Keep on low heat until the plot thickens.
3. Departures and Arrivals
After narrowly defusing a further confrontation with Captain Light, Amy and Rory showed the Doctor some of the exhibits that had interested them the most.
Most of the things they found fascinating were child’s play to the Doctor. Where they expected him to agree that a self-perpetuating fruit tree was an amazing invention, he merely scoffed, “You wouldn’t think that if you’d been present at the Mass Gluttony Disaster on Udabes VII.”
While this perturbed the two companions greatly, their attentions soon turned from amazing technological achievements of the past to matters of the immediate present.
“So what did you find out, Doctor?” Rory asked conspiratorially.
“About what?” the Doctor replied, confused.
“About what’s amiss in this place?” Amy cued.
“There’s something amiss here?” he responded, looking at their surroundings curiously.
“Doctor!” she replied, giving him a good showing of her bottom teeth and a withering glare. “You’ve completely forgotten what we were supposed to be keeping our eyes out for. What exactly have you been doing with that dusty tart of an archaeologist all day?”
“Oh that!” the Doctor said with a smile. “For your information, Dolla was an incredible help. Walk with me.”
The trio moved away from the more trafficked exhibits and into an area where few visitors were loitering.
“Apparently, there was a big fuss over an item that arrived shortly before we did,” the Doctor explained. “Our Captain Light is somehow involved, though I don’t know how yet. He wasn’t part of the group that delivered the piece, but seems to know an awful lot about it.”
“Where you able to get into the computer system?” Rory asked.
“Ah. Now that’s the interesting bit. Short answer, no. Long answer, no, but not because a new system is being installed,” the Doctor replied. He paused a moment and scratched his head. “And there’s the tricky bit. That means Heems lied to me. Why would he do that?”
“There’s something in the system he doesn’t want you to see?” Amy guessed.
“Perhaps, or maybe there isn’t something in the system that he doesn’t want me to see,” the Doctor said enigmatically.
“So,” Rory said, “He wants you to see everything?”
“That’s not what I meant,” the Doctor said quickly.
“But that’s what you said,” Amy countered exasperatedly. “If there isn’t something in the system that he-”
“Yes, yes, yes, nevermind,” the Doctor said waving his hands in annoyance. “Listen to what I mean, not what I say.”
Taking a deep breath, the Doctor continued. “What I mean is that I think there are things missing from the database that he doesn’t want me to see. I’ve been here enough times to know a Thripitifalus Vex has been on Heems’s wall since before he took over as Curator. Take into account that I’ve been in this museum at a point in time later than the one we find ourselves in now, and that I know for a fact that it was there then, we’ve suddenly got a nice little mystery on our hands.”
The Doctor began to pace back and forth in front of the two companions.
“I’m even beginning to expect there’s more than just a wildlife trophy missing here. Either there’s a thief at work, or, and I hesitate to even travel down this line of thought, those pieces have ceased to exist.”
“So, what do we do next?” Rory asked.
The Doctor abruptly stopped pacing and faced his companions.
“‘We’ do nothing. You two,” he said, pointing at them both, “are going home.”
“Ridiculous,” Amy snapped. “You’re taking us with you. You need us. You always need us.”
“True, Amelia Pond,” the Doctor replied warmly. “So many times I’ve needed you both in my travels, and this time is no different.”
Amy and Rory smiled at each other, thinking they’d won.
“Right now, I need you to go home. No buts!” he barked, turning away from them. “I’ll come back and pick you up later, five days at the most.”
“That usually means five years later,” Rory quipped.
“Why won’t you take us?” Amy asked, feigning a pout.
“This part of the adventure is a solo mission, comrades,” he said gravely. “Three’s a crowd. Now, just trust me.”
“Oh great,” Amy and Rory sighed in unison.
The trio made their way back to the TARDIS, saying their farewells to Dolla and Curator Heems along the way. The Doctor allowed Amy and Rory to choose one perishable memento to take with them, still vehemently protesting against them taking any sort of advanced technology back to their time, even if they did sell it in the gift shop. Rory chose a bugdrop, a small capsule that contained short-lived nanobots that would course through his body and repair any damage or malady he might be suffering internally. Amy chose a similar item that erased blemishes on the skin microscopically. Both items would run their course long before they reached Earth.
They reached the TARDIS in silence, ready to continue on with their adventures elsewhere. While the Doctor fiddled with his keys, Amy and Rory smiled and embraced each other. With a final glance at the vast and wondrous Kelvaxan Reliquary, the companions turned and ran into the Doctor who was still struggling with the TARDIS doors.
