The Doctor brushed a lock of lank blonde hair out of his eyes and wobbled to his feet. “You won’t have to use that on me – but you should know that I won’t be much help to you outside the chamber for very long.”
Artelisa grabbed the Doctor’s arm and steered him out of the room to the control console, where she plonked him in a chair. “You need to get back to your ship?” she said. “I know. That’s where we’re going.”
“The uniform… seems to suit you,” said the Doctor. “Evidently someone knows who you are.”
“Here they call me Colonel Artelisa. That is the identity they gave me after the procedure.” She triggered the door control and as it slid back, she checked the corridor. “Come on. Please don’t resist.”
They walked into the corridor, the Doctor still leaning heavily on the small woman. “How do you intend to get off the ship and back to the surface? Please don’t tell me you have any more dimension doors.”
“We’ve moved into transmat range of one of the orbital stations. We’ll go from there.”
“But Paracletus will know our every move…”
“Paracletus? Oh… the planetary AI. Yes, I know. I’m counting on it.”
They turned a corner into the triage area of the medical bay, but as they walked through they were unchallenged, officers and ratings who crossed their path saluting the superior officer and not questioning her actions.
“Rank hath its privileges…” the Doctor sighed.
Tegan zipped up the front of the jumpsuit. As soon as she took her hand away from the zip, the suit began to fit itself to her body, just in the way the underwear and socks had. It fitted well, was comfortable but actually looking at herself in the mirror, she could wear this on a night on the town…
There was a short knock on the door, it opened and Nyssa’s head appeared. “You’re ready? Good. We’re going to see the Doctor now.”
“You were right about the shower and the clothes, Nyssa. I do feel better – despite the motto on the back!”
“Well, I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”
Nyssa opened the stateroom door. In the corridor was a young officer and two marines, all armed but with their weapons holstered. Redoc also came out of his stateroom. Nyssa couldn’t quite put her finger on it but some how the massive insect had indeed also done something – his carapace, eyes and clothing all seemed to catch the light with renewed brilliance. Rather than a 7-foot tall bug, he was like a walking jewelled work-of-art.
The officer led them down a few corridors to a briefing room. The room had a display screen on one wall which currently showed what Nyssa took to be a forward view, overlaid with navigational, systems and operations data. Other than that, the room had a standard boardroom layout, a long narrow table with smaller screens embedded at every seat, with human-sized chairs. Two of the chairs were occupied – one by a man who was wearing some kind of gaudy though obviously official robes, with collar length dark-blonde hair and a well-groomed beard. Nyssa thought he had a kind face, though she could see from the rings around the eyes and the occasional twitch, the man was clearly under a lot of stress. His companion however was younger, in more functional robes, with dark hair but… somehow non-descript. After an initial glance, Nyssa almost forgot he was there at all.
The men stood as they entered, obviously expecting some kind of introduction from the officer, but he simply nodded and immediately stepped out, the door closing behind him.
“Oh… well, I suppose we don’t need to stand on ceremony. I am Javid, the Charan Minister of Joy, and this is my assistant, Nexor. You are the Doctor’s companions?”
Tegan was going to respond but Redoc stepped forward – the ceiling in this room just high enough to enable him to stand erect without stooping.
“Greetings. I am Doctor Redoc, and these are my friends, Nyssa of Traken and Tegan of Earth.”
Tegan looked a little put out. “Are you in charge?” she said. “We thought we were going to see the Doctor.”
“As did we,” said Javit. “On this ship, aside from diplomatic courtesy, I’m afraid I’m as in the dark as you are. I also came here to see the Doctor… um… not this one… if you’ll forgive me…”
Redoc went over to the screen and looked at the view of the planet. A large orbital station came into view at the right of the screen, and seemed to be getting closer. “We have been treated very well, but we did have another companion, Artelisa, who it appears is a naval officer.”
“Yes…” said Javit, returning to his seat. “Our planetary system identified her and contacted the Centauran Navy, there being an outstanding sector-wide request for information… and here we are.”
Just then the door opened and they all turned (with the exception of Redoc) to see the Captain come in, flanked by two marines.
“Please, sit down,” she said, looking at the women, and then to Redoc, “please stand behind them, if you don’t mind, Doctor.”
