"What's a Gravis?" Martha asked.
"I guess you could say he's the mind of the Tractators. The guiding force. With him, the Tractators are a highly technological race. The last time I met them they were turning the planet they were on into a gravity engine." He saw her look of incomprehension. "Aside from their ability to manipulate gravity directly, they're also magnificent gravity engineers. Those glass tunnels? They form a ring, smooth and mathematically precise. It allows them to control the planet's gravity, actually use it to drive the planet."
"They can move a planet?" Martha asked, her eyes going wide. Toby looked up at them, eyes going back and forth between then, not understanding the conversation.
"Yes. They drive it from system to system, seeding worlds as they go. Breeding and feeding and stripping the planet of all its resources before starting the cycle all over again."
"But," Martha waved back at the tunnels. "That thing, you can't tell me that is an intelligent gravity engineer!"
"No, without the Gravis the Tractators are just harmless burrowing earth creatures. That's what didn't make sense. The last time I saw the Tractators they were at the height of their power. The Tractator here must be the atavistic form, what they revert to without a Gravis to lead them." He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "It's almost a shame really, all that culture, all that knowledge, the artistry to build all this," he waved his hand at the beautiful cavern, "reduced to the level of a brute."
"Sounds like it's probably the best option. Certainly for the human colonists here," Martha said.
"Maybe," the Doctor said. He scuffed his trainer on the dust covered mosaic floor. "Sometimes I just wish all the creatures in this universe could get along together."
Martha smiled at his woebegone look. She laid a hand on his arm. "We don't seem to be doing so bad," she said, smiling, human to Time Lord.
He looked up at her, his face downturned, peering through his wild shock of hair. He smiled a little smile. "Yeah."
He shook off his maudlin thoughts and straightened up. "Right! Lets leave this dying civilization to its decline and get back up to the growing one. We've got a party to go to." He clapped his hands and turned in a circle, surveying the various tunnels that led out of it.
There were four large, ornate archways, and one small, roughhewn tunnel only two feet high. Toby had wandered off during their conversation and was squatting in front of the smaller tunnel, peering inside. As they watched, he dropped to all fours and started crawling inside.
"Toby!" the Doctor yelled, "Be careful!" He trotted over, scanning with his sonic screwdriver. He turned and grinned over his shoulder at Martha. "Well, he does seem to have picked the right tunnel out of here."
The Doctor sprinted, grabbed him by the ankle, and yanked him out of the tunnel. He whipped the little boy behind his back, right into Martha's legs, she grabbed the boy and hauled him behind her. He grabbed hold of her legs, hugging tightly. Shaking, thumb in his mouth, he peered nervously out from behind her.
The Doctor stepped back, shoving Martha behind him.
A creature crawled out of the opening. It was four feet long and two feet wide. It had wide segmented armor plates on its back, and long twitching antennae. It stood up on its hind feet.
"What are you doing here?" it asked.
Martha almost collapsed with relief. It was a little girl. No, it was a little Tractator. It had a cute little pug puppy face and translucent amber plates on its back. But its manner was pure little girl. A sturdy, curious, little girl.
"What are you doing here?" she repeated, antennae twitching.
"That other Tractator pulled us down," Martha answered, waving vaguely off behind herself.
The little Tractator signed. "I wish he wouldn't do that. First the deer, then the berries. The deer was pretty, but scared. I had a heck of a time herding her back to the surface. The berries were good though."
Martha looked at the Doctor nonplussed by this dissertation. The Doctor was standing there with a huge grin on his face, beaming down at the little Tractator as if Peacemas had come early.
Martha felt a tug on her pantleg. Toby stepped from behind her, one fist bunched in the material of her pant seam. He smiled at the little Tractator from around his thumb.
"I know you," the little alien said to the boy. "I've seen you up top." She jerked her little dimpled chin at the ceiling. Not easy to do when you have no neck, Martha observed.
The Doctor stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned forward. "What's your name?"
The little alien looked up at him in confusion. "What's a name?"
Toby popped his wet thumb out of his mouth and pointed at her with it. "Veeni!" He declared loudly.
