A FIXED POINT: Chapter Two: The Sacrifice
Kim sprang to her feet in astonishment as the figure of Queenie melted into something else. Her chair clattered to the ground behind her but Kim paid no attention.
Standing in Queenie's place was as weird a creature as Kim had ever seen in her travels with the Doctor.
It was barely five feet tall, and vaguely pyramid-shaped. It was purple - brown and resembled a folded-up starfish with five segmented arms wrapped close around its body with small suckers running up the centre. A pair of compound eyes blinked at them from near the pointed summit.
"A Shapechanger!" exclaimed Kim. Her mind flew back to her very first journey with the Doctor. "Oh God, its not the Skape again, is it?"
The Doctor laughed. "Not even a Shapechanger," he said, delightedly. "This is a Navarino, Kim. Hidden inside a holographic overcoat."
"You know of my race?" The Navarino's voice was a twittering warble. Kim noticed that the creature was quivering like a bowl of jelly. She relaxed. It was hard to be frightened when the Navarino itself seemed to be a nervous wreck.
"Indeed," said the Doctor. "The great cab-drivers of the galaxy. Excursions, pleasure trips, mystery tours. You name it, they'll take you there. You're a long way from home, my friend."
"A stupid error on my part. I clipped the atmosphere. We barely got out in the escape pod before the ship burned up."
"We?" queried the Doctor.
"My...fare...is secreted nearby. Unharmed. I had to reach the summit here to transmit the emergency signal."
"We picked it up," confirmed the Doctor. "But it was very weak and has stopped altogether now."
The Navarino shuffled forward. " The power cell was damaged in the crash. It's supposed to last forever."
"Where is it? It may be unstable."
One of the Navarino's arms unfolded and made a stabbing gesture at the floor. "There is a cellar. I hid it down there."
"This fare of yours..."
"He is hidden in a building, close to where the pod came down. In a hollow surrounded by trees. A building like this."
"It sounds like St Anne's Well," put in Kim. "That's where the Tardis landed."
The Navarino flapped his arms again. "I suppose I should check on the child."
"Praximusil is just a boy -"
The Doctor stiffened. "Praximusil? Not Praximusil Melth?"
"You know him?"
The Doctor started pacing about. "A Draconian. Destined to be one of the great figures in their history. Emperor Praximusil the First."
"Emperor?" warbled the Navarino. "He's just a boy!"
"A Prince. Of Royal blood. Destined to return to Draconia from exile and prevent a civil war."
"I-I didn't know he was a Prince," stammered the Navarino. "I was chartered by a merchant in a bar on Voldoon. Just another fare. Paid fantastic money, mind."
"Typical tactics. Use some old scow – no offence – to avoid hostiles -" the Doctor suddenly stopped pacing. "Did you get any response to your signal? Other than us?"
The Navarino flapped its arms. "There is a rescue ship. On its way."
"How long?" asked the Doctor urgently.
"A hundred and eighty thousand deccamols, give or take twenty thousand."
The Doctor jumped as if stung, and looked frantically at his watch. "We've got about forty-five minutes! Come on! We've got to make sure that the Prince meets the rendezvous."
"Or else?" asked Kim, alarmed.
The Doctor snatched up his coat. "If anything happens to him the Draconians would consider it an act of war!"
The Doctor paused at the door to look back inquiringly at the Navarino.
"Oh yes," it twittered. There was a shimmering hum.
"Let's go, my dears." said Queenie.
Although the rain had stopped the descent was not without difficulty. The ground was slippery with mud and some of the pathways were barely a footprint wide. Added to that the sun was sinking rapidly.
The Doctor kept pausing to look around. One one occasion he waved Kim and Queenie into the shadows as he spotted a soldier silhouetted on a far distant crest-line. After a few moments the soldier had disappeared and they resumed their journey.
Thus it was after about half an hour, the Doctor, Kim and the Navarino (in 'Queenie mode') arrived at the boarded-up building at St Anne's Well. This was a place of refreshment and relaxation for nine months of the year and Kim remembered drinking from the spa waters here on many a hot summer's day. But now it was an empty shell, abandoned for the winter.
A short distance down the gravel path leading away from the building, the Tardis stood in the shelter of a clump of trees, reassuringly square and solid.
"We've not much time," said the Doctor. "Where is the Prince?"
"I left him in the upstairs room," said an agitated 'Queenie'.
The Doctor rattled a padlock on the front door. "You locked him in?"
