OCC: Apologies for the delay in this chapter, it's been a real challenge to write for two universes at once but I reckon I've done it right. Hopefully there should be another new chapter in about two weeks. Til then, enjoy the first big chapter of 'Senator in the Fireplace'!
In the depths of the Nexus an odd sound came from one of the corridors, quite alien to the deep humming dials and devices of the small ship. Were there any humanoids on board they would call it a roaring, whining sound and then be quite taken back by the slow, gradual appearance of a tall blue box materialising within the alcove of one of those hallways.
The tiny craft was a spaceship of sorts – it was called the TARDIS, which was an acronym for the words 'Time And Relative Dimensions In Space', and was the home and one constant companion of the eternal wanderer known as the Doctor. Though once it had utilised the ability through its designers - the great and powerful and now sadly late Time Lords - to be capable of blending into any of its surroundings through a device called the Chameleon Circuit, many centuries of service had passed and the ship had become stuck in the form of a Police Public Call Box, fashionable to a extremely far away planet of humanoids many centuries in the future known as Earth. The place was one which the Doctor was particularly fond of, and he had since found the design too quaint to bother correcting the fault any time soon – the Time Lord was after all quite old at some nine hundred years, and presently in his tenth incarnation; a series of life-saving techniques called regeneration allowed the Doctor and his former people to survive many lifetimes and change their appearances through such abilities.
The door of the ship whirled open and sure enough the Doctor stepped out, dressed in his usual brown pinstripe coat and trousers complete with white converses and a smart tie – he looked like nothing this galaxy could ever tailor from a moment's glance. He was quickly followed by two other travellers – his present companions in the TARDIS. The first was the beautiful Rose Tyler, a young teenager who had taken to the Doctor from first meeting him in the Earth settlement of London and so had travelled with him ever since, battling several evil forces of her own universe along the way like the Slitheen, Gelth, Daleks and the Sycorax.
The other was Mickey Smith, Rose's former and in a way still boyfriend - Rose had been unnerved in her wake of her first return back home to discover that a year had passed and so Mickey had been accused of her disappearance in more ways than one, but Mickey had matured through his experiences into a brave and helpful ally.
Their last adventure had seen Mickey fight valiantly with the Doctor's former companion Sarah Jane Smith against the bat-like Krillitane and had therefore felt himself ready to journey with the Doctor. This then was Mickey's first trip into the great unknown, and Rose was hoping he was feeling those same strange feelings she'd had upon entering the viewing sector of Platform One, billions of years in her future.
Sure enough Mickey was delighted as he scanned about the futuristic looking equipment. "It's a spaceship! Brilliant, I got a spaceship on my first go!"
Rose managed to flash a smile back at the Time Lord, her thoughts amused to be the one watching the naive traveller take his first steps into the unknown, and not be that person herself. Her feelings as a seasoned wanderer quickly sulk in though and she looked about, somewhat disappointedly at the deserted hallway. "Looks kind of abandoned... Anyone on board?"
The Doctor shrugged. "Dunno... I let the TARDIS pick a place at random, best thing to do when you've got a new companion to impress... lets the frequent flyers be impressed as well." He raised an eyebrow to her usual cheeky flash-of-the-teeth grin. "But we're out there, across the universe... So Mickey my boy, let's see exactly where we are for you, get that brain of yours expanded!" The Gallifreyian quickly moved to a window port – the technology seemed vaguely familiar, though we couldn't put his finger on exactly why – and the darkened corridors erupted into light and exposed a beautiful display of outer space.
Mickey was awestruck. In all of his encounters with the Doctor back on Earth – first an annoying, arrogant big-eared northerner who took the opportunity to ridicule 'Rickey the Idiot' at any given moment, then through a mind-bending process into an overly cheerful brown suited maniac who could make the most impossible seem otherwise – those conversations about alien planets and long-gone times and far-flung futures were merely incredible. But despite seeing aliens in the flesh – plastic dummies, monstrous Slitheen and spiritual Sycorax – nothing had readied himself for being out there, among it all. "I don't... I mean it's just so... so real!"
Rose leaned towards the Doctor and whispered "He's not fainting. Definitely improving on the companion picking, we are."
The Doctor however had suddenly caught his attentions to a section of computer banks and screens, somehow being able to make sense of it all. "You know I've definitely been here before, technology reminds him of-"
"By whatever built that thing? Look." Mickey was pointing a finger towards a nearby structure in space. Even from this distance, the trio could tell it was significantly bigger than the vessel they had found themselves it. "It's a spaceship, isn't it? Real alien spaceship in alien space."
