“Doctor…” Jasmin came up to him as he stood by the console, coaxing the controls into some kind of finely tuned position. His fingers moved over the keys, dials and buttons like a virtuoso pianist at his piano. He smiled as he worked, oblivious to all the activity that his three companions created in the console room. Wyn was practicing her electric guitar; Alec was working on some sort of mechanical device that The Doctor had given him to fix. Jasmin had been reading her medical text books, until the sight of him working away like that disturbed her.

“Jasmin, hello,” he said, as if he had just noticed her standing there. “What can I do for you?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Look a little less healthy maybe. Yesterday you were shot through the heart. Today…”

“I’m quite all right. Both tickers ticking away. I’m a Time Lord. Our bodies mend by themselves.” He wasn’t about to admit to her that he had spent a couple of hours last night in agony while it did so, or that even today he had felt himself taking deeper breaths every so often and steadying his hearts into their proper rhythm. It had been nasty. He had not expected such an accurate assassin. But better him than a Human who could not have survived - especially one who was needed as much as Vahle was.

Jasmin didn’t look convinced. He looked under the console. He pulled a stethoscope out of a cupboard full of assorted junk and unfastened his shirt. She listened to his left heart. It was, as he assured her, working fine. So was the other one.

“Two hearts! There’s nothing in my text books about that,” she laughed.

“There wouldn’t be. And you’ll never meet another like me. I’m unique.”

“I believe that,” she said. “So look after yourself. One of you is one more than none. And you still have to get all of us home.”

“You’re thinking of home?” he asked.

“Not yet, if we don’t have to. If you don’t mind having us - you and Wyn. We did kind of intrude on you both.”

“Wyn loves the company,” he told her. “And so do I. Great to have people around. You know, it used to be against the law to have non-Time Lords in a TARDIS! Wouldn’t that be a BORE!” He grinned widely and Wyn, looking up from her practice saw his grin and matched it. She didn’t even know what it was about, but he knew SHE loved being a part of this TARDIS life so very much. Having Humans about the place was a complication in some ways, but the pleasure of their companionship made up for it.

“So where shall we go then?” he asked. Wyn put down her guitar and took off her headphones as they considered the question.

“One thing I was wondering,” Alec said. “All the aliens we’ve met so far have looked more or less like us - different colour and stuff but more or less Human-shaped. Unless our science fiction has been lying to us, surely the universe has more variety than that.”

“Well, one head, two arms, two legs and a body to hang them on is a common pattern around the universe,” The Doctor said. “But there are some variations.” He moved around the console and looked at another viewscreen. “Tell you what, according to the interstellar news service the Prince of Alpha Centauri is getting married. There’ll be more varieties of species there than at Charles and Camilla’s big bash. How about we crash the party?”

“Sounds good to me,” Wyn agreed readily. The other two smiled happily. Wherever Alpha Centauri was, it was still well away from Manchester.

“Ok then,” he grinned. “Let’s set the co-ordinates and then see what the wardrobe can come up with in the way of posh frocks for all. This is a very high class do, you know.”

“What do you mean about Charles and Camilla’s bash?” Alec asked The Doctor as they all rifled through the racks in the huge multi-level clothing storeroom that was known as the wardrobe. “Surely everyone there was Human - slightly horse-faced and some of the ears were a bit out of proportion. But I’m sure they were all Human!”

“Don’t bet on it,” The Doctor answered him. “I’m not the only extra-terrestrial who ever settled on Earth. Scratch the surface of the British aristocracy and some of them literarily ARE blue-blooded - or green, purple, pale yellow… a whole paintbox of colours. I could tell you some stories….”

“The Royal Family?”

“Ohh!” He laughed. “No, they I CAN’T tell you about. Sworn to secrecy.”

“You mean they ARE aliens?”

Wyn was halfway up a spiral metal staircase that led to one of the walk-in cupboards of clothes. She nearly slithered down it as she cracked up laughing.

“Oh go ON!” she spluttered. “Are they REALLY?”

“Sorry, matter of honour. I promised I would never tell. Just be glad that Camilla is past child-bearing age - because you really wouldn’t want to see the offspring of THAT mix.”

“You mean she’s….”

“I think he’s having us on,” Alec said. “They’re not really.” But none of them could be entirely sure. The Doctor’s expression defined the word ‘inscrutable’. Alec laughed and picked out an outfit he liked the look of and disappeared behind one of the dressing screens. Jasmin was already changing.

Alec emerged first in a cream-white suit that looked as if it was made of silk. He wore a red shirt and a matching cream tie beneath and Wyn, still sitting on the spiral stairs grinned and told him he looked pretty hot – for a man. He smiled and waited for his girlfriend to emerge.

When she did the word ‘hot’ simultaneously entered everyone’s minds. Alec was bowled over by how stunning she looked. The Doctor smiled warmly at her and Wyn did too, though The Doctor, his gaze passing from Jasmin to Wyn, thought there was something else in her look.

