Thursday, November 24, 2011

48 Years of Space and Time... Or Something.

The Doctor slumped down into the pilot seat and managed to fumble his numb, blistered hands into clipping the safety belt around his person. The purple flight deck of the gun runner ship seemed to be tumbling and spinning around him, and everything sounded two rooms away.

Fighting off the warm blackness of oblivion, the Doctor reached out and began to tap commands into the flight computer. Ignoring the spasms of pain shooting up and down his arms he programmed the ship to leave geo-stationary orbit and return to plateau where he'd left the TARDIS. But his fingers were growing more and more clumsy, making mistakes he was finding it harder to correct. The engines hummed as the ship spun down towards the bleak grey-brown sphere of Androzani Minor.

The Doctor dimly realized the entire ship was shaking without the auto-stabilizers to keep the ride smooth. Stotz and the others would have realized what was happening and come to stop him... panic gripped his hearts for a moment, and then the Doctor giddily realized he'd already locked the hatches. They couldn't get him now.

The vibration was lulling him into a doze, like being on a steam train... one of the trains he'd always wanted to drive when he was a child... the Doctor grimaced, focussing on the pain in his flesh and bones, to drag him back to the present. He had to get back to Peri, get her the cure. The enormity of the task loomed over him. He had no idea where she was, or even if she was still alive. And he was on the point of total collapse, himself. How was he going to save her?

A violent jolt slammed into his back, and the Doctor opened his eyes to blackness. Had there been a power cut? Weakly he tried to rub his eyes to clear them, but to no avail. Sluggishly, the Doctor realized his optic nerves were burning out - the poison was blinding him as it slowly killed his nervous system. The beatings, the burns, the Spectrox Toxaema was squeezing the life out of him. He wasn't even sure he'd be able to survive the landing.


As the last of his strength slipped away, a strange sensation rippled through him. His body was struggling to cheat death one more, to regenerate and purge itself of its increasing injuries - replacing, renewing and rearranging every cell in his body. His synapses were realigning themselves.

For a moment, the Doctor considered trying to abort the regeneration. The transformation would splutter to a halt, partially healing and repairing his body - enough to survive a few more hours, perhaps even restore his sight to him once again. But he would weaken all too soon, especially with gun runners, army troops and androids on his tail. No, he needed every advantage if he was to save Peri.

There should have been another way, but as usual, there wasn't.

"Sorry, Peri," he croaked weakly. "Can't... make... it..."

Light was appearing before his blind eyes, a rapidly expanding vortex of colours shattering into fragments... rushing towards him, faster and faster and faster, building to a devastating crescendo... oblivion was hurtling towards him...

The Doctor felt the tsunami overtake him, flooding every pore, every cell, every last atom of his being. His skin tingled. His bones itched. His very essence began to shift. His mind was shifting, flooded with strange thoughts and desires. Then there was a sudden, shocking roar of sound somewhere between a nuclear explosion and a coffin lid slamming shut.

And it was all over.

* * *

Stotz ran up the passageway to the flight deck, smacking his hand onto the hatchway control. To his combined surprise and fury, the hatch remained stubbornly closed. A quick check showed the flight deck's hijack protocal had been engaged, every entrance shut and deadlock sealed - from the inside.

There was only one possible candidate.

"Doctor, unlock this door!" Stotz roared at the top of his voice.

There was no reply, just the growing rumble of atmosphere against the hull.

"What are you doing in there?" Stotz shouted, but again no reply. "Are you going to open this door or not?" Silence. The Spectrox must have rotted him away, Stotz realized - not only was the Boss going to be even more irritated than normal, there was no way to stop the ship's death-dive into the atmosphere. "Krelper, go and get the cutting gear!" he snapped as his fellow gun-runners caught up with him.

Krelper turned and lumbered off as Stotz slammed his fist against the bulkhead in fury. The Doctor was cursed, he decided. Since the strange blond snoop had appeared in the caves, everything had gone wrong - two of his men dead, Jek refusing to pay full price, the Boss ordering them to stay in orbit...

The ship shuddered around them again. They could only be a few minutes away from the surface, and without someone to manually land the ship - or engage auto pilot - they would be smashed to pieces on the surface. "Damn it, Krelper!" he heard Stark grunt, the first thing the other man had said in hours. "Hurry up!"

By the time Krelper finally arrived with a thermal lance, the entire shuttle was shaking like a tuning fork around them and the roar of the engines was now so loud they couldn't speak. Krelper and Stark struggled to keep the lance steady as it cut a crude oblong through the metal, while Stotz began to pray that the Doctor was only unconscious - thereby allowing Stotz to brutally murder the troublemaker. Using the snoop's corpse as target practice just wouldn't be the same...

Finally the segment of hatch fell away, letting the magenta glow of the flight deck to fill the passageway. Stotz reached in through the hole, howling in pain as the bare flesh of his forearm sizzled on the molten edges of the gap, but he managed to smack the emergency release on the other side of the hatch. The warped metal scraped as the hatch slid back, finally allowing the gun-runners onto the flight deck.

Even as Stark and Krelper ran around to the raised pilot throne, the howl of the engines became a deafening scream. The ship was now through the atmosphere and hurtling out of control at too-high a velocity to the craggy wastelands they had taken off from a few hours earlier. The rocky landscape rushed up into the scanner even as Krelper tried to reach around the Doctor's body to hit the retros.

Stotz knew it was too late to avoid the crash. He knew the ship and all aboard were doomed and his remaining life would be counted in seconds. He knew he would never be able to seize control of the Spectrox supply and make himself so reach that not even Morgus could use him in future. He was going to die in a ship full of idiots in the middle of a war that hadn't even made him a decent profit.

But as the ship struck and his life ended, all Stotz could think of was...

...who was the strange man in the pilot seat wearing the Doctor's clothes?

