Doctor Who: Emerald Green
by Mark Phippen
The horse Jeb was grooming started at the voice, planting a large hoof on top of Jeb's foot. As a bonus he almost got his nose broken as the animal threw its head up. Cursing, Jeb pushed the horse away, but at the same time took the opportunity to move so that the horse was between him and the speaker, and made sure his gun was within easy reach.
There were two of them entering the barn. Tall men - young, blonde, and, as far as Jeb could tell, identical in appearance. Possibly too well dressed for this town, but these days just about anyone could make their way out here trying their hand at playing prospector one day, losing whatever they found the next at the gaming tables.
'What can I do for you gentlemen?' he asked. The man on the left moved closer.
'You are "Jeb", yes? The proprietor of this establishment?'
Jeb breathed a slight sigh of relief. Business, then, he thought. He relaxed slightly. 'Yep, that's me. You wantin' horses, mules or wagons?' The closer of the two spoke again. He didn't have an accent, but he did have a very strange way of speaking, Jeb noticed.
'A wagon. We have money. We will give you that money if we can use your "wagon". We will need it tomorrow. We will collect it in the morning.'
'Collect it? No, no, no,' said Jeb, 'you hire the wagon, then you hire me, too. Needs a driver, see? Four horses is a bit much for a man to handle as what isn't used to it. I'll take you where you want to go, and bring you back if needs be. But the wagon don't go without me.' The blonde men began to confer and Jeb took his eyes off them for a moment. When he looked back, one of them had stepped forward again. Jeb realised that he didn't know whether this was the first speaker, or the other one. They looked that much alike.
'Very well. We will be here tomorrow, first light. It will take most of the day to reach our destination with such primitive equipment.' With that, the two turned and walked away. Jeb kept his eyes on them for a while, watching as they headed down the main street. They were a little odd for sure - talked funny too. But, as long as they paid well, he was more than willing to take them wherever they wanted to go. Shaking his head, Jeb turned his attention back to his horse.
Had he carried on watching for a moment longer, Jeb would have seen a strange sight. A tall, blue box materialising out of thin air in the space between the dentist's and the undertakers. And stranger still, though the box was hardly large enough for one person to stand in, two people stepped out of it.
'We made it then?' asked Sam.
'Well, it certainly seems so.' the Doctor let go of her arm, letting her disentangle her petticoats whilst he looked around. 'I must say, the TARDIS has been particularly accurate of late, since that last overhaul.'
'Well, in some ways.' Sam glanced at the time machine, stuck, as always, in its guise of a "Police Box". 'Are you ever going to get this cloaking device whatsit to work?'
'Chameleon circuit. And no, I rather like it like that. In some ways it's the only constant in my life.' Sam could see his point. Places and times came and went, friendships ended with a wave and a wheezing groaning sound. But that TARDIS, his home, was always there for him. And for her now, she thought with a smile. 'So, where are we exactly?'
'Somewhere I've been before, although not yet, temporally speaking.' the Doctor told her, looking at his chronometer. 'Tombstone, Arizona, 1878. A prime example of the "Wild West" if I ever knew one.'
'Tombstone?' History wasn't her strong point but even Sam had heard of this place. 'Like in the movies - Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner?' One to her, she chalked up, as she heard his long-suffering sigh.
'Yes, the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Although that doesn't take place for a good three years yet.' He had a distant look on his face, Sam noticed as he turned back to face her.
'Let me guess: you were there?'
He grinned. 'Yes, I was actually. You've heard of Doc Holliday...'
'Don't tell me that was you!' Sam suddenly had an image of the Doctor as a gun-toting cowboy. Somehow, it didn't fit.
'Well, no, but it didn't stop me from being mistaken for him at the time, though the resemblance was minimal.'
Sam grinned at him. 'No, can't see it.'
'You don't look much like Val Kilmer!'
'Try taking smaller steps.' was his only reply. Sam looked down at the dress he'd insisted she wear, which she was sure didn't suit her. It was also impossible to walk in. She just wasn't a dress person, but the Doctor had insisted she try to blend in - which was rich coming from him. Still, at least he looked the part for a change! However, before she could think of a suitable retort, he was off, and she had to trot to catch up, trying not to trip over the hem again.
'So, this is where the homing signal came from?' she asked breathlessly when she caught up. Five minutes in the Arizona heat in this get up, she felt as if she'd just run a half-marathon.
'Yes, or somewhere very near.' The Doctor consulted a small tracking device. 'The signal is so close that I can't pinpoint it more accurately than this. This scanner is meant for long-range tracking.'
'But surely nobody here would have access to intergalactic technology, would they?'
'No, and that's what makes it even more worrying. Come on, let's try the saloon first. It should be starting to fill up now.'
The Doctor pushed open the swing doors of the saloon and ushered Sam inside. She cast her eyes around, taking in the scene before her. It wasn't quite how she'd imagined it. The Stetson and spur count was a lot lower than she'd been led to believe. Most people were dressed fairly drably, and even those better attired were covered in dust, which seemed to get everywhere. Also, not everyone was carrying a gun, something that did surprise her. Perhaps she'd been watching too many Westerns?
