Wyn and Stella had made tea and sandwiches, on a tray. They brought the snack into the console room, where they had left The Doctor and Jamie setting their co-ordinates for the next destination. That was supposed to be Metebelis II, the twin planet of the Infamous Metebelis III that the two of them had heard so much about.

Instead, The Doctor was pushing up one of the mesh floor panels and Jamie was knelt beside him, with K9 who was acting as a table for the cannibalised laptop computer connected to the console by a very long length of wire. It seemed to be running some kind of diagnostic programme.

“What’s going on?” Wyn asked.

“He says the TARDIS is sick,” Jamie answered.

“I’ll make it up a hot water bottle and put it to bed with two headache tablets,” Wyn answered. Stella giggled at the idea. “Whatever it is, come and grab one of these cups of tea now I’ve gone to the trouble of making them.

The Doctor came up for air and took a mug from her, along with two of the sandwiches, but he drank the tea as if it was water and didn’t even seem to taste the food. He looked worried. Wyn watched him for a long moment and her expression began to match his.

“Doctor, when you say sick… you mean… really sick? The TARDIS could die?”

Stella gasped.

The idea was disturbing. The TARDIS was important to them all. It was not just a means of transport. It was their home.

It was The Doctor’s best friend.

They needed the TARDIS.

Apart from anything else, they were a long way from Earth right now. They had been on the planet Tarshesh, in the Gamma Quadrant, which was, according to The Doctor’s gleeful explanation, a bit to the left of Cassiopeia as seen from Britain on a clear night in June, if you kept straight on for something like five hundred light years.

“We won’t be stranded,” Wyn said reassuringly as she saw her sister’s worried expression. “If we’re really in trouble, we can just call Nine. He’ll come and get us, no problem. We just have to stick around here in temporal orbit around Tarshesh until he gets to us.”

Stella looked relieved. She obviously hadn’t thought of that. So did Jamie. But The Doctor just shook his head mournfully.

“No,” he said.

“What do you mean, no? Nine wouldn’t let us down. He looked after you the time when you were hurt. He told us what we had to do.”

“I mean, no. This time, no. He can’t come and pick us up. I couldn’t let him take the risk.”

“What risk?” Jamie asked.

“You’re just saying that because you’re stubborn and proud and you know very well that he’ll tease you and make jokes about being the intergalactic AA and stuff like that.” Wyn told him.

“Well, there is that,” Stella laughed. “But come on! That’s the WORST he can do. You’ll live down the embarrassment in a few days… a few weeks… months… ok, maybe in a few years he might stop bringing it up every time the two of you meet. And you could probably hide on the other side of the universe until then…”

The companions laughed, but again The Doctor wasn’t laughing with them.

“No,” he said again. “Nine can’t get us. I can’t let him bring his TARDIS near mine. It could get infected, too.”

“Infected?” They all repeated the word and thought of the implications.

“Doctor… seriously?” Jamie asked. “The TARDIS has a disease?”

“What sort of disease could the TARDIS get?” Stella asked.

“One that kills it, stone dead, if I don’t treat it,” he answered. “I should have realised days ago, maybe weeks. It’s been very sluggish on dematerialisation. I thought it was something mechanical. I was going to clean the diodes on the helmic regulator next stop. I was going to do that two or three stops back, actually. I kept getting distracted. And I SHOULD have run a proper diagnostic. The TARDIS has just been suffering and suffering and I’ve been ignoring it and I should have…. I should have taken more care of her.”

He looked so dismal, so guilt-ridden it was as if he had left his wife to get sick while he was off on pleasure trips, Jamie thought. He had never quite got the idea of the TARDIS being organic or alive in some way. But The Doctor clearly did believe that. His choice of words, infection, suffering, death, were so very obviously meant to describe the problems of some living entity.

“So what can we do?” Stella asked. “There IS something we can do, isn’t there? We CAN’T just let the TARDIS die.”

“We?” The Doctor smiled sadly at her.

“Yes, WE,” she answered. “It’s our friend, too.”

“That’s very sweet of you,” The Doctor said. “But I need Jamie and K9 monitoring and the rest is just me. I’ve got to go down into the underbelly and physically examine the TARDIS.”

“Go down… where?” Stella asked.

