Doctor Who: Goddess of the Dead
"Did you say purple penguins?" Donna asked.
"You'll love them!" the Doctor said, leaping across the console and throwing another switch. "Purple penguins that live in the rainforest and can fly."
"I suppose they can talk, too."
"Don't be ridiculous," said the Doctor. "There's no such thing as a talking penguin." He thought for a moment. "Well..."
Donna leaned against the console and crossed her arms over her chest. "I've got a better idea. Let's go shopping."
The Doctor threw his head back and groaned. "I just took you to Paradiso 7."
Donna bit her lip, trying to remember.
"The shopping planet?" the Doctor said. "A mall the size of Neptune? Ringing any bells?"
Donna rolled her eyes. "Oh. That. I wasn't impressed."
"All right," said the Doctor, pushing a lever. "Where do you want to go? Besides shopping. Anywhere in time and space. The whole of the universe at your disposal. Just say the word."
Donna thought for a moment. "Anywhere?"
The Doctor grinned. "Anywhere."
"Ok, Spaceman," Donna said. "Let's go."
The man in the white jacket padded across the deck, his sandals splashing through puddles of warm water. He held a tray high over his head as a trio of small boys ran past him in their swim trunks, laughing and yelling and shooting each other with water pistols. The man adjusted a flower pinned to his lapel with his free hand as he squinted against the brilliant mid-afternoon sun, scanning the sea of sun bathers.
"Madame?" he said a moment later, setting a chilled glass rimmed with salt on a small table. He replaced it on his tray with three empty ones.
"Thank you," Donna said, not moving. She was lying facedown on a lounge chair, her skin a warm pink and dotted with freckles.
"Of course," said the man, rolling his eyes. He made his way back across the deck, taking drink orders and empty glasses on his way back to the bar.
Donna smiled contentedly. The reggae band, crowded onto a little stage by the pool, sounded better with each drink. Each wonderful, wonderful drink.
"There you are!" She felt someone hovering over her.
"Get out of my sun," she said.
"Sorry." The Doctor took a step back and looked around. Not finding an empty chair, he sat down beside her on the warm deck. He took a sip of her drink and grimaced. "How many of these have you had?"
Donna giggled. "Five. Or six. They're so good." Her hand flopped around on the table, searching for the glass, and the Doctor handed it to her. He watched her slide it under the lounge chair, where she could sip it through the slats in the plastic chair.
"Come on, get up," he said. "Me and the lads are having a water balloon fight in ten minutes. I need you to help me fill up some balloons."
Donna turned and pulled up her sunglasses. She studied him with one eye.
"How old are these lads?"
He shrugged. "I dunno, twelve. Thirteen. They're the only ones not lying around getting drunk."
"I love cruises," she said.
"Come on, Donna, it'll be fun."
She squinted at him, sitting there in his swim trunks and his unbuttoned Hawaiin shirt, his skinny chest too pale and slathered with sunscreen, his hair wet and slicked back.
"No, thanks," she said, lowering her sunglasses and taking another long sip of her drink. "Have fun."
He shook his head. "All right, your loss. I'll see you at dinner."
Donna listened to his sandals slapping the deck as he walked away and thought about how hungry she was. Maybe the waiter could bring her some fruit.
Or a cheeseburger.
Donna's stomach rumbled, and she groaned. She had a pleasant buzzing in her head from the alcohol and was too comfortable to move. She thought of calling out for the Doctor, but realized people around her might think she was calling for medical attention. This made her smile, even as her stomach continued to protest.
"All right, all right," she sighed, sitting up. The gentle rocking of the ship, combined with her own slight lack of balance, combined to make her feel suddenly queasy.
"Food," she said, standing up slowly. She would feel better once she ate something. She threw her shirt over her head, tied her towel around her waist, and began to lurch and weave through the maze of people in deck chairs and spread out on towels on the deck. She stepped on fingers and hair and what felt suspiciously like someone's bottom.
"Watch it, lady!"