"Actually, that's a space station Mickey – Well, space structure. Looks like a kind of research centre, you can tell by those sensors and the number of- ohhhh, now that is interesting." The Doctor attention had been drawn to the docking section of the nearby structure. "Docking Bays dictated by the ship going into the station rather than docking by, that circular design, the distinct radar pattern – Oh, of course!" He made the voice Rose and Mickey immediately knew to be for when he had put all the pieces together and knew where it all fitted.
"We're in the Stawarian Galaxy - good couple of galaxies from yours Mickey! But more than that – we're in the midst of the Galactic Republic, brilliant lot! Well they were, cause this was a good couple of thousand years before your time, and they did end up becoming the Galactic Empire – not so nice, all matching uniforms and evil powers, you wouldn't like them... but never mind that! This is brilliant!" His face was like that of a child coming across his favourite, long-lost toy of better days. "I've only been to the Stawarian Galaxy once – spot of bother with Jabba the Hutt, nasty slug thing, well a Hutt Gangster , but Ace called him an 'Ugly Slug', big mistake... I was rubbing blaster stains out of my favourite umbrella for weeks-"
Rose felt it was high time to interrupt before the Time Lord got completely absorbed by memory, wondering all the same who Ace was – another long-lost companion? with an inward sigh - or exactly when the Doctor owned an umbrella. "So yeah, we know the universe. But when and where are we?"
The Doctor leaned back towards the distant ship, his face somewhat grimmer. "Well, judging by the design of that place and guessing that where we are is connected to it... I'd say we're a good two decades before I ran into our Slug friend. Which could be a problem. See, this universe is one of conflict, in part due to a special energy unique to this galaxy, folks round here call it the 'force' – allows those gifted within it to do incredible things – heal wounded, levitate, strangle someone to death with a mere gesture. Soon as people knew it existed there were those who wanted to use it for good and others for evil, same as always. Long story short, the good ones became known as Jedi, kind of like monks who uphold the Republic. But the bad ones – they're called Sith. You don't want to cross paths with one Rose, trust me on that-"
He slowed as he looked up, put a finger to his lips for silence, then frowned slightly. "Now that is interesting. The engines are running. Full power and yet... we're not moving, not in any direction. Towards that structure, away from it. Zit, nadda, nothing."
He moved down the hallway, soon coming across an empty console with some form of screensaver with a logo Mickey didn't begin to recognise. Pointing his Sonic Screwdriver at the target the screen flicked into life, soon showing the Doctor the information he required. "See what I mean? Hyperdrive on this ship is running at one hundred percent. Including back-ups. More than enough power to punch a hole in the universe. But no movement. Why?"
They were suddenly alerted by the sound of gears, and the trio of travellers moved to an alcove as a door grinded open. Just in time for them to hide, out stomped a pair of metallic creatures. Neither of them possessed any kind of humanoid head – there was merely a long thin shape which seemed to come out of the machine's huge torso (for they were clearly robots or androids of some kind)on which a single curved black line marked their eyes. A metal fist was on each machine's left hand but in place of its right arm was a wicked gun of some kind. Everything about these machines spoke of power and authority.
The first spoke to the other android, its voice surprisingly filled with emotion in spite of the totally cybernetic tone. "Orders from Project Director Scatter on Target Elimination. We are to proceed to Cronium Emersion Phase. Gateway will be opened in 34.7 Minutes."
"Roger Roger." The second machine merely stated, then both marched into a side corridor and out of sight. The Doctor emerged with his two companions, their faces nerved by the thoughts of being caught by one of those sinister creatures.
The Doctor however was fascinated. "Oh, they were brilliant! Beautiful examples of Droid technology there. And now I know when we are and where - well just about. We're in the midst of a period people here call the Clone Wars, long story. That station we saw out there is Separatist – a group of various alien races who think the Republic has gone all soft and corrupted. They control vast armies of those Battle Droids – machines, robots utterly loyal and servant to their cause."
Mickey looked worried, still remembering the stark file and order those machines had demonstrated in mere movement. "Robots? Kind of like the ones we saw last Christmas, right? And they're the bad guys?"
The Doctor shook his head. "No, not like the Pilot Fish. Battle Droids are much more dangerous. As for being the bad guys... well I still can't remember. I've only been in this galaxy once before and I barely had time to get any of my usual collection of useless trivia from other places. And where have I heard Cronium from before? You know it makes me kind of regret stopping to write my Nine Hundred Year Diary when I was just four hundred and fifty, I could have checked my notes from back then..."
