"Your blob isn't going to eat me, is it?"
Samantha Jones wriggled her feet and twiddled her fingers as she stared up at the ceiling. Well, as much as the bean bag chair in which she was embedded would allow her.
It felt as she imagined being caught in a bag of quicksand would. The insides of the 'beanbag' sloshed and seemed to be flowing slowly around, but whenever she tried to move, it condensed around her torso and limbs, weighing her down. Her neck and head were half-engulfed, leaving her face angling out the top. Her fingers from knuckles on projected out further below, and her feet stuck out at the ankles.
Now she knew what one of the raisins in a pudding felt like.
She sighed heavily. She was so very much a prisoner, but so very, very comfortable. The blob-creature in which she was trapped was soothingly warm, and it was getting hard to resist the temptation to fall asleep...
Sam blinked hard, trying to clear her head. This would never do. The Doctor had to have missed her by now, even taking into account his distractable nature.
The Altairan female pacing the floor paused to look in Sam's direction, before resuming her uneasy perambulation.
"Why am I here?"
The female glanced at her again, but said nothing. Three bright-eyed lynfets popped their heads out the top of her pouch, and giggling, squirmed out and swarmed down her legs to the floor. She grimaced but made no move to stop them.
They swarmed over to Sam and her 'chair'. One of them opened her snout to speak, but was grabbed by the other two, one of whom wrapped a long, three fingered hand around its litter- mate's snout, effectively silencing it. The others glanced gingerly back at their mother, who nodded approvingly at her offsprings' restraint. She stood, regarding the scene before her for a few moments, before turning and walking out of the small room.
The three waited until the sound of their mother's steps had died away, lost in the complex that was their extended Family's home nest, then started to pelt Sam with questions and observations.
"Where's your pouch?"
"Where's your fur?"
"Why're your eyes so funny?"
"Where are you from?"
"Do you like our gunny? It's my favorite gunny -- I like it better than the one we had before."
Sam looked from one lynfet to another, as they hopped up and down, dark eyes shining and pointed ears twitching. "Hey, wait!" she laughed. "I can only answer one question at a time!" She wriggled her feet and toes again, and one lynfet, fascinated, leaned forward to poke at Sam's projecting fingertips. Sam laughed again, and the childrens' ears twitched forward to better catch the sound.
"Hey," she said, turning her head as far as she could to the left. "If you let me out, I'll answer your questions."
This offer prompted a huddle, as the three lynfets discussed the possibility.
"Can't," the spokes-lynfet of the trio finally announced. "Momma won't like it."
"I won't tell her if you don't," Sam promised.
The three Altair children considered for a few moments.
"Okay," they decided, gathering around their pet. Sam wriggled, causing the lynfets to giggle yet again. She glanced from one to another as they arranged themselves around the beige blob and began to poke at it gleefully with their index fingers.
"Let her go!"
Sam stared upwards, her mouth dropping open in astonishment as the inside of her 'beanbag' began to flux. The smooth surface began to ripple as the children continued their unrelenting attack.
"Come on, gunny! Give her up!"
One lynfet laughed at the expression on Sam's face. "What's the matter?"
"Oh, it just feels weird..." Sam told them. "The insides are moving around..."
More laughter. "Gunny's got IN-DI-GES-TION!" the lynfets shrieked, delighted.
Sam lifted her head slightly up from the roiling surface, shocked. "You mean it really was eating me?!"
The next instant it didn't matter, as the gunny gave up the unequal fight. The insides heaved, and Sam yelped as she was pushed up and out. She blorbed forward, landing in a limp, damp pile face-down on the floor.
"Thanks," she muttered, blinking and shaking her head as the lynfets gathered around. She pushed herself up and sat, looking around at the excited children, and couldn't help smiling at their eagerness. Glancing behind at the gunny, she noted that it had reintegrated, and now sat, a placid blob in the corner, only the occasional gentle undulation disturbing the surface. Sam herself was slightly ruffled. Her jeans and tee shirt, though still intact, had changed to an interesting shade of brown.
"So what do you guys usually feed it?" she asked them, pointing at the gunny.
"Oh, we just put different things on it, and it takes them in and eats 'em," one told her off-handedly.
Sam shuddered a little bit, despite herself. She'd been joking earlier about being eaten...
"Never fed it a whole person before, though," another of her hosts declared.
Well, that was a relief.
"It would've taken days and days for it to eat you!"
Geeze, what a wonderful thought...
One of the children reached out to touch her cropped blond hair, comparing it to its own short brown pelt. "Hey, how come you only have fur on your head?" the child demanded.
Sam smiled and shrugged. "That's just the way it is. I'm a human -- this is what we look like."
