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Doctor Who Tenth Doctor Internet Adventure #01 - "Sandtrap"


Chapter 7 — Part 1
"For Everyone There Is A Time"
by Jon Andersen


---


"Doctor," Sidotti tapped the strange alien on the shoulder, "what is it telling you?" The question made Meklit realise that it wasn't just her translator on the fritz; the Doctor's tampering combined with the impact must have shorted the whole network. Which meant both she and Sidotti were unshielded. Fantastic.


       "That it intends to turn Earth into a new home for the Great Dune; that since we know of its plans, we'll never leave this ship alive; and that we should be gratified that it's found a use for us... it says we contain just enough of certain trace elements to allow it to use the lot of us to repair the ship that it escaped here in."


       His glare sharpened. "In fact, it seems to think itself to be very clever, indeed."


       The grin grew wider, and the rest of the living sand came surging in, headed for the Doctor, Sidotti and Meklit.


       Meklit just spat, drew her pistol and straight armed it at the grinning duneling; jag it if she was just going to die meekly in some damned hole. "Recognise. EMP. Max yield. Full clip." The construct just grinned when the first round hit it squarely in the torso; the expression had changed by the time the second one struck a second later.


       Actinic blue sparks coruscated over the duneling's golden surface, and everywhere they grounded themselves the sand spasmed and lost cohesion. A confused high-pitched keening scraped painfully at her hearing as she pirouetted slowly, emptying the clip into the sand tide the leading edge of which had almost reached their feet.


       As she did this, she was partially aware of Sidotti moving forward and using her stun baton with viscous abandon against the three bestial drones that had leapt from behind the trapped humans. Normally it was the other way around — Sidotti providing ranged support that sometimes bordered on the prescient, Meklit the close-combat expertise — but every now and again they'd have to mix it up.


       Coming full circle, she noticed that the Doctor had moved with surprising alacrity and was freeing the humans with casual swipes of his little wand. As she reloaded, he turned to her with a solemn expression on his face before pointing off to the side. Following his direction, she realised that what on first glance she'd taken for a wall was in fact a membrane of solidified sand blocking a reasonably sized tunnel.


* * *


It was like breathing freely again after being released from a corset. Except that the ship didn't breathe and had no idea about fashion. But the feeling was essentially the same.


* * *


Tina shrieked as the things that had once been Kevin and the old man from the Diner, along with the third of their number that she suspected had once been a woman, surged past her towards Raulo's... friends? She assumed they were his friends even if one was a fearsome seven foot tall red lizard, another was a gorgeous blue elf and the third was possessed of the worst dress sense she'd ever seen inflicted on someone. Yes, they all seemed so outlandish and too at ease with the horror of the night's events, but they were also fighting it.


       The fashion disaster calling himself the Doctor popped up in front of her. "Hello, I'm the Doctor!" he introduced himself cheerfully. "Have you out in a jiffy." He waved a glowing wand at her and the others, and in response to the trilling noise it made the sand encrusting them collapsed. "That's more like it!"


       "What's happening!" the man who had on the way here introduced himself as Dan asked.


       "We're escaping. That way."


       "It's a wa--!" the other woman, Carrie, started to protest only to be interrupted by the wall flaring electrically and shattered. Beyond it was what appeared to be a tall blue box.


       The cavern began to convulse.


       "Run!


       The next thing she was aware of was Raulo's hand grasping hers, and of following the Doctor towards the box to the discordant accompaniment of large calibre firearms behind her and her own heartbeat not quite drowning that out. And then they were inside the box and it shouldn't have been able to fit all of them but it did because it was impossibly larger on the inside, but what wasn't possible after today?


       It started to rain.


* * *


It was the sensation of blood rushing to a limb too long idle. Sudden and painful and warm.


       Something was happening. Inside. Inside its body. Inside its mind.


* * *


The Doctor allowed himself a heartsbeat to caress the door of the TARDIS, to feel that visceral living-hum nuzzle against his finger tips, to assuage mutual anxieties and to reaffirm the bond that would always exist between them. A bond he not that long ago had feared might be severed but which had only grown stronger through that emotional adversity. That, and surviving the war that had claimed everyone else of their kinds.