They turned the corner cautiously before coming to an important set of doors. Throwing caution to the wind, the Doctor and his friends moved through the opening doors... and into-
The Doctor's right eyebrow rose slightly at what the room contained. "Ok, now that is very interesting. Fireplace, Theedian if I know my planets right. But what's it doing here? Can quite see our Droid chums having a taste in the ye old decor of the planet Naboo-" He raised a hand and poked it slightly. "Not a hologram. Not even a reproduction, this actually is a Theed fireplace. Double-sided too, there's another room through there."
Rose gave a confused point at the window just next to the bizarre sight. "But... But that's impossible. It's just the outer hull out there."
Attempting to solve this mystery the Time Lord and Mickey bend down to glance through the fire at the room beyond. Yes, there actually was something behind the fireplace – a tidy and grand looking room with imposing walls, beautiful tapestries and-
"Oh!" The Doctor blinked as a young girl, dressed in an elegant night dress and slippers, stared back at him and Mickey through the fireplace with more than a hint of confusion.
The Time Lord instantly reverted to his usual warm manner for meeting strangers. "Oh hello there! Who might you be?"
The girl gave an uncertain stare before hesitantly replying. "Padme."
"Oh that's a lovely name. Can you tell me where you are at the moment, Padme?"
"Erm... in my bedroom, sir?"
"Oh, bedroom, of course. And where exactly do you live, Padme?"
"In Theed of course! Just across from the central archives." The girl had managed to compose herself and now was speaking in a more confident manner. "If I might know sir... what are you doing in my fireplace?"
"Oh, that's a very good question Padme. Oh, it's just a routine... fire check. Can you tell me what year it is?"
Padme did not even consider the oddness of this question, such was the nature of this strange figure behind her fireplace – was he a sprite, a echo of some old noble of this house? Still the young girl did not hesitate in replying for all her questions, and he told him the precise day, month and year, according to Nubian reckoning of course.
It seemed to please Fireplace Man all the same. "Oh, good year, one of my favourites. Right then, nice talking to you andddddddd enjoy the rest of your fire! Night!"
"Goodnight sir." Padme watched as the odd figure and the other man of a darker shade, not unlike those of the more southern continents, vanished from sight. As she tried to focus on the fireplace to see what was beyond these strange men, she became suddenly aware that the fireplace wall had reappeared. She started – she had not even blinked and yet her source of warmth on this night had returned to normality.
She strove all night to see if the fireplace would change again and the odd man would reappear. He did not, and after a few days, she would forget all about him. For now.
The sudden alarm caught the attentions of all three of them, Scatter in particular. Designed to let the Geonosian know if something was wrong aboard the Nexus, it blared on and out impatiently until a nearby droid flicked the switch to activate the com system. "Droid TE-185 on CTRS here, report nature of emergency on Nexus."
A slightly distorted reply, due mostly through interference from the nearby temporal fluxes of the region, came to respond. Roger Roger 185, Security reports organic heat detectors on level five. They seem to have appeared from nowhere, sir. And there's... an unknown quality here sir."
Uncomfortably aware of Dooku and Gunray's eyes upon him the Scientist scowled and took the receiver from the Com Droid. "This is Scatter the Elder. What do you mean by an 'unknown quality' Droid? How can there be intruders? We're light years from the closest reported Acclamator Republic Ship, droid-"
"Noted, Project Director. But this is... a box, sir. It's blue and cuboid and... it wasn't there before sir. There are markings of a Basic language, though they don't make much sense to me sir."
Scowling again Scatter interrupted the pathetic security droid. "Whatever, have that 'box' sent over to the station via the inter-space pod. And if there are intruders on the Nexus... I want them captured alive. If they try to interfere with the project directly though... you have my authority to execute them." He was not a man to choose termination lightly, but particularly with Dooku at the helm he couldn't appear weak.
As he shut off the com's the Sith Lord spoke up. "Most interesting that we have unauthorised guests this close to proceedings." His eyes closed as Scatter guessed he was using his force powers and knowledge of the Dark Side to determine the nature of their new problem. "There are three of them. I cannot detect any qualities of a Jedi... yet one of them is strange... like and yet unlike..." He choose not to finish that sentence and turned brusquely to the Geonosian. "We cannot allow anyone, Republic or otherwise to stand in our way."