The little alien turned back and wiggled her antennae at the little human, cocking her head in question.
"I think he means your name should be Veeni. If you don't have any other name. A name is something other people call you." The Doctor explained.
"What others?" she said, turning her attention back to the tall Time Lord. "There's just me."
"And the big one," Martha pointed out.
"Yes," the Doctor interrupted, "but, I'm betting he's not very clever. Is he, Veeni?"
She shook her head, the motion requiring her to waggle her entire body from side to side. "No. He protects me. And he brings me food. But he's not very smart. He's nice though."
"Just as I thought," the Doctor mused to himself, rubbing his thumb across his chin. He saw Martha's questioning look out of the corner of his eye. "A Guardian," he explained. "I always wondered how that worked. If there can be only one Gravis per generation. Then if a new Gravis is born to replace the old one, there has to be someone to take care of it until it matures. If all the Tractators have reverted to animals, there still has to be one to care for the young. Right?" he turned and asked Veeni.
"Huh?" She turned confused and annoyed little girl eyes on this adult who was being deliberately confusing.
"Oh, nothing. Just talking to myself." The Doctor waved it off airily.
"That's a very silly thing to do," the little Gravis said with great dignity.
Toby detached himself from Martha's leg and walked up to the little alien. Standing up, she was only a few inches taller than he was, not counting the antennae. "I'm Toby," he said, thrusting out a trusting little hand.
Veeni cocked her head at him and twitched her antennae. He wiggled his nose back at her, trying to copy her expression, then he grabbed her little digging claw hand and shook it. "We're neighbors. You wanna come to my party?"
The tableau was broken up by a sudden pinging noise.
Martha and the Doctor turned just in time to see Vince stick his head in through one of the other archways. "They're here!" the young man yelled back over his shoulder.
Vince and Logan and Jack, one of the younger cousins, ran into the chamber.
Logan saw his son standing by the huge insect and ran and snatched him up. "Toby!" he said in horror, putting distance between his son and the monster.
"Da!" the boy hugged his father with all his might.
"What is that thing?" Logan demanded with horror and disgust.
"Hello," Veeni said.
Logan blinked and stared. It was such a calm young voice.
"Who're you?" she said, tipping her head coyly.
"This is my Da!" Toby said excitedly, leaning eagerly out of his father's arms toward the little alien. He turned back to his father and introduced them. "Da, this is Veeni. She's my friend."
While father and son stared at the little amber alien, Vince and Jack approached the Doctor and Martha, taking a wide loop around the little trio. Vince jerked his head back at the corpse on the other side of the room. "What's that?" he asked softly, not wanting to break into the tableau of father and son.
"The previous Gravis," the Doctor answered. He nodded toward Veeni. "Her father, you could say. How did you find us?" he asked.
Vince grinned and held up the device that had been pinging. "Heat detector. When you didn't show up after an hour I figured that down here in the cool your heat signature would show up. I ran back to the house, got the detector and Jack and came back. Funny..." he said, looking down at the device. "You're not showing up as well as the rest of us do."
"Never mind that," Martha said. "Do you know the way out of here?"
"Yes." Vince grinned and held up the detector, showing her the screen. "I've been mapping as we went along."
"And look what we found," Jack said, holding up a large silver sphere he'd been carrying, it was a foot in diameter.
The Doctor took it and examined it with a frown. "Where did you get this?"
"A few tunnels back, they were just lying around," Vince said.
"You can't have that." The Doctor looked down to see the little Tractator beside him. She held up her stunty little arms in demand. He gave her the sphere. She waddled over and set it carefully down at the base of the wall. She turned and looked at them, giving the impression that she was crossing her arms sternly, even though her arms were too short to actually cross.
"You're not allowed to take the babies," she said.
Vince's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Those things, they're..."
"Eggs," the Doctor said.
"But there were hundreds of them!" Jack said, appalled.
"It makes sense, the Tractators are an insectoid race," the Doctor said.
"But if all those things hatch out..." Jack still couldn't take it in.