“It’s jammed!” the Doctor grunted, heaving his shoulder against the door. “Now what could have possibly jammed the door?”
Rory cast a nervous look to Amy, who was already glaring back at him.
As the door opened a crack, there was a loud chorus of squeaks and bright pink and blue fur poked through the opening.
The acoustics in the space museum allowed sound to carry for long intervals. The Doctor’s angry cry of “RORY!” lingered long after the TARDIS finally vanished from view.
In the yard of the small house Amy and Rory lived in when not traveling with the Time Lord, a rather unpleasant odor began to grow in intensity. Birds fled from the shrubbery in swarms, the stray dog that often made his bed in an untended flower garden nearby fled the scene with a whimper, and even the rats that had burrowed under the foundation of the house vacated in terror as the stench spread.
A wheezy, grinding noise broke through the sound of the flapping wings and scurrying feet, and a blue box materialized. As soon as the box fully appeared with a thump, the door opened and three people wearing gas masks fell over each other trying to get out.
“Get clear!” said one of the people, his voice muffled through the mask. “I’ll set the remote timer.”
Pulling a small handheld device from its pockets, the gas-masked individual pointed it at the blue box. The device issued a shrill squeal and the door to the box shut. There was a brief flash of energy around the box and tendrils of smoke began to drift up from the box’s top.
“Wait for it! Five more seconds!” the person shouted to the others.
After the time had elapsed, all three of the humans removed their masks and gasped for air.
“Oh my god!” Rory panted. “That was awful. Even through the mask.”
“Why didn’t you do that before we left the Reliquary?” Amy questioned the Doctor.
“To teach you a lesson,” the Doctor said, waving a handkerchief in front of his face.
“I’ve had about enough of your lessons, professor,” Rory jabbed.
“Yes, well,” the Doctor stammered. “I admit I didn’t find it pleasant either. I mean, what was I thinking?”
“How did the gunbunnies get back into the TARDIS?” Amy asked.
“I have a few stasis pods aboard. I assume a couple got stowed away inside and initiated a brief stasis period which probably ended while we were away. Regardless, its still -”
“My fault,” Rory admitted. “Yes, I know. I said I was sorry.”
The three time travelers took a few moments to catch their breath, before the Doctor clapped his hands and signaled he was ready to depart.
“Don’t get into too much trouble while I’m gone,” he told his companions. “Five days, tops.”
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Rory muttered and turned to go inside the house.
“Doctor,” Amy said before following Rory.
The Doctor spun around with a smile.
“Take care of yourself,” she said.
“I wouldn’t risk the wrath of Pond by doing anything but that,” he replied and skipped off to his TARDIS.
As the door to the amazing blue box slammed shut, the droning sound of the time machine’s departure began. As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished. Amy and Rory went into their house and tried to settle back into their home away from what they considered their real home, the TARDIS.
In the yard of their house, the stray dog returned to sniff the area where the TARDIS had been and sneezed violently.
On the dark side of one of the seven moons orbiting around the planet Fallox, a seemingly derelict ship hung in space. The only clue an observer would have that might indicate there was someone aboard the vessel, was the small flame from a lit candle sitting on the ships controls.
Huddling close to the candle was Captain Drustan Light, who was using the dim light to view a crudely drawn map of the position of defensive satellites around the planet. As he peered at the map and tried to plot a course that would lead him safely through the security net, his ship’s onboard computer switched back on.
“Recharge sequence complete, Captain,” the computer spoke with a sultry, feminine voice.
“Switch us back on, Penelope,” Light responded. “I’m tired of squinting at this map by candlelight.”
“It’s bad for your eyes, Captain,” the computer chided. All over the ship, consoles switched on, glowing in reds, greens, and yellows.
Captain Light blinked his eyes in the sudden brightness. “Any luck reducing the recharge time? I wasn’t paying attention.”
“The Timedrive technology is still sapping our core systems beyond standard limits. I reduced the recharge time to compensate by .3 nanoseconds.”
“I guess every little bit helps,” Light sighed. “I just really don’t like being a sitting duck every time we jump. Suppose someone was able to follow us.”
“It is possible that we could find ourselves between a solid aggregate of minerals and an area of matter with strong intermolecular bonds in that situation,” the computer offered.
“A rock and a hard place, you mean,” Captain Light corrected with a smile.
“Is that not synonymous to the situation I described?”
“It is,” Light laughed. “It’s all about the delivery though, Penelope.”
“I am unaware of any further deliveries we are scheduled to make, Captain.”