Jasmin looked beautiful in an outfit that The Doctor thought the wardrobe must have created especially for her. He was sure it had nothing like that before. Being the cultural sponge he was, he knew the word for that sort of outfit was Shalwar Kameez. It was a general term for any outfit that consisted of loose-waisted and tight legged trousers with a long overshirt or dress and could mean anything from the everyday clothes of an outdoor worker in Karachi to an evening dress of the finest fabrics. Jasmin’s outfit was the latter. Both the trousers and the shirt-dress that came down to her calves were in red silk with delicately embroidered leaf patterns all over. It was completed with pearls sewn all around the scooped neckline and the hem of the Kameez. It was sleeveless, but she threw a sheer red chiffon shawl over her head and arms to complete a look that was at one and the same time traditional to her racial origin, and sensual and feminine and modern.

“Alec,” The Doctor whispered. “She’s YOUR girl! Go get her!” Alec did so, taking her arm. The Doctor told them he’d see them back in the console room and turned to look at Wyn who, now they had gone, looked decidedly disconsolate.

“If you say looks aren’t everything and I’ve got a great personality, I’ll hit you,” she said before he even opened his mouth. “Used to be bad enough looking like the short fat kid next to Rose. But Jasmin, looking like that, even knocks her out.”

“Well, I’m fond enough of Rose not to want to make comparisons,” The Doctor said. “But, yes, Jasmin is looking rather fantastic in that outfit.”

“I like having her and Alec around,” Wyn added. “But… well… before, when it was just you and me… I used to feel a bit special because I was with you. When you chose me, to be with you, it was the only time I ever felt special and ‘first’ with somebody.”

She wasn’t crying or sulking. He gave her credit for that. But she was stating her cause of unhappiness. And he could see her point.

“You ARE special to me,” he said. “Oh, you ARE. Don’t ever think otherwise. That’s why I DID choose you.”

“But people at this wedding won’t think so. They probably won’t even notice me.” She looked around the wardrobe. “Don’t think there’s anything here that would make a bunch of aliens at a royal wedding think I was somebody important.”

“Don’t bet on it,” The Doctor said. “Come here.”

He took her by the hand and brought her to a section of the wardrobe where some very particular outfits were kept. He shuffled through the rack for a minute and then handed her a folded bunch of fabric and pointed to a dressing screen. Then he took a similar pile and disappeared himself.

“Oh my!” Jasmin and Alec both stared when The Doctor and Wyn appeared together in the console room. Black was the base colour of the long robes they both wore, and on top of that was a sort of open gown of a red fabric woven through with what looked like pure gold. They both wore huge gold medallions – like small wheels – of the same swirling figure of eight design that was on the shoulders of the gown and all around the TARDIS.

The Seal of Rassilon.

“I’m a Time Lord!” Wyn said proudly. And when she had stood next to The Doctor in the wardrobe she had FELT like one. She was surprised when she brought herself to look in a mirror how much weight she had lost recently. Life with The Doctor was way more energetic than slouching around her bedroom and it showed. She was still short and wide-shouldered for a girl, but the wide shoulders actually made the Gallifreyan gown sit right on her. A thinner girl would have looked like she was just dressing up. SHE looked as if it was made for her.

And she looked as if she was WITH The Doctor, one of his own people. They belonged together. And that was what she wanted - to look as if she belonged with him.

“Time lady, surely?” Alec said.

“Nope,” The Doctor insisted. “Time Lords are Time Lords, male or female. Wyn is coming to this do as a Prydonian graduate, just like me.”

“What’s a Prydonian?” Jasmin asked as they waited in the hall of the royal palace of Alpha Centauri with the other guests, all of whom fulfilled The Doctor’s promise of species variety. A lot of them were, admittedly, of the one head, two arms, two legs, pattern. Even so, the word Human could not be applied to the group in fantastic gowns and cloaks of golden feathers with faces like eagles. Nor the ones whose faces were on long necks that stretched and contracted like a concertina, or the sad eyed dwarf sized people with legs too thin to support them who glided around the room on a sort of hover-tricycle.

“The Prydonian Academy is my old school,” The Doctor said with a half-smile. “The alma mater.”

“Sounds posh,” Wyn said. “Academy!”

“It was the best school on Gallifrey,” he said with something like pride. “But then again all our academies were good. We didn’t have any comprehensives full of kids being failed by the system. Even the children of our Caretaker classes could enter one of the Academies and by hard work attain the highest level – become a Time Lord in their own right.”

“I thought you were BORN a Time Lord,” Jasmin said. “It’s like a qualification?”

“Yes. The brightest and the best become the elite of our society.”

“And you’re one of those,” Jasmin smiled. “The brightest and the best.”

“He’s the best of the best,” Wyn said. “The greatest Time Lord of them all.”

“I’m the only Time Lord,” he corrected her. “So I would still be the greatest even if I was totally useless.”

