Tegan banged on the heavy door with her fists, though she knew this was completely pointless. She couldn’t understand it – The Doctor had definitely recognised her. She desperately looked for a door control, an override, a panic button – anything. Her ears popped as the pressure decreased. Her stewardess training told her what to do in the event of cabin pressure but that was all about finding and using the emergency oxygen supply… she started to feel cold and light headed. She looked around the walls – a storage locker or something – there was an emergency locker! She pulled the door open and nearly lost her balance with the effort. Emergency Evacuation Pod? It looked like a deflated balloon with a large heavy box inside inside it. As her eyesight started to fog, she climbed inside. As soon as she was in, the balloon sealed itself behind her. The ‘backpack’ was a white plastic box about the size of a rucksack. A green button said PRESS HERE,  so she did. The balloon  – now it really was one, inflated with a rush of air. Tegan was careful to not to breathe too deeply or quickly at first, but the air was good. A female voice came from the pack. 

“Please, be calm. You are inside an emergency rescue pod. Please confirm – are you a human adult?”

“…yes…” Tegan said, wiping cold sweat from her brow. 

“The atmosphere and heating will be adjusted for your optimum comfort until you are rescued.”

“Thank… thank you…” Tegan panted. 

The balloon’s skin seemed to be inflating itself, and hardening somehow. She was now sitting inside a rigid inflated globe, with the white box in front of her. 

“Please be aware, there is now no life support detected outside the pod. Please do not attempt to leave the pod until instructed to do so by qualified personnel.” The voice sounded friendly, as if the entire script was being read with a smile

“Hey, pod,” said Tegan, her heart rate starting to slow, “how long… I mean, how much air have I got?”

“Please do not worry. The pod can keep you in comfort until help arrives.”

“Pod, answer the bloody question. How long?”

“The pod can remain operational on standard mode for 90 minutes, undamaged.”

“Great,” said Tegan, sitting up, her arms wrapped around her legs. 

*

Fidox wandered around the administration area adjoining the transmat station, walking through an open door into an office. He started as he noticed a human body curled up on a sofa – then he recognised the hair and robes. He went over and grabbed the man’s shoulder.

“Javid? Javid! Wake up! Are you all right, old friend?”

Javid groaned and stirred. “Tegan?” he said, slowly turning over. “Fidox? How…”

“Haha! You’re all right! Come on, get up. We’re with the Doctor in his time capsule. We need to get out of here before Paracletus finds us. Come on, man!” he shook Javid roughly by the shoulders again, until the younger man sat up, swinging his feet to the floor. He rubbed his face, and then ran his fingers through his hair. 

“I was watching on the screen,” he said, without looking up. “He’s gone mad. Total chaos…”

“I know, I saw some of it too. That’s why we need to go… now!” The little old man tried to pull Javid to his feet but it was really no more than a gesture. Javid slowly got up, and finding the bottle of water Nyssa had left for him, opened it and drank deeply. 

“All right, let’s go. Lead on.” 

With Fidox practically skipping around Javid like an eager puppy on a walk to the park, they went back out into the concourse to return to the Tardis. 

*

Nyssa had raided a gift shop for a back pack that was now stuffed with various snacks, more water and an emergency medical kit. She was trying to retrace her steps but not having much luck, as some of the corridors she was sure she had come down were now sealed with emergency bulkheads. 

“Tegan?” she called. “Tegan? Where are you?”

She approached a door on her right, with a sign above it that said Life Support Auxiliary Control – Authorised Personnel Only! When she was about two metres away, the door suddenly slid back, and the Doctor stepped out into the corridor. 

“Ah… Nyssa! There you are!” he said, smiling.

“Oh Doctor! You startled me!” Nyssa replied. “Are you all right?”

“Oh yes, quite recovered, glad to see you’re in one piece. Um… new outfit?”

“Yes…” Nyssa said, looking down at her jumpsuit, now covered with all kinds of dirt and spots of blood from a number of different species. 