“Nevermind that. Fire thrusters and take us in slowly,” the ship’s captain commanded.
The old Razor-class light freighter shook violently as the main thrusters fired. Light had commandeered the ship from a privateer operating near the galactic core of the Milky Way galaxy. The Timedrive had been a later addition, provided to Captain Light by his best repeat employer, an organization calling itself Ulysses. The ships hull was peppered with scorch marks from numerous skirmishes, and very little of the ship contained its original parts. Between Captain Light’s extensive upgrades and continuous need to replace faulty and obsolete components, the ship was an interstellar mutt.
“Have you plotted a safe course through the security net?” the computer inquired.
“I think so. Seventy-five by three point zero, sixteen degrees and hold steady.”
The ship shot around the orbiting moon and sped along a course towards the planet.
“Get me a reading on that sector,” Light ordered.
“I show a hole in their defenses in that sector. The ship will pass through unscathed,” the computer replied.
“Full thrust. Let’s just hope we get through before a patrol shows up.”
The ship shuddered violently as it increased speed. Quickly, the planet grew to fill the front window of the cockpit.
“Captain, there is an unusual energy reading coming from the aft section of the ship.”
“Check it out, Penelope,” the captain barked. “Not a good time for surprises.”
“Scanning,” the computer replied.
The ship was only a few hundred miles from the security net and gaining speed. Captain Light switched to manual operation and took control of the ship.
“What’s the verdict?” Captain Light asked.
The computer did not respond.
Instead of the computer’s female voice, a dry, mockingly British voice spoke from behind the Captain, “Power down the entire ship, immediately.”
Spinning around in his captain’s chair and drawing his blaster in one motion, Captain Light was shocked to find the Doctor standing holding his sonic screwdriver.
“You!” Captain Light shouted in fury.
“Shut it down if you want to live, Captain Light,” the Doctor warned.
“You’re threatening me with a sonic screwdriver?” the captain laughed incredulously. “What have you done with Penelope?”
“She’s sleeping,” the Doctor said impatiently. “Now shut this ship down or I’ll do it for you.”
“I’d like to see you try,” the Captain retorted. “I’ve got more security measures on this cockpit than -”
Before Captain Light could finish, the Doctor activated his sonic screwdriver, and one by one all the ships controls shut down and went dark.
The ship lurched violently as the thrusters powered down instantly, causing the ship to spin.
“Right,” Light sneered. “I’ll kill you for that.”
“Shut up and don’t breathe,” the Doctor ordered, seemingly unconcerned by the captain’s threat.
The Captain prepared a retort, but it caught in his throat as he caught a glimpse of thousands of microsatellites outside the ship. The entire hole in the security net was blanketed with the devices. His scanners hadn’t been able to detect them.
Barely whispering, the Doctor explained. “They use this sector for returning empty cargo containers. It saves them money by not requiring every container to be fitted with the proper security protocol modules to pass through the net. These little buggers detect electronic activity and certain heat signatures that would indicate a ship is trying to pass through. If they detect something, they vaporize it.”
“What about the -”
Quieter, much quieter than the Doctor had whispered, Captain Light tried again. “What about the -”
“Shh!” the Doctor repeated.
“What about the residual heat from the thrusters?” the Doctor asked for him. “The cargo containers have to be able to be oriented into a position to pass through the sector. They have their own thrusters, and are controlled remotely. The thrusters shut off before they pass through. Only something the size of your thrusters would have enough residual heat to trigger them.”
“The size of my -”
“The size of your thrusters doesn’t matter anymore,” the Doctor continued. “I took the liberty of detaching the thrusters at the same time I shut them off.”
Captain Light seethed with fury as the ship passed silently through the sea of microsatellites.
“How the hell am I supposed to land this ship once we pass through?” the Captain whispered harshly.
“Don’t ask me,” the Doctor said innocently. “You’re the pilot.”
“So you’ve killed us anyway,” the Captain snapped. “Wonderful.”
“I gave us a chance.”
“Wouldn’t they think of the possibility of a ship passing through like this and then powering up once its passed?” the Captain queried, looking desperately for a way out of the situation.
“Yes,” the Doctor said matter-of-factly. “That’s why the microsatellites extend down almost to the surface, much too low for a ship to pull off any sort of fancy maneuver and save themselves.”
“Where do they terminate?” the Captain asked desperately.
“Oh, about five miles above the surface of the planet.”
“You’re mad,” the Captain said incredulously.
“Well, I am a bit miffed, but that’s mostly because there’s a lingering stench in my ship.”
