XIV. Keep Your Guards Up
- see previous chapter - Author’s Note:
I apologize for the uber delay updating this story. School became uber crazy-busy since January and now…well, I somehow managed to find some “spare time” to work on this chapter. Hopefully it’s up to everyone’s liking. Constructive criticism (or any kinda comment really) is appreciated.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = XIV. Keep Your Guards Up
SOMETHING WAS WRONG. THERE WAS SOMETHING tingeing the air, but Astra can’t put her finger to it at the moment. The TARDIS just landed them on Sector 70 of the revolutionary planet of Tor-Dah in the Q’Ohr universe. It was one of the quasi-stable planets not yet ravished by the ongoing war the beings inhabiting this part of the galaxy were prone to do, but from the looks of Tor-Dah’s City Center this planet would soon follow in the footsteps of its sister planets situated in Q’Ohr.
The Doctor was summoned by the High Commander Gragh, a formidable being made of molten lava rocks and fire. For an alien being he seemed pretty indestructible and someone one shouldn’t trifle with. He and his people wore a special suit to avoid singeing other beings in their presence.
Astra was dragged along with the Ponds (she learned during her stay on Earth to recuperate that the Doctor affectionately called the Williams ‘Ponds’; it was an inside joke of theirs according to Rory when Astra asked him to explain). The Doctor was giddy with excitement to show off a planet that was constantly at war to them and thought it would be quite an adventure to visit.
There was nothing funny or exciting about wars, but leave it to the Doctor and his weird sense of humor.
“Why are we here?” Astra asked the Doctor as they were being led to where the High Commander was.
“Their planet’s in constant war and they need a mediator,” was the Doctor’s glib reply.
“And they thought you would make a great mediator?” Amy questioned, her tone not quite believing him.
The Doctor raised a brow at her tone and fixed his bowtie. He squared his shoulders and said smugly, “I am the best mediator there is.”
His claim was rewarded by three bemused chuckles from his companions. He each gave them an annoyed look before walking on head of them. He was a tad bit miffed that they dare to mock him. Sometimes he wondered why he let them get away with it.
It’s because you love them, you ancient sentimental fool, he mentally scolded himself as he pushed himself onwards while he listened to his companions follow him.
Amy, Rory and Astra fell behind the Doctor, each of them holding back their laughter. The Doctor mumbled under his breath something about companions, jealousy and rivalries. It was common for him to see some sort of competition between his old and new companions during the odd times his paths crossed with them. But that wasn’t the case with the Ponds and Astra; like moth to a flame the three of them met, converged and formed a strong and steady alliance. Even River became fast friends with Astra without him knowing when or how it happened. He never got around to asking either River or Astra what changed and when things changed between them since Mortuus. He was both glad and worried about this quick union River and Astra forged.
The foursome was shown to follow another guard to where High Commander Gragh was waiting for them. Unbeknownst to them two sets of glowing yellow eyes were keeping a close watch on the Doctor’s blonde female companion. They could barely contain their glee upon seeing the telltale aura emanating from the blonde woman, but they must keep up appearances or risk getting caught.
Astra felt that ominous feeling once again as they neared the entrance to the High Commander’s office suite. She stopped at the doorway letting the others precede her. She looked back over her shoulder at the domed roof large heavily guarded hall they just left and gave it a quick psychic scan. She picked up none when she was initially swept by this ominous feeling, but feeling it twice in a span of fifteen minutes since landing on this planet can’t be coincidence. This time, however, she picked up an anomaly in her most recent scan, which made her doubly careful and quickly felt for her trusty pack she strapped to her waist hidden behind the tail of her long coat. The Doctor was still against her carrying weapons on the TARDIS, but Astra insisted she was better off fighting any unexpected enemy if she had her pack with her unlike back in Eros when she wasn’t allowed to carry anything to defend herself.
Against her better judgment – and due to her growing worry that something bad was about to happen – Astra sent out a telepathic warning to her companions. She hated revealing her abilities to anyone unless she was stuck between a rock and a hard place; she felt that this one was one of those situations.
“Don’t panic, it’s just me. Don’t let your guards down. Trouble afoot,” Astra warned them. She linked them all telepathically now so they can talk freely amongst themselves without worrying of being overheard by unwanted ears. She told them that too when she saw Rory turning to face her and probably question her about hearing her voice inside his head.
The Doctor’s forehead creased to a frown when he heard Astra’s warning. He purposely slowed his pace down and actually let Amy and Rory get ahead of him so he could fall into step beside Astra.
“What are you talking about?” he asked dropping his voice to a whisper and leaned his head closer so she was the only person who can hear.