* * *

Morgus slipped his private planet hopper into beta-drive, accelerating away from Androzani Major towards its bleak and desolate twin. In the admittedly-cramped luxury of the cockpit, Morgus fiddled with the controls. Everything was computer controlled, requiring next-to-no piloting skills and while Morgus was quite capable of take-off, landing and docking his ship, plotting a course was rather difficult. He set the scanners again for Stotz's stealth freighter and again found nothing.

"Why has he disobeyed my orders?" Morgus asked himself. "I told him to stay in orbit. Stotz is no fool, he would not risk angering me on a whim. No, the Doctor must have made him a better offer - perhaps a free pardon on behalf of the Praesidium, a plea-bargain to testify against me?"

Morgus brooded for a moment. "But there is no way the Doctor and Stotz could reach Androzani Major in so short a time. There is no evidence against me at the moment, and always the possibility that the President was the only one to suspect my part in all this. If that is the case, with the President dead only the Doctor and Stotz will be any danger to me."

Morgus nodded. "I shall merely have Krau Timmin alert the ground forces on Major to destroy Stotz's ship should it enter orbit. There will be no proof of my activities. My hands will be guiltless. The only question is whether or not the President shared his suspicions with anyone else - and if he has, I may not be able to return..."

The computer chirped at him. Androzani Minor was looming on the scanners, and the detectors had picked up the energy shadow of an exploding ion drive on the planet's surface. A few keystrokes and the computer identified the cause of the explosion.

Stotz's ship, smashed to pieces on the magma plateau.

Why had the ship crashed? Had there been a fight? A malfunction? Had Stotz chosen to end his life rather than face justice? Either way, Stotz's untimely death was to be regretted - there was no way he could tell Morgus about his lead on Jek's hideout...

Morgus considered his options. With no secure fix on the Spectrox supply, there was no real reason to continue to Minor. On the other hand, returning to Major would be quite difficult if he was suspected. He adjusted the communicator to the secret frequency to his office and opened the channel.

A familiar blonde woman was sitting back in a chair, her booted feet rested casually on the table before her. Morgus was already speaking his bland platitudes before his brain confirmed what his eyes were seeing.

"Ah, Krau Timmin, I would like you... Are you sitting at my desk?" he gasped. After the chain of disasters he had suffered already today, Morgus was in no mood for insolense or excuses. "How dare you! I'll have you punished for this, Krau Timmin!" he warned her with cold fury.

On the screen, his trusted secretary yawned at him. "I don't think so, Morgus. You're finished. Washed up. Kaput."

Morgus stared at her coldly. "What do you mean?"

"The Praesidium has issued warrants for your arrest on seventeen counts," Timmin said lazily, "ranging from the murder of the President, to treason, grant fraud, embezzlement. Oh, and that little business at the Northcawl copper mine? They know about that."

"Falsehoods, fabrications, malicious lies," Morgus said, not wasting any energy on sounding upset. "They can't possibly have any proof."

Timmin threw a folder of print outs on the desk. "It's all fully documented," she assured him. "And they have an excellent witness."

Morgus smiled. The President, the Doctor and Stotz were all dead. No one else could possibly know or even suspect enough to be a danger. "Who is this foul slanderer?" he asked her flatly.


For once, Morgus was speechless. "You betrayed me? After all these years?" he eventually mumbled.

Timmin laughed at him. "Think of it this way, Morgus: I... deposed you. I," she continued with grand cruelty, "am now Chairman and Chief Director of the Sirius Conglomerate!"

"I will be exhonerated of all charges," Morgus predicted. "My conscience is clear: I had to keep the supply of Spectrox flowing, and if I hadn't provided Jek with the arms, he would have found some other source."

"The Praesidium will find your actions treasonable, and you know it."

"Yes, well, I have a contingency plan," Morgus sneered. "I may not be able to return to Androzani Major but I have a considerable private fortune invested in other planets in the Sirius system!"

Timmin giggled. "Oh, yes, that reminds me: the Government have also sequestered all your private assets, including those secret funds you'd salted away on the outer planets."

Morgus was trying to keep his breathing level as his mind raced, trying to find something to wipe that smug smile from his former assistant. "I'm not beaten yet. I will soon have the key to unlimited power: Jek's private hoard of Spectrox!"

Timmin laughed in his face. "Good luck with that, Morgus. By now the army will be attacking Jerk's headquarters in strength. Even if you got to Androzani Minor before the night's over, and assuming the Major doesn't execute you on sight, the mud bursts are starting as we speak. But then, being boiled alive in that mud would be poetic justice, would it not?"

"Justice?" Morgus spat. "I am Morgus. I am no cowardly, miserable gutter trash - I'm descended from the first colonists, the great 900..."

Timmin was bored. "Goodbye, Morgus," she said with a final cruel smile and shut down the communication link.

"I'm not beaten yet. My plans may have to change drastically but I am not beaten yet," Morgus insisted, and set the flight computer to land on the plateau - as close to the entrance of the caves as possible.

* * *

General Chellak and his troops were moving through the caves of Yellow Level. Despite Major Salateen's promise to have memorized the route, he seemed more and more uncertain. While part of Chellak was glad his ADC wasn't so sickeningly perfect, he was also furious that Salateen was letting them down right now when things were so important.

Salateen looked around the cave yet again. The vaulted roof and the pillars of dried lava stuck in his memory, and they could only be a few minutes away from Jek's headquarters but which direction? Trying to keep one eye on the girl Peri meant he wasn't entirely sure which tunnel he'd come from. Had he dragged her over that rockfall to the tunnel on the left? Or the one to the right?

Chellak had had enough. "Safety catches off," he barked at the troopers, who armed their machine pistols. Plasma rifles didn't so much as scratch the android rebels, requiring cruder (but cheaper) weaponry. The General remembered the cave from their first campaign months ago, when they had recaptured the old Spectrox refinery from Jek's robot troops. However, when the androids managed to snatch back the refined Spectrox, the army hadn't bothered much with this patch of the caves. It would be typical if Jek was hiding right under their noses all along.

