Is There a Doctor in the Quadrant?
With a rhythmic series of wheezing, grinding thumps, the blue booth phased into reality again, its time-displacement engine falling silent as the flashing light on the booth's roof shut off. Inside the construct, a lone occupant frowned worriedly at the few displays still lit.
The machine's available power reserves stood barely at eight percent, hardly enough to keep life support running, much less to reenter timeshift. Or spatial relocation. Or electrocute a Grandabulan swamp gnat if it hit a live wire, for that matter. The slender man ran a hand through his thick, dark hair as he exhaled gustily. His neatly-tailored suit was pressed but showed a few rumples—his exit from realspace had been somewhat hurried, after all—and was quite well set off by his bright orange, rubber-toed sneakers.
"Well, nothing for it but to open a window and take a look about," he murmured to himself. "Open sesame, old girl."
And with his hands jammed firmly in the pockets of his suit jacket, the Doctor pirouetted about to peer into the viewer. To hear his voice, an observer would have sworn that the Doctor was as unconcerned as could be, but in actuality, he was quite concerned, bordering on "agitated" and within eyesight of "frightened." The last reliable readings indicated that somehow, the convergence of multiple beams of energy of different types upon his ship at the same time he engaged the time-space transference, coupled with some odd, alien energy surge, had caused the TARDIS to "fall through" some kind of interdimensional rift. Again.
"Oh, yes, and let's not forget how that turned out," the Doctor mumbled to himself, eyebrows raised and lips pursed as he eyed the screen. "Cybermen gadding about between two Earths, Daleks vaporizing everything they saw. Who knows what I've stumbled into this time?"
The TARDIS' scan of the immediate area indicated a breathable atmosphere, gravitational acceleration approximately one tenth greater than Earth standard, and a lot of metal. Metal walls, metal floors, metal ceilings, metal spacecraft. Metal. Everywhere. Hopefully it precluded attacks by hostile vegetation, but that little bonus was negated by the possibility of attacks by technologically-minded (read "armed") life forms.
But that was of a much lesser concern now than the wound ripped in the boundary between the Doctor's universe and this one, wherever it was. It was also of a lesser concern than the fact that at the time of his interdimensional kerfuffle, he was being pursued by exceptionally hostile, heavily armed, and quite irritated beings who wanted nothing more or less than his head removed from his body. If they were indeed still pursuing him, then the risk that they would pour through this rift was very real, and so was the threat that the contact between the universes would cause the collapse…of everything.
"First, to find out where and when I am. Luckily, I already know Who and what I am. Two out of five is not bad at all, is it?" He turned his gaze back to the TARDIS' control panel and flipped a few switches. Frowning, he reconsidered and returned some of the switches to their original positions, flicking others in their stead. Pausing to make sure all his necessary gear was secure in his pocket, the Doctor opened the door of the TARDIS and sauntered out.
"As far as 'how' I am, if only it stood for 'This Apparatus Remains Dimensionally In Situ,' I would be most happy," he corrected.
The giant starship's onboard sensors registered an unusual power surge within one of the main hangar bays, but the ship's commander registered an unusual hollowness, a distinct lack of power, of substance, of anything. Unseen behind his visor, the man's scarred brows furrowed in thought. Try as he might, he could not pierce the veil of nonexistence that was even now making its way through the hangar bay. It moved slowly, as a man might walk if he were gawking mindlessly at tourist attractions. There was the faintest hint of some kind of consciousness as a mind might have if a brain could be equipped with a cloaking device.
Intruder alarms had not yet sounded, which boded ill for the technicians manning the security consoles, but for the time being, this matter might best be handled in a most personal manner.
Rising from his meditations, his labored breathing loud and ominous in the darkness of his chamber, Lord Darth Vader strode forth to find that which dared intrude upon his ship.
