Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Six

strh

We’re rolling now.

6. The Death Tribe and the Goddess

Tobun’s hut was modest in size compared to some of the other dwellings in the village. Some tribesmen had built their homes into the largest trees at the edges of the clearing, leading to some intricate and large designs. Their eldest member, however, was a man of minimal needs. Thick boughs made up the structure, with stretched hides forming a roof over. The hut was octagonal in shape and very closely resembled a yurt.

Women of the tribe, the first either of the time travelers had seen since arriving, brought in a series of steaming, deep pots, all with different meats and vegetables on skewers inside. Tobun explained that everything they were eating had been caught or harvested that same day. The forest was apparently verdant with flora and fauna, and while agriculture was not a technology unknown to the tribe, the sheer volume of edible plants growing naturally did not require them to grow and tend their own food, or find solutions for irrigation.

The meal was well received by both the Doctor, who politely accepted the fifth and sixth round of food even though he was feeling very uncomfortable well before pushing his bowl away.

The Captain, who had finally been tended to by Tobun’s trusted healers, had a healthy appetite and ate twice as much as either of the other men.

“We appreciate your hospitality, Tobun,” the Doctor said to him. “And now that I have eaten your food I will say thank you.”

“Yes, this was a fine feast,” Captain Light agreed, belching behind a fist.

“I take it by your tone and polite shifting of your bowls that you are now moving from accepting gifts to demanding answers,” Tobun said with a slight smirk. “But before we begin, I want you to know that I purposefully ended the discussion earlier in order that you would hear only information that would help you. While the men that help me in the affairs of this village are wise in their own ways, each has their own agenda, and all would have given you different versions of the answers you are probably looking for.”

“Well, thank you for that,” the Doctor replied. “We realize our coming here is met with some suspicion.”

“I do not suspect you of being anything other than two travelers waylaid on their journey. I will do what I can to help you, and the rest of the tribe will do as command them. Now, let us speak less of the moment and more of that which is unknown to you. Ask your questions.”

The Doctor and the Captain looked at each other, and Captain Light nodded for the Doctor to go ahead.

“How long has she been here?” the Doctor asked. “Does she have a name?”

“Long before I was born, and before my father’s father’s father was born, she was here,” Tobun answered. “And next you will ask how she has not aged. Ages ago we worshiped her as a goddess, and so the dream of her has always been alive in our minds. She is the only goddess in the pantheon, and so we simply call her Goddess. The rest of our gods took the form of men or animals. The palace where she gathers her followers was a temple built for worship of her, though we abandoned it long ago when the Death Tribe appeared.”

“Why then?” the Doctor pressed.

“It was a dark time for our people, and we were very nearly destroyed by the Death Tribe. We turned from our gods after seeing that they had abandoned us to the evil force that spawned our wicked brothers. The Death Tribe took over the temple, and the Death God used it as his seat of power. The Death Tribe believed a prophecy that they had been chosen to purify the planet. The Death God convinced them that if our species were to survive on this planet, it would eventually spawn a child that would destroy everything, the planet, the stars. And so they slaughtered us, and they did so with suicidal fervor, knowing that their deaths had purpose. The planet was once swarming with different tribes, but most were either destroyed or turned to the beliefs of the Death Tribe.”

Captain Light shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and the Doctor was not oblivious to it.

“I notice that your people have survived,” the Doctor responded. “How long ago did all this happen?”

“My grandfather was a child when the Death Tribe was defeated and the Death God disappeared. The temple remained empty until two winters ago. That was when new stars began to appear in our sky. The people began to say that new gods had arrived to protect us. And that is when she appeared,” Tobun said gravely.

At this, the Captain sat forward. “Did she come in a ship from space?”

Tobun shook his head. “As I told you before, the last spaceship to land here left when I was a child. There was a tribe that made their homes in the cliffs to the North of the temple, some distance from here. We once traded with them quite frequently. Ryn Fegh had taken his caravan there on his winter route, but when he arrived the village was abandoned except for one man who was dying. The man had cut off his hands, and with his last words he told Ryn Fegh that the entire village had been possessed by the Goddess and had gone to her temple.

“Ryn Fegh traveled to the temple to verify this, and he spied lights there that had not been there before. Keeping hidden, he watched the temple, and, indeed, the tribe were all there, and each of them had a red right hand. Ryn Fegh attempted to speak with him, but they acted as if he was not there. They went about their lives in a happy daze, eating and drinking and socializing, but only with those who bore the red hand. Ryn was invisible to them. Before he left, he says he saw the Goddess descend from the temple and the people bow to her. In fear and awe, Ryn Fegh fled back to us, and related his tale.”

“And then this … disease,” the Doctor mused. “The red right hand began to spread to other villages? Including your own?”