"Mommy said the other stranger had a lot of fur on its head."
The Doctor -- it had to be! Something was definitely up. And with that reminder, Sam got to her feet.
"Hey, what are you doing?" one lynfet asked, alarmed.
"Don't go!" another pleaded.
"You said you wouldn't tell our momma!" the third reminded her anxiously.
"I won't," she told them. "I'm getting out of here. I've got to go find my friend."
"Oohh," the most talkative lynfet groaned. "We're gonna get in so much trouble..." Her litter mates jumped up and down, struck by a sudden idea. "Not if we go with her! Then we won't have lost her!"
"Look, I don't want to get you in trouble, but I've really got to go now," Sam informed them, arms akimbo. "And anyway, your parents shouldn't have kidnapped me and fed me to the gunny."
"They weren't really going to let it eat you," the spokes-lynfet said, loyally. "I don't think..."
"Yeah, well..." Sam took a few steps towards the archway that marked the exit to the little room and froze in consternation as the shuffle of approaching footsteps came from the corridor outside. "Oh, shit!" she said, looking wildly around for another way out.
"Over here! Over here!" someone exclaimed. Sam whirled to see the three lynfets clustered next to a wall-hanging. One of them drew it open and pointed to the passage beyond.
Sam hurried over to look. "I thought you didn't want to get in trouble..." she reminded them, a trifle suspicious.
"We'll show you around! Then we'll come back later, when they're not so mad!" one urged her, ushering her into the cramped passageway.
Sam shrugged. She had too few options at the moment to argue with that kind of logic. As the trio's leader took the lead, she followed it, and the other two scrambled in behind her.
An Altairan female and a furtive-looking male came into the small room only to find it empty, save for the gently rippling gunny in the corner.
The female stared at the scene for a few long moments, before turning on her companion. "Now see what your actions have brought upon us, Kel?!" she growled. "First, Horil and Dern abducted this 'Doctor's' friend, against my advice I might add, and forced me to hide her here, because you wanted a way, any way to avoid his finding you! It was not an honorable act that we did today on your behalf, brother!"
The male stared back at her, for a moment shamed. Then he affected a defient look. "You'd begrudge me sanctuary, Sila?"
She glared at him. "I conceded to the will of the Family, didn't I?" She turned to gesture at the empty room. "Now, where are my children? And the other stranger, the 'Sam'?!" She clenched her three-fingered hands in frustration. "She must have taken them! Yours was the dishonorable act that brought him here to Altair, but now this 'Doctor's' vengeance will be visited upon us all!"
He stared back at her. "Not if we stop him," he finally said, flatly.
Her ears angled backwards.
"Sila, it's us or him! Do you want to save your three?" She stared at him coldly, and he exclaimed, "He had no right to stick his snout in my business! I'm a legitimate trader!" At her scornful snort he plowed on, the rationalizations tumbling out of his mouth faster and faster.
"He kept following me over half a system -- he wouldn't leave me alone! He kept spinning me this crazy tale that my artifact wasn't what it seemed, that it was dangerous!. I found it. It's mine, through right of salvage! He just wants it for himself!"
Kel's voice had taken on a frantic edge. Sila looked at him warily. Whatever the truth behind his varied excuses, which changed every time he re-told them, Kel was very frightened indeed.
Sila shook her head. Flopping pouch, but her litter-mate had gotten himself into a bundle o trouble this time. And everyone else in their Family with him...
The Doctor stood in the middle of an Altairan walk-way and cupped his hands around his mouth to call again. He hesitated as two Altairans passing nearby stopped to stare at him, appalled at the racket that the alien stranger in the dark green jacket was making.
"Oh, hello," he called out cheerfully. "Have you seen my friend, Sam?" He flattened a hand and held it horizontal in illustration. "She's about this tall, and has blond--"
He broke off his description as they glared at him and hurried on.
"Well," he said, staring after them with raised brows. "If you didn't know, you just had to say so."
Turning, the Time Lord scanned the walkways that angled by on all sides and peered forward at the cliff-side city. When he and Sam had first arrived, earlier that day, they'd been greeted with friendly curiosity by the cliff city's inhabitants.
That had changed when they'd begun their inquiries. Now, he had the distinct feeling that they'd become persona non gratia on Altair. The fact that he'd turned around to find that Sam had suddenly gone missing probably had something to do with that...
Not that she wasn't in the habit of dashing off on her own. But she tended to find her way back, and she'd definitely been gone for far too long this time. He turned to look around him again. Of course, it was possible that she was simply lost; the multi-level maze of flexible hanging walkways leading to and from the warrens built into the cliff-sides around him was wondrously complicated...