"You'll have two civilizations on this planet," the Doctor said. Martha detected a note of satisfaction in his voice.
"Considering what you told me about them Doctor, that might not be a good thing," she pointed out.
"That was a totally different situation, Martha."
"What did he tell you?" Logan asked. He walked up carrying his son.
The Doctor was giving her a stern frown, but Martha ignored him and told them anyway. "Tractators drive planets. They strip it of all its resources, turn it into a gravity engine, and drive it through space looking for other planets to seed."
Vince and Logan looked at each other horrified, they turned to look accusingly at the Doctor.
"It's not as bad as that," he said.
"Our home. All we've worked for..." Logan trailed off.
"You mean, those things could destroy the planet?" Vince said. "Then we've got to destroy the eggs first!" He turned and began stomping back toward the tunnel they'd entered through, back to where he'd seen the eggs.
"No!" The Doctor jumped in front of him, arms spread wide to stop him.
Before Vince could shove him aside a huge roar, like an enraged boar, reverberated down the tunnel and the giant tractator charged into the room like a runaway freight train. The Doctor was knocked aside and Vince and the others ran screaming.
The little Tractator, Veeni, had scrambled aside when her guardian charged in, putting her close to Logan and Toby. The giant spotted her and jumped forward cutting her away from them. Martha screamed and backpedalled. It was terrifying to see something that size jump as high as she stood. She fell and scrambled backward crabwise on hands and feet, trying to get out of range. She ended up cut out of the herd with Veeni, herded back toward the tunnel entrance by the giant Tractator's huge bulk, the pebbled grey black armor showed all its imperfections and unyielding hardness at this range. She instinctively grabbed Veeni and pulled her aside when the giant's huge bulk threatened to crush her by accident. The atavistic Tractator saw the motion, and the perceived threat to its gravis and turned on her, growling like a lion, its huge frowning face looming toward her.
The little gravis stepped between Martha and the monster. She held up a tiny, delicate little clawed hand. A pebble in front of a boulder. "Stop it!"
Martha shook inside, she could swear this thing got larger every time she saw it. She wanted to grab Veeni and pull her back out of danger, but she didn't dare touch her.
The towering Tractator stopped, it looked down at the tiny gravis, her smooth translucent amber shell looked so young and vulnerable compared to his huge boulderlike armor, the giant quivered with the need for action, to reach past her and crush the threat.
"You, stop," Veeni said implacably, like she was talking to a large naughty dog. "No one's going to hurt me."
The Doctor sauntered around the end of the huge, tensely quivering monster. "No, Guardian," he said reassuringly, "No one is going to hurt your Gravis. Or your eggs." The Doctor cast a significant look at Vince, Jack, and Logan who were standing scattered around the rest of the massive chamber.
Slowly the humans gathered back together. Logan put his son down and turned to the Doctor, "And you want us to share the planet with hundreds of those monsters?"
"They aren't monsters, Logan," the Doctor said calmly. He nodded to where Toby and Veeni were standing together talking and giggling. "Is Veeni a monster?" he asked.
Logan bit down on his reply. His eyes switched from the little smooth shelled alien to the large hulking monster behind her.
"Think about it, Logan," Martha said. "If the Tractators are capable of being great engineers, then they're not all going to be like him, are they? Tell him, Doctor," she urged.
"The Guardian is a throwback, the atavistic form of the Tractator. It's the gravis that makes them intelligent. She's the guiding force. Rather like a queen bee."
"Then we kill her," Jack said.
Martha stared at him in horror.
"Could you?" the Doctor said softly. "Could you really kill a little girl?" He held the younger man's eyes implacably. Jack looked at Veeni, then glanced at the Doctor and looked away. "Besides," the Doctor said, "It's without her that the Tractators become these huge brutes. With her, they are an intelligent, highly civilized, technological race."
"But you said they ravaged planets. Then went around seeding others," Vince said, honestly confused.