“News of the rebirth of the Goddess, coupled with the new constellations in the sky caused a resurgence in the worship of the old gods. Ryn Fegh, being a traveling merchant, spread his tale along his caravan route, and so, many of the tribes also began this worship, some more than others. They began pilgrimages to the temple, and most never returned, but some did. Those of our village that returned bore the red hand, though the happiness and contentment that Ryn Fegh witnessed at the temple did not carry back to their villages. They demanded we all return with them to the temple and give ourselves to the Goddess. Those affected were violent and possessed a deadly power in those hands. If we attempted to restrain them or attack them, they would cause the attackers to turn to dust.”

“What about the other weapons, the plasma rifles and such,” Captain Light interjected. “Where did they come from?”

“Devos can tell you better than I,” Tobun admitted. “His tribe fought them in combat. When Devos made his way to our village after his tribe was slaughtered, that was the first we heard of the weapons.”

The Doctor and Captain Light exchanged glances.

“I think that about covers it,” Captain Light said, standing from his seat. “We really appreciate–”

“Wait a moment,” the Doctor interrupted him. “Tobun, I have a few more questions, if you don’t mind.”

Tobun nodded for the Doctor to proceed. Captain Light seemed reluctant to sit back down, but did so with a sigh.

“This Death Tribe. How exactly did you defeat them?” the Doctor asked.

“A hero appeared. Some say he was the very child the prophecies said would bring about the destruction of all things, already born and grown to adulthood. He united the tribes that were left and led them against the Death God. Shortly after that final battle, the hero disappeared. My grandfather said that the hero came from our tribe, and when he returned after defeating the Death God, the village elders gave him an artifact of great power that allowed him to leave this place forever.”

“Sounds like every other hero prophecy I’ve ever heard. I’m sure they’ve got a genesis story and a great flood like everyone else, too,” the Captain quipped.

“Well, it might be important,” the Doctor countered. “Suppose that Death God, or whatever was behind it, somehow survived.”

“Last question,” the Doctor continued. “Does anyone see the Goddess outside of her temple?”

“You yourself claim to have seen her,” Tobun replied.

“Yes, aside from us.”

“She sometimes is seen in the forest, but only a handful of men ever escape her. Her touch brings the red hand. I am surprised that neither of you have it, having been captured by her. It is unusual.” Tobun looked at both of them in turn. “The others will accuse you of being in league with her, but I believe otherwise.”

“I am glad you trust us,” the Doctor replied nervously. “We desperately need to get off this planet. We want no trouble with you or your people.”

“Huts have been arranged for you, and you will stay with us until we leave for the temple. I am assuming you wish to go with us, should the council decide to send a party to her.”

“So, you will go with us? It could be dangerous,” the Doctor replied, concerned.

“I am not so old as I appear. I will do all I can to help you,” Tobun said solemnly. He then added, “Time lord.”

Both the Captain and the Doctor were shocked into silence.

“Your people are the space travelers that first aided us long ago. I can hear the beat of your two hearts from here.”

Tobun smiled a bit cheekily at the Doctor.

Devos was the last to arrive to the common house for the council meeting the next day.

The Doctor was quick to berate the Captain for the hijacked man’s robotic gait. “Can’t you do something about that?” he whispered harshly. “He looks like a marionette.”

“You try to control a life-size puppet while someone’s badgering you,” the Captain snapped back. He adjusted a knob on a device wrapped around his wrist.

The two guests of the tribe had been given smaller seats on the dais with the other five, and sat to the left of Tobun’s throne. While both Griln and Sigg were slightly upset at their being given such access, Ryn Fegh seemed to accept the word of Tobun that the travelers could be trusted.

“I hope that this will be a short discussion,” Tobun said to the assembled tribesmen. Several dozen members of the tribe were also in attendance and sat at the long tables surrounding the dais. “Yesterday it was decided that the time has come for us to confront the Goddess and her people, and the only decision that remains is that of who will go to bargain for peace with her.”

Several warriors that were present, obviously at the behest of Griln, stood and shouted their disapproval.

“Silence!” Tobun bellowed. The warriors immediately took their seats, as quick to obey as Tobun’s own son.

“War has already been brought to her by a tribe well suited for it, and they have failed. We must take a different path,” Tobun continued. “We will ask that she leave our village in peace, and we will agree to supply her with whatever she may desire that we can produce for her.”

Murmurs broke out among the assembled tribe.

“As the leader of this tribe, it is my duty to go and represent our people. Griln and Devos will accompany me.”

Several negative shouts erupted from throughout the common house.

Shouting above their cries, Tobun said, “I realize the danger that exists. And that is why I leave you two trustworthy council members to lead you should our mission fail and we not return. Sigg and Ryn Fegh will remain behind and carry on the work of the council. Jaron will also be given a temporary seat, if he will accept it.”

Jaron looked immediately embarrassed from his table of hunters, but nodded his acceptance solemnly.

“These men will protect you while we are away. If we should not return, they will direct the future of this tribe. They each have my blessing in the pursuit, should it come to pass.”

Turning back to the council, Tobun declared, “These are the conditions of our journey, and each of us knows the roles proposed. Are we in agreement that this shall be?”

Griln, Sigg, and Ryn Fegh all spoke “Aye!” in turn. Devos remained silent.