There was, however, a man playing a piano in one corner, and its jangly sound gave the saloon an air of jollity. She was almost disappointed that the music hadn't stopped when they'd walked in; but then, why should it? After all, she and the Doctor were hardly Billy the Kid and Calamity Jane, were they? She had to stifle a giggle at that thought, though. Still trying to avoid the treacherous hemline, and failing miserably, she followed the Doctor up to the bar, ignoring some of the lewder comments that reached her ears. She felt rather out of her depth. The Doctor, however, was in full flood.
'Charlie, old chap!' the Doctor exclaimed as he reached the bar, clasping the barkeeper's hand and shaking it vigorously. Charlie eyed the Doctor suspiciously, obviously not recognising him at all.
'Do I know you, sir?' Charlie asked.
'No, no, no, no, no, not yet, but you will one day, only you won't recognise me then, either!' the Doctor beamed. Charlie took his hand away from the grinning lunatic, and was about to ask him to explain himself, when the man slapped what on examination proved to be a solid gold coin onto the bar, saying that it should cover everything they wanted. Charlie shrugged. For that amount of money, he'd swear to being the madman's long-lost brother if that was what he wanted.
The Doctor leaned closer to Sam, whispering in her ear. 'You stay here with Charlie for a while. He's safe enough. I've just spotted someone rather interesting.' And with that, he slid off his stool and was off, making his way over to the staircase. A woman was descending the wooden treads, a woman whom Sam supposed could be described as beautiful, if a little past her prime. She seemed popular with the clientele though, Sam noticed, judging by the interest her arrival generated amongst the men present. An interest no doubt stimulated by the low-cut dress she was wearing, and the expanse of ample bosom thus revealed.
'Someone interesting,' Sam muttered under her breath, 'Right.'
The Doctor had made his way to the staircase, as if intending to go up it, but then stopped, as if noticing the woman for the first time.
'After you, madam.' He said graciously, stepping aside to let her pass. From where Sam sat, he seemed to be taking a disturbingly close look at that buxom chest. The woman was giving the Doctor a puzzled look. 'My apologies, for a moment I thought we might have met before, but now I realise I was mistaken.' He explained, giving her his best "Innocent Beaming Smile, Mark Three". The woman gave him a funny look and moved on. The Doctor returned to the bar and sat next to Sam. The woman had turned her attention to the table occupied by the town's deputy sheriff and his drinking partners.
'I wouldn't have thought she was your type.' said Sam. It came out sounding a little more peevish than she'd intended, but the Doctor didn't seem to notice.
'What? Oh, I wouldn't have thought she'd be anyone's type here. She's not even remotely human.' The Doctor replied, his eyes still fixed on the woman.
'Well, she looked human enough to me. How could you tell?' Sam asked, trying to see if she could spot some telltale signs. The woman was laughing at some bawdy joke the deputy had told, and her laugh seemed human enough.
'Her necklace. See?'
Sam could. How could she miss it? A large, bright green stone encased in a silver filigree setting hung around the woman's neck, catching the light and sparkling brightly even in the dim, oil-lit saloon. Every so often her hand would dart to the pendant, as if checking it was still there, even though she must have been able to feel it against her skin.
'Okay, I'll bite. What is it?'
'Well, it doesn't belong on Earth for one thing, and definitely not in this time period.' The Doctor explained. 'It's a Venddonian Death Stone, very valuable in aesthetic terms, but even more valuable to the wearer, sentimentally. Death Stones are worn by the widows of Venddonian males - well, those who can afford them. It is said to contain the life essence of the recently departed, and symbolises their glorious life. To be so attached to that stone, she must be a Venddonian, it means so much to her.'
'So Venddonians look like humans then?'
'On the contrary, they are more akin to large octopii, only bipedal. They're land dwellers, but never quite shook off their aquatic origins.'
'Navarino transmogrification technology, I would imagine.' The Doctor caught Sam's "You what?" look, and explained that Navarinos were a race of hedonistic time travellers who went to great lengths to blend in with the local cultures they visited.
'Don't your lot, the Time Lords, have a problem with that?' Sam asked.
'Well, the Navarinos were investigated, certainly, but it was decided that their approach to time travel was one of the most careful the Time Lords had seen, certainly more so than Gallifrey's early experiments. The High Council let them continue, providing they maintain certain standards. But this is a little worrying. Venddonians with Navarino technology. I wonder how much she bribed them?'
At that moment the saloon doors swung inwards, and in walked two very large men. What struck Sam most about them, however, was their near identical appearance. The same bright blonde hair, same well built, muscular bodies, faces set into the same serious expressions. She'd seen identical twins before, but somehow these two just looked so alike it was creepy. The new arrivals scanned the bar, their eyes eventually settling on the alien woman, and then strode over to her. They even walked identically. Sam started to say something, but the Doctor shushed her, cocking his head in the direction of the three strange figures. Sam strained to listen also, but could hear nothing over the rattle and hubbub of the saloon.
As she watched, the conversation seemed to become more animated, and the woman, obviously conscious that they were attracting attention from the other patrons, ushered her companions upstairs. The Doctor turned to Sam.
'They've arranged transport for tomorrow. She was most concerned that it was to somewhere deserted. I wonder what they are up to?'
'Could we follow them?'
'I think we can do better than that. I caught the name of the man who's taking them. I think we'll tag along too!'
'Okay, okay, I'm comin'!' Jeb yelled as the hammering on his door started up again. 'These old legs ain't what they used to be, y'know.'