"Sorry!" Donna said. She cleared the crowd and walked next to the pool. nodding her head to the music. The band was playing a calypso version of a Madonna song, and only Donna's rumbling stomach kept her from jumping up on the stage and dancing. She found a door that led into a quiet, air-conditioned corridor. The air felt so cold on her skin, and she shivered. She narrowed her eyes, trying to read a ship map posted to the wall. Her vision blurred, and Donna swayed.
"Careful!" someone said, catching her as she fell backward.
Donna steadied herself and turned to face her rescuer.
He was a tall black man. Tiny shells and beads were tied into his long dreadlocks. He wore a white jacket with a colorful flower pinned to his lapel. One of the crew members.
"Thanks," Donna said, rubbing her head. Her face had grown alarmingly hot.
The man smiled. "Don't mention it. Do you need help getting back to your room?"
Donna thought of the TARDIS, wedged between two tall stacks of cardboard boxes in one of the ship's massive storage facilities.
"I think I just need something to eat," she said.
"Let's get you to the cafeteria," he said. "I'm Calla."
"Donna Noble." She gripped his arm and he led her down that hall.
"You have a beautiful accent," he told her. "Where are you from?"
"London," she said.
Calla nodded. "Most of our passengers are American. We don't get many Brits."
They walked for a few minutes in silence, until at last Donna saw the entrance to one of the huge cafeteria's.
"Here we go," Calla said. "Safe and sound."
"Thanks," Donna said. "I'll feel better after I eat."
Call watched her walk into the cafeteria. He raised his wrist to his mouth and spoke quietly.
"I've got Ms. Noble on level eight," he said.
"And the Doctor?" the voice came from the face of his watch.
"Working on it," he said, and smiled.
The Doctor waved goodbye to his new friends and set off to find Donna.
She had left her chair, probably when the sun began to set. The Doctor sat down and stared out at the ocean. It churned as the ship passed gracefully over its surface. The sky was a deep orange, and the waves glistened with reflected sunlight as a warm breeze blew through his hair. The deck was nearly deserted now—most people had retreated to their rooms to get ready for dinner. The band was packing up their equipment, and the pools were empty. The Doctor leaned back, listening to the sea and, distantly, the thrumming of the ship's engines.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
The Doctor jerked awake, not realizing he had dozed off. A young woman in a green t-shirt and jeans leaned against the rail, staring down at the water several stories below.
"Yes," the Doctor said, rubbing his eyes. He yawned.
"I've never see the ocean before," the woman said. "Well, before yesterday. I'm from Kentucky."
"Born and bred?"
"That's me." The woman offered him a smile. "I'm Laurel."
"Nice to meet you, Laurel. I'm the Doctor." He leapt from his chair to take her outstretched hand in his. "But you already knew that."
Laurel faltered for a moment. "I don't know what you're on about, honey. It sounds like you've been out in the sun too long. Come on, let's take the lift down to the casino and cool down by the fountain."
"The lift," the Doctor said. "Yes, we would take the lift. Unless we were from America, in which case we would take the elevator."
Laurel said, "It's funny what you pick up." She tried to pull her hand from his, but he wouldn't relinquish it. "Let me go. I'm warning you."
"Who are you?" the Doctor demanded.
"Not here," Laurel said, her accent forgotten. "Too many people."
The Doctor dropped her hand, and Laurel massaged her wrist.
"You've been watching me all day," said the Doctor. "Following me. I thought maybe you fancied me, but you were too persistent, too good at not being seen."
"But you did see me."
"Well, I've got a bit of experience with this sort of thing."
She sighed. "All right, then. Follow me."
They started across the deck, toward the interior of the ship.
"Where are we going?" the Doctor asked.
"We need to talk. Somewhere private. I'm not the only one watching you, Doctor."
She walked briskly through the ship's air-conditioned corridors, the Doctor matching her long strides.
"Where's Donna?" he asked. "I assume you've been trailing her as well."