"You go forward and recce," the general told Salateen. "I'll call Red Force to get them to hold their advance; I don't want them leap-frogging us..."

A shape stepped out of the shadows from the left-hand tunnel. A black-clad figure with a blank egg-like head with a single glaring yellow eye. The troopers tensed, and Salateen did not. "It won't fire at the belt plate," Salateen assured them.

The android raised its machine gun and opened fire.

By the time Chellak and his men had managed to return fire and destroy the android, half the squad lay crumbled on the hot stone ground. The general crouched down beside Salateen's still body as blood pooled around his chest. Chellak felt a stab of grief that turned to fury - Salateen was the crux of which the campaign depended, not to mention his efficiency was the only thing keeping the army together. Worse, he would never recieve the gallantry citation Chellak himself has recommended to the President, all those months ago (ironically the feat of surviving a deep penetration mission had been a trick allowing an android duplicate to replace him.)

Another part of Chellak was glad he no longer had a threat to his career, and it also meant the Android Salateen could no longer fool anyone. It didn't matter how good a copy it was when he knew the original was dead.

"Forward!" Chellak shouted at the survivors and they advanced down the tunnel the android had emerged from.

No sooner were they inside the tunnel than a second android emerged from the darkness, lifting its rifle. The soldiers, already on alert, opened fire instantly. After a few moments of bombardment, the android exploded in a burst of flame. As the gutted robot collapsed in ruins, the glare illuminated a further two androids advancing up the tunnel towards them.

Diving behind cover, Chellak swapped his ammunition clip for a fresh one, and then fired a burst down the passage to the twin androids. He heard a third, satisfying explosion and fired again.

Jek only had a dozen androids to his side and four had already perished tonight. Their belt-plate advantage might have been lost, but the army were in the right place and sheer force of numbers would overrun the remaining robots. "Jek can't stop us now," the general laughed, and snatched his communicator. In the excitement he had forgotten to contact Red Force after all.

"This is Flag Carrier to Red Force, do you recieve me? Over?" he called, but there was no reply. "Our support group must have hit trouble," he realized lamely. The other troopers would have been slaughtered by the androids, taken by surprise when the belt-plates failed to function.

Suddenly the rocks behind Chellak began to shake, the black ground beneath his boots rumbling loudly. A mud burst was coming. The only chance now was to press on to Jek's HQ and get behind the mud barriers before everything in the caves was boiled by the outrush of primeval mud...

There was another explosion as the last android was destroyed.

"Follow me," the general shouted, leading what few survivors he had left further down the passageway, towards their destiny.

* * *

The realignment was complete.

The Doctor blinked awake, taking a deep breath and glancing at his surroundings. He was strapped down to a pilto's seat, the laser-gyroscope the only thing holding up a series of twisted girders and broken metal. Around him was the ruins of a flight deck, looking as though it had been torn to shreds and crudely shoved back together in the middle of a desert. There were pools of blood and chemicals everywhere, and a crumbled body of one of the gun runners - there was no way of telling which one - lay in a heap nearby.

Struggling from the straps, the Doctor idly noticed that his cricketting gear was now slightly too short and quite a bit too small for him. He winced as the seams at a sleeve tore around his larger build. Oh well, it was a small price to pay considering he was alive and in much better shape than he had been... whatever shape he was now in, anyway.

It took him a few minutes to climb out of the wreckage through the widest hull breach he could find. The sky above was full of smoke and glittering stars, a strange beauty he wished he could enjoy for longer. But he had to hurry. Tegan was depending on him. Or was it Nyssa? In any case, she needed help.

Wiping the perspiration from his new forehead (and noticing his hair was now shorter and very curly), the Doctor ran off across the plains to where the dirty blue police box was waiting for him. It looked old and hideous, he reflected. Once he was out of this mess, he'd half a mind to finally repair the chameleon circuit.

First thing's first, though. Leela needed help.

* * *

Sharaz Jek paced his headquarters. The displays showed the same. The sheer amount of troops attacking from all sides had overrun his androids. As he studied the display, the last two androids to his name were falling back to their final defence posts - but they never made it. Their indicators blinked out.

He was alone - bar Peri, who was lying unconscious on the nearby table.

Jek hugged himself tighter, focussing on the pain. Peri had told him she had Spectrox Toxaemia and Jek could no longer ignore the symptoms. The blisters of her infection had ravaged her beautiful legs, cramps and nervous damage was leaving her in agony and a fever was pushing her into a coma. He had done all he could to ease her pain but in a few hours she would be dead. He had not had time to equip his hideout with the antitoxin, and felt a strange morbid desire not to do so, to increase the chances of his misery ending.

Another subterranean rumble shook the base with enough force to revive Peri. "What was that?" she asked groggily

"It's the start of a mud burst," Jek assured her casually. "You'll be safe here."

Inspiration struck. In a few minutes, the cave system would be flooded as the mud erupted its way to the surface. Anyone outside the mud barriers would perish - including General Chellak and his troopers. All they needed to do was delay him for a little longer. Jek snatched up a rifle and strode out of the base. He'd repaired the androids before, he could do so again. They only had to last long enough to occupy the enemy for a minute or two...

Jek emerged into the cavern which was littered with bodies. The android stood over the dead troops like a triumphant warrior - the impression ruined by the burning stump where its head should have been. Jek examined the damage hopefully, but knew that it would not be a simple repair job.

Already a scalding breeze was blowing stronger and stronger as the tidal wave of mud rumbled its way up from the core of the planet. Jek turned to retreat to his base when a loud shout echoed across the cave. "All right, Jek! The war's over!" roared a figure from the shadows. It was General Chellak, who's obsession with victory and a strong cowardly streak had allowed to survive the massacre.

