The Doctor looked around the console room and smiled. It was only a couple of weeks since Wyn and Stella had joined him on board the TARDIS, but already it seemed as if they had always been there. They both made themselves so much at home. Wyn was perfectly content sitting on the sofa with her laptop computer and K9 hovering by her ankles. He wasn’t sure what she was doing. It could be anything from a scientific thesis to a game of patience. But she was happy with it.

Stella came into the console room with two cups of coffee and a diet coke for herself. The Doctor accepted the coffee gratefully. He needed Humans around to remind him to do things like that. Drink coffee, eat sandwiches, go to bed. He did all of those things when he was on his own, but not so regularly. He could go for a whole Gallifreyan day absorbed in some activity and forget that his body needed those things.

Yes, he needed them. Not to MAKE coffee, but to remind him that coffee existed.

“Where are we going next?” Stella asked him as she opened her can of coke and drank it walking around the console trying to understand what did what on the different sections of the fantastic machine. “The anti-grav swimming was neat, by the way. Really cool.”

“Seeing as you are so fond of that expression I was thinking it’s time you saw something that really IS cool. How about going back in time to the ice age on Earth to see Wales covered in a glacier.”

“REALLY cool!” Stella answered with a grin. Then she gave a squeal of shock as an alarm sounded on the panel closest to her. She dropped her coke can in surprise and yelped as the liquid seeped through the grilled floor and something sparked in the crawl space beneath.

“It’s ok,” The Doctor assured her as he darted around the console. “Those diodes are easy to replace.” He looked at the panel where the alarm was coming from, though, and frowned. “That’s not so good,” he said as he turned off the sound. “Sub-space SOS signal. I’m afraid the ice age may have to wait. We have to go to the rescue.”

Stella looked as if she was about to say ‘cool’ again but she saw The Doctor’s face and realised he was serious. Wyn put her laptop into standby and came to his side, silently, and without needing any instruction from The Doctor, taking up a position at the console that she looked completely at home with. Stella looked at them both uncertainly.

“Take the environmental panel,” The Doctor told her. “Bring up the lifefsigns monitor. We could be looking for survivors of a disaster. And hold tight. Emergency stops can be bumpy.”

They all grabbed handholds as The Doctor pressed the switch that dropped them out of the vortex and into ordinary space and time. It WAS a little bumpy but they stayed on their feet. He reached and switched on the viewscreen and for a long moment all three of them looked at the scene it revealed in astonishment.

It was a space equivalent of a motorway pile up. The ships were all mangled into each other until it was almost impossible to see where one ended and the other began.

“Oh my!” Wyn murmured as she looked at the scene of a disaster that must have resulted in a lot of deaths.

“If everyone is dead, are you entitled to claim salvage like if a captain finds a ship on the sea?” Stella asked.

“That’s a horrible question,” Wyn admonished her. “Besides, I don’t think it works that way in deep space.”

“Yes, it does, actually,” The Doctor told her. “I could probably have made a couple of fortunes as a salvage merchant in my lifetime. It’s not the first time I’ve found deserted ships. Usually they’re in singles, though.”

“How many ships are there?” Stella asked.

“How many people should there be?” Wyn added.

“I count…” The Doctor’s lips moved silently as he tried to count them. “Six. A freighter… Human, from Earth. She’d have about twenty crew. THAT one is a freighter, too. Dazingen. They are mostly automated. Only about four crew. That’s some kind of personal craft jammed up against it. A sort of space mini metro. Maybe one driver, one or two passengers, maximum. That’s about twenty-five or twenty-seven souls so far. Then….” His mouth ran dry as the TARDIS moved around the wreckage and he identified the other ships.

All three of them were old enemies of his.

One was a Sontaran ship, spherical, in military grey, the only colour that race knew. There was a Rutan ship, no surprise there. Where there were Sontarans there would be Rutans, their mortal enemy. Their crystalline ship, reflecting the cold starlight, was beautiful if you didn’t know what they were like inside.

And the other ship….

A saucer. A ‘traditional’ saucer as envisaged by Earth science fiction writers. Except this wasn’t fiction.

It was a Dalek ship.

How many times would he come across fragments of that genocidal race scattered across time and space? How many times did he have to fight them?

