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PART ONE

t was Steven who noticed it first. The noise was barely discernable, yet the blinking light was unmistakable. He checked and double-checked before shouting for the Doctor, not wanting the old man to dismiss him with a wave of his hand and a curt word – he was used to that.

The Doctor took his time, not hurrying but ensuring when he did arrive that he scrutinised the console for minutes, striving to ascertain that what Steven had said was indeed correct.

To Steven the time seemed to pass imperceptibly slowly, the Doctor putting on and removing his half moon spectacles what seemed like dozens of times. It was he who was getting impatient, the Doctor’s measured approach irritating him. His patience was usually so great – all that time held captive by the Mechanoids had meant that he’d needed to keep sane, and being patient was the only way to do that. His mind occupied itself, until eventually, he’d thought, rescue would come. And indeed it did, in the form of the elderly gentlemen who was now severely testing that patience.

'Well come on Doctor, is it or isn’t it?' He couldn’t wait any longer for an answer so he had to force it out of the old man.

The Doctor didn’t seem to have heard him at first – or at least he feigned deafness, another trait that was all too commonplace thought Steven. Then, the Doctor looked up at his travelling companion and nodded sagely. 'You were very wise to bring this to my attention, very wise indeed. It seems to be some kind of message.'

Steven nodded. 'That’s what I thought. But is it a distress signal? Or some sort of alien ‘hello’?'  He paused. 'Or maybe it’s some sort of advertisement? That’s the sort of thing they were talking about when I was last on Earth, before the wars.'

The Doctor waved his hands in Steven’s direction. 'None of those dear boy, or unless...' He raised a finger to his lips, seeming deep in thought. 'Unless of course it’s all of them, hmm...'

'All of what?' Vicki yawned as she strolled into the console room.

Steven pointed at the blinking light on the console and watched as Vicki followed his own gaze. She then looked to the Doctor, and then back to Steven who nodded as if answering a question that need not be spoken.

The Doctor turned to Vicki. 'Ah my child, you’re awake. Steven and I were discussing what sort of message this light here was indicating.'

Steven rolled his eyes and mumbled, 'Hardly a discussion.' The scowl he got from the Doctor showed that he’d definitely heard this time. Steven smiled pleasantly in an attempt to placate him, the Doctor hurrumphing all the while.

The Doctor was about to speak when Vicki beat him to it. 'We’ve landed!' The noise around the room was eerily quiet. The TARDIS’s central column had stopped, the cacophony of sound that accompanied it also gone. The travellers looked at each other in confusion, and turned almost simultaneously at the faint noise of the scanner screen turning on.

The image that presented itself was nothing especially unusual. A couple of white coated scientists were milling about in a vast laboratory, the TARDIS not seeming to take much of their attention.

'Any ideas where we are Doctor?' Vicki was staring intently at the screen, watching the men moving around. She wasn’t sure, but something seemed a little odd about their movements.

The Doctor too was studying the image closely, scrutinising the actions of the figures. Suddenly another figure had appeared in the room, one the Doctor recognised all too well. He whirled around, and his suspicions were confirmed immediately.

'He’s gone! Just walked out of those doors, the impetuous young fellow!'  The Doctor moved to the ship’s entrance himself, but as he approached, the doors seemed to shut of their own accord.

Vicki was staring at the screen now, watching Steven attempt to engage the men in conversation. 'Doctor, they’re ignoring him! It’s as if he’s invisible!'

'Yes, yes that’s very interesting.' The Doctor looked back to the screen, his brief anger subsiding as he watched the two men still ignoring Steven. He saw Steven attempt to contact them, waving a hand in front of their faces, but no recognition. The two men at various times stood directly in front of the TARDIS but seemed to have no awareness of it.

Vicki squinted at the screen, the movements of the men puzzling her. 'Doctor, is it me or...'

They both stood gazing at the screen for a couple of minutes, the figures moving back to the positions they’d started in. 'It’s some kind of loop! Yes, the same actions repeated.' The Doctor chuckled. 'How very strange my child!' Yet the realisation of what else this meant suddenly dawned on him as Steven began to repeat his own actions, moving towards the TARDIS, trying to attract the attention of the men, then starting again. And again.

The Doctor looked at Vicki, who stared at him open mouthed. 'But Steven’s trapped out there! We have to help him!' She made for the door, the Doctor following as fast as he could. Yet both had barely moved when the scanner flickered off, and the ship began the elephantine trumpeting that signalled its departure.

'No, no, no!' The Doctor moved around the console with surprising speed, trying with all his might to stop the Ship from moving, but to no avail.

'Doctor, you’ve got to do something! We can’t abandon Steven there! We don’t even know where he is!'

The Doctor chose not to react, instead turning away from the console in frustration. 'Infernal time distortion! That’s what it is my child.' He raised a hand. 'But don’t worry we’ll get Steven back.' Under his breath and out of Vicki’s eyeshot he added, 'I hope.'

~~~

 

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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