He aimed a machine gun at Jek. "Will you surrender?" he demanded.

Jek didn't bother to answer. Instead he just opened fire.

Chellak dived for cover and Jek sprinted for the doorway. Rivulets of black-brown mud were creeping up the cave floor, steaming hot. The rumbling of the mud burst was getting louder and louder.

Jek bumped into Peri as he entered the base. The beautiful girl was dazedly getting to her feet, seemingly unaware what was going on. Grabbing her waist, Jek heaved her away from the doorway. He had to seal the hatch before the...

Chellak was standing behind him, machine gun at the ready, a crooked grin on his face. "I wanted a bloodless victory, Jek," Chellak sneered. "But I suppose your blood will make it all worthwhile..."

Jek stood in front of Peri, unafraid. The idiot General had not closed the hatch. Death by bullet was preferable to the boiling mud, Jek knew that from bitter experience. Let Chellak do what he will, he'd be dead in a few seconds.

But as Chellak's finger tightened on the trigger a strange noise filled the chamber. For a moment it seemed the mud burst was early, and then a rectangle of blue began to manifest in the middle of the chamber, turning into an upright blue box surmounted by a light flashing frantically.

The distraction was all Jek needed. Swinging down his arm, he smashed the gun from the general's grasp and shoulder-charged him out into the tunnel. Chellak hit the ground, now ankle-deep in steaming liquid, and screamed as it burnt through his grubby uniform. Jek sneered and heaved the hatch shut, deadlocking it as the rumble of the approaching mud became a volcanic screech.

There was a muffled thumping on the hatch. Chellak was screaming for Jek to open the door and spare his life, the coward. The rumbling became even louder and Chellak's screams and thumps suddenly stopped. The base grew uncomfortably as the white-hot mud surged past them and on the way to the surface.

"It seems the war has ended in my favor," Jek reflected smugly.

"It seems that way, I grant you," agreed a mellow, distinguished voice.

Jek spun to face the strange blue box that had appeared in the base. The door was open and a man was emerging. He wore the Doctor's strange cream-clothing, although it was tight fit, but this man was nothing like the Doctor. His curling hair was blond with dark roots, his mouth wider lips fuller.

"How did you get in here?" Jek demanded, raising his rifle.

"My ship," the man replied arrogantly. "It's how I arrived on this planet, and how I intend to leave - and I'm taking Peri with me."

Jek was tempted to shoot the man right there and then. "Who are you?" he hissed.

"We've already met," he said casually. "I am usually referred to as the Doctor."

"The Doctor?" Jek chuckled. "You will have to do better than that."

"We're wasting time," the man insisted. "Peri has Spectrox Toxaemia and she's dying even as we speak. She needs the cure." He strode over to the chair Peri was slumped in, tearing off the vegetable from his lapel and crushing it beneath his fingers. He held it beneath her nose. "Come on, Peri. Wake up."

"Celery soup," she slurred, blinking her bloodshot and baggy eyes.

"Peri, listen to me. You must not give up. You've got to keep fighting it."

Peri peered up at him. "Leave me lone," she grunted, sliding back into a doze.

Jek peered suspiciously at the crushed vegetable which the man threw to the floor in disgust. His old medical learning made him curious. "What was that?"

"Supposed to be a powerful restorative where I come from," the man fumed. "Unfortunately it appears that the human olfactory system is quite feeble in comparison. We must get her the cure as soon as possible!"

"We'd need the queen of a milk bat, but the dormant queens are too deep for us to reach," Jek wailed. "There won't be any oxygen in those levels by now."

"Can't you send your androids to collect it?"

Jek waved bitterly at his empty operation screens. "I have no androids! Those not destroyed by the army will have been washed away in the mud-burst by now." He groaned. "Salateen might have survived, but he couldn't get down there and back in time to save her life..."

"Don't get emotional," the man snapped. "Hystrionics won't help anyone. Now, Jek, do you actually know where the queen bats are?"

Jek fumed. "Of course I do!" he shouted. "My androids surveyed and mapped the whole system when I first came here." He pointed to an outline of the route. "They are there, two hundred metres down - no one could get that far without collapsing."

"I am not no one," the man told Jek frostily. "I am the Doctor, whether you believe me or not. Since your obsession for Peri won't make you risk your own miserable neck, you can stay here and look after her."

"There is nothing I can do for her!" Jek protested. "If there was, don't you think I would have done it for her by now?"

The Doctor brushed some more sweat from his brow. "You can turn the air conditioning on for a start! Keep her temperature down, do everything possible until I return with the milk - and I will return."

Jek nodded. He wasn't sure if this man was the Doctor, but his identity didn't matter - as long as he saved Peri's life. The man's blue, cat-light eyes stared at Jek for a long moment, then he turned and reentered the blue box. Seconds later it had disappeared with its strange shriek of displaced atoms.

* * *

Morgus waited for the mud burst to abate before daring to leave his ship. He had heard that the mudbursts were a beautiful sight, but had no interest in natural phenomena, especially when they could kill him. As soon as the tide had spread thin enough for him to traverse, he emerged into the choking heat and - pistol in hand - ran for the nearest blowhole.

The cave was stiflingly hot, reminding Morgus of the last time he had been there, supervising the chaos followed by an "industrial accident" that should have rid him of Sharaz Jek and left him with a fully-working android-run Spectrox refinery. It had gone rather differently, but Morgus had made the best of a bad situation - he had made a neat profit from selling arms to Jek, while the ongoing conflict raised the prices of existing Spectrox and made him even richer.

As he struggled through the steamy gloom, the ground fell away from him and Morgus was plunging into infinity...

...he bounced twice and landed in a heap of stinking, fuzzy muck.

A Spectrox nest.

The Spectrox nest that Jek had had his androids place there to ensure no wandering passer-by could use this entrance and live to tell the tale. Only Jek and the gun-runners knew about the nest and how to avoid it, and Morgus should have remembered it. Desperately he tore away the cobweb-like bat excrement, the skin on his face and hands already stinging from infection.