"She's in the TARDIS. We've taken the liberty of relocating it for you."
"That's very kind of you."
Laurel stopped before a door upon which a little plaque reading "Employees Only" was printed. She held her watch over the handle and the Doctor heard a familiar high-pitched whirring. A moment later the door clicked open and they slipped inside, into a dimly-lit corridor.
"That's sonic technology," said the Doctor. "It seems to be cropping up all over the place. I knew I should have invested in it when I had the chance."
They stopped at another door, and Laurel unlocked it and held it open for the Doctor.
"Ta," he said, walking past her into a circular room dominated by a huge glass conference table. On the far wall was a familiar insignia—the Earth adorned with a pair of wings, an acronym printed beneath.
"U.N.I.T.!" the Doctor said, beaming at Laurel. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You can never be too safe, sir." Laurel gave the Doctor a short, curt salute. "Now that we're alone let me tell you what an honor it is to meet you."
The Doctor waved his hand dismissively. "So who did you impress to land such a cushy assignment? Undercover as a tourist on a luxury cruise liner? Sounds great."
Laurel cleared her throat. "Our assignment is extremely sensitive and dangerous, and as glad as I am that you're here, your presence...complicates things."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow.
Laurel slid open a cabinet set into the wall and produced a slim silver laptop. She set it on the table and, after a few quick key strokes, it projected a holographic image into the air. It was a face, a familiar face...
"Doctor? Doctor, is that you?"
The Doctor grinned. "Martha Jones!"
"Doctor, I've been trying to call you for days," Martha said. "I thought something might have happened!"
He bit his lip. "Yeah, about that. I might have accidentally lost my phone in a shoot-out on a space station in the Colossus Nebula. Not entirely sure, but...yeah."
Martha rolled her eyes. "Doctor!"
"Sorry about that."
"Remind me to give you a good kick the next time I see you. Nice get-up, by the way."
The Doctor looked down at himself. He'd forgotten he was still wearing his swim clothes. He coughed and buttoned up his colorful shirt.
"Doctor Jones?" Laurel asked.
"Right, this is serious, Doctor. We've got a real problem and we need your help."
He lowered himself into a high-backed leather chair and leaned back, propping his sandaled feet onto the glass tabletop.
"I'm listening," he said.
"Several months ago a young woman disappeared on her honeymoon," Martha began. "She and her husband were taking a cruise to Jamaica. It's unfortunate but not uncommon. The body was never found, the husband was devastated. Naturally everyone suspected him."
"Naturally," the Doctor said quietly.
"A week later the same thing happened, this time to two teenaged boys. Two weeks later, another disappearance. There have been thirty-seven unexplained disappearances in four months, people abducted from cruise ships all over the Caribbean."
"Maybe it's pirates," the Doctor offered.
"U.N.I.T. was called in after the daughter of an MP went missing three days ago," Laurel said. "She was on holiday with a few friends from university. Police searched their room and found nothing...except for this."
She handed him a small crystal, no bigger than his fingernail.
"Similar crystals of varying sizes have been found at the sites of all the abductions. We believe it to be alien in origin."
The Doctor turned it over in his hand. He held it up to the light and frowned.
"Well?" Martha asked.
"I'll need to check," he said, "but I think this is a substance called Calcium Chronide. You're right about its origin, Laurel. Nothing like this could ever grow on Earth."
"Why? What does it mean, Doctor?"
"It means," the Doctor said, "that we're in very hot water."
"Where have you been?" the Doctor asked, poking his head through Donna's bedroom door. The room was completely dark, and he could just make out his companion, buried under her blankets.
"Don't talk," Donna moaned. "Hurts."
"Phew," said the Doctor, stepping inside. "It stinks in here." His hand found a switch and suddenly the room was flooded with light. "Come on, get up. We've got a mystery to solve."
"I am going to murder you," Donna said.
He reached into his coat pocket (he had thought longingly of the hot tubs as he changed out of his swim suit) and pulled out a small plastic tube. "Sit up. That's a good girl. Now stick out your tongue." He twisted one end of the tube and dropped two small black tablets onto her tongue. "Now chew."