And also rather high up. But very stable.
Nearby, a small group of Altairans was passing him, on another walkway several meters over, also heading for the cliff. He was about to ask them if they'd seen his companion, when they gave him a collective dark look, precluding his question even as he opened his mouth. They hurried on, as he looked after them, speculating. Something was definitely up. If Sam were missing, it was probably deliberate. Concerned, he quickened his pace, eager to reach the cliff and begin his search.
The walkway abruptly shuddered, and he caught at the 'rails' at the sides. Looking up, he stared in dismay. There was a figure at the end of the walkway. He was too far away to see it clearly, but it was doing something to the living bridge. Something the biomaterial didn't like. The Doctor stumbled to one side as the walkway writhed again.
"Easy," he muttered, to the bridge or perhaps himself, as he stared for a moment at the long drop below. The walkway whipsawed again, and he clutched at it desperately, wincing at whatever was being done to the bridge that could provoke such a response. Unfortunately, he could barely keep to his feet, never mind move either forward or back in order to get off the bridge.
Then again, he supposed that was the general idea...
The next moment, the walkway shuddered and fell still, and he looked back up hopefully. Perhaps all this had merely been a pointed warning, and he would be allowed to proceed to his destination. The figure at the end of the walkway stood, staring in his direction.
Then the end of the bridge detached from the cliff-face, twisting as it fell.
The Doctor stared in horror for a few precious seconds, before turning and wrapping himself around the walkway the best he could in the few moments before the section he was on curved downwards.
He found himself speculating on whether he would slam into the cliff opposite, or, if the walkway was long enough, be smashed onto the canyon floor below.
"If you didn't want me there, you just had to say SOOOoooo!" he shouted in protest as he plunged down.
"I am not!"
Giggles, there in the darkness.
Sam sighed. Kids, she thought to herself ruefully as she crawled along.
"So, where are we going?" she inquired.
"These are our secret tunnels," her guide told her. "From here, there's a bunch of places we can come out in."
"Which exit is closest to the outside?"
The silence with which her query was greeted held a furtive quality. "We'll show you the kitchens first," the spokes-lynfet decided, as if she hadn't heard her question, and Sam restrained a sigh. Well, she was lucky they were helping her at all. She'd find her own way out from whatever room they came out in.
They crept along in the near pitch-dark. It was a good thing, Sam decided, that she wasn't claustrophobic. Or afraid of the dark. In any case, the lynfets kept her distracted from such mundane concerns by barraging her with questions.
"What's your name?"
"Sam. Sam Jones."
They repeated it carefully. "Sam-SamJones."
Sam chuckled. "No. I mean, it's just 'Sam'."
"Oh. Sam. Samsamsamsamsamsam..."
Sam rolled her eyes and laughed. These kids were crazy. It was times like these when she wondered whether it wouldn't have been nice to have some siblings.
"So, what are your names?" she prompted them.
"Don't you know anything?" one lynfet exclaimed, scandalized. "We don't get names until we grow up!"
"What? You're pulling my leg!"
"Am not!" someone behind her protested, in high dudgeon.
"No, I mean you have to have some sort of name! How does your mother call you?"
"She says: 'Come, three!" And then we go."
"But what if she wants to call just one of you?"
"That's me!" the lynfet in front confirmed.
"I'm second," one of the children following Sam declared.
"I'm third," the last lynfet said.
"You're numbered?" Sam said. "That's kind of cold. Well, I suppose if it works..."
"And when we grow up, we get to pick our own names. Beautiful names," the spokes-lynfet said, dreamily.
Sam blinked. She'd swear that some source of light was leaking into the passageway. "We're almost there," her guide confirmed a moment later. "Wait here --I'll check and see if anyone's there." Sam squinted, watching the dim shape scurry on ahead of her.
She sat down with a slight sigh. The remaining two lynfets crowded up near her. One of them gently grabbed her left hand and began to examine her fingers. How they could see in this dark tunnel, she didn't know. Perhaps they had better eyesight than she. A cold nose touched her palm, and she giggled involuntarily.
"You have," a child's voice said with extreme solemnity, "too many fingers."
"Nope. That's exactly the number I'm supposed to have."
"And toes?" a lynfet asked.
"I'm not taking my shoes off," Sam told them firmly. "Five on each foot, just like my hands."
"What do you do with them all?"
"Ha, ha. Very funny."
The next instant, Sam's attention was caught by the sound of someone approaching back down the tunnel.
"No one there right now," the lynfet leader informed them. "Let's go!"
They all scrambled down to the end of the tunnel and through the opening over which hung a wall-hanging much like the one in the room from which they'd escaped.