“What happened to the rest?” Jasmin asked but he turned away and seemed not to hear the question. Wyn knew he had, but it was a question he had answered too many times for too many people.

“It’s time for us to be presented at the pre-wedding ball,” The Doctor said. He took Wyn’s arm as they gravitated towards the line of couples that was forming.

“Can I have a title,” she asked as they shuffled forwards, Alec and Jasmin ahead of them. In front of them were two people who really stretched the definition of ‘people’. They looked like two giant test tubes of liquid, one the colour of cherryade the other the colour of blackcurrant. They even seemed to fizz like pop. But they had faces formed from the bubbles pressed against the tubes. They were moved along in a mobile framework by faceless black and silver droids.

“Come again?” he looked at Wyn with a slightly furrowed brow.

“Like you’re The Doctor. And I know there was one called The Master. So I figured Time Lords had these titles. And… could I have one?”

“Ah!” He smiled warmly at her. “Takes about four hundred years of study and a certain knack of getting yourself noticed to acquire a title like that,” he said. “We really ARE the elite, those of us with a title. Some of us are also the most notorious of course. The Master, The Rani, The Monk…. The Doctor…”

“So… I can’t have a title?” She looked disappointed. He put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her reassuringly before they got near to the front of the line. They heard the two test tubes announced as His Bountiful the Duke and Her Munificent the Duchess of Tredan Mangra and then Jasmin and Alec handed over the gilt edged invitation that The Doctor had passed to them earlier. They were announced as the Honourable representatives of the planet Earth, Lord Alec and Lady Jasmin of Manchester.

Wyn stifled a giggle at the idea of anyone being Lord of Manchester, and then The Doctor handed over a second gilt edged invitation and the liveried footman announced them as the Honourable and Learned Ambassadors representing the Time Lords of Gallifrey, The Doctor and The Scholar.

Wyn smiled. The Scholar! It was true in its way. She was still technically at school and she was learning every day in The Doctor’s company. Yet The Scholar didn’t sound like “The Student” or “The Pupil” or “The Apprentice”. It sounded like somebody who was accomplished and educated but sought to be educated that much more.

“Great title,” she whispered. Then she looked around at the crowd. At the mention of “Time Lords of Gallifrey” all eyes had turned on them. She was glad The Doctor had boosted her confidence the way he had by making her look and feel and SOUND like his near equal. Because otherwise she thought she might have died of embarrassment with that many people looking at her.

“Doctor!” Wyn nearly jumped out of her skin when she half turned her head and saw a hand the size of an average man’s thigh clamp down on The Doctor’s shoulder. Slowly he turned and she followed him and they both looked up into the face of a seven or eight foot creature with skin the colour of pea soup. It had long legs and a bulging stomach under what must have been a ceremonial loose robe of cloth the same colour as the skin and arms that reached nearly to the ground, the hands having sharp talons on the thick, chunky fingers. The face was strangely appealing if you ignored the thick green and horribly moist lips. The eyes were big and dark and mournful like giant panda eyes. As the creature looked at The Doctor a sort of membrane came over its eyes. Wyn guessed that was a blink.

The Doctor blinked and Wyn saw him swallow hard.

“I… don’t think I’ve had the pleasure,” he said. “I know of your species, of course. You are the Ambassador for Raxacoricofallapatorius?”

“I am, indeed, he said. “Brows Dor-Kline Rowe-Gan Masafreen, at your service.” The creature bowed its head slightly on its thick, trunk like neck. I have heard of you, Doctor - though I pictured you rather differently. But then again, you humanoids all look alike to us, haw haw haw.” The creature jerked up and down as it laughed. The Doctor smiled the glassy smile of one trying to stay polite in company he didn’t entirely like.

‘Like’ didn’t come into it. It was all he could do to stop his skin crawling in the presence of this creature. He knew that not all Raxacoricofallapatorians were evil megalomaniacs like the Slitheen clan, but even the nicest of them were greed-led opportunists and even one hundred and fifty years in the Gallifreyan diplomatic corps couldn’t steel him to like the company of this species. He was FAR from a racist. He abhorred the thought. But there WERE some species that you just couldn’t like.

Was that a racist thought anyway? He wasn’t sure.

The Ambassador for Raxacoricofallapatorius seemed to have decided to like HIM, though. The Doctor smiled politely as he listened to it talking about being appointed to Alpha Centauri.

Wyn just smiled and tried to look interested. She, too, was starting to look glassy eyed when there was a hush around the room and the Prince of Alpha Centauri and his bride, the Honourable Lady, were announced. The Doctor grabbed Wyn’s arm and put several other couples between them and the Raxacoricofallapatorian as the Alpha Centaurian national anthem began to play. They stood politely and when it was over he again manoeuvred them swiftly out of the way.