"That was different. The planet I originally saw them on had already been stripped of all its resources. There wasn't even any combustible material left. They had no choice but to take the planet and travel elsewhere. It was either that, or starve. Tractators may be excellent technicians, but they don't know anything about sustainable agriculture. Dalmorion is a rich planet. And you humans are excellent farmers. You know how to husband your resources, and protect the planet so it remains viable. You can teach them that. And they can help you do it."
"How?" Jack said.
The Doctor waved around at the huge cathedral chamber around them, and the complex network of tunnels by implication. "You are good at husbanding the surface, but Tractators are experts at subterranean engineering. Just think about it, they can find underground water sources, aerate and help clear land, locate mineral deposits, build tunnels through mountains and build cities underground. Use your imagination, do I really need to spell it out?"
"But," Logan said, "according to you, she's the only one left." He nodded over to the little Tactator who was leading Toby around the room by the hand, showing him the mosaics and carvings on the floor, the large bulk of the Guardian Tractator shambling along beside them, keeping watch on his charge, and a wary eye on the aliens.
"How is she going to learn all this Tractator engineering and knowledge?"
The Doctor held up one long bonny finger. Martha recognized the suppressed twinkle in his eye and wondered what he was up to.
The Doctor loped over to the center of the grand dome and stepped on the one smooth raised stone in the center of the mosaic starmap floor. The orange light dimmed and all the walls disappeared.
Huge holographic displays of symbols and language, starmaps, and technical schematics, images of other worlds, images of the inner worlds of biology and botany and a hundred other things flowed and manifested across each section of the dome. Separated by the stanchions, the displays seeming to carry on back into the walls, as if you could walk right into the knowledge and go as far back as you wanted. Holograms flowed and danced through the air, with strange smells and wafts of almost subliminal sounds and music.
"Why did you turn it on?" Veeni asked indignantly from across the room. "It's not time for teacher yet!"
"Sorry!" the Doctor called back and stepped on the stone again. The orange light went up and the walls returned.
Vince was standing, staring around, looking gobsmacked. "All that alien knowledge..." he trailed off.
"Oh no," Jack said, smacking a hand on his face and dropping his head in longsuffering. "Here we go again."
Vince turned around like a man in a dream. His eyes filled with wonder. "I always hoped... I always meant to go for my xenobiology degree, get on one of the research vessels..."
Martha looked at Logan. Logan shrugged and smiled ruefully at her, he nodded at his young cousin. "He's been fascinated with alien civilizations ever since he was a kid."
"The knowledge of an entire alien civilization at our fingertips," Vince mused, staring at the walls.
"Easy Vince," the Doctor said, recognizing an enthusiasm he shared. He'd probably be down here packing a tent at the first opportunity. "We're not talking about a dead civilization you can just pillage at leisure." Martha raised her eyebrows at the Doctor's sarcastic tone. "I don't like archeologists," the Doctor confided in an aside.
"What we have here," he continued to Vince and the others, "is a civilization in hiatus. Through Veeni it can rise again. Bring its diversity to add to the mosaic of life in the universe. But only if she's allowed to live in peace."
"But Doctor," Logan said. His eyes shifted around uncomfortably. He took in the huge beautiful room, he looked to where Veeni and Toby were now crouched down examining the mummy of the previous Gravis. He worried that it might be too gruesome for his son, but he didn't seem to be bothered, he looked interested, and it obviously didn't bother Veeni, who had apparently never known her predecessor.
"According to Interstellar Law, humans are not allowed to colonize a planet that already has an intelligent species." He looked at the Doctor with haunted eyes. "Our home. Everything my family has worked for... We'll lose everything. The government will make us leave. Unless you can prove we were here first?" Logan said hopefully.
"I doubt it." The Doctor said, regretfully shaking his head. "Some of the tunnels we've seen here. This hall. I doubt it was all built after your father started to colonize."
"But," Logan protested. "Why didn't any of it show up on the scans?"
"Gravitically shielded," the Doctor said, offhand, "makes it look like solid rock.
"But that hardly matters," the Doctor said. "Granted, you've no right to push a species off their own world." He leaned forward, "But you can't leave a little girl alone on a planet with a hundred babies can you? That's not responsible behavior either. There's bound to be a middle ground."