“Devos?” Tobun asked, awaiting his response.

The Doctor politely stepped on the Captain’s boot and ground his heel into the toe.

“Aye,” Devos stated very monotonously as the Captain stifled a curse.

“Jaron?” Tobun prompted, turning to him.

“Aye,” Jaron stated proudly. “May I serve as you desire.”

Tobun nodded. “Then we leave as the sun reaches its peak. Trust in those we’ve left behind to guide you, and let your thoughts be with us as we journey to the temple for the betterment of our peoples.”

With that, the assembly stood and began to filter out of the common house.

“They really trust him, don’t they?” the Captain observed. “He could tell them anything and they’d go along with it.”

“The fact that he doesn’t is why they trust him,” the Doctor replied.

Four of Griln’s warriors were chosen as escort, and they took up positions in front and behind the group as it left the village for the temple in the Kingdom of the Red Hand.

Most of the village turned out to see them off, and the tribe gave them a cheer as they set out.

As Tobun had remarked, he was not as old as he looked, and the pace he set was quick. Several times he had to prod the warriors in front of him to move faster. They made good time, as far as the Doctor could tell. They reached the promontory that offered the view of the temple in the distance in less time than it had taken the Doctor and the Captain to reach the village from there.

They moved in silence for the most part, but occasionally Tobun regaled them with tales out of the tribe’s legends as they walked.

When they camped for the night, Tobun and his son related the climactic battle against the Death Tribe as it had been told to them. The Doctor listened with interest, but the Captain seemed bored with the tale and curled up to sleep well before the others.

Their warrior escorts took turns on watch, but the night passed without incident.

After a quick breakfast, they were on the move again and the column of travelers had just attained their pace from the previous day when a strange sound was heard in the distance. The forest was thick overhead except directly over the narrow trail they followed. It was impossible to see the direction the sound was coming from.

“Sounds like a ship,” the Captain remarked.

The warriors took up defensive positions around the group, and pulled their wicked axes from their backs.

“Chariots!” Griln growled. “They’re going to attack.”

The warrior chief, who never let go of his massive battleaxe, hefted it and stood protectively in front of his father.

“Now how do you know they’ll attack us?” the Doctor remarked. “Perhaps they’ve come to give us a ride?”

As the Doctor said this, one chariot, really just a platform with a massive plasma gun mounted to a steering column, appeared ahead of them, dropping down to the trail from above. As it touched down, the weapon fired twice, vaporizing two of the warriors instantly.

Another chariot appeared behind them, and just as quickly, the other two warriors were eliminated, leaving Griln with the only weapon.

From both chariots, a handful of uniformed men disembarked carrying plasma weaponry. Each had a red right hand, and on their uniforms they bore an insignia that matched it, a red right hand set on a golden triangle.

“Throw down the axe!” one of the men demanded to Griln, leveling his weapon at him.

Griln sneered at the soldiers, gripping his hilt tighter. “Why don’t you come and take it from me?”

The rest of the group clumped together, warily watching the exchange.

“We will take you to the Goddess unharmed, but you will not enter the Kingdom of the Red Hand with weapons!” the soldier barked. “Last chance, or you’ll be vaped like your inadequate escort.”

“He can be trusted not to use it. I give you my assurances,” Devos said suddenly. “Now, lower your own weapons and escort us to the temple as you were instructed.”

The Doctor looked at the Captain who seemed deep in concentration.

Immediately, the soldiers lowered their weapons.

“Devos,” Tobun said, turning to him. “You know these men?”

“All will be revealed in time,” Devos said cryptically.

“Traitor!” Griln accused. Tobun put a hand out and held his son’s shoulder.

“Third party, we’ll say,” Devos said, his voice very monotonous. Turning, he walked to the chariot that had landed first and stood on the platform. “These should hold us adequately. The pilots will take us to the temple, and the remaining soldiers can walk back.”

The soldiers seemed about to protest when Devos shouted, “That is an order! Now help them aboard.”

Confused, the Doctor and the others allowed themselves to be herded onto the vehicles–the Doctor and Captain with Devos, and Griln and Tobun on the other. One soldier joined each group and the rest stayed behind as the chariots lifted off.

“What are you playing at?” the Doctor demanded of the Captain as soon as they were airborne.

“Look at their hands,” the Captain said, pointing surreptitiously to the pilot.

The Doctor scrutinized the pilot’s right hand carefully before spotting it. The man was sweating. The sweat was causing the red paint on his hand to run.

“TDI?” the Doctor whispered. “Faking loyalty to the Goddess?”

“It appears so,” the Captain answered.

“How did you notice that in all the ruckus?” the Doctor asked, perplexed.

“I didn’t. I recognized the weapons,” he answered. “Took a chance on Devos though.”

“Well, I won’t complain on that point,” the Doctor replied. “We may have lost Griln if that went on. I anticipate we may need him later.”

