Jamit opened the balcony door and strolled out in the morning sunshine. The twin dwarf suns, Ditan and Nido, had both just cleared the horizon, turning the sky into a solid, cloudless purple. The gold and silver spires of the capital caught the dawn light, making it look as if the entire city was ablaze. In the distance, Jamit could see where the green rolling hills faded into the thick dark forests of his ancestral home. He gripped the ivory balcony rail with both hands, put his head back, and breathed in deeply through his nose, a broad smile forming across his face. Today… today would be a good day. He could feel it in his water, as his old birth-mother used to say. The air was cool and fresh. If purple had a smell, this was it.
“Jamit? I thought I’d find you here, by Nido!”
Jamit opened his eyes and turned. Council Leader Fidox shuffled across from the door in his golden slippers of office to join him at the rail. Fidox squinted at the blue-haloed suns and sighed. The breeze caught his long white hair, blowing it back from his face.
“I’ve always envied you this office, Jamit. You’re only the Minster of Joy, after all. I’m the Council Leader, and the only view I have from my office is the water purification plant! And don’t start, by Nido. It was me that approved the design of that blasted trendy architect from Racus 4. “Oh, you must get her,” they said, “she’s all the rage.” Fine. Nobody told me she was an arachnid. Oh no…”
Jamit laughed, clapping the old man on the shoulder of his heavily embroidered robes. “It’s far too good a day for you to rile me, my old friend. I have a good feeling today. I don’t know what it is, but…” he paused, running a long-fingered hand through his thick blonde hair. “I know something good is going too happen!”
Ten kilometres away, on the edge of what the locals called the Forest of Dreams, a three-eyed feather mouse sat back on her haunches and sniffed the air. There were tasty insects around here somewhere, but the trail had gone cold. She had a healthy litter to feed, and she couldn’t afford to sit here in the grass for long.
Just then there was a wheezing, groaning sound, like nothing she had ever heard before. The grass around her was suddenly flattened by a gust of wind. She immediately rolled into a ball, her spine feathers extended in defence. Her hearts pounded. Then just as suddenly, it stopped. She cautiously unrolled herself, and after checking the sky and the air with another good sniff, sat back on her hand legs and peered over the top of the grass. An enormous blue box had appeared from nowhere. She could hear – and as a door opened in the box, and smell – humans. Quick as a flash, she turned and literally tripped over a dead king beetle. It was big – but not too big for her to carry. It must have been killed somehow by the blue box. Well, the kittens would get a good tasty breakfast after all. Perhaps today would be a good day!
The Doctor stepped out into the blue sunshine. The binary suns were still low in the sky, catching him uncomfortably in the eyes. He was about to go back for his hat when Nyssa appeared in the doorway.
“I’m still not sure about this Doctor. Psychologically, Tegan is still in the healing process and though I’m glad to have her back, I’m not sure that it was entirely the right thing…”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, looking down at her. “No. Don’t fuss, Nyssa. Getting away from it all… well, almost… is the best therapy for her right now. There are many pleasure planets in this galaxy, and this is by far my favourite.”
“But you said you’d never been here before!” Nyssa protested.
“Did I? Yes I probably did, but then there is a first time for everything, eh? Ah, there you are Tegan. Got everything?”
“Yes Doc, I think so.” Tegan stepped out onto the grass, closing the Tardis door behind her. She was wearing a yellow sun top, white shorts and had a beach bag slung over her shoulder. “Not too warm right now though is it Doc? And where’s this lake? I don’t like the look of that forest much…”
They all turned an looked at the eaves of the forest. The trees seemed to be uniformly tall, with thick smooth silver-grey trunks and dense turquoise foliage. After no more than a few metres the light could no longer penetrate, and it became totally black.
“Well, that’s one of the main attractions right there. The Forest of Dreams. It’s only dark like that because, well the trees aren’t, erm… trees, if you seen what I mean…”
Nyssa and Tegan both looked up at him together. “Looks more like the Forest of Nightmares, if you ask me,” said Tegan.
“What do you mean, the trees aren’t trees?” said Nyssa.
“Well, you see, trees generally have this thing called crown shyness, so if you look up in a forest you can see all the branches don’t touch each other. But that over there – it’s actually just one enormous plant. It’s thousands of years old.”
“So, why are we here Doctor?” asked Nyssa. “To see… it? The city is miles away.”