When he reached the door, Jeb peered through the spyhole he had installed. After all, you could never be too careful these days. Standing on his doorstep he could see a couple, a man and a young girl. They looked harmless enough, so he opened the door.
'You are Jeb, yes?' said the man, taking Jeb's hand and shaking it, beaming a smile all the time.
'Yep, reckon I am.' Jeb confirmed. Boy, was he popular today. He could only hope that these two were after transport as well.
'Excellent!' said the man, 'I'm the Doctor, and this is my friend Sam. I believe you've been hired to take some customers tomorrow, am I right?'
Jeb hesitated. Who were these people, Pinkerton Agents? They didn't look the part, but taking no chances, Jeb offered a cautious 'I might be.'
'Good, good, I thought so. Now how much for us to tag along as well?'
Jeb eyed the two suspiciously. 'Now why would I be trustin' you?'
'You've no reason not to, have you?' The Doctor asked gently. 'Do we look untrustworthy?'
'You gotta be careful these days, that's all,' said Jeb, 'two bunches of complete strangers approachin' me on the same day, both wantin' to tag along on the same trip to the devil-knows-where. Somethin's not right about that. You wouldn't be Pinkies, would ya? Had enough trouble from them in the past.'
The Doctor put an arm on Jeb's shoulder and drew him to one side. 'I can assure you, we're not Pinkerton Agents, and we're not interested in your past.'
'To be honest,' Sam chimed in, 'we are more interested in your other customers. You must admit, they are a little odd.'
'Well they ain't the only ones round these parts,' said Jeb, turning back to face Sam, 'You two just seem to have cropped up out of nowhere. I don't recall seeing you pull into town anytime recent. And I see most of the main street from the barn.'
'Well, you can see that we're not armed, at least.' said the Doctor, holding his coat open. 'Really, we're just travellers with an insatiable curiosity, and a bag of gold. So, is there a problem?'
From where Sam stood, she could see he was wearing his "Expectantly Hopeful" look. It seemed to be working, as Jeb relaxed.
'I guess not.' said Jeb, grinning. 'I'll see you in the mornin', first light.'
Thanking him, Sam and the Doctor left.
Jeb rubbed his hands once they were out of sight. Two payments for the same trip! This was turning out to be a very profitable day. But perhaps he'd better have a little familiar company on the trip, just in case...
Next morning, after a surprisingly comfortable night in one of the rooms in the saloon, Sam found the Doctor waiting for her in the barroom. He was sitting with Jeb, who had arrived early to avoid losing any of his customers. With them was another, younger man, whom she did not recognise.
'This is Mr. Hooper, Jeb's apprentice,' said the Doctor, introducing them, 'He'll be coming along too.' Sam smiled at Hooper, but he seemed to be avoiding her gaze. Shy, thought Sam. Perhaps he would open up a little once they were under way.
She was interrupted in her thoughts by a voice from behind her, and she turned to see the woman from the previous night. She was dressed more conservatively this morning, a plain black skirt, and a simple shirt, with a scarf about her neck, but the green stoned pendant was still visible beneath its folds. And, Sam noted, already feeling the heat in her (by now) rather rumpled dress, she looked a lot more comfortable than Sam felt.
'You are Jeb, I take it?' The woman asked, looking in the old wagon driver's direction.
'That's me, Ma'am, yes. Let me introduce my assistant, Mr Hooper, and your fellow passengers, the Doc....'
'Fellow passengers? We never agreed anything about fellow passengers!' The woman said, obviously agitated.
'Well ma'am, I'm leavin' shortly, and if you have a problem sharin' your ride, then I suggest you find yerself another wagon.' Sam realised Jeb was taking a gamble and he knew it. She had seen couple of other wagon drivers who would have been happy to take these people, but they had asked for Jeb by name, so perhaps he was hoping the woman didn't know that. Anyhow, he probably figured he'd have at least one fare.
The woman considered it briefly. 'Very well. I don't see it being a problem. I suggest we get underway. My assistants should be waiting outside with our luggage.'
'Good!" Exclaimed the Doctor. 'I'm sure we'll get on famously!'
For the first few miles no one spoke, and the atmosphere in the wagon was a little tense. Sam tried to defuse this a little with occasional smiles at the woman and her companions, but these were returned with glares, so she gave up on that one.
It was rather cramped, which didn't help the atmosphere. Jeb and Hooper were upfront, driving the horses, while the passengers sat in the back, a canvas sheet covering the framework of the wagon shielding them from the blazing sun. The benches ran along the length of the wagon, with Sam and the Doctor sat facing the Venddonian and her two companions, which made it hard to avoid eye contact. Sam was beginning to get to the point where she just wanted to get off when the Doctor spoke.
'I think it's about time we introduced ourselves, don't you?' He said with a beaming smile, holding out his hand. 'I'm the Doctor, and this is my friend Sam...'
The woman hesitated, then took the Doctor's hand with a faint smile. 'I do not see any harm in telling you my name. I am Moreeda, and these are my assistants Kiron and Leran.'
'Ah, fine Venddonian names.' the Doctor said, his grin widening. Moreeda froze, a look of panic on her face. Leran had tensed by her side.
'How... how could you possibly know that?'