Astra cocked an eyebrow. “I just told you we’re all linked, right?” she reminded him.
“I know, but I still want to use my mouth to talk,” argued the Doctor.
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me, hm?” Astra answered cheekily.
The Doctor made a face at her, but he couldn’t find it in him to get mad or even remotely annoyed with her. He probably missed her so damn much that he wanted to just enjoy his second chance at being with her while it lasted.
“Are you two flirting?” boomed Amy’s voice inside their heads. “Please tell me you two are not flirting!” she pleaded.
Astra frowned and looked at the back of the redhead’s head. She was grinning from ear to ear, which Amy couldn’t see but when she mentally spoke to her her grin was apparent.
“What’s wrong with a little flirting? You and your husband do it a lot, you know?” she teased.
That stumped Amy. She wasn’t able to think of any smart comeback, instead she looked over her shoulder and glared at Astra.
Astra stuck her tongue out in response to Amy’s glare before both women burst out giggling. When her eyes locked with the Doctor’s she saw it filled with questions he was burning to ask her, but before he could open his mouth to ask her she stopped him.
“Later,” she promised him then nodded forward to signal that they’ve arrived at the High Commander’s office suite. “It’s your time to shine, Mediator,” she said out loud and gave him a slight push ahead.
THE MEETING WITH HIGH COMMANDER GRAGH lasted for hours. The Doctor and his companions were starting to get restless and temperatures in the room began to rise hotter than the Tor’s naturally higher-than-normal temperature.
The Doctor wasn’t expecting his good friend to demand that he – the Doctor himself – to lead the Tor-Dah army into battle against the Kwan-Daqh army that already took over the vast majority of Tor-Dah since invading the planet a few months ago during Tor-Dah’s weakened state.
“What you’re asking of me is unreasonable, Gragh,” the Doctor argued.
“But you must!” insisted the High Commander. “Your name alone strikes fear to those who knows your reputation,” he added appealing to the Doctor’s ego by reminding him of the reputation he has earned over the years.
The Doctor beamed at the accolades, but he was quickly pulled back to reality when Amy mentally scolded him. He shot his companions an annoyed look before addressing the High Commander once again. He continued to argue with his old friend, trying to reason with the Tor leader at the same time.
Meanwhile Astra kept a close vigil monitoring their surroundings. Her psychic alarms were jangling like crazy; the longer they stayed here the louder the warning bells in her head sounded. It was starting to give her a pounding headache.
Amy was the first to notice her uneasiness and commented on it.
“We need to leave – now,” Astra told her.
“The Doctor’s still talking to Gragh,” Amy pointed out.
“Their argument is mute,” Astra said. “Gragh knows the Doctor won’t change his mind. He’s just stalling him now.”
“How’d you know?” Amy frowned.
“Because they’re just arguing in circles.”
“Do you think the Doctor knows?”
“Of course I know!” yelled the Doctor to them, causing the trio to flinch due to the high volume he projected his thoughts to them.
“End your meeting now and let’s head back to the TARDIS,” instructed Astra.
“What if you’re wrong?” argued the Doctor.
“I haven’t felt right since we left the TARDIS,” Astra argued back.
The Doctor didn’t answer right away. He was still arguing with Gragh while having a telepathic argument with Astra. In as much as he hated to admit it, he too couldn’t help but feel something ominous was afoot.
“Tell me, Gragh,” the Doctor began and took a step closer to the High Commander, “are you being threatened?” he asked looking directly into the fiery eyes of his old friend.
Gragh appeared perplexed by the question, but the Doctor continued to hold his gaze hoping he’ll get the meaning behind the question. If the Tor-Dah High Commander’s being threatened the Doctor assumed his every move was being watched by whoever was threatening him.
“I am always threatened, Doctor,” Gragh answered.
“I see,” the Doctor nodded. Gragh answered his suspicions. “Get ready,” he warned the others. “Well then, old chap, you left me with no choice,” he tsked, shaking his head as if disappointed while he stealthily slipped his sonic screwdriver from his pocket.
“What do you mean?” Gragh asked confused at what the Doctor was talking about.
The Doctor took a step back until he was with the Ponds and Astra, then he looked back at Gragh, smiling up at him acting like nothing was amiss then yelled out, “Run!” and led the others out of the main hall where they were taken to.
“After them!” yelled an annoyed Gragh when he realized what the Doctor was doing. At the heel of his command hundreds of his soldiers present took heed and chased after the Doctor and his companions, firing at them but not hurting them as that would be bad for their part if any one of the Doctor’s companions were hurt in the crossfire.
