumbling around in the dark anymore. I'm going to go see if the lights in the main hangar can be brought up, so that we can see in here. Just," and he mentally redirected himself, "just investigate as you can, until I get back. K-9 will be here with you."
That actually was reassuring; K-9 was quite capable of defending his Mistress in a pinch. Outside there was a clang, and a clatter. And then, slowly, the lights came up outside. Flickering on in one corner, then sweeping alight across the entire bay. The spaceships piled here and there on the floor looked even smaller.
The Doctor came trotting back in, talking a mile a minute. "There was a piece of debris wedged into one of the power leads, and would you believe it, three little robots were there picking at it, trying to get it loose. I was afraid it might be charged, so I whacked it loose with a ceramic pole and-" and the Doctor noticed that Sarah Jane was not paying attention.
And then he saw why she was not paying attention.
The light streaming in behind them was reflected dully off the walls and ceiling, and it illuminated a long low shape lying at the far end of the room they stood in.
From the end of the shape closest to them, a pale oval glimmered at them, set with the almost universal pattern of sockets and teeth.
A skull, Sarah thought. A-
The lights suddenly glowed brighter from the ceiling of the cabin, and the Doctor jumped.
It was a skull and it was attached to a corpse; it seemed to be more dried than rotten, stretched across the floor in an attitude of crawling or straining, hands out on the remains of a withered leather carpet. But it was most certainly dead now.
Underneath them came the whine of machinery; Sarah looked over her shoulder, but the door was showing no tendency to move.
"The repair facility must have a way of charging the ships in dry dock," said the Doctor. "Now that we've got the power flowing, I presume they can start calling for help properly, and this storage facility, or whatever it is, can take them where they are supposed to be."
Sarah looked down at the alert square head of K-9. "K-9, that" - she pointed to the corpse - "isn't the source of the life readings, is it?"
The Doctor stepped around the edge of the room to avoid the remains of the carpet, and was eyeing the corpse. "Look here, Sarah," and she did, seeing a dark slash that went through the corpse and through the carpet and on into the floor.
"It looks like when that ship out there exploded, a piece of debris came in through somewhere and killed the pilot."
"But why is K-9 sensing life forms then?"
"I don't know. Emergency pod? House plant in one of the other rooms?" There were four doors opening off the room they were in, all dark; the Doctor walked around the edge of the carpet again to go into the far one. "Looks like the control deck." He stepped into the next room. "Personal quarters?"
Sarah had gone into the door nearest her, and turned at the sound of his voice. "Looks like someone's room h"
K-9 detected the noise, but it took him a moment longer to correlate life form and energy readings. He swivelled from one side to the other, scanning, detecting.
A stasis field had been activated in the two rooms; the Master and Mistress were frozen, locked away. The field explained why their life form readings had vanished. The Master was trapped with his back to the door, one foot in mid-air; the Mistress had just been turning back, so he could scan three quarters of her profile, see her unmoving chest, her still lips, and reassure himself that it was just a stasis field.
More machinery noises from the underside of the ship, more clicking of relays. The overhead lights were almost up to full spectrum now. And behind him, a ticking noise, as of tiny metal feet on metal.
K-9 had been scanning the walls of the room, trying to determine where the stasis machinery was located. It appeared to be located under the floor, which meant that he would have to try and burn away under the Master and Mistress' feet - no, unacceptable solution, when the field was interrupted they would fall onto red hot metal!
Cut off the stasis field's power supply?
The sound of feet had multiplied; K-9 turned to investigate.
Outside the ship, the metal floor was running over with little metal robots, and more and more of them were coming out of the walls, converging on the yellow ship.
K-9's sensors confirmed that the door of the TARDIS was closed, as one of the robots dashed past him with tiny feet and started jumping up and down in front of the Mistress, shouting something in a high pitched squeal. Then it popped out a gun to match its tiny size and directed a laser beam at the Mistress' foot!
The beam stopped at the edge of the doorway, of course, when it met the stasis field. But that was enough for K-9. He deployed his own weapon and fired.
The tiny robot squealed again and turned to attack K-9, but K-9 fired again, spoiling its aim. The robot scuttled back out the door, and K-9 rolled forward, to guard and to defend the entry.
He would start defending now, from the looks of it; his first burst caught three of the robots and sent them tumbling, and then he started methodically burning them, stinging them, as they marched up to the door to try and attack the Mistress and Master.
But they just kept marching, just kept marching, and there were more and more of them scurrying up, lining up to join the attack.