She began to chew, and her eyes widened.
"Swallow," the Doctor said. "I know they taste bad but they work, I promise."
Her face, already flushed from the sun, was now a startling red. She forced herself to swallow and opened her mouth to shout something he supposed was incredibly obscene. She stopped.
"My head," she said. "It doesn't hurt. What were those things?"
He grinned and slipped the tube back into his pocket. "They don't call me the Doctor for nothing. Now get dressed. I need you."
A few minutes later she joined him in the console room, where he was bent over a computer screen, muttering under his breath.
"You could make a killing on those," she said. She wore a pink vest over a long white sun dress. "What's this big mystery?"
"I got a call from our friend Martha Jones. She needs our help."
"Does she?" Donna peered over his shoulder. On the screen, she could see the ship's upper deck, where a few people were watching the sun set. "She needs us to spy on these people?"
"Not them," the Doctor said. He pressed a button and the scene shifted. Now they were looking at a corridor outside of the formal ballroom. "We're looking for anyone, anything out of the ordinary." He gave the screen a frustrated slap. "Right, this is useless. Fancy some hands-on investigating?"
"A bit of Agatha Christie?" she asked, linking her arm around his. "I think we can manage that."
They stepped out of the TARDIS into a small suite. The bed had been pushed aside and a writing desk was shoved against the wall, but still the police box could barely fit.
"An interior room?" Donna asked, looking around. "They gave us an interior room? Rubbish."
They left the room, and as they walked the Doctor told her about his meeting with Laurel and his phone call with Martha Jones.
"Thirty-seven abductions," Donna said. "It would be all over the news, wouldn't it? This ship would be empty."
The Doctor frowned. "I never thought about that, but you're right. It must be close to capacity, though. People everywhere." They found themselves in a wide hall outside of the theatre. Indeed, there were crowds of well-dressed and very tanned people lined up and waiting for the theatre doors to open.
"So, what should we be looking for?" Donna asked.
"An alien menace that consumes its victims, leaves a crystallized concentrate and strikes only tourists on cruise ships. If you see any of those let me know right away."
"I'm serious." Donna spotted Calla, the undercover operative, still in his uniform and serving drinks to a couple sitting in a small lounge area beside the theatre. She pointed him out to the Doctor.
"What do you think?" she asked. "He's cute, isn't he?"
"More to the point," said the Doctor, "what's he doing here?"
"He's U.N.I.T., innit he? An undercover agent! I think I fancy him."
The Doctor seemed puzzled. "What does he look like?"
"What do you mean? He's right there."
"I know, but what does he look like? Describe him to me."
"Well," she said, "he's a black guy. Tall, fit. Dreadlocks, not the gross fat kind. Nice eyes. Nice bottom. Look at me, I've gone all red again. Does U.N.I.T. have a policy against dating civilians?"
"Do me a favor," the Doctor said. He nodded toward the theater, where people were now filing in. "Take in the show. That's the largest gathering of people on the ship and I want you in there. My eyes and ears."
"Where will you be?"
"Oh, here and there. Go on, then."
Donna threw another glance at Calla, then joined the queue.
The Doctor pretended to examine a doorway with his sonic screwdriver until she had gone inside the theatre. Then he walked up to the bar and took a seat.
"Doing all right this evening, sir?" Calla asked.
"I know what you are," said the Doctor quietly.
Calla glanced at the young man sitting next to the Doctor. He was ignoring them, engrossed in his Game Boy.
"Can I get you something to drink, Doctor?"
"Why are you here?" the Doctor asked.
"The same reason you are," Calla said. He poured some vodka in a glass, added cranberry juice and a splash of orange juice, then pushed it toward the Doctor. "On the house."
The Doctor took a sip. "That's not bad."
Calla leaned across the bar. "What do you see?" he asked. "When you look at me, Doctor, what do you see?"
