"Well come along then, come along!" The Doctor opened the TARDIS door and stepped outside, staring around at the blank steels walls of what appeared to be a corridor. As he waited for his companions to emerge, he discreetly rubbed the dust off his shoes onto his baggy trousers, one foot to the back of the opposite calf and then the other.
"Oh! Well, it's certainly an improvement over the last place we landed," said Victoria, stepping out with the balanced grace of a well-groomed Victorian young lady, which in fact she was, her short modern dress notwithstanding.
"A nasty place that was, Doctor," Jamie agreed, stepping out and looking around with approval. "All grubby stairs to nowhere, with those great giant springs that went jumping up an' down them."
"Well, this is certainly cleaner. We shall have to see if it is safer." The Doctor marched down the corridor with a brisk stride, and his companions followed.
They made several turns, and found nothing but more blank steel corridors. There were vague rumbling noises in the distance, like thunder but impossibly low and distorted. It was quite a surprise when the blue-skinned man popped out of a door in front of them. His beard and hair were a sandy blond, but his skin was definitely blue, and he wore an asymmetrically slashed red garment that showed blue skin through the slits.
"Oh, at last," he said, with a slightly relieved tone. "It is so good of you to come, Representative."
"Ah, thank you," the Doctor replied, after looking around and making sure that he was the person that the blue man was addressing.
"Now, before we go any further, I have to be quite certain: you know nothing of the circumstances or persons in the matter of the Naglons?"
"I am oblivious to the entire affair," the Doctor declared grandly.
"Excellent! Please, come this way," and the blue man ushered all three of them forward (the Doctor quickly introduced Jamie and Victoria to the blue man, who said his name was Yvip and urged them to keep moving) until they all arrived at what looked like a waiting room. There were chairs and whirring machines against the walls, and a large screen overhead flashed with strings of data and graphs.
There were a variety of people in the room, some sitting and some standing, but the travellers' eyes were immediately drawn to the five aliens who stood against one wall. They wore spacesuits with steel-edged circular collars, and air cylinders on their backs. But it was their faces that drew the humans' horrified attention.
The aliens had hairy warty faces that moved: not like a face, but like a slug crawling or water rippling. Their faces wriggled on the fronts of their heads, and with every pucker and heave they changed colour. Those colours chased themselves over their faces, purple and mauve and pink, and their light-coloured eyes were expressionless by comparison. Clumps of what might have been hair, or maybe very thin tentacles, hung limply from their scalps.
"My word, what a unique species," the Doctor said, staring with fascination rather than horror. "Definitely not mammalian. Oceanic? Equivalent of the terrestrial cephalopods, or nudibranchs, or-?"
"They're horrible," Victoria said tightly. "They look like monsters."
"I can't tell, Victoria, behind all that ripplin' they could look like anything." Jamie wasn't quite as shocked; he had seen many strange people in the Doctor's company. He reached out and touched the Doctor's arm. "There's two more over there."
Seated by themselves, with empty chairs around them, were two more of the ripple-faced aliens. They were not wearing spacesuits, but plain grey coveralls. From the way they held hands, there was clearly some attachment between them.
Yvip came bustling back. "Please, Representative, sit down." He offered a well-padded white chair to the Doctor, who accepted it with pleasure. Victoria sat down, and carefully arranged her long wrap skirt (it has been chilly on those endless stairs, and she had been rather relieved to cover up). Jamie sat with his knees akimbo, kilt spread over his legs, staring at the two seated aliens who looked - well, he couldn't say looked, he couldn't read their expressions - who seemed to be scared out of their wits. Or something.
Yvip stood in the centre of the room. He held out both hands pointing to the standing ripple-faced people. "Naglons, the Representative of Justice has arrived. In the absence of a formal treaty between our governments, he will review your case and make a binding judgment. He has no foreknowledge of your complaint, and knows none of the people involved - correct?"
He darted a glance over his shoulder at the Doctor, and the Doctor smiled and nodded.
"Naglon g-, ah, men of Naglon, please make your opening statement to the Representative." Yvip backed away and took a chair of his own. The ripple-faced aliens leaned close to each other and whispered, and the Doctor watched in amazement as the colour patterns on their faces moved from person to person: one would turn red, then the ones on each side would turn red, and so on. It must be some sort of communication.
They seemed to have chosen their speaker. One of the aliens stepped to the centre of the room, and stared at the Doctor. He (presumably, as Yvip had called them 'men') looked the same as the others, at least from the neck up: perhaps his spacesuit was a little more elaborate, and he might have been a little taller than the rest.
"I am Head-Fist Therri, Captain of the ship Overborne." His voice was masculine, but he spoke with the stiff diction of someone mentally translating in their head one step before their lips. "I have been dispatched by our leaders to return two runaways of little status and no-"
"And they are?" the Doctor interrupted.
Therri just stared at him, his mauve face bulging and purpling in an alarming fashion.
The Doctor sighed. "Do these runaways, these people, have names?" he elaborated.