The steady thrumming drone of engines told the Doctor that he was aboard a ship. How large a ship, he could not yet say, but given the number of landing, assault, and sundry craft berthed within it, the vessel would easily be the size of a small city. The clattering of boots on the deck plates rapped out an unsteady rhythm, one which the Doctor translated to mean, "Discretion is the better part of poking one's nose into places unknown."
From a secluded spot behind some shipping containers—metal, of course—he watched some technicians in nondescript coveralls poring over data readers and discussing their next chores. The uniformity of their clothing and presence of some kind of insignia informed the Doctor that he was most likely on some form of military vessel, but despite the human-seeming crewmen, it was of no fleet or planetary body he had seen before. That was saying something, of course; the Doctor, in his various incarnations, had accumulated something over nine hundred years of experience and for the life of him, he could place neither the accents, insignia, or anything he had seen so far. So perhaps it's not just a matter of where I am, but when, d'you think? Well, where and when.
It was a given that he had traversed some kind of dimensional boundary, that much had been confirmed before the TARDIS' systems had shut off. Rather than just a parallel universe, however, this one seemed to be a few generations removed from his. The technology, while accomplishing the same things that machines from his universe could, seemed to go about it in different ways. Something tickled the Doctor's brain. Mildly telepathic, the Time Lord could generally receive thoughts and emotions from others; with physical contact, he could even manipulate another's mind somewhat. But this was different. He frowned and chewed his lip. It felt like another presence was coming closer to him, emanating energy like a torch would shed heat and light. But the opposite, he mused. The approaching entity was radiating cold, darkness…evil. And it was getting closer by the moment.
He drew the sonic screwdriver and twiddled the controls briefly before panning it about the area. When it showed him that what he wanted was (possibly) in a room off in that direction, he made for it as quickly as he could. He wasn't seeking shelter; if he could detect that presence, it stood to reason it could detect him in turn and hiding would just box him into a corner from which he'd most likely not escape. Flight would be a better choice until he could figure out exactly what was happening, and he couldn't move about this titanic ship until he had…
…clothes. The Doctor's face lit up. His sonic screwdriver's sensor functions had led him right to what he needed most. He was in a locker room filled with an array of coveralls, boots, and all sorts of wonderful things he could use to disguise himself.
A grating, raucous alarm began to fill the air, nearly sending the Doctor leaping out of his sneakers. Someone had obviously found the TARDIS. His hand flew to his pocket; sighing in relief, he remembered locking it before he left. At least nobody would gain access to it, and even though they might succeed in relocating it, an outdated Type 40 shaped as an old London police call box shouldn't be all that hard to find.
Grabbing a set of overalls that appeared to be the right size, the Doctor began to shuck his suit just in time for a quartet of white-armored humanoids to burst in on him, rifles aimed at his chest. "Don't move," one of them said through his electronic voicebox.
For a horrifying second, the Doctor thought that he had been confronted by a new iteration of Cybermen, version 3.2 or some such, but he could see faint variations in their movements as they aimed their weapons at him; some aimed higher, some lower, and as they stood there, their weapons moved slightly. They were merely armored humanoids, possibly even humans, rather than cybernetic murder machines. It made him feel ever so slightly more hopeful.
"Oh. Well. Good…" The Doctor looked for a chronometer on the walls before realizing he didn't know how the locals would tell time. "Good day. Or evening. Whichever it is, have a good one."
"Keep your hands up and come with us." Two of the men backed out the door while the other two moved to flank the Doctor. Thus positioned, the Time Lord moved through the door and into the presence of the dark manifestation he had felt earlier.
Somewhat over two meters tall, the black-garbed humanoid looked down at the Doctor. The triangular grille over the man's nose and mouth; the reflective onyx lenses that presumably covered the man's eyes; the augmented breathing…whatever this man was, the Doctor thought, he most likely was a man no longer.
"You are the one who owns that unusual vessel in our hangar bay," the massive form intoned.
The Doctor looked to the side in contemplation, pursed his lips, and bobbed his head in a mixture of thought and affirmation. "Yup." He put on his most disarming smile.