“Here,” Jamie said. He reached for the computer still sitting on top of K9 and brought up a rather surprising schematic. Stella and Wyn both stared at it as they understood what they were looking at. They had both accepted long ago that the console room looked like an upturned cauldron, with the central console rising up in the middle to a sort of canopy and the walls of hexagonal roundels supported by the coral shaped pillars. They were all intimately familiar with the two levels of green mesh floor panels with glowing diodes and crystals underneath, most of which The Doctor had fiddled around with in some way over the years. They knew about the more solid looking floor around the edge of the room, running under the gangway and had always assumed that it continued all the way under the mesh floor and the console itself.

They also had a hazy idea that there was some kind of crawl space under it all, because The Doctor had, on occasion, dropped all the way under to do maintenance or to find tools and equipment he had stored down there sometime in the past millennia.

But what none of them had ever realised was that the console room, the room in which they spent at least ninety per cent of their waking time, was only the very tip of the iceberg, as it were. They saw on the schematic a huge ball inside some kind of framework. The console room itself took up far less than a half of the ball. It was merely a cross section near the top, with a much larger space below.

“I didn’t know we had an attic, either,” Wyn said, pointing to a strange arrangement at the top that looked like the business end of a lighthouse. It looked as if there was a room on top of the console canopy.

“Oh, yes,” The Doctor said. “That’s the TARDIS’s lifeboat… the emergency escape pod. In the unlikely event of complete breakdown. I use it as long term storage…” He grinned as he saw the expressions on his companion’s faces as they interpreted the phrase ‘long term storage’. “Ok, junk room,” he added. “It’s also got the junction box for all the console room lights. But they all use 500 year guaranteed bulbs. I haven’t been up there for… ohhh… five hundred years. But there’s no problem up there. The trouble is down there. He touched the screen with a long finger over that larger portion of the console room globe. “That’s where I need to go down into. Very difficult and delicate operation…”

“We’ll help,” Wyn said.

“No,” he answered her. “It’s best I check it out on my own.”

“Don’t be a daft, possessive Doctor,” Wyn told him. “We’re here to help. We’re not just passengers. Just tell us what to do.”

The Doctor looked at them all and made a decision.

“Stella, you’re the smallest. We don’t have much room to manoeuvre going down. Bring your sonic eyeliner. It might be needed. “Wyn, Jamie, you’re in charge up here. Jamie, you and K9 keep on monitoring the diagnostic. Wyn… you need to make sure we stay in temporal orbit. That’s important. Very important.”

“Well, yes,” Wyn answered. “Temporal orbit IS very important. The alternative is that we end up crash landing on Tarshesh.” She knew he was right about that. The console did need monitoring for that very reason. But all the same, she felt she was being given the dullest and most mundane job while Stella went off with him to do new and exciting things. Stella was the least experienced of them all. The only qualification she had for this job was that she was THIN. That didn’t seem fair.

“Wyn,” The Doctor said quietly. “I DO need you at the controls. I really am concerned that we could lose orbit suddenly. And you know how to control the TARDIS manually if it should come to that. Neither Jamie nor Stella can do that.”

“That’s for real?” Wyn asked. “You’re not just telling me that to make me feel better about not going down there with you? You really do think the TARDIS is in that much trouble?”

“I really think so,” he answered. “I can’t risk landing on any planet for the same reason we can’t contact Nine. We can’t allow the possibility of the TARDIS contaminating anything else. We’re on our own here with nothing but the resources of our own hearts and minds.”

“Then I won’t let you down, Doctor,” she promised. “You can count on me.”

“I know I can,” he said. “But remind me if I ever start to take that for granted.”

He smiled warmly at her before he turned his attention to Stella. She had made herself ready for the job, changing very quickly from her skirt and top into a pair of slacks and a long sleeved t-shirt and flat shoes. She had even taken out her dangly earrings. He was impressed by the thought she had put into the operation. He got himself ready by discarding his jacket and tie and putting his sonic screwdriver into his trouser pocket. He checked that her sonic eyeliner was in full working order, then Jamie helped him to pull up one of the mesh panels and then the close fitting panel in the floor of the space below that. Wyn looked at how narrow it was and though she thought she probably could get down there at a squeeze, it would be a very undignified one. The Doctor was doing her a courtesy, after all, in not asking her to come down there with him.

He dropped down first onto a narrow metal ladder and descended quickly. Stella came after him. She was rather surprised at what she saw as the lower space opened out below her, but The Doctor didn’t offer any explanations of what she was looking at.