'Oh, I know lots of things. For instance not only is Venddon several light years from here, but in this time period, your planet hasn't even entered its industrial age, let alone discovered space travel. Not only are you in the wrong place, but the wrong time as well.'
'And for you to know those things, then so must you be.'
'Oh yes, but then that's normal for me. But not for Venddonians, who, I'm pretty sure, never do master time travel. Of course, the other big give away was this.' He was pointing to the green stone around her neck, shining brightly even in the dull interior of the wagon. 'May I have a closer look?'
Before his hand got remotely near, Leran's own hand shot out, grasping the Time Lord's wrist in a vice like grip. The Doctor let out a faint gasp as Leran twisted slightly. Sam leapt to her feet and tried to prise the fingers of the Venddonian from the Doctor's wrist, but they were immovable, like a steel clamp.
'Alright Leran, I think he's got the message.' Moreeda placed her hand on Leran's arm and he released his grip. 'That was foolish Doctor. If you know that I am a Venddonian, then you should know how much this stone means to me. Leran here is fiercely protective. Had you actually touched the stone, I suspect he would have broken your wrist.'
Leran relaxed in his seat, and, looking at Moreeda, he extended two of his fingers from his hand and tapped them against his chest
'I'm very sorry,' the Doctor apologised, massaging his wrist, 'I was only curious, I've never seen a Venddonian death stone this close up before.'
'Many Venddonian widows choose to hide their stones away. It is very rare to actually see one worn about the neck in public. But it is all I have with which to remember my husband, and I like to have it with me at all times.' Moreeda explained. 'I would have expected a Time Lord to understand that.'
Sam was surprised. 'But how did you know...'
'My double pulse, I should imagine.' Said the Doctor quietly 'Always a give-away sign to those who know their stuff.'
'So why are you here, Doctor? Why are you following us? Have the Time Lords sent you to have me removed from this time and place?' Moreeda asked, a little mockingly. 'Because if that's true, you're wasting your time, I'm on my way home anyway. We hired this wagon to take us to our agreed rendezvous point with the Navarino vessel that brought us here. It's going to take us home.'
'I'm glad to hear it,' replied the Doctor. 'Though, believe me, I wasn't sent here, I came on my own accord through sheer curiosity when I picked up your signal. If you are on your way home, then lets just say I'm here to escort you on your way. I'm sure you've been very careful, but amateur time-travellers can cause all sorts of problems.'
Moreeda smiled. 'Don't worry, Doctor, I've been as careful as possible. I even created a false identity and had my servants here bribe the undertaker into writing a false death certificate. That certificate was already in existence before I came here. I checked, so everything happened as it should.'
'Good, then I've got no problems to sort out.' The Doctor grinned. 'But why did you come here in the first place?'
'My husband was a very important man on Venddon, Doctor.' Moreeda explained. They called him 'The Peacemaker'. He is credited with putting an end to all wars on Venddon through his political decisions made while in office as Governor of Thlozar, the largest and most powerful state on Venddon. He was much loved amongst the people of my planet, and there was great mourning when he died. But what people don't remember is that he was not just a great political figure, but a loving husband and father too. While the planetwide grief was a great tribute to him, I found I could not deal with it, as my grief went so much deeper. I had to accept his death in my own way, I needed to get away from my own time and place.'
'But why here, why this time period?' asked Sam.
Moreeda gave a little chuckle. 'It was the idea of my major-domo, Turon. He suggested a time and place that would be entirely alien to me, away from politics, and the endless state banquets in my husband's honour at which I had to smile sweetly and thank the people of Thlozar for their kind words, when all the time the sense of loss was eating me up inside. His choice of location reflects his sense of humour – I mean "Tombstone"', she said, smiling and pointing to the pendant. 'His grasp of irony is rather sophisticated for a human.'
'You have human servants?' Sam asked incredulously.
'Of course!' Moreeda replied, still smiling. 'They are very good at it too, given their small number of limbs. The human colonists that came to our sector should count themselves lucky that the Venddonians gave them shelter after the Gresh very nearly wiped them out. They've now been fully integrated into our society, and make themselves useful.'
Moreeda's explanation was cut short from a shout from Jeb. 'I think we're just about where you wanted to go, ma'am.'
Sam and Moreeda moved to the front of the wagon, and peered ahead over Jeb and Hooper's shoulders. It took a while, but eventually Sam could see a series of dots some way ahead. Quite a way to go yet, but at least the atmosphere in the wagon was a little better.
As they drew nearer, the dots Sam had seen on the landscape became discernible as small wooden huts, little more than ruins. The Doctor's somewhat patchy history lesson had mentioned silver mining in this area - maybe this was the remains of a worked out mine.
Jeb pulled his wagon to a halt and tethered the horses to a crumbling well. Hooper was helping the passengers down from the back of the wagon, so he lit his pipe and sat down on the brickwork.
'Is this what ya had in mind?' he asked, 'Cos if it ain't, It'll have to do. I ain't going no further today, and my horses need food and rest before we head back.'
'This will do perfectly,' said Moreeda, 'It's deserted, yet the buildings will provide excellent cover.'
Jeb shook his head, wondering, not for the first time, just what he had gotten into.
'There!' Kiron pointed up at a rapidly growing shape in the blue sky. 'They're homing in on the signal!' He ran forward along the street waving the device and jumping up and down.