“Am I doing this right?” Stella asked. “I can’t see any life signs on any of the ships. Are they all dead?”

“If the Daleks are involved, they probably ARE,” The Doctor murmured. Wyn looked at him sharply.


“Yes, Daleks,” he answered.

“Daleks?” Stella sounded excited. “Wow, I get to see DALEKS?” Then she saw The Doctor’s face and for the second time today she realised that her enthusiasm was misplaced.

“You need to fine tune the lifesigns scanner,” he said, his cold, distant expression replaced with a determined one in an instant. “Here.” He stood behind her and took her hands. He guided her fingers on the dials as the schematic of the mixed up mass of ships became more detailed. They scanned each section slowly.

“There ARE no Daleks,” Stella heard The Doctor murmur. “We should be able to pick their lifesigns up. They’re organic inside. They can be detected. So are the Sontarans.”

All of the ships were devoid of life as far as the TARDIS could detect.


“THERE!” Stella exclaimed as they focussed on the Earth freighter. “There. That’s a lifesign isn’t it? And there….”

“Three signs,” The Doctor said. “One Human. One… undetermined. One… canine?”

“Master….” K9 intoned.

“No, not K9, canine,” The Doctor answered him. “But….” He looked back at the other lifesign. “Undetermined? What does that mean?”

“Whatever it means, it’s gone now,” Stella said. And she was right. The undetermined lifesign had winked out.

“Did they die? While we were looking?” Wyn asked.

The Doctor looked at her and swallowed hard. He hoped not.

“I don’t know. But we’re not going to stand around here any more. Wyn, under the console there. Face masks. Put them on, both of you.”

Wyn was on the point of asking why as she found a pair of the sort of masks that people in very polluted cities sometimes used to cover the mouth and nose. She passed one to Stella as The Doctor initialised their materialisation near the two lifesigns on the Earth freighter. He didn’t take a mask, but as they prepared to step out onto the stricken ship he by-passed his respiratory system, the Time Lord method of holding their breath for a very long time.

As soon as they stepped onto what was obviously the mess deck of the freighter they knew why the masks had been necessary. The bodies had lain there for at least two hours and it was warm. The smell of death, of bloated bodies and congealing blood was overpowering.

“The lifesigns are this way,” K9 reported and headed off on his hoverpads. The Doctor followed, his sonic screwdriver set to welding mode. He fully intended to use it if he came across whatever had done this to these people.

“It looks as if.…” Wyn said, her voice distorted by the mask and her effort not to throw up. “It looks like….”

“It looks like their brains were eaten out of the top of their heads,” Stella reported. She looked positively green and her eyes were wide with the shock of what she had seen. The Doctor looked at her and bit his lip guiltily.

“I shouldn’t have brought you into this.”

“Mum was only two years older than me when you took her into things like this.”

“I never took your mum into anything THIS awful,” he retorted. “Stella… really… you should go back to the TARDIS.”

“I’d rather stick with you,” she answered. “I know I’ll be safe with you.”

“Why the brains?” Wyn asked. “If this is some THING that eats humans for food, why not the rest of the body?”

“Brain meat is very nutritious,” The Doctor said in a matter of fact way as if he was discussing the best parts of a cow to cook. “And also….”


“It may be that the brains are not so much eaten, as absorbed. And if it is done while the victim is still living – at first at least – then it’s possible the creature that did this absorbs the victim’s knowledge.”

“Ughh!” Stella responded.

“I’ve heard of the idea,” Wyn admitted. “Cannibals would eat the brains of their sacrifices for that reason. But I always thought it was daft. People can’t really.…”

“People can’t,” The Doctor said. “But what did this is not a PERSON in the way you mean, as in HUMAN. It’s something else, with a whole different metabolism and anatomy. Anything is possible.”

“Master,” K9 intoned. “HERE.”

He stood in front of a stainless steel walk-in fridge in the kitchen area of the mess hall, his nose and tail rigid like a pointer dog on the scent. “Lifesigns here.”

“All right,” The Doctor said. “Good dog, K9. Stand back now.”

He reached to open the fridge. It was locked. And since fridges didn’t have locks on the inside, that meant somebody had put the two lifesigns in it and then locked it.

