"I thought you didn't like him," said the Doctor.
Tegan replied by turning and charging down the stairs toward the mill.
"Tegan!!" shouted the Doctor. "Come back!" But it was too late; she couldn't have heard him over the noise from the waterfall, even if she'd have listened. And he couldn't follow without releasing the dead-man switch on the radio to the explosives inside.
Turlough came up behind him in a rush. "Doctor! The Splinks are right behind me! How long until the mill is destroyed?"
"Is she crazy?"
"You have to go after her!"
"What, me go in there?"
"Fine! I'll go. Come here. Hold this button down - don't even let it up while we switch over! - and keep it down until -"
"Until," came the high squeaky voice of the Splink leader, "the device is entirely disabled, or we'll shoot both of you."
The Doctor and Turlough turned, with no sudden moves, to look. Turlough's pursuers looked like midgets in cartoon duck costumes, but they weren't wearing costumes. Each carried a power-enhanced Sontaran surplus heavy laser rifle.
"I'll just be a minute at it," the Doctor told them.
Tegan barrelled back out of the mill into the Doctor's arms just as he and Turlough were being ushered inside at gunpoint.
"Why did you tell me he was in here if he wasn't?" Tegan demanded as she too raised her arms.
"If you'll remember our conversation accurately," said the Doctor tightly, "you'll realize I never said he was."
"What happened to your brilliant plan?"
"An air hostess in the works!"
"No more talking in code!" commanded Captain Dink, the Splink leader. The Splinks nudged the three travelers with their rifles and they all entered the mill. "What are you doing on this planet?"
"Oh, we travel around," said the Doctor. "What about you? If I remember my Splink history, there shouldn't be any as far away from Splincar as Korcas II at this time."
"We'll ask the questions." Dink drew a pistol. "We have the guns, Doctor."
"Yes, that's the other thing - you certainly didn't build those advanced things yourself. Pick them up at a rummage sale?"
Dink and his XO, Bonk, exchanged a glance. Dink lowered his pistol, and the rest of the Splinks lowered their rifles.
"Our ship fell through a dimensional anomaly," Dink said. "It left us almost a hundred years' travel from home. We've been trying to get back ever since."
The Doctor lowered his hands, Tegan and Turlough tenatively following suit. "And the Sontaran firepower?"
"Taken in self-defense," growled Bonk.
"And this?" The Doctor motioned at the defortistabilithorter set up inside the mill.
"That?" said Dink. "We thought that was yours."
"It's not yours?" Tegan said.
Bonk spat. "That's not the Splink way!"
"Then whose defortistabilithorter is it?" Turlough asked.
All turned at the new voice. At the door of the mill was another four-foot figure, but with a much different silhouette than the Splinks. It was a mouse. It was armed. Behind it, through the door, a company of them could be seen.
Bonk raised his rifle and fired. The motion was enough for the mouse in the doorway to be warned and get off a shot simultaneously. Bonk fell dead to the ground, but his was the more powerful weapon - not only the front mouse but about five more, just among those visible through the door, burst into flames, obscuring time travelers and ducks entirely from further mouse fire.
"Out the back way!" shouted the Doctor. "Quickly!"
"We'll be harder to round up if we separate!" Dink called as the time travelers and the Splinks exited the building. "Doctor, you're with me! Kunk, you take the other two with Mallard Squad!"
"I'd really rather," started the Doctor, but the named Splink officer had already seized Tegan and Turlough and disappeared with half the Splinks into the woods. "Well."
"Damned Doobles don't have the first idea of tactics," Dink growled, leading the Doctor and the other half of the Splink force into the woods in another direction. "Shoulda surrounded the mill before we knew they were there."
"Count your blessings," advised the Doctor. "... On the other hand, I wonder, is there anything in the Splink regulation book pertaining to the concept lookout?"
Dink glared at him. "This way, Doctor."
The Doctor shrugged. "I seem to have little choice."
"Hey, Stoomp, lookit this," said Garghit. Stoomp sighed and heaved herself out of the chair at her desk, and walked as slowly as she thought she could get away with to the window of the Korcas Forest Ranger station tower. Garghit handed her the binoculars. "Take a look at what's going on at the old mill."
