“Time travel out of a capsule – it can get a bit jumpy at times” The Doctor smirked while helping Robin get on her feet. All she could do was nod in response, trying to catch her breath.
The Doctor took out his sonic and played with it, trying to ascertain their surroundings.
“So where are we?” Robin asked breaking the silence.
“Well, it looks like a forest, and it is empty - no known life-forms detected.” The Doctor informed her, his expression quizzical. “And I hate empty forests, they are usually deadly. Come on Robin, let’s get out of here.” The Doctor continued as he began walking in a random direction, cautiously holding the sonic firmly in front of him.
Robin followed, carefully going over everything he had said in her mind. “Doctor, why did you say it looks like a forest?” Robin finally enquired.
The Doctor spun on his toes to face her, with a look of admiration. “Good, you are paying attention. I like it when people do that. Because, Robin it is not. Look at the sky,” he said pointing his sonic towards the sky and then he spun round again and carried on.
Robin looked, trying hard to find any irregularities. “There are no stars, it’s pitch black -” She said finally. “- then where is the light coming from?” She added.
“It’s a ceiling, Robin. Everything here is artificial,” the Doctor said still fumbling with his sonic. “Now if I can just find the projection unit –” Everything around them flickered for a few moments and then the forest disappeared leaving the Doctor and Robin standing in the corner of a small brightly lit square room. It was completely empty and there was door on the opposite side. “Primitive spatial folding – you can fit a whole forest in a room” the Doctor informed her.
Robin smiled in response. She could see the look of amusement on his face. He was clearly enjoying this. The Doctor took her hand and gestured to come along. He soniced the door and it opened with a faint sliding noise.
As soon as they were out the door, the alarms went off.
They found themselves standing in a long hallway lined with doors on either side, just like the one they had come out of. The Doctor looked at the doors, each numbered but in no particular order – random - and then he looked at their door.
ZERO, written in thick black.
“Doctor, what’s happening? Why the alarms? And where are –”
All of a sudden the atmosphere was shaken by a loud mechanical voice, roaring mercilessly at their ears.
Attention! Prisoner Zero has left their cell. Prisoner Zero is requested to return to their cell, or the prison will be self-destruct in 20 minutes. Repeat: Prisoner Zero is requested to …
“Doctor! I think we are Prisoner Zero.” Robin said with a tone of worry.
“Of course! This is a prison ship! They must be moving the prisoners.” The Doctor thought out loud. He took out his sonic and used it on door no. zero. For a moment it felt as if it had worked, but then the door sent sparks and green light on the door turned to red. “No, no…no no no, I tried to trick the system into thinking that everything was alright but there are too many protocols and software is glitchy. Now it’s locked us out and the door’s dead locked.”
“Doctor –” Robin said putting a hand on his shoulder, “- just how glitchy is the software?” She continued, pointing to a door nearby that had gone from flaunting a red light to a green one. Both of them observed as the same thing happened to several others, rendering them unlocked.
“Run…Robin, RUN!” the Doctor caught hold of her arm and pulled her into dash along the maze of hallways, as they continued to observe several other doors unlock. “We need to find the control station; I think I can manually disable the detonation from there.”
“And we need to find it fast, we don’t have much time.” The Doctor said glancing at her watch and then looking at the maze of hallways that greeted them just ahead.
“Don’t worry Robin. I still have the vortex manipulator. I won’t let anything happen to you.” The Doctor said to her reassuringly. “There has to be a helping station here somewhere. Maybe we can find the map –” The Doctor stopped running all of a sudden as a shiver went through his spine.
“What? What happened?” Robin asked him, a tinge of curiosity and worry in her tone. She kept on checking the hallways, just to make sure that no other prisoner was chasing them. Finally, she looked at the Doctor; his eyes were closed in concentration. She wanted to ask him what was wrong, but he looked worried as it was, so she dropped the idea. She trusted him, and that was all that mattered right now.
And then she saw it. A prison door opened at the far end of the hall and somebody came out. The prisoner was dressed in a dark crimson robe covering the entire body and a large hood covering the face. She turned to alert the Doctor but he was already watching, blood draining away from his face.
“What is it Doctor? What happened?” She asked him again worryingly.
“That prisoner –” He pointed to the red-robed man, who was now facing them and probably gauging them. “- is a Time Lord.” He had instinctively raised his sonic, as if arming himself in self-defence.
Attention! Prisoner 1176 has left their cell. Prisoner 1176 is requested to return to their cell, or the prison will be self-destruct in 15 minutes. Repeat: Prisoner 1176 is requested to …
The hooded man raised his right hand mirroring the Doctor, but he held no sonic. Just black leather gloves. The Vortex Manipulator on the Doctor hand gave a few bleeps and switched on instantaneously.