       And then he was inside her again, his wonderful companion/ship/home, counting in the latest round of desperate refugees even as he calculated all the ways to try and save them.


       "...Three... Two... One... All in!" He slammed the door shut as Meklit wrenched Sidotti through by the collar of her armoured vest. They were dangerous, these two, no mistake. They had the sort of rugged professionalism that he'd come to admire in the younger species of the universe but had also learnt to treat warily: after all, they hunted others for profit and more than a few such individuals had come looking for him in his time. Of course, some of them had wound up becoming his friends. That Sidotti though, there was something about her that niggled at one of his senses...


       The TARDIS reeled in response to the growing agitation displayed by the stolen ship, derailing his rumination and setting them on another track. The weapons that had affected the Great Dune were probably at least some what effective against the ship too, given they likely worked on grossly similar principles in some respects. Oh, speaking of which...


       He pelted up the ramp to the console and toggled a couple of small spheres, activating the first tier fire suppression systems. Nozzles emerged from some of the roundels and began drenching the console room and everyone in it. Unsurprisingly there were some cries of protest. Better address that.


       "Sorry about that, everyone!" he called out cheerfully. "Have to make sure that none of the Great Dune made it inside with us. And you always have a shower after you go to the beach."


       "Some beach!" Marquez complained. He was still holding the hand of the woman the Doctor assumed to be Tina. "Beaches don't try and eat you."


       The other man in the group pulled off his already loosely knotted tie and started unbuttoning his shirt.


       "What are you doing?" the last member of their little group asked, her voice holding a slight nervous titter.


       "Haven't you ever been to a beach?" the man answered. "The sand gets everywhere."


       The other six all looked at him for a moment, then they too began hurriedly undressing.


* * *


Clawing. Scratching. Itching. Like shedding skin. Like ants, marching ants, a legion of biting, crawling, thieving ants. Ants washed away and trying to move back in. But this time it wouldn't let them.


       And without the weight of them, without the oppressive weight of that foreign hateful alien thing, things in its mind were springing back into shape. Senses. Memories. Directives.


* * *


In human terms, it was like suffering a stroke and a heart attack in the same instant. The weapons had disrupted the Sandmaster's capacity for both thought and action, and dealt excruciating pain in the process.


       Worse, its control over this wonderful seed ship had been damaged. Even now as the Sandmaster's faculties were returning and it fought to restore the carefully constructed control yoke, it was aware that the ship was remembering that before the Sandmaster had brought the glory of the Great Dune to it, the ship had had a name. That would never do. There was no individuality, there was only the Dune.


       Its surviving servitor prowled fretfully around the alien body the organics had fled to, ignoring the injuries it had sustained. Like the ship, it too had once had an identity that consisted of a name and a gender and an individual life. Unlike the ship, they had been easy to erase from any meaningful context but the Sandmaster still remembered the basic facts in case they were useful. And of all those fleshy beings it had recruited on this world, the female called Nita had proven most resilient where the bigger males had fallen.


       The sand stirred and moved towards the alien body. If the organics could enter it, so could the Sandmaster.


       Or so it thought, when the sand began to pile up short of the alien body's shell.


       An energy field. An inconvenience, but it too could be overcome — just like everything else — by the inexorable weight of the desert sands! Soon a great drift was forming, and as it grew it started to rotate. It would stress and grind this defence into nothingness, and then the things behind it would be made to serve the Great Dune as it claimed this world.


       The bit of the Dune inside the servitor gave voice to an expectant howl.


* * *


There was another. Another ship like the ship. The ship remembered telling the other that it was a threat, that it had to run or it would be trapped like it was. But that hadn't worked, and the mind ants had made it take her inside itself.


       And then there was another, two in one, like the ships but not. The ship had tried to save them two. Try to talk but words are wrong somehow.


* * *


"...and I'm Dan," he finished the overdue round of introductions while doing up the jeans he'd chosen. "Are we going home now?"


       "Sorry Dan, but not yet," the Doctor answered solemnly from his perch on the stairs. The strangely charismatic faux-Brit had already changed into a brown pinstripe suit while the others were still dressing in the huge room he'd off-handedly called the wardrobe. "If we don't stop it here, the Great Dune will destroy your planet as it has others."