He, Morgus, now had Spextrox Toxaemia.

The self-inflicted injury all Federal Forces were warned about. Morgus thought of the first-aid kit in his ship - a heavy dose of sulphadione at this early stage would slow the progress of the condition down, buy him a few days to get a supply of the cure. Bat's milk wasn't easy to get, but with his fortune he could buy some from somewhere... once he had the Spectrox. He needed to find Jek's stock before the next mudburst. If he returned to the ship for drugs, he'd lose valuable time.

There was no choice.

Ignoring the shooting pains ripping through his upper body, Morgus threw himself into the dripping, roasting depths of Androzani Minor.

* * *

The TARDIS listed at a worrying angle on the sloping ledge. The light from its windows barely illuminated the rock walls around them. The heat was like a furnace and any perspiration on the Doctor's skin evaporated almost immediately. Delicately, he clambered down towards the shaggy black shape spread across the rock face like some strange hairy moth. Although called a bat, it seemed more reptile than mammal - though like a mammal its lactic fluid was full of the antibiotics required to survive the toxic chemicals the bats produced.

His new lungs beginning to ache from deprivation, the Doctor gripped a glass phial and began to milk the bat - trying to focus his thoughts. Dimpled dairy maids and hay-scented cow byres filled his mind at this beucolic scene.

And then the queen bat's eye slowly opened, glowing a fierce green.

The Doctor tensed.

The bat closed its eye, returning to its sleep.

Carefully, the Doctor placed the full vial into his coat pocket and then began to try and milk out another vial's worth...

* * *

The base was humming loudly as cool air was blasted through the complex. Jek had found some ice water and soaked a cloth in it before bathing Peri's forehead. Her breathing had steadied but her temperature continued to climb. Even with these measures it would not be long before she reached thermal death point.

Jek began to weep. Peri didn't deserve this. She was better than anyone else on this stinking ball of super-heated mud. The callous and cowardly soldiers, the cynical and corrupt rulers of Major... the entire Sirius system was unworthy of her. And now she was being taken away from him, all thanks to Morgus and his cowardice. If he had accepted Jek's demands at the start, none of this would have been necessary. If he had shown remorse, accepted punishment, Jek might even have allowed him to live.

Actually, no, he wouldn't have.

But Morgus had allowed all this carnage to take place, for the innocent to suffer.

"She's so beautiful, so very beautiful," Jek realized he was singing, as if to a frightened child. "So beautiful, so beautiful..."

Then, to his amazed delight, she opened her eyes.

"Hey..." she croaked weakly.

"It's all right, Peri," he assured her. "Please don't be frightened. It's just the two of us now. We're the only survivors. Chellak and those pitiful fools in his army have been swept away to their deaths. My androids survived the mud burst intact, though they aren't functioning..."

Peri gazed up at him emotionlessly. "Water..."

"You want some water?" Eager to please he snatched up the bowl and helped her sip from it. Jek continued to talk, glad for conversation. It was one of the reasons he'd kept Salateen alive. "I can repair the androids," he told Peri cheerfully, "Their synaptic links may have burnt out, but I promise you - within a week, everything will be back to normal. They won't send another army. They daren't!"

Peri said nothing, still drinking the water.

"I'll reopen the refinery," Jek decided after a moment's thought. "Begin trading again, and you can have anything your heart desires. Furs? Silks? Jewels? Stay with me, Peri, and I will make you a princess!"

Peri finished drinking and licked her lips. "Sweet ice water," she said dreamily. She took the bowl and tipped it over her head, soaking her hair and shirt.

Jek gazed at her adoringly. There was none of the disgust and fear she'd shown earlier. Hopefully, he continued, "I shall ask for nothing in return!" he promised. "Just the sight of your beauty is reward enough for me."

Peri smiled at him.

Jek had never felt happier.

"Waiter," she croaked. "I'll just have the double peach melba and choclate soda."

"Peri?" asked Jek uncertainly.

The girl's head rolled on her shoulders. The ice water was already drying on her overheated skin. "What's that tune?" she asked, frowning.

"Are you all right?" Jek asked pleadingly.

Peri groaned. "Tell them to stop," she begged him. "Please tell them to stop! I don't like it!"

Jek touched her forehead, wincing at the burning fever. Her temperature had risen higher than it was before they had started. She was approaching thermal death point rapidly. Jek began to hyperventilate.

"Why is it so dark, Doctor?" Peri asked weakly. "I can't see anything."

Blindness. The final symptom as the toxaemia destroyed her nervous system.

With his shaking gloved hand, Sharaz Jek closed her eyes. Peri didn't react, continuing to shudder and gasp with heat. Even as he watched, her shuddering came to an end and she was still - slipping straight into the coma that lead to death.

"No, no!" Jek screamed, leaping to her feat. "You cannot be taken from me!"

Furiously, he grabbed her shoulders and shook her violently. She remained limp, a dead weight in his hands. "You cannot die, Peri!" he screamed at her, but she was beyond his grasp any more.

He ran to the communicator. The chances of any of the androids still functioning were slightly below zero, but he didn't care. There had to be some one or something out there to help Peri. There had to. Otherwise she was dead.

"This is Sharaz Jek!" he growled into the microphone. "Are there any units still functioning? Any android units still functioning report immediately?"

There was nothing but static from the speakers.

Just as Jek felt despair about to claim him, a voice rang out.

"I hear you, Master."

It was Salateen.

* * *

Once again, Morgus cursed Stotz for dying without telling him the way. The former-executive wracked his brains, remembering Jek's rendezvous was supposed to be on yellow level, a cave in the late twenties. Morgus brightened - yellow level wasn't too deep below the surface, and since the first wave of bursts had come and gone there would be a decent amount of time before the major eruption. And while the army and Jek were fighting each other, he could locate the Spectrox store and grab whatever he could. If he timed it right, he might even be able to make a few trips...