“Doctor! What did he do?”
The Doctor examined the device, sonicing it but it was to no avail. The device was malfunctioning. The coordinates were stuck. They were trapped, with another Time Lord and possibly various other dangerous criminals. And there was not enough time. A storm of thoughts was triggered in the Doctor’s mind, making him more anxious by the second.
What did Autumn want from him? What did he need to do to get the next co-ordinates? Or was this it? Was she in one of the cells, trapped? But the thought that troubled him the most was the identity of this other Time Lord. His dressing sense pointed to only one possibility - The Master.
Robin shook the Doctor out of the trance. “Doctor! You need to do something. We don’t have much time.” She said, her voice shaking with fear.
And then she did the unthinkable. She ran towards the other Time Lord, who was already running, disappearing into the mess of hallways.
The Doctor jolted towards her.
“Robin! No, don’t. He can be dangerous.” He called after her, trying to stop her but she continued running.
They found the other Time Lord about two minutes later, operating a display at the opposite corner of a hallway. The Doctor fastened his pace to grab Robin by her shoulders, in an attempt to stop her, causing both of them to tumble on the floor. They stopped a few meters away from the other Time Lord, who upon noticing them darted for a nearby hallway expeditiously.
The Doctor raised himself and then helped Robin do the same before bellowing “Are you out of you mind? Do you even know how dangerous that stunt was? He could have killed you, or God knows, any other prisoner who might have escaped.”
In response she punched him in the arm. “Don’t shout at me. I only did that because you were busy daydreaming and we didn’t have enough time.” She retorted back. “I had a hunch that he knew the way out so I took a chance! ” Her glance immediately fell to her watch.
The Doctor followed her gaze. “I’m sorry.” He replied softly, disappointment evident in his voice. Immediately his eyes fixed onto the display still hanging in the corner of the hall. He lurched towards it, dragging Robin behind with him.
He analysed the contents on screen. Opened in front of him was a log of all the convicts, their entire biography, their crimes, their sentences. He soniced the screen to open the file on Prisoner 1176 but there were none found. That’s what the hooded man had been doing – wiping his records.
But why? Did he know who the Doctor was? Why would the Time Lord hide himself? He had felt the hooded man the first time, when he had come out of his prison. He knew that person. He had felt the darkness in his heart. What had the man done to his Vortex –
The Doctor’s thoughts were interrupted by an unexpected voice coming from the display. Robin moved forward to watch the video that had started playing on the screen.
Welcome to Rekhom Penitentiary. Our facility holds the answers to all your worries. Guarded by the Judoon and the Atraxi guards, this prison ship is laced with quantum secure caging and tortur--
The Doctor fast forwarded the video because there wasn’t much time.
—in compliance with Article 21 of the Shadow Proclamati—holds some of the most vicious criminals in our galaxy.
The words were followed by a montage of clips showing several people dying, children screaming and being killed, women being tortured in labour camps, planets burning - all the horrendous atrocities the prisoners here had committed.
Robin couldn’t watch it anymore; her heart was beating loudly in her chest but all she could feel was dread and disgust. She averted her gaze, falling into a mess of tears. Eventually, her eyes fell on the Doctor who had now switched off the video and was busy sonicing the information out of the display, his face showing the anger he felt inside. She knew what he was thinking.
“Doctor, you can’t.”
The Doctor took a deep breath before addressing her.
“Why not?” he said quietly.
“Because, I won’t let you. Because, then what would be the difference.” Her voice hollow yet firm.
“Robin, they don’t deserve mercy. All we need to do is safely get out.”
“And who are you to decide what they deserve or don’t deserve? Doctor, they are already in a prison. Don’t play God!” She urged him.
“If they find us here, the first thing they’ll do is kill us. I don’t care for killers.”
“You can’t let these people die because of an assumption. It’s our fault the ship is about to explode. Doctor, you have to stop it. You have to save these people. Please.”
“No. I won’t.” He yelled back at her before ripping the display out of the wall sending it ricocheting along the hallway.
She was completely taken aback by his fury. Her thoughts went back to the Christmas he has crashed into her house. He had changed so much since then. Maybe, it was because of his time with Autumn or it was because of the Dalek Camp, but he had changed, for the worse. He had been an idiot at times but never cruel, and in that moment she really hated them all, the Daleks, the Doctor and most of all Autumn.
“You don’t need to find her you know. She is like the rest of these criminals. Autumn. She doesn’t deserve saving.” Robin said sharply, wiping the tears off her cheeks, making sure the words hurt him.
The Doctor looked at Robin puzzled, unable to respond. He remained quiet for what seemed like an eternity, lost in his thoughts.