"Why are you here?"
Seeing that his interrogator was not disarmed, the Doctor stowed his smile. "Would you believe I got lost?"
"Well, neither did I, and once I explain myself, perhaps you'll believe me, too, hm?"
"Doubtful. Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor. Who are you?"
"A doctor. A doctor of what?"
"Oh, it's my turn to guess?" the Doctor exclaimed. "So you're a doctor, too, you say. Let me guess. You're a doctor of music!"
The larger man bristled. "I am not a doctor, nor did I say I was one. The Rebellion sent you. Where is your base?"
"Re—…rebellion? I haven't rebelled against anyone since I got my T—" Best not to say too much, especially to him. "Well, it's been a while, and certainly not against you. How can I rebel against you when I don't even know who you are?"
The Doctor felt waves of rage washing over him, emanating from this psychic black hole that leeched life and light from everything around him. A black-gloved hand raised and clenched itself into a claw. The Time Lord felt a tingling tickle at the sides of his throat, but nothing more.
"Oh, now this is a unique sensation," the Doctor noted. "Is that one of your powers? The ability to inflict tonsillitis on someone? I hate to be the one to inform you, although I really don't because given your attitude, I enjoy telling you this, but you'll have no effect on me. No tonsils. See?" He opened his mouth wide and said, "Aaah" for the Sith Lord's benefit.
Vader withdrew his hand, perplexed and enraged. How could this buffoon be immune to the Force? There was nothing in the man's aura that would hint at any kind of skill with the Force, either as Sith or Jedi or even a Force-sensitive. For that matter, Vader could barely sense him through the Force at all, despite the fact that he could be seen and heard and touched. Whatever this "doctor" was, he was at least an enigma and at most, a dire threat to the Empire. "Take this person to a holding cell and schedule an interrogation as soon as he is there. I would know his secrets."
"Ah, I wouldn't do that, if I were in your place," the Doctor objected as the troopers began to herd him away. "You see, your best bet is to simply allow me to regenerate the power in my ship's systems so I can be safely on my way. Otherwise, there's a very real risk that the rift between your world and mine will widen and much worse than me can come through."
Vader nearly lost his temper and laid hands on the Doctor, but he kept his composure. "You dare threaten the Empire?"
"Me? Threaten something so obviously important as an empire? Although I have been known to topple them on occasion, I would never threaten one," the Doctor said, somehow being both aghast and intimidating at once.
The Dark Lord was close to a dangerous breach of self-control. This infuriating simpleton had the gall to infiltrate the Empire's flagship then insult Vader to his face. Had they been alone, Vader would undoubtedly have drawn his lightsaber and slain the Doctor where he stood, but before the assembled stormtroopers and technicians, he dared not. Yet. Not only would it seem that Vader could be angered to the point of lashing out by someone's idea of a court jester—which would be bad for appearances—but the intruder, this "doctor," just might have information vital to the Empire, such as how the Rebellion had managed to infiltrate the Executor's systems with that blue box.
"But in reality, the threat does not come from me this time. Not yet, anyway. You see, I am fairly certain that I'm here by accident. Well, I'm entirely certain, but I mean to say that the mechanics by which I entered your universe were accidental. Fairly well understood, of course, because I am the Doctor, you see, but the interactions of the forces involved were…"
"Silence!" Vader roared, sending the Doctor back a step in surprise. "You will be interrogated, your ship dismantled, and any secrets you have will be ours. But most of all, you will be silent!"
"Well, if you insist," the Doctor replied, brightening immensely. "Off we go, then. Which way to my cell, please? Is it this way? Close to the galley, I hope? A little tea would be nice." He began walking toward a doorway, hands still in the air, prompting two stormtroopers to intercept him and send him through the right door.
Vader whirled on two technicians. "Begin scans of that blue box in the hangar bay. Report anything you find, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Concentrate on finding a way inside it by whatever means necessary, and from there, download anything and everything that may be in its memory banks. I will know how this intruder boarded my ship!"