Blinking, Sam emerged into a large, well-lit cavern. Well, large compared to the room in which she'd been imprisoned and the narrow tunnels down which she'd just crawled. Happy to be free, she stood, stretching luxuriously. Looking around, she saw nothing at first that identified the room as a 'kitchen'. Then she noticed the compartments built into the walls. They seemed designed to blend in with the decor, which was a rather quiet, soothing sandstone color. That, the large table in the center of the room, and the fact that the three Altairan children were opening the wall compartments and reaching in for handfuls of something, convinced her that this was indeed the place to go for a snack.
"Here." Two three-fingered hands thrust themselves at her, and she cupped her own hands to receive the small pile of dried brown ovoids that lynfet number one was giving her.
"Erm...thanks," she said, eyebrows raised. "What is it?"
"Mokas," the lynfet said. "They're good." She popped several into her mouth in illustration.
The other two children approached, all bearing gifts, and all demanding her attention. Sam stood, bemusedly trying to accept their offerings, field their chatterbox questions, and find somewhere to leave the foodstuffs, which she'd been forced to pile in the bottom of her tee-shirt, pulling up the edge as an impromptu sack.
One of the lynfets pointed. "Fake Pouch!"
Finally, Sam marched over to the table and dumped the snacks out on top.
"Look -- thanks for helping me, and for everything," she told them, "but I've got to go. My friend the Doctor might need my help." She turned and walked to the doorway. Stopping to peer carefully out, she saw an empty corridor.
The next instant, several small bodies insinuated themselves in front of her. Looking down, she saw three hopeful faces looking up at her.
"What?!" she asked, a little exasperated.
"Please don't go."
"Pleeeaasse?" Lynfet number three merely gazed up at her, a woebegone expression on her face.
Sam looked back at them, before momentarily closing her eyes. This was one of those times when she remembered the advantages to being an only child.
"Look, I'm going now," she told them. "I have to sneak out, and I can hardly do that if you're following me, can I?"
Not waiting for an answer, she swerved around them. She heard the sound of three sets of pattering footsteps behind her, but didn't deign to turn around to look. She walked briskly down the corridor, and by various doorways to other rooms, some covered with the colorful wall-hangings she'd seen scattered through-out the complex.
She paused at a branching of the passageway to consider. Immediately, the three lynfets surrounded her.
"We can help you."
"We'll show you the way out."
Sam hesitated, looking at her would-be guides, as the leader tugged on her jeans leg, urging her forward,then shrugged inwardly. On the whole, they seemed like good kids. She grinned. They seemed pretty sincere. For two-foot tall, brown furred, tufted eared, snouted children, that is.
Coming to a decision, she let them pull her along the passageway.
The end of the walkway to which the Doctor was clinging plummeted down like a snapped rubber band toward the canyon floor. Far up as he was, he had only a few seconds in which to act.
Rassilon, but he hated falling. So little control...
Still, even in the midst of chaos, there was always a chance to snatch at the strands of possibility. His head whipped around, getting a glimpse of the big picture, of the lattice of living bridges suspended around him.
There! There was his chance! He'd have to time it just right...
The Doctor fastened his eyes on his goal, guesstimating its distance vesus his speed of descent, which was of course increasing. If he missed, he'd hit the ground at a speed of--
Oh, never mind that now! He watched, guaged, and then let go. He free-fell for about five heart-stopping meters, then slammed down onto the next up-coming walkway.
Fortunately, no one was upon it. The flexible bridge sproinged down several meters, then snapped back up. By that time he'd latched his hands solidly on to the surface. The walkway completed its rebound, jounced a little more, then settled back into place.
The Time Lord rolled over and, opening his eyes, lay staring upwards. Dragging a sleeve across his face, he let out a gusty sigh of relief, then grinned. Well, it wasn't his method of choice, but there was nothing like a terrifying free-fall to get the hearts going...
After giving them a chance to slow down again, he got to his feet and began to make his way forward, toward the cliff side opposite. As he reached the end of the living bridge, he was met by a small goup of Altairans, who were watching him warily. "What happened?" one of them asked. "We saw a bridge falling..."
The Doctor directed his keen attention to the speaker.
"Yes. And Altairan bridges don't tend to fall," he said calmly.
The Altairans' ears twitched backwards. "What are you insinuating?"
The Doctor's eyebrows rose. "Oh, I'm not insinuating anything," he told them. "Someone just tried to kill me, is all."
