Tegan had no idea where in space and time the TARDIS had materialised this time. But she was certain of one thing - this was not Heathrow Airport in the early 1980s. The scanner screen showed dense jungle foliage, foliage unlike any which existed on Earth. She saw trees as tall as any which would be found in an Earth jungle, but with leaves which were a reddish-purple and not green. Here and there, vines snaked their way round the trunks of trees and climbed towards the jungle canopy. Another jungle planet, Tegan realised, just the sort of planet she had hoped never to set foot on again after her experiences on Deva Loka.
She turned to the Doctor, currently working at the console, and fixed him with one of her penetrating stares. "Doctor," she said, folding her arms across her chest, "you've done it again, haven't you?" From the moment she found herself in the TARDIS, she had wanted nothing more than to get the hell out and return to her own time, where she had a job as an air stewardess waiting for her. But, though the Doctor had been doing his best to get her home, the TARDIS never seemed to materialise on the right co-ordinates. His most recent attempt had seen the TARDIS arrive in the right place but in 1666, nearly three centuries before she was even born.
The Doctor looked up at the sound of Tegan's voice. "Ah," he said, glancing once more at the screen, "another error. Not to worry, though; all I have to do is . . ."
"I'm sick of your so-called errors!" Tegan shot back, cutting the Doctor off in mid-sentence. Her temper had a short fuse at the best of times, but, since she got mixed up with the Doctor, she seemed to be losing it more often than usual. And it was usually the Doctor who bore the brunt of it. "I hope you realise my job's on the line here."
"Yes, I am aware of that," the Doctor said, struggling to remain calm in the face of her anger. "And I am doing my best to get you on your flight."
Tegan drew herself up to her full height. "Your best isn't good enough. I'll be drawing my pension by the time you get me home at this rate! You are . . ." Her voice was steadily rising in pitch the longer she ranted. ". . . the worst excuse for a Time Lord I've ever met!" With that, she marched over to the TARDIS's door control, pulled the lever to open the doors and stormed out of the TARDIS. Just as she had done back on 17th Century Earth . . .
The Doctor sighed; Tegan always over-reacted like this whenever his attempts to get her home failed. He was trying to get the TARDIS to materialise at the right point in space and time, but the space-time machine had never been particularly reliable. Often, no matter how carefully he (or, as had often been the case lately, Adric) calculated the co-ordinates, the TARDIS would end up somewhere other than the place it was supposed to materialise. Which, as the Doctor had already learned, did nothing to improve Tegan's temper.
He turned to his other two companions. Nyssa was standing on the opposite side of the console, looking as serene and unruffled as ever, while Adric hovered nonchalantly in the doorway which led to the rest of the TARDIS. "Come on, you two," the Doctor said. "Let's go and try to talk sense into Tegan." With that, he pulled his hat out of his pocket and put it on his head, before striding confidently over to the doors as the two teenaged humanoids followed.
"Do you know where we are?" asked Nyssa.
"No, but the air's good and that's the main thing." Nonetheless, the Doctor thought it was best to exercise caution; he had visited many jungle planets on his travels - Kembel, Spiridon, Deva Loka to name but three - and was only too aware of the dangers that could lurk among the trees. Indeed, Kembel and Spiridon had both housed bases from which the Daleks had planned to launch their latest attempts to conquer the Universe.
However, the Daleks were not the Doctor's main concern right now; Tegan was. As demanding as the young Earth woman was, he was not about to leave her stranded on this planet. He had promised to get her back to her own time and he meant to keep that promise. If she had only waited a minute or two longer, he would have dematerialised the TARDIS and they would have been on their way again, hopefully to Heathrow. But patience had never been one of Tegan's virtues.
The Doctor stepped out onto the surface of the unknown jungle planet, followed by Nyssa and Adric.
"Where is she?" Adric asked, gazing round at the jungle around him but seeing no sign of Tegan. He turned to the Doctor, who was just pocketing the TARDIS key. "Doctor?"
The Doctor rested a paternal hand on the boy's shoulder. "Don't worry, Adric. If I know Tegan, she won't have gone far." As he spoke, he recalled the events leading up to his most recent regeneration, in particular the way Tegan had gone after him and the Master when he had wanted all three of his companions in the TARDIS, out of harm's way. She had told him that he was her only insurance policy, her only hope of getting home. And the Doctor knew Tegan well enough by now to know that she would never venture too far from the TARDIS if she could avoid it. She must be somewhere nearby, but there was no telling which direction she had gone.
He looked from Adric to Nyssa, then back again. Had all four members of the TARDIS crew been present, he would have suggested dividing into pairs in order to cover more ground. But, with only three present, that wasn't possible. If he went with either Nyssa or Adric, or Nyssa and Adric went together, that would leave one member of their party to search alone. And he knew enough about alien planets by now to know it was rarely a good idea to be alone on one. The three of them would have to stick together. Still, this shouldn't take long, not if Tegan was anywhere nearby, but there were no guarantees of that.
