It took the Doctor exactly four seconds and fifty-three hundredths of a second to go from a pleasant, fuzzy, semi-wakeful state to wide awake, his mind sharp and clear. To his annoyance, he found he still couldn't remember falling into the chasm, but he guessed that was something that was never coming back. Of course, the memories of the last minutes - or hours? - before he'd went to sleep were a complete blur, too. There had been petromites, and crawling - and a Khiandrian, who had accidentally brought the petromites here.
He sat up and took in the surroundings. He was in a bed, in a room in the TARDIS - probably Martha's, judging from the items he could see, the clothes and the books. The randomly scattered medical supplies were a little surprising, though. Martha herself was standing right next to the bed, together with the three human cavers and the Khiandrian.
"Good morning! So, let's see. What're we going to do about the petromites?" he asked them.
No one answered. Instead, they gaped at him as if he had just sprouted antennae and turned glowy - or... He couldn't possibly have! He had been sick, but surely not that sick. He didn't feel any different. The teeth were familiar. He ran his hand through his hair, and it was as big as ever. So much for that explanation. He was definitely still in the same body, and feeling absolutely brilliant.
"What's wrong? What did I miss?" He was about to leap up from the bed, but stopped when he realised he wasn't wearing much of anything. "And what happened to my clothes?"
The stunned silence lasted a few more seconds. Then, Martha stepped forwards, sat down on the bed, and grabbed him in a very tight hug. He raised his eyebrows at the cavers, perplexed. They just smiled at him.
She let go of him, but kept a hand on his shoulder, holding him at an arm's length. "You've been in the coma for twenty-four hours. You said twenty!" she told him in an accusing tone. "Do you have any idea how worried we've been? We tried everything we could think of, from smelling salts to tea, and you just wouldn't wake up!"
"Whoops. Well. I must've been sicker than I thought, then. It's hardly surprising I underestimated the time, considering the condition I was in."
"You could've warned me it might take longer!"
"Sorry. Didn't think about that. I did have some serious problems in the thinking department, after all. But really, the important thing is, they're all gone now. I'm great!" He shifted on the bed, eager to get up and start solving the problems at hand.
"Not so fast," she told him, and pressed him down by the shoulders. "Not before I'm convinced about that, too."
She placed a hand on his forehead, then picked the stethoscope from around her neck and took her time listening to his chest and back. A lot more time than he would've thought necessary, really, but she completely ignored his restless squirming. When she was finally done with that, she sat back and held up four fingers. "How many?"
"The square root of sixteen, and, as it happens, the number of Khiandria's moons, if you count the artificial ones."
"That's right," Jess confirmed. "Two moons, two stations."
"No dizziness, no nausea, I love bright lights, I know Time inside and out, and I'm as clever as ever," the Doctor listed. "Now, if you don't mind, I'll go and make myself decent. Meet you in the console room in six minutes." Moving as quickly as he could, so that Martha wouldn't be able to stop him, he draped a blanket around himself and scuttled out of the room.
Five minutes and fifty-seven seconds later he dashed into the console room, dressed in his blue suit. "So! The petromites!" he began. "They're really not supposed to be here. Of course, they're much less of a problem now that we've got a Khiandrian present. All we need is for you to ask them to come in, so we can take them elsewhere."
"But there's at least two million of them in this nest!" Jess exclaimed.
"That's hardly a problem," the Doctor said, motioning at all the space around them. "As long as you can convince them not to touch anything. The TARDIS is alive, but not all the materials are organic. I don't know what they'll make of that."
"They're a little wild since they've been on their own for years, but I think I'll manage," Jess promised.
"Only one big question left, then," Martha said. "Where are we going to take them?"
"Any uninhabited world should do," the Doctor answered.
"We could take them home," Jess suggested. "Back to Khiandria. Because that's where we want to go anyway." She exchanged meaningful glances with Brian. There seemed to be a lot going on between those two.
"Both of you?" Martha asked.
"Yes. Even if it means never seeing Earth again," Brian said firmly. "She already knows my home. I want to get to know hers."
"All right, we can do that. So, that's where," the Doctor said. "Then, there's when."
"When, what?" Jess asked.
"The TARDIS travels in time as well as space," Martha explained.
"I had forgotten you'd said that!" Brian said. He took Jess's hand between his, looking excited. "Do you realise what that means, Jess? We could go there so many years after you left that no one would remember what you did - we could even go there before you left!"
"Hold on a second - what exactly has she done?" the Doctor asked. He wasn't planning on assisting criminals, after all.
"You've got quite a bit of catching up to do after all that time you spent sleeping," Joseph remarked. He was right, of course. The Doctor knew next to nothing about Jess, but since everyone was treating her like a friend, he had had no reason to assume she was anything else.
"I stole my mother's space ship. I'm not proud of it - I was young and irresponsible. I just wanted to get away from home, to see the world. I'm not a thief," Jess declared.