Two thoughts went through his mind in the moments it took him to adjust the sonic screwdriver to lock melting mode.

Either somebody put them in there for their own safety – at cost of their own life.

Or whoever was in there was the cause of the carnage and had been trapped in there.

He was ready for either possibility.

What he wasn’t ready for was a wild eyed figure, wearing a space suit, coming at him with a long, sharp carving knife.

And what streaked past him as he prepared to defend himself from the knife without hurting the knife wielder? He was sure it was a brown and white dog with a goldfish bowl over its head.

But he didn’t have time to worry about that. As five inches of sharp steel narrowly missed his left heart, he grabbed the arm that thrust towards him and squeezed until the knife fell from the gloved hand. Then he tackled him to the floor.

“I’m not the one who did this,” he assured the struggling figure. “I’m here to help.”

“Help?” The voice that repeated his last word as if it was unfamiliar was that of a youth. The Doctor pulled the helmet off to reveal the terrified face of a teenager, not much older than Stella. His eyes were wide with fear and grief. The Doctor touched his face and saw in his head a jumble of images that added up to a horror story. He concentrated hard and put the boy into a peaceful sleep. A half hour or so without those memories would do him good.

He turned to look at what was making all the noise he hadn’t been paying attention to until now. It WAS a small brown and white dog of indeterminate breed, and it DID have something like a goldfish bowl on its head. In fact it was a helmet designed to give the dog air if there was none in the atmosphere around it. Wyn and Stella were trying to release it.

“That might not be a good idea,” The Doctor warned.

“The DOG didn’t DO all this,” Wyn answered as the clip opened and she pulled the helmet off.

“No,” The Doctor told her. “But death by licky dog is a dreadful way to go.”

The dog rewarded Wyn for releasing it enthusiastically by jumping all over both her and Stella and licking their hands and faces. K9 made noises that expressed a robot dog’s disgust at the bad behaviour of its organic counterpart as well as a slight tone of jealousy about the soppy noises coming from Wyn and Stella.

“Here,” The Doctor said, throwing Wyn a length of cord he brought from his apparently bottomless pocket. “Makeshift lead for Timmy the Dog. Let’s get back to the TARDIS.” He lifted the boy into his arms and carried him. K9 walked by his side. “Don’t worry, old boy. The novelty will wear off when they have to feed and walk him and clean up the suspicious piles in the corner of the console room. You’ll be their favourite dog again.”

“Affirmative, master,” K9 answered him with a wag of his robot tail.

When they got back to the TARDIS The Doctor put the boy on the sofa and started to take the space suit off him. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt underneath. The t-shirt bore the name of the freighter, Merchant Space Vessel Eindhoven.

“Check the database for an MSV Eindhoven,” The Doctor called out to Wyn. “Find the ship’s manifest and port of origin and destination.”

“Ok,” she answered and went to do as he said right away. “By the way, I don’t think the dog’s name IS Timmy.”

“How do you know?” The Doctor answered with a grin. “It MIGHT be.”

“It’s a girl,” she replied.

“Ok, maybe not then.” He turned back to the boy, examining him for physical injuries. There were none. The space suit had protected him from the cold and provided oxygen. He was alive and well.

Which was more than could be said for the others.

The Doctor’s first guess of his age seemed about right. Which meant that he was probably the son of a crew member, along for the ride.

The one who had saved him? A father giving his life for his son?

“Brave man,” The Doctor whispered and put his hand on the boy’s forehead again. Let him sleep a little longer, he thought. There would be time enough for grieving. “Stella, when you’ve finished feeding your chocolate allowance to the dog, come and sit with the boy. Let me know when he wakes.” Stella looked up from where she was indulging the dog and came to do as The Doctor asked.

“He’s not bad looking,” she noted as she sat by him. “Quite GOOD looking in fact.”

“Just as long as you don’t use any words like ‘buff’ or ‘muffin’ right now,” Wyn warned her. Then the console beeped and she gave it her attention. “Doctor, “I have the manifest,” she said. He went to her side. He looked at the record on the database. The MSV Eindhoven had left Jupiter Base three months before, travelling to the Human colony planet of Vrijheid in the Psi quadrant. It was delivering a consignment of medical supplies, none of them urgent, but the sort of thing colonies had to have imported in the early decades before they became fully self-sufficient.