The Doctor squinted against the bright sun, trying to get a closer look at the descending vessel. 'I'm not sure about this,' he murmured, 'the design of that ship doesn't look very Navarino. They usually go for something more apt to the time period, and certainly less menacing in appearance.'
As the ship approached, she began to see what the Doctor meant. The vessel was basically egg-shaped, almost comical - if not for the weaponry that was somewhat amateurishly bolted onto the hull.
Sam was horrified at the implications. 'You mean, you think it might be a trap! What about Kiron, he's a sitting duck!' she yelled, breaking away from the Doctor and pelting towards the centre of the street where Kiron was still standing, waving his arms.
'Sam, no!' cried the Doctor, just as the ship opened fire. A stream of laser bolts hailed down onto the street, scorching the earth and kicking up clouds of dust. Kiron didn't stand a chance as the beams cut through him, and his terrible scream cut off before his charred body hit the ground, barely recognisable as either human or Venddonian. As the bolts spat their way towards Sam, the Doctor grabbed her arm and pulled her roughly to one side, and they landed in a heap, dust billowing around them.
The ship swung around and fired again. The rickety buildings behind to the Doctor and Sam came crashing down around them. Sam felt the sharp impact of something on her ribcage - a wooden beam? She tried to look up, but she couldn't move. "Help!' she called feebly, but her throat only filled with dust. Her vision became hazier and hazier until she blacked out.
Jeb ran as fast as his old legs would carry him away from the deadly beams coming from the ship. Behind him, he could hear the terrible whinnying screams of his horses. He knew they were dying, but there was nothing he could do for them. He had to save himself. He crashed through a half-broken door and found himself in what appeared to be a storeroom next to the hostelry. Inside he found Moreeda. She was clutching the pendant around her neck protectively.
'They won't get this, they won't!' she cried.
'W-what the hell is that thing?' Jeb's heart was racing. He hadn't run so fast for years. He stopped, trying to regain his breath. 'What've you gotten me into?'
'It's a Navarino cargo vessel, or it was before someone added all that weaponry.'
Jeb shook his head, clearly not understanding a word. 'But how'd it get up there, and why's it firin' lightnin' at us? You better pay me big for this, ma'am, they just destroyed my wagon and killed my horses!'
'I'll pay you whatever you want, but right now I'm more concerned with getting out of this alive,' she muttered, as she moved over to the wall, where the rough construction of the building had left a gap between two panels of wood, affording her a view of the sky outside. 'The ship's turning this way!' she cried 'Get down!'
As Jeb turned to run the first of the bolts hit the building, blasting the doors through which he had entered only seconds before off their hinges, and exposing the store to the beams that followed, cutting across the inside of the building to hit the back wall. This was too much for the old shack and it began to collapse inwards. Jeb fell, clutching desperately at the disintegrating walls of the shack. His body was jolted and jarred as pieces of wooden planking, some smouldering, fell around him. Jeb found himself under a pile of debris. It was mainly wood from the walls though, he thanked God, and he could move it easily enough. Apart from a pounding headache, he seemed to be unharmed. He breathed a sigh of relief, then stiffened as he heard movement off to his right.
'Hey, lady, that you?' he called, then coughed as the dust choked him. There was no reply, so he picked himself up and made towards the noise. 'Oh, it's you.' he said, as a familiar face turned towards him. 'Glad you're still in one piece.'
The dust was beginning to settle, and Jeb could make out the figure in more detail. But somehow, there was something not quite right. The features were flashing, switching between the familiar, and something... else. He could make out a pig-like snout, but little else. It had obviously damaged a leg as one dragged a little as it approached him.
The figure reached him, and placed an arm on his shoulder. 'Yes, it's just a pity you broke your neck in the fall, old man.' said the figure, and, giving Jeb enough time for this to sink in, a look of horror creeping over his face, he snapped Jeb's neck like a twig.
Out on the street, a pile of broken planking was sent flying as the Doctor pushed his way up into the open air. He stood for awhile dusting himself down, then stopped abruptly, as if suddenly remembering something. He began pulling furiously at the debris, occasionally throwing anxious glances back at the ship, which seemed to be bringing down the buildings opposite with its ridiculously overpowered weapons. He carried on digging.
After a minute the Doctor found Sam face down at the bottom of the heap. He reached for her wrist. Heartbeat good and strong, thank goodness. The Doctor looked at the wood lying on her. A large rafter had fallen across her, wedged against a water trough just a little taller than the height of her head. Undoubtedly this had saved her life.
Clearing the last of the rubble from around her, the Doctor picked Sam up in his arms, and looked around for somewhere safe to hide her until she woke up. He didn't have long: the ship was coming in to land in the centre of the street. But before he could find anywhere, the ship was down, a ramp descending from its side. The Doctor could just about make out a figure begin the descent.
Sam stirred. She opened her eyes slowly and winced as the bright sun invaded her vision. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out the concerned face of the Doctor looking down at her.
'Oh, Doctor, thank god you're okay. When the building collapsed I lost sight of you, and I thought... well...' she tailed off not wanting to say what she had feared in case it still came true.
'Don't thank me yet,' the Doctor said quietly. 'We've got company.'