"That low-level psychic force field has no effect on me. It's the same theory behind my psychic paper."
"I can project any appearance I wish," said Calla. "Psychic armor, perfect for undercover operations."
"Only it doesn't work on me, and whatever we're hunting is apt to be on the lookout for your lot. By the way, what exactly are we hunting?"
"The Judoon have been tracking it for months. We believe we've finally cornered it. There are more undercover operatives on the ship, all on mauve alert."
The Doctor downed the rest of his drink. "Between you and U.N.I.T. there might not be any actual passengers on board. Do they know you're here?"
"We have found U.N.I.T. to be uncooperative in our past encounters," said Calla.
The Doctor nodded. "Mum's the word. Now tell me, what is it we're looking for? And how do we stop it?"
Donna supposed she should be impressed. Everyone else in the audience sat in silent rapture, staring with wide eyes up at the stage, where the magician juggled sixteen flaming pins while his gorgeous blonde assistant stood on the side of the stage, somehow turning a fire extinguisher into an erotic plaything.
Oh, please, Donna thought, rolling her eyes. She elbowed the woman sitting next to her.
"Do you see her?" she whispered.
"Ssh!" the woman hissed.
Donna slumped over in her chair. She tried to ooh and aah with the rest of the crowd as the ditzy assistant set down her fire extinguisher, lit another pin, and tossed it at the magician. He deftly caught it and it disappeared into the blur that whirled around him like a dervish.
She didn't see what the big deal was. Not after she'd seen the Black Conjurer of Prague set his flaming android assistants on fire and juggled them. That was in 2347, a year before another one of his illusions destroyed half of the city in a spectacular fire, and she'd seen that too. She and the Doctor had seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan (dodging two of his past incarnations and a strange young man that the Doctor swore was one of his future selves, but that was the problem with time travel, he'd told her: all the best bits had to be seen more than once), they had been to Redracas to see the auroras take the guise of beautiful young women and dance beneath the moonlight, they had seen Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol, seen Romeo an d Juliet and Hamlet performed by the original cast (including Shakespeare himself), they had stood on stage, hand in hand, as the Devil Daughters summoned purple whirlwinds and great pink storm clouds around them.
It was hard to be awed by a cruise ship magician.
She looked around, deciding instead to survey the audience for anything out of the ordinary. She couldn't see much in the light of the flaming pins, but it was just bright enough for her to spot the man toward the back of the theater, staring at her.
"Right," Donna said to herself. "That's more like it. Excuse me." She stood up and made her way down the aisle, keeping her eyes on the man should he decide to make a break for it. He stayed where he was, his eyes never leaving her. Donna finally freed herself and hurried up the aisle. There was a vacant seat next to her mystery man, and she sat down beside him and smiled in the darkness.
"Who are you?" she said.
"Great," Donna said. "I thought I was on to something. Why are you staring at me?"
The man shrugged. Now that she was closer she had a better idea of what he looked like. He was middle-aged, thin and bald.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on you. For your own safety."
"He's quick to add." Donna crossed her arms over her chest. "Well I'm supposed to be watching for any creeps and weirdos. Beside you."
"I just got a report from below deck," said the man. "The Doctor has stumbled on what he believes is some sort of extraterrestrial craft."
"Well what are we doing in here?" Donna asked, too loudly. Several people turned to shush her. "Come on!"
He followed her out of the theater.
"Which way?" she asked.
"This way," he said, walking quickly past the bar where the Doctor had had his earlier conversation with the Judoon agent. He used his sonic watch to open a locked door and he and Donna rushed down a service corridor.
"What's your name?" Donna panted.
"Poison," he said.
"Is that like a code name or something?"
He didn't answer. They reached another door and were through it in a manner of seconds.
They ran for what felt like hours. Finally, just as Donna thought her legs would give out beneath her and her lungs would collapse in her chest, they skidded to a halt before a tall silver box similar in size and shape to the Doctor's TARDIS.