"They are," Therri shot a poisonous glance at the two seated Naglons, "Elvit and Brot. They should not be here. They will be a burden on you. They have no skills-"
"I do have skills!" One of the seated Naglons rose, but kept holding the other one's hand, he - she? - looked up with a deep pink face. "I have an offer of employment from the Barragan Corporation!"
"Really? Well, congratulations. The Barragan Corporation is an old and very reputable firm - that is, if it isn't now it will be," the Doctor amended. He still hadn't managed to find out just when they were.
"It is forbidden for unauthorized Naglons to leave Naglon. They are to be given back to us, for punishment." Therri stared at the couple, and his face abruptly went white with featherings of lilac around the eyes and the thin-lipped mouth. "Severe punishment." His voice caressed those last words.
Yvip cleared his throat uneasily. "Will Elvit and Brot please rise and make their statement."
The two seated Naglons stood, their hands still entwined. The one who had spoken before looked at the Doctor and turned a shade of peach-orange.
"I am Brot, and this is Elvit. I have taken the training-"
"It is forbidden to speak of the training with outsiders!" Therri abruptly roared, and everyone in the room jumped. His hand was clenched on a holster at his hip - an empty holster, fortunately.
"It is very rude to interrupt," said the Doctor, lips pursed as he glared at Therri. He was starting to think that Yvip's apparent avoidance of using the word 'gentlemen' to describe the Naglons was not an accident. The Naglon lowered his chin, his face purplish-red, and then turned at a word from one of his companions.
Brot was even more orange; the Doctor wondered if that meant embarrassment. "I have been trained on - on leaving Naglon. I have learned Galactic Standard Spaching, with additional technical vocabulary. I can live here, I can work here! I will not be a burden. And," his face turned mauve, "I will provide for Elvit."
The other Naglon rose, pale grey eyes bright in an orange-pink face. "I am a free Naglon female, and I choose to leave Naglon. I and my partner are voluntarily going into exile. Therri does not have the authority to return me-"
"I have the authority of the Inner Council," Therri hissed, and Elvit suddenly darkened. "You must return. Both of you."
"I will not." She thrust her chin out - maybe. Maybe it was just how her face was rippling. "The Council has no power here."
There was a sudden sound of drumming feet outside, and a voice shouting, "Wait! Wait!"
The shouter entered; he was a man with the same blue skin as Yvip, but his clothes were a sombre black, without slashes but with an ornamental series of white stripes down the front.
He quickly glanced around the room. "Is the Representative here?"
Yvip indicated the Doctor, and the man in black turned to him with a hasty nod.
"Representative, I am Villet of the Barragan Corporation. I am here to confirm that a Naglon named Brot has received an offer of employment from my company."
Therri's mouth was stretched open wide, baring fluted ridges of pink cartilage: it certainly was not a smile.
"I should like to review this offer, please." The Doctor raised one eyebrow; he had seen enough aliens exploited to be leery of this sort of thing. And this Brot was fresh off the homeworld - an easy mark, some would say.
"Of course." Villet went to one of the machines around the sides of the room, and it extruded a sheet of white plastic covered with text. When the Doctor read it, the offer seemed good enough: guarantee of advancement conditional on training, pay scale indexed to inflation, accommodations to be made to possible adjustments of alien biology and reverence to alien holy days.
"Well, this looks like a model employment offer, Mr. Villet. And I would certainly have every confidence in the Barragan Corporation keeping its word-"
"Your word is nothing if you have no tongue," Therri snarled; his face was literally swelling with rage, apparently, and his eyes blazed at them out of pulsating black slits. "You will have no tongue, no breath, no face or flesh or-"
"Threats are inappropriate, Mr. Therri." The Doctor stood, and raised his own chin. "You are not helping your claim by making them. Now, I would like to know the details of the punishment that your government plans to impose on these people."
"Severe punishment," Therri said impatiently.
"And after this punishment, what will happen to them?"
"After?" said Therri with a hideous grating laugh. His face went white, then almost purple-black, before fading back to mauve.
"Ah, didn't mean to say that, did you," the Doctor said under his breath. In a louder voice, he said, "I would like to confer with Elvit and Brot in private."
Yvip raised one hand in Therri's direction, and the alien actually held his tongue for a change. "That is permitted," Yvip said. "It is the duty of the Justice Representative to hear and understand both sides of the story, before making his decision. The Representative will return and deliver his decision as soon as he is certain of his facts."
"Yes of course of course, we'll just step around the corner here and talk, myself and my assistants. Come along, Jamie, Victoria. Elvit and Brot?"
* * *
Therri watched the five of them move out of sight, and set his weight back on his heels. He could wait. They would not escape; he was between them and the only exit. He did not care what this Justice Representative might decide; if the creature had any sense, he'd give Therri what he demanded. And if for some incomprehensible alien reason this Representative decided to let the runaways go, Therri and his crew would be more than happy to simply tear them apart with their bare hands, then fight their way back to the ship.
He could wait.