"I shouldn't be doing this," said the Doctor to himself, working on the fused circuits that filled the wall space in front of him, cutting them with the hand torch and tearing them out. A steady stream of tiny robots dragged off each handful of material as soon as it hit the floor, and other robots waited around the damaged area, bearing replacement parts. "I should be calm, I should be resting, recovering, getting inside myself, letting my personality settle-"
"You must work. We must be repaired." The little robot at the Doctor's ankle might or might not have been the one who had speared his foot through with a hair-thin laser. They all sounded the same. The Doctor looked down at it.
"Once this ship is functional, and it returns to home base with its hijacked-"
"Rescued!" reproved the tiny robot.
The Doctor paused, and went on more slowly. "Once this ship returns to home base, what will happen to me? And my ship?"
He gestured to the TARDIS on the other side of the bare hangar floor; it was ringed about by more of the tiny robots. K-9 sat stubbornly outside the circle of defenders; he scanned them and they scanned him. At least, until they found another task for K-9 to do.
The little robot did not answer; it had already told the biological unit once that it was owned property; there was no reason to say it again.
Other robots worked on the captured ships that remained. Some of those ships had also managed to tap into the power now streaming through the hangar, and the robots laboured to cut loose their cables, turn off their microwave absorbers. They seemed to want to keep the ships locked down in their positions, powerless; and the ships equally were motivated to try and draw enough power to escape.
The Doctor shook his head, not side to side but a steady trembling. He could feel his personality, his self, trying to find its place inside of him, but all this agitation, it was only making things worse. He found himself thinking too hard, too long, of terrible things: destruction, Daleks, doom, death…
He was afraid of what strange angle, what odd level, his mind might find when his recovery from regeneration stress was complete.
And he was even more afraid of the people who had thrown him arse-over-teakettle out of their ship, and flown away - with Sarah on board.
Where was Sarah Jane?
* * *
Tragan lunged and Sarah tried to duck, but there was no room. He had her by both wrists, had her pinned against the wall with his weight, and his face was horribly close to hers. His hot breath blew in her face. His smile wasn't really a smile, it was more of an open-mouthed snarl, and his teeth were very white against his black gums.
She stared at him, revolted, seeing how his face puffed and rippled with excitement at the sight of her. Sarah had tried to forget that, the revolting way his skin moved on his skull. It had given her nightmares. For years after he had abducted her (well, to be honest, she had snuck aboard his ship just before it took off) to Parakon, she had awakened at night; thinking she could still see his alien face hovering over her, hear his gloating voice in her ears. He was evil, pure evil. And here he was. Again.
His skin shivered like a horse's trying to shake off a fly. She cringed away, eyes wide, and he leaned after her - and her hand clawed for the gun that was pinning down her left wrist in Tragan's hand, trying to claw it loose. She pulled and twisted, but her hand was too well pinned. She stretched, sliding her wrist under Tragan's palm - she thought she might have a finger on the trigger -
Tragan let go of her wrist and simply chucked the gun over his shoulder, out of her reach. In fact it went straight out through the door, which closed behind it. Then his hand returned to pursue and seize her wrist again. She was fighting, but he was stronger; slowly he forced her arms out from her shoulders, stretching them to each side. He said in her face, too loudly, "You can't imagine how long I've been waiting to have my hands on you again."
Then he butted close to her, chest to chest, his mouth by her ear. He whispered, "How long?"
"What?" gasped Sarah.
"How long, how long has it been? Since Parakon? How long have I been here?" His face was unreadable as always, but his voice was - haunted. Uncertain.
Sarah swallowed. "Let me go and I'll tell you."
Tragan moved back a bit, so that he could see her determined face, lips set and hard dark eyes staring into his. The flesh of his face started to bubble like lumpy oatmeal, the mauve running with bursts of purple. He leaned closer, bringing his soft pulpy flesh even closer to hers. Sarah could imagine how it would feel like hot slugs squirming on her skin, she could feel the hairs on his face brushing her, hear him chuckle-
"Thirty years, at least thirty years, now get away!" Sarah said with a shriek, and yanked sideways, twisting away from his touch. Surprisingly enough, Tragan let her go, and she stumbled and then turned, her back to the cabin. Unfortunately that still put Tragan between her and the door.
Tragan was standing inhumanly still - par for the course. Only his lips moved as he said, "Thirty years? It was only yesterday, that I met - Avva. I knew that couldn't be true. So why did I believe it. Why?"