Vrijheid. Dutch for freedom. That went with the name of the freighter. The Human colonies in space had tended to follow national lines. The people of Forêt had mostly come from France. This one was Dutch. The Beta Delta system had been colonised by British and Irish immigrants.

Humans, spreading out across the universe, doing what they do best. Fighting the odds, fighting space borne diseases, hostile environments and alien enemies they never knew existed.

“There are two Andries Brengerhof’s listed,” he said. “Captain Andries Brengerhof, 48 years old, and another, here, aged 17. He’s the only one under the age of twenty.”

“There was a body dressed as a captain not far from where we found them,” Wyn observed. “Good job you knocked the kid out. He’d have freaked to see….”

“Yes,” The Doctor noted tersely. He looked back at the manifest. “The dog’s name is Hildo. Her vaccination certificates and intergalactic pet passport are among the travel permits.”

Hildo pricked up her ears at mention of her name and ambled towards The Doctor. He put his hand out and stroked her gently. K9 managed to looked affronted, even though he had no facial expressions.

“Good girl, Hildo,” he said. “K9, old boy, job for you.” K9 came towards him, and The Doctor was SURE he was trying to be as cute and immediately adorable as Hildo. Though there WAS, really, no difference in his robot appearance. He wagged his tail and his ears wiggled back and forth.

“How may I be of assistance, Master?” K9 asked dutifully.

“I need your help to patch through to the security cameras in the different ships. I want to see what’s happening. Where did that UNDETERMINED lifesign go? And why are Daleks, Sontarans and Rutans not fighting it? Why aren’t they identifying the TARDIS as an enemy vessel and making a nuisance of themselves?”

The answer to those questions was one that didn’t bear thinking about.

Of course, he didn’t REALLY need K9 to patch into those security cameras. All of the crashed ships were running on emergency power and the sort of electronic guards they would have to prevent this sort of intrusion were offline. He was actually boosting a robot dog’s ego by making him feel useful!

Life was certainly SIMPLER when he travelled alone and didn’t have to worry about other people’s feelings.

But much less interesting, he admitted to himself.

“Oh, my…!” It was Wyn, looking at the viewscreen, who expressed what The Doctor felt as he tuned into the Dalek ship. “WHAT could do that to THEM?”

The Daleks had suffered just as violent an attack as the humans on the Eindhoven. Their shells had been broken open and the mutant creatures inside had been devoured. The Doctor flicked between different cameras around the Dalek ship and the picture was the same everywhere. A Dalek massacre.

The Doctor’s worst and oldest enemies had been killed, but he didn’t feel any sense of joy. He never found death something to cheer about, even when it WAS an enemy. And in this particular case he was just too horrified at the WAY they had been killed.

“The mutation inside a Dalek shell is about seventy percent brain matter,” The Doctor said in a dry voice. “Whatever did this… it wanted the brain.” He reached and switched the view to the Sontaran ship. The sight of those great, hulking creatures with their heads sliced open like huge boiled eggs, the brain scooped out, made him feel physically sick.

He switched to the Rutan ship and gazed at what looked like a sad bunch of deflated balloons on the floor. The Rutans were sentient jellyfish with a lethal electronic sting. But they, too, had succumbed to the killer that was immune to their defences.

Small wonder humans had been completely overcome.

WHAT could do that? The Doctor repeated Wyn’s question in his head. NOTHING in his experience could do that to three of the most fearsome races in the universe.

“Can we get a playback?” Wyn asked. “This is live feed, isn’t it? But there must be playback of what has happened before. We might see what’s doing it.”

“Brilliant idea,” he said. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.”

“Because you’re not as clever as you think you are,” Wyn countered with a grin. But the grin faded as he found the playback.

It was a woman. Or at least it had the appearance of a woman. She was tall, finely featured with long black hair and a body that most male humanoids would consider attractive. She was wearing leather. Tight fitting leather pants and a leather bodice and high heeled shoes.

“Not my type,” The Doctor murmured.

“Nor mine,” Wyn added. “Too much of the dominatrix. Surprised she hasn’t got a whip. Doctor, did you ever see Men in Black II?”