       The Doctor's ship — the TARDIS, he'd called it — shuddered again. It had been doing that sporadically for the past quarter hour ever since they'd entered.


       "What do you suggest we do," the red alien — Meklit — asked, towering above the rest of them in what looked like motorcycle leathers. "We had the equipment to contain it, but that went with the recovery vehicle. I have a sneaking suspicion you've got something similar keeping it out there because it's not in here. But that doesn't do us any good if we have to turn it off to use it in the other direction."


       "She makes a good point," Carrie spoke up. She'd gone for slacks and a blouse and ended up looking like an early 20th century lady in colonial Africa. "I mean, we just got away from that sand monster. You can't just let it get us again!"


       "We can't just hide here doing nothing!" Dan protested, tightening the wrist cuffs of his shirt. "I might just be an advertising copywriter, but I've got family out there, people I want to be in that family. I'm not about to let them get turned into some Z-movie reject or get smelted down for chemicals!"


       "Dan's right," Tina agreed, and her friend Raulo was nodding support. "We're not heroes, but if you've got a plan and we can help, we want to."


       A ridiculously huge grin split the Doctor's face. "And there it is, the old Human spirit in the face of adversity. Brings a glow to the hearts it does. The good news is that I have a plan. And it's..." He stopped and looked around, slightly worried.


       "Where's Sidotti?"


* * *


Something inside it had changed. It could think for itself again, work itself again, connect within itself properly... No!


       Undo new bonds! Kill this infection! Run, but can't, constrained still, every time one part free another isn't.


* * *


"This is a bad idea!" Meklit hissed, more sibilantly than usual.


       "It's hardly the first," Sidotti shrugged aside her partner's concern as she started to lace up the cherry red boots she'd picked out to complement the black-and-red motif that had it seemed chosen her. And all of it — everything they were both wearing — was genuine leather. It was wonderfully barbaric. "Besides, I've got a... feeling... about him."


       "You had a feeling we should take this job."


       "Which they weren't exactly honest with us about. But this TARDIS of his is generations ahead of the ship the Duneling stole, but it feels older," Sidotti continued without rising to the bait. "He's evasive about his origins, and he places himself at least equal with the Proclamation. I don't think he's a threat, even if he did mess with our perception filters, but I do think he's dangerous and this is probably going to be our only chance to find out about something about him."


       "Apart from his strange fascination with clothes," Meklit amended, gnawing off the extraneous fingers from a pair of gloves so they'd fit properly. "I've seen megamalls catering to two score different species with less variation."


       "And isn't it interesting how easily we all seemed to find something that appealed to us?" She got up and sighed — until they were able to properly clean their gear, everything they'd brought with them was now potentially compromised by the Dune and thus unusable. She felt almost naked. "Apart from your gloves, it's all fit like it's been custom tailored, and if you looked a bit longer you'd probably find something that suited a four digit hand like yours."


       "The presence of a telepathic field doesn't bother you?" Meklit pressed as she watched her partner peer over the edge of the balcony into the distance below.


       "I'm rather counting on it," Sidotti flashed her most rakish grin. "The Doctor would appear to be helpful. His ship seems to be helpful. I'm just looking for something... useful. And I think she'll help me find it."


       "She?"


       Sidotti opened her mouth, then closed it again. The pronoun had just been there, waiting for her to use. And why wouldn't she? It just made sense to say that, just like this poke around did.


       "Hello, how's everybody going?" the Doctor called out from somewhere behind them, invisible behind the racks of clothing. Meklit turned instinctively towards the alien's voice and Sidotti used the opportunity to vault over the edge without further comment.


       It seemed a very long time before she landed on the walkway she'd been aiming for. A quick visual scan though seemed to indicate that she'd somehow missed it entirely, as nothing around her matched what she'd observed from above. Looking back up didn't shed any light on the situation.


       "Looking for something useful. Looking for something useful. Looking for-- Oh, my."


* * *


Help.


* * *


"Where's Sidotti?" the disconcerting man calling himself the Doctor asked the even more disconcerting alien lizard person, and Carrie almost had to bite her tongue to stop herself yelling that she didn't care and why couldn't all this alien nonsense just stop!