“The ladder only goes part way,” he called up to her. “You need to jump – or drop.”

“I need to WHAT?” she answered.

“Don’t worry,” he called back. “I’ll catch you.” She felt the difference on the ladder as his weight was released from it and heard the sound of his plimsolled feet clanging against a metal surface. The interval between the two wasn’t long, but long enough. She didn’t like it. But there was nothing to do but keep going.

She kept going until she felt there was no more ladder below her. She kept her feet on the bottom rung and risked a look down. The drop was at least twice her height again before the top of The Doctor’s head. Even if he caught her, she would be falling for most of the way, and falling was not something she liked to do.

And it wasn’t as if there was only floor down there to break her fall. The Doctor was standing on a quite narrow looking metal walkway suspended over what seemed to be a much deeper chasm.

“Don’t worry,” he repeated. “I WILL catch you.”

She closed her eyes and dropped. She felt empty air rushing past her and then The Doctor’s arms reaching out, grabbing her, slowing her descent, holding her as her feet found the solid surface beneath them, hugging her reassuringly.

“Good girl,” he said. “You can open your eyes now.”

She opened them and looked up.

“How do we get back up?” she asked.

“We’ll worry about that when we come to it,” he answered.

“Oh, ok!” She stared around. She wasn’t sure what was the most amazing thing among several amazing things that she was looking at.

In no particular order the first amazing thing that she saw was what looked like a huge, see through, glowing stalactite hanging down from the dead centre of the ceiling that was high above her head now. It continued all the way down into that chasm she had noted before. Stalactite was the right word for it, too. It wasn’t something made, but something that had grown, accreted, over the years, centuries, even. And there was something else about it. Something in the colour, the luminosity, that told her it was in some way connected to the console. The idea that the time rotor was the TAME part of this great structure got fixed in her mind.

Then there was the chasm itself. She looked down very carefully and couldn’t see how deep it really was, because the glow from the column, stalactite, was too bright. But if The Doctor told her it was infinite, she would have believed him.

“It depends on how you look at it,” he said. “It’s infinite looking at it like that. But if you go down into the engine room and look at the other end, it’s just a couple of floors long.”

She knew that didn’t make a scrap of sense, but decided not to get into it. There were too many other things that she still had to take in without being bogged down by one aspect of it.

The column light didn’t quite fully illuminate the space, but it did make the light and shadow distinct and allowed her to see the other remarkable features. The curving outer walls of the globe were most in shadow, and caught her attention next. They must have been some sort of metal, but even so, there was something about them that didn’t look as if forged in a metalworks, but rather grown organically. The ridged framework reminded her of the ribs of a whale and images of Pinocchio and his father swallowed up by one in a picture book from her childhood swam into the forefront of her mind.

With the idea of being inside some huge, living thing planted she turned her attention to the huge latticework of conduits that formed a canopy over her head, woven around the stalactite column and reaching out like tangled tentacles to meld with the ribs of the wall. All the images she could think of were of living tissue. An octopus, maybe. No, not that. Roots of a tree, perhaps? No. Again, floating into her mind from afar was an image of what the muscles and sinew that made a Human joint work came to her. That’s what it was like. Sinew. Or…

“The TARDIS is a sort of animal?” she asked The Doctor. “It’s really alive?”

“Not animal,” he answered her. “More like a living, growing mineral. All this began as a crystal about the size of your hand. The name of the substance is unpronounceable in English and has no obvious translation. But it is grown by the TARDIS bio-engineers. They accelerate the growth so it only takes about two years before they can start manipulating it and building the mechanical part around it.”

“But we’re kind of… I mean we ARE… inside a living thing… in its stomach…”

“Yes, that’s a way of looking at it,” The Doctor replied. “Yes… yes…. The guts of the TARDIS. And… the poor old thing, she has a case of indigestion.”

“Poor TARDIS.” Stella patted the ribbed wall. “There, old thing. The Doctor will make you better.”

“Yes, I will,” he promised. “As soon as I find out exactly what…”

Stella patted the wall again, noting that it was warm like something organic, rather than cold like metal or crystal. Then she looked at the latticed conduits. What were they like? Were they dry or wet, soft or hard, cold or warm?

She reached out and touched one of them and found it warm like the walls, and dry, not rock hard, but with a give in it like the solid tyres of her first kiddie bicycle with the training wheels.

