"If we don't keep this generator from failing," said the Doctor, "this planet will be left open to invasion by the Flincktrans."
"Can't you do something?" said Peri. "Isn't there something you can remember from your Time Lord Academy Cliff Notes, to pull this one out?"
"Cliff Notes?" said the Doctor. "Cliff Notes!" said the Doctor. "There aren't Cliff Notes on transduction generation!" said the Doctor.
"Well, what do the Rassilon Notes say?" Peri asked.
"Let's see," said the Doctor, and started turning out the pockets of his overcoat. "Properly," he added, "that's 'the Notes of Rassilon'."
The transduction generator beeped again.
"Here we are," he said. He pulled out an electronic book with printing on the cover in large friendly Gallifreyan letters. "Transduction generation," he murmured, paging through the index. "Page 134,418." He toggled through the book. "Diagnostic readouts. 'One beep means critical failure imminent. Two mean heroic measures required to prevent failure. Three mean one needs to sit down, put one's head between one's knees, and -'"
The transduction generator beeped a third time.
"Rassilon's prose technique was usually much more formal than this," the Doctor observed.
Aboard the Flincktran flagship a console made a similar third beep. The uniformed officer at that console pointed out a readout to the ship's captain, who reported, "Transduction barrier down, Narxop."
"Good, very good," said the figure seated in the shadows at the rear of the quarterdeck. He leaned forward in his chair for the first time, putting his head into the light. He wore a uniform no more resplendent than those of the others on the bridge, except for the Super Grand Admiral insignia at the collar. But his face was covered with a mask; from the hairline at his forehead down to the tip of his nose, only the right eye was exposed.
"You may start your landing," said the Narxop.
Twelve uniformed humanoids transmatted into the transduction control center around the Doctor and Peri.
"Ah, you must be the Flincktrans," said the Doctor. "I've been waiting for you. As a Time Lord I must warn you that, if this planetary invasion isn't terminated at once, we will be constrained to enforce the most nasty sanctions against you."
The dozen Flincktrans waited patiently for this speech to be over, and then in unison cocked their quaser rifles and pointed them at the Doctor and Peri.
"This is your last chance," the Doctor said.
The one with the fanciest broach at his collar jerked his chin in an odd way. Apparently he was activating a surgically implanted communications device, for he said, "Sir, we have two prisoners. One claims to be a Time Lord."
"Send them here." The reply was loud enough for the Doctor and Peri to hear. The receiver must have been inside the soldier's ear and intended to be audible only to him, for he made the most entertaining facial expressions during the short message.
When he was steady on his feet again he pulled two small devices with clips from his field pouch, attached one each to the Doctor's clothing and Peri's, and pressed on each one to activate it. The Doctor and Peri were transmatted away.
Billingcup and Fillillill observed this through the grating of the ventilation duct they were hiding in. They moved farther back so that they wouldn't be heard. "What do we do now?" Fillillill asked.
"We have to stop the Flincktrans, Fillill," said Billingcup.
"We'll stop them taking over our planet."
"Okay. By doing what?"
"We need to foil their invasion."
"Good idea. Where do we start?"
"Well, we make them leave, Fillillillill."
"What's your plan?"
"Force them to go."
"Have you got a proposal for doing that, Billingcup?"
"Fill, all we have to do is take back what is ours."
"What's the first step?"
"We deal them a blow from which they'll never recover."
"Send them off with their tails between their legs."
"Which is a metaphor for exactly what?"
"Let's give them a thorough thrashing, Fillillillillillill!"
Meanwhile the Flincktrans in the transduction control center were resetting the barrier and configuring it to pass only their ships.
The Doctor and Peri found themselves on the forward quarterdeck of the Flincktran flagship. The Narxop stepped slowly forward from the rear.
"You realize of course," said the Doctor, "that you're in very serious trouble."