“What’s your plan?” Astra yelled at the Doctor on top of the laser sounds being fired at their direction.
“Uuuh, get out of here alive for starters!” the Doctor yelled back, looking over his shoulder to check on how many were on their tail.
“You have no plan?” Astra was perplexed.
“He plans on the go,” Amy told Astra as the redhead caught up with the blond. Rory and the Doctor were behind them. “That’s how it usually works,” she added.
“That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard!” Astra glared at the man wearing a bowtie and running for his life.
“I never claimed to be perfect,” the Doctor answered.
Astra was far too annoyed with the man to trust herself to say something nice back. Looking over her shoulder to assess the situation, she did a quick mental calculation then reached behind her for her handy pack that she never left the TARDIS without since Eros. She fiddled with the settings for a bit, ensuring her that when she hit those lava-like targets it would do more than just nick their special armour suits.
The Doctor noticed what she strapped on to her wrist and looked at her in alarm.
“What the hell is that?” he demanded.
“My plan,” Astra answered without meeting the Doctor’s eyes. She aimed at their assailant searching for a vulnerable spot that wouldn’t exactly kill them, but it would at least wound the Tor and slow it down a bit.
“What plan?” he demanded then his eyes widened when instead of answering him Astra took her shot aimed at the Tors. “Astra!” he yelled.
“What?” she snapped at him. “You worry about getting us off this planet and I worry about making sure we don’t get fried on our way back to the TARDIS.”
The Doctor looked like he was about to argue some more, but Astra stopped him from further arguing by answering the elephant question in the room: “I am merely wounding your precious Tors,” was her cheeky response before taking aim at another Tor hot on their heels.
“We’ll talk later,” he told her sternly then turned his attention to the Ponds, shouting orders and directions on where to turn and what to avoid while Astra continued to cover their behinds by hindering their attackers.
Adrenaline was pumping in all four time traveler’s veins as they each jumped, ducked and moved sideways to avoid any laser beams or falling and/or exploding debris that got in their way.
“I can see her now!” shouted the Doctor excitedly when the TARDIS came into view.
Amy, Rory and Astra picked up their paces a bit more once they saw their blue box salvation in sight. With the Doctor taking the lead and Astra holding back their attackers as best as she could, they all ran towards their beckon of safety. The Doctor was the first to reach the TARDIS, but something unexpected happened and he was propelled back towards the Ponds when he was about a foot or two away from reaching the TARDIS’ doors.
“Doctor!” Amy shouted in alarm and braced herself alongside her husband to catch the madman with a box before he hit the ground.
Astra came to a dusty stop behind them and looked down at the trio. “What happened?” she demanded.
“I dunno,” answered the Doctor. He had this wild look on his face as if he couldn’t believe what just happened. “I couldn’t get to her,” he said his gaze still fixed on the TARDIS standing so close yet so far away at the same time.
Astra frowned and walked over the semi-sprawled Doctor and tried to get close to the TARDIS. She was met with an invisible shield preventing them from getting to the blue box.
“Damn,” she hissed under her breath and tried punching the unseen force field even though she knew it was futile to do so.
“You didn’t think you’d get away that easily, Doctor?” Gragh’s voice boomed around them, but the Tor-Dah leader was nowhere to be found.
The Doctor straightened himself up, dusting his sleeves and pants as he did so, then looked up at the ceiling in general when he answered the High Commander.
“I told you, Gragh, my answer is no,” he repeated appearing and sounding smugger than usual.
“Sorry, Doctor, this time you have no choice in the matter,” answered Gragh who appeared from the spiraling thick smoke created by his fellow Tors in pursuit of them, but the High Commander’s attention wasn’t focused on the Doctor but rather on one of his companions he was protecting behind him.
The Doctor followed the giant Tor’s gaze and it landed square on his newly re-acquired companion: Astra. He cocked an eyebrow at the befuddled blonde then looked back at the Tor.
“What would you want with her?” he demanded, his tone laced with menace as he kept his temper in check.
“Not me. I don’t care a whit about that human,” spat the High Commander.
“If not you, who then?”
“That’s none of your business, Doctor.”
“Wrong. It is my business since she’s traveling with me, and anyone in my traveling party is therefore my responsibility.”
“Doesn’t matter. We will take the girl from you with or without your permission.”
“I was afraid you will say that,” tsked the Doctor.
“And why is that, Doctor?” questioned the Tor-Dah leader.
“Because, Gragh, you just crossed the line in our friendship wherein which you can never cross back from,” the Doctor answered cryptically.