Behind K-9 there was even more machinery sounds, and he monitored most carefully behind as well as before him.
Two metal tanks were extruding themselves from the floor of the main room, through a hatch that had ripped through the remains of the carpet; the huddled figure of the corpse fell into the opening and vanished. The tanks were just about the size to hold a standard humanoid, and as power flowed K-9 could confirm that they were the source of the life form readings. Passengers in suspended animation, he assumed, as he quickly ran a check on his own power levels: good, but not infinite. The passengers would hopefully revive and release the Master and Mistress from the stasis field.
The tanks opened and one exploded with activity; the figure inside clawed at the thick layer of gelatine encasing it, tore through it, pulled itself loose with a (rather comical) slurping noise, and then staggered upright.
The inhabitant of the other tank was in distress; its movements were feeble, confused. The first figure reached in and tore into the sealed tank, through the gelatine, and hauled out someone who lay prone on the floor, breathing heavily.
The walking figure came up behind K-9, still firing his weapon and clearing the doorway, and he rapped out, "Attention! I am in need of assistance! Free my Master and Mis-"
At the word Mistress, he found himself scooped up, swept up in a magnetic field emitted by some device the figure held, and hurtled out the door!
He landed, rolled, and luckily regained his base. He spun, and saw the figure sweeping the robots away from the doorway - and then closing it. With K-9 on the outside.
* * *
Inside the ship, the second to leave the tank was still in distress, and the first went to it, cradled it, rocked it back and forth.
A woman's voice, "Breathe now, breathe. I know you can. It's been a while, but you can." The two figures drew close, close enough to touch foreheads.
"Can you hear me? Here?"
"No," said the gasping man. "But - I can hear you."
"Good. Well…let's see where we are then."
The woman went to a cabinet by the door, and drew out long loose heavy robes. "Here," she tossed a yellow one to the man who was still on the floor, twitching, "you are cold."
He pulled the robe around and over himself, staring at his limbs as the cloth covered them. The he staggered to his feet, and looked around.
He went to the room where the Doctor hung, frozen. He stared carefully at the stranger, his striped garments, his leather shoes, but learned nothing. Then he turned to the opposite door and looked.
And, slowly, he fell to his knees.
When the women stepped back out of the room where the controls were flickering to life (and a rather feisty automated weapons system was starting to nibble at the encroaching robots), the man turned and flung himself at the hem of her red robe. Gripping her feet, he sobbed, "Goddess, forgive me!"
She looked down at him; her eyebrows lofted up and then back.
"And why should I forgive you?" she said, in her coldest tone.
"Forgive me Goddess, forgive me for ever doubting your divinity. You have given me life, you have given me a body again, and you have brought me her! Her!"
He dared to rise to his knees and point at the figure standing frozen, facing out towards the room, a little turned away. Then he threw his arms around his Goddess' waist, hugging her like a drowning man.
She stroked the hair of the man embracing her, and stared. "Are you absolutely certain that I have brought you the right - reward, for your service?"
"Yes, absolutely, I will never forget her, never! That is Sarah Jane Smith!"
"Ah," the Goddess smiled. "And this other intruder, could it be the Doctor?"
"No," said her worshipper, shaking his head so that little globs of gelatine slid off his hairs. "He is too young."
"Well, and so. As it happens, the abduction machine is being rather pressing in its demands for payment. It seems that it is out of contact with its controllers, and desperate for energy and repair crews. It seems only fair that we offer them something for what they have done so far.
"We owe them nothing!" the man snarled, his face pulsing with colour.
"We will give them - that biological. And the little robot that I chucked out the door, and whatever vehicle they came in. That should distract them long enough for us to get well away."
A computerised voice came from over their heads. "Hull breech sealed. Power drain from attacking ship's systems complete. Ready for space."
"Computer. Prepare to drop stasis field only in Room Three." She handed the man a short truncheon. "If you would do the honours?"
The stasis field flicked off; the Doctor put down his foot, heard the clattering of metal feet from outside, started to turn - and the truncheon took him hard at the nape of the neck, flooring him.
Hard wet hands pulling him, hauling him up onto someone's shoulders; moving; a door opening; a clear cold voice shouting "We offer one biological, one robot and one travel machine in payment! Final offer!" and he was dropped, tossed, rolled to lie in a pile of kicking, twisting little robots.
"Master!" came the welcome voice of K-9; he had been struggling to approach the ship, only to be repulsed again and again by the little robots.
