In the swirling vortex where space and time collide, the TARDIS sped on its way to the planet Earth. Despite the fact that he had been exiled there during his previous incarnation, the Doctor still maintained it to be one of his favorite planets, which had become all too apparent to his current companion, Jason. It seemed to him that the Time Lord was always extolling the virtues of the Earth and/or one of its select inhabitants.
Much to the Doctor's annoyance, it wasn't the planet's rich, if off-times violent, history that interested the young man. Instead, he had become fascinated with the abundant idiomatic expressions, particularly those from the United States. The Doctor was uncertain if this was a true interest, or if the boy was doing it simply to exasperate him.
They had tried to visit Earth before, having set course for one destination or another on numerous occasions. But for one reason or another, the journey always seemed to be getting postponed. Now, finally it seemed as though they would actually make it. Earth was only two days away.
Jason Krystovan had been traveling with the Doctor for quite some time and, while he would not have admitted it openly, had grown rather attached to him. The slight, black-haired youth looked to be no more than nineteen years old; a wide-eyed innocent, which was anything but the truth. There had been times, however, when he felt very much like an innocent in the Time Lord's company, despite the fact that he was more than one hundred years old. Jason was, in fact, an Alterran; a being with the ability to change his physical form at will. Although he did not care for the designation, he was a shape shifter whose current human appearance was simply an illusion he utilized to conceal his true, non-humanoid self.
The Doctor and his companion were currently in one of the laboratories inside the enormous interior of the TARDIS. The Time Lord had discovered, quite by accident, that Jason was telepathic and had asked if he might test him further to see just how extensive his abilities were. Ever willing to try anything his friend suggested, Jason agreed, discovering too late that he was letting himself in for an intensive training course in which he was the sole participant.
As a Time Lord, and therefore telepathic himself, the Doctor taught his companion everything he knew on the subject, which turned out to be a considerable amount. Once the majority of his training was complete, the Doctor went on to test Jason's progress, connecting him, by way of a number of electronic leads, into K-9's circuitry. K-9, in turn, was linked into the telepathy circuits in the TARDIS' central control console.
The testing had gone well until the day the Doctor chose to see if the Alterran had any telekinetic ability. For reasons he could not explain at the time, Jason found it very difficult to concentrate and managed to make one careless mistake after another, invalidating the data, and annoying the Doctor no end.
At times Jason's silicon-based body structure worked in the same manner as a computer circuit. During one test he inadvertently sent a stronger than normal electrical charge through the leads attached to his head, shorting out K-9 and ending the experiment in a rather permanent way.
The Doctor was appalled when the little automation started to smoke. He compounded the damage by using a fire extinguisher on the smoldering circuits. He was about to reprimand his companion for being so blatantly careless when he saw him close his eyes and put a hand to his head in obvious pain.
"Jason, are you alright?" he asked concernedly.
"What…?" Jason looked up fuzzily. "I'm sorry, Doctor. It's just…I've got such a splitting headache all of a sudden."
"My dear boy, why on earth didn't you say so? I wouldn't've pushed you so hard," the Time Lord admonished gently. "You're looking a bit green, too, if you don't mind my saying so." He then ushered his companion from the room, ordering him to lie down for awhile.
"I've tried everything I can think of, Dr. Albert, and I istill/i can't get the wretched thing open," a dark, burly man named Carl was saying.
The person to whom he spoke was Dr. Francesca Albert, the recently appointed Director of the Freeland Oceanographic Center. She was a petite, red-haired woman, who adored her work more than anything. Especially men. Equality between the sexes was only in its infancy on her planet, and she liked to think of herself as being one of the pioneers of the movement. The fact that she was extremely intelligent, a dedicated scientist, and had influential friends in high places didn't hurt, either.
At the present moment she was scowling at the ivory chest Carl had brought into the conference room. Across the table from her sat the Center's Chief of Security, Alex Grove; a tall, muscular individual who towered over the petite oceanographer. He was a cheerful man who enjoyed teasing the sometimes too serious Dr. Albert. The two had been discussing the chest only moments before Carl arrived.
The mystery box, as it had been dubbed by the staff, had been discovered by one of the Center's diving teams only a few weeks earlier when they were checking an offshore reef for damage following an earthquake. A large area in the substrata had given way exposing the area where the chest was eventually unearthed.
The reef itself was a scientific curiosity, being unlike any other in the immediate area. The founder of the Freeland Center had dedicated his life trying to find the reason one extremely rare species of coral had chosen to settle in a spot that was several hundred miles from its place of origin.
After thirty years, Dr. Freeland, and those who had taken over his work, were no closer to finding the answer—and now they had a new mystery on their hands. After the unexpected find had been carefully cleaned, it bore no signs of wear or corrosion anywhere. Were it not for the years of coral and other marine growth that had to be scraped off, Dr. Albert would have sworn it had been planted as a hoax. Even now she was not convinced as to its authenticity as a genuine archaeological find. It could easily have been planted as a joke when Dr. Freeland began his studies and was simply forgotten. This latter theory could be either proved or disproved by the fact that the chest had symbols etched in it that matched those inside a pagan temple atop a cliff overlooking the sea basin where it had been found. Some said the symbols did nothing more than prove it to be a fake, while others claimed they proved it to be genuine. A theory that was starting to look more and more likely as all attempts to open the chest failed.
