Chapter 19

Just then, there was a strange, high-pitched whirring noise in the room. Wilf and Sylvia once again stopped moving abruptly. As if someone had hit a pause button on a remote control. Donna drew back, a baffled expression crossing her face.

"Donna." Came a soft voice from behind her. An oddly familiar voice.

She blinked several times. Swayed slightly on her feet, the lamp still poised in mid-swing.

The voice, gentle and a bit sad, said, "It's OK, Donna. You can stop now. This isn't real. None of this is. That's not Wilf. Or your mum."

"Wha—?" She said, turning around.

"You're on a space ship. You were kidnapped. Brainwashed in some..." the Doctor paused, pocketing his sonic screwdriver. Anger once again darkening his eyes, he ground out the word resentfully, "...machine."

Recognition came to Donna's face. She dropped the lamp. Instead of crashing to the floor though, it simply dissolved. As did Wilf and Sylvia and the entire room around her. In its place was a large room painted bright green—floors, walls, ceiling.

Looking around with a bewildered expression, she mumbled, "Doctor? What's going on? How'd I end up here?" Then, Donna slowly crumpled to the ground.

Lunging forward to catch her, the Doctor lowered her gently to the floor, cradling her head in his arms.

"I'm sorry, Donna. I'm so sorry.' The Doctor murmured, the guilt he was feeling clearly seen on his face.

"Will she be alright?" Captain Kruptil asked, bending over the Doctor.

"Yes, no thanks to you lot." The Doctor answered bitingly.

"You know, I'm beginning to think perhaps the Aegis was wrong about the humans. They're not so bad, once you get to know them." The Captain said quietly, scratching his ear. "Those two males we picked up with your friend. They seem quite affable, to me. Are you sure your friend is alright? Is there anything I can do?"

"She only sleeping. It's the holo-chip you've planted in her brain. When I turned it off her mind couldn't handle the strain. She'll be alright when she comes to." The Doctor said, a little less hostile now.

Kruptil rubbed the back of his neck and gave a long sigh. "Don't know what I'm going to tell them back home. This is the number one series in its time slot. And the loss of the Aegis...that's not going to go over so well, either. I do hope the people won't riot. You have no idea how angry the mob can get when a favourite programme is canceled. Don't know what we'll do, now."

The Doctor's eyes narrowed and his face grew somber, as he remembered the consequences of his interference with the news broadcasts of Satellite 5. When the deadly reality series and quiz games of the play station took its place.

"Yes, I've seen what can happen when a whole population abruptly loses their daily dose of tele. It can get very ugly."

"But what shall we do, Doctor?" The captain spread his hands in a helpless gesture.

"You could try not kidnapping and murdering humans, for a start." The Doctor frowned up at the captain. "Hire some proper actors and writers. There's plenty of planets out there with talent just begging to ham it up in front of an audience." The Doctor's face brightened, "That's an idea. You might...what's the name of your planet?"


"Ah. The Zeta Reticuli system. I'm very familiar with it. Used to play five-dimensional cribbage with a three-legged marsh vole from Tau Ceti. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! Well, how 'bout this for an idea: 'Mataran's Got Talent!' Get ordinary citizens to do their bit in front of the cameras. You know the sort of thing: singing, dancing, jokes, bit of cat juggling. Good for a few laughs, and you might actually help someone launch a whole new career. Viewers could vote for whomever gets to the final round, so they'd still have a say in who gets the boot. And best of all," the Doctor said pointedly, staring into the face of Kruptil, "no one has to die."

He paused, "Well, unless you get some bloke playing the Saturday Kitchen theme on the accordion." The Doctor winced at the memory. "Oooh! Not pretty. Worse than that nasty wheeeeeaah- noise a dentist's drill makes. Now that, that was one torture session which made me confess, let me tell you."

"I am no Aegis Doctor, " Kruptil said, clasping his hands behind his back, he nodded, "but I think you might have struck upon a good idea. I will put it to the vid-council when I get back home."