Stoomp took the binoculars and looked. After trying successfully to keep from swallowing her cigar, she said with as blase a tone as she could, "Looks like a bunch of four-foot rodents in spacesuits."
"Some of'em are on fire," Garghit added helpfully.
"What do we know about space mice?" Stoomp said, trying to sound reasonable. "Maybe that's their natural state, and the others are sick." She made a great show of an unconcerned grunt. "I suppose we should call this in, just to observe the formalities."
"I'll do it! I'll do it!" Garghit ran to the radio and activated it enthusiastically. "Mill Station to Base! Mill Station to Base!" Garghit yelled cheerfully into the microphone. "Request immediate emergency assistance of the most forceful nature!"
"Roger, Mill Station," came the reply in the laconic tone endemic to radio dispatchers the universe over. "What is the nature of your emergency?"
Walking up behind Garghit, Stoomp instantly realized that if he were to tell Base what had actually been seen at the mill, Base would send out not a couple of armed troopers but a couple of replacement rangers backed up by funny farm faculty bearing the lastest in long-sleeved, long-strapped canvas fashions. Before Garghit could reply, Stoomp grabbed the microphone, said into it "Peekkkkwooongggggaackkkk" in a staticky voice, and pulled the power cord for the radio set from the wall plug.
"Aw, I wanted to tell'em," Garghit pouted.
"Rookie," Stoomp muttered.
"What are you doing on this planet, then?" Tegan asked Kunk, in what was meant to be a friendly tone but came out breathless and gulpy. Perhaps she should have waited until they weren't running for their lives through the undergrowth of a forest before she asked.
"Supplies," said Kunk. "Ran outta salt shakers."
"Salt shakers?" Turlough panted in astonishment. "You risked being spotted as aliens on a pre-contact, ethnogeocentric planet for salt shakers?"
"Had some replacements for awhile," Kunk said. The fast pace didn't seem to be bothering the Splinks. "But this is a new region of space to us. Turned out they were a previously unknown intelligent life form."
"Where," Turlough gasped out over the course of a minute or two, "are we going?"
"Captain didn't specify a rendezvous point," Kunk said, "so default is our ship."
"I," said Tegan, "need to," she said, "stop moving so," said she, "quickly for awhile," she added. Then she tripped over a tree root and hit her head, and stopped moving entirely.
Captain Pabble of the Dooble Expeditionary Force to Korcas II watched as seven of the best of the Dooble military died horrible screaming fiery deaths. "Blit," he said, which is a Dooble curse, literally to consign to an inconceivably unpleasant afterlife.
"Sir," said Cribble, the science technician, "we've determined that the ducks were already on the planet before we started our operation."
"Good - they'll've been included in the effect. What about the others?"
"They arrived afterwards. In a Gallifreyan time capsule."
"Doint," said Pabble (biological solid waste). "Which Korcas II did they land on?"
"Korcas II Beta. Their time capsule is still there." This was Korcas II Phi, if Pabble remembered correctly. "They've also been to Korcas II Nu," Cribble continued, "but until they met up with the ducks they'll not have interacted enough with other people to realize anything's happened to them."
"Unless they've noticed their time capsule isn't where they left it. Which it is, really. Wub." (to force an intimate act on another)
Two scouts rushed up to them, Hibble and Bopple. "We lost the Splinks in the forest, sir," Hibble reported. "It looks like they split up too."
"Mownk." (the only large felinoid animal on Doob yet to be exterminated)
The Doctor with Dink and his squad reached the ship first. It was a heavy cruiser with a cloaking device parked in a large grassy field. When Dink spoke into a comm unit a door opened in mid-air.
"No gangway?" the Doctor asked.
"Lost in a battle eighteen months ago," said Dink. "We had a replacement for awhile, but it turned out to be a previously unknown intelligent life form."
The Doctor had also heard the salt shaker story by now. "I gather this happens to you a lot."
"We've taken to just calling them PUILFs."
The Splinks flapped their wings and flew to the hatch, two of them carrying the Doctor.