"Besides," Vince put in enthusiastically, "Experts from all over are going to want to come here and study this! We won't be able to keep people away!"
"Precisely!" The Doctor said, stabbing the air with a long finger for emphasis. "So the problem isn't whether or not you both can live on the planet, but ratherhow you can both live on the planet."
"The politicians aren't going to like this," Logan predicted.
"Or the conservation groups," Jack put in.
"So?" the Doctor said irrepressibly. "Finding answers isn't the hard part. All you have to do is find the right questions." He turned and waved a hand at Toby and Veeni.
Toby's young voice rang out across the hall, "So are you gonna come for Peacemas?"
Veeni accompanied the humans back to their farm, Guardian having been persuaded to remain behind and guard the eggs. Martha had asked how that was possible, since the gravis was the important one. But the Doctor confided that while Tractators weren't exactly telepathic, their antennae could detect various pheromones and energy patterns that proved that the humans were no longer a threat. Besides, the Doctor grinned at her as they fell behind the others on the forest path on the way back to the house, "He's probably following along underneath us. He can always snatch her back down if anything happens, just like he took Toby." Martha nodded. Apparently the Guardian was getting smarter faster than she expected.
When they reached the house they explained the situation to Marta and the others. It took Marta a while to stop hugging her son. But he was so obviously okay, and wiggling so hard to be put down to play, that it allayed her fears.
As the others sat and argued at the outdoor table behind her, Marta watched as Veeni and Toby chased a ball in the yard in front of the house, one on four feet one on two, bumping the ball back and forth to each other, until Veeni stood up and threw the ball to Toby, both of them laughing.
"I suppose we could adopt her," Marta said. Everyone stared at her.
She turned to them. "According to Colonial Law, any child orphaned by disease, attack, misfortune or other causes may be adopted and given citizenship status. The child retains all rights to its families homestead. Homestead being defined as land the family has held and improved, including all buildings, machines, and appurtenances thereto." She turned and looked at her husband. "If we adopt her, she becomes a Federation citizen. That would solve all the legal problems wouldn't it?"
Logan stared at his wife. She shrugged. "I looked it up when Toby was born."
Logan blinked, and thought about it. He turned and caught the eyes of each of the rest of his family one by one. Slowly, they looked at the children, playing together so peacefully, then solemnly nodded back. Logan turned to the Doctor. "You know, that might work."
"Chase is the Colonial Governor," Logan continued. "He's coming to the party tonight, and to Peacemas Dinner."
"Awp!" Marta exclaimed, throwing her hands up. "Dinner!" She looked at the lowering sun and the lengthening shadows crawling across the yard. "Inside, everybody!" she shooed everyone before her like a hen with a gaggle of recalcitrant chicks. "Dinner doesn't make itself!"
Martha was set to washing the good crystal, to be sure there was no dust or spots. Logan was set to preparing a huge avian, filling it with stuffing and tying its legs together (Martha had never seen a bird with so many legs before. It must reduce arguments over who got the drumsticks.) The in-laws and cousins scattered to their various tasks, other foods and casseroles being prepared in the smaller bunkhouse and dower house kitchens.
The Doctor, Martha was amused to see, had been set to peeling a huge mound of potatoes. She smirked as she dried a large punchbowl with a lintless flannel towel. Here at least was something the sonic screwdriver didn't do.
Veeni and Toby had been set to washing a huge quantity of greens by dunking them in wooden rainwater barrels outside the back kitchen door. Both children were enjoying themselves, getting soaking wet. This appeared to be an activity that Veeni understood, and she dunked her clawed little digger hands into the greens filled barrels with a will.
Suddenly there was a huge crash from outside.
"Good heavens!" Marta exclaimed and ran out the back door. The Doctor, Martha, and Logan followed her.
Toby and Veeni stood outside looking up with surprise at a car stuck in the top of a tree at the edge of the clearing.
"Oh, Peacemas Night! Oh, Peacemas Night!" sang a drunken, and surprisingly loud voice from the canted cab of the disc shaped hovercraft. Limbs creaked and snapped ominously beneath it.