“Yes,” he answered. “And I think we’re on the same wavelength here.” They watched as the dominatrix moved along the Dalek corridor, distinctive from the Human and even the Sontaran ships because of its off-centre arch shape that better suited the shape of a Dalek than a square space. It wasn’t long before a Dalek patrol spotted her. They went through the usual staccato routine of ‘Halt, Halt, you… are… unauthorised… you will surrender… or you… will be exterminated….” And when she kept on moving towards them they opened fire. Her body was engulfed by their death ray, appearing like an x-ray negative for a few seconds before she stepped forward again. She raised her hand and the centre of her palm glittered. There was a diamond set into her hand. It glowed and emitted a bright laser beam. It sliced the tops off the two Daleks. What she did then to the dying mutations inside made The Doctor’s stomach turn.

“More like Starship Troopers,” Stella commented as she looked up from her Florence Nightingale role and saw what was happening on the viewscreen.

“You’re not old enough to have seen that film,” The Doctor replied.

“Doctor, don’t be so OLD,” Stella admonished him. “Besides, what rating do you give THAT film?” She pointed to the screen as the leather-clad woman flickered and changed into something that was pale green and purple and tentacled and then back to dominatrix.

“I’m supposed to be taking care of you while your parents are away,” The Doctor said. “I’m not sure exposing you to video nasties is what they had in mind.”

Stella opened her mouth to say something about that, but Andries Brengerhof’s sudden scream of terror drowned her out. He launched himself from the sofa, crying out so incoherently that even the instant translation the TARDIS automatically provided didn’t work at first. Everyone heard only grief stricken Dutch as the boy tripped over the step up to the console and The Doctor reached to catch him be fore he fell.

“Vader, vader,” he cried. “Rotbeest, duivel, vader… dodelijk. Vader…”

“I’m sorry,” The Doctor told him. “Your father is dead. The monster killed him. I can’t do anything about that. And I can’t take away what you are feeling now. All I can tell you is to be brave and strong. And believe in me. Because I WILL get the monster. I promise you, Andries. I’ll get it. I will make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

Wyn reached and switched off the viewscreen. She figured they had ALL seen enough now. She looked at The Doctor as he knelt and held the distressed boy and gently soothed him until his words came in more coherent sentences and were in English. She saw Hildo cowering under the console, frightened by the boy’s outburst, and K9 looking as if he was actually trying to snuggle up to the dog and comfort it. Stella stood in the middle of the floor looking stunned, and more sickened by what they had seen on the screen than she made out. Watching an x-rated film that was all CGI effects was one thing. Watching something that had REALLY happened was another.

She went to her sister and hugged her.

The Doctor listened to the boy’s story. It was mostly as he had guessed. When the massacre began, when the weapons the freight crew had proved useless against the monstrous thing in the shape of a woman, the captain had done what he could for his son. He had made the boy get into the space suit. He had insisted on putting the dog in its special helmet, too. His father had meant to put them in the escape pod and the boy refused to go without his dog. But the seconds it took to do that meant that they were cut off. They got only as far as the mess hall. His father had put him into the walk-in fridge, knowing that the space suit would protect him from the cold, and that he had a chance of life.

“He could have saved himself, too?” Wyn said.

“He tried to fight,” Andries answered. “He said he was going to decompress the ship… open the airlocks and lose all the air. But….”

“But he didn’t make it,” The Doctor finished. “Sorry.”

“He died for nothing,” Andries said. “He meant to kill the rotbeest.”

“Doctor,” Wyn called to him. “I think you should look at this. The SOS has been transmitting all along, even though you switched off the sound. And there’s another ship coming to answer it.”

“And the indeterminate lifesign is back,” Stella added as she looked at the lifesigns monitor she had been put in charge of.

“Where?” The Doctor asked as he ran to the console. Stella showed him before stepping back and going to sit with Andries.

“It’s in the personal craft – the mini metro. I think that might be ‘her’ own ship. She must have….”

His thought process was cut off by a transmission from the personal craft. It was an audio only, crackly and distorted as if there was something wrong with the radio transmitter, and it proved that the creature had studied method acting.

“Please help,” she cried piteously. “I’m the only one left alive. Everyone else is dead. Life support is failing… Please… Please don’t leave me to die.”