Darth Vader had cooled down somewhat by the time he arrived in the Doctor's cell, an interrogation droid hovering nearby. He waved the guards out and the door slid shut, leaving the Sith Lord face to face with the Time Lord.
"Now then," the Doctor said cheerfully, "what would you like to talk about?"
"I will learn what I need to know easily enough," Vader rumbled. "The interrogator will administer the medicines and the questions and you will supply the answers."
The Doctor whipped a pair of plastic framed glasses from his pocket and peered at the hovering black droid, appearing to be nothing but a steel ball with a syringe jutting from it. "Oh, pharmaceutical questioning. Very nasty. And I'm to assume that after you question me, there will be little enough left of me to throw to the vultures, yes?"
"If you are fortunate."
"Pardon me, but 'fortunate' appears to be a relative term."
Mechanically-assisted breathing was the Doctor's only answer.
The Doctor likewise paused. When it was obvious that the Dark Lord was not going to speak, the Doctor leaped into the breach. "This is the part where you wait for your intimidation tactics to wear me down, isn't it? Not going to work, sad to say," he lamented, shaking his head. "I know you've probably heard these lines before, things like, 'I've been from here to there and seen this and that and you can't possibly guess what' and so forth, but in my case, allow me to assure you that it is most definitely true, sir. I have been tortured by Daleks, Cybermen, Vogans, and my very own people on one dark occasion, and in addition to the psychological effects of such a betrayal, the physical travails have proven survivable, though painful.
"Oh, I'm quite certain you'll try your best," the Doctor continued. "You'll apply your electricity, hot wires, psychedelic hallucinogenic unhygienic what-have-yous, and all kinds of mental mayhem. I don't doubt that at all. All in the name of your glorious empire and its ever-expanding conquest, the devouring of all before you and the total disregard of individual liberties, thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Quashed in the feeding frenzy of expansion and domination without a thought as to what you're snuffing out in the process. Feel free to try to add me to the list of the conquered, but understand that although you may add the name 'Doctor' to the roll of the recently deceased, you will never be able to conquer me."
Now Vader did lash out. With one powerful arm, he pinned the Doctor to a wall, his orange sneakers dangling a foot off the deck. "You ramble like some kind of madman…"
"Not 'some' kind. One of the best."
"…but you have still managed to get past not only the Executor's shields but several layers of internal security. How?"
"I have my ways," the Doctor admitted. "But it would be greatly appreciated if you would just understand that it was accidental. You see, a surge of energies, vastly different energies, not all of which I'm certain were native to my universe, conspired with my ship's engines to bring me willy-nilly through the spaces between dimensions to pop up within your rather impressive ship."
Vader let the Doctor hang a moment longer before letting the Time Lord back down with a jarring thump. There was a nugget of truth, or at least identifiable fact, in the intruder's babbling. Not long before Vader had sensed the alien presence, teams of scientists aboard the Imperial flagship had been forced to abort an experiment in a hypothetical method of transporting objects instantly from one space to another. Similar to teleportation in theory, but with the added potential of traveling in time. It was highly probable that the experiment had provided at least one tangible benefit: this alien and his ship, if that blue contraption could be graced with the designation "ship."
"Well. Perhaps I made an impression on that ebony edifice atop your rather impressively broad, cloaked shoulders, hm?"
"Rather than waste my time interrogating you myself, I will put you at the disposal of our engineers," Vader mused, almost distracted. "No doubt you would be of great use to them."
"Oh, no doubt I would be," the Doctor agreed. "If I chose to cooperate. And I don't think I shall. Thank you for asking, even though you didn't."
It seemed for a moment that a mirthless smile touched Vader's face behind the gleaming black faceplate. "I believe you shall. With your puerile meanderings, you have betrayed your weakness. I will not slay you if you refuse to assist me. I will find others to stand in your stead until you agree to cooperate."