A sleek, silver and black hovercraft whirred up to the back of the house and parked. A lean, blue haired man jumped out and ran toward the tree frantically, having enough presence of mind to stop before he was under the suspended vehicle.
"Marie!" he yelled up through cupped hands, amplifying his voice over the loud singing that was still coming from inside the cab. "Marie!"
"Daddy!" a young woman's voice yelled back.
"Are you all right?" he yelled.
"I'm pinned! I can't get out!"
"How lovely are your..." the loud voice crooned, drowning her out in drunken splendor.
"Oh, shut up!" There was the sound of a slap and the singing cut off abruptly.
The main limb beneath them cracked with a sound like a gunshot. The vehicle lurched. The woman screamed, her father jumped back. The limb canted toward the ground, its base splintered, the limb dragging. Only the cage of branches kept them from slipping.
"How are we going to get them down?" Martha asked, turning toward the Doctor. "Can they tow it with the other cars?"
The Doctor shook his head. "They're just hovercraft. They're not even supposed to be able to get up that high."
The cousins came charging around the building to see what had happened. "Jack!" Logan yelled. "Go get the tractor crane from the garage. We..."
He stopped as he saw Veeni calmly approach the groaning tree. The straining limb splintered further with a series of popping sounds like huge tearing lace. The vehicle started to slide.
"Daddeeee!" the woman screamed.
The limb broke completely away. Veenie's antennae wiggled. The crumpled passenger vehicle was encompassed in a staticy yellow haze, and drifted slowly to the ground.
It took several hours of explanations and negotiations, with the Doctor, Vince, and Logan taking the Governor down to see the Tractators Hall before everything was decided. It helped that the little Tractator had saved the governor's daughter's life.
"But how do we know she won't grow up to become the menace you describe?" the governor asked the Doctor.
The Doctor tilted an eyebrow. "How do you know Toby won't grow up to be a menace?"
"Because," the governor responded hotly, "Logan will raise him right!" The man stopped, hearing his own words. He looked at Logan who was grinning at him with arms crossed, he'd already had this conversation with the Doctor. "Oh."
"Exactly," the Doctor said.
Chase ran his hands through his blue hair. "It's my job to safeguard this planet. I have my constituents to protect."
"If Logan adopts Veeni, then the Tractators are your constituents," the Doctor pointed out.
"But how do I know something won't still go wrong? How do I know it wouldn't be better just to stop it all now?" Chase asked.
"You don't," the Doctor said. "But then, none of us do." He leaned forward earnestly. "You can't predict the future. Even I can't do that. No matter what choice you make, there's the risk things will turn out badly, and the possibility things will turn out well. The only question you are really facing here, is what choice can you will live with - every day - for the rest of your life."
Dinner went off without a hitch, when they finally got it prepared. Toby sat at the table beside Veeni who stood, since Tractators couldn't bend to sit the way humans did, and whispered explanations and instructions to her, telling her all about Peacemas, and how to use her fork.
As the sun set more and more guests started arriving. Everyone was surprised to see the little Tractator, and the story circulated quickly. There was some unease, but it was set aside in the spirit of the holiday.
And as midnight approached, everyone gathered outside in the courtyard lawn in front of the house. The stars were shining but it was a clear, moonless night. All the colonists formed a semicircle in the darkness, facing Logan and Chase who stood in front of the house. Marta turned off the house lights and stepped out onto the porch.
Darkness fell, individuals in the crowd became mere moving outlines in the dimness as people shuffled to get the best view.
Martha stood by the Doctor, virtually blind in the darkness. But her vision adjusted enough to see the Doctor rummage in his pocket and pull out his 3D glasses. He held the sonic screwdriver down beside his pantleg, trying not to draw attention to it. The light blinked as he buzzed the glasses, realigning the molecules of the lenses. He plopped the white blur of the cardboard glasses on Veeni's little pug nose.
"What's that in aide of?" Martha whispered.
The Doctor slipped his sonic screwdriver back in his pocket. "Tractators are subterranean creatures. Adapted to darkness. Sudden bright lights can be damaging to their eyes."