Sam turned her head slowly. They were surrounded by the ship's occupants. They were tall and muscular, with thick leathery skin. Bipedal, but, from the shape of their boots, their feet were more like hooves. Their general human appearance ended, however, with the face. The large but squashed nose dominated their features, with two gaping nostrils giving them a porcine look. The ears were large and mouse shaped, and the mouth, slightly upturned in a parody of a smile, was open to reveal sharp teeth that they constantly ground in a sideways motion.
'What are they?' whispered Sam, her head spinning.
'Jarkas, a particularly brutal race, usually little more than hired muscle.' He explained. 'I wonder who their paymaster is?'
With that, as if on cue, a figure began to descend the ramp. Human this time, clad entirely in black. His sardonic grin was framed by a black beard, and in his hand he held a small, black weapon.
'Who is it, Doctor?' Sam whispered into his ear. She was sure she was going to lose consciousness again.
'I haven't the faintest idea,' he admitted, a rather relieved look on his face. Then he looked down, and realised that Sam had slipped back into unconsciousness.
'His name is Turon,' said a voice from behind them. Everyone turned to see Moreeda approaching, Hooper in tow. They were both covered in dust, and Hooper was limping a little, but they seemed otherwise unharmed. 'He was our major-domo, back on Venddon.'
'Oh yes. I see you do remember.' said Turon.
Moreeda looked confused. 'Why are you here, Turon? Why did you murder Kiron? I just don't understand.' She looked as if he were the last person she had expected to see.
'No, you never did understand about people, that's your problem.' Turon spat. 'If you had understood me a little better for instance, I would not have had to resort to tricking you into coming to this desolate little rock in order to get my just reward.'
'Reward? What reward? We always paid you well, for a human. We treated you fairly, what more could you possibly want from...?' Moreeda stopped, realising then exactly what it was that Turon had come for. Her hand went instinctively to her pendent.
'Exactly.' Turon smiled at her realisation. 'All those years of servitude: bowing, scraping, always at your beck and call. Oh yes, you paid me well, and the job had its advantages, especially for someone with my connections and ambitions. And when your husband died you paid me off with a substantial severance fee.
'But it's not enough. How can it be, after what I've known? For twenty-five years I was able to siphon off funds from the account of one of the richest men on Venddon, and you cut me off from that. I, however, have no intention of ever returning to a "normal" existence.'
'So that's it, is it, greed?' Moreeda couldn't believe how she had never spotted this trait in her employee. All those years, and she had never guessed. 'But this stone means more to me than it can ever mean to anyone else. It's worth so much more than its monetary value.'
'True, but it is the Death Stone of the great Peacemaker himself, and that makes it even more valuable, particularly with your authenticating letter to go with it.' Turon grinned. 'After all, it's not as if his life essence really is in that stone is it? Everyone knows the idea is crazy, it's just not scientifically possible.'
Moreeda couldn't believe her ears. 'Did you learn nothing in your time on Venddon? Death Stones are one of the cornerstones of our faith. It is enough simply to believe that our husbands live on through these stones, we do not need scientific proof. The stones are a symbol, nothing more, even I will admit that. But you can't imagine how important that symbol is. Without it, my husband is truly dead to me. No one but I can feel the same way about this stone.' Turon shrugged.
'I don't care how they feel about it – there are collectors out there who will pay a fortune just to own it, simply for what it is.'
'But why all the firepower if you were trying to take Moreeda alive?' The Doctor asked.
'Yes, well, my associates here tend get rather carried away. I had to persuade them to land before we destroyed the stone! That would have been a great shame after all the trouble I've been too.'
During this exchange, the Doctor had noticed a figure emerging from the remains of the buildings across the street. It was Leran. He was making his way over to the remains of the well, holding what appeared to be a laser pistol, his eyes fixed on Turon. He was going to take a shot at him, that much was obvious. The Doctor wanted to call out - it was futile, the Jarkas would cut him down in a split second. But all he could do was watch as the Venddonian took aim.
Then the Doctor noticed that Hooper too had seen him, and was reaching into his jacket. Too late the Doctor realised that he too was reaching for a weapon, which he brought up quickly, firing a single shot towards the well. Even as he called out a warning and launched himself at Hooper, it was too late. Leran hadn't been expecting an attack from the group of prisoners he was trying to help. The blast took him square in the chest. He was dead before he hit the floor.
'Leran!' screamed Moreeda, starting towards his body. She was grabbed from behind, however, by Hooper, who held her in a grip that belied his slight build.
'All right, Serin, you can dispense with the human form now,' said Turon, addressing Hooper. 'I know how much you despise it.'
The creature they had known as Hooper shimmered, his features blurring, until they resolved into those of a Jarka. He let out a sign of relief.
The Doctor had to admit that he hadn't realised that Hooper was not what he seemed. 'How long has he been...'
'All the time. The original human was disposed of some time ago. We wanted to make sure that we could find Moreeda when she left town, so we placed an operative with the man she was most likely to hire.' Turon explained blandly. 'Now, enough of this chit-chat. Take Moreeda onto the ship and kill these,' he said, casually indicating the Doctor and the unconscious Sam.
The Jarkas were already bringing up their weapons to obey the command when Moreeda cried out. 'No! There's been enough killing! If one more person is harmed in any way, you will not be getting any co-operation from me. If you can promise me that there will be no more violence, then I will sign your blasted letter.'