“Where’s Tegan?” he said, looking past her up the corridor and the back in the other direction.

“I was wondering that myself. Did you bring the Tardis?”

“Yes, it’s in the transmat station…”

“Well we can use the short range scanners. There is only us aboard the station – if we detect any movement or any life at all it must be Tegan.”

“Oh… yes. Why didn’t I think of that?… um… Nyssa?”

“Yes, Doctor?”

“You wouldn’t happen to know… which way the transmat station is?”

*

Artelisa had also noticed something odd about the corridors when she tried to retrace her steps – she discovered that the bulkheads had been closing behind her. She’d tried all the internal intercom panels to try and contact the Doctor but they were all dead. The AI obviously knew that they were here, was monitoring their movements, and she thought to herself that it was probably manipulating them for its own sick enjoyment. 

She went through a large double door and found herself in a large elliptically – shaped atrium. There were shops around the sides, a potted garden of sorts in the middle filled with non-sentient plants from different compatible worlds. The atrium had two floors above the ‘ground’ level,  and directly above was an enormous panelled viewport with an uninterrupted view of the planet Chara. This particularly reception  station was in relatively low orbit and so the planet filled the view entirely. As they were now on the day side, the atrium was bathed in reflected green-turquoise light. Artelisa stopped for a moment, just staring at it… then she saw movement on the first floor balcony opposite. She dived into cover behind a large planter and drew her pistol, before changing position and slowly peering out between the leaves of the extraordinary plants. 

It was the Doctor. He seemed to be going to each of the shops, peering through windows, trying doors, and sometimes disappearing for a few moments as he went inside, and then came out again. Opposite her position on the other side of the atrium she spotted a wide staircase going up. Waiting until the Doctor was out of view again, she ran at the crouch, as silently as she could, straight across the concourse and up the stairs two-at-a-time. When she got to the top, The doctor was standing right there, turning the corner about to come down the stairs. 

“Ah!” he said stepping back and putting his hands up. “I thought we had talked about that… Besides, you can see who I am, can’t you?”

Artelisa slowly stood up, and holstered the pistol. “I had to be sure. The AI knows we’re here. It’s been closing the bulkheads to drive me here. It’s watching us now.”

“Come come, really? It might just be a touch of paranoia… this huge empty station with no-one on it… we can’t give in to that sort of thing you know, or we’ll start second guessing ourselves and get into a complete mess. I haven’t noticed anything… odd.”

“Well, I have and I”m not imagining it. We have to keep moving – we can’t let Paracletus trap us in one section. I’d recommend going back to the Tardis now.”

“But what about the others?” the Doctor said. “If what you say is true, we certainly can’t abandon them, can we, eh? I’ve searched this area – what I can tell you is that they aren’t here, so we have to move on to the next section any way. Lead on!” The Doctor gestured back down the stairs, and with a shrug and a nod of acknowledgement, Artelisa went back the way she had come, the Doctor close behind. 

*

Fidox and Javid walked back into the transmat station, and as soon as the Tardis came into view, Fidox ran to the door – which was locked.

“They’re not back yet then?” said Javid. He looked around the littered, soiled floor, damaged furnishings, motionless robots,  and the transmat pads…

“How long have the pads been on?” he said, pointing, his eyes widening in fear. “Were they active when you arrived? Think old man, think!”

“They… they might have been…w-why?”

“You know why. He’s here!”

*

Redoc stirred, rolled off the gurney he’d been sleeping on and stood up. A bottle of water had been left next to him – must’ve been Nyssa, he thought, always thinking of others. He bit the top off the bottle and emptied it into his mouth. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a drink, and after his exertion he was feeling a little dehydrated, though he felt better after the nap. He also felt very good indeed. The situation had been appalling but he felt like he had really made a difference. Perhaps he would specialise in emergency medical relief from now on…

“Nyssa?” he called, “Tegan?” They surely couldn’t have gone far – the water was still fairly chilled. 