The Doctor very nearly spat, "You wouldn't dare," before he realized that this demonic shadow before him most assuredly would dare. "I would advise against that for several reasons. The first reason would be that you would become one of my greatest enemies, and that is not conducive to a prolonged existence. The second would be that the gap between our realities still exists, and much worse than me is poised to follow if I don't get back through it and seal it. Finally, if you so much as twitched funny, I would have you knocked flat of your armored backside before you could say 'twitched funny'."
Vader's hand lashed out again, a crimson rod of blazing energy humming a hair's breadth from the Doctor's neck. "Twitched funny." The Sith Lord's hand never wavered.
"And 'knocked flat of your armored backside,'" the Doctor replied smoothly. His sonic screwdriver was as close to Vader's lightsaber as the blade was to his own neck. Vader had never seen him move. A press of a switch and the lightsaber sputtered and died. "Now, I know the destruction of your favorite toy has likely sent you down the path to a tantrum of Olympian magnitude, but hear me out." This last came as he leaped away from Vader's backhanded swing.
Vader had finally had enough. The Doctor had destroyed his lightsaber and was somehow immune to the effects of the Force, relegating Vader to using hands-on methods. But that suited the Sith Lord well enough. It was not usually his way to be so cold-bloodedly violent, but with the Rebellion, the Emperor, and other, more personal matters weighing on his mind and clamoring for his attention, Vader had become remarkably short of temper.
"You have maybe a half hour left, possibly less, before my TARDIS is recharged. I have a carrier beam linking its systems to my universe so it can draw off enough energy to transit the Void back home. However, I can't say how…"
Intrusion alarms began blaring, the same kind that Vader had ordered sounded when he had left to find the Doctor. Vader went to a wall panel and jabbed a button. "Report."
"Lord Vader, there seem to be multiple incursions similar to the type registered when the initial intruder materialized," said the man on the other side of the intercom. "We can detect them now because the transit experiments are off line. We count twelve intruders, all centered near the hangar bay where that odd box is."
"TARDIS," the Doctor muttered.
"Dispatch security teams to the hangar bay and have their weapons set to kill," Vader ordered. "We can glean their mission objectives from their corpses."
As the black-armored figure whirled to leave the cell, the Doctor was right behind him, scooting out instants before the door closed. "I believe you'll want me along just in case."
"Only as a hostage," Vader retorted, gesturing at two stormtroopers to follow him. Having heard their master's words, the two troopers flanked the Doctor at a safe distance, their fingers on the triggers of their blast rifles. "Who has followed you here? Shock troops? Computer technicians or demolitions experts?"
"Well, all three, if my suspicions are accurate," the Doctor mused. "Excellent guesses."
The Sith Lord stopped and spun to face the Doctor. "Despite your possible worth to me as a source of information, you may well find yourself dead if you prove to be a greater source of irritation. It would behoove you to fall silent until given leave to speak!"
"And it would behoove you, sir, to get it through your tin-plated head that I do not know what is going on here! I am here by accident and I am trying to help solve this problem before it gets any worse, although by now the situation may well be terminal, thanks to your meddling!" Despite the Doctor being about seven inches shorter and much less massive than Vader, he still met the fallen Jedi's gaze without flinching.
"Lord Vader, we have reports of weapons fire in the hangar bays. We have lost several troopers but have apparently inflicted no casualties upon the invaders," a crewman reported over the intercom.
"Link this terminal with the hangar bay monitors," Vader ordered. A warning finger jabbed out at the Doctor. "You will not speak, but you will watch from here."
A screen flickered to life and a slight rasp of static; audio and visual monitors were active. The sounds of blaster fire and the familiar whine of disruptors filled the speakers, and soon all sounds of shooting ceased. The Doctor's stomach turned to ice and his knees weakened at the sounds he heard next.
"All resistance has been exterminated. The Daleks are supreme. The TARDIS has been located; the Doctor is in the vicinity. All units will monitor the area for the Doctor's presence. All units, search and exterminate. Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!"