The Grand High Admiral of the Dark Segment stalked into his War Room and gave the two people already there a look of weary resignation.
"If you're looking for the Pleiades Old-Time Scarf Fetishists' Annual Dinner and Dance it's down the hall," he said. "Second door on the left. You know, for a moment, when I found out you'd talked your way past my slave... Mind you, even lettuce has been known to talk its way past Baldrick. No matter. Run along, I'm busy."
"Nice to meet you, Mr Busy," the man said, extending a friendly hand and grinning broadly. "I'm the Doctor, and this is Romana."
"Do you think you could let the Admiral know we're here?" Romana added.
Admiral Blackadder inwardly sentenced them both to five years in the worm pits of Turanis Minor. "As I'm sure you know perfectly well, I am the Admiral."
"Really?" The Doctor gave him a boggle-eyed look. "Splendid. You're just the chap we want to see. Isn't that convenient, Romana?"
"Frightfully," Romana said.
"Ridiculously." Mentally revising their sentences upward, the Admiral fixed them with his good eye. "Amusing though it doubtless is to watch the pair of you exchanging ridiculous compliments, I assume that you have a good reason for being in my war room without permission. Perhaps you would be good enough to tell me what it is?"
"He's got a point," Romana said.
The Doctor sat down – in, the Admiral noted, the Supreme Commander's chair – and considered the question.
"Well now," he said. "Would you be interested if I told you a Dalek fleet was massing on your borders?"
The Admiral leaned forward. "Yes, I would. Particularly if you could also explain how they weren't showing up on our long-range detectors, and why our patrols haven't picked them up."
"Well, that's really a matter for you, isn't it?" The Doctor shrugged. "Once you've dealt with the Daleks you can have a really searching enquiry into discipline and equipment in your patrol fleet. I'm sure you'd enjoy that."
"Not quite as much as being the main course at a Krassanid banquet. I suppose it would be too much to hope, Doctor, that you can give me actual evidence of this alleged Dalek fleet? Imagery? Gravitational scans? Maybe a picture postcard saying 'having a great time, wish you were here?'"
"Ah. Well, I'm afraid we had to leave in something of a hurry."
"I thought so."
"You don't have to take our word," Romana said. "You could always send one of your ships. We'll tell you where to look."
The Admiral shook his head. "Wasting fleet resources? On the word of two outrageously-dressed–"
"Does he mean me?" the Doctor asked, in a stage whisper.
"Didn't I tell you the other boots coordinated better?" Romana replied, in the same manner.
"Enough!" the Admiral snapped. "If I go to the Queen with what you've told me this far, she will almost certainly deprive me of a number of interior organs I would much rather keep, pursuant to using them in an exciting new legwear venture."
"And if you don't do anything, there won't be a Queen," Romana retorted. "Or an Empire."
The Doctor nudged her. "I think you're being a little abrupt in your manner."
"I don't think he's taking us seriously."
The Doctor thoughtfully pulled out a yoyo and sent it tumbling. "On the contrary, I'm sure he's taking us very seriously. As spies of some third power with an interest in seeing the border weakened. Or perhaps he thinks we work for one of his rivals and we're trying to get him discredited in the Queen's eyes. That Rear-Admiral we saw on the way in... what was his name?"
"Now, there's no call for that sort of language..."
The sounds of the bickering were cut off, as the Admiral crept quietly out of his War Room and locked the doors from outside.
"Get me a drink, Baldrick," he remarked to his slave. "Plurb eyeballs. And see that they're properly boiled this time."
He seated himself on one of the less disreputable chairs and considered the situation. The Doctor's guess had been quite accurate; should Blackadder make the slightest slip, that creep Darling would be running off to Lord Frondo with the evidence. Or Lord Pigmot would be clamouring for his own choice of High Admiral to be appointed – doubtless some well-connected loudmouth like Flashheart.
"A cunning plan is called for," he mused out loud.
Baldrick looked up from his eyeball-boiling duties. "My lord, I have a cunning plan."
"Is it connected in any way with Court politics or rumours of trouble on the borders?"
Baldrick thought for a bit. "Not as such, my lord. It's more to do with why the drain in the Fanzorian Barracks keeps getting blocked–"
"If it's blocked, go and clear it out."