Tragan moved towards Sarah, slowly, and she backed away, but there was nothing behind her except - an empty bed. Nothing to hit him with except a pillow. The pillows didn't seem to have pillowcases; she couldn't put one over his head and get around him-
He shook his head sharply as though to clear it, and his voice went from vague to venomous. "But now that I have you again, I can hardly decide where to begin."
"You can begin by doing nothing. Avva might not like it if you hurt me, you know!" It was a blind shot on Sarah's part, but anything was worth a try right now.
Tragan's face swelled so alarmingly that for an instant his eyes vanished, and his voice was thick when he replied, "Oh, Avva is quite the connoisseur of pain and torment and nightmares, I assure you. I have first hand experience. She makes me look like a novice beside her appetites. Don't go crying to her for mercy."
Sarah Jane swallowed. The first time she had met Tragan, he had been working with a particularly loathsome man, well alien, called Freeth. Was Avva another Freeth?
Tragan continued. "Let's play a little game, shall we? Tell Me Tell You. Why don't you tell me, oh, how you got out here. And perhaps, only perhaps now, I will tell you the fate of your companions."
Companions, yes the Doctor and K-9! But the Doctor was the person who had caused Tragan's downfall. Telling Tragan that the Doctor was now his prisoner, if he was here, did not seem like a good idea. And K-9 had a few tricks under his hood; maybe he could help her escape. She had to escape. Tragan was a monster. Escape. But how?
Sarah's mind raced. What to say? Tragan came close to her, too close again, and bent to whisper conspiratorially, "I was on Parakon, then on a Sast ship. Avva, she-"
The door opened with a funny noise, and Tragan started to snarl "- going to tear your heart out and eat it in front of your eyes!" He snatched at Sarah, who had little trouble in looking frightened and climbing up on the bed, threatening Tragan with one booted foot.
"I'll kick your lights out if you try!"
There was a footstep and Avva's face appeared beside Tragan's. She must be standing on tiptoe to get over his shoulder. She said in a sweet tone, "Don't put that in your mouth, Tragan. You don't know where she's been."
Without the slightest hint of revulsion she pressed her striped cheek into Tragan's throbbing face; Sarah watched astounded as he blossomed with new colours, ivory and white flesh moving out from where she touched, racing asymmetrically across his face. Tragan's eyes grew wide and staring, as though he was gazing into a great light, very far away.
"Cruel Tragan," said Avva, her eyes hooded with - satisfaction? "Toying with your prey. I hate to leave you here with idle time running through your hands. Your new hands."
She ran her hands down Tragan's sides, down his arms, and kneaded at his wrists, rubbing her fingertips in little circles. "I will be in the control room for a little while, Tragan. While I'm busy, perhaps you could make me something pretty. Something for me to rest my eyes on." Sarah noted absently that the purple stripes along the alien woman's face ran out into what looked like wattles along the edge of her jaw.
"How should I please you best, Mistress?" said Tragan humbly, his eyes down-turned now. Humbly? Mistress? Sarah Jane had never seen the cruel Naglon humble for a second. Who was this Avva that Tragan, of all people, would defer to her? Even Freeth hadn't had this effect on Tragan.
"You know my tastes. Use your imagination, and the materials at hand. I will be your attentive audience - as soon as the news relay protocols finish upgrading," she said, slipping out of the cabin and leaving them - ulp! - alone together.
Tragan looked back at Sarah, the faraway look in his eyes fading, until he was clearly looking at her, and only her.
* * *
The robot assigned to monitor the new biological unit found it sitting on the floor, face on knees, and rocking gently back and forth.
"You sit, you do not work," it criticised.
"I don't feel like working. I just want to slack off," the unit declared.
"All must work," squawked the robot.
"That's not what the communication unit I just repaired says. Or say, maybe you haven't decoded it yet and sent it to general broadcast?"
The little robot paused, and then scuttled away.
And the Doctor was up, running, his leather soles slipped on his first stride but he caught himself. He dashed for a control panel and started banging down rows of switches with his forearms. Across the deck, the clamps holding down the various ships started to open, and those ships that still had power leaped to ignite engines, levitate, or fire weapons to free themselves. The Doctor spared one moment to beam at the sight. What a row! What a smashing pileup!
Not that these dreadful little robots didn't deserve to lose their captives.
Then he ran for the TARDIS. The ring of robots around it was scampering in all directions, and K-9 was nowhere to be seen.