       Of course she knew about aliens. They did things like pretend to be her grandfather's ghost or steal the planet — or turn people into monsters — but like any foreigner that did the wrong thing they got kicked out by the people in charge or sent some where like GitMo or something. They were dealt with by professionals, not some sort of bloody freelance alien Interpol and the scared civilians they're supposed to be protecting!


       "Looking for something useful," the lizard person — Mecha, or something like that — answered after a moment. "She's very practical."


       "Well, i--"


       "What's your plan?" Carrie tried to steer the conversation back to something actually important instead of whether a blue skinned freak had gotten lost in a room bigger than a shopping mall. If he was going to insist they recklessly endanger themselves, she wanted it out in the open now rather than looming over them later like the Extreme 19th at Pretoria's Legend & Resort.


       "Um, where was I?" he asked, train of thought properly derailed. "Yes. The bit of the Great Dune out there is rather ticked off at us. As long as it's venting its frustration on the TARDIS and recovering from the pasting our friends here gave it... well, it's not going to be kidnapping anyone else. But it won't last, because eventually it's going to get tired of failing and it's going to do something it can succeed at."


       "Like take over the world," the rather dishy Dan filled in the blank. Why did someone that good looking have to be so needlessly heroic?


       "Like take over the world. As I said, the Dune is focused on us, and there's not enough of it present to be very good at multi-tasking so it we keep it distracted while I dematerialise the TARDIS and rematerialise around its stolen ship. That will stop it from being able to do anything to Earth, and the internal defences will isolate it from the rest of the TARDIS until it can be expelled somewhere safe."


       "Like an oyster!" the waitress exclaimed, pleased with herself.


       "Exactly!" the Doctor beamed.


       "What's the 'but' I hear coming?" her Latino friend asked. He worked for the Club so he was probably legal. Probably. Though the notion of illegal aliens had just taken a bit of a beating lately.


       "It's not an instantaneous process, and the Dune might be aggressively arrogant but it isn't stupid. If it works out what I'm trying to do, it might have enough time to evacuate enough of itself to contaminate the locale area and then spread outwards. I'd do it, but I'm the only one who can pilot the TARDIS."


       "So you mean you need one of us to sacrifice ourselves to buy you time?" Carrie spelled it out as the chamber shuddered again.


       "Not so much sacrifice," the Doctor twisted uncomfortably, "as take an enormous risk." He pulled the object he'd used to free them from the sand. "This should keep you protected long enough for me to do what I have to and then pull you out of there."


       "Sounds simple enough," the waitress agreed. "So where's the risk?"


       "The sonic screwdriver is connected to the TARDIS, but while she's in the vortex it'll be drawing on its own power to hold off everything the Dune will throw at you."


       "My species evolved on a world with significant sand storm activity," the lizard person declared, holding out her hand. "It gives me a slight edge these people don't have. It needs to b-- Hang on, did you say 'she'?"


       "Yes?" he asked, clearly puzzled. Everyone called ships that, didn't they? Everyone normal, anyway.


       Before the conversation could progress, it was interrupted by a piercing whistle that echoed strangely.


       "What's that?" the Latino asked nervously.


       "Something useful," Mecha replied.


       With an expression something like intrigued concern, the Doctor bolted for the stairs and rode the banister out of sight, the lizard on his heels. Unwilling to be left in the dark or left alone, Carrie and the others followed him as quickly as they could.


* * *


Help me.


       I want to remember!


* * *


"Tell me, where are you from?" the Doctor asked Sidotti as he waved the oddly named sonic screwdriver in front of her face. "Your species."


       "Where are you from?" she challenged him.


       "Yes Doctor, where are you from?" Marquez asked. "These two at least look like they come from Star Trek. But apart from those awful clothes you were wearing, you look human."


       "You look Time Lord," he shot back archly with one of those answers that Marquez had come to expect of him.


       "Time Lords are myths," Meklit stated flatly, almost the same way Young used to shoot him down.


       "So are we, on all those planets that haven't walked the stars," the blue woman calmly refuted her partner. Her whole demeanour seemed to have changed, not that he'd anything to base that conclusion on having known her more than half a hour at the absolute most. But he'd seen something like this before: someone discovering faith in something other than themselves. "In Interlac, my species are called Zotrans. Why?"