And it was covered in some sort of residue. Something much stickier than dust, more like soot or ash, but a pale grey-green kind of colour.

“Oww,” she cried as she felt it stinging her hand. The Doctor was there in a moment, his sonic screwdriver out of one pocket and a packet of moist wipes from the other. He rubbed the residue off her palm and then soothed the red, irritated skin.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “But it seems mildly acidic.” He used the sonic screwdriver in analysis mode to examine the conduits. “Yes, a very mild formic acid, like ant bites have. And it shouldn’t be here. If it was left any longer it would start to eat through… and this is the TARDIS’s central nervous system. She would be in big trouble.” Again he adjusted his sonic screwdriver and he told Stella the setting on her sonic eyeliner. He aimed it at one of the conduits and it acted like a sonic pressure washer, cleaning the horrible residue away. He reached into the deep and apparently limitless trouser pocket and produced two small paper mouth and nose covering masks of the sort she had seen worn by police directing traffic in big, polluted cities. He gave one to her and put the other on his own face.

“You take the lower sections, where you can reach. I’ll work up to the top,” he told her. “Don’t touch it. A mucky job, I’m afraid. Not the sort of thing you expected when you came away with me for adventure. Spring cleaning the TARDIS….”

“Got to be done though,” she said. And she set to work diligently. He did the same, only once he had cleared the lower parts he climbed up agilely and started to clean the harder to reach nooks and crannies. Every so often they found a part of the conduits were the acidic residue had started to penetrate deeper. The Doctor told her the sonic setting that produced a sort of clear resin, like superglue, that covered the deeper abrasions. The conduits would repair themselves, in time, The Doctor explained, but the resin protected the vulnerable points until then. Meanwhile the cleaning continued. They talked a little, their voices sounding muffled by the face masks, and at the same time echoing in the curving ball of a room. Sonic steam cleaning the guts of the TARDIS certainly hadn’t been mentioned when she and Wyn came aboard, but she didn’t mind. If it made the TARDIS well again, it was worth it.

Then something other than The Doctor clambering around the lattice caught her eye.

“Doctor,” she called. “There’s something up there. By the roof. I saw it… Something moving.”

“What? Where?” The Doctor looked down at her then up at the ceiling, which was, of course, the floor of the room above where Wyn and Jamie and K9 waited. It wasn’t smooth. It looked as if it was accreting mini stalactites of its own. At first, though, he didn’t see what she had seen and was ready to dismiss it as shadows, imagination…

“There, look,” she cried out and this time he saw it, too. Something small, black, slowly sliding down the smooth surface of the central Time Rotor stalactite, clinging to it with sucker like pads on its six long limbs. The Doctor quickly adjusted the sonic screwdriver and aimed it. The creature hurtled away from the surface and then fell with the thump onto the walkway by Stella’s feet. The Doctor swung down to join her. He pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and used it to pick the creature up by the scruff of its neck.

It HAD a neck, and a small round head, and a torso with the six suckered limbs sprouting from it. The head had two pixie-like pointed ears, no nose, round eyes – shut now – and a slitlike mouth that lolled open revealing a pinkish tongue and a lot of very small, sharp teeth.

“Is it dead?” Stella asked.

“Stunned,” The Doctor answered. “But what in creation is it? I have never seen anything like it.”

Stella giggled.

“It’s a Nargle,” she told him.

“A what?”

“Nargle. There’s…” she blushed and giggled again. “They’re from Harry Potter. They infest mistletoe. And TARDISes, apparently.” She shrugged. “Ok, I know, that’s just silly. But it just seemed like a Nargle to me.”

“Nargle it is, then,” The Doctor said. “Good enough name for it. And if your woman has a copyright issue than I could mention portkeys and cars and tents that are bigger on the inside.” He studied the newly christened Nargle carefully, analysing it’s chemical composition with the sonic screwdriver. “It’s made of the same basic elements as that residue. I’ve got a feeling we’ve been cleaning up Nargle guano.”

“Yuck,” Stella commented and wiped her hand that had touched it on her t-shirt “But how did it get here?”