They did as they were told. The doors slid shut again, the marines taking position at either side. The Captain sat at the head of the table. As she did so, the screens in the table top flickered to life.
“I’m afraid there has been… an incident, and we will have to ask you to remain here until it has been rectified… for your own safety.”
“That’s all very nice and all that,” said Tegan, leaning forward, “but where is the Doctor?”
The Captain also leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table and resting her chin on her clasped hands. “We were hoping that you might be able to help us answer that question.”
The Doctor and Artelisa were aboard a command shuttle in the cruiser’s main hangar deck. The Doctor sat with his head in his hands, as Artelisa worked on the shuttle’s emergency transmat pad. She had already managed to power the pad and even boost it through the ship’s main transmat antennae, but was having difficulty establishing a link with the private transmat pad on the station. She’d opened an access panel in the wall and was trying to manually rewire it, as reprogramming had failed.
The Doctor looked up at a quiet gasp of pain – Artelisa had burned her fingers on a live circuit, and by reflex was now sucking her fingertips.
“Do you know much about transmat tech, Doctor?” she said, now shaking her hand.
“I know a bit, but it would help if everything wasn’t spinning around. Look, if we go back, I’ll speak to the Captain on your behalf, I’m sure we can sort something out…”
“No chance of that,” she said, going back to the same circuit and trying again. “As an alien you wouldn’t be recognised by the court martial, and after all, I am guilty.”
“Well, at least your honesty is refreshing,” the Doctor replied.
Artelisa stopped and looked up. “I have nothing to lose, Doctor. All that matters is the mission. There is nothing left for them to take away from me.” Artelisa adjusted a dial, closed two circuit breakers, and the control panel at her side went from amber to green.
“We’re ready. Let’s go, Doctor.”
She activated the controls on the panel, and then pulling the Doctor up again, they stepped onto the transmat pad and disappeared.
“Really Captain, the idea that we could be complicit in a terrorist attack on our own planet and then the escape of the perpetrator – after we had handed them to you in the first place – is preposterous!” Javit sat back in his chair, and folded his arms. “As far as it goes, we are prepared, as we said before, to vouch for the Doctor and his companions, who did nothing but try to assist the planetary authorities in limiting the damage caused. We have no responsibility for your own personnel’s apparent incompetence in both confining prisoners or providing duty of medical care to those in need. Now, as I said not ten minutes ago, I insist that you release these young people into our jurisdiction, and arrange for our immediate transportation to the surface!”
The Captain pushed back her chair and stood up. “You are aboard a ship of the Imperial Navy and here you have no authority to make demands, Minister. I command here, and under interplanetary treaty this ship whilst in orbit still remains Centauran territory and is subject to our laws. We think that it is extremely suspicious that you insist that we change orbit to bring the station into range and then mysteriously the Colonel and the Doctor disappear. Frankly I’m shocked by your lack of cooperation and I inform you now, that whether you grant permission or not, I will board that station with a detachment of fully armed marines, disable its transmat and search it until we find them, or can ascertain where they went – and how they got off the ship undetected – or if they were aided in that endeavour.”
Whilst the diplomatic incident continued to worsen, the others were left to their own devices. Nyssa was worried about the Doctor and knew that Tegan would be too, though she knew that for Tegan her concerns would be mixed with anger at being ‘messed about’ as she put it. Nyssa noticed the secretary again. He was sitting slightly back from the table, his legs crossed with one ankle resting on the other knee, taking notes on a computer pad. Again, she strangely found it hard to concentrate on the young man’s face. She couldn’t build a mental picture of what he looked like, and even looking away for a moment she had no memory of him. She concentrated on him now – the only thing that was clear to her was that he was smiling – and the more heated the row between the Captain and the Minister became, the happier he appeared.
She looked up at Redoc, who was nervously rubbing his forelimbs together. He misinterpreted the look and immediately apologised, but Nyssa shook her head and beckoned him to lean down to her, which he did, his massive head now completely blocking Nyssa’s view of Tegan.
“That Charan secretary… can you remember his name… or what he looks like?” she whispered.
Redoc had no need to look in that direction given his jewel-like compound eyes, but as he shifted his attention to the man… it was as if he was looking at… nothing! His whole body quivered making a loud rustling sound, and he stood up again, looking now for the nearest corner to hide in.
“What’s the matter with him?” the Captain said, looking over.