The chariots rose above the trees and set off toward the temple. Primitive in comparison to technology both the Doctor and Captain had seen in their travels, it was sorcery to Griln, who nearly swooned directly off the platform. Twice during their flight, a stream of vomit fell from the platform and splattered on the tops of trees as they passed.

Hundreds of people milled around in the clearing that held the massive ziggurat. Stone buildings had been erected around the temple in patterns radiating out.

“Those are new construction,” the Doctor pointed out as they flew overhead. “They look like barracks.”

“The faithful have to sleep somewhere,” the Captain remarked.

The chariots rose over the top of the ziggurat revealing a courtyard at its center. Both chariots hovered briefly before descending into the structure and setting down in the courtyard where a dozen men stood bearing spears with their red right hands.

Stepping off the chariots, Griln less gracefully than the rest, the visitors were grouped together and surrounded.

Tobun saw an opportunity to speak. “We come to speak with the Goddess and would like to make an offer of friendship to her.”

Those with the spears ignored them. They seemed to be as lifeless and robotic as Devos, though the Doctor doubted it was the same technology. The spearmen all had smiles.

A woman in a long silk dress approached them and bowed deeply to Tobun. Her right hand was red.

“Elder Tobun,” she said reverantly. “We have been expecting you for some time. You are the last of the great tribe leaders to offer his service to the Goddess. Did you not trust the judgment of the rest of us? Did we not tell you it would be better this way? We sent many messengers to you. Did they not convince you?”

“You sent our own men and women back to us! They killed people for no reason in their madness!” Tobun fumed. “I trust you, Laara, no more than I trust the men that just murdered four of my warriors. You were always devious, even before you came here.”

“Bad blood there,” the Doctor whispered. The Captain nodded in agreement.

Turning to Devos, Laara smiled. “Welcome back, Devos.” Suddenly she touched her right hand to his face. Devos’s eyes went wide with horror and he screamed. Neither Griln nor Tobun moved to help him.

The Captain, suddenly inhaling sharply, ripped the device from his wrist and let it drop to the ground where it began to smoke.

Before their eyes, Devos’s right red began to slowly turn red.

As his scream faded, a smile played across his face. He then turned and stood next to Laara, who looked back to Tobun with a smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll get to you and your son soon enough. Devos here failed me and my Goddess and needs immediate punishment.”

Laara then stepped over to the Doctor and the Captain. “You two are quite the clever ones, aren’t you? The Goddess has very special plans for the both of you.” She crouched momentarily and picked up the device that the Captain had been wearing. “I believe you’ll find Devos less suggestive than before.” She held the device teasingly before the Captain’s face before tossing it aside.

“Now, are you prepared to meet the Goddess?”

“Oh yes, very much so,” the Doctor said cheerfully.

This seemed to displease Laara. “The only reason you do not belong to us is that my Goddess commands you stay disconnected.”

“Interesting terminology,” the Doctor replied with a smile.

“Where is Penelope?” the Captain demanded.

“Oh, you mean the sparkly little cube?” said a voice behind them. Turning collectively, they all saw the diminutive Goddess walking towards them.

“I thought I left you two to die,” she said disappointedly. “Why didn’t you obey me?”

“Look, we just want to get off this planet,” the Captain pleaded. “Why don’t you just give me back my AI, and we’ll leave you to this, whatever this is.”

“You both went through an awful lot of trouble to get here, Captain Drustan Light, formerly of the Temporal Defense Initiative. You’ve already been disciplined for interfering in a TDI mission, what makes you think we’ll allow you to do so again?”

“What?” the Captain said, surprised. “You’re TDI?”

“My mission here is to prevent a paradox,” the Goddess replied. “I’m saving the universe.”

“There’s no way you’re TDI, you’re too young,” he replied.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” she snapped back quickly. Turning to the Doctor, she added, “Isn’t that right, Doctor? How is our dear Doctor Watson, or what’s his name again, Jeffrey? I bet he has a lot … on his mind.”

The Doctor’s mouth gaped open.

“Oh yes,” she nodded. “You were on the right track, though entirely by accident.”

She turned from them and snapped her fingers. From a side corridor, several men quickly carried in an ornate throne, which she then sat upon, her child size causing its voluminous cushions to nearly engulf her.

“And so here we are,” she giggled. “Thank you for coming to my party.”

“What are you up to?” the Doctor demanded. “Whatever it is, I’ll find a way to stop you. You ruined a good man, and I won’t let you do it again.”

“Well, let’s see,” she replied, touching a finger to her chin. “First, a tea party, then we give Mr. Grumpy Tobun and his apeish son a lovely red hand, and then we kill you.”

“What’s the red hand for?” the Doctor finally asked.

“Like all TDI business,” she replied. “It is none of yours.”

(to be continued)

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Five

strh

5. Time Lord, Time Bandit

The village of the Kinzix tribe was a far hike from where the Captain’s ship had come down, and the forest grew thicker around them before they began to see signs of habitation. Sparse game trails they followed soon turned to well-worn paths with ruts from carts, but even then the paths were well concealed. You could be standing parallel to a fairly wide path on your own game trail and the thick trees could completely block it from your sight.