"That is a very serious accusation--"
"Not an accusation. Just the truth, I'm afraid." The Doctor shrugged the up-turned collar of his green velvet frock coat back into place before looking back up at the speaker, whose entire demeanor bespoke perturbation. "I've gotten rather used to it by now, but still.... Now if you'll excuse me, I've a friend to find. You haven't seen her, have you? A little shorter than me, blond hair?"
The Altairans shook their heads tensely and the Doctor sighed inwardly. Altairans didn't make very good liars. Nor Poker players, for that matter.
"Look," he said in candid appeal, "neither of us is here to hurt anybody. One of you has a very dangerous object, a type of bomb, in his possession and it's vital that I find it and disable it."
The Altairans shuffled nervously.
"Believe me; if that 'artifact' is set off, there won't be enough of this city left to fit in a teaspoon."
They dithered uncertainly.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. Clan loyalty was a noble thing, but sometimes a people could take the letter of Custom a bit too far...
"I don't hold anything against this 'Kel', who took the artifact. Really. I just want to deactivate the bomb," the Doctor reassured them. He searched through his memory for the correct words. "There is no feud between me and Kel, despite whatever he may have told you. He misunderstood."
The Altairans weighed the reassuring words against the fact that an off-worlder spoke them, considered, then abruptly relaxed, the tension flowing out of them. The group's leader stepped forward.
"We'll take you to Kel," he offered, and they turned and led the way into the city.
Sam and her guides pricked their ears up as the sound of murmured conversation came to their ears. Well, in Sam's case, figuratively. The lynfets' ears literally swiveled forward to better catch the noise.
They halted just shy of a large arch. "What's that, up ahead?" Sam asked.
"Our big main hall," one lynfet told her. "The exit's right over there."
Sam leaned her head out around the archway to peer in the indicated direction, and saw a large opening, beyond which a glimpse of the canyon and other cliffs of the city could be seen, rosy in the afternoon sun.
Below her, three smaller heads poked out.
Sam stood, considering. Altairans were strolling in and out of the entranceway. If she went out there, she was bound to be seen. The question was, would they care; were they looking for her? She hadn't seen anyone rushing about as if an alarm had been raised over her escape.
The sound of someone approaching in the passage behind made her decision for her.
"OK; I'm going," she said brightly. "Thanks for your help!" She stepped out into the vestibule. Head up, chin high, Sam, she reminded herself. Look like you have every right to be here.
She'd made it about half the distance to her goal when she heard a sudden shout. Glancing wildly around, she saw several Altairan males pointing in her direction, but looking over at another male, who had just walked out of the same passageway that Sam and the lynfets had...
Sam blinked and then spared a glare for the three children who were clustered right behind her.
"Oh, for--" she exclaimed, and began to sprint for the exit. The three lynfets, shrieking with a combination of excitement and fright, kept pace right behind her.
For a fewmoments she thought she was going to make it. Then a cluster of intrigued Altairans, noticing the commotion, interposed themselves between her and the exitway. Sam stopped suddenly, causing the pursuing children to pile into her from behind. She yelped as the agitated children grabbed onto whatever limb was closest and held on for dear life.
Sam stood there and examined herself. She'd become a lynfet tree. Each of her legs had a lynfet holding tight, as if to tree trunks, and the third had worked its way up to her waist and had wrapped her arms around Sam's torso, having worked her three fingered hands into the folds of Sam's tee-shirt. Sam swayed and sighed heavily. Even if the children hadn't been weighing her down, she couldn't run at the risk of hurting her impromptu passengers.
"Oh, you guys..." she groaned, exasperated. "Why--?"
The lynfet clinging to her front looked up at her. "You'll stay now?" she asked hopefully.
Sam sighed again. "This isn't a game!" she told them. "I was kidnapped -- they might be doing that, or worse, to the Doctor!"
The lynfets looked up at her, uncomprehending.
They don't understand, she thought. They just want to keep their new plaything.
By then, quite a crowd had gathered around her.
"Okay, you've got me," she conceded glumly, raising her arms.
Instead of rushing forward to take Sam into custody, the surrounding Altairans stared at her anxiously.
"Please! Don't hurt the children!" someone called out.
Sam blinked and stared. "Excuse me?"
"We were only granting Kel the right of sanctuary, as is our custom! Please don't take it out on the children!"
Sam gaped. "What, you think I'd--? She pointed at lynfet number one, wrapped firmly around her front. Disconcerted by all the attention, the children hid their faces against Sam.
Raising her voice to be heard over the anxious murmur of the crowd, Sam said, "Look, they're not my hostages! They were the ones who caught me!"
An Altairan female came several steps forward. "Then please," she said carefully, her eyes fixed on Sam and her burden, "let them go."