"He has food rations. I thought he would be safer here."
The Doctor flashed the padlock with his sonic probe and it fell open in his hands. "Wait here." He disappeared through the door and they heard his footsteps ascending wooden stairs.
A couple of minutes later he reappeared with Prince Praximusil Melth of Draconia.
They would one day be called 'Dragons', by their disparaging foes. A term of distaste for their reptilian origins
But the boy who stood before them was impressive. Dressed in tailored robes, holding his crested head firm. Trying to look regal and authoritative. Only a darting nervousness in his eyes betrayed him.
The Doctor bowed. "Your Highness. We are here to effect your transfer to a rescue ship that approaches as we speak. This is my friend Miss Gideon. And you know the Navarino of course, albeit cloaked."
Kim tried to execute a bobbing curtsy but gave up as she felt ridiculous in her long, quilted coat. And nobody noticed anyway.
The Prince nodded to them in turn. "How are we to effect the transfer?" he asked.
The Doctor pointed to the Tardis. "I have a shuttle, your Highness. We can use that."
The Doctor turned to 'Queenie'. "What about the escape pod?"
"We came down in the next valley. Once we were clear I activated the auto-destruct. It will be dust now."
The Doctor seemed satisfied . "If you please. We must be off."
As they walked down towards the Tardis a shadowy figure stepped out of the trees, interposing itself between the Doctor's party and the police box.
Kim caught her breath as she saw the glint of the heavy service revolver levelled at them.
"Captain Mack," said the Doctor, almost conversationally. "Do you know, I somehow thought we hadn't seen the last of you."
The Captain inclined his head but his gun did not waver. He stepped forward a few paces and his eyes locked onto the young Draconian prince." At last..." his words were breathy and tinged with awe.
The Doctor took a step towards him. "Look, you don't know the stakes here..."
The revolver slid across to cover the Doctor. "I'll thank you to remain where you are, sir."
The Doctor stepped carefully back to the group.
"How did you find us?" asked Kim.
"He followed us of course." said the Doctor.
"I didn't see him."
"I don't think he meant us to, Kim. I told you he was sharp, this one."
Captain Mack inclined his head, accepting the compliment. "You are no ornithologist, sir. McQueen's Bustard has never been seen in this country. And when a man shows me a blank piece of paper as evidence of his identity then my suspicions were confirmed."
The Doctor whistled low. "You are resistant to the psychic paper! Barely one in a hundred is capable of that. My compliments, Captain. It seems that Torchwood chooses its operatives well."
Mack's eyes slid back to the Draconian. "And I have achieved my goal. A creature fallen from the sky." Suddenly and shockingly he fired two shots into the air. Kim flinched, ducking automatically as the terrific explosions rumbled and echoed out across the hills.
The revolver pointed unwaveringly back at them.
" I suggest we relax. My men will be here in less than ten minutes in response to my signal, " said Mack, leaning against a tree.
"And that is just the length of time you have to save your world," responded the Doctor.
"Listen to him!" pleaded Kim.
A flicker of interest played on the Captain's face.
" In about ten minutes a ship will arrive. From the stars. Expecting to pick up this young Prince. If they don't.. If you take him... then there will be war."
Mack snorted. "The British Army, sir, is the finest in the world. And we have a fleet of Dreadnoughts, unrivalled by any navy-"
"A Draconian Dreadnought-class cruiser is equipped with sixteen Neutronic missiles," said the Doctor. "One such missile would flatten these hills and destroy anything within a radius of twenty miles in the ensuing fireball. Listen to me, Captain. Your planet will confront the Draconians one day. But not yet. There will be war, but on equal terms. And from that war will emerge an enduring peace."
"Please. He knows what he's talking about. We've got to get this boy safely away to his own people." Kim saw a flicker of doubt play across the Captain's face but then it hardened again.
"You don't understand," he whispered. "Torchwood is a joke. Laughed at in the halls of power. 'Victoria's Folly' they call it. Running around looking for ghosts and goblins. We are about to be closed down. Funding withdrawn. This -" he waved his gun in the direction of the Draconian, "will change everything."
Kim felt the Doctor stiffen at her side. She saw a pained look, frozen on his face. "What is it, Doctor?" she hissed.
"We're caught on the horns of a dilemma," he murmured. "Earth will need Torchwood in future. Yet the Draconians..." He turned unblinking eyes on his companion. "We're in paradox territory, Kim."
"What are you going to do?"