Jaron led the column of hunters, with the Doctor and Captain Light bringing up the rear. The pain from his wounds troubled Captain Light to the point that Jaron had given him a wad of mashed fruit to chew. After initially refusing the aid, the Captain finally relented and chewed the thick pasty fruit in displeasure. Only seconds passed before he remarked that the pain had gone away.

“Clever tribe this,” the Doctor said as they continued down the trail. “Are these the sort of primitives you were used to dealing with on this planet?”

“Somewhat,” the Captain replied. “I only had the opportunity to view them from a distance. I try not to interfere with lesser cultures in my travels.

“You mean you try not to get caught thieving relics from them,” the Doctor teased.

Captain Light smiled. “That too.”

They walked on in silence for several moments before the Captain continued on along the path of inquiry the Doctor had started down.

“There were no plasma rifles when I was here last. No microsatellite barrier. The primitives I encountered were dying, and there really was nothing I could do for them.”

“What do you mean there’s nothing you could do for them?” the Doctor replied. “You mean you didn’t want to help them.”

“No, Doctor,” the Captain retorted. “I keep to the TDI rules so I get paid. When you deal in paradoxes, you go out of your way not to alter history.”

“Don’t talk to me about changing history,” the Doctor snapped, turning to face him. Both men stopped, staring each other down. “I am a Time Lord. My race has spent most of its existence making sure people like you don’t muck up the universe with your interference. It’s amateurs like the TDI that endanger life as we know it with their oblivious meddling. We’re the protectors.”

The Captain stabbed a finger at the Doctor. “Oh, I’ve heard all about your dead race, Doctor. And where are they now? What are they protecting beyond the void? It’s just you left, and what can you do against anything with that junkheap of a TARDIS?

“If they were still here, you wouldn’t be,” the Doctor countered. “And don’t you dare talk about her that way again or I’ll …”

“You’ll what, Doctor?” Light barked, getting in the Doctor’s face. “Punch me? Wave a sonic screwdriver at me? Abandon me like you do all your companions?”

The Doctor’s face darkened and his eyes narrowed. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“It’s my organization’s business to know about people like you, Doctor. The Time Lords are gone, and someone has to step up and do what Gallifrey and its pompous people never did.”

“Hey!” yelled a voice. It was Jaron. The rest of the hunters were out of sight. “You two shut your mouths and keep up. We’re skirting close to her territory now.”

The two time travelers stared at each other a moment longer before turning away and continuing on.

The trail broke through the tree ended at ledge leading around a sharp promontory. They followed Jaron along this path for a good ways, eventually breaking above the trees. The view as the trail topped out before winding back down into the forest was breathtaking.

Lights glittered in the distance, some moving low across the horizon, flitting back and forth from a central location where the forest had been cleared for miles. From the center of this massive clearing of forest an impressive ziggurat rose, sparkling with light.

“That is the heart of her kingdom,” Jaron explained. “We call it the Kingdom of the Red Hand. And that structure is her palace.”

“Those are the ruins I told you about,” the Captain remarked.

“Well, they don’t look like ruins now, do they?” the Doctor countered. “Those lights we see moving about?”

“Those are chariots. She has given her people magic and powers beyond what we are able to create. Though we’ve stolen some of their weapons in raids, we have no idea how they work and cannot replicate them,” Jaron replied.

“Interesting,” the Doctor mused.

“We must move on,” Jaron said, ushering them away from the open area. “If you have more questions, Tobun can answer them. He is the oldest of us that remembers a time before she came. He remembers all that has passed.

“Then lead on, Jaron,” the Captain said, gesturing to the trail.

The three men walked in silence as they continued through the forest. When the tress occasionally broke along the winding trail, the Doctor could make out the faint light of the lanterns the rest of the hunters carried ahead of them. Gradually, either the hunters slowed, or their own pace quickened, for soon the three men caught up to the rest of the hunters.

Eventually, the trees grew more spread out, and the trail widened until visible torchlight could be seen ahead of them. A primitive village of huts and treehouses stood in a wide glade, the middle of which was occupied by a large common house, decked out with the bones and horns of animals.

The Doctor recognized the bones of several vexes among them.

“I will take you to Tobun first,” Jaron explained, leading them towards the large common house.

As they walked, they noticed several villagers peeking out from the hide flaps of the huts. It was well into the night, but the village seemed to be fairly busy. Most villagers they came upon moved quickly to concealment, and more than one stared directly at both the Doctor’s and Captain Light’s right hands.

Jaron opened the large wooden door to the common house and gestured for them to enter.

Inside, long tables filled the room, which was as large as the entire building. A small dais was raised in the center and a roaring fire threw flickering shadows on the wood and hide of the walls and ceiling. A wide opening in the roof allowed smoke to escape, and showed the twinkling stars beyond.

Around the fire, in wooden thrones were five men, all engaged in a heated conversation.

Jaron motioned that they should remained in place and silent while the conversation continued.