"Pompous, arrogant, all talk," said the Narxop, stopping in front of the Doctor. "You're the Time Lord." He moved to Peri. "And you are a beautiful woman."
Peri rolled her eyes. "Not this routine again?"
"Take him to the laboratory," said the Narxop, "to assist with the project, on pain of the girl's death. Take her to the Butterscotch Room of my suite."
"Wait for my signal," the Doctor whispered to Peri as two soldiers each approached the travelers. "If you pack it up now," he shouted as they were each led away, "nothing more will be said!"
"So what is this project?" asked the Doctor of his two escorts as they led him through the bowels of the flagship. "Something fun, like measuring the comparative mass of the same water as ice, liquid and vapor, I'll wager."
The escort on the left responded by tripping the Doctor as they walked down the hallway.
"No, eh?" said the Doctor as they hauled him roughly to his feet. "Let's see ... Crushing peanut butter until the carbon crystallizes into diamond?"
The escort on the right punched him in the stomach without missing a step.
"Perhaps," wheezed the Doctor when he could talk again, "a practical experiment in the generation of hostile behavior in soldiers, by chemical means? I'll not be a part of that."
His escorts had halted him in front of an automatic door labeled "LABORATORY. AUTOMATIC DOOR - PLEASE KEEP MOVING". They threw him at the door. Apparently, though, there was an upper limit to the speed at which one was expected to "keep moving". The Doctor found the door to be very hard and unyielding, until he found it to be gone and allowing him to fall onto the floor of the lab, which was even more hard and unyielding. His escorts entered the lab, kicking him clear of the door, and took posts on either side of it as it shut again, relieving the soldiers who'd been there.
The Doctor lay panting at the door for several moments, stared at by the lab's occupants, most of whom had tears in their clothing and visible bruising. "What a model workplace this must be," said the Doctor.
He hauled himself to his feet. "Now, what is it the Flincktrans want with this planet?" he asked the bedraggled scientists.
"Some of us are Flincktrans," said one.
"Sorry," said the Doctor. "You know how it is with us non-Andromedans ... You all look alike to us ..."
"We're not all Narxis you know," said another Flincktran. "Most of us are oppressed by Narxi rulers and are ... well, we're the oppressed majority."
"No offense meant, I'm sure -" started the Doctor.
"Oh the poor Flincktrans," said a native scientist. His tone didn't actually denote much sympathy. In fact the Doctor detected none at all. "Got the leadership they voted for and don't like it. I'd offer you asylum under Our Beloved She-Monarch - except she's in chains on your home planet right now!!"
The first Flincktran bristled. "There was very low voter turnout at the last annual election ten years ago -"
"My question was," the Doctor bellowed, "what do they want with this planet?"
"They want to," gulped the native scientist, and stopped.
"To turn the whole planet into ..." trailed off one of the oppressed Flincktrans.
"Into ..." said the rest of them in ragged unintentional unison.
"Oh, come on, it can't be that bad," said the Doctor. "I've foiled plans for a whole planet to be converted into a mobile military base. I've seen several planets compressed to the size of your heads and balanced in a gravitational energy matrix to power an immortality machine. I've seen a planet nearly converted into so monstrous a time machine it could have wiped out whole solar systems from history at the touch of a button.
"No," he corrected himself, "I will see that.
"Can this be as bad as all that?"
One of the natives stepped forward and whispered into his ear. His hearts went cold and he felt a chill run up his spine, trip, and fall halfway back down.
"But that's too horrible to think about," he said.
In the Butterscotch Room Peri finished changing into a low-cut black strapless gown which had been left for her to change into. The instant she was in it - which means someone'd been watching - the Narxop entered, followed by a liveried servant pushing a cart with a dinner for two which he set on the table.
The Narxop was wearing a less formal version of the Flincktran military uniform. At least Peri assumed it was meant to be less formal, as it had no collar and was as low-cut as what she was wearing. Maybe that was formal here.
"So what now?" she asked as the servant left.