"Well, what do we do now? Blow it up?" the Director asked in exasperation.
Carl shot Alex a quick nervous glance before saying, "I've…uh, already tried explosives, Dr. Albert. They didn't even put a scratch on it."
Dr. Albert's face went almost as red as her hair. "You did what!" she exploded, jumping to her feet. "On whose authority—?"
"I authorized it," Alex Grove cut in sharply.
Carl saw the fire in the Director's eyes burn even brighter and was glad he was no longer on the receiving end of it.
"Mr. Grove," she began in an unnervingly calm and icy tone, "in the future, you will leave all decisions of this nature to me. Is that clear?"
"There was no harm done—"
"I said, is that clear, Mr. Grove?" the Director demanded.
"Yes, Dr. Albert, that's perfectly clear," the Security Chief replied through clenched teeth.
Dr. Albert turned to Carl, who was wishing he were anywhere else. "Alright, Carl, you've done your best."
"I suppose now we bring in a locksmith and let him have a go?" Alex suggested helpfully. "After all, he's got…what? Fifteen holes to choose from?"
His superior gave him a disapproving sideways glance.
Carl cleared his throat nervously. "Where do you want me to put it until the, er, locksmith arrives?"
Dr. Albert sighed, scowling at the box and then turning to Alex. "Well, Mr. Grove? What should we do with it? Where's the safest place?"
Resisting the urge to comment on being asked for a decision, he replied thoughtfully, "We'd better put it back in the vault. Even if it turns out to be just a block of stone carved to look like a chest, it's still of historical value."
Carl nodded and carried the heavy mystery box from the room. Alex rose to his feet, pulling a card key from his pocket. "I'd better go unlock the vault for him."
"It probably is just a hunk of rock," the oceanographer muttered dejectedly.
"Who knows? It's something for the history books, though, isn't it?" Alex observed as he left the room.
Dr. Albert sat on the edge of the table and brooded. She held degrees in oceanography, marine biology, and zoology; was a dedicated scientist who had been studying the sea and its abundant life for as long as she could remember. And what did she have to show for it? A chest of questionable origins that nobody could open!
Alex caught up with Carl at the vault, slipping his card key into the slot and opening the door. "It'll be nice and safe in there, don't you think, Carl?" he grinned.
The burly man shook his head in amazement. "How can you take that from her and still be so damn cheerful?"
Alex laughed. "She's just mad because I thought of the explosives first."
"Women got no business in charge of a place like this," Carl snorted as he exited the vault.
This remark only caused Alex to laugh again. "You didn't know our last Director, did you? He once told me he was nothing more than a glorified secretary, filling out forms all day. He said that's why he recommended Dr. Albert for the job."
Jason awoke from a restless sleep feeling worse than ever. His head was pounding, every muscle in his body ached and he felt extremely weak. He suddenly noticed his hands had a distinctive greenish cast and caught his breath. One look in the mirror confirmed his own diagnosis. He had Draconian flu.
"Oh no…" the horrified Alterran breathed, putting a hand to his mottled green face. Still in his pajamas and dressing gown, he stumbled to the door and out into the corridor. His room was not in the usual living area of the TARDIS, having been a disused laboratory the Doctor had reconfigured at his request, thus transforming it into the combination lab/bedroom it now was. It was only a few doors down from where he had left the Doctor, but when he opened the door, he found, to his chagrin, but for the now deactivated K-9 the room was empty.
"Console room…" Jason muttered as he turned from the door. "Must be in…console room."
Unfortunately, the console room was much farther away than he would have liked. Halfway there, Jason became very dizzy. The floor seemed to pitch and buck beneath his bare feet causing him to grab the wall to keep from falling. After a few more faltering steps, he sank to the floor, feeling dead tired. He leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes to rest a minute…
Jason awoke with a start and cursed himself for having fallen asleep. He tried to stand, only to discover his legs couldn't hold his weight any longer. With no other alternative, he proceeded to crawl on hands and knees, now desperate to reach the console room where he prayed the Doctor would be.
The Doctor was indeed in the console room, checking on their progress. He wanted to make doubly sure everything was in order and hummed tunelessly as he went, feeling rather pleased at how well everything was going. Looking over the controls one last time his eyes fell on the open telepathy circuits, which reminded him of his companion, whom he had not seen since ordering him to bed several hours earlier. Since they would be unable to continue the tests until K-9 was repaired, he reached over to close the circuit only to stop when he thought he heard a muffled thudding on the inner door. Puzzled, the Doctor went to the door and slowly pushed it open, finding Jason's prostrate form on the other side.