"KILL the Doctor!" the warlord Betor snarled to his guards as he pointed at the storage drums lined up near the far wall of the cargo hold. Damn that interfering 'Time Lord' -- he'd tipped off the colony on Betis II about the coming attack, ruining months of planning -- and right from the bridge of Betor's own flagship, yet! But now they had the two intruders cornered...
A head suddenly popped up. "What am I, chopped liver?!" a young woman's voice exclaimed indignantly.
A hand at the end of a loden-colored velvet sleeve reached up and yanked her back down the instant before a power bolt exploded where her head had been.
Behind the storage drums, someone sighed. "This kind of popularity you want?" a man's voice said.
"Well?" Betor demanded, glaring at his men. "They're unarmed!"
"That's what you think. We have four perfectly serviceable arms between the two of us," the hidden man corrected.
Another sigh came from behind the drums.
-- Sam watched as the Doctor's hands flew in a blur of motion, doing *something* to the small silver cube encrusted with inset gems that he'd suddenly yanked out of a pocket.
"What is it? An explosive?" she hissed hopefully.
He didn't glance away from his task. "No," he answered absently, locks of wavy brown hair straggling into his face as he sat, legs crossed, hunched over his task. "This renath game cube requires a certain sequence to be activated before it will open. I'm after what's inside." He tsked. "It's been a while since I last played it; it's taking a little longer than I expected.
Sam closed her eyes momentarily in consternation, grateful that her own blond hair was too short to yank out. Cornered by a warlord's armed minions, and her friend was playing a game. Why was she not surprised? She was only seventeen, but at this rate, she'd be sprouting gray hairs any minute now.
Her friend, by contrast, was himself at least a Millennium, while appearing to be only several decades old. Then again, that's what having thirteen lives did for you. She should age so well...
She needed to buy them some more time. Scrambling several yards to her left, she peered much more carefully over the top of one of the drums. Her stomach did a little flip-flop as she saw that the guards had started toward their hiding place. Sam glanced quickly over at the Doctor. Still working.
"No, don't!" she shouted as she ducked back down. "You'll kill us all!"
She peeked again and saw with satisfaction that the guards had stopped and were peering warily at the stacked drums.
"At least we'll take them with us!" the Doctor shouted back, his eyes never leaving the puzzle-box. "Death before dishonor! And all that."
Betor frowned, opened his mouth, hesitated, then waved at his men to halt, despite the fact that they'd already frozen in place. "What are you doing, Doctor? You're trapped -- give up!"
"You're going to kill us anyway, so what have we got to lose?" the Doctor called back, his calm tone belying the look of intense concentration on his face as he turned the silver cube and pressed the gems even faster.
Betor stared, perturbed. To back down now would cause him to lose face in front of his men. On the other hand, he really didn't fancy having a large hole blown in his cruiser. Or something.
His lieutenant, Qualic, was at his side. Betor turned his head slightly. "We rush 'em, on my signal," he hissed to his second-in-command.
"Got it!" the Doctor shouted triumphantly, jumping to his feet. The little silver cube suddenly produced a loud click and split open into two triangular halves. The Time Lord reached inside and removed an oval gem which began to glow the moment it lay nestled in his palm. Smiling broadly, he turned to Sam--
--ee! Go!" Betor bellowed. Threaten him on his own flag-ship, would he? He'd freeze-dry this 'Doctor' and hang him up in the mess hall to remind his men who was the supreme power in this sector... The warlord and his men charged across the hold.
Sam's eyes bugged. "That's it?! That's going to save us?! It's just a freepin' stone!"
"Not just any stone," the Doctor corrected her, grinning broadly. "Watch."
And he stepped out from behind the storage drums, full into the sights of the guards racing toward them.
Betol grinned nastily and raised his blaster, trying to decide which would look more impressive, a neat hole drilled through the Doctor's forehead, or a gory chest wound...
"Betol!" the Doctor shouted, holding up the glowing stone. "I have solved this game of renath! I claim safe passage for me and my companion in order to travel to Gorfin Prime, to present proof of this to the GamesMaster!"
Dead silence fell in the cargo hold, as the guards stopped in their tracks. With a curse, Betol also broke stride and halted.
Around him he could hear the awed mutters of his men. Rage rose within him. A renath game -- how on Gorfin had the Doctor gotten and solved a renath game?! This couldn't be happening! "Renathsul'im!" he snarled, allowing his finger to tighten on the trigger.
But only for a moment. He could feel the shocked stares of his men, see them tensing. If he killed the Doctor now, his own men would execute him immediately afterwards for his sacrilege.
The moment passed, and he relaxed slightly, slowly lowering his weapon.
Sam hovered uncertainly near the Doctor as the squad of guards, weapons now lowered, approached them.
Despite the fact that he was still gazing happily at the glowing gem that he held between forefinger and thumb, the Doctor seemed to sense her discomfort.