Tegan stood up to comfort Redoc, as Nyssa also stood, pointing at Javit’s secretary.
“He’s not the problem – what is that?!”
The Doctor and Artelisa materialised on Javit’s private transmat pad. The controls were unmanned, so Artelisa immediately holstered her pistol. The Doctor’s head spun again – two transmat trips back to back was not helping his condition. He stepped off the pad, lost his balance and fell against a wall, holding himself upright.
“Come on. Not far now,” said Artelisa, checking the transmat controls. “Odd – the surveillance systems in here have been deactivated. Why would they do that?”
“Just… get me to the Tardis…” the Doctor said, walking to the door by leaning on the wall.
Artelisa checked the corridor outside – it was empty. A sign indicated the way to the council chamber, and supporting the Doctor again, they set off.
Javit turned to look at his secretary. “Whatever do you mean? That is Nexor, my… my…”
The young man stood up, as he did so, his clothes – and features – seems to slide off his body to reveal a service robot. The marines by the door immediately drew their weapons and went to stand in front of the Captain.
“I was hoping that my deception would last a little longer than that, but I did find it difficult to maintain the hologramatic projection at this range,” said the robot. “I am Paracletus, or at least, I am manifested in this robot body. Did you think that you could get away with your plans, Javit? Whatever did you take me for? Of course I had no intention of allowing you to conspire with the Doctor to engineer my demise – even if you managed to convince him to help you, which frankly I doubt.”
“Paracletus,” said the Captain, pushing the marines aside, “you are no doubt aware that there are laws regulating how AIs use avatars like this? I must ask you to leave the ship immediately.”
“Of course Captain! After all, I am here to solicit your help. I request that you place Javit here under arrest immediately, for extradition to the planet at your convenience. The Time Lord’s companions will come with me, now. When we find your missing officer, she will be returned to you.”
“Under what charge should we arrest the Minister?” the Captain said, exasperated.
“Interplanetary terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder,” the robot replied.
“Who’s murder?” said Tegan.
The robot turned its blank face towards her.
“Mine,” it said, pointing an articulated finger at its plastic chest.
When the Doctor and Artelisa got to the council chamber, it was beginning to fill with councillors for the extraordinary meeting that had been called. Some ignored them as they struggled down the steps to the strange blue box, others looked on with disdain. One pointed and shouted, her fur standing on end and her back arching, claws extending from her fingertips, the pupils of her green eyes narrowing to slits.
“RawRR! Who are they? A foreign military officer in our council chamber? And she’s armed!”
Aboard the ship, the robot went motionless, its arms falling to its sides. Then it seemed to shake itself, and with a overly theatrical gesture it waved at the display screen on the wall, which now showed a video feed from the council chamber, as the Doctor fumbled with the Tardis key, and service robots appeared at every entranceway, armed with whatever weapon they could find on the way – sports rackets, bottles, chairs, one brandishing a mop. The council members were now in complete uproar and the robots progress was impeded as they faced dozens of beings from a dozen and more races desperately trying to exit via the same entrances.
“There they are!” the robot said. “It looks like your officer has a hostage, rather than a wilful collaborator – and look, she has broken one of our most sacred laws – carrying a weapon to the…”
Just then on the screen, Artelisa levelled the pistol and fired at an approaching robot armed with a rake. The pistol boomed in the council chamber and with a flash, the robot’s head was blasted apart. The remaining council members dived for cover.
And at the bottom of the screen, the Doctor had finally managed to get the Tardis key to turn, and collapsed into the doorway.
The robots continued to advance, some tripping over the prone council members, some walking right over them. Two more shots and another two robots were blasted to pieces, as Artelisa made a dash for the Tardis door, following someone else who had just ducked inside. The Doctor was dragged the rest of the way in and the door slammed shut, as the robots now started to attack the sides of the Tardis itself.
Tegan looked at the robot and smiled. “He made it! You might as well stop your robots. They can’t damage the Tardis.”
The robot turned to the Captain again. “Well, are you going to acquiesce to my request?”
The Captain shook her head. “With the Doctor inside his capsule, Artelisa is out of reach. She is our only concern and we can only hope that he is able to defend himself. We have absolutely no intention in involving ourselves any further in the problems of your planet. And in the meantime…” she drew her bolt pistol from its holster at her hip, and took aim.