Martha leaned out and looked around the Doctor to where Veeni and Toby stood beside him. The little boy was hopping and clapping with excitement. Veeni had caught it, her little hard-shelled person was bouncing slightly in sympathetic excitement, her head craning around, looking at all the things the human's eyes were too weak to see, the white cardboard glasses completely incongruous on her wrinkled little alien face.
"Welcome to the Festival of Lights!" Logan said dramatically, and hit the power switch.
Hundreds of thousands of lights sprang on, all at once. Every curve, every angle, every tree and eave was outlined and highlighted and crisscrossed with lights.
"Ooh!" Veeni leaned forward, trying to see everything simultaneously.
Holographic swirling patterns of light played on all the windows. The bunkhouse and dower house, on opposite sides of the square, were decked out with lights and covered with artificial snow on the roofs. A huge tree behind the dower house was festooned with long streamers of lights that draped down to meet the peak and corners of the dower house roof, lit images of elves and snowflakes, slid down from branches to rooftop. A mechanical elf decoration slid down the lines, hit the rooftop in a sprawl and curled up in a ball to roll the rest of the way, bumping, down the roof. Just before he plummeted off the edge he uncurled and rolled to a stop, sitting on the edge of the roof. He held up a tankard of beer, in a cheerful drunken salute. "Happy Peacemas!" He declared in ringing artificial tones, and started singing "Peacemas time, Peacemas time, Peacemas time is here..."
Everyone laughed, and a few people poked the governor's daughter's fiancee playfully.
"I don't remember putting those up," Martha whispered to the Doctor.
"Seems like Jeremy has been busy," he answered.
"The other cousin."
Martha shrugged ruefully. Naturally he would know.
"The Saint!" Toby squealed. Hopping up and down, he pointed to the roof of the bunkhouse behind them. The lights had been arranged on the opposite side of the roof here, leaving the roof black, but sending up a bright, multicolored glow from the other side. At the top of the roof, at the crest of the ridge, a plastic cutout of a thin, longlegged man, with a heavy bag over his shoulder, was backlit as he snuck into the bunkhouse with one foot in the chimney.
Martha laughed and poked the Doctor. He grinned, shyly. Toby jumped up and down then turned to look at the Doctor with a wicked little conspiratorial grin on his face.
Martha laughed out loud.
"The Festival of the Lights is one of the oldest of the Peacemas traditions," Chase intoned from the front step of the house which was now a brilliant fairytale arbor dripping with lights. "On the darkest days of the year, our ancestors would light fires, and candles, and lanterns to beat back the darkness. But as mankind ventured out into space, we learned that we are the lights in the darkness. In all that vast darkness between worlds, we had only ourselves to illuminate our lives. And as each light is different, so each of us is different. Like the lights, we come in all different colors, and sizes, and shapes. And it's only by all of us shining together, working together in peace, each one separate, but all of us connected, that we are able to push back the darkness.
"That message comes to mean more tonight. For tonight we have a new light to add to the collection." Chase held out his hand, and beckoned Veeni. The little Tractator waddled quickly forward, the cardboard glasses on her face giving her a comical air, but the lights glowing off her translucent amber carapace making her beautiful.
Chase dropped his hands to where her shoulders would be, "This is Veeni, she's the last currently living survivor of a race that once colonized Dalmorion. She, and her unborn siblings, have been adopted by Logan and Marta. Please welcome her as your new neighbor, in the spirit of Peace and Generosity that is Peacemas."
After welcoming Veeni and admiring the lights, everyone trooped back into the house, congratulating Logan and Marta and Toby on their new family member. There was a quick run on the snack tables, and a more discreet run, as one by one groups and individuals snuck away to retrieve packages from their hiding places.
Martha was surprised to find the Doctor hustling her up the stairs by her elbow, back into their borrowed room. He dropped down and wiggled under the bed, only his pinstriped legs poking out, as he dug out a pile of packages and pushed them to her one by one.
There was a brightly wrapped package for every member of their host family. Every one of them badly wrapped, Martha noticed, wondering how to straighten out holographic wrapping paper.