Captain Light turned abruptly away from the Doctor, and watched the planet speed towards them.
“That was quite clever of you, picking the lock to my ship and dumping a pair of gunbunnies in while I was touring the Reliquary,” the Doctor said icily. “Now I’ll have to apologize to my companion, and I really, really don’t like doing that. Especially when its Rory.”
The Captain couldn’t prevent himself from smirking.
“So, it comes down to this, Mr. Smartypants,” the Doctor continued. “You tell me what’s been happening at the Reliquary that’s caused entire species of lifeforms and eras of history to disappear from time, and I’ll save you and your ship.”
“Nevermind that. Just tell me how you’re involved.”
The Captain took a deep breathe, considering the ship’s speed and approximate distance from the planet.
“Honestly, I thought you were involved,” the Captain confessed. “I, too, was investigating when you showed up. I thought I’d follow you when I realized you’ve got yourself a TARDIS.”
“The relic delivered to Heems before I arrived. What was it?” the Doctor pressed.
“A paradox key,” the Captain said. “I’ll tell you what it is when we land safely.”
“Fair enough,” the Doctor said. Nonchalantly, he turned from the cockpit and walked back to his TARDIS.
“Hurry Doctor!” the Captain yelled back at him.
“Oi!” the Doctor snapped. “Don’t rush me.”
The ship continued to spin in its descent, the microsatellites parting before it like water until gradually the cloud of them began to thin, then disappeared completely.
“We’re through!” the Captain yelled back. “I hope you’ve got a plan!”
Suddenly, the entire ship lurched and froze in mid-air. It floated there briefly before gently lowering down through the clouds toward the surface. After a few moments, the ship set down on solid ground.
Rising from his chair, but not putting away his blaster, Captain Light stalked back to the cargo hold. There stood the Doctor leaning against the TARDIS with a smirk on his face.
“So, Captain Light,” he said, “what exactly is a paradox key?”
“I really don’t like you, Doctor,” the Captain growled.
“Perfect!” the Doctor replied. “I don’t like you either.”
“A paradox key is a device engineered to manipulate events towards the perpetuation of a paradox. In the case of the object delivered to the Kelvaxan Reliquary, it was a Speak & Spell,” the Captain explained.
“Interesting,” the Doctor replied.
“This particular one has been compromised and altered. I was on my way to secure it, but Trelonde beat me to it. He’s the one that delivered it to Heems.”
“Why do you have an interest in this?” the Doctor asked calmly.
“I was hired to secure it and return it to its makers,” Captain Light said, holstering his weapon. “And before you ask, I don’t know who they are. They call themselves Ulysses.”
“Again, very interesting. So that then leads us to the present,” the Doctor mused. “What exactly are you doing breaking into a planet?”
“The same thing you’re doing. I’m looking for answers. Some time ago I delivered an artifact to Heems that has since disappeared from his collection. He says he has no knowledge of the item’s existence. This disturbs me. It was a very difficult piece to collect.”
“To steal you mean.”
Captain Light ignored the accusation and continued. “I recovered it from ruins on this planet, but I left three other pieces here. I want to see if they still exist.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” the Doctor asked curiously.
“Just a suspicion. For starters, Fallox is a primitive planet. I’ve been here dozens of times and never once has there been a security net around it.”
“Fallox has always had the grid,” the Doctor stated flatly. “I did my research. They’ve been spacefarers for centuries.”
“Ah, but you’ve never been here, Doctor. The memory is likely resident in my mind only. Just like your Thripitifalus Vex. Time does strange things to the minds of those who travel through its cracks. Sometimes you can change history, but you can’t erase it from the minds of those who have experienced it.”
“I’m coming with you,” the Doctor decided, pushing himself off the blue box.
“I work alone,” Captain Light countered.
“We have the same questions. We tread the same path towards to same goal. I’m not baggage, I’m not a liability.”
“I’m not convinced.”
“I also have Penelope,” the Doctor revealed, holding up a small crystal cube.
The Captain looked momentarily concerned, but then returned to his usual bluster. “One of these days, Doctor, we’ll come to blows.”
“Such a violent man,” the Doctor quipped sarcastically.
“Fine, follow close and do as I say,” Captain Light barked. Quickly, he picked up a pack from a locker in the cargo area and began to fill it with supplies.
“One more question, Captain,” the Doctor said carefully. “Have you ever heard of the Temporal Defense Initiative?”
Captain Light laughed aloud, and grinned at the Doctor, “Of course. I’m one of them.”
(to be continued …)