The Doctor clapped his hands together. "Right, follow me. And try to stay out of trouble," he added, with a pointed stare at Adric. The young Alzarian was good at heart, but, for all his intelligence and mathematical talents, he sometimes seemed to be decidedly lacking in the common sense department. Indeed, following their adventure on Deva Loka, the Doctor had given Adric a sound scolding for attempting to pilot the TSS when he didn't know how to control it properly.
Adric scowled, but said nothing. Lately, it seemed that, no matter how hard he tried, he kept getting into trouble. Worse, the Doctor rarely seemed to have time for him lately, not since Tegan and Nyssa joined the TARDIS crew. Not that he minded having Nyssa around; the two of them had been friends from the moment they met on Nyssa's (now destroyed) home world and he had often helped her with her experiments in bio-engineering. However, his attitude to Tegan was more ambivalent and they, at best, tolerated each other; at worst, Adric had sometimes found himself on the wrong end of one of Tegan's tirades when the Doctor wasn't around for her to vent her frustrations on.
In the end, he just shrugged and trailed after the Doctor and Nyssa.
As the Doctor had predicted, Tegan hadn't gone far. They found her sitting with her back pressed against the trunk of a tree. She looked up when she heard them approach, the Doctor emerging from the trees first, then Nyssa, then Adric. "Ah, there you are," the Doctor said, walking over to her. "Ready to head back to the TARDIS?"
"OK," Tegan said, staggering to her feet. "Doctor," she added, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have stormed out like that." She knew she had broken one of the fundamental rules of TARDIS travel, that you should never venture onto the surface of an unknown planet until the Doctor had checked the console to see if it was safe to do so. But she had been so angry with him for failing to get her home yet again that she had momentarily forgotten this, as well as the fact that she had hoped never to find herself on the surface of another jungle planet.
The Doctor adjusted the stick of celery he wore on his coat. "Yes, that was very foolish," he told her, a stern look momentarily crossing his normally placid features. "Still, no harm done." He turned to Nyssa and Adric, who were standing a couple of feet away. "Come on - back to the TARDIS." Once there, he planned to take off from this planet and make another, hopefully more successful, attempt at getting Tegan home.
But, as had often happened in the past, it was not going to be as straightforward as that.
As the four friends turned in the direction they had come, they saw dozens of pairs of eyes glowing ruby red in the jungle undergrowth. Dozens of pairs of eyes watching them, waiting for the chance to strike . . . But what manner of creatures were they? And were they friend or foe?
Slowly, the creatures emerged from hiding. About six feet tall and walking on their hind legs, they were covered in black spikes; to Tegan, they looked like demonic echidnas. Their hands had just two fingers, but these ended in claws as long as small daggers, claws which looked like they could do some serious damage. As could their spikes . . . One of them fired a volley of spikes at Nyssa, who barely managed to dodge.
"Doctor, what are they?" Tegan asked fearfully, her eyes wide as the creatures began to advance on the small party of time-travellers.
But the Doctor didn't - couldn't - answer; though he had encountered many strange creatures on his travels, these were something completely new to him. Instinctively, he reached into his pocket for his sonic screwdriver, only to pull his hand out again immediately. He silently cursed himself for forgetting that he no longer had a sonic screwdriver; while on 17th Century Earth, he and his companions had encountered a race of aliens called Terileptils, whose leader had zapped the screwdriver with a powerful ray, melting it and damaging it beyond repair. Perhaps he would make a replacement one day, but, in the meantime . . .
"Whatever they are," Nyssa said, her voice trembling slightly, "they don't look friendly . . ."
"And they're between us and the TARDIS!" There was an edge of hysteria in Tegan's voice. Not only did the Doctor seem to be incapable of getting her back to her own time, he appeared to have an unerring habit of landing himself and his companions in trouble.
The Doctor quickly assessed the situation. He and his companions were hopelessly outnumbered by an unknown enemy, without a weapon between them. Had he still had the sonic screwdriver, he would have tried using the device to emit a high-pitched tone in the hope of scaring the creatures off. But that was no longer an option. Their only chance was to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the creatures, then try to double back to the TARDIS later.
"Run for it!" he ordered, shepherding his companions together and, casting a quick glance in the direction of the creatures, sprinting away through the trees. Seconds later, a high-pitched screech behind him told him that the creatures were in pursuit.
They had been running for what felt like hours, the screeching of their unknown pursuers echoing in their ears. As she stumbled along, Tegan silently cursed the Doctor for landing them in yet another life-threatening situation. Though, if she was honest with herself, part of the blame lay with her; if she hadn't decided to investigate the TARDIS when she came across it on a country road, the Doctor would not have taken off with her on board and she would now be on Earth, travelling the world as a flight attendant. Instead, she was on an unknown planet with three aliens, being chased by creatures like nothing she had imagined in her worst nightmares.
Glancing back, she noticed that Adric had stopped running and stood brandishing a broken branch like a club, facing the creatures. "Adric!" she cried, realising what he was trying to do. "What are you doing?!"