"When did you do this?" Martha asked, remembering the suspicion she'd had that he'd snuck back to the Tardis the night before.
"Yeah, well," he blushed a bit, clumsily gathering up a huge armload of packages, "I never could sleep the night before Peacemas."
She laughed and scooped up her own armful, following him as he trooped downstairs with their bounty.
They didn't know anyone except Logan and his family, and it didn't matter a jot. It was still the best Christmas party she'd ever been to.
Martha smoothed her hand down the soft, baby-wool cardigan that Marta had given her when the gifts were exchanged.
They'd talked to everyone and ate snacks, and drank punch, and the Doctor had played Toby's toys with him and explained them to Veeni, and eventually they'd washed up here, sitting next to the fire, the Doctor sprawled in the rocking chair he'd sat in last night.
"What I don't get, Doctor," Martha said as she idly watched people sitting and talking in groups, exchanging a last few presents, "is if the Tractators are herbivores like you implied, why did that one drag me down through the floor? Toby I can understand, he was draped in garlands, but why me?"
"Probably because Veeni was lonely," the Doctor answered.
Martha gave him a puzzled shake of her head.
"Veeni's not old enough to control the Tractators directly yet but I'm betting it could still instinctively feel her loneliness. I'm guessing you were like the deer. A playmate for her. Something to stop her being lonely."
Martha gave a lopsided grin, "I don't know whether to be charmed or insulted, being compared to a deer," she said with chagrin.
"Oh charmed, definitely. You're both beautiful, graceful creatures," he said carelessly, idly watching the crowd.
It was remarks like that that made her love him. And the offhand, thoughtless way he said it that made her realize he didn't even know what he'd done. The rat.
She changed the subject. "Veeni doesn't actually speak English does she?" Martha asked.
"No," the Doctor replied. "For that matter, none of them speak standard English. That's the Tardis translator circuits."
"Thought so. So what's going to happen when we leave?"
"Ah. That's why I gave her the necklace." He nodded to the pendant necklace that was hung awkwardly around her "neck," over the top of her head and under the first groove of her plates. "It will help her translate until she gets used to the language. She's perfectly capable of speaking English, once she learns how."
"You know," Martha said speculatively. "For a while there, I was sure you were going to pop off somewhere and get Toby a puppy."
"Nah. A sister's much better than a puppy. " He grinned at her.
"Ah! Marta!" he said as their hostess came up, plump and pretty in a teal blue holiday dress. "Brilliant party! This is the best Peacemas party I've been to in centuries!" He waved his hands expansively.
Marta grinned, and Martha could see why Logan had fallen in love with her.
"Thank you, Doctor. I'm glad you decided to stay. It's not every year I get a new daughter and a new future for Peacemas." She looked over to where Toby and Veeni where sitting on the stone fireplace hearth. Both children had been given traditional floral garlands as necklaces. Toby was wearing his proudly, Veeni was eating hers.
Marta grinned and turned back to the Doctor. She held out a small wrapped parcel.
"This is for you."
The Doctor sat bolt upright, a bright eyed, eager look on his face. "A present? For me?"
Marta nodded and handed it to him.
He took it with a sort of reverence. Marta was called away. He turned and showed it to Martha with a little dazed smile.
"Maybe you should open it," Martha pointed out.
He jerked awake. "Open it. Yes!" He tore off the paper with all the aplomb of a three year old. He opened the little box and pulled out two long tubes of material.
Long slinky socks with thick horizontal red and yellow stripes.
The Doctor yelled in delight and pushed them at Martha as if he'd just been given the crown jewels. "Look Martha, Seuss Socks!"
He shucked off his trainers and whipped the gaudy socks on over his long bony feet.
He stuck his legs out, leaned back, and smiled down at his feet in utter delight. The pointy tip of the socks flopped down at the end.
He wiggled his toes.
Martha couldn't help but grin.
"Happy Peacemas, Doctor," she said.
He rolled his head on the chairback and gave her that devastating little boy grin. "Happy Peacemas, Martha."
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