“We cannot continue to play these children’s tricks against her,” one fierce and craggy-faced tribesman said. Of the five, he appeared the most warlike. In his right hand, he held a massive battleaxe and his clothes were made of the hides and bones of animals. “We must strike against her kingdom, and we must do it quickly.”

“Griln speaks of war, again. As if any of us would be surprised,” another tribesman spoke. This one wore clothes resembling silk, and unlike Griln, the warrior, he was groomed and reserved in his demeanor. “She is no warrior. She is a child, and a spoiled one at that. We must approach this situation as is warranted–as you would approach a child who does not understand that torturing a small animal is wrong.”

“We are not a small animal!” Griln bristled. “We were once a proud warrior tribe until she began poisoning our people with her magic! I say we embrace our heritage and take the fight to her and her minions. Look at her people, fattened by their rich foods. They no longer know the ways of the blade. They no longer care to test themselves in combat. They will fall like trees before my axe.”

“Griln speaks wisely,” the eldest of the quintet intoned. “We must not abandon who we were in favor of the temptations of change. We are warriors, and we will met this threat as warriors. However, what my bloodthirsty son does not understand is that not all battles are fought with blades. A warrior’s sharpest weapon can easily be his mind. We will think before we fight, as we have always done.”

Jaron leaned over and whispered to the Captain and the Doctor, “That is Tobun, the eldest. Griln is his son, and leader of our warriors. The fancy one is Ryn Fegh, a tradesman. He advocates that we should join the rest of those who were taken by force to her kingdom and become a larger more advanced tribe.”

“Seems a familiar argument,” the Doctor whispered to Captain Light.

“Who are the other two?” the Captain asked Jaron, ignoring the Doctor’s comment. The other two thrones had their backs to the door, and those persons seated there could not be seen.

“On our right,” Jaron continued, “that is Devos. He is the only survivor from another tribe far to the south. Tobun has given him the seat formerly occupied by my brother, Kemyn, who was taken by her many days past. Kemyn led our hunters, and now I hold that position.”

“He’s from another tribe, but has a seat on your council?” the Doctor asked.

“Tobun, Griln, and Sigg approve of it. They say it is right that we allow his tribe’s customs and blood continue on within our own tribe. And he knows her ways better than we. He has been to her palace and escaped unharmed and untouched by the sickness.”

“Sounds awfully suspicious,” the Captain remarked. “Why do you not occupy that spot in place of your brother? Should not a hunter replace a hunter?

Jaron smiled shyly and turned his head away slightly. “Kemyn was a smart one, and filled the seat well. I only know the forest and the language of the land. Not skills helpful for the council, I’m afraid.”

“And Sigg,” the Doctor said. “He’s the last one, to our left?”

Jaron nodded. “A good man, but his voice carries only as far as it is not drowned out by Griln or Ryn Fegh. Of the five, he is most favored by the rest of the tribe. He speaks what we simple men think, and often that is why they do not listen to him. He is Tobun’s nephew.”

As Jaron said this, Devos rose from his throne and began to pace around his side of the fire. His back to them, they could only hear his voice, not see his face.

“She is a powerful foe,” Devos said gravely. “My people met her as warriors, too, if you remember. Her weapons bite harder than ours, even the one’s we’ve stolen. We are no closer to understanding how they work, and her weapons grow more lethal and effective.”

“But those fools don’t even use them properly!” Griln exploded, rising from his throne. “I’ve seen them fight, and they are compelled to do so by fear! Those are not warriors, they are slaves! We can beat them if we fight!”

Devos held a hand up, and Tobun could be seen motioning for his son to sit down.

Griln did so grudgingly, causing the wooden throne to screech as his weight pushed it back slightly on the dais.

“Regardless of the guns they use, the red hand is the weapon we should fear,” Devos continued. “We don’t understand it, this sickness. Our people go mad in our villages, murdering those around them with this power, but their in her city, they are quite sane.”

“She’s bewitched them, obviously,” Ryn Fegh said dismissively.

“I think we should form a party to go and speak with her,” Devos offered. “When have we ever just asked what she wants? Have we not fought her from the very beginning, never asking why?”

“She is a demon child!” Griln roared. “She should be killed!”

Again, a not-so-subtle motion of the hand from Tobun ceased Griln’s tirade.

“I have to agree with Devos on this,” Ryn Fegh said. “Suppose we can find a way to peace with her through some sort of trade? We supply them with food and hide, they agree not to interfere with us.”

“An excellent idea,” Devos agreed, his back still to the spectators.

“And which of us do we send?” This was Sigg speaking. “That could be a death march. No one’s going to want to go there on the off chance that a fair exchange of goods for non-interference will work.”

At this, Devos seemed to ponder the question. He paced further around the fire, bringing his face into the light where they could see. “I will go, and I’m sure Ryn Fegh will volunteer. But they won’t take us seriously unless Tobun goes with us.”

“We will not risk my father for this foolish trade mission!” Griln countered.

Captain Light suddenly gasped and grabbed the Doctor’s arm. “I know that man!”” he whispered fiercely.