Refusing to accept how insanely optimistic his plan was, Morgus plunged deeper into the caves. He barely paid any attention to the corpses sprawled around the place, roasted beyond recognition by the mud burst. He had heard no gunfire, so presumably the fighting was over. But which side - if any - had won?

The stinging pain in his face grew worse and he scratched at an eye. His face was tender and misshapen with blisters. Already he was starting to get painful cramps in his arms and a sickening nausea in his gut.

Normally people might get raw Spectrox on their hands or fingers, and he had practically bathed in it. His immune system was under seige. He might only have hours before the poison burnt the life out of him.


Long enough, Morgus decided. Long enough to get the refined Spectrox and make himself rich to get a cure. He thought of all the tonnes of Spectrox and the effort of having to carry it. Spectrox was going up by a factor of 50 every month. Soon even a few kilos of the substance would make him a fortune.

Maybe just two bags. As long as they weren't too heavy.

Morgus forced himself into the stifling heat, ignoring the agony in his limbs.

* * *

The Doctor popped his head out of the police box door and looked around. The TARDIS should have returned back to Jek's headquarters, but instead it had materialized in the middle of a tunnel. As he looked around he noticed that a strange shape was sticking out of the muddy sludge - some kind of measuring tool, maybe something that had once been a theodolite. Obvious the army had been trying to survey the area, and abandoned it for some reason.

A reason that seemed to have slipped the Doctor's mind, even though it was clearly obvious.

There was a primeval roar behind him.

The Doctor spun around, the quick movement tearing fresh holes in his battered and muddy frock coat. Before him loomed one of the other native life forms of Androzani Minor, a huge armored reptile able to survive the heat that turned melted rock. Magma creatures that ate flesh.

The creature advanced on the Doctor.

Snatching up the theodolite, the Time Lord swung the broken mass of metal frames straight into the gaping jaw of the monster as it lurched closer. It roared again, this time in frustration as it realized its jaws were jammed open by the theodolite. It swung a savage claw with long talons towards the Doctor, who managed to duck and throw himself to the ground.

The mud had cooled but was still slippery and suddenly the Doctor was scooting across the tunnel floor into darkness. The Time Lord grabbed an outcrop of rock and managed to halt his path, even as his legs slipped into the darkness. There was nothing beneath them but a gaping abyss of billowing, hot steam.

The roaring magma creature was charging towards him. Before the Doctor could do anything, its elephant-like stubby hind legs lost control on the muddy surface and it began to skate down the slope towards the Time Lord and the abyss.

Gritting his teeth, the Doctor curled up his legs to his chest.

There was nothing to stop the creature blundering straight past him and over the edge of the abyss with a final, helpless roar.

The Doctor managed to haul himself to his feet, grimacing at the muddy stains that coated most of his clothing. He half wanted to return to the TARDIS and change, but he had to find Jek and Peri. Then he saw someone shuffling down the tunnel, seemingly unaware of the altercation.

It was Morgus. His fine clothing and pony tail were matted with mud and angry grey-pink blistered coated his face and hands, until he was barely recognizable. His breath rattled in his lungs as though he had tuberculosis. Gripping the gun tightly in his hand, the Chairman struggled down the tunnel. Ahead there was the distant whirr of ventilation systems.

Curious, the Doctor decided to follow him.

In the distance there was another rumble. The main mud burst wasn't far away.

* * *

"Peri, can you hear me?" Jek pleaded.

She was struggling to breathe now, forcing one breath after another into her failing lungs. He gripped her hot little hand in his own, feeling helpless and useless. Where was the Doctor? Where was Salateen? If Peri died, what was left?

The answer crashed through the hatchway, which Jek had opened to try and help reduce the heat.

It was Morgus.

"Jek," he rasped, "where's the Spectrox?"

"Morgus," purred Jek, getting to his feet.

"Where is it?" he demanded.

"Spectrox cannot help you now, Morgus," Jek sneered. "You have contracted Spectrox Toxaemia. Soon you will begin to boil. In a few hours you will be dead."

"You work down here!" Morgus rasped. "You must have a cure!"

"Must I?" Jek laughed. "If I had, there are those more deserving of it than you."

"Give me the Spectrox!"

"Convince me," Jek hissed, advancing on him.

Morgus swayed unsteadily. "You take one more step and I shoot!"

"Do you think bullets could stop me now?" Jek asked lightly.

Morgus fought against the groggy fever and saw the girl lying on the table - the one with the Doctor. The one Jek had been fussing over. The vain little monomaniac had upset quite a few of his "featherheads", a reason why he'd been forced to give up his career as a medic. Complaints of harrassment... and worse.

Morgus aimed the pistol at the girl. "I can kill her with a single shot."

Jek froze.

"I don't think that will be necessary, gentlemen," boomed a voice from the doorway. A curly-haired man in strange mud-crusted clothing was entering, holding a vial of murky green liquid. "I think I can resolve matters."

"Who are you?" Morgus coughed.

"You know, I don't think you'd believe me. But by a staggering coincidence, I happen to have a vial of pure, undilusted bat's milk in my hand," the Doctor replied, waving the glass tube and sloshing its contents. "The one and only cure to Spectrox Toxaemia, assuming Professor Jackijj knew his stuff. I think it's an anti-vesicant that does the hard work..."

"Give me the cure!" Morgus ranted.

"Now how did someone become Chairman of the Sirius Conglomerate with such poor manners?" the Doctor tutted. "You can't have been any good at it, considering you need to moonlight as an arm's dealer, can it?"

"What are you talking about?" Jek demanded, not taking his eye off Morgus.