“This is why I don’t travel alone; there are things I am not good at. I forget. Thank you, Robin. Thank you.” He said softly, smiling, before cupping her face and kissing her forehead. “Thank you for being you.”
“So you are going to save them?” Robin tried to smile, still amazed how easily he had switched.
“I’ll try.” The Doctor answered honestly. “Right then, I’ve checked the prison schematics. This is the carrier vessel – sort of where they keep the prisoners. It’s currently drifting at the outskirts of the Poshe-Ecstatic nebula. The main control station is separate and is in orbit around this vessel, doing occasional repairs when necessary. The only way to get on that is through the teleport decks to the right of this hallway. It’ll take us about 3 minutes to get there. On the other hand there is a secondary control station – Sec – on this ship as well, to the left of this hallway.” The Doctor gestured to the left with his sonic. “It’ll take us about 2 minutes to get there. There is a chance that I could cancel the detonation from Sec as well but it’s a gamble. So what do you say? Your choice Robin Moon.”
There wasn’t any more time to waste. She checked her watch.
“Okay, Sec it is.” She said, simultaneously grabbing his hand and making a dash for it. “Doctor, lead!”
He obeyed obediently. Both of them continued running, as the Doctor lead her through an array of hallways taking obscure turns every other second. She was starting to feel a bit dizzy.
“Doctor, why did you say he? Do you know who the other Time Lord is?” Robin asked, hoping for an honest answer.
“Maybe, but I am not sure yet. There are too many Time Lords I know, Omega , Morbius. Could be any one; all I know is that he feels familiar.” The Doctor said between heavy breaths. “Maybe he is family.” He added hesitantly.
“Doctor, there’s one more thing that’s been bugging me.”
“I know.” The Doctor said coming to an abrupt stop in front of a big door. His hands on his knees, gasping for breath. “Why haven’t we seen any other prisoners?”
“Yes, why?” asked Robin, leaning against a wall, panting likewise.
“I don’t know and I hate not knowing.” The Doctor replied, his mind racing and considering all possibilities.
The Doctor soniced the door and it opened with load thud, but before he could proceed, he heard Robin shriek. There on the other side of the hallway was the hooded man, this time holding a disintegrator gun, pointing straight at Robin.
“Stop.” The Doctor snarled the other Time Lord. “Robin, remain calm. Trust me, I won’t let anything happen to you.” He added. “What do you want? Tell me, come on. Fast – we don’t have much time.” The Doctor continued, trying to remain in control.
The hooded man quickly walked towards the Doctor, who was now holding his hands above his head as a sign of good will.
“Robin, don’t move. I can deal with this. Just stay calm!”
That was when the man gave the Doctor a good smack on his head using the handle of the gun, causing him to fall down and cry out in pain. The man then proceeded to snatch the sonic out of his hand and entered the Sec, carefully closing it behind him and leaving Robin to attend to the Doctor.
“Doctor, are you alright?” Robin asked, concerned.
“Run.” The word came out muffled, as the Doctor tried his very best to get back onto his feet, as fast as possible.
“What?” Robin said, startled.
“Run, Robin RUN! RUN! RUN!” The Doctor finally shouted grabbing her by the arm and again pulling her into a dash across the hallways, both high on adrenaline from the recent turn of events. “Run Robin, We need to get to the teleport deck, we haven’t got much time.” He clamored.
“Oh why does there have to be so much running!” He heard Robin complain at his shoulder.
“Love the running!” He said in a playful way, but his mind still fixed on the fact that the hooded man had reeked of rotten flesh. Was the man really the Master?
When they finally reached the teleport deck, the Doctor ran towards teleport controls, while Robin gazed at the linear arrangement of large eyeball like spaceships that lined the deck, and observed the small spherical orb that could be seen from the glass roof of the deck. The main control station.
“No, no no. You stupid machine.” The Doctor yelled at the controls before slamming his fist at the screen and turning around to face Robin. “The teleports need an authorization code; I need time to crack it; even with my sonic it would take at least 5 minutes - and we just don’t have any time. I am sorry.”
Robin could see the defeat on his face, his shoulders slumped, he had failed and right now he was standing under the burden of letting her and Autumn down, but she was as helpless as he was. All she could do now was comfort him.
“Whatever happens, happens Doctor! You don’t need to be sorry. If only you could see the light in you instead of the darkness.” And then she hugged him into a tight grip.
The Doctor swayed with her for a few seconds and then something hit him.
“What did you say?” He loosened the grip and pulled apart.
“Doctor?” Robin said confused by the smile on his face.
“Oh! Robin you are brilliant. Absolutely 100% brilliant.” He said with a big grin on his face.