“Alpha Centaurians are a bit weird looking, too,” Wyn observed as the prince and princess-to-be came down the grand staircase to the ballroom and took the spotlight for the first dance of the evening. They looked like tubes with silk cloaks fastened at what had to be the neck. They had six spindly arms and a round head with one big eye in it. When they arrived they were a sort of muddy green colour, but as they danced they changed between different colours. The princess changed from blush pink to deep red quite often.

“Alpha Centaurians are gentle, wonderful people - the galaxy’s good guys,” The Doctor explained. “A bit too good, too trusting, at times. They tend to think that if you play fair and treat everyone kindly they’ll respond in kind. They’re the Girl Guides and Scoutmasters of the universe, inviting everyone to have a game of rounders and forgive and forget. But sadly the universe isn’t like that. Most species would see them as pushovers and take advantage. Diplomatic relations with Raxacoricofallapatorius! The mind boggles. If they don’t sell off the planet piece by piece I’ll be very surprised.”

“Those were the guys who blew up Downing Street, weren’t they?” Wyn asked. “The Raxa whatsits.”

“No, I did that,” The Doctor told her with a grin. “Well, with a bit of help, anyway. The Raxacoricofallapatorians are not ALL evil. But I do find it hard to trust them. And that bothers me. I WAS trained as a diplomat once. I should know how to behave with people I don’t want to be friends with.”

“You’re only Human,” Wyn said. “Or only Gallifreyan, anyway.”

“Yeah,” he said and smiled. “Still….”

Whatever The Doctor was going to say, he was distracted then by a beautiful female of a species that had glistening gold skin, great bird like wings sprouting from her back that looked as if they really would support her if she flew, and wore almost nothing but a sort of gold plate bikini and a sheer, nearly see-through gown that floated as she walked. She invited The Doctor to dance and his diplomatic training didn’t qualify him to say no. Wyn grinned at him trying to cope with the pherenomes the golden female was putting out and looked for Jasmin and Alec.

She found them near the stage where the orchestra was playing. Neither seemed to want to dance at the moment. Jasmin looked a little upset.

“We were talking to some of the guests,” Alec explained. “And the subject of Gallifrey came up. I didn’t know… the whole planet just burned up… nobody survived but him… The Doctor.”

“He said earlier he was unique,” Jasmin said. “I didn’t think he meant it literally.”

“Yeah, it was rotten,” Wyn sighed. “But he’s kind of getting over it in his own way. It's probably best not to mention it to him.”

“He’s so nice, so kind, and brave and… and yet he’s had the most terrible sadness. I wonder what he was like before that happened.”

“He was just the same,” Wyn said. “My mum knew him before I was born and he was terrific then, too.”

“Makes me want to look after him,” Jasmin said. “But I think he’d hate to BE looked after.”

“Hey,” Alec told her, putting his arm around her waist. “You’re MY girl. Don’t go falling for The Doctor. He’s too old for you anyway.”

“He’s too old for everyone,” Jasmin laughed. “1,000 years old!”

“He’s very popular with the ladies, though,” Alec noted. They all watched as the dance came to an end and The Doctor was claimed from the golden woman by one who looked as if her ancestors were trees. She had beaten off opposition from the female of the eagle-faced contingent, a sort of pink creature that looked like a giant marshmallow with features and limbs, and what they presumed was a female Raxacoricofallapatorian.

“Yeah, but he isn’t bringing any of them with him on board the TARDIS,” Wyn decided. “You two are fine, but I’m not having any tree women or golden women. And we’re definitely not having any giant green ones!”

“Excuse me,” a voice said and Wyn looked around. “Would you like to dance.” The creature that asked her was about her own height and general body shape, humanoid, with a face with all the features in the places she expected them to be, though the nose seemed flatter than she expected and the eyes had no whites in them but were entirely green. Its skin was a pale green and its black hair with a green tinge to it reached its waist. It had four arms that ended in hands with five fingers and one thumb.

Wyn was not at all sure if it was male or female. The hair and a certain femininity of the features suggested one thing. But it was wearing a suit – black with a green tinge – that suggested male.

She wondered if it was having the same problem with her. She WAS, after all, dressed as a Time LORD.

“Say yes,” Jasmin whispered to her. “Sort out the details later. Just go and have fun for now.”

“Yes,” she said and she let the creature lead her onto the dance floor. It put one pair of its hands on her shoulders and the other about her waist. She compromised with one of each and they danced to a tune she had never heard of. Jasmin and Alec watched until the slow tune ended and the tempo turned to a fast, disco-like tune and Wyn discovered that a four armed dance partner could REALLY dance.

“She’s having fun, anyway,” Alec said and took Jasmin by the hand back onto the dance floor.

Later came the formal banquet. The Doctor had the golden lady with the wings by his side and Wyn’s four armed friend was with her as they went through to the grand dining hall of the Centauran palace.

“This is Gloria, by the way,” The Doctor said, introducing his lady friend to them all. She is from Avaria, in the Psi quadrant of Andromeda.”