"Don't worry -- this will give us free-passage anywhere in Gorfin space," he reassured her.
"Great. But why?" she inquired somewhat testily, as the obviously impressed mercenaries crowded around them, straining to catch a glimpse of the glowing stone.
"Because only five renath puzzles were ever produced, more than five centuries ago. They're legendary -- a rather difficult logic game, and of those five, only three have ever been solved. Up until today, that is." He smiled at the guards closest to him and held up the glowing gem so they could all better see.
"According to tradition, whenever one of these is solved, proof must be recorded with the official GamesMaster on the homeworld. I've earned us a 'time out'. This GameStone is irrefutable proof that I've solved the puzzle -- it imprints to the person who opened the box, and will glow for no-one else."
To illustrate, he dropped it into Sam's palm, and the gem immediately winked out. The instant he retrieved it, the stone re-ignited. A collective sigh rose from the watching guards.
Except Betor, who stood behind the crowd, his arms folded across his chest and a thunderous look upon his face.
The Doctor looked up and met the other's gaze.
"You're quite correct about our traditions, Doctor. You have safe passage in order to report to the GamesMaster," Betor ground out ungraciously. "After that, take care that we do not meet again." He sent a last hate-filled glare the Time Lord's way, then turned and strode angrily away.
Sam grinned. "Well, you know what they say," she began. "You win some--"
"Sam," the Doctor scolded mildly, "Don't bait the warlord -- It isn't nice."
"--you lose some," she finished quite unrepentedly, giving her friend a Look. Like he never did that.
They walked without undue urgency back along the ship's corridors toward the TARDIS.
"We're not actually going to bother going to Gorfin Prime, are we?"
"Of course we are. We'll play by the rules. After all, poor Betor had to, letting us go as he did. So it's only fair."
In his command chair, Betor grinned as the Doctor's words came clearly to him through the audio pick-up.
He leaned forward and began to prepare a transmission to his men in the Capitol. The minute the Doctor was finished with the GamesMaster and the traditional ceremony, he was again fair game.
Betor sneered. To bad he wouldn't be there to see the expression on the 'Time Lord's' face when his agents executed him and his friend. Well, he'd have them make a video, something to watch on dull days...
Up ahead the battered blue facade of the TARDIS came into view.
Tilting his head, the Doctor peered mischievously up at something above. Sam squinted, then glanced at the Doctor in concern. A little spycamera -- Betor had been eavesdropping on them.
The Doctor smiled charmingly and waved at the camera. "Of course, I didn't say exactly when we'd be visiting Gorfin Prime. What do you say to a visit to Detal himself, Sam? I'm sure he'll be happy to get the back the puzzle I borrowed from him."
Sam looked from her friend to the camera and back again, her mouth dropping open in amusement. "Oh, Doctor," she chuckled. "Don't tease the warlord -- it isn't nice!"
On the bridge, Betol stared hard at the screen in front of him. Detal? What was the fool talking about? Detal had been dead for centuries...
Betol frowned. No. It couldn't be. The Doctor had called himself a 'Time Lord', but surely that was just some title. He couldn't *really* go back to when Detal had lived--
The warlord watched, clenching his fists in sudden, irrational anger, as the two miniature figures on the screen waved merrily right at the camera pick-up, then disappeared within the blue cabinet, which itself disappeared noisily into thin air a minute later.
He stared blankly at the space where the box had been. He had the sudden feeling that his fantasy was the closest he'd ever get to revenge against the mysterious 'Doctor'.
Sam suddenly recalled something the Doctor had said earlier. "You said you played this game before. We're lucky you were able to figure it out this time," she teased.
He glanced askance at her. "Oh, I did last time, too. It'd just been so long, it took me some time to remember how I'd done it."
"But the stone--"
"It doesn't imprint until you pick it up. I left it alone, and re- closed the box. I'd meant to return it to Detal at that point, but what with this and that happening... Just as well I didn't -- it certainly came in handy today."
Just a tad smug.
Sam smirked. "The advantages of being a pack-rat," she declared.
The Doctor suddenly halted.
"You're saying that I'm a pack-rat."
"I see that age hasn't dimmed your hearing."
He suddenly spun on his heel, eyebrows raised in indignation. "You're saying that I'm a pack-rat? Is that what you're saying?! Because if that's what you're saying--"
Sam desperately tried to contain the laughter welling up inside her. "Un-hunh."
"Well, I'd describe myself more as 'collector of interesting objects'," he concluded with immense dignity. "Oh, that was what I meant. Of course."
He peered narrowly at her for a few moments, before breaking into a huge grin. "Quite."
As he turned away, she smirked again. "A pack-rat by any other name..." she muttered, sotto-voce.
Time Lords have much better hearing than humans.
But the Doctor merely grinned to himself and admired the glowing GameStone.