“She sounds convincing,” Wyn noted. “If we didn’t know… we’d have probably answered her. You’d have brought her on board the TARDIS.”

“Yes,” The Doctor admitted. “I would. Because to refuse a distress call is against intergalactic law.”

“And not because she sounds like a hot woman?” Stella asked.

“No,” The Doctor answered.

“I wonder how she lured the Daleks and the others?” Wyn noted. “THEY didn’t fancy her, surely?”

The Doctor had wondered about that, too. But right now he had other things to worry about. The new ship was responding to the leather temptress’s distress call.

“It’s all right, miss,” the captain of the ship answered her. “This is the MSV Dover. We’re coming right away. Stand by for docking procedure. Are you hurt? We have a medic on standby.”

The Doctor opened a communications channel.

“No,” he ordered. “MSV Dover. Stand off. Do not approach that craft. It is a trap. There is no distressed woman. It is a shape-shifting monster that has killed nearly fifty beings already. If your ship makes physical contact with hers you are all dead.”

“What?” the captain of the Dover answered. “Who are you? And what is this garbage?”

“I’m the one telling you to stand off,” The Doctor answered. “I’ve seen what this creature has done. I have genuine survivors on board my ship and evidence of her crime. Stand off and disregard the SOS.”

“Disregarding an SOS is a crime under intergalactic law.”

“I know that. I helped draft the law. Now stand OFF.”

“Please,” the voice of the creature came again, in a performance that could have won best actor at the intergalactic Academy Awards – if there was one. “That man… I think he killed them all. He wants to kill me. Please help me.”

“That’s rubbish,” The Doctor argued. “Stand off.”

“Whoever you are,” the captain of the Dover replied to The Doctor. “I order YOU to stand off. We’re going in to assist a ship in distress. If you interfere I will have you for obstruction.”

“You bloody fool,” The Doctor answered. But it was no use. He saw the MSV Dover begin the manoeuvre that would allow it to dock with the private shuttle.

“Wyn, Stella,” he said as he darted around to the drive console. “Get Andries and stand by the door. As soon as we’re in position, go through the door. Give this with my compliments to the captain of the MSV Dover.”

“What are you going to do?” Wyn asked as she pocketed the computer memory chip he handed to her.

“Something that doesn’t need the three of you offering yourselves as extra victims,” he answered. “Do as I say. I’m ‘captain’ of the TARDIS and I need you to obey me, quickly and without argument.”

Wyn was on the point of arguing but there was a look in his eyes that made her decide against it. He reached for the materialisation switch as she and Stella took Andries by the arms and ran across the gangway to the door that looked like the inside of a police telephone box. She knew they had landed somewhere because artificial light illuminated the tiny windows instead of the darkness of space. Hildo yapped at her ankles as she reached to open the door.

“Go,” The Doctor ordered, and they ran out of the TARDIS onto the bridge of the MSV Dover. They looked around as the TARDIS dematerialised again. On a viewscreen they saw the personal shuttle dead ahead as the ship continued to close in on it. Then the TARDIS materialised between it and the Dover, its doors facing the shuttle. The captain yelled an order to halt and his pilot did so with mere feet between the docking bay of the ship and the TARDIS.

“What the bloody hell IS that?” the Captain demanded. “How did it get there when it was THERE a minute ago. And who are you lot?”

“That was the TARDIS,” Wyn answered. “I’m Wyn, this is Stella, that’s Hildo the dog, and this is Andries Brengerhof, surviving crew of the MSV Eindhoven. You have to look after him or you forfeit any rights under Intergalactic Salvage Law. So The Doctor says and he knows everything about EVERYTHING.”

“Does he know how to stop his brain being eaten by a monster?” Stella asked her in a small, frightened voice.

“If he doesn’t, nobody does,” Wyn answered. She reached in her pocket for the memory chip. “He told me to give you this with his compliments.”

The Doctor felt the bump as the TARDIS doors connected with the docking airlock of the personal craft. They couldn’t actually make an airtight connection since the TARDIS doors were incompatible with the airlock. But he had a feeling that wouldn’t matter.

He was right. He heard a noise like wet fish sliding across a fishmonger’s slab and watched as the creature stepped through the TARDIS door as if it was no more substantial than a bubble.