"Gladly," Sam said, and walked forward to meet the woman, as the crowd watched in suspense. Stopping a meter away from the Altairan, Sam looked pointedly down at the clinging children. "Could you please get them off me?" she pleaded.
Sila looked at the bizarre sight in front of her and relaxed, shaking her head with a rueful smile. "Oh, you three!" she exclaimed.
Hearing their mother's familiar voice, the lynfets raised their heads to look, then exploded in a frenzy of activity.
"Mommmmyyy!!!" they shrieked happily, loosening their grips, then turning to launch themselves at their mother. She endured their landings with a half-grimace, half-smile, as they squirmed into her pouch, then settled in.
An Altairan male stepped forth from the crowd, with several others close behind. "First you and your friend harass me across this system, then you threaten my sister's three! Is there no end to your iniquity?!" he exclaimed.
Behind him, people who had just been smiling and nodding at the successful conclusion to the 'hostage standoff' began to mutter darkly.
Sam opened her mouth as she pointed an indignant finger at Kel. "Oh, come on! First, I didn't threaten her children! They helped me get away after your goons kidnapped me! And second, if you'd listened to the Doctor instead of just running away, we wouldn't have had to come here in the first place!"
Kel glared at her, ears angled back on his head, and she felt a pang of unease. Boy, he was angry. And if there was one thing it hadn't taken her long to learn since she'd begun to travel with the Doctor, it was that angry people often did desperate things...
"Are you going to believe her, an off-worlder, over me?" Kel called out, looking round at his relatives. The crowd murmured and shifted.
"Kel," Sela said, as she and her lynfets stared at her brother.
"We should deal with these intruders..."
Sam glanced about uneasily at the agitated crowd. If they decided to attack her, there would be nothing she could do...
Kel was working himself into a fine lather. "They dare come here and disrupt our community!" he shouted. Now there were answering mutters of assent from the other Altairans. Sensing the upswell of support, Kel drew himself up and shouted, "Let's--"
Kel paused in the midst of his declamation and did a comical double-take.
Sila stepped forward. "No one is going to do anything to anyone!" she shouted. "My three are back, safe, with me -- that's what's important. I don't see that this stranger has done any real harm." She paused to give her brother a hard look. "But I do want to know why her and her friend perturb my litter-mate so."
Just beyond the now quiet crowd, a voice called out clearly. "That's what I'd like to know, as well."
Sam's face lit up in a spontaneous smile. A few moments later, the crowd parted, admitting several more Altairans and the other off-worlder. Giggles erupted from the occupants of Sila's pouch.
"And what, pray tell, is so amusing?" the Doctor inquired, peering with mock sterness at the three children as he drew near.
Sam rolled her eyes. "I think it's your hair," she informed him. "They made a big enough fuss over mine."
He absently pulled at a lock of his hair as if he'd forgotten he'd had any. "Speaking of which, what happened to yours?"
Sam blinked. "What do you mean, 'what happened to mine'?"
"It's gone green from your ears all the way back."
She gaped in surprise, her hands flying to grope at the back of her head.
Sila loked sheepish. "The gunny. The effect shouldn't be permanent." She paused. "I hope."
"The gunny?" the Doctor inquired.
"A couple of Kel's friends snatched me and fed me to their pet blob," Sam said, casually.
"Oh," he replied just as casually, as if that explained everything. Sam looked miffed as her Time Lord friend turned to survey the Atairans around them, his gaze alighting on Kel, who stood with his two friends, prevented from leaving by the rest of the crowd.
Kel glared back, his ears flat against his head.
The Doctor merely looked at him. Kel stared back for a few long moments, then suddenly looked down, his shoulders slumping.
And the Doctor knew then that Kel was the figure he had seen sabotaging the bridge.
He sighed. "Kel," he said quietly, "where is it?"
The Altairan's head jerked up, and he glared with renewed defiance. "Find it yourself, short snouts!"
There was a collective gasp from the assembled Atairans at the obscenity.
The Doctor and Sam looked at each other. "I think we're supposed be very insulted," the Doctor told her, brows raised.
"It must lose something in the translation," she decided, as they turned their attention back to the others.
The other Altairans were glaring at Kel. "What's wrong with you, Kel?" Sela demanded. "You don't usually act like this!"
"I think I may know the reason for Kel's strange behavior," said the Doctor. "But I need that 'artifact' that he's been hiding. Its presence here is putting this entire city in great danger!"
"Whatever it is, it's probably in his quarters," one of the Altairans who had escorted the Doctor told him. "Come on; we'll show you where that is."
"NOOO!" Kel snarled, electrified by those words. "It's mine -- you can't have it!!" Whirling, he threw himself wildly forward, shoving people viciously aside. Breaking through the line of by-standers, he fled down one of the corridors leading away from the entry hall.