“I thought it best to park the Tardis a little out of the way, so to speak. We don’t want to draw any unwarranted attention. And we won’t have to walk very far. There is a transmat station just a few hundred metres um… that way! Come on! It’s time to go and have some fun!”
The Doctor strode off, his hands in the pockets of his flannel trousers. Nyssa shrugged at Tegan, who smiled back. “Fun! I’m all about that!” she said, as they skipped after him.
Redoc woke up and licked his compound eyes with his tongues. He had a strange taste in his mouth. What was it with human females and their fascination with insectoids? The woman had breathed that smoke into his mouth before he could explain to her that he didn’t breathe through there.
He sat up on the edge of the bed as best he could, and scratched the back of his head with his forearms. He needed a shower. Without turning his head he could see the female turned away from him on the bed, still sleeping, noisily. Ugh. He needed to get the smell of mammal off him. And then find something to eat.
He stood up, and finding his clothes neatly folded across a chair – always fastidious – he got dressed. Perhaps he could sneak out without waking… By Nitan! He’d forgotten the female’s name! He reproached himself and shook his head in shame. He’d have to confess that at the temple, or he’d never be able to live with himself.
Redoc tiptoed to the door, and recognising him, it hissed open – and closed behind him, locking itself with a deliberately audible thunk. No going back then.
He recognised this part of the city – the Gardens of Crystal. The 25 floors of apartments all overlapped each other forming a central pyramid-shaped atrium. At the top, the square open space, 25 metres on each side, was capped with a sold lead crystal pyramid that somehow filled the space with light. Other crystals studded into the walls and balconies refracted and reflected the light in such a way that some species could tell you the precise time of day it was just by the colours. Redoc did not belong to one of those species, but he was aware that the light did show off the iridescent parts of carapace very well indeed.
He had been here once or twice before and knew that there was a very good bathhouse – and an excellent xeno-restaurant where he could get breakfast. But he didn’t know how to get there from… wherever he was right now.
“Hey Guide!” he said loudly. A small silver ball floated down in front of him, which projected a life-size hologram of an attractive insectoid female.
“Hello Redoc!” the hologram chittered in his native language.
“I need the bathhouse of Sarm… Starm…”
“The Bathhouse Of Scarsheen, yes no problem just two levels down. And then some breakfast? I recommend Xichit’s Noodle Bar – the best xeno food in the complex.”
“Sounds great. Let’s go.”
As they walked off, chatting about the latest news from Redoc’s homeworld, the apartment door slid open again. A pair of bright blue eyes caught the myriad lights as they watched the insectoids walk down the companionway.
The door hissed closed again.
“So – what is this again Doc?” said Tegan, pushing a pair of pink sunglasses up off her face into her hair.
“It’s a transmat… a matter transportation system.” The Doctor walked around a series of mirrored spheres that surrounded a mosaic floor that depicted had three golden stars, each three metres from the other. “You stand on one of the stars, tell the system where you want to go, and there you are.”
“You mean, like a train ticket?”
Nyssa suppressed a giggle. “No, it’s not for any kind of wheeled vehicular system. It converts your body into energy, transmits it to another station at your chosen destination and turns it back into matter. Simple. We don’t use them on Traken as it’s antiquated technology.”
“Wait a minute…” Tegan said, coming to a stop. “It’s going to take me apart and send me like… like… a radio?”
“Basically, yes. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Nyssa replied, taking Tegan’s hand to reassure her. “One second you’re here, the next second you’re there. Perhaps a faint tingling sensation on your skin, a little dizziness if you’re not used to it but that soon passes.”
“Used to it!” said Tegan, dropping her bag on the floor. “Not bloody likely!”
“Come on, Tegan. You don’t feel that way when the TARDIS dematerialises, do you? This is the… well it’s not the same at all actually but for all intentional purposes it is,” the Doctor said, absently brushing some dirt off the top of one of the globes.
“Look,” said Nyssa. “I’ll go first and come straight back. All right?”
Nyssa stepped up onto the mosaic floor between the globes, which were waist height for her. She stood in the centre of one of the stars, and immediately the hologram of a Traken boy her age appeared next to her. This didn’t do much to steady Tegan’s nerves.
“Hello!” said the hologram, in Nyssa’s home language. “Where would you like to go today, miss?”