“Griln?” the Doctor queried.

“Devos.” the Captain replied.

“From when you were here before?”

“No, Doctor. That man is with the TDI,” Captain Light replied.

“An impostor,” the Doctor responded with interest. “Yes. His idea begins to make some sense then. Oh, this is very interesting, indeed.”

Tobun’s gaze had been wandering and his eyes fell upon the trio of men waiting at the door. Holding a hand up, halting the discussion on the dais, he said in a voice that would carry. “What is your business, Jaron? Who are these men you’ve brought with you?”

Devos went ashen as his eyes fell upon Captain Light, but he quickly composed himself enough to looked intrigued.

It was Griln that reacted more obviously. “Spies!” he cried. “That dim-witted hunter has brought her spies into the heart of our village!” Hefting his battle axe, he moved to attack, but his father, was up and towering over him before he could go further.

“You will sit down and shut your mouth until we seek your counsel, whelp!” Tobun commanded. “You are tolerated here because you are the warrior chief, not because of your intelligence!”

Griln chagrined, slumped back down in his throne.

“Bring them forward,” Tobun ordered.

The two travelers, led by Jaron, walked up to the dais and stood in the center near the fire where the gazes of the council fell on them from five angles.

“What brings you to this village, strangers?” Tobun asked.

Seeing the Captain eyeing Devos menacingly, the Doctor quickly moved to creative mode.

“My friend and I had an accident. Our vessel has crashed upon this planet, and we were hoping you might be able to direct us to someone who can help repair our ship,” he said, suddenly surprised that he had actually told the truth.

“We have no knowledge of those things here,” Tobun replied. “You claim to be space travelers?”

“Uh, yes,” the Doctor said, surreptitiously nudging the Captain, who was still locked in a stare with his acquaintance. “I’m the Doctor, and this is my pilot, Captain Light. We met your little problem–forgive the pun–when we landed, and she stole our valuables and left us for dead.”

“Is this true?” Tobun asked, directing the question at Jaron.

“We found them bound and fleeing a vex,” Jaron replied. “There was a metal ship nearby, not like those that fall from the sky.”

“Yes, about those,” the Doctor interrupted. “Who exactly launches the cargo ships into space in the first place?”

Ryn Fegh explained, “The Kingdom of the Red Hand digs rocks from the ground and puts them in towers. These towers fly into space, and then come back down later, empty of the rocks that had filled them. You claim to have come from one of these ships?”

“We came in our own ship,” Captain Light stated. His eyes had not left Devos’s face. “There is a security grid around this planet that destroys any that try to land here.”

“And you just happened to survive?” Devos replied cynically.

Avoiding the question, the Doctor pressed in a different direction. “Have you met other space travelers?”

Tobun answered, “Our people first were contacted by space travelers long ago. They offered us their science, as they called it. It was sorcery to us, but only in that we did not understand it. We are not an unintelligent people, just a people that prefers the simplicity of nature. They respected our wishes to keep our traditions, though we allowed some of our young people to leave this planet. The travelers stopped coming when I was very young.”

The Doctor was about to continue his questioning when Tobun raised a hand.

“We should adjourn this council meeting and continue the discussion tomorrow,” he told his contemporaries. “We have guests, and should show them our hospitality. As I said, it has been an age since men have come to us from space.”

Both Griln and Devos seemed poised to make a retort, but both held their tongues, and likely for very different reasons.

“Jaron, take our guests to my hut while I have a word with my son,” Tobun directed. “I will join you for a meal shortly. The rest of you should return to your duties until tomorrow. I will not make a decision on the matter of sending our people to her kingdom until tomorrow.”

Sigg, Devos, and Ryn Fegh nodded their heads and left the common house, Captain Light eyeing them every step of the way. Griln remained seated in his throne, scuffing a boot on the floor like a boy who knows he’s about to be punished.

“Thank you for your hospitality, sir,” the Doctor said, bowing his head slightly.

“You may call me Tobun,” the old tribesman said. “And don’t thank me until you’ve eaten my food.” This last he said with a wink.

Jaron led the Captain and the Doctor outside where immediately the Doctor hit the Captain on the arm.

“What are you thinking?” he accused in a whisper. “You nearly cut him in two with your eyes. Don’t you know subtlety?”

Before the Captain could respond, Devos was standing before them. He looked at both the Doctor and the Captain in turn before turning his eyes to Jaron. “Why don’t you go on ahead, Jaron. I’ll send them along shortly. I think I may have some information that will help them with their transportation problem.”

Jaron looked suspicious, but after a nod from the Doctor, he left the three men to themselves.

“Devos, is it?” the Captain said snarkily. “I much prefer Snotty Tom.”

“Shut your mouth, Light,” Devos snapped back. “You’re lucky I don’t vape you right here.”

“Hello, I’m the Doctor,” the Doctor said cheerfully, extending his hand. “We’ve not met.”

Devos gaped. “Oh, Drustan. You’ll fry for this. Do you know who this man is?”