“You need physical contact between the ships in order to move between them,” The Doctor said as he pressed the dematerialisation switch once more. There was a brief movement from the central column and a faintly increased vibration under his feet, and then both stopped. “You can’t move in the vacuum of space. That’s why you had them all crash into each other. And it’s why you’re trapped, now. The TARDIS is surrounded by space. You fight me here, one on one. If I win, you’re finished. If I lose, well, I’ve set the life support to turn off in twenty minutes. If I’m not alive to cancel the command, this becomes an airless, powerless box in space with nothing operating but a quarantine signal warning people that there is a deadly disease aboard. You’ll die a dark, cold, lonely death.”

“Very clever, Doctor!” the leather-clad simulacrum of a woman crooned in a voice that was as sultry as her appearance. The Doctor wasn’t impressed. A real woman dressed that way would have slightly scared him. He always found the dominatrix look unnerving. He remembered Madame Chárr, the Ethics teacher at the Prydonian Academy, a woman who would have made the Valkyries stay behind after class! Then there was Boadicea! There was a feisty woman. Emily Pankhurst, Barbara Woodhouse… The Rani….

His thoughts may have been rambling slightly but his instincts were sharp. When the dominatrix creature raised her hand he raised his. Her laser light was met by the laser function of the sonic screwdriver.

“I first learnt to duel when I was twelve,” The Doctor told her as he held his body steady and moved his hand very slightly to match her movements. “And I’m VERY good at it.”

“You are a fool, Doctor,” she answered him. “I will have your brain and your hearts, too.”

“How do you know my name, anyway?” he asked. “Oh… of course. You absorbed the Dalek brains. Do they taste nice, by the way? So you know who I am and what I am. You know that the Daleks FEAR me.”

“The Daleks are fools.”

“Ah, now,” The Doctor answered her as he parried her attempt to break the impasse in their laser duel. “The Daleks are MANY things. But I would NEVER call them fools. And since you defeated them, I wouldn’t call YOU one. Psycho, maniac, SICK, demented, but not a fool. And I’m not treated you as a fool. I’m simply playing on your weaknesses.”

“I have no weaknesses. Every species I absorb makes me stronger. I know of their civilisations. I know of their potential. Earth - oh, what a teeming mass of life. A feast for me. The Sontaran Empire! A pity you already wiped out most of the Daleks! But when I have absorbed YOUR brain, too, I shall have so much more knowledge of worlds I have never even dreamt of.”

“I think not,” he answered. “My brain stays just where it is. As for you… K9… En Garde….”

K9 hovered to his side. His own laser joined with The Doctor’s against the creature. She snarled as they both forced her back towards the TARDIS door.

“Hold her there for a few minutes,” The Doctor asked K9.

“Yes, master,” K9 answered. The Doctor moved his hand away. K9 met her face to face, laser to laser as The Doctor ran to the console.

“K9,” he called out. “I want you to know… in case this gets messed up a bit… and I can’t rescue you. You’re a VERY good dog.”

“Affirmative, Master. I am ready.”

The Doctor grabbed hold of a handhold firmly with one hand. He bypassed his respiratory system and he reached out to input the override sequence so that when he pressed the door mechanism something would happen that didn’t USUALLY happen even when the doors opened in deep space, as they did now.

The console room was opened to hard vacuum. The Doctor gripped tightly and wedged his body against the console as everything not fixed down was sucked towards the door. The dominatrix screamed and shimmered, changing to what he assumed was her real form, the tentacle creature. The bulk of the body blocked the doors for a while, and the tentacles gripped the doorframe. But the pressure was building and slowly she lost her grip. She gave out a scream as she was swept out into space. A scream that died away as a creature that, for all her powers, needed air to breathe, was asphyxiated.

K9 gave a robot equivalent of a yelp as he, too, was swept out, surrounded by paper cups and plates, coke cans and pens, Wyn’s laptop and a cardigan that Stella had discarded.

“No!” Wyn screamed as she watched what was happening on the viewscreen of the MSV Dover. “K9!”

“The Doctor?” Stella asked fearfully. Then they saw the TARDIS doors close and watched in amazement as the police box swooped down out of view.