The High Commander was rendered confounded for a moment. Even Astra was confused and sought out Amy and Rory’s help to translate what he meant.
“He’s severing their friendship right here, right now,” explained Amy.
“I see,” Astra nodded. “Why?”
“Because the High Commander wanted to harm one of his companions, that’s why,” it was Rory who answered.
Astra regarded the Tor leader closely, studying the hulking walking-talking lavaman carefully and tried to get a good read on him. She tried to hone in on that lurking feeling for foreboding she felt earlier. Usually she’d be able to sense it from the person who wanted to do harm on to someone else, but all she was getting from the Tor commander was a mixed bag of overrun emotions. That was weird considering the High Commander was willing to use force to snatch her – why her, anyway? – away from the Doctor and the Ponds.
“Give the girl to us and you and your other companions can go in peace,” demanded Gragh.
“Never,” was the Doctor’s stubborn reply. “She came with me, therefore she leaves with me,” he stated.
“If only it was that easy, Doctor,” mocked the High Commander. “You can’t win against us. Your transportation will be held shielded from you, thus rendering you unable to depart,” he pointed out.
The Doctor couldn’t think of any witty comeback to throw at the High Commander at that very moment. He was currently in the midst of trying to figure out a way for him and his companions to leave this planet and never return if he had a choice and at the same time freeing the TARDIS from the shield the Tors used on her.
Astra was startled to hear the Doctor’s voice in her head. She didn’t think he’d bother using their telepathic link to talk to her.
“Do you have anything on your person that could lower the shield blocking us from getting to the TARDIS?” he asked.
“I could try upping the setting on my weapon, but I doubt I’ll have enough power to lower the shield before it runs out.”
A flicker of hope lit up the Doctor’s dwindling self-confidence. “Would my screwdriver be of any assistance?” he asked hopefully.
“It might, but that could drain your screwdriver off its power,” she warned him.
“Yeah, well, but at least it’s worth a shot, eh?”
“It damn better work,” hissed Amy who was listening in on the Doctor and Astra’s conversation while keeping her eyes trained on the Tors that surrounded them.
“Fine. Sonic me, Doctor,” Astra instructed and held out her wrist.
The Doctor activated his sonic screwdriver and aimed it in the general direction he figured Astra’s weapon was since his back was to her.
“That’s it. Stall Gragh,” she ordered while she looked for the proper setting to lower the shield separating them from the TARDIS.
“With pleasure,” the Doctor grinned and to the High Commander he asked, “Tell me, Gragh, why are you interested in one of my companions? They’re just humans – nothing really special about them.”
“Hey!” Amy complained out loud and swatted his shoulder to let him know she didn’t appreciate what he just said about her race.
“I said stall Gragh not insult people, Doctor,” Astra scolded.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to insult present company,” the Doctor apologized. He continued to work on stalling Gragh until Astra gave them the signal that the shield has weakened and they can get through. It was taking Astra rather a long time to weaken the shield, but it was working nevertheless.
“I only need a few more seconds, Doctor. Keep stalling him,” Astra encouraged.
“I’m running out of stalling things to say to him,” he confided to his companions.
“What do these people who hired you to take me from the Doctor want from me?” Astra asked out loud. The Doctor and the Ponds gave her a queer look, surprised at her drawing the High Commander’s attention to herself when moments ago she was urging the Doctor to continue stalling the lava creature.
“What are you doing?” demanded the Doctor.
“Shield’s almost lowered. Amy, Rory, start backing up slowly while I have Gragh’s attention,” Astra instructed, her gaze on the High Commander never wavering.
“I told you, I don’t—”
“Liar!” Astra accused, cutting the High Commander off mid-sentence. “Surely you know why I am required if you are willing to sacrifice your friendship with the Doctor,” she taunted. “Did whoever hire you to do this offer you their allegiance and support against this ongoing war your galaxy’s engaged on?”
Gragh snarled something nasty at her. Astra maintained her cool and actually smirked smugly at the High Commander.
“That’s it, huh? That’s the tradeoff you agreed to,” from the corner of her eye she saw the Ponds have safely backed in to the lowered shield and was still undetected.
“You’re next, Doctor,” she told the man who remained standing in front of her, blocking her from the Tor-Dah leader.
“Now’s not the time to argue. You know as well as we do that you’re the only person – aside from River – who can handle the TARDIS,” she told him and to prove she meant business she walked around the Doctor and faced off with Gragh herself.
“Astra!” the Doctor mentally hissed at her.