Gloria smiled charmingly as The Doctor held a chair for her and then sat beside her. Jasmin and Alec sat next to them and Wyn introduced her friend as they made up the party of six at their table.

“This is Fustian Debenel from Jipon,” she said. “He is the son of their Ambassador.”

“Are you not sitting with your family?” Alec asked him. Fustian shook his head.

“I am a vegetarian,” he said. “But my father and mother are of the old ways.” He nodded towards a separate dining room which waiters were bringing covered trays into as he spoke.

“What’s that about?” Wyn asked.

“That is the dining room for those with specialised eating habits,” The Doctor said as delicately as he could.


“They eat their meat live,” Fustian admitted gloomily. He saw Wyn’s horrified look. “It is a bad habit. I have not taken meat since I was five years old. But there are some who still insist, claiming it is the only way to get the correct nutrients.”

“But….” Wyn looked a little green. So did the soup she was served with by a waiter with a blue face. She looked at it suspiciously.

“That’s asparagus and gleve soup,” The Doctor told her. “Gleve is an Andorran green carrot. Completely vegetarian. You’re perfectly safe. Eat up.”

“But…” She glanced at the door to the other dining room again. “But…”

“It’s all right, Wyn,” The Doctor assured her. “The universe is full of endless variety. Some of it is being served live Bekoran rat with béchamel sauce right now. That’s all.”

Fustian picked up his spoon with one of his hands and began to eat the soup. Wyn did the same. It was nice soup. She tried not to look at the door to the other room.

“Pass the salt please,” The Doctor said and Alec did. He poured a liberal amount on his soup.

“You know, too much salt is very bad for you,” Jasmin told him. “You should watch your blood pressure at your age and all.”

“Doesn’t affect me that way,” he told her. “Besides, 1,000 or thereabouts is only approaching middle age for a Time Lord. We don’t start worrying about health problems till at least 2,500.”

“It's never too soon to worry about healthcare,” Jasmin told him and he smiled disarmingly at her. “Yes, I know, I’m not a doctor yet. But when I am I don’t expect to have you for a patient.”

He grinned again and bit into the bread roll that went with the soup. He glanced at Wyn who was eating ok now, and seemed to be friends with Fustian still. Yes, sometimes the universe COULD be a bit stomach-churning, but you just had to live and let live with most of it. He glanced at the next table where the Duke and Duchess of Tredan Mangra in their test tubes were drinking their liquidized food through long bendy straws that went into their mouths through the glass – which appeared to have an elastic consistency like a bubble as well as being strong exo glass that was impervious to the hardest of knocks.

Yep, it was a funny old universe.

They had reached the desert before anything more occurred to spoil the cheerful mood. Over at the high table where the prince and princess were sitting a man with purple hair clutched at his throat. His chair fell back with a crash as he stood up and then swayed and fell.

The Doctor was on to it right away. While others stared he had sprinted between the tables to reach the stricken diner.

“It’s ok,” he said gently. “I’m here to help.” But the man looked as if he was beyond help. He coughed and retched and spewed purple blood that spattered The Doctor’s robes and face and hands and then he slumped back.

“He’s dead,” The Doctor said in a shocked tone. After all the things he had seen and done in his life death always shocked him. The day it didn’t, he would be the one who was dead.

He stood up and looked around, and to his horror he realised this was just the first victim. Everywhere, people of every species, humanoid and non-humanoid, were collapsing in pain and discomfort. Not all seemed to be reacting in exactly the same way, but all were clearly ill. He turned and saw the princess slump over, her skin turning a shade of off-white as her husband to be called for a doctor, and for his guards to secure the kitchen and arrest the cooks.

“Something in the food?” The Doctor looked around, puzzled. But there were nearly two hundred different species here and at least fifty different diets provided for. Even….

He turned towards the door that led to the ‘specialist’ dining room. It crashed open loudly as the Ambassador for Raxacoricofallapatorius stumbled out and collapsed in a green heap on the floor.

Then his own vision blurred and he reached to steady himself as he fought back nausea and dizziness. How could it have affected even HIM, he wondered in the few moments before he blacked out.

“What hit me?” he asked as he slowly regained consciousness and looked up at a high ceiling with chandeliers and gilded murals of Alpha Centauran mythological creatures. “What….”

“You’re going to be ok,” Wyn said and he felt her clutching his hand. “But don’t scare us like that, all right.”

He turned to look at her. She had been crying. Though he knew she wouldn’t appreciate him drawing attention to the fact he was touched. It was nice to know somebody cared enough for him to cry when he was hurt.

“Who put me in a nightshirt?” he asked, realising that he was not only tucked up in a bed, but that he was dressed for it, in a pink and white striped shirt that looked like it ought to have a nightcap along with it.

“Alec did,” she said. “You were REALLY sick for a long while. We’ve been worried.”