"Is this it?" Donna asked. She looked around. "Where's the Doctor?"
"They're inside," Poison said. He grabbed a slight protrusion on the ship's front and pulled. He ran inside the door.
"Hold...on!" Donna gasped, and followed him. The door slammed shut behind her. Poison stood a few feet in front of her. Unlike the TARDIS, this ship was the same size on the inside as it was on the outside.
And the Doctor was nowhere to be seen.
"What's going on?" Donna asked, a sinking feeling in her stomach.
Poison turned to face her, and his eyes were burning.
Laurel and Calla stared at each other across the table. Laurel's arms were crossed over her chest and her eyes were narrowed in contempt. Calla had removed his psychic armor and sat, towering over her and the Doctor, his teeth bared.
"The Judoon are a brutish and hardheaded race of imbeciles," said Laurel. "They're neither needed nor welcome here."
"Be nice," said the Doctor. "We're all on the same team here."
"Look, let's just focus on what we know," said the Doctor. "Laurel, what information has U.N.I.T. gathered?"
"We know whoever or whatever is committing these crimes strikes only in the western Caribbean. We also know that it targets only cruise ships."
"So it never attacks anyone on land?" The Doctor leaned back in his chair and thought. "Why on Earth would it do that?" He looked at Calla. "Any ideas?"
The Judoon drummed his fingers on the table. "Perhaps it has something to do with the water temperature."
"An interesting theory," said the Doctor. "But that still doesn't explain why it only targets cruises. It must be something with the passengers themselves."
"All of the victims have been British or American," said Laurel.
The Doctor thought about this. "These ships are mostly staffed by people from Latin American countries. And one of my new friends was from Normandy. Why haven't they been attacked?"
There was a knock on the door of the U.N.I.T. conference room. Laurel jumped to her feet.
"Sit down," Calla said. He opened the door and a young woman in a floral patterned dress slipped in. She tugged at her necklace and the air around her shimmered. The psychic force field dissipated and a Judoon soldier stood at attention.
"At ease," Calla said.
"Sir. I have urgent information. The Noble woman was seen leaving the theater with an unidentified man. Attempts to follow them were unsuccessful. We believe this individual was aware of our presence and managed to throw us off."
The Doctor sat up. "Where is she?"
"Sir. Her current whereabouts are unknown."
The Doctor bolted past the Judoon, out into the corridor. Laurel and Calla followed him.
"Where are you going?"
"To the TARDIS!" the Doctor said.
"Is there anything we can do, Doctor?" Laurel asked.
He stopped. "Get everyone on deck. Pull the fire alarm!"
Laurel left Calla and his agent in the corridor as she headed off in the opposite direction than the Doctor had taken. She found a red box bolted to the wall, and a quick slap with her palm shattered the glass. She pulled a lever and a harsh, shrill shriek ripped through the air. Lights flashed, and Laurel raced toward a staircase. Calla was right behind her.
"I don't need your help," she spat.
"Don't be a fool. The Doctor has a plan, and we're a part of that. Both of us."
They ran down another corridor, past a tall silver box, and scrambled up another staircase.
The front of the box swung outward and a tall, bald man in glasses stepped out into the corridor and shut the door behind him.
The Doctor rushed into the TARDIS, skidding to a halt before the console. Now what? Instinct had led him here, but beyond that he hadn't a clue.
"Think, think," he muttered. He threw off his coat and walked around the console. He suddenly missed K-9, his old robotic dog, who had the capability to track the Doctor's companions, most of whom had a habit of wandering off. He'd meant to outfit the TARDIS with such a feature, but of course he'd never gotten around to it, just as he'd been meaning to fix his Chameleon Circuit for hundreds of years.
"Your laziness is catching up with you, Doctor."
As often when he stopped to actually study the console, he found a new button. The TARDIS was forever re-arranging itself to suit the Doctor's needs, whole wings tucked away until he needed them, ot until he happened to stumble upon them, and the console was the same.
This button was labeled "Alien Tech."