"K-9! Where's Sarah?"
"Still inside, Master!"
The Doctor turned - and fell as the yellow ship slid sideways, over the deck; the clanking of myriad metal - legs? - from underneath it suddenly reminded the Doctor of a tortoise. It dodged across the deck, skipping between the various piles of ships and debris, and then a weapon spat from its flank, a hatch opened, and it was gone.
The Doctor rose to his feet, ignoring the little robots. One of them promptly shot a laser beam into his foot, and he shouted, hopping, then raised his foot to stamp -
And faced a circle of tiny robots, all pointing their tiny guns at his feet.
He stopped, and put his foot down. Slowly.
One of the robots ticked forward and spoke, in a slow voice.
"Biological unit. You are offered as payment for energy and repairs to departed ship Righteous Flea. What are your skills?"
"What are my skills? Well, I can sing, I think, no maybe I can't…I can fix things, I think I fixed your energy system just now, didn't I?"
The little robot replied, "Yes. You must make all repairs."
The Doctor looked out across the hangar floor, at the dozens of ruined spaceships, and his hearts quailed. "All of those?" he gestured.
"No. We must be repaired, our ship must be repaired, that we may take these ships for-"
"For?" prompted the Doctor politely.
"For payment processing and further repair."
"Hmm, repairs on repairs. You know, considering the hole that was punched in the Righteous Flea, it seems strange that you were charging them already for the repairs."
The row of tiny guns raised, and the robot groaned out, "Law ends with atmosphere."
"Ah yes." The Doctor winced. "I've heard that one too, not a very nice philosophy, but effective when ruthlessly enough applied."
"Master!" K-9 had won his way to the Doctor's feet; he spun and menaced the surrounding robots. "We must locate the Mistress!"
"K-9, yes, we must. But - first we need to get out of here." He addressed the tiny robots. "I must be given data on the Righteous Flea's course so that I may rejoin her after my period of service is done."
"Period of service? You are ours. You are payment. We own you."
The circle of little robots inched closer…
* * *
When the stasis field went off, Sarah Jane didn't know it.
All she knew was that the dim room had exploded with light; reflexively she covered her eyes, squinting. Then she dropped her arm.
Standing in front of her, in the main room, were two figures in shapeless robes. The one to the front, slightly shorter, was pointing a nasty looking gun at Sarah's navel. The Doctor and K-9 were nowhere to be seen.
She gulped, and raised her hands to the side, up and out.
In apparent response the figure swept back its hood - her hood. It was a woman, with bristling wild black hair every which way that looked like a cat had slept in it. Purple stripes ran down her cheeks - no, Sarah decided, they were raised up from her skin. Scars maybe?
The woman raised her chin and said, "I am Pilot Avva Omet-J, Sast. Identify yourself."
"I - I'm Sarah Jane Smith, of Earth. Human," she added, unable to decide if Sast was this person's planet or species or-
"Ahhhh," came a long sigh from the figure in the yellow robe. It was a smug, self-satisfied sound, and it made all the hairs stand up on the back of Sarah's neck. Avva turned and looked up at the figure in yellow.
"Would you like to take it from here?" she asked.
The figure nodded, and Avva casually handed over the gun and stepped aside.
The one in yellow came forward and Sarah stepped back, stepped back, and found herself against the wall - this might be someone's cabin but it was tiny! - and the figure filled the doorway. It seemed to be staring at her from under its hood, which shadowed its face so well that Sarah had no idea what it might be. Who it might be. She could hear its breathing, it sounded fast. Now Sarah, she scolded herself, it's an alien, just because it sounds like it's panting doesn't mean that it's - panting. Maybe the air in here is thin for it.
The figure raised the hand that was not pointing the gun at her. It raised the hand slowly, slowly, the back to Sarah. It passed the hand in front of its face and then slowly pushed its hood all the way back, and slashed its hand down, baring its face all at once.
Baring his face.
Sarah's mouth opened but there was no air, nothing to breathe in, no scream to come out.
It was a flushed warty purple face, with terrible pale colourless eyes and thin lips. The hair was wild, like the other one's, twisted and slimy. But the eyes - the eyes knew her.
And she knew them.
"Sarah Jane Smith, the little journalist girl," came the hated, the despised voice from between those thin lips. "We meet again."
Sarah swallowed, and said, "You're Tragan. Tragan from - Parakon. The Naglon."
Tragan smiled and said, "Yes." And lunged.