“Deep breath -- no, not you lot, me,” the Doctor said, as Ryan expelled the breath he’d drawn. She almost smiled. She’d grown to like these humans in the short time she’d known them. Full of wonder and bravery, even Graham with all his reluctance for adventure. If the TARDIS was there, the Doctor would’ve offered them a trip. But she could feel the hole Grace had left, the heavy weight of grief still anchoring them to this world, and knew they would probably turn her down.
Well, maybe not Yaz.
But the TARDIS was lost, somewhere out in the stars, and her cobbled-together Frankenstein’s creation of Stenza technology was making her head hurt with its 139 layers of operations code, so primitive and chaotic it was a wonder it even worked at all, never mind safety regulations she was certain she’d bypassed about 42 encryption levels ago.
This was a quest the Doctor would be making on her own.
When she got her TARDIS back, well...that would be a different story.
“Wish me luck,” she said, nerves fluttering with the excitement of the unknown. Yaz and Ryan gave half-waves, while Graham smiled anxiously. The Doctor smiled, reassuring, and then inhaled, nice and deep. Pointed her sonic at the activation timer, gold and bright, and turned her head away with a wincing prayer to the old gods of Gallifrey: Time, Space, and Sod’s Law. Please let this work.
There was a deep, rising thrum, artron energy sharp on her tongue. The air compressed, vibrating down to her bones. There was a bright, blinding flare, and then--
Consciousness came back to her like the slow, viscid pour of syrup into water. The Doctor found herself opening her eyes to the stark, white ceiling of -- she sniffed the air. Dry, sterile, with a hint of antiseptic and the sour scent of human illness, long-faded. The quiet sub-aural beep and whirr of unobtrusive monitoring devices. The metallic tang of saline nutrient-mix and lingering tachyons from unshielded teleport on the back of her tongue; blech. Nasty.
All the indicators of a starship’s sickbay.
A clutter of noise heralded the appearance of what the Doctor presumed was the ship’s medic, shining a light into her eyes that made the Time Lord flinch and exclaim, “Oi!” but like with all medics, the complaint didn’t cause cessation of the examination. Rude.
“Good, good,” said the - the Doctor would presume they were a he, for the deepness of his voice, but it was difficult to tell when the normal humanoid markers of biological sex were buried under thick, russet fur and a literal hangdog face that resembled none so much as a Scottish terrier, bristly moustache and all.
“The exposure to deep space doesn’t seem to have damaged your corneas. Often the first to go, that is, you were lucky, lucky. All of you, quite fortunate.”
And chatty, too, in an accent that the Doctor couldn’t quite place but what sounded vaguely southwestern American, mid-20th century.
That is, if Americans spoke Nebatian. He was speaking Nebatian, with a delicate echo of translation to Gallifreyan that was very familiar. The Doctor sat up abruptly, cocking her head. The TARDIS’ hum in the back of her mind was closer, she realised, close enough to translate. Though not...quite…
Hang about, what?
”What did you say,” she said with surprise, turning on Scotty with wide eyes. He looked taken aback by the suddenness and rubbed his moustache with a finger.
“I said, miss, that you’re lucky not to be blind. I had worries when we picked you lot out of the black, but-”
“No, no-no-no-no not that bit, the other bit- Plural, us, we, all -” she broke off, staring across the sickbay. Four beds. Three more occupants. Ryan, Graham, Yaz. Hooked to monitors and still out cold, breathing and safe and - here with her.
Oh, they were going to be so cross.
Her hearts skipped a beat and sank in realisation that, maybe, she shouldn’t have bypassed so many of those transport safeguards.
“Bloody Stenza technology!”