PART 5. '...We Say Goodbye'.
Like an angel, or one of the legendary Valkyries, the Buffybot flew, graceful, unmoving and motionless in the air, the space station's hangar floor unreeling beneath her as if she was the centre of the Universe and all else moved while she stayed still. In freefall, but forwards, horizontally, rather than vertically downwards, she glided towards the far end of the hangar, where the Anastasia, crowded with passengers, stood waiting for Colonel Dan Dare to open the airlock door and let her free. Floating like an all-seeing camera she approached her destination, as a few poorly aimed blaster shots from the Daleks passed her by, missing by the proverbial miles, just scorching the paintwork and leaving little random pits and scars in the metal ceiling.
The airlock drew closer. It was nearly on her. She was nearly there. She did a complicated, balletic, twisting movement in the air - pulling in her arms and legs, and then shooting them out again in a certain order, making her body change orientation, spinning round so that she could land on the end wall feet first beside the airlock, at right angles to the floor and to Colonel Dare, rather than on her pretty little head like a shop dummy, or a stupid old Auton!
Like hitting a bull's-eye she touched down right smack dab in front of the Colonel, sinking into a squatting position so she could grab the airlock handle and prevent herself from bouncing helplessly off again.
#Hello, Colonel Dare,# she said with a delightful smile, #I just dropped in to lend you a hand!#
And once again the Colonel's heart did little flip-flops!
In the Anastasia, Major Lafayette roared #Now!# into his suit radio, and at his bellowed command gravity abruptly returned. There followed a long, horrendous, protracted, inaudible crash as dozens and dozens of weightless Daleks, some of whom had secretly just been starting to enjoy the sensation of being airborne, were suddenly reminded they were never designed to fly!
#Duck, Marvin!# called the Doctor nonchalantly into the Anastasia's radio.
#Quack!# came the reply after a split-second's thoughtful pause. #Now he tells me! And I suppose you want me to sweep up the mess as well!#
#Zey are all yours, Monsieur Marvin,# Major Lafayette replied jovially. #You may even 'ave ze scrap metal rights if you wish. Per'aps zat will cheer you up, no? And now, Ma'mselle Buffybot, can you get us out of 'ere before any more of zese Daleks appear?#
#Pas de problem, M. le Commander,# she replied, stepping down off the wall and landing on her feet the right way up on the floor beside Colonel Dare. Without further ado she grabbed the recalcitrant lever next to where he was holding it, and said #One, two, three, Now!# There was a moment's pause while they both exerted all their strength, and then it swung round abruptly, and promptly snapped off, clean as a whistle!
#Oops!# said the Buffybot. #Oh well, at least it's unlatched now.# She casually tossed the broken airlock handle away over her shoulder and simply yanked the huge door open by brute force.
#There!# she said. #Will that do?# She glanced at the Colonel, who's expression had to be seen to be believed. #What?# she said sharply. #You wanted it open, didn't you?#
Dan Dare shut his mouth carefully, and nodded, smiling weakly.
#Wonderful, Miss Buffybot. Just what we needed. Er, shall we get back in the ship now? I'm not quite sure if we can get it to close again behind us, though.#
#We can try locking the outer door shut again when we're clear, but it won't matter anyhow, Colonel Dan, sir,# Digby said from the Anastasia, # - there'll still be a vacuum both inside and out anyway, at least until the station's repaired,#.
The Colonel's worried expression cleared. #Of course. Good thinking, Dig. Stand by, we're coming aboard immediately.#
Three minutes later the Anastasia, now crammed to the gunwales with crew and passengers, was floating free outside the space station. The outer airlock door was closing, and Colonel Dare was in the pilot's seat again, with Spaceman Digby back in his usual co-pilot's position.
"I'm deploying our weapon, Pierre," the Colonel said, and from the right hand side of the bow of the little space ship a panel opened and a strange, complicated device unfolded into position. "It's something new that we haven't fired in anger before, but I was promised it would be most impressive.
"All right," he continued, "the Daleks don't know we're out yet. Now we'll just slide discreetly round to the other side of the station, pop our heads up and give them a nasty little surprise. Is everybody ready?"
Everyone either nodded or gave the traditional thumbs up sign.
"Right, then. Hold onto your braces folks, we're going round right... Now!"
At only slightly more than walking speed, the shiny little spacecraft passed across the blind side of the space station, out of sight of the Daleks' ship, and cautiously popped its nose out, unobserved. When everyone could see what had happened they all gasped in surprise, except for the Doctor of course, for hard against the outer skin of the space station's hangar deck was a strange angular spaceship nearly half the size of the entire station itself!
"Strewth!" "Will you look at that?" "What a monstrosity!" people exclaimed simultaneously.
"How on Earth were they were able to sneak right up to us without being spotted?" Professor Peabody asked. "Do you really think they've got a way of making their ship invisible and undetectable?"
"By gum. I can't see how else they were able to attack us, and us not seeing them, without that were true, Miss," said Digby.