The Doctor smiled sadly, remembering. He pressed the button, and a small screen mounted on the console blinked to life.
"Scan complete," said a reassuring female voice. "Alien technology detected."
The Doctor studied the screen. "Of course," he said. "Why didn't I see it before?" He grabbed his coat and ran out of the TARDIS, into the stateroom. He bolted out into the hall, where he joined a crowd of people hurrying to the upper decks, some clutching life jackets, others shouting into cell phones. He grabbed a woman in a white jacket. Her name tag told him she was called Mariette, a room steward.
"Judoon or U.N.I.T.?" he demanded.
She pulled away and disappeared into the crowd.
"Mariette!" He fought his way through the crowd until he found her. He flashed his psychic paper. "I need to get to the engine room."
"Officer, what is happening?" she asked, her accent so thick he could barely comprehend her. He pulled her into a supply closet, away from the chaotic roar of the ongoing evacuation. "Is it terrorists?"
He ran his hands through his hair. "What? No. I don't think so. Tell me how to get to the engine room."
"Deck nine. You can't get there without level-five clearance."
The Doctor held up his sonic screwdriver. "Watch me."
The first thing she was conscious of was how cold she was. Her teeth were chattering and she was shivering. Gradually, she became aware of her surroundings—the small, dark room and the rough floor beneath her. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.
"Grandad?" Her voice cracked, and then, suddenly, horribly, she remembered.
Donna climbed to her feet. She swayed, her head throbbing, and she collapsed against the side of the box. Her legs trembled in protest, but she forced herself to stand. She stumbled to the door and fell into it. It shuddered but held her weight.
"Come on," she said, feeling in the darkness for a handle. She took a step back and tried kicking at it, and to her surprise the door swung open, its metal handle clattering to the floor.
"Rubbish," Donna said. She stepped out into the hall. All around her there was noise: fire alarms, shouts, the muffled din of a crowd, and above it all a robotic female voice urgently intoning something in what sounded to her like Chinese. She had heard nothing inside the box, nothing but her own shallow breathing. Some sort of auditory cloaking device?
"You've been travelling with the Doctor too long," she said. "You're even talking to yourself."
She turned a corner and found herself in another long corridor lined with stateroom doors. She tried to remember which room housed the TARDIS and gritted her teeth in frustration, wishing she could reach the Doctor. She had suggested several times that they carry cell phones or those thumbnail-sized communicators she had seen in the future (or what she used to think of as "the future" before the Doctor—now time didn't have the same meaning, not when Ancient Rome or the Fifty-Second century were just a few levers and buttons away.) As often as they were separated it seemed like an obvious idea, and the Doctor agreed, until his attention was caught by something else a moment later, and the communicators were forgotten until a situation like the one Donna now found herself in, lost and alone and growing increasingly frustrated.
"Wait til I find you," she muttered. She turned another corner and saw him standing before a door, sonic screwdriver in hand.
"Oy!" she screamed. "Spaceman!"
He looked up, and a wide grin split his face. At that moment the ship shuddered, and Donna heard the grinding shriek of metal from somewhere below.
"I'll save the beating for later," she said, coming to stand beside him. "Did you know I was kidnapped? Another spaceman, this one with glowing eyes."
"I was worried—"
She punched him in the shoulder.
"I lied." The door clicked open and they entered a service elevator.
"We need to get to the engine room," the Doctor said.
"Because that's where we'll find your spaceman with the glowing eyes. He's trying to sink the ship."
"I don't understand any of this," Donna said as the elevator doors opened and they stepped out into yet another corridor. The lights here were dim, emergency lighting that made the long stretch of hallway seem menacing. "I mean, who is this guy?"
"He's an Ambicore."
"What, like the tuna?"
"Not albacore," said the Doctor as they walked. "Ambicore. They're a vampiric species of shape-shifters who feed off sodium and iron and other fats, minerals and proteins found in large mammals. I should have known from the Calcium Chronide crystal Laurel showed me."