“How long?” he asked. He sat up with her help and looked around. He realised he was in the ballroom. Beds had been set up in it for at least a hundred sick people. Some had screens around them. Some were sitting up and talking to their loved ones, others were asleep. A few had life support monitors that suggested they were critical. He saw Jasmin in a white coat she must have borrowed from somewhere moving among the patients, tending to them along with other medical people. Good for her, he thought. Well done, Jasmin, a born doctor, already getting stuck in where she was needed. Alec, too, was doing his bit, helping make the patients comfortable.

“It’s evening of the day when the wedding was supposed to happen,” Wyn told him. “The wedding is off, of course. The bride is one of the patients – behind that screen over there.”

“Ok,” he said swinging his legs out of the bed. He stood up and tested his balance. He was able to stand at least. His arms and legs were moving in the way he wanted them to move. “So… does anyone know what happened yet?”

“We know that one hundred and fifty people died,” she said.

“That MANY?” he looked at her in horror.

“It took different people in different ways,” she told him. “Some of them just keeled over dead. Others, like you, got sick. You, sick, is the scariest thing of all, by the way. You did that thing where you go all rigid and cold and your hearts only beat every few minutes.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he told her. “The process is automatic if my body detects something dangerous in it.” He took a few steps and decided that he was definitely ok. “Looks like I’ve got to save the world in my jimjams again though,” he said with a grin. “Unless you happen to know where my clothes are.”

“I got your ordinary clothes from the TARDIS,” she told him, pointing to a box under the bed. “Your Time Lord outfit has that guy’s blood all over it - kind of icky. Nice ankles, by the way.” She pulled a screen across the bed and waited until he changed. When he emerged he looked reassuringly ‘normal’. “Glad to have you back,” she told him.

“I’m glad to have me back, too. Shall we get our investigative hats on and get to the bottom of this?”

“Somebody needs to,” Wyn said. “You were right about the Centaurans. They’re absolute wimps - even their police. They think the cooks must have poisoned the food, but they’re Centaurans, too, and they just cry every time they’re questioned and nobody can get anywhere. They’ve at least put a quarantine on the palace and halted all space travel, but otherwise it's pretty well pathetic.”

“Ah, just like when I used to work for U.N.I.T. on Earth,” he said. “They never could see the wood for the trees - until I got there and showed them where the chainsaws were.”

Wyn smiled. The Doctor was definitely back on form. She followed him as he looked at the patients. As ever it was interesting watching him at work. The medical people who thought THEY were in charge found to their surprise that The Doctor was calling the shots. He demanded the medical charts of every patient and examined them all. He said nothing conclusive to anyone, but Wyn was sure if anyone could see into his head they would find it busier than a mainframe computer.

“How are you holding up?” he said to Jasmin as he watched her tending to the princess of Centauri.

“I’m ok,” she said. “I’m not really doing doctoring, of course - just making them comfortable. They needed all the hands they could get. Isn’t it strange how so many different species were affected? I’ve been checking. Everyone is saying it's the food, but there’s no common denominator. There’s no food that they ALL ate. I mean… the people who were on the live rats are affected, and Wyn’s friend who stuck to the vegetarian option. The princess was affected, but not the prince – you were affected, but neither me nor Alec nor Wyn were, and we all ate the same meal. I know you’re a different species to us, but you’re not SO different that food we eat would poison you.”

“No, I’m not,” he said. He looked at Wyn. “Nobody ELSE has worked all this out?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” she said. “Why? Have you figured it out?”

“Oh yes.” He turned and strode purposefully towards the dining room that had been the scene of the disaster yesterday. He turned around. Wyn stopped and waited dutifully. So did Jasmin and Alec. He smiled. Some men commanded armies. He commanded love and loyalty - and anyone who imagined that they were weaker than an army was proved wrong time and time again.

“The scene of the crime,” he said as he stepped through the doors. “Did they preserve it because they know the importance of forensic investigation or because they didn’t know what else to do?”

“I’m thinking the latter,” Wyn said. “Headless chickens wasn’t in it. But WHY?”

“That’s what I was wondering,” Jasmin said. “I mean, the obvious thing is an attack on Alpha Centauri, maybe to halt the wedding, that sort of thing.”

“But you don’t think so?” The Doctor looked at her. She looked a little nervous about being put on the spot. But she tried to explain herself.

“Well, it's kind of TOO obvious. Besides, the princess is getting better. It really just gave her a bad bout of nausea. Some of the other people are much worse off. The Raxacoricofallapatorian delegation, for instance. They ALL died - the only racial section where they were ALL casualties.”

“Now that’s interesting,” The Doctor said. “I’ll come back to that point in a minute. But I’m interested in this scene of crime. Jasmin, you said it. Nothing connects all the victims. And nothing connects those who weren’t affected. Perfectly healthy people sat next to ones who died, eating the same meal.” He crossed the room and opened the door to the ‘live food’ dining room. His Human companions looked at each other, and he knew they were all thinking much the same thought – do we want to look in there. But curiosity got the better of their repugnance.