Nute finally piped up. "How would intruders get onboard? If my security is threatened-"
Dooku waved a calming hand over Gunray and a smile covered his nobleman's brow. "Patience Viceroy. You shall have you execution of the dear Queen Amadala soon enough. Perhaps her removal this early shall prove useful to the success of your campaigns on Theed all those years ago."
Gunray smirked coldly. "Oh yes. To have my Battle Droids change history, alter the past... it will be a glorious victory for our armies!"
For all of his irritating manners, Scatter was for once inclined to agree.
Mickey had his arms folded. "What do you mean, you felt something weird?"
The Time Lord shrugged. "Dunno. Sort of felt this feeling over me. You know I get the impression those Droids might know we're here... or whatever's controlling them." He frowned. "You two might not have noticed it, but what that girl said was very interesting, cause the date she gave me is about... oh, some two decades ago, give or take. And this... spatio-temporal hyperlink is connecting then with now. Planet Naboo and a little girl's bedroom with a spaceship of Battle Droids. Question is... what for?"
Rose coughed once. "Sorry... 'a spatio-temporal hyperlink'? And what's that then."
The Doctor gave an honest smug grin. "No idea. Just made it up. Didn't wanna say 'magic door'." He moved towards the fireplace cautiously, thinking for a moment before another grin erupted on his face and he kneed the side of the structure. Instantly it moved sideways, much to Rose and Mickey's alarm dragging the Doctor with it. "Ah ha! Back in a-" The rest was lost as he vanished and a completely identical fire took its place.
It was at this moment that Rose and Mickey became aware of the familiar thud of metal on metal. The same noise they had heard before from those Droids.
And this time they sounded more aggressive. And heading in their direction.
Rose took in a breath of air. "Right, now we're in trouble..."
The Doctor found himself in the same room he'd seen only a minute or two before, but now in its complete state, the little girl fast asleep in her bed. He had to admit he was awed by the beautiful design of the place, and glancing outside the window at the Theed streets, candles burning brightly and almost reminding him of visiting Venice, and that whole fiasco with Charlotte Pollard in his eighth incarnation, and the mad cultists determined to ensure the completion of-
A sudden noise spun him round and he saw the girl – Padme – glance back into his eyes with a look of fear. "It's okay! Don't scream! It's me, it's the fireplace man. Look. Remember nice little chat in the fireplace just now? That was me, right? And I'm-"
Padme gave a wild-eyed look on her brow. "Sir, that was weeks ago! Months!"
He gave a surprised look. "Oh. Right then. Must have a faulty connection. Padme... you haven't seen anything weird lately right? Something which doesn't belong? Well... besides me anyway." He tested a warm grin, and it seemed to calm her slightly.
"Sir, I really do not know what you mean. But who are you, and what do you want here?"
The Doctor didn't reply. His eyes were on the mantelpiece. On the Nubian Clock-Piece Padme's grandmother had given her as a present two years ago. "Ok, that's a bit scary..."
Padme frowned, determined not to let this strange man confuse her further – she was of noble blood and would not appear uncertain, even if she was a bit nervous. "Why would you be scared of a broken clock?"
The Doctor turned to face her. "Just a bit scared, yeah. Just a little tiny bit. 'Cause you see, if this clock's broken, and it's the only clock in the room... Then what's that?" Padme paused, and gradually noted the sound of ticking nearby. Indeed it sounded a little different to her usual clock. Harsher. More imposing.
The Doctor started to move through the room carefully. 'Cause you see that's not a clock. You can tell by the resonance. Too big. Six feet, I'd say. Size of a man. Or a droid-"
A sudden tension on his leg alerted him as something under the bed gripped his converse tightly and he found himself toppling to the floor. He became aware of a pair of metal feet, shaped in the form of a humanoid. As he glanced upwards he turned his gaze to the terrified Padme, her head away from the looming shape behind her as he rose to face her. "Padme, don't move. Don't turn around. Just stay where you are, ok?"
He drew his attention to the shape of the Droid. It was in design like the ones he had seen before, yet its colours were shifting to copy that of the walls and floor. Instead of the narrow face it had two red eyes, and rather than a gun it held a wicked blade on both arms.
Its body appeared to glisten with some compound the Doctor did not recognise. Then it spoke in the same droid speech as the others, though perhaps with an element of menace in its voice. "You are not native. You moved through the gateway. That is impossible for an organic. Explain your presence." But before the Doctor could answer it raised an arm and its blade jutted out as it began to march menacingly towards him. "You have interfered in the project. New orders from Command. Kill interference, then kill target..." It raised the arm higher until it pointed directly at the Doctor's throat...