Everyone stared after him, utterly perplexed, even his friends Horil and Dern .
The Doctor's face scrunched up in alarm. "Noo!" he cried, darting after Kel. "He's going for the artifact! In his present state of mind, he might set it off!"
An instant later, Sam sprinted after him. While the rest of the crowd milled about uncertainly, Sila and several others rushed after the off-worlders.
"Stay inside!" Sila snapped at her three, as they attempted to peek out of her pouch. Impressed by her no-nonsense tone, they ducked back down.
The Altairan woman placed her hands protectively over her abdomen as she ran. Sam, glancing behind as she pelted down the corridor, gave her an incredulous look. "What are you doing here? This could be dangerous!"
"He's my brother, my litter-mate!" Sila shouted back.
Sam noticed the two other Altairans following close behind and did a double-take. "And what are they doing here?" she demanded. "They're the ones who grabbed me!"
Dern had heard her. Drawing abreast of the two women, he gasped, "We're his friends!" At Sam's still suspicious look, he glanced away for a moment, then back. "We were only trying to help him."
"Funny way of doing it, kidnapping people."
"He told us that you two were assassins who'd come to kill him and steal his artifact. Now I see that's not true."
It was Sam's turn to look momentarily sheepish. "Oh."
Kel and the Doctor had long since disappeared down the winding passageways, only an echo of their passing wafting back to their pursuers. These tunnels must wind deep into the cliff, Sam decided. She came to a temporary stop at a four-way intersection.
"Oh, no -- we've lost them!" she exclaimed.
Sila motioned down one of the tunnels. "It's this way!"
They pelted down the passage.
"Kel, stop!" the Doctor shouted to the Altairan trader, as he dashed after him down yet another corridor. "I'm not going to hurt you!"
No repsonse, though the fleeing Altairan glanced behind him at his pursuer.
The Doctor grimaced. At this point, it probably did little good to appeal to his reason -- Kel was far beyond rationality. Depending on how long the Altairan had had the 'artifact' in his possession before Sam and he had run into him, Kel had been exposed to it for at least 5 days -- quite long enough to be deep in symbiosis with the Zixian smart-bomb. His only hope was to distract him before he reached his quarters. The closer Kel got, the more chance that his agitated state of mind would prompt the weapon to detonate.
As it turned out, Kel decided to distract him first. As the Time Lord hared around a corridor curve, a body hurtled forward and slammed into him.
Ouch. The Doctor hit the floor hard, landing on his back, and proceeded to wrestle with the maddened figure who was trying to throttle him.
"Kel...don't--" the Doctor gasped. If only he could draw the Altairan out of the symbiosis! "Kel!" he snapped as much as he was able, intent on keeping the Altairan's hands from closing fully around his throat. His respiratory by-pass wouldn't help much in this case; Kel had the strength of insanity. "Kel, look at me!"
No good. His assailent's glazed eyes flickered back and forth, focusing on nothing in particular. Another option was to somehow calm him, unlikely in this circumstance. The Zixian smartbomb had been bred for war; it contained death and amplified paranoia and rage. How or why Kel of all beings had been able to bond with it was a mystery, perhaps merely one of those sick coincidences the Universe was fond of springing on its inhabitants from time to time...
The Doctor was still barely managing to hold Kel's full grip away from his throat, though the Altairan, convinced he was winning, grinned grotesquely.
Fine -- the situation was stable for a few more moments, as long as Kel was happy. The Doctor stared through slitted eyes at Kel's neck, trying to recall where the pressure points were on an Altairan...
Then the situation destabilized, as help arrived on the scene.
"Kel!" Sila shouted. "Dern! Horil! Stop him!" Next to her, Sam also started forward to help, but was halted in her tracks by the Doctor's desperate shout.
"NO! Stay back, if you value your lives! Don't frighten or corner him!"
The two Altairan males hesitated, gaping at the bizarre spectacle before them, then would have rushed to the Doctor's aid anyway, were it not for Sam's intervention. "No!" she cried, grabbing at their arms. They turned to stare at her as if she had gone insane. "He knows what he's doing!" she insisted. "If he says to wait, then it's important!"
"But he's killing him!" Sila whispered hoarsely. She clamped her hand over the entrance to her pouch, precluding any chance of her children seeing.
"Doctor, what are you doing?!" Sam hissed. The Doctor closed his eyes in relief for an instant. Above him, Kel let out a wild laugh. "Die, die , DIE!" he shouted in maniacal glee.
