No matter how advanced the gadgets and how shiny and sleek the surface, there will always be the other side of technology. For every gleaming room of state-of-the-art computers, there is a hot cramped server room with cables running every which way and dust that gets into your eyes and throat and makes you cough. For every super-efficient modern factory line, there is a dark dirty generator room filled with noise and grime and a permanent layer of black, sticky grease over everything.

And for every sleek control bridge on an interstellar heavy battle cruiser, there are about five miles of maintenance shafts, six miles of ductwork, twenty miles of wiring, and at least two rooms labeled things like 'secondary emergency solar exchange control'.

By their very nature, such rooms tend only to be remembered if the primary solar exchange controls and the emergency solar exchange control systems fail. Once a year or so maybe a few technicians will show up to dust off the panels and make sure everything is still working, but ninety nine point nine nine percent of the time they'll be empty and nearly forgotten.

This was why the Doctor, who knew such things better than anyone, materialized the TARDIS directly in the center of this exact room on the Thillani flagship. As someone who had a great deal of experience with maintenance ducts and forgotten access hallways, he knew very well of their possible usefulness.

The TARDIS door creaked open. The Doctor poked his head out, gave the room a quick once-over, and bounded outside. "Come on, then! No one about." He examined a panel of gauges and controls. "Hmmm. Solar heat exchangers are working at maximum capacity." He pulled out his glasses and slid them on, and pulled out the sonic screwdriver.

"...even mah greenshirts know to check their corners!" Beachhead was grumping, which seemed to be his default state of being. "Stupid skinny alien...dunno how hasn't died if'n he keeps doing stupid things like that..."

"I'm just lucky like that." The Doctor said cheerfully. He casually disconnected a wire, attached it to a different port, and buzzed the sonic at it. "And I have died. Nine times. But I got better."

"You're a very strange man." Storm Shadow sounded impressed.

"I get that a lot." The Doctor eyed a control panel critically, flipped several levers, examined a readout, and buzzed with the sonic again. He pulled one of the complicated electronic gizmos from his coat pocket, pulled open an access panel, and began wiring the device into the central controls.

Breaker craned his neck, intrigued. "What're you doing? Is that a bomb?"

"No. Not a bomb. An insurance policy." The Doctor tossed the sonic screwdriver in the air; it twirled once before he caught it and tucked it back into his inner jacket pocket. "This is the largest ship they sent; that means they'll be using it as the flagship. And if I am going to destroy the Thillani's time-travel capabilities in the future, that means that these ships are particularly valuable. And that means that they won't put just anyone in charge of this little expedition. No, they'll have sent a Lord Commander. And so that's the man we want to talk to." He grinned brightly.

"...Talk to?" Beach's eye twitched slightly. "We're just gonna walk up to him and whut, ask him real nice to pack it up and leave?"


There are some gestures that are more or less universally understood. Snake Eyes demonstrated one of them by pointing to his own temple, twirling his finger a few times, and then pointing accusingly at the Doctor.

"Oh, come on now. I can be very convincing."

Snake Eyes folded his arms.

"I convinced you lot to listen to me." The Doctor folded his arms right back at the ninja. "And when have I been wrong so far?"

Snake Eyes tilted his head slightly, considering that, and then signed. *When you landed a police box on the wrong continent, in the wrong century, and right on top of my dinner.*

"Oh." The Doctor unfolded his arms and rubbed the back of his neck. "Well. Aside from that."

*When you thought Destro was going to be reasonable and sane and not throw you in a cell.*

"We'd been getting on well up to that point!"

*When you asked for vinegar instead of ketchup for your french fries when you were locked up in the Pit.*

The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "How did you know about that? I didn't see you on guard duty."

*Ninja.* Snake Eyes folded his arms again.

The Doctor frowned. "What, you go about spying on people's condiment choices for fun?"

*No. On people.*



The Doctor sighed heavily. "It's like arguing with him all over again."

Jaye patted the Time Lord on the shoulder. "It's better not to argue with them. You never get anywhere. Now, what's the plan?"

Behind Beachhead, Covergirl was sweating. The Thillani ship was a bit warm, but she supposed that made sense for giant insects. She pulled off her bomber jacket and stepped back into the TARDIS to sling it over one of the railings in the control room.

"Plan?" The Doctor considered. "Well, I was going to walk out of here and head towards the control bridge. And then we'd probably get stopped and captured, and I'd convince them to take me to their commander. And then I was going to ask him to leave."

There was a moment of silence as that plan percolated through the brains of six career soldiers for a few minutes.

Snake Eyes gently facepalmed. Beachhead's eye twitched. Flint looked as if there were so many things he wanted to say at once that he couldn't decide on one.

"That's not a plan." It a great deal to strike Storm Shadow dumb. "That's a suicide note."

"For once, I agree with Tommy." Scarlett shook her head. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

The Doctor, indignant, opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off abruptly by the sound of the TARDIS doors slamming shut, followed by an angry shout from the other side.

"HEY!" Covergirl was an accomplished shouter. Even with her on the other side of the TARDIS doors, Tommy winced at the volume she was projecting. "LET ME OUT! YOU CREEPY ALIEN SON OF A BITCH LET ME OUT BEFORE I BREAK DOWN THIS FUCKING DOOR!"

The Doctor was over at the TARDIS in a heartbeat. "I didn't do it! I swear!" He tried his key; it didn't turn. "I can't open it!"


"She will, too." Beach informed the Doctor, who was muttering under his breath in a language that didn't sound like english.

The Doctor ignored him. He seemed to be talking to the TARDIS itself.

"Come on!" He pounded a fist against the door. "Stop it! Is this for spilling tea on your feedback circuits? I said I was sorry!"

The TARDIS remained silent and locked. The Doctor sighed and rapped on the door. "Look, I'm not doing it. She is. I don't know what's gotten into her, but she's not letting me in. I'm sorry. You'll just have to stay in there for now. Bright side is, you're safer in there than just about anywhere else in the universe. She's got extrapolator shielding. Could fly through a supernova with extrapolator shielding and never scorch the paint. I know because I've done it. So just sit tight, okay?"

From inside the TARDIS, Covergirl responded with a string of expletives that made even Tommy's eyebrows rise.

"My my." The Doctor looked taken aback. "You kiss your mother with that mouth?"

More expletives.

"Oh-kay then. Well. Sorry, but I really can't do much." The Doctor shrugged helplessly. "You'll just have to sit this one out."

The only reply was a slam from the other side of the door that sounded distinctly like a size eight combat boot impacting wood at a high rate of speed.

"She doesn' know...hold a grudge?" The Doctor looked rather nervous.

The Joes all glanced at each other. In every face was the recent memory of not-at-all gentle searches at the hands of Destro's vipers, crushed dinners, and irritating beverage and condiment requests.

"Nope." Tommy shook his head, his face all earnesty and innocence. "Five minutes and she'll have forgotten about it.

"Yep. Hot temper, burns out fast." Beach's face was inscrutable under the balaclava.

"All bark, no bite. That's Court." Scarlett nodded.

The Doctor looked relieved. "Oh, good. Well. If any of you have a better plan, I'd like to hear it."