"Speaking of going home, when can we leave?" Came another voice from the doorway. Ben appeared, being escorted by a scowling Commander Pruda. "That is, after we find, brother."

"Excuse me for interrupting, but what the hell is going on?"

"Don't swear, Donna." The Doctor said absently. Then he realized she'd woken up and was her old self again. His face beamed down at her. "Donna!"

"Oy! Alien boy!" She said, sitting up abruptly with a shocked expression, after realizing that the Doctor was holding her head in his lap. "Have you been getting fresh with me while I've been sleeping?"

The Doctor quickly removed his hands, looking nervous. "What? Me? No! Never!. You'd passed out on the floor, I was just..." he struggled to find the right words. In particular, words that wouldn't end up with him holding a freshly slapped cheek. "I was just...making you more comfortable, that's all, I swear."

"Now you're the one who's swearing." Donna answered, giving him a cheeky wink.

She knew by then that the Doctor's interest in her was purely friendship. But she did enjoy having him on, now and then. Kept him on his toes. The Doctor helped her to her feet and she gave him a big hug.

"It's good to see you!" She smiled. Then noticed the captain standing there, curiously watching them.

"You!" Donna wheeled towards him, but nearly stumbled.

"Whoa! Easy does it, Donna." The Doctor said, steadying her with his hand. "It's alright. I've given him what for, already."

The Doctor shot a level stare at the captain. "And I'm sure I've made my point, haven't I?"

"Oh yes, quite." Captain Kruptil agreed.

"And I'm sure there's a law against kidnapping innocent humans and forcing them to do things." Donna persisted.

"The captain knows that I'll have the Shadow Proclamation down on him and his planet, if he continues to abduct contestants, Donna. I can always sic you on him, as well. And trust me captain, you think an angry Judoon is bad..."

"Contestants? What'dya mean, contestants? And for God's sake, where's Bailey?" Asked an increasingly anxious Ben.

The Doctor and Donna turned to stare at Ben, as if only just noticing him for the first time.

"Oh. Hello! I'm the Doctor and this is Donna. And you are?"

"Angry as all get out, doctor whoever you are. My, uh, brother, and I. We were both kidnapped by these aliens. Look, I don't know what's going on. And right now, I don't care. All I want is for the two of us to get back to our car, get the dog, and go home."

"Well, I've got Donna, I've got my TARDIS. That shouldn't be too tall an order."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow at the captain, Where is his brother?"

"I'm afraid I don't know." Kruptil shrugged. He looked at Pruda. "Any report on the other human male, commander?"

Pruda hesitated slightly before answering. "He was transmatted directly to the home world, captain. They put him in that new programme, the one that's on right after the children's hour."

Looking disturbed at this news, Captain Kruptil swallowed. "No." he whispered, "Not that one."

"Yes." Pruda could not conceal the malicious expression on his face. "They've got him on Pregnant Hunter Down Under."

"Stupid name for a TV series." Donna frowned.

"Donna." The Doctor muttered, "Not now."

He threw a worried glance at Ben, before turning an angry face on the commander.

But Pruda didn't notice the Doctor. He'd taken exception to Donna's remark. "I"ll have you know, human, that's one of the best new programmes on vid. I never miss a single episode. An alien—such as your human male, is sent on a survival course. He's turned loose in the underground swamps of County Telios with only whatever he had on him when he was captured. Then, he must learn to survive there without being hunted down by a pregnant Vark—they're cranky at the worst of times. But then they grow an extra forty teeth when they're expecting. All that teething makes them even more vicious. It's very exciting viewing."

"Oh no!" Ben cried out. "Not Bailey! You can't!"

Donna went over and put her arms around him. The Doctor gave her a quick look of approval before focusing on the two officers. The captain saw the look on the Doctor's face. Swallowing again, his fingers almost unconsciously loosened the knot in his uniform scarf.

"That will be enough, commander." Kruptil warned. "Just tell us his status, if you please."

"Well, according to the tabutron stats, I'm afraid his days are numbered. Literally. He's presntly at fifty-seven percent in the voting for death. It looks like he's going to be vark bait, before too long.'

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