He walked out of the medical bay into the reception area they had used as their clinic and triage centre, and looked around. Where could they have gone?

“Nyssa? Tegan… “ Artelisa turned the corner at the end of the corridor, her weapon drawn, but when she recognised him she put it away, and came towards him. 

“Good. You are unharmed, Doctor?” she said, looking him up and down. 

Redoc once more felt terribly embarrassed, and started to unconsciously rub his forelimbs together. 

“Stop that noise. Have you seen the others?”

“No, I’ve been sleeping. I don’t know where Tegan and Nyssa have gone.”

“We’ll go back to the Doctor’s capsule and wait for them there. We need to leave the station as soon as we can. The planet’s AI is watching us – I’m convinced of it. Let’s go.”

Redoc nodded as she took the lead. 

*

Nyssa turned a corner and came to another dead end. “I’m sure this was the way I came, Doctor. The bulkhead is closed.”

“Mmm… that can only mean one thing and it isn’t good. Paracletus is watching us… It could just vent the station to space and kill us, or set the reactors to overload, or crash the station into the atmosphere…” 

“Well let’s look on the bright side… it hasn’t killed us yet! It can’t be just trying to make up its mind how to do it.”

“No, I think it’s something else… It’s deliberately toying with us. I don’t mind playing games, usually, as long as the game is fair. I think we might have to do something about that… and take the initiative.”

The Doctor turned on the spot, and then turned back, finding what he was looking for. He went quickly across the corridor to an access panel, but couldn’t open it.

“Perhaps one of these days I”ll get around to building a new screwdriver…”

Nyssa took the pack off her back and broke out the emergency medical kit, finding a pair of metal tweezers. “Any use?”

“Excellent. Just a minute… there!” The panel popped open, and the Doctor peered inside. 

“Wouldn’t be some scissors or anything like that would there? Good. Now stand close right behind me – I don’t want anything – cameras or otherwise –  to see what I’m doing…” The Doctor pulled a few cables out, deactivated some circuits and activated others – there was a brief flash as something shorted out – then he replaced the panel, jamming it closed with his fist. 

“Right, that should have thrown a proverbial spanner in the… in the… “

“You had a spanner?”

“Never mind, Nyssa. The only drawback is – now it might try something… nasty.”

*

Paracletus directed his attention from one part of the station to the other, but now the readings were completely confused. The only connection it could rely on was the optical and auditory sensors of the robots. The surveillance circuits and internal sensors had been overloaded! The meddling time-lord! It was still receiving enough data from the new nanobots to keep itself happy. But it would need to raise the stakes…

*

Tegan didn’t know how long she had been sat in the same position, but was starting to stiffen up. She tried to stretch one leg and then the other, but then she was also terrified of somehow tearing the wall of the balloon, though she kept telling herself that was something the designers will no doubt had factored in at some point and she was most likely in no danger… at least, no more danger than sitting in an enormous balloon exposed to the vacuum of space…

She jumped suddenly as she thought she heard a noise. She concentrated, listening the way she would when she was a girl, woken in the night by a strange sound, motionless, too scared to move, convincing herself that she had imagined it…

There it was again. Louder this time. Then the whole skin of the pod rippled. It was deflating! She sat up, and switched to a kneeling position. “Pod?” she said, “Pod! What’s going on?!” She could feel the skin of the balloon going soft underneath her knees and legs – she could feel the floor grating  of the airlock through the fabric. “Pod! POD!” she screamed, holding on to the plastic box in the wall of the pod with both hands, as it began to droop towards the floor.

Author, photographer and trade union activist. Lived in Japan for 5 years, now working at Cambridge University. Written for Big Finish/BBC Enterprises - Doctor Who and Robin Hood. Two books currently available on Amazon - see my non-fiction on Medium. All content ©Michael Abberton 2020

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