"Yep," said Tankabill. "Them're space mice all right." He was another veteran like Stoomp.
"I have to say," said Stoomp, "my idea about flaming being a natural state of theirs seems to have been wrong."
"Prolly," said Tankabill. "Less'n that pile of ashes is their next stage of development, like a flutterwing just outta its cocoon."
"Listen to him," Stoomp advised Garghit. "Tankabill'll teach you to keep an open mind."
"Can we go apprehend them now? Huh?" Garghit asked eagerly.
Tankabill took the rifle from his partner Plott, who looked like she was younger than Garghit, and gave it to Stoomp. "You two young'uns stay here. This is a job for experienced hands."
"According to our sensors," said Dink, motioning with a long pointer to a mercator of Korcas II on the main screen of his ship's conference room, "there are half a dozen defortistabilithorters on this planet."
"All hidden in remote locations," added Tink, the tactical officer.
"What could anyone need with more than one defortistabilithorter on one planet?" the Doctor wondered.
Dink seemed to be considering this question for a moment, but when he spoke he asked, "Um, what would anyone need with one?"
"You don't know what a defortistabilithorter is? Why were you so concerned about it then?"
"Well, you don't have to be a Maxiscienticomp mk III to know that no post-atomic pre-lightdrive pre-contact planet should be giving off Blinovitch rads," snorted Clank, the chief medical officer.
The Doctor briefly explained defortistabilithortion. "So you see," he concluded, "there's no cause to have more than one within a single planetary magnetic field."
"No I don't see," said Clank. The Doctor wondered what it was about serving on spaceships that made medics cranky.
"We'll take your word for it for now," said Dink, turning back to the map with his pointer, "but what -" He was interrupted by the entrance into the conference room by a Splink crewman carrying a sensor device.
"PUILF scan, sir."
"Very well." Dink fell silent while the crewman scanned the room. When he got to Dink's map pointer the sensor device went ping. Dink sighed and handed the pointer over. "Assign it quarters and calibrate a translater for it." The crewman quickly finished scanning the room and left with the ship's new friend.
Tegan awoke loudly. Her head hurt, and she explained this in alternately explicit and metaphorical terms for nearly a minute before she noticed there were no Splinks or Turloughs present to appreciate it.
"Leave me behind, will you?" she growled. She continued on this subject with the same eloquence she'd awakened with as she clambered to her feet and stumbled off, unintentionally back toward the mill.
Before she got there, though, there was a tap on her shoulder. Tegan jumped a foot in the air and spun around, confronting a native Korcar, or so she assumed, since he didn't look like a kids' cartoon. He wore a uniform of some sort. "Must you sneak up on people?"
"I been calling to you, Ma'am," Garghit said. "You couldn't hear me over yourself I 'spect."
"Never mind! There are aliens from space hatching some evil plot in the old mill - can you help?"
"The old mill?" said Garghit. "Ain't no aliens there, Ma'am. I just come from there."
As the PUILF scan technician left the conference room, Kunk, Turlough and the other squad came in.
"Where's Tegan?" asked the Doctor.
"May I speak to the Doctor in private?" Turlough said. Dink nodded, but Kunk didn't appear happy as Dink waved all the Splinks from the room.
"Where's Tegan?" the Doctor asked again when they were alone.
"She tripped, and fell, and disappeared. We couldn't find her in the undergrowth. Doctor, do you think these people are trustworthy?"
"I don't think they've any reason to harm us."
"How else could Tegan have just vanished?"
Before the Doctor could answer, his eyes widened and he gave a great shudder.
"Another seizure? Is that three?" asked Turlough. "What on this planet could be affecting you like that?"
"I don't know -" Then the Doctor turned to look back at the defortistabilithorter plottings on the viewscreen. "Oh no. No. That's too horrible to think about."
"Not now. This ship is here too - we must find Captain Dink and introduce ourselves before we're mistaken for intruders. Quickly!"
"Introduce ourselves? Doctor?" Turlough followed the Doctor out the conference room door and into the corridor, where Dink and several crewmen spotted them and instantly drew their sidearms.
"Who are you," demanded Dink, "and how the wub did you get onto my ship?"
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