"Fascinating," the Doctor said. "I've never actually seen the exterior of one of their ships before. Ugly looking thing, isn't it? I imagine it could tell you a lot about their psychology."
"Blow their psychology, Doctor - what I really care about is their tactical awareness. In other words, are they keeping a proper lookout?" said Colonel Dare.
"I don't think that's their style, Colonel. All they're ever really concerned with is their goal of universal domination. I think their motto, if they had one, would probably be 'Never look back'. Literally!"
"Fine by me, sir," said Digby rubbing his hands together. "It's so big I don't think as we could miss it with our eyes shut!"
"I have no intention of doing that!" the Colonel told him succinctly, charging up their weapon.
And then the unexpected happened (as it always seems to!)
#Space station SFJ2 calling Anastasia, space station to Anastasia. Major Lafayette, sir? Unidentified ships approaching. Advise you prepare for possible attack!"
The station responded with a set of co-ordinates and Digby peered through the binoculars in the direction indicated.
"Any luck, Digby?" the Colonel asked.
"Not yet, Colonel Dan, the angle is rather too close to the sun. Can you ask for the range, please sir?"
#Three hundred miles, and closing very fast,# the space station control room replied. #We're transmitting a challenge on the standard radio frequency, but we have no response yet.#
#Keep trying zem,# said Pierre Lafayette, #and let me know as soon as you get any sort of a signal in reply.#
#Aye, aye, sir.#
"I think I can see something," Digby exclaimed, standing up in his seat in order to press the binoculars firmly against the Plexiglas to steady them. "Two, no, three small ships, and one much larger."
There was a pause, while everyone absorbed this information. Then he added cheerfully "I can only see them end-on against the sunlight, sir, but they seem to be coloured green."
There was a brief pause. Then the Colonel's expression suddenly changed. His concerned look cleared and all the Space Fleet people burst into a cheer, baffling both the Buffybot and the Doctor, who looked at each other in mutual bewilderment and shrugged their shoulders.
"So do I assume you know who it might be?" the Doctor enquired, as everyone else now looked quite elated, even jubilant.
"Mais oui, M. le Docteur," said the Station Commander happily, "old friends, and old enemies," he added, confusingly. At the Time Lord's baffled look he smiled and said, "you will see, you will see. And you will be amazed, mes amis!"
"Hey, don't spoil the surprise, Pierre!" Dan Dare said over his shoulder and then squinted down the gunsight again, all his attention once more turned on the Dalek ship. "I'm ready to fire now. Hang onto your braces, folks!" In his right hand he raised the firing grip on a long, thin cable like a camera release, carefully placed his thumb in position, and gently squeezed the button.
There was a blinding flash and a brilliant energy beam flashed out and struck the Dalek spacecraft amidships, punching a hole straight through the outer hull, and causing fiery mayhem inside the ship. Within seconds beams came blasting back at them, but the Anastasia had already moved, and the retaliatory fire missed them by a good long way.
"Yah, boo, sucks!" exclaimed spaceman Digby, thumbing his nose at the Dalek craft. "You missed!"
"Hold her steady while I take another shot, Dig!" the Colonel said calmly, and the fat one instantly had his hands on the controls again, gently lining up the little Anastasia again with the delicate touch of someone handling a baby.
"He's very good, you know - very good indeed," said Colonel Dare to the others without turning his head a single degree. "I'd trust his piloting over anyone else's."
"Ee, thank you, Colonel Dan. Excepting your own, of course, sir," said Digby, lightly touching the controls again and stopping the slight swing of the ship, leaving it motionless and in perfect alignment.
"You see? Here we go again - fire!"
There was another brilliant flash, and this time the enemy responded immediately with a massive broadside of blasts from all over their craft. Some came very close, one or two actually scorching the 'Annie's' hull as Digby skidded the little ship sideways and backwards to avoid being hit.
Then another blast-beam flashed past them from their rear, over their shoulder as it were, and hit the hull of the Dalek vessel square on, causing a huge plume of smoke and fragments to explode outwards from the point of impact.
"That was the Seventh Cavalry, wasn't it?" Professor Peabody said excitedly.
"It was indeed," the Colonel told her. "Jolly good shot too - they're still a good hundred miles away."
"The Daleks' craft looks as if it's moving," said the Doctor. "I think they are trying to disengage. Yes, look, it's reversing away from the hole they punched through into the interior of your space station."
They watched as the heavily damaged alien ship began to pull itself clear of Space Station SFJ2, and started to slew round so that its rear end pointed towards the Anastasia. It was immediately clear that the hangar deck had a huge gash in its outer skin.
"Beware the radiation from their power units!" the Doctor exclaimed. "I don't know how dangerous it might be, but I would assume the worst! It would be just like them to try to damage you as they made a run for it!"
But Digby, well trained, was already moving their ship back into the cover of the space station, and so they missed seeing the sudden shimmering that enveloped the Daleks' craft before it became invisible again and made its escape. A final parting shot from the four approaching ships merely cut through the empty space it had just vacated, and continued on towards the farthest stars.
"Treens? From Venus, eh?" said the Doctor, craning his neck to look up at their leader. "You have impeccable timing, my friend."