He looked terribly sad. "I don't know..."
Just as he said it there was a high pitched whine that Kim recognised from the cafe at the summit.
"God in Heaven!" breathed Captain Mack.
The Navarino stood shivering in the half-light, having shed its Queenie image.
The revolver cocked.
"Hold your fire! It's harmless. Unarmed." The Doctor stepped forward, in front of the Navarino.
Kim could see the sweat on Mack's brow as his unblinking eyes took in this new apparition.
"Take me." said the Navarino, quietly. The Doctor stepped aside, frowning.
"What?" Kim exclaimed.
"It was my error that led to the crash. This is my responsibility. Take me and let the Prince go free."
"Doctor, you can't let him..."
"It may be the only answer to this."
There was a moment of heavy silence. Kim saw emotions playing over the Captain's face. At length he nodded.
The Doctor disentangled himself from Kim and turned to the Navarino. "I think you are very brave." he said, quietly. He gave the Navarino a brief hug. After looking at his watch he grabbed the hands of Kim and Praximusil and dragged them hastily down the path, past Captain Mack and into the Tardis.
Under the eyes of the Captain and the Navarino, the police box dematerialised noisily, leaving the oddly matched pair alone in the clearing at St Anne's Well.
Barely a moment later a trio of soldiers appeared from behind the building, hurrying to answer Mack's gunshots. They pulled up with oaths of horror as they saw the Navarino and began to unsling their rifles.
"Hold your fire!" snapped Mack. They did so, forming a half-circle around the prisoner, covering it with their weapons.
Captain Mack addressed the Navarino. There was a hint of sadness in his formality. " In the name of His Brittanic Majesty I place you under arrest..."
With a sigh of relief the Doctor activated the Tardis scanner. Together with Kim he watched the Draconian battlecruiser with its precious passenger grow smaller as it headed beyond Saturn, on its way out of the solar system.
"If they follow the route I gave them they should be OK," said the Doctor, throwing his coat over a chair. In his hand he juggled a small silvery disc. "Holo-generator. The Navarino slipped it to me back at the Well. In the wrong hands..." His words tailed off.
"And now we go back and fetch the Navarino." said Kim, matter-of-factly
The Doctor didn't move.
"I said now we go back and fetch the Navarino." This time more insistently.
"What's difficult? Oh I know there'll have it under guard but we could just nip in and out in the Tardis -"
"I didn't mean that."
He sighed. "There are certain events, people, things, that are fixed points in time. When the Navarino sacrificed itself it became such a fixed point in your planet's history. It helped to establish Torchwood. Earth will need Torchwood. We can't go back, Kim. I'm sorry."
"That's rubbish," said an appalled Kim. "You're not telling me that the government has had evidence of Alien life all this time. Since 1911 for pity's sake!" She shook her head. "I can't believe it! It would have leaked out!"
"But it didn't, did it? You'd never heard of the Navarinos before today, had you?"
Kim shook her head. "Tell me," she said in a small voice.
So he did.
And, after a fashion, she understood.
Sir Harold lit his pipe and looked at the photograph of the Prisoner. He couldn't resist a shudder at the ungodly thing. It had been kept in a Torchwood safe-house in the Highlands, well away from prying eyes.
In precisely three months they had learned nothing apart from its disgusting dietary habits. The Americans were welcome to have a crack at it.
He turned back to the proposal for the transfer. The creature would be crated as stowage for the journey to New York and accompanied by Captain Mack with a couple of hand-picked men. For security the Torchwood men would be disguised as passengers (third class). They would be met by Federal agents and taken on to Washington by train.
Sir Harold looked at the calendar on his desk. Departure was set for 10th April, barely four weeks away. They would have to get a move on.
He would get his secretary to contact the White Star Line offices first thing in the morning.
Sir Harold took a pen and scribbled a note at the bottom of the page:
'Transfer of prisoner aboard RMS Titanic agreed.'
He initialled the document and closed the file.
Author's note: The following is true: I first visited, and fell in love with, the Malvern Hills on a schooltrip. I subsequently spent many a happy hour drinking coffee in the Beacon Cafe. In 1989 the building burned to the ground. No one knows why. Despite several proposals to rebuild it a law was passed (in the British House of Lords, no less!) that the site shall remain untouched, in perpetuity. The cafe at St Anne's Well remains standing to this day. The Navarinos appeared in the seventh Doctor's TV story ' Delta and the Bannermen.'