“Where is the best place to go?” she asked, looking at the Doctor, but before he could respond, the image of the boy walked into her line of sight.
“I’d recommend the central station of Chara city,” the boy said, pointing at the crystal towers on the horizon. “Chara is the capital city of the planetary federation, has a population of just over 3 million beings, and has everything a weary traveller could need. It has transmat, air and water transport links to…”
“You mean, ships… and planes?” Tegan interrupted. The hologram hesitated for a few seconds, perhaps trying to translate what she had just said. “Yes, miss,” it said in inflected English. “You bet!”
“All right, let’s do it,” she said, picking up her bag. “Might as well get it over with. And as long as we can fly, sail or walk when we get there.” She stepped up on to the star to Nyssa’s right. The Doctor stood on the other.
“All right then, to Chara station, please!” he said and
they were there. Looking down it was if they had never moved, the pattern on floor being precisely identical to the station they had just left, but around them were row after row of stars and silvered globes. Beings of all species hopped, crawled, slithered and walked up to and away from the transmat platforms, disappearing and reappearing with a just audible ‘pop’ as the air was either forced out of the way or sucked in to the fill a newly created void. Tegan wobbled, and so Nyssa and the Doctor both grabbed an elbow each and walked her away from the pads into the piazza in front of the station.
“Doc…” said Tegan, thickly. “What are those… things?” she said, pointing at some of the other more exotic visitors.
“Ah,” said the Doctor, looking at Nyssa, “there was perhaps something else I should have warned you about…”
Jamit looked at the visitor satisfaction data displayed in front of him on the wall of his office. Things were improving, business was booming and the new attractions were bringing in beings from across the quadrant. But as he scanned through the animated charts and graphs, manipulating the display with hand and finger gestures, something started to make him feel uneasy. He went through the data again and again and he still couldn’t put his finger on it.
The hologram of a young man in a Charan business robe materialised on one of the office chairs. “What’s the matter, Jamit? You’ve been going over that same data for almost an hour. You should take a break.”
“Thank you, Paracletus. I know you are well intentioned, but you aren’t helping. There’s something… off. And I can’t find it.”
“Well I know what it is and I don’t even have to look,” the young man said, inspecting his hologramatic manicure. “What’s wrong is that we have three more beings this morning than we did yesterday – without a transport manifest, ship in transmat range or shuttle landing. It’s too small a factor to see, forgive me – for a human – but there it is.” Two of the charts currently on displayed zoomed in – and there it was, a line out of place on the power use estimates, on the other, three tiny red triangles.
Jamit combed his hair back with his fingers. “Well, what are we going to do, by Nido?” he said, his smile fading from his face.
“You know what we have to do,” the hologram said, smoothing the front of its robes.
The piazza was huge, dotted here and there with street vending stalls, statues and artworks, with an array of enormous fountains in the middle. Periodically, they would send plumes of water tens of metres into the air, the droplets catching and refracting the blue-purple light of the suns and reflections from the crystal and gilded towers that edged the piazza.
Nyssa looked around in awe. Tegan looked at her shoes. “I’m sorry, Tegan,” said the Doctor, “I forgot that in our travels you haven’t… really been to a place like this before. Not every being or great civilisation evolved in the same way… erm…”
“It’s all right, Doc,” Tegan said, still not looking up. “I suppose I’m the un-evolved one here, quite the country bumpkin. I’m such an embarrassment. Maybe I should just go back go to the Tardis, and you can have your fun…”
“Come on, Tegan! Don’t be like that!” said Nyssa. “This is a wonderful and quite beautiful planet, it’s so much grander than anything we had on Traken. We sometimes had visitors from non-humanoid species. My father always said we should have more, to… to…” Nyssa’s face fell, and she blinked slowly, tears escaping her eyelids and rolling down her cheeks. She sniffed and shook her head, straightening her shoulders. “Anyway, we’re here to enjoy ourselves, aren’t we?…” Tegan looked up into her young friend’s blue eyes – and that was that. They collapsed into each others arms and began to wail.
The Doctor rolled his eyes to the purple sky. “Now, yes… that’s what we’re here for, and… you’ve both been through a lot, so… perhaps we can do something about that too, mm?”
“Excuse me,” said someone behind the Doctor. “Can I be of assistance at all?”
The Doctor turned and his companions looked up to see who the stranger was – to be met by dozens of reflections of themselves in its enormous compound eyes.