Turon smiled. 'Then we have a deal. Bring them all aboard.'
The interior of Turon's ship was functional, if a little untidy. Jarkan equipment jarred with the original Navarino simplicity and elegance. They'd obviously stolen the vessel, and quite recently, as several areas had been only incompletely customised for Jarkan use. But they'd prioritised, the Doctor noticed: several laser-cannon stations were in place. They had been here long enough, however, for a rather rank farmyard stench to permeate the atmosphere. But at least, the Doctor reflected with a slight shudder, Turon hadn't hired Ogrons.
The captives, including a recovering Sam, were pushed down a corridor, past towards what appeared to be the brig. As they passed one door, Sam caught a glimpse of a pink, knobbly alien, its face all jowls and wattles, working on a complicated, crystal-like piece of equipment. The alien was being watched by armed Jarkas.
'It's a Navarino,' whispered the Doctor, as if he had been reading her mind. 'And that looked to me like a Navarino time-drive, which explains how our butler friend got here.'
'Shut up!' barked Turon, giving the Doctor a shove into a cell.
'You two, in there with the Doctor. We'll get underway, and then we can get down to business. The door will be guarded, by the way, just for your peace of mind. After all, we wouldn't want anybody stealing that stone, would we?' The door slid shut, obscuring Turon's grinning face.
'All those years in our employ have driven him mad.' said Moreeda sadly. 'I thought we treated him well, I really did.' She noticed the Doctor was examining a small red panel on the wall of the cell. 'What have you found Doctor?'
'Oh, just the fire alarm', he replied, tapping it thoughtfully. 'We really are dealing with a rank amateur here, you know. This cell had been converted from an old cargo hold. Fortunately for us, no one bothered to remove the fire alarm.'
'So?' Sam asked him.
'So, what's the betting that our friends out there have never practised their fire drill?' The Doctor said with a mischievous grin. 'I suggest you listen at the door.' Grinning back, Sam moved to the door.
The Doctor removed the sonic screwdriver from his pocket, turned it round, handle first, and smashed it into the alarm box. Immediately, klaxons started sounding, and the lights dimmed to an emergency red. Sam, listening at the door, could hear receding thuds from the corridor.
'I think you've panicked them, Doctor,' she said, 'but now what?'
'We get out of here, of course!' the Doctor ran to the door, activating the screwdriver, which started humming. He waved it about, concentrating on the rim of the door until the humming changed pitch. With a cry of 'Aha!' the Doctor adjusted a setting on the sonic device and tried again. This time the door slid open.
The corridor outside was bathed in the same dull red, but it was light enough to see that the Jarkas who had been guarding them had fled, probably to find Turon. Walking quickly but carefully, the Doctor led Sam and Moreeda towards the room where they had seen the captive Navarino.
The door was open as before, but there was still one guard covering the Navarino. The Doctor looked at Moreeda, or, more specifically, her scarf.
'Ideal!' he whispered. 'Pass me that scarf.'
Moreeda did so, and the Doctor took another look into the room. When he was sure the Jarka guard wasn't looking, he quickly dashed to the other side of the door, and crouched down. Holding one end of the scarf, he threw the other end back across the entrance, indicating to Sam that she should hold onto it.
When she had done so, the Doctor shouted. 'The prisoners have escaped! Everyone is to search for them, they must be found!'
Predictably, the Jarka came running, his feet became entangled in the scarf and he went flying to the floor, landing on his pig like face. Sam winced as she ran past him. That had to hurt!
Inside the room, the Doctor sealed the door using the sonic screwdriver, as the Jarka began to hammer furiously at the other side. 'Lucky that this ship's advanced enough to be easily tampered with,' he said, handing her scarf back to Moreeda. He patted Sam on the shoulder. 'Remind me to tell you sometime about the time when Sarah and I pulled that one on Kastria...' He turned his attention to the Navarino. 'Now, what is your story? Hmmm?' He held out a small crumpled paper bag. 'Jelly baby?'
Bemused, the Navarino took one of the proffered sweets, and introduced himself as Pharno. He was the only survivor of the transport ship that was originally destined for 19th Century Earth. The Jarkas had killed the others and kidnapped Pharno, a renowned Navarino scientist, for his knowledge of time technology.
'So you are something of an expert with this equipment?' asked the Doctor.
'I helped to design it,' said Pharno proudly, 'I know its workings better than anybody alive now.'
'Excellent! You see, I have an idea. The time displacement of this vessel is controlled from this device, right?'
The Doctor was examining the device. 'So, we have control over when if not where exactly the ship is headed?'
'Not exactly, at least, not as the equipment is at the moment,' Pharno explained.
'How do you mean?'
'There is one vital component missing. Turon keeps it with him at all times other than when we make time hops. It is a radiant precious crystal, vital to the correct reflection of light within the device.'
As if on cue, a screen set into one of the walls of the room flickered into life, revealing the snarling face of Turon. 'Pharno, Doctor, I have it right here,' he said, holding a deep red crystal up to the screen. '
'Does it matter what the stone is, as long as it's capable of reflecting light in such a manner?' The Doctor asked, ignoring Turon.