“I would really like to know,” The Doctor said. “And how many more there…”

He yelped as the stunned creature woke up and sank those small, sharp teeth into the soft, loose part of his hand between the thumb and fingers – possibly the most painful place – on the hand at least – to be bitten. The Doctor waved his hand and the creature dug in tight. Blood poured from the wound as he whirled around and hit his hand against the ribbed wall. The creature flew away, taking a chunk of his flesh with it and landed with a crunching thud a few feet away.

“You killed it,” Stella exclaimed as she bent to look at it. This time it definitely was dead. There was a squashed look about the head and a limpness to the body that just had to be dead.

“Yes…um… sorry… I was a bit harder than I intended,” The Doctor stammered as the blood continued to flow from the place where a chunk of his skin had been wrenched off. “I wouldn’t have done that if… unique life form. Killing it isn’t…”

Stella looked up from her examination of the dead creature and looked instead at The Doctor. His handkerchief was soaked with his light coloured blood.

“All that from one little bite? I thought your body could mend itself?” she said.

“Should do,” he answered her with a distressed look in his eyes. “Should have started to mend by now. I should… I think… some sort of anti-coagulant in the bite… I… I can’t stop it from bleeding.”

Stella gasped as The Doctor’s blood dropped onto the metal walkway at his feet. His hand was simply pouring with blood. The handkerchief was bright orange and glossy with it. She adjusted her sonic eyeliner to tissue repair and tried to apply it, but it didn’t seem to be having any effect. Neither did The Doctor’s own sonic screwdriver in the same mode.

“If we don’t stop it, you’ll bleed to death,” she said. “You can’t replace blood that quickly, can you?”

“My body is trying,” he answered. “But you’re right. We have to staunch it, somehow and…”

More blood fell to the walkway with a plinking noise. Then Stella heard another sound, a scuttling, and saw three of the Nargles clambering up over the edge of the walkway. They lapped at the blood and seemed excited by it.

“There’s more,” Stella yelled. “They want your blood, Doctor.”

It certainly seemed that way. They stood and stared for mere seconds, but in that time a dozen creatures had come to join the feast of blood.

“Urgghh!” Stella managed to say as she saw something even more gruesome. The dead Nargle was decomposing rapidly, and from the horrible ooze a dozen smaller Nargles appeared, scampering towards The Doctor’s blood.

The sight of them galvanised The Doctor. He pulled himself up, suppressing a yell as he grasped with his bleeding hand, onto one leg – or tentacle - of the lattice conduits. He reached with his good hand to pull Stella up.

“Climb,” he said. “Quickly. Need to get back up… before they decide they want their blood fresh.”

Stella climbed the cleaned conduit lattice. It was easy enough for her, but The Doctor was struggling. She passed him, but he wouldn’t let her wait. He told her to get up to the ladder and not worry about him. She did so, but she kept looking back to make sure he was still coming.

He was, but slowly and obviously in pain and weak from blood loss. And she could see things moving up behind him. The Nargles were feasting on his blood everywhere he had put his bad hand - leaving bloody prints. They were moving fast. She saw him wave his hand and throw one of them off as it tried to get to his flesh. He looked up at her and told her to keep going.

She gained the ladder and looked down again. He shouted back that he was right behind her. And he very nearly was. He only had to reach out to the bottom rung. She scrambled up towards the hatch and banged on it frantically. It opened and she was glad that Jamie, in his male form, was strong. He hauled her up into the familiar part of the console room.

“Help The Doctor,” she said. “He’s hurt and there are things… the Nargles are after his blood…”

She looked back down through the hatch and she could see him, dangling by one arm on the lower rung. His upturned face was pale and he was groaning with pain. His hurt hand flailed around and she could see that there were Nargles all over it. They had got him.

“I’m going down,” Jamie said and dropped down into the space. Again, as she and Wyn both watched anxiously, Stella was glad of Jamie’s masculine strength. He managed to pull The Doctor up by his good arm until he could grab on further up the ladder, then he pulled him by the shoulders until they were both able to climb the ladder together. Wyn and Stella between them hauled The Doctor up and out and Jamie scrambled after him, slamming the hatch down firmly and putting the mesh top panel down as well.

“Get those things off him!” Stella was yelling as he turned to see The Doctor kneeling on the floor. There were ‘Nargles’ biting at his bloody hand and even clinging to his blood soaked shirt. Jamie batted them away with his hands and K9 burnt them to cinders with his laser.

“Oh… my… God!” Wyn exclaimed as she grasped The Doctor’s arm and held it up. “Your hand….”