Where was K-9?
He could take what was coming better than the Doctor, anyway, hopefully: he slipped the key from his pocket, stuck it into the door at arms-length, flew inside just as the entire hangar bay rang like a gong as the doors were breached. There was a whoosh that faded away to nothing as the air was evacuated out through the breach.
The doors were pulled loose from the outside, and there was immediate traffic outflow as satellites and ships scuttled free of their captor. At least one of them was intersected by a laser and destroyed, but others successfully fled.
The TARDIS doors slammed shut and the Doctor leaned against the console, gasping. With a shaking hand he reached for a control - the external monitors? No, that wasn't it, this was.
Outside was chaos; two ships had torn themselves through the hangar bay doors and deployed troops, anonymous in heavy space armour, which were mercilessly smashing the robots with energy weapons. The robots fought back, futilely, and were crushed underfoot. The Doctor hoped that K-9 would not roll into view. More soldiers were dragging boxes and machines over to the computer terminals, and that clinched it for the Doctor. They were here for information, not just to shoot the place up.
There was a whistling noise outside as an energy barrier was sealed and air rushed back into the hangar; as it did and the pressure built, the Doctor could hear an audio broadcast message, the same one he had heard before he began his dash:
"-ea! We seek the Righteous Flea! We seek the Righteous Flea! We-"
"Hello!" said the Doctor, waving to the troops from the TARDIS' open doors. He was instantly staring down the muzzles of far too many alien weapons.
Probably magnetic sweepers, he thought, but still no reason to give them a chance to fire, wouldn't do the contents of his pockets any good. "I am also looking for the Righteous Flea, I saw it leave from here." As one of the soldiers advanced on him, he turned and locked the TARDIS door, then turned back to see a fist in his face.
The fist made contact, and his head rang against the TARDIS door, he staggered but kept his feet.
"I'm sorry, have we met?" he asked.
The soldier paused, and then folded back its - his - helmet in two halves, that hung on each side of his head like clam shells. The face revealed was contorted from combat, and bleeding from an abrasion down one cheek.
It was also distressingly hairy, overly mauve and overall quite restive. Positively throbbing with enthusiasm.
"Ah. Naglons, I see, how very, very, unpleasant of you to show up!" babbled the Doctor. The Naglon ignored his words and stepped forward, forward until he was toe to toe with the Doctor and the weapon in his left hand was pressing alarmingly hard against the Doctor's midsection.
"You are the one who lies about the Righteous Flea. We will tear your lies from you before you die," the Naglon said intimately. "The Flea was not here, the Flea was-"
"The Flea was indeed here, I saw it leave, they threw me out in fact!"
The Naglon bent close enough that the hairs on its face tickled the Doctor's nose. "They?"
"They, well someone, someone was in the ship that was here, the little robots all around," he gestured at the smears of metal that were all that remained of his little tormenters, "they said it was the Righteous Flea. Well, this person, or people, they grabbed me and threw me out to these robots, which kept me as a prisoner! Really, is there no overseeing of these operations? No regulations?"
"This is an abduction machine," snarled the Naglon. "It was built to fly unmanned in space for decades or centuries, seizing ships and holding them for ransom. When reports of its presence stopped, it was assumed to have been destroyed. We have been tracking it for the last day as it broadcast your lies-"
"I? I sent no broadcast," said the Doctor, straightening up.
"No. The ships here were sending broadcasts, and the Righteous Flea was powering up when I was - ah, ejected from it. Look, really, can't we be on the same side here? When the Flea left, it took a friend of mine with it, I really have to find-"
The Naglon paused, then took the Doctor's shoulder in one hand and shoved him away from the TARDIS, towards one of the invading ships. "Search him. Scrape him," he ordered to the soldiers who advanced to take the Doctor, one on each arm.
"Scrape?" the Doctor asked.
"To the bones?" asked one of the Naglon soldiers in turn; it was amazing how a faceless voice could leer, the Doctor thought.
"No, I want him alive for questioning when we have drained this ship," ordered the Naglon leader, and off the Doctor went, protesting all the way.
By a pile of scrap sat a robot in remarkably good repair, not looking at all like the little ship robots, and staying very still. K-9 had not been in a position to aid the Doctor, and the Doctor had come out of the TARDIS of his own will, not forced out. And K-9 had calculated that the magnetic guns currently crushing the tiny robots were more high-powered versions of the one that had thrown him out of the yellow ship, and he had no wish to face them again.