"It's not actually blocked at the moment, my lord," Baldrick began, eager to disabuse his master of the misconception.
The Admiral waved a dismissive hand. "Then go there and wait until it is."
With a hasty obeisance, Baldrick scuttled from the room.
The door to the War Room slid open. Romana and the Doctor, who had spent their time playing Shove Ha'penny Of Rassilon, looked up. Once more, Admiral Blackadder stood before them.
"Hello again," the Doctor said. "Have you decided what you're going to do about us?"
The Admiral gave him a nasty smile. "I have. Perhaps you'd like to guess what I've decided."
"Well, let's see. Just in case we're telling the truth, you'll want to confirm our story."
"Which means you'll be sending a ship to the Dalek frontier zone," Romana put in.
"And you'll need us to be on board, so we can direct your man to where the Daleks are building their forces."
"But you'll need to maintain plausible deniability, so it won't be one of your fleet. A privateer, perhaps. With a captain you trust."
The Admiral's smile had been getting a bit strained during this exchange, but at Romana's final remark his tension vanished.
"So near," he said. "And yet so far." He half-turned, and called over his shoulder. "Baldrick! Send him in!"
There was a pause, in which the thump of cybernetic feet, the hiss of hydraulic joints and the whirr of servo motors could be heard. Then, as the Admiral stepped aside, a new figure appeared in the doorway. From the waist down, he appeared to be entirely mechanical; his upper half was dressed in an extravagant, metallic, gadget-covered jacket which vied with the Admiral's own for ostentation. A ruddy face, a shock of red hair and a bushy beard completed the picture.
Admiral Blackadder gestured at the newcomer, as an impresario might introduce his star turn. "Allow me to present Captain Redbeard Rum," he said. "I'm afraid his vessel isn't a patch on our regular scouts–"
"Ah!" the newcomer exclaimed, wheeling round to face the admiral. "You have a woman's eyepatch, my lord! I'll wager that dainty metal scallop has never been closer to action than the far side of a ganger control harness!"
"And you may find his conversation somewhat repetitive," the Admiral continued. "But if you ever want a pilot who'll take you right into the middle of a Dalek fleet, he's your man."
"Well, if he's half the man you say he is–" Romana began.
"He is only half of a man," the Doctor pointed out. "The top half."
Romana ignored him. "–then I take my hat off to him."
"Ah!" Captain Rum interjected. "You have a woman's hat, my lady! I'll wager that hat was never used to culture strains of algae scraped from the hull of a captured Dreban scoutship, to take the place of an oxygen recycler destroyed in action!"
Romana turned her straw boater over in her hands. "It doesn't look like it," she admitted. "But I don't think I could completely rule it out without a lab analysis."
"Yes, I see you're all going to get on splendidly," the Admiral said.
Captain Rum advanced on the Doctor and Romana, and put one arm round each of their shoulders. "What do you say, me hearties?" he said. "'Tis but a step to the starboard docking pylon, where my trusty ship awaits. The launch window opens within the hour, and then we'll away to the very depths of space. Arrrr," he added, by way of emphasis.
"'And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,'" the Doctor said, seemingly caught up in the mood. "We'll meet you there, won't we, Romana?"
"I suppose so," Romana said, clearly not sharing his sudden enthusiasm for all things astronautical.
Admiral Blackadder favoured the trio with another nasty smile. "Splendid. Oh, and it would probably be better if you didn't suddenly remember an urgent appointment while Captain Rum is preparing his ship. You'll be under guard until he's ready to let you on board. Wait here."
He departed, followed closely by Captain Rum. The Doctor turned to Romana.
"Is there something wrong?" he asked. "You seem a little apathetic today."
Romana gestured at the door through which the Captain had lately departed. "In case you haven't noticed, we'll be putting ourselves in the hands of an obvious lunatic," she said.
"Lunatic?" From the Doctor's expression, it appeared that the question of Captain Rum's mental stability had never occurred to him. "Well, maybe, but I've sometimes thought sanity is an overrated concept, you know. Handsome fellow, though, isn't he?"
"I didn't notice," Romana lied.