It was barely recognisable as a hand. The flesh had been stripped and so had most of the muscle and even the bones had been gnawed. It was still bleeding profusely and The Doctor’s face was pale from the loss of blood as well as shock and pain.

“Hold it tight,” he said to her through gritted teeth. “Hold it down on the floor… my arm. K9… you’ve got to sever it at the wrist with your laser and cauterise the wound instantly.”

“What!” All three of his companions exclaimed at once. “No. No, you can’t.”

“It’s the only way,” he assured them. “It won’t stop bleeding otherwise.”

“Oh!” Wyn held back tears of sympathy as she saw that there really was no other way to save his life. “Stella, don’t look. It’s too…”

“I was down there,” she answered. “It can’t be worse.” As Wyn and Jamie both held The Doctor’s army steady, K9 extended his laser probe and fired a very thin, precise beam. The Doctor screamed in agony as the laser cut through his wrist and instantly sealed the wound. When it was over, Wyn pulled him into her arms and hugged him tightly. He was doing his best not to cry. She wouldn’t have blamed him if he had been in floods. She couldn’t begin to imagine how much that had hurt.

Jamie bent to examine the bloody remains of his hand.

“K9, burn it,” The Doctor said. “The hand. I can’t leave remnants of my own flesh. DNA… it could be used…” But he didn’t need any more explanations. K9 fired a wider beam and incinerated it. The Doctor breathed in deeply and sagged against Wyn for a few minutes as he regained his strength.

“Lot of blood loss,” he said. “But I’ll be right as rain in a minute.”

“No, you won’t,” Wyn told him. “You just stay right where you are until you’re good and ready.”

“What about those things though?” Stella asked. “The Nargles…” Wyn and Jamie looked puzzled by the name she had given them. It seemed far too cute for something that had almost killed The Doctor in his own TARDIS.

“I took readings with the sonic screwdriver,” The Doctor said. “Later I can find out their proper chemical composition and work out which planet we must have picked them up on… take precautions next time.”

“How many are there?” Wyn asked. She was sure she could hear them, under the floor. A scrabbling and scratching as if they were trying to break through.

“Hundreds, I think,” Stella said. “We found one at first. And then suddenly there were loads. I think there was a nest. They were…”

“More than hundreds,” Jamie said as he glanced at the diagnostic screen. “Hell! Where did they all come from?”

“They fed on me,” The Doctor said. “And now they’re multiplying. They divide and subdivide and create new versions of themselves. They can probably keep going like that for a while after a feed.”

“How can we get rid of them?” Wyn asked.

“Flood the TARDIS with pure Huon particles,” The Doctor answered as he raised himself to his feet, slightly unsteadily, and leaning on Wyn heavily. “In large enough quantities, Huon particles will kill any animal tissue.”

“How can we get rid of THEM and not kill us as well?” Wyn amended. “And what are Huon particles when they’re at home?”

“Very lethal, dangerous stuff,” The Doctor answered. “It’s the raw material – the ore – from which Artron energy comes. When the particles are exposed to oxygen they give off Artron energy – catalytic process… Artron energy is dangerous, too. But only in concentrated form – only when it’s pooled up in the Eye of Harmony or if the body is over-exposed to it. The Eye… at it’s very core… it’s a fragment of a star… the source of the TARDIS’s power. The Artron energy is fed through to the reactor in the engine room, and up through the central column to the console, the Time Rotor. But I can reverse the polarity, feed it back and make it so that it floods the whole ship with Huon particles instead…”

Even Wyn, with degrees in applied sciences, wasn’t sure if what he said made sense or not. She thought it probably did in his own mind, but he just couldn’t quite convey his meaning to them.

“Again,” she said. “I ask the obvious question. How do we stop it killing us?”

“Lifeboat,” he answered. “Up there… sealed, separate…. Built to withstand a sub-atomic explosion inside the TARDIS…. In the unlikely event…”

“And we get there how?”

“Up the ladder…” He pointed to the metal ladder that he used to get to the very narrow walkway partway up the wall. They had all seen him do maintenance up there, but they didn’t know it led anywhere else. “Door up there… concealed. Climb up inside… Jamie and Stella… you go up there now. Wyn, I’ll need you to help me.” He waved his wounded right arm in demonstration of his need.

“Just tell me what to do,” she told him.