"Didn't you wonder who was supplying the weapons that Stotz and the others brought to you at such cheap prices?" the Doctor asked, carefully inching towards the table where Peri lay. "The whole of the five planets should have been knocking down your door, but someone very powerful managed to make sure you only had one option. Someone who wanted the Spectrox War to go on for quite a while, for their own ends. Limiting the supplies the great unwashed got, but keeping his own stockpile growing. Rather ingenious, wouldn't you say? The politics of power."

"That isn't true," Jek hissed. "It can't be."

"Can't it?" the Doctor asked. "Your worst enemy is your greatest ally, helping you slaughter his own soldiers to keep the stock market prices just the way he wants them. Your daily irony supplement, Sharaz Jek."

"You owe me, Jek," Morgus spluttered, sounding even worse. "I've helped you."

"Helped me? You stinking offal, Morgus! LOOK AT ME!"

Jek tore the patterned and moulded mask from his face. Beneath it was a hairless skull, devoid any facial flesh above the nose. One mad yellow eye glared out from the ravaged face, what little skin was there looking like mouldy green cheese.

"You did this, Morgus. Look at what you did. Look... and die!"

Morgus stared, slack-jawed at his former partner. Jek lunged at him, knocking the gun aside and clamping both hands around Morgus' blistered throat. Morgus stumbled back, beating his weak, bloodied hands against Jek but to no avail.

Wasting no time, the Doctor dived over to Peri and emptied the vial's contents into her open mouth. She gagged, spluttered, but eventually managed to swallow the liquid. The Doctor glanced up at Jek and Morgus, now both stumbling around the room in a grosteque ballroom dance.

Then another figure stepped into the room. It was Salateen, or rather the android Salateen, who had answered his Master's call. Seeing the situation, the android raised his rifle and opened fire. For a moment, both Jek and Morgus were frozen in mid-struggle, and then they collapsed in a bloody heap.

"Jek!" the Doctor shouted, rushing over to him. Dark, arterial blood was gushing from wounds across his chest. The Time Lord tore away the black leather coat, wincing at the hideously pale and tender flesh beneath. It was amazing Jek was alive at all, let alone surviving the bullet wounds.

"Too... late..." Sharaz Jek rasped.

"I'm the Doctor, I'll tell you when it's too late," the Time Lord retorted, but there was nothing he could do.

"Save her... save Peri..." Jek whimpered.

The room shuddered, making Jek moan in pain.

"Another mud burst..." the Doctor realized.

"Salateen!" Jek growled. "Help them!"

The Doctor frowned sadly. "Thank you. It doesn't absolve anything you've done, Jek," he told the dying madman. "But thank you. Even so."

Jek couldn't hear him any more. His ravaged skull had lolled to one side, allowing him to gaze up at Peri, who was coughing and spluttering - and now almost conscious. A strange rictus grin tightened what was left of Jek's face.

The Doctor got to his feet, only to be knocked off them by another tremor. "You heard your master, Salateen, help me!" he shouted.

For a moment the android stayed where it was, staring down expressionlessly at Jek's body. Then it turned and wordlessly assisted the Doctor in picking up the semi-conscious Peri and steering her to the open hatch. Stepping out the base was like walking into a furnace, and the gale of displaced air was almost enough to blow the trio off their feet. Nevertheless they somehow managed to make their way into the next gallery where the TARDIS was waiting for them.

Leaving Salateen to support Peri, the Doctor darted over to the door of the police box and unlocked it. Salateen helped the Time Lord carry his companion into the cool white interior of the TARDIS. The android showed no interest in the impossibly huge control room, already turning and heading out the doors.

"Where do you think you're going?" the Doctor demanded.

"You must leave," the android said flatly. "The final mudburst is only seconds away. It will destroy everything here."

"Even the Spectrox?" the Doctor asked idly.

"If I lower the mud barriers around the depot."

"You don't have to go back there," the Doctor protested. "You can come with us."

"I was created by Sharaz Jek," the android replied. "He would not wish to be alone."

The Doctor thought for a moment. "No, he wouldn't. Good luck."

The android nodded, frowning. Then, looking back at the Doctor, smiled sadly, and turned and strode back through the shaking inferno outside. The Time Lord watched him go, then closed the doors and powered up the TARDIS.

A few moments after the time machine had vanished from the caves of Androzani, the mudburst ripped through the tunnels destroying everything in its wake. Only the queen bats and their hibernating young survived the disaster, as it had happened before and it would happen again.

Sharaz Jek's base, the refinery, the army base and every last trace of human occupation was utterly annihilated. Even Morgus' ship on the surface was annihilated in the holocaust. As the tides of mud receded, there was no sign anyone had ever been there...

* * *

Peri coughed and spluttered, trying desperately to get the horrible taste out of her mouth. Her legs felt as itchy as if she'd been attacked by a thousand mosquitos, her joints ached as though they were rusty, and her eyesight was so blurred she could barely see. Eventually it occured to her that she was actually feeling better than she had for some time. Her sight cleared more and more, enough to see the blisters were vanishing from her legs.

She realized she was back in the TARDIS, which was flying through time and space once more. There was a blond figure in a muddy cricketing outfit moving around the console, adjusting controls. "Doctor," she rasped thirstily, "what's happening?"

"Ah, Peri," the figure said in a deep, unfamiliar voice. "I see Professor Jackij knew his stuff. Good old Jackij..."

Peri struggled to her feet, peering at the man before her. The clothes were right, but the build, the hair, they were all wrong. Her eyesight fully returned and she realized the man before her was a complete stranger.


The curly-haired man glanced up from the controls. "You were expecting someone else?" he replied with a smile. "Oh, that reminds me," he said, taking a vial of green milk from his pocket and daintily swallowing the contents. "Ugh. Still, that should take care of any lingering toxins in my system, that could lead to some dangerous abnormalities." He realized Peri was staring at him. "Oh, I kept the spare vial around in case you needed another dose."

Peri continued to stare at him. "What are you doing here?" she asked shakily.