Like the other room, there were unfinished meals left on the table. In this case gnawed bones and a certain amount of fur was involved, but the principle was much the same.

“Dead rats all over?” Wyn said. “Whole ones, not half eaten.”

“The food escaped,” The Doctor said, pulling out his sonic screwdriver and using it to examine one of the rat corpses. “And the food dined out…. Bekoran rats eat anything, in common with rats generally. Including other Bekoran rats.”

“So the poison was in the rats?” Alec said.

“No,” Jasmin said. “Because The Doctor didn’t eat rat. Nor did most of the other people.”

“Look again, children,” The Doctor said. “Tell me what it is that this room and the other room have in common. What’s on ALL the tables?”

They looked. They looked again and thought about it. Wyn stepped back into the main room and studied the tables carefully. Then back into the other room. She noted the silverware and the fine china, the crisp white tablecloths and napkins – she noted that the ones in the ‘live food’ room were of some kind of easy to wipe fabric. It was obviously messier to eat that way. She went back into the main room and picked something up off one of the tables. She showed it to The Doctor and he grinned.

“Well done!” he said. “Ten out of ten - and minus a million to me for being so stupid. I’ve eaten food on ten thousand planets and I’ve learnt to be a suspicious so and so. I always analyse what I’m eating first. But guess what I didn’t analyse.”

Jasmin and Alec looked blank for a moment. Then they smiled broadly. Jasmin went up to The Doctor and kissed him on the cheek playfully.

“Didn’t I tell you it was bad for you,” she told him. “Next time listen to me.”

“I will,” he said as Wyn held up the thing in her hand - a silver salt shaker. The Doctor took it and sprinkled some of it into his hand and put some on the tip of his tongue. He looked for a moment like a wine connoisseur savouring the ‘fine bouquet’. Then, like the connoisseur, he spat and grabbed a water carafe to clear his mouth.

“The salt was poisoned?” Alec said. “And you just tasted it again…”

“Tasted… but this time I wasn’t daft enough to ingest. Very clever. Brolian Death Leaf looks and tastes very much like common salt when refined and crystallised. But it's a poison to just about any living organism. Not always a deadly poison. For Time Lords and Alpha Centaurans and Jiponesians and the like it just gives us a bad night. But for others – like the calcium-based Raxacoricofallapatorians - it was very deadly.”

“So now we know how,” Alec pointed out. “But we don’t know who or why.”

“If we knew who we’d know why and if we knew why we’d know who,” Wyn said. “I think… or maybe I’m just catching the habit of talking nonsense from you, Doctor!”

“You’re catching the habit of thinking logically,” he told her. “Sometimes logic does sound like nonsense. Jasmin, back to your point. Nothing connects the victims – except that they all put salt on their food - even the Raxacoricofallapatorians. Calcium-based lifeforms need salt. For preference they like to eat meat that contains lots of it. Humans are good for that. The Bekoran Rat is actually low in salt, so they would have poured it on liberally.”

“Wait a minute.” The Doctor smiled as Alec spoke. He could almost see the little cartoon light bulb pop up over his head. “I saw this in an old film once. Somebody did a whole bunch of murders of totally unrelated people, so that it would throw the police off when he did the one murder that would lead straight to him.”

“The Alphabet Murders, 1965,” The Doctor said. “Dear old Agatha Christie wrote the original story in 1936. I remember telling her the ending was a bit lame. But the idea is a sound one - as murderers the universe over have found. I never knew Poirrot was popular on Raxacoricofallapatorius, though.”

“It was them?” Wyn asked. “The big green guys with the sad panda eyes?”

“I almost didn’t consider them as suspects,” The Doctor said as he again began to walk purposefully, this time towards the rest room where the kitchen staff were being held by what passed for a police force on Alpha Centauri. “Because I thought it was just my own prejudices against them. I thought I was being too judgemental.”

“But they’re all dead,” Jasmin pointed out. “The whole Raxacorico-fallapatorian delegation died on the spot.”

“Raxacoricofallapatorians are masters of disguise,” The Doctor said. “Their methods are a bit more sophisticated and a lot more gruesome than just putting on a false beard and glasses, I’m afraid.”

The room was guarded, but the two Alpha Centaurans just blinked their big eyes and gave a half bow to The Doctor as he passed them by. His Human friends followed him.

“HOW do they disguise themselves?” Wyn asked, and wished she hadn’t when The Doctor told her.

“They kill people and take their skins….” She whispered. “But only FAT people. That’s not fair. We get enough problems as it is with people treating us as if we’re insignificant, as if we don’t matter, as if we can be insulted and kicked around just for not being a perfect 10. Now we’re being targeted by aliens!”

“Pretty good incentive to diet,” Alec commented and Wyn subjected him to one of her best scowls.