As Jamie and Stella evacuated the console room, up the ladder and through the concealed door, he showed Wyn what was needed to persuade the TARDIS to stop feeding energy to its engines and instead contaminate itself with lethal particles. It was a strange thing to want to do. But it obviously was the only way to deal with the infestation of ‘Nargles’. She made a mental note to ask about that name later and watched The Doctor carefully. He was still very pale and she reckoned he needed some serious bed rest, not a scramble up a ladder to a ‘lifeboat’.

“Don’t like to do this,” he said. “They’re living creatures. But they’re living off my TARDIS. If we don’t stop them they’ll destroy it and us. I have to…”

That was the other thing, of course. It went against the grain for him to kill anything. He had no choice, and it hurt him to know that.

“Can’t be helped,” he said in a sad, resigned voice. Then in the next heartsbeat he became practical as he told her to set a timer delay for three minutes.

“What about K9?” Wyn asked. “Is he…”

“I am not organic, mistress,” K9 said. “I cannot be harmed by the Huon particle emission. I will monitor the situation from here and signal to you when it is safe to return.” He extended his probe and connected with the console. Wyn bent and tickled his robot ears. The Doctor, one handed, did the same.

“Good dog, K9,” he said. Then he pressed the button that started the three minute countdown. “Come on…”

He was slower than he ought to be. He was climbing a ladder one handed, and still suffering slightly from the loss of blood. But he moved fast enough, Wyn following behind, watching him carefully. She closed the concealed door behind them as they stepped into the narrow space between the curved inner and outer walls of the console room. The outer one had a rib-like texture to it. The inner one had hexagonal bumps that she realised were the backs of the roundels she was so used to seeing on the inside of the console room. There was a ladder fixed to the inner wall and they climbed it until they reached a door.

It was bright in the ‘lifeboat’ or ‘attic’ or whatever it was going to be called. It looked more like the lamp room of a lighthouse without the lamp. The walls were luminous white. There were assorted bits of junk in it. A child’s desk and chair and a rocking horse were among the oldest looking pieces. Wyn thought they must go back to when his granddaughter, Susan, travelled with him as a little girl.

There were two big white, leather sofas for them to sit on. Wyn helped The Doctor to lie down on one of them. From a large box marked ‘emergency rations’ Stella brought a bar of chocolate and unwrapped it for him. From a smaller box marked with the red cross of a first aid kit, Wyn found the makings of a sling. She noted that his body WAS starting to repair itself now. Skin had grown over the stump. All the same, it was as well to protect his arm.

“Thanks,” he said. “For everything.” He ate a little of the chocolate and looked around the strange room. It was past the three minute mark now. The Huon particles must be flooding the place by now. But they were safe here. He allowed himself to breathe deeply.

“Not the first time I’ve lost my hand, you know,” he said. “Same one, too. I’d only regenerated a few hours before and I was in a pair of pyjamas, fighting a duel with the captain of the Sycorax for the freedom of planet Earth. He got lucky and chopped my hand off. Unluckily for him, and lucky for me, I was still bursting with energy from the regeneration. My body was still in flux, and I was able to grow a new hand. The one that I’ve just gone and lost again. Shame. I was getting quite used to that hand. Be harder, this time, too.”

“You’ll be able to grow a new hand?” Jamie asked. “You’re not… not permanently wounded?”

Wyn and Stella both awaited the answer to that, too. The Doctor smiled widely.

“It’ll take about two months,” he said. “It’ll be a bit awkward meantime. And it’ll ache like crazy. Itches, too, when the new flesh is forming on the bones.”

“That only seems fair, somehow,” Wyn told him. “Just about every other species in the universe, they lose a limb and it’s gone for good. Seems right you should suffer a bit if you get a brand new hand at the end of it.” The Doctor grinned and agreed with her. “Even so, I think you need looking after properly until you’re mended. After we go downstairs and we make sure the TARDIS is Nargle free and disinfected, I’m going to set course to see mum and dad in South Africa. You liked it there. Mum and dad liked having you visit. It’ll do you good.”

The Doctor looked at her and smiled faintly. He thought of reminding her that he was a Time Lord, sometimes called the Prince of the Universe, revered as a God by some species. He didn’t have to be told to take sick leave.

Then again, a couple of months of R&R in the Groot Karoo, with some of his dearest friends, wasn’t a bad notion.