"All right," the Doctor said slowly. "I do know that feeling."
"And I'm not a coward," she went on. "I'm prepared to take the blame for what I did. I say we go to Khiandria on this very day, not some other time."
"Good choice," the Doctor said, and walked over to the console to make some adjustments.
"You may look different, but you really are the same Jess we've always known, aren't you?" Grant said fondly.
"I've never been anyone but myself, no matter what I've looked like," Jess said.
The Doctor flicked a switch, but instead of Khiandrian-style lights, he ended up putting them in pitch darkness. "Oops, sorry!" he shouted, fumbled for the switch, found it, tried again, and this time, he actually got the gentle green glow he had been aiming for. "There, that's better! Mood light! Not moonlight, though!"
"And you're every bit as loony without the concussion," Grant added. Oddly enough, his tone wasn't scornful, but good-natured and friendly.
The Doctor grinned at him. "Oh, yes!"
"You can take me and Joe home after we've dropped these young people off on that alien world, right?" Grant asked.
"Of course. Martha and I might even come along. Earth, the Sixties - that's where we were headed in the first place. But before that, next stop, the glimmering caves of Khiandria!"
They propped the TARDIS's doors wide open, and Jess went outside to fetch the queen. Once she returned, she was followed by a wide, continuous stream of petromites. The Doctor couldn't help feeling a little apprehensive for his TARDIS, but the creatures seemed to be behaving well, just scurrying in and settling on the ceiling and the walls and under the grating.
"You're quite good at this, aren't you?" he remarked to Jess, who was sitting in the middle of the room, the queen resting on her lap.
"Ah, well, my grandmother was the caretaker of a large nest," she said, sounding pleased. "But I don't think they'd touch your ship even if I wasn't here at all. It's simply too weird."
It took over two hours until the steady flow of petromites dwindled and stopped. By then, almost every surface in the room was covered with them, and combined with the pale green light, their glow made everything look eerie and enchanted.
"Everyone in?" the Doctor asked Jess and the queen.
The queen waggled her antennae as an affirmative.
Jess looked from the petromite to the Doctor, her light yellow eyes wide. "She understood you!"
"That's the TARDIS translating for me."
"No, it's more than that - they trust you, even though you're not Khiandrian. How's that possible?"
"I've got a very trustworthy face! Having some talent for telepathy helps, too."
"You're the strangest alien I've ever met," Jess proclaimed.
"Thank you!" the Doctor said, beaming.
Even though the number of passengers aboard the TARDIS was far greater than ever before, their flight to Khiandria was a quick and steady one. The landing was unusually smooth as well, as if she was careful to keep the petromites happy.
"That was it? We're on another planet now?" Grant asked disbelievingly.
Jess walked to the door, opened it, and sniffed at the air outside. "We are, indeed!" she declared. "Wait here, I'll go and make sure there are no gaping chasms next to the ship."
She returned almost instantly, a huge smile on her pale lips. "I don't know how you did it, but you've picked the perfect spot. You're going to love this," she told them. "Come on! There is actually a big drop nearby, but don't worry, there's a parapet."
It took the Doctor's eyes some time to adjust to the lighting outside the TARDIS, dim after the glow of the millions of petromites. After that, he needed another moment to actually grasp what he saw.
They had landed on a large viewing platform, up high in the largest cave chamber he had ever seen - it was at least the size of Cardiff. The gently curving ceiling was full of thin stalactites, translucent and glimmering. Hundreds of feet below them lay a city built of stone and crystal, its houses and towers and streets and plazas speckled with lights in all the colours of the rainbow. The traditional pale green was dominant, of course, but there were dozens of pastel blues and pinks and yellows, and mauve and silver and amber, and many shades that English had no words for.
"Welcome to the City of Lights," Jess announced solemnly.
"Is this your home?" Brian asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper, filled with wonder.
"No, I lived in the capital. It's much bigger, spans across lots of chambers, but it's nowhere near this spectacular. We used to come here every year during the Flood Festival, when I was little," she said. "Magnificent, isn't it?"
"It's the second most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said.
"What's -" Jess began, fell silent, and grinned at Brian. "Right. Thank you, darling," she said, and kissed him on the lips.
"We're not in a hurry to go home, are we?" Grant asked, leaning on the parapet, clearly transfixed by the view. The childlike delight on his face made him look at least twenty years younger.
"Most definitely not, if you ask me," Joseph said.
"What do you think, Martha?" the Doctor said. "Should we let the Sixties wait a few more days?"
Martha smirked. "Well. I thought I'd seen enough caves to last a lifetime, but I guess I could handle a day or two in this one. You'd better get yourself a helmet, though."
Author's Endnote: And that's it, The End! With plenty of room for a sequel, of course, even though I'm not planning on writing one right now. Maybe some day. Thanks for reading, and extra thanks and hugs to all the loyal reviewers! I really enjoyed writing this story and sharing it with you. :)