"Now we get to know each other," said the Narxop, lighting two candles on the table. He smiled what was undoubtedly supposed to be a friendly smile. Actually, he wasn't unattractive. He was powerfully built, and looked to be about Peri's age. Not too hard on the eyes at all, for a masked megalomaniac.
"So - you're going to tell me you're not evil, you're just misunderstood?" Peri said, not approaching the table. "You just have an inadequacy complex because of your maimed face, you can't control your malicious impulses, you really want just the best for everyone, you want me to stay with you forever because my beauty offsets the ugliness around you and in your mirror?"
"Not at all," said the Narxop cheerfully. "I conquer planets because I like hearing them hail my name, involuntarily or not. My wound was inflicted during an honorable duel, and is something to be proud of even if it's not a sight for polite company. I have every intention of killing both you and your friend whether he does as I wish or not. You're here because you're the first woman I've seen in three days and I want to get laid." He smiled again. It was an insufferably genuine smile.
"Well," said Peri, "a girl's gotta respect a guy's honesty, doesn't she?" She walked up to him, grabbed him by the shoulders, and kneed him.
The Doctor spent about an hour engaged in what was meant to sound to the guards like highly technical conversation with the scientists, actually consisting largely of polysyllabic synonyms for "escape". Finally he hefted a device they'd spent the time assembling and walked over to the guards with it. "Excuse me," he said, "would one of you uniformed bullies like to help us test this?"
One guard stepped forward, took the thing from the Doctor, and lifted it over his head with the obvious intention of dashing it onto the floor.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said the Doctor.
The guard gave him a disdainful look and dashed the device onto the floor. On impact it began making a hissing noise, and the guards dropped to the floor unconscious.
"The xilon gas our device is electrolizing from the fortiltrope in the artificial Flincktran atmosphere will dissipate almost instantly through the ship's ventilation system," said the Doctor, "reacting with the quarline in the Narxis' bloodstreams from the barbecued jackaphant they eat for their tornek ceremony and knocking them out like these are. But it may not last long! Quick, follow me."
The scientists all made for the door after the Doctor, except one of the natives. "You mean," he said, and they all turned back to look at him, "you don't really want to stroboencephalographoscope the floroxyneodymide wollatambilorpharinsidator?"
The other scientists all shook their heads at each other. "Hadlee," tsked one.
They were proceeding to the quarterdeck when Peri suddenly shot out from behind a door where the sleeping sentries were of a higher rank than all the other doors. She held tightly around her a bedsheet which seemed to be all she was wearing.
"I trust your honor is more intact than your wardrobe?" asked the Doctor.
"You mean, than his anatomy, don't you?" Peri growled in smug outrage.
"Come on." The Doctor continued down the hall at enough speed that Peri had trouble keeping up behind him and managing the bedsheet at once. Several of the scientists suddenly seemed to be having difficulty watching where they were going, too.
"I've learned what the Narxop wants with this planet," said the Doctor to Peri as the group burst onto the quarterdeck, and the scientists dumped unconscious Narxis out of the console chairs. "The Narxop tried to fool me, sticking me in with this group, into thinking he wasn't ready yet to pull it off. But he must have had several groups working on it, and one's ready."
"How do you know?" Peri asked.
"Because of the high teson density I noticed in this solar system when we arrived. Someone is already in the final stages of the process."
"What process?" Peri said, still struggling with the bedsheet. "What do tesons do?"
"At this concentration, if charged with enough disodium - well," said the Doctor, "does the term 'terraform' mean anything to you?"
"That means making a planet that's uninhabitable more like Earth?"
"Exactly. Now, if I can get a visual of the planet ..." The Doctor twisted knobs until the screenful of static began to clear. A view of the planet swan onto the screen.
"Oh no," said a native scientist.
"That's the planet we're on?" Peri said incredulously.
The Doctor nodded. "My worst fears are confirmed. It may already be too late."
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