The Time Lord decided to do just that. He drew in one last labored breath of air, and then, letting his arms fall away from where they'd been keeping Kel from exerting his full grip, went limp. The mad Altairan stared in astonishment for a few seconds, as if amazed by his success, then looked up with a fierce grin of triumph, as his audience stared, appalled.
Those few seconds of inattention were all that the Doctor needed. His eyes snapped open as his hands darted up, fastened themselves on Kel's neck in a certain configuration, and pressed. Hard. But not too hard. Kel had to be relaxed, not rendered completely unconscious.
The Altairan slumped forward, and sprawled, dazed, onto the floor next to his 'victim'.
Sam and Dern each took a step forward, halting at the Doctor's upraised hand.
"No. Wait," he commanded, not looking at them, instead staring intently at Kel's eyes, which were blinking as the dazed Altairan began to recover. Kel shook his head and frowned slightly, as he began to notice the face above him. But hadn't he just kill-
The next instant, he was lost in blueness.
"Kel," someone told him, "He's dead. You defeated your enemy, Kel. You killed him. Do you understand?"
Kel's mouth opened in a wide, toothy smile. Yes, he understood. His enemy was defeated. All was as it should be.
"You fought well, Kel. Now you will rest."
Kel nodded happily. "Yes," he agreed, then slumped contentedly back against the wall, as the others stared in astonishment.
The Doctor looked up at them as they gathered around him and Kel.
"Is he-- Are you--?"
"I'm all right, Sam." He glanced at Kel where he sat, eyes closed. "I've used a form of hypnosis on him, to keep him from setting off the smart-bomb."
"I don't understand," Sila said. "Why did he go mad like that? What do you mean, 'smart-bomb'? And will he be all right?"
"Your brother had the extreme bad luck to stumble across a Zixian 'smart-bomb'. The Zixian warlords ruled and warred on Zixas a couple of millenia ago. Their bioengineers created a particularly nasty version of the 'smart-bomb' -- it contained neural tissue and a rudimentary intelligence."
He sighed. "It was, in a word, a 'mad bomb'. On the battle-field, they were paired with section leaders, forming a symbiotic link from mind to bomb, and served two purposes: They amplified and perpetuated the Zixians' battle rages, and if the bearers were on the brink of being defeated (which usually meant that the battle had been lost), they detonated, taking out the entire battlefield."
"Death before dishonor," Sam commented.
Another sigh. "More like insane vindictiveness."
"So this 'artifact' Kel found, it's one of these bombs?" Horil asked, looking alarmed.
As well he might. "Yes."
"Well, then we've got to find it!" Dern exclaimed.
"Yes," the Doctor agreed, dryly. "Have either of you seen it?"
"I have," Dern said. "Come on!" He led the way down the corridor to Kel's dwelling.
"Don't look so worried," the Doctor chided the Altairan, as they entered Kel's apartment. "He's calm now. It shouldn't detonate."
The Time Lord shrugged, with a smile. "Nothing is 100% certain in this Universe. You know that. Or you should."
Sam shot her friend a narrow look, which he resolutely refused to notice, as the Altairan hurried to retrieve the deadly device.
"Pretty innocuous-looking, for such a deadly thing," Sam observed, as the Doctor stood, absently turning the defused 'smart-bomb' over and over in his hands as if it were a worry-stone. The dim lights of the TARDIS's Console Room lent the sphere a dim gleam. The Doctor peered momentarily at the distorted image of his face reflected within.
"Mmm..." was his only response to the non-sequitor.
"Will Kel be all right, in the end?"
The Doctor looked up. "Oh, yes. Now that he's no longer linked to this, he'll recover from the shock. How he'll react to discovering how badly he behaved while under the bomb's influence remains to be seen. But his family and friends understand the situation now -- they'll help him."
He held the little sphere up close and peered at it. "You'll not be causing any more trouble to anyone," he told it in satisfaction. Defused, deactivated, and sterilized to kill of the bio-elements. One of the deadlier strands of possibility in the Universe -- cut by his hand.
Well, with a little help from his friends.
He grinned in fierce triumph and began to toss the bomb up into the air, catching it as it came down. Sam watched, bemused.
"You're wondering why I kept this, yes?"
She shrugged. "Well, a cheerful decorating accent it isn't."
He shook his head with a smile. "Oh, but it is. Catch!" he said suddenly, lobbing it at her. Startled, she nevertheless caught it, and held it up to examine it.
"Every once in a while I come across souvenirs like this one, and then I remember some of the good I've accomplished," the Doctor continued. "They help remind me to savor the little victories."
He paused thoughtfully, in one of those lightning-fast changes of mood he was prone to, then looked up again with a quick smile.
"We did it, Sam. Always remember that. Today we did some good."