'No, not really, I shouldn't think so. We usually use Pryoriline, as that seems to give the best results, but there's no reason to think that any other stone shouldn't work, as long as the crystalline structure is compatible - at least for a while - until it begins to break down through the pressure.' Pharno agreed, his wattles perking up as he realised what the Doctor was planning.
The Doctor looked at Moreeda, who was clutching her pendant, her instinctive reaction whenever attention turned to it. Comprehension slowly dawned.
'You can't use this, you just can't!' she cried. 'You know how much it means to me. I'd rather give it up to Turon than see it destroyed by that machine.'
'Exactly!' shouted Turon from the screen. 'Do you really think she'd give it up just like that? The only way you'll get out of this alive is by handing that stone over to me, now!'
'Do you really think Turon would let you live after you've signed that letter of provenance, Moreeda?' The Doctor said, sympathetically but firmly. 'We've seen how ruthless he is, how much trouble he's gone to to get what he wants. He's not going to let anyone get in his way now.'
'Moreeda,' said Sam, putting her arm around the woman, 'try to think of it as your husband's last great deed. Only this time he's not saving the lives of his people, but his wife. If you need anything to remember your husband by, let it be this.' Sam caught the Doctor's approving look at her words, but Moreeda didn't seem convinced.
There was a fresh bout of hammering on the doors. With a sob, Moreeda removed the pendent from around her neck and handed it to Pharno.
'No!' cried Turon. 'You'll destroy it!'
The Navarino removed the stone from its casing and placed it into the device. It wasn't a perfect fit, but it was stable enough to do the job. His wattles were now fully extended and quite flushed, which Sam took to be his equivalent of a smile.
'It's ready Doctor,' said Pharno. 'Which time period?'
'Well, I don't think we've hit hyperspace yet, so I assume we are still within Earth's gravitational field.' The Doctor said, consulting his chronometer, though Sam suspected that was more to help him think than actually tell the time. 'Try two hundred years ahead. The Earth is a very jumpy little planet at that period, what with the East/West situation flaring up again. Anyone in violation of territorial airspace is likely to be challenged. Especially a spaceship!'
Pharno activated the device. At first, they feared nothing had happened, but then the ship began to vibrate, slightly at first, but building up to a violent shake, throwing the occupants of the room to the floor. Eventually, it subsided, and the Doctor helped up Sam and Moreeda while Pharno checked the readings.
Turon's voice bellowed from the screen. 'That can't have worked! You can't have time jumped! It's impossible!'
'It worked all right!' Pharno exclaimed. 'I was beginning to get a little worried, it's not usually so violent as that, but that's probably the substitute stone.'
The Doctor was examining the stone, which had been halved in size by the bombardment of the energy generated by the device. 'There's probably enough left for one more hop of a similar distance.'
'So now what?' asked Sam
'Now we wait, until the authorities...' The Doctor was cut short by a voice from the ships' tannoy.
'UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL, PLEASE IDENTIFY YOURSELF, OR PREPARE TO BE BOARDED'.
'Well, that didn't take long, did it?' exclaimed the Doctor. He didn't seem too worried, Sam noticed.
'REPEAT: UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL, PLEASE IDENTIFY YOURSELF, OR PREPARE TO BE BOARDED'
'I'd like to see you get out of this one!' Sam said to Turon's seething image.
'UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL, YOU HAVE REFUSED TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF. EXTENDING DOCKING CLAMPS NOW. YOU WILL BE BOARDED, AND YOUR SHIP WILL BE TAKEN TO EARTH UNTIL YOUR PRESENCE CAN BE EXPLAINED.'
Turon gave a cry. 'They have locked on to us! Serin, prepare your troops, we are about to be boarded.' He turned his attention back to the occupants of the room. 'I'll make you pay for this Doctor! Somehow I'll get my revenge!'
The Doctor shook his head. 'As I said, a rank amateur. Even his threats are clichés!'
'What are we supposed to do now?' Asked Moreeda. 'We are about to be towed back to Earth with the rest of them.'
'Ah, but that's where we want to be,' the Doctor smiled. 'We can only travel in time, remember? Chances are we will be taken to mainland America, so all we have to do is sit it out, wait for Turon and the Jarkas to be taken into custody and time hop back two hundred years. I'm pretty sure that in this time period, they won't be able to break through that door, sealed, as it is, by Gallifreyan technology.'
'But what are the chances of us being anywhere near Tombstone when we land?' asked Sam.
'Pretty slight I would imagine,' the Doctor admitted, 'which means we'll have to hire some transport, but at least we'll be in the right century for the TARDIS. Then we can see about dropping our friends here off on their home planets.'
Pharno nodded gratefully. 'I would be much obliged, Doctor. Though I think, in the meantime, it might be an idea if I made use of the transmogrifier. I don't think I'd blend in too well looking like this.' He indicated his rather lumpy alien body.
'I don't know,' said Sam cheekily, 'I've seen worse!'
Moreeda smiled at the Doctor and Sam, and offered her hands to them. The Doctor took her offered hand gently.
'I'm so sorry about the stone, Moreeda, I –'
She patted his hand.
'Please. Although I have lost a great deal on this trip – Kiron, Leran - and I have given up the dearest possession a Venddonian can own – it is thanks to you that I have my life. And I can carry the memory of my husband with me for always. You have shown me that I can never lose that.'
© 1998 Mark Phippen