Part 3: Skypigs

by Soldeed [Reviews - 17]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure

The planet Agrathus. A sparkling jewel in the murk of the cosmos, its crystal lakes and rivers filled with leaping silver fish, its rolling green hills and forests a peaceful haven for a colourful medley of flying, climbing and grazing creatures, its towering snow-capped mountains a gleaming, pristine wilderness. The planet's sparse population of human-like inhabitants lived a comfortable, stress-free existence, the meagre income from their simple trades supplemented by exorbitant fees charged to a handful of super-rich tourists.

Those holidaymakers fit enough to make the steep eight mile hike up the winding track from the hoverpad were always keen to visit the famous hot springs of Onsilar. There, they could relax in the steaming, bubbling waters, safe from the chilly breeze rolling across the surrounding grasslands, and take in the staggering view of the river valley far below, and the sunlit peaks of the mountain range stretching away into the distance.

On this particular day, the main pool was the setting for a game which to some extent resembled water polo, but which chiefly involved a great deal of screaming, laughing, pushing, ducking and splashing on the part of a dozen or so young locals. The two newcomers paid them no mind, but pressed on up the slope, turning off the track and pushing their way through the swaying two foot grasses, their heads turning and craning as they scanned the hillside. At last, a full fifty yards from the path, they came upon the prone figure of a man.

The two young men exchanged glances. This immaculately apparelled individual with the ornate black and gold waistcoat, silken silver-grey shirt and diamond tiepin was not what they had been led to expect. He lay sheltered by the surrounding grass, his head cushioned on a rolled-up black coat, his hands linked across his stomach, the sun illuminating his narrow, quick features, and appeared to be fast asleep.

"Is that him?" whispered Jordo.

"How should I know?" Seram was impatient with this whole expedition. "Ask him."

Jordo stepped forward, and cleared his throat shyly.

"Ahem. Excuse me. Are you the Doctor?"

The man's eyelids didn't so much as flicker.

"No. Go away."

His visitor hesitated, looking round at his brother for support, but nerved himself to persevere.

"Please. We need your help."

"Tough. I'm on holiday."

"It's our youngest brother. He's disappeared."

The Doctor's eyes flicked suddenly open, and Jordo found himself stepping back from their dispassionate, unshifting gaze, but the man on the ground didn't stir a muscle, his hands remaining linked immoveably on his stomach.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I really am. But it's my assistant's birthday this week and I promised her a holiday." His eyes snapped shut. "And whatever you may have seen on that rotten vidshow on Channel 12, I don't actually regard every missing person in the universe as my responsibility."

Jordo shrank away, defeated, but Seram pushed his way forward.

"You know, it's not much to ask. A little help and advice. I think it's the least you owe us. Most people have to pay a fortune to take their holidays here."

He loomed over the man on the ground, his foot inches from the side of his head, but the Doctor still looked as if he was talking in his sleep.

"Then it's lucky for me the Council of Elders voted me lifetime freedom of the island."

"That was eleven hundred years ago!"

"Yes, well, they knew I was a Time Lord when they made the decree. I think you'll find it's still legally valid."

Seram fumed, and was gathering himself to start raising his voice, but Jordo laid a gentle hand on his brother's shoulder.

"No, Seram, it's true what he says. We've no right to expect him to help us, he doesn't owe us a thing. Come on. We'll try talking to the constable again."

Seram resisted stiffly for a moment, glaring down at the apparently comatose man at his feet, but allowed himself to be drawn away and they made a disconsolate progress back down the hill. The Doctor lay quiet, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze, until another set of footsteps came rushing up the slope towards him.

"Doctor!"

He blinked, and pushed himself up on his elbows to watch Jasmine, heavily swaddled in an enormous fluffy white towel, sodden hair trailing around her shoulders, come tearing through the grass towards him. Her wide, dark eyes were bright with excitement and her young face lit up by her unrestrained, exultant smile. She hugged the towel tightly around her and hopped from one foot to the other as the wind chilled her damp skin.

"We won!" she announced. "Did you see?"

"No," admitted the Doctor, the habitual hard line of his mouth curving upwards in an almost-smile. "But from what I heard there was a disgraceful amount of cheating going on."

"I didn't realise you were so famous here. A lot of them wanted me to get them your autograph."

"I hope you told them to..."

"Yes, I did. Anyway, I've been invited to go up to the source of the spring. Apparently you can jump in and it sort of swooshes you along this channel and drops you back down into the pool. They tell me it's what they call a 'rush'".

"Do they?" The Doctor lifted his head to eye the four youngsters, three boys and a girl, who waited shyly at a safe distance. He had been concerned her ludicrous Victorian swimsuit might be the target of ridicule, but these people had seen many alien tourists and were used to cultures even stranger than that of 19th century England. "Well, no doubt the teenage misfits you've fallen in with know what they're doing. Have a nice time."

A dazzling smile, and she was dashing off back to her friends.

"Dinner in the village square?" he called after her. "Sunset?"

She turned and nodded cheerfully, still back-pedalling away, then completed a 360-degree turn and raced off.

The Doctor sat up, breathed in the sweet, clean air, and for a few seconds gazed out contentedly at the heartbreakingly beautiful view of the mountains across the valley. Silence. Peace.

He frowned.

He looked over at the path down which his visitors had disappeared, then back at the view, this time with little pleasure. His mouth twisted down in a grimace and he gave a resigned sigh.

"Oh, damn."

The Doctor jumped up, shook out his coat, and trotted off after them down the hillside.