"Setting coordinates for our next destination," he replied. "I would have taken you to the Eye of Orion - wonderful place for a holiday, and we both need a rest. Unfortunately, the specific coordinates elude me for the moment, so we're heading somewhere else. Somewhere peaceful, somewhere tranquil - a panacea for body and soul, they call it Joconda the Beautiful... what's the matter?" he asked as she continued to stare at him.

"What's happened?" Peri wondered, sounding lost.

The Doctor considered his answer.

"Change, my dear Peri," he concluded. "And it was just in the nick of time!"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Meanwhile, during Easter 2009...

(Changing Room.)

Nigel: I don't believe this! This isn't a changing room, it's a storeroom!
How am I supposed to get in character with servers and computers and
monitors and filing cabinets with special locks? It's going to stifle my

Andrew: Stifle be the operative word. It's hot, isn't it?

Nigel: Dear God, you're right. I'm starting to perspire even as I speak!
Dave, be a tool and get the suit out, will you?

Dave: Wow. Big head.

Nigel: Christ, it's more terrifying than the last one. What's with all those
bits of foam around it?

Andrew: They're part of the suit.

Nigel: Bullshit.

Andrew: They are.

Nigel: I have to wear this? I'll look like a cross between an empty cicada
shell and... and...

Dave: A Slitheen?

Nigel: Yes! No one could score dressed like that!

Andrew: You're the Easter Bunny.

Nigel: Yes. An ancient anglo saxon fertility symbol.

Dave: That's what this suit is for, then.

Nigel: Give me strength. I have to dress up in this fetishistic foam body
suit AND have a fur suit strapped over the top? I thought it would just be a
white fur pyjama set like last time.

Andrew: This is what you get for signing up with professionals.

Nigel: Oh god. The fur alone weighs more than your ego! Oh well...

(He puts the suit on.)

Nigel: (very muffled) How do I look?

Andrew: I struggle to think of an answer that doesn't include "Donnie

Dave: Hang on, what's this?

Andrew: Some kind of harness... full of bottles.

Nigel: What?

Andrew: I think they've given you a belt of drinks.

Dave: Why can't I open them then?

Nigel: Because they're not for drinking you unreliable heathens! They're
freezer packs! Put them in the freezer!

Andrew: OK, OK. They'll be halfway cold in two hours.

Nigel: Good. I survived a seven hour stint at the last place. A two hour
stint in this one-horse mall will be easy.

(One hour later...)

Nigel: Oh god! Face... melting! Internal organs cooking! Must... speak...
in... fragments!

Andrew: The superhuman Verkoff fails again.

Nigel: I had a different suit before. And it was much cooler. That head is
full of foam! I can barely breathe in there, let alone see!

Dave: Your packs aren't frozen yet.

Nigel: Don't care. Give them over.

Andrew: OK. You'll have to take off your suit first...

Nigel: Fuck that. Give them. I'll just shove it down the front and... there.
You see, cooling all ready.

Dave: OK, you ready?

Nigel: (head on) Born ready...

(Half an hour later)

Nigel: God I'm hot. These packs aren't cooling me down at all. Maybe if I...
ah yeah, if I lean back, they fall against my chest. Ah, nice and cool.

Andrew: You know, Dave, the idea strikes me that that harness was designed
for a reason.

Dave: Does it?

Andrew: Indeed it does. Designed to be tied around the torso.

Nigel: You know, come to mention it, I'm feeling a little groggy.

Dave: Lean back more and let the packs work.

Nigel: OK...

Andrew: And it was designed to be tied around the torso for a reason and
presumably not around the neck.

Dave: What's your point?

Nigel: Feeling VERY groggy actually.

Dave: That wearing around the neck is wrong?

Andrew: Think about it. What are the packs cooling down?

Dave: Nigel?

Nigel: Oh, Christ... everything's spinning...

Andrew: The area below Nigel's neck to be precise. Heart and lungs.

Dave: So? The coolth will disperse and cool him all down eventually.

Andrew: Yes, but in the meantime...

Nigel: Ohhhhhhh man... Gonna be sick now...

Dave: In the meantime?

Andrew: His heart will be cooling down, yes?

Dave: Uhuh.

Andrew: But the rest of him is still hot and, presumably getting hotter.

Dave: Uhuh.

Nigel: Agh.... agh... please... oh gof.... can't... breathe...

Andrew: So we have boiling hot blood rushing into a very cold heart.

Dave: Sort of like cold water on a hot tin can.

Andrew: Yep.


(Changing room)

Nigel: Oh... god... heart attack... going to die... never see Planet of the

Dave: You read the Highest Science, didn't you?

Nigel: No... just... synopsis... agh...

Andrew: Oh, get over it. Drink this cold water, stay still and shut the hell

(They leave Nigel on their own. Guard enters.)

Guard: Um. Hi.

Nigel: ...yeah... hi.

Guard: Why are you sitting next to the servers in your underwear?

Nigel: I'm the Easter Bunny.

Guard: ...aaaaaaand?

Nigel: I got the Kalesi Virus! OK?

Guard: Oh. You overheated in suit. Sissy. Oh well, I need to use the

Nigel: And I need the use of my legs. Life's harsh, isn't it?

Guard: Fine. Hold open the door.

Nigel: Um. OK.

Guard: Some silly bitch left her card in an ATM, I got to check the security

Nigel: OK.

(A long hour passes as the guard stands there checking the monitors,
squashed up against Nigel, holding the door open so they can both fit in.
Awkward silence.)

Andrew: You dead yet?

Nigel: Not quite.

Andrew: K. We'll come back later then.

(Another fifteen minutes. Guard finally leaves in disgust.)

Guard: I don't have to put up with this. That cow can suffer.

Nigel: Charming.

Guard: Oh, die already, sissy.


Nigel: Wow. To think I could be so humiliated NOT being dressed as a giant