“Amy and Rory are waiting, Doctor,” she shooed him away. “How good is this person’s word to you, huh, Gragh? How can you be certain that once you hand me off to them they wouldn’t just up and leave you to defend your own hides?” Astra continued to goad the Tor-Dah leader while mentally she was having an argument with the Doctor. He didn’t want to budge while Amy and Rory were doing their best to convince him to move and join them on the other side of the shield.
“Astra, stop stalling and move!” demanded the Doctor.
“I need to keep his attention focused on me so you can move, Doctor. Now please stop being so stubborn and move!” Astra ordered.
The Doctor knew she was right. One of them needed to keep the High Commander distracted, because if he was distracted his minions would be too; they’d be paying attention to Gragh and very little attention to them. But he’d be damned if he move to safety and leave Astra to be captured by Gragh and traded off to whoever villain the High Commander made a deal with.
“Amy, Rory, on my signal run and open both doors of the TARDIS,” ordered the Doctor.
“Okay,” agreed the couple.
Astra wasn’t paying attention to what was happening with her companions. She was far too busy distracting the High Commander that it took her by surprise when she felt herself manhandled by the last person she expected to pick her up and hoist her over his shoulder like she weighed nothing but a sack of flour.
“Oi! What are you doing?” Astra demanded.
“Saving your life!” answered the Doctor who made a mad dash towards through the weakened shield and through the open TARDIS doors.
“What?” Astra was too shocked to say anything intelligent at the moment. She lifted her head in time to see Gragh point one of his laser canon guns at them.
“Doc-toooooooooooooor!” growled a furious Gragh when he saw what happened. He aimed his weapon at the escaping Time Lord and the blonde woman who was to be his people’s salvation.
“Doctor, he’s going to pulverize us!” exclaimed Astra.
“Amy, Rory, open those doors!” ordered the Doctor who ran with all his might carrying Astra over his shoulder and barreled through the TARDIS’ open doors. “Close it quickly!” he ordered over his shoulder, stopping quickly to drop a still stunned Astra off his shoulder and ran toward the console. He started barking orders at the couple as he readied the TARDIS to dematerialize off this planet.
Astra watched the trio scramble around the console trying to get themselves off this rock. She walked back to the door and opened it to take a peek outside. What greeted her was a big, hot flash of orange red fire that Gragh threw at them. She screamed and fell back away from the door in surprise.
The Doctor heard Astra’s scream and looked up. He saw her fall on the floor away from the now open TARDIS door.
“Astra!” he called in alarm. “Rory, close the door and help Astra,” the Doctor ordered the nurse.
Rory didn’t argue with the Doctor. They were all running on adrenaline and all he could think of was leaving this war-ravaged planet behind in one piece. He reached Astra and helped the blonde woman up.
“Are you okay?” he asked once she was upright.
“Gragh’s going to burn us. He’s using fire instead of laser to shoot the TARDIS,” Astra told him.
“We’re still protected by the shield they erected!” Amy told them. She held on to the railing while the Doctor frantically moved around behind her.
Rory and Astra walked back to the door and took a peek. The shield that kept them away from the TARDIS moments ago was doing what it was supposed to do: keep the unwanted out.
“That’s shield’s not going to last long,” Astra assessed. “I lowered its defenses, remember?” she cast the Doctor a forlorn look over her shoulder.
“Close the door! We’re ready to go!” the Doctor ordered and the familiar metallic whooshing sound of the TARDIS echoed around them.
Rory slammed the door shut and grabbed Astra’s hand, taking her back up to the console with the rest of them.
“What will happen to Gragh and his people now?” Amy questioned the Doctor.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
“You must know or at least have an inkling,” the red haired woman cajoled.
“No,” the Doctor answered. His eyes showed something akin to murderous as he stared at the monitor overheard. He wasn’t looking at any one of his three companions. His attention was focused on the planet they just left.
“Doctor—” Amy had more questions, but the Doctor wasn’t in the mood to answer them all.
It was Astra who stopped the other woman from bombarding the Time Lord with further questions.
“You can expect the worse from the people Gragh bargained with,” she told the stunned human.
Rory moved swiftly beside his wife and wrapped his arms around her, offering her support. He doesn’t need to ask Astra to explain what she meant.
The Doctor listened to his companions’ conversation, but he chose not to join them. He was having a mental conversation with himself about many things, but mostly it concerns only one person: Astra.
Here you go, folks. Sorry for the delay. I’m doing my job placement for school right now and in April I’m going this year’s Camp Nanowrimo yet again, so updating this story might take a while once again. I hope you enjoy this chapter. I’ll try and update this story before April if I can.