The Doctor looked around the rest room. Fifty or more gloomy chefs and pastry cooks, pot washers and waiters looked at him with indifference. The head chef looked once and burst into tears. He was a Centauran, as were most of the chefs, though the rest of the staff were of various races. Watching a creature with one eye the size of a rugby ball cry was an interesting, if soggy, diversion, but The Doctor had other things on his mind. His eyes scanned the crowd, looking for the one that didn’t belong, the one whose skin maybe fitted a bit tight over a body that was just a bit too small for it….

….Looking for the one with a nervous stomach that just couldn’t help itself. The low whoopee cushion parp sounded even louder in a room where the head chef’s sobs were the only other noise. He turned towards the culprit. It looked like a Jiponesian, the short but horizontally challenged, four armed species that Wyn’s friend Fustian came from. But The Doctor knew better. He stepped towards the suspect. It hissed snakelike and raised its hand, pointing a stubby finger. Nobody saw The Doctor move, but they heard a low whistle in the air and the next moment he was holding his hand up with a dart between his thumb and forefinger.

“Poison darts?” he said. “Consistent, at least. And that proves one thing. You’re a FEMALE Raxacoricofallapatorian. Only the females are able to kill by that method. Of course, Jiponesians only have the one sex. They reproduce by osmosis. Sorry Wyn, I’m afraid you and Fustian will have to be just friends.”

“That’s ok,” she said. “You win some….”

“Very clever,” the creature said in a low, rasping, and now they knew, slightly feminine voice. “And who are you that know so much about us?”

“I’m The Doctor. And I know you’ve heard of me. Your lot are just like the Daleks. You’ve got legends about me. You haven’t got a cool sounding name for me, yet, but I live in hope.”

“You will not live at all soon,” the creature rasped. It reached its arms up and smoothed back the fringe of hair as it began to open the zip hidden underneath. The Doctor watched impassively. He’d seen a Raxacoricofallapatorian striptease often enough. Everyone else stared in fascinated horror as the huge green creature emerged in a lightning storm of static electricity and suddenly released energy while the skin of the Jiponese waiter collapsed into a sad huddle on the floor.

By the time the process had finished there were less witnesses than before. The Centauran guards and the kitchen staff edged away slowly from the horror and out through the door. The Doctor knew that he and his friends were on their own now.

“Run!” he said to them and they turned and ran. “To the kitchen,” he added. They didn’t bother to ask WHY he said that. They did as he said, running through the double swing doors that led to the kitchen. The Raxacoricofallapatorian followed them in fast, bounding paces on its long, double kneed legs.

Alec screamed and his friends turned to see him in the creature’s clutches. He was held up from the ground by one taloned hand while the other ‘caressed’ his neck with murderous intent.

“Now I have a hostage,” the Raxacoricofallapatorian said. “You can’t do anything to me without hurting him, and the one thing we KNOW about you, Doctor, is that you have COMPASSION. You would sooner see your enemy escape than let anyone else get hurt. It’s your weakness.”

“Oh, I know that,” he said. “People tell me it all the time. But I know YOUR weakness, too. Alec, nice suit. Sorry it’s going to get spoiled.” His hand reached as he spoke for a bottle on the table where the salads were prepared. He glanced at it and smiled. Balsamic vinegar with chestnut and juniper - the salad dressing of the epicure, and an excellent weapon against a calcium based creature. He loosened the cap and threw it overarm before ducking. Behind him, Wyn and Jasmin took his cue and ducked too.

Alec screamed and then went ‘ooof’ as he hit the floor. He covered his head with his arms as he was showered with slimy chunks of Raxacoricofallapatorian flavoured with chestnut and juniper vinegar. When he dared to look, all that remained of the creature was two legs and one of the taloned arms. The rest was coating the walls, floors, counter tops, and him.

“Yukk!” Wyn said as she stood up tentatively. The comment summed it up for them all. Jasmin ran to Alec. She reached out an arm to help him stand, but he slipped in a particularly thick patch of Raxacoricofallapatorian innards and they both ended up in a slimy heap on the floor.

“Oh what the heck,” Jasmin said and kissed him anyway before The Doctor helped them both up and Wyn threw them a large roll of super-absorbant kitchen towel.

“Dead men’s shoes,” The Doctor said as they walked back to the TARDIS. They all felt the need for a shower and a change. “That used to happen on my planet from time to time, but it was NEVER an accepted part of our culture. On Raxacoricofallapatorius it's practically the only way to get a promotion.”

“But all those other people,” Wyn said. “So many dead. Just so one man… woman… thing… could get the Ambassador’s job?”


“Horrible,” Jasmin said. “Absolutely horrible.”

“Way of the universe, I’m afraid, children,” The Doctor said. “The wedding is going ahead next month, by the way. They’ve put it off out of respect for the dead.”

“Are we going to come back for it?”

“I think so,” The Doctor said. “But before we do I think we’ll find a dry cleaners for our posh frocks and then take a holiday on some nice planet with sun, sand and self-catering.”