“What have I done?” Robin asked, still puzzled by his sudden change of mood.
“Saved us,” he said pointing to his vortex , manipulator and then pressed the button, disappearing in front of Robin eyes, leaving her alone on the vessel to die, or so she thought.
Robin couldn’t believe her eyes. What had just happened? She pushed the thoughts out of her mind. If this was her destiny then she would accept it. There was no point in being sad now, in the final few precious moments of her life. And then she felt a hand on her shoulder…and turned around in a jerk.
It was the other Time Lord.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Robin shouted at him, but he just grabbed her arm with one hand and pointed the sonic at the teleport control with the other. The teleports activated, giving off a light green beam of light at their circumference.
He pulled her toward the teleports, but she protested, trying to get away from him and his putrid stench. And in one swift motion she pulled off his hood… and witnessed the impossible.
Still perplexed, she loosened her body and followed him inside the teleports only to meet with a sweet and simple word in response before they were teleported off the prison ship just one second before it blinked out of existence in a controlled implosion.
The word was – Gotcha!
“I said Gotcha!”
“No but how? How could you be the other Time Lord?”
“Keep up!” He pointed to his Vortex Manipulator. “Time traveller. The Judoon and the Atraxi are one of the thickest races out there. They built a prison that jammed any outgoing teleportation, but allowed it internally.”
“But I saw you disable the Doctor’s – your – manipulator when you came out of the cell. You did it.”
“Oh no! I didn’t do anything, it was just something I remembered the other Doctor doing; you know when I saw him. The vortex manipulator in my hand automatically synchronized with itself, probably because of the temporal energy. Same vortex manipulator at different points in its own time stream; The space time coordinates synched for the sake of maintaining dimensional harmony, fixing them, like resonance.”
“But isn’t that a paradox? It’s like what came first, chicken or the egg?”
“Don’t be daft, it isn’t a paradox, it’s luck.”
“But then why didn’t you tell us who you were?” Robin asked him curiously. He just smiled at her, as though nudging her to think for herself. “Because…that would disrupt the timeline” She waited for his approval.
“Exactly!” he smiled. “Because that’s what happens and what will continue to happen, I cannot change my own personal history.”
She smiled but her smile faded as she remembered something. “Doctor, we couldn’t save the prisoners.”
“No, we couldn’t -” He replied in a soft voice, the cheeriness fading from his voice as well. “- because there were none to be saved.” He added in the same grim tone. “When I teleported back to Prison 1176, I found an old decaying corpse, I took its clothes – hence the smell – and waited for the Doctor to mess up. When my door unlocked, my first priority was to delete the records for Prisoner 1176 so that the Doctor wouldn’t find out about the real prisoner, and then I came to the deck to crack the authorization code. I eventually found out that there was one extra step needed which was to lock the outgoing coordinates but that again needed authorization from the Sec. I found an empty incinerator gun on the deck and then kind of figured out what needed to be done. I ran towards the Sec and found you two, knocked the Doctor on the head and entered the Sec. I locked the outgoing coordinates and copied the protocols into the sonic. Then I tried to disable the detonation but it failed. So the final thing I did was to run a scan for life forms aboard this ship.”
“And?” asked Robin curiously?
“They all died Robin. The Atraxi abandoned the prison in the middle of nowhere about two hundred years ago, to drift at edge of the universe. It was an automated system and there was no way of escape, not enough time, except if you –” The Doctor stopped mid-sentence.
“- except if you could time travel.” Robin completed the sentence for him.
“They all perished about fifty years ago. No other prisoner escaped because no other prisoner was alive.” He added, his eyes fixed to the ground.
Robin felt sad and the Doctor knew. She was too kind. She had reminded him of who he was when she had fought for the prisoners, of the kindness in his heart, kindness he often chose to forget because it felt pointless in the face of reality.
“I can’t believe you hit yourself.” Robin said finally breaking the ice and shaking him out of his thoughts.
“Yeah, got a bit carried away there,” he said, rubbing the side of his head. “Hurts like hell.”
Robin laughed. “So what do we do now?”
They were standing inside the main control room. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and scanned the computer. The main screen lit up with the display of fireworks and two words slowly transitioned into view on screen.
The Doctor felt a sudden rush of anger at those words, and for the first and only time, anger at Autumn. Why was she doing this?
His vortex manipulator beeped as it received the new space time co-ordinates. “Well we can’t go anywhere but forwards, Robin Moon. Care to join me?” He gave her his hand.
Robin took a long sigh before taking his hand. “I don’t think I have anywhere else to be.” She beamed back at him, and then the Doctor pressed enter and they were sucked into the time vortex once more.