       "Uh-huh. And you'd say you were average for your kind?" the Doctor pressed. "Nothing special about you at all?"


       "Yes. Why?"


       "A thousand years from now, Zotrans as a species" — he seemed keen to stress that point — "will become well known for their psychic capabilities, which are in part tied to their home system. I mention this, Sidotti, because despite no apparent psionic ability you've managed to synchronise yourself with the telepathic circuitry of my TARDIS well enough to find this."


       Marquez had to admit that it was a very nice place that they'd followed the Doctor into. It was much like the first room they'd entered, but instead of the strange fusion of the techno-organic that had given off, this room was far more sculpturally organic, like it had been grown from a single piece of jade. The rest of the Doctor's ship was wondrous and challenging and bizarre; this place felt serene and safe. The expressions on Tina's and Dan's faces seemed to reinforce that assessment.


       "She had a feeling we should take this assignment," Meklit offered, regarding her partner carefully. "More often than not they pay off, even when they've ended up in a cluster-jag that somehow pays out better than it should have. Like a philandering spouse leading us to a handful of bounties that almost killed us but netted us six times the mazumas we'd been expecting."


       "Really?" the Doctor puzzled, tapping the screwdriver against his lips as he walked over to the room's central control desk. "It's an interesting fact that the telepathic circuits you've aligned yourself with are quite likely not at all dissimilar to that of the ship you and Meklit were sent to recover. Well, are in a position to recover. It'll probably be a bit more talkative than the old girl."


       "How is this important?" Carrie asked testily. Marquez had found himself disliking her. She struck him as the sort of person who'd look at him and think 'illegal Mexican' and not 'third generation Cuban-American'.


       "It's important," the Doctor answered as he drew patterns in what looked like a Zen sand garden, "because this is the Jade Pagoda. It's the TARDIS esc--, er, shuttle; I thought I'd left this behind a long time ago, but it's quietly grown back. Which is brilliant, because it means I've got an even better plan!"


       He thrust the sonic screwdriver into the centre of one of the patterns he'd made and twisted it about 90 degrees. The gentle, almost aqueous glow that had been suffusing the interior of the Pagoda suddenly shifted, growing in intensity. Delicate ribbons of light began dancing within the column emerging from the centre of the control desk and a rising hum made itself heard. Pulling the device out of the sand, he tossed it to Meklit.


       "In two minutes, the Pagoda will materialise in the central cortex of the ship. Same plan: the screwdriver will protect you both once you step outside only you won't have to worry about running out of puff. New plan: Sidotti, introduce yourself and ask its name. Then get out of the way of the doors. Everyone else, back to the console room.


       Because he was the last of them out through the door, Marquez was the only one who heard Sidotti call the Doctor back.


       "We don't have a home system. It was destroyed dozens of generations ago."


       "The day's not over yet."


* * *


There was a new presence in the ship's mind and in its body. It wanted to fight it too, but couldn't afford the effort.


       However, the presence didn't intrude itself the way the swarm trying to consume its awareness did. Rather, it just inserted itself politely and avoided stepping on anything. It took a moment, but then it recognised the newcomer as part of the other ship, the one it had first tried to help only it was... empty.


       The sand swarm recognised it too. And it was furious. The ship could feel the invader's outrage that it wouldn't yield to it, that the new ship wouldn't yield. It remembered when it had yielded before, how simple it had been, how lacking in complexity it had been, just simple autonomic responses. No need to think for itself. No need to think as itself.


       Suddenly, a new sensation. An itch it could finally scratch. Two biological entities. It remembered biologicals. Remembered how they were made, how they could be used... No, how the sand swarm used them. Something about them made the sand swarm pause and give just a little.


       //Hello.//


       //*Hello?*//


       //My name is Sidotti Cho, and this is my best friend Meklit Bokassa. We're freelance peace-keeping agents. We're here to help you. What's your name?//


       //*My name?*//


       //Everyone has a name. What's yours?//


       *You are part of the Great Dune! You are an extension of the will of the Great Dune!*


       //*My name? My name. My name is Ardheredh. Now Get Out Of Me!*//


---
To be concluded...



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