"This is Governor Sondar, their leader. He became our ally when we were captured by their original leader, the Mekon, and scheduled as subjects for experimentation," said the Colonel.
"Ooh, nasty!" the Buffybot exclaimed.
"It is a long story, Doctor," said the unsmiling seven foot Treen, whose skin colour was that of fresh grass, "and I would not wish to bore you with it all."
"No, no. I promise you I would love to hear all about it," the Doctor assured him, vigorously shaking his rather large hand.
"So," said the Buffybot casually, "not-so-little green men! You can see why the idea is so popular, can't you? Do you suppose I could have one for Christmas?" She offered her neat little hand to him in her turn.
Governor Sondar looked down at her uncertainly - Treens are not known for their sense of humour. He frowned, puzzled.
"I sense you are different from the other Earth females, Miss Buffybot. Why might that be?" he enquired politely.
"Oh, it's a long story," she said mischievously, still holding his hand, "but I hope I can have the chance to bore you with it later, perhaps just the two of us?" She gave him her most winsome smile, and his face went a slightly deeper green, which is how Treens blush, though most humans wouldn't notice, or recognise it as such if they did see it.
He bowed deeply, to everyone's surprise, especially that of Colonel Dare. It was quite obvious he was completely smitten, on the spot so-to-speak, just as the Colonel himself had been.
"Careful, my dear," the Doctor said, grinning, "you'll be making Marvin jealous!"
The Buffybot frowned.
"Why would Marvin be bothered?" She paused, then looked around thoughtfully. "That reminds me - does anyone know where our favourite Paranoid Android's got to? Has anyone seen him recently?"
"I thought we left him to sweep up the mess on the hangar deck, didn't we?"
"I haven't seen him since the Daleks made a run for it. Anyone here...?"
There was a general shrugging of shoulders, and the Buffybot looked mildly concerned. She switched on her internal radio again and called out to him, but there was no response.
"I don't understand it - he's not replying. I hope nothing's happened to him. Life wouldn't be the same without our Marvin," she said, suddenly anxious. She tried again, but with the same result.
"OK. We've got to find him," said the Buffybot firmly, and within a few minutes search parties were being urgently organised and despatched to look for him, everywhere from the topmost deck of the space station to the deepest storage sections below the hangar deck.
But although the hunt was conducted high and low, and every single compartment of Space Station SFJ2 was thoroughly examined, after two whole hours not a single sign of their favourite depressed robot had been found. The only clues left behind were a broken broom, and an unswept layer of Dalek fragments up to a foot thick, scattered across the floor of the main hangar.
As Professor Jocelyn Peabody described it most eloquently - "'He had softly and silently vanished away...'"
By now the Buffybot was in tears. In their travels she had become strangely fond of the old Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robot, with his prototype 'Genuine People Personality', of which he was so perversely proud, although he complained about life all the time.
"Life! Don't talk to me about life!" he would say, and his companions would laugh, or tell him to shut up, or simply ignore him. And now he had completely dissappeared without a trace.
"Where else could he have gone, Colonel?" the Doctor asked eventually when they were all gathered on the command deck again, totally exhausted after their frantic searching. "There is only a limited number of places he could have been, and we have now thoroughly checked every single one. If he was still on the Station we'd have found him, surely?"
"Regretfully, I have to agree with you, Doctor," said Colonel Dare slowly, "and as I think it's unlikely that he left it of his own accord, the only conclusion I can come to is that your Dalek friends took him with them when they made a run for it."
"He's even more artificial than they are, by all accounts. Although it's not my field, I can imagine they would be absolutely fascinated by that," said the Professor. "My guess is that if they could have captured you too," she added, passing the Buffybot a handkerchief, "by this time we would have been wondering where you'd got to as well."
"Poor old Marvin. Kidnapped! It's so not fair - I didn't even have a chance to say goodbye!" said the Buffybot tearfully, and blew her nose loudly.
"Damn!" said the Doctor. "I've only just realised. With all that advanced technology inside him, it probably means that before you know it the Daleks will have learned how to go up and down stairs!
"Anyway, we must try to look on the bright side, my dear. He's a survivor. He's almost bound to turn up eventually, somewhere he's least expected, probably still with that terrible pain in all the diodes down his left side."
He patted the forlorn Buffybot gently on the back, as one would with a little child.
"Listen," he continued, in an effort to cheer her up. "He's been kidnapped before, you know. Did he ever tell you about the time he was stolen by the Galactic President, along with a brand new prototype spaceship?
"And did you know that he once admitted to me that he used to have a backup personality, but it was even more depressed than he was - so much so that it eventually self-destructed, and he's done without ever since? You see, he really is a survivor.
"Here, do you fancy a jelly baby? They're very comforting in a crisis."
He slipped his arm reassuringly through hers, and they slowly walked away to the viewports to look at the stars.
Colonel Dan Dare turned to his companions.
"I just hope," he said quietly, "that our 'friend' the Mekon never meets the Daleks. That really would be a partnership made in Hell!"