“He must be ok,” Wyn said. “But K9….”

The Doctor was performing one of the most difficult manoeuvres of his life. The TARDIS was NEVER meant for taking space walks and the space suit he took off Andries earlier didn’t really fit him properly. He wore it as protection against the cold outside the shelter of the TARDIS as he lowered himself down on a long piece of thick conduit from under the floor-panel.

He had travelled in space for most of his life, but the number of times he had been outside of a craft in actual space he could count on his hands. He had rarely worn a space suit. He didn’t especially like doing it.

But just this once he had to let go of the TARDIS doorstep and drop down into space, his respiratory system by-passed again as he ‘swam’ in the vacuum towards the pathetic metallic body he so desperately wanted to catch up with.

It would have been easier if Wyn’s laptop hadn’t cracked him on the head and left him seeing more than the usual number of stars. He let it go. There was no way he could hold onto it and K9 as well. He reached out with both hands and grabbed him by the neck. Stella’s cardigan was wrapped around his body and The Doctor tucked him under his arm, glad that he was a puppy sized version of his old robot dog friend as he began to pull himself back into the TARDIS. It was hard going, but he slowly managed it. At least there wasn’t any gravity pushing him down. It was just a matter of inching his way back up the conduit.

He was within a hand’s reach of the doorstep when he felt the length of conduit shift. His careful sailor’s knot that attached it to the console was starting to give. He reached and shoved K9 over the step and then grabbed on. He pulled himself up and was surprised as he crawled over the threshold to see K9 sitting tight on the loose end of the conduit.

“Thanks, old boy,” he said as he took his first breath of the new air that had circulated around the TARDIS after he turned on the forcefields and restored the atmosphere within. “Do you think Wyn will be mad at me for losing her computer?”

“I cannot say,” K9 answered as he watched The Doctor close the doors and set their course back to the bridge of the MSV Dover.

“Yes, I’m annoyed about that,” Wyn told him. But she was too busy hugging The Doctor to express her annoyance in any other way. “I hadn’t backed up the work I did this morning.”

“I’ll buy you a new one, I promise,” he said as he looked around at Stella, who was wearing her rescued cardigan and petting K9. Hildo stood beside Andries, doing her impression of a good dog. The captain and crew of the Dover were looking utterly surprised to see the man they had last seen suspended on a wire from a space ship shaped like a big blue wardrobe, without a helmet.

“The creature is gone,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. There’s a bit of tentacle stuck to the TARDIS door that I might analyse later and try to find out. But that’s neither here nor there. Andries, we can take you home to Vrijheid. You have family there?”

Andries nodded and told The Doctor he had an uncle he could stay with.

“All right,” The Doctor said gently. “Now, you need to make a hard decision. The law of Intergalactic Salvage is clear. I am entitled to claim a bounty on the cargos of all of those ships. But I don’t especially need the money. If the Captain there would be a witness I will happily sign the right over to you.”

“I don’t want the money,” the boy answered. “And those ships… the dead… my father… I don’t want anyone to see them like that.”

“The Sontaran ship has something called sub-nuclear mines aboard,” Wyn said. “I looked up their manifests as well.”

“All right.” The Doctor nodded. “Captain, you will want to withdraw your ship to a safe distance. There will be a big bang.”

Wyn, Stella and Andries didn’t enjoy waiting outside the missile bay of the Sontaran ship while The Doctor arranged the ‘big bang’. They were glad when he came back on board the TARDIS and closed the door before piloting them away quickly to the same safe distance that the Dover had retreated to. He opened the TARDIS doors wide again and he stood with Andries, gravitational fields protecting them. He put his arm around the boy’s shoulder gently as his father’s ship and the fellow victims of the still nameless creature were vapourised. The boy turned away sadly and The Doctor closed the door. Andries went to the sofa and sat, fondling his dog’s ears. K9 sat next to Hildo, showing solidarity with her.

“Poor kid,” Wyn said as she and Stella helped The Doctor plot a course for Vrijheid in the Psi quadrant. “Will he be ok, do you think?”

“I’m sure he will, in time,” The Doctor answered. “Humans have a marvellous capacity to bear suffering. That’s one reason why I always found you all so marvellous.”