"What does it look like?!" Adric shot back. "I'm going to fight these things - surely even you can see that." He swung his makeshift weapon and made to attack the nearest creature, only to be forced back by a volley of spikes. The next thing he felt was the Doctor grabbing him from behind, pinning his arms to his sides and forcing him to drop the branch.
"You young fool!" the Doctor hissed in Adric's ear. "Can't you see there are too many of them for you to fight?!" There was no denying that Adric had a great deal of courage; unfortunately, it was also coupled with a reckless streak. Add to that the fact that Adric was going through the adolescent phase of thinking he was invincible and . . . The Doctor decided to leave the thought unfinished and urged Adric forward, hoping their pursuers would eventually tire. Any lectures he might be tempted to give the boy about not taking foolish risks, about knowing when to cut your losses and run would have to wait.
Adric was seething with anger and resentment; he was only a few years younger than Tegan (the oldest of the Doctor's current group of companions) and the Doctor was treating him as though he was still an immature little boy. Every time he tried to prove himself, he only succeeded in getting himself into trouble. And that inevitably led to scoldings from the Doctor, which in turn led to heated arguments. Like young males everywhere, Adric resented taking orders from others, even when those orders were "for his own good".
Kerez sat silently on the Great Chair, listening as Marena made her report.
"Strangers on Kylon?" he asked when she had finished speaking. No outsiders had come to the planet Kylon for centuries, not since the Collapse, the time when Kylonian civilization had fallen. Now, all that remained was the Last City and a few villages dotted around; everything else had been taken over by the jungle. Since then, other races had avoided Kylon, so the news of strangers on the planet's surface made him sit up and take notice. "How many?"
"Four," Marena replied. "Two males and two females. I saw them being chased by Quiloks - they were heading for . . ." She hesitated, unable to bring herself to say what she had been about to say, and glanced down at her hands.
"Go on," Kerez urged, seeing the young woman's anxiety but needing to hear her full report, especially since it concerned the discovery of outsiders on Kylon.
Marena forced herself to pick up the thread of her report. "They were heading for the clearing, where the Jara Pods grow. I would have tried to attract their attention, but I couldn't because of the Quiloks. So I decided to come back here and report to you," she concluded.
Hearing this, Kerez looked startled. This was the season when the Jara Pods spread their spores, bursting and releasing clouds of what looked like purple dust. These spores were harmless if they fell directly on the ground, but any living being which inhaled them was in serious trouble. And, from what Marena was saying, it sounded as if these strangers were in danger of running right into the middle of them. Like all Kylonians, he was familiar with the Jara Pods and knew not to go near them when they were spreading their spores, but someone new to the planet would be unaware of the danger.
"Take a party of Scouts and find these people," he told her. "Make sure none of them are exposed to the spores."
"And, if they are . . .?"
Kerez shook his head grimly; he had seen someone who had been affected by the spores once before and had no wish to do so again.
Presently, the Doctor and his companions emerged from the jungle and into a clearing. Taking a quick glance back the way they had come, Tegan was both surprised and relieved to see that their pursuers did not appear to be following. Rather, they were hovering on the edge of the jungle, screeching but making no attempt to continue the chase. "Why aren't they following us?" she wondered out loud. She had thought - they had all thought - that this was the end, that these creatures were going to hunt them down and . . . Well, she wouldn't have to worry about getting back to Heathrow if that happened.
But no-one was listening. The Doctor, Nyssa and Adric were all gathered around something which look like a large grey pea pod, albeit one which appeared to be growing directly in the ground. And it wasn't the only one; similar pods grew all over the clearing, some singly like the one the Doctor, Nyssa and Adric were examining, others in clusters of two or more.
"What is it?" Adric asked, leaning in for a closer look. He was itching to touch the strange pod, curious to feel its texture. But the memory of how, following his misadventure with the TSS, the Doctor had rebuked him for "interfering with things he didn't understand" kept him from doing anything more than look.
The Doctor straightened up from where he had been crouching to examine the pod and turned to the boy. "I don't know," he replied. "There are, of course, several possibilities," he added briskly.
"Some sort of plant life?" supplied Nyssa. "Or a fungus?" For a moment, her mind drifted back to the Grove on Traken, a peaceful garden which had housed plants from all over the Traken Union. Unfortunately, it had also housed the thing which ultimately led to the destruction of Traken and all her people . . . She blinked away tears of hopeless homesickness, then stepped back a couple of paces.
The Doctor did not reply. He had pulled a penknife out of his pocket and was preparing to take a sample of the pod, intending to examine it as soon as he got back to the TARDIS. Fully aware that alien plants were not something to mess with, he approached cautiously, moving slowly, constantly alert for any sign that the pod might be about to try and defend itself. But, just as he reached out to take his sample, there was a muffled explosion and a cloud of purple dust shot out of the pod. This was followed by another explosion elsewhere in the clearing, then another, then another.
The Jara Pods were releasing their spores.