"Why?" Donna asked.
"Because it's the only trace they leave of their victims, the crystallized, concentrated toxins it can't consume. Stress, cholesterol, cancer, disease—whatever it can't eat."
"Those crystals," Donna said, "are people?"
The ship lurched again, and the robotic voice finished its warning in French and looped back to English.
"Why wasn't that translated?" Donna wondered. "The TARDIS should have automatically changed it in my head."
"She deserves a holiday, too," said the Doctor. "Anyway, never mind about all that. This thing, this Ambicore, is leaving behind only the tiniest of crystals. They're usually much bigger, and that's why I didn't catch it."
"What does that mean?"
"It means its found the perfect environment. All of its victims are almost completely stress-free. This is a luxury liner, which means that the people aboard probably have access to better healthcare, making them much more suitable for consumption."
"So why's it trying to sink the ship?" They had reached a set of doors posted with red and yellow warning signs in dozens of languages. They all said essentially the same thing: Keep Out.
The engine room.
"It knows we're here," the Doctor said. "And it wants us dead. If has to sink the Sun Goddess to do it, it'll only find another ship. Ready?"
"Ready," Donna said, and the Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver.
They burst into the engine room.
"Ambicore!" the Doctor said, tucking his sonic screwdriver back into his coat pocket. The bald man with the glasses was standing before a bank of computers, a thick tangle of wires in his hands. "Listen to me. You don't have to do this, not any more. I don't know how you came here, or why, but I can take you home. Back to where you belong."
"How sympathetic," said the Ambicore. "How foolishly sentimental. Goodbye, Doctor." He pulled another handful of wires from beneath the console, and the lights overhead shot sparks onto the carpet below. A small fire started in one corner and began to spread.
"You had your chance, buddy," said Donna. "Now you're in for it."
"You are well-known to me, Doctor." The Ambicore bent and picked up a handful of small crystals. "The remnants of the men in this chamber, the captain and his crew. You are their killer, Doctor. Their blood is on your hands." He tossed the crystals to the Doctor, who caught them in one hand. "You offer to return me to my home. My home no longer exists. It was destroyed, Doctor, in the war, in the senseless conflict your race perpetrated with the Daleks. You killed these men, Doctor, because you have robbed me of a home."
"I can find you a home, another home, where you pose no risk to anyone, where—"
"You would rob me once again!" the Ambicore snarled. "You would deny me the right to feed, to survive!"
"What did you eat on your planet?" Donna asked.
"They ate each other," said the Doctor. "They were cannibals."
"Humans are an inferior food supply," said the Ambicore.
"That's why you have to feed so often."
He smiled at her, a thin and wicked smile. "As inefficient and unsatisfying as they are, they are the only beings in this universe who will sustain me. I have a right to exist, Doctor. You cannot deny me."
"I can't fault you for your nature," said the Doctor solemnly. "But I can't let you stay and murder hordes of innocent people, either. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He raised his sonic screwdriver. A thick metal bar came crashing down on top of the screaming Ambicore.
"Come on, Donna." He took her hand. "Let's get out of here."
* * *
Donna studied the headline over the Doctor's shoulder:
CAPTAIN, NINE OTHERS DIE IN FUTILE ATTEMPT TO SAVE SINKING SHIP
"Laurel's on her way back as we speak," said Martha. "We'll have her report by the end of the week."
The Doctor folded the newspaper and handed it back to her. He sighed.
"Thank you," Martha said. "Both of you."
"That was murder," said the Doctor. "Genocide. He was the last of his kind."
"You did what you had to do," said Donna.
"You had no choice," Martha said. "Doctor, he would have killed hundreds, thousands of people."
The Doctor planted his hands in his pockets. He walked back into the TARDIS and closed the doors behind him.
"I don't miss that," Martha said. "His moods."
"He'll be all right," said Donna. She and Martha hugged, and then she followed the Doctor into the TARDIS.
A moment later, the ship was gone, and Martha was alone with her thoughts.