“Enlighten me, Snotty Tom, is it?” the Doctor teased. “Tell me who you think I am.”

“Last of the Time Lords, and a rogue one at that. Our greatest enemy,” Devos replied. “And, you, Captain Light, will be reported for fraternizing with him.”

“What are you doing here, Devos?” Captain Light asked, his eyes narrowed. “This is a non-interference sector.”

“You know damned well what I am doing here. I’m countering the paradox you started!” Devos accused.

“Now wait,” the Doctor said, stepping between them, positioning himself as being on neither side for the moment. “The Captain tells me that this planet was always primitive. It would seem to me that any change towards what it is right now would be done separately from–” he paused, then shook his head, before turning back to the Captain. “You idiot. You made this a primitive planet. You’re not with the TDI, you’re a time-meddling thief!”

Now, the Doctor stepped to face the Captain with Devos, but Devos immediately pushed him back with the Captain.

“You are both the worst time fiends this universe has ever seen,” Devos declared. “And it is my duty to report you and see to it that the paradoxes you’ve brought into existence are unraveled.”

The Doctor ignored him, and continued his accusation of the Captain. “Oh, it’s very clever isn’t it. Stop a species from evolving so that its relics go up in value, you sick and petty man. I knew you were a time bandit from the first time I laid eyes on you.”

“Shut up!” Captain Light barked at the Doctor. As he did so, his hand shot out and a silver device sparked as it made contact with Devos’s bare arm. Immediately, Devos stood straight at attention, staring straight ahead. “You’re damned lucky this isn’t you.”

“Oi, what did you just do to him?” the Doctor asked.

“He has remotely hijacked my neural pathways, in a manner of speaking,” Devos said in a monotone voice.

The Doctor’s eyes went wide. “That’s cyberman technology!”

“Now you listen to me,” Captain Light said threateningly. “Think about where we are. We’re stuck here and we need a way off this planet. It doesn’t matter who I am or what I’ve done, we’re both in the same jam. This is your fault for interfering with me. What I said is true, I want to know what happened to this planet, too.”

“Oh right, because you’ve got important relics you left here you need to cash in on, and you can’t if the species that made them isn’t extinct!”

“No!” Captain Light yelled. “I came back here because in one of those relics there may be evidence that the entire TDI has been corrupted by a malevolent organization bent upon destroying this universe!”

“Ridiculous!” the Doctor countered. “Now you’re just making stories up because you’ve been outed as a time bandit.”

“I am not a time bandit, Doctor. And I’m not TDI either. They kicked me out when I discovered information that proved they had been infiltrated by another group. Ulysses did hire me, but it was to investigate this shadow group, not pull a job as part of the TDI or as a bandit.”

Captain Light took a deep breath.

“Now, you’re going to have to trust me. If we get out of this, I can prove it all to you. We have to work together first, though. And right now we’re expected at dinner.”

“Fine,” the Doctor replied coldly. “What about him?”

Captain Light turned to the rigid Devos. “Go back to whatever hut you’ve been staying in and sleep until the council meeting tomorrow.”

“Very well,” Devos droned, and then walked off.

“That technology is–”

“That technology just saved our life, Doctor,” the Captain finished for him. “Don’t worry. I’m not a cyberman, obviously.”

“That does not excuse you using it!”

“That man could have zapped us to TDI headquarters in a second, and we’d be executed in two. We’re both fugitives.”

Captain Light turned and followed the direction Jaron had gone. The Doctor huffed and jogged after him.

“Alright, we’ll work together for the time being, but we are having words after this is over,” the Doctor said catching up. “We’ve got to get our things back, get your relic, and get out of here.”

“And how do we do that, Doctor?” the Captain asked.

“We volunteer to go to the Kingdom of the Red Hand with Tobun and the rest,” the Doctor replied conclusively.

“My thoughts exactly.”

(to be continued)

 

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Four

strh

4. Vexes and Vexation

“Never heard of such a thing,” Captain Light replied gruffly. “And besides, the TDI spans universes, there are bound to be plenty of things they’re into that I’ve no business knowing.”

“I would think the ability to create miniature universes from scratch would be difficult to conceal. That’s a lot of energy to hide,” the Doctor pressed, still not convinced.

“Look,” the Captain said with a sigh. “If I knew anything about that, I’d tell you.”

“Fine,” the Doctor relented. “Is it absolutely necessary to bring that weapon?”

Together they stood pressed against the starboard door of what was left of Captain Light’s ship, preparing to exit the vehicle into what would likely be hostile territory.

“We’ve just barely managed to survive a massive cloud of microsatellites that could have vaporized us, surrounding a planet that is supposed to be primitive. I’ll take my chances offending the locals, whoever they may be now.”

Captain Light took a quick breath and then made to burst through the door to the outside. The Doctor stopped him abruptly, grabbing his arm and pulling him back.

“Now wait a minute,” the Doctor said thoughtfully. “Consider what we’re likely getting into. For us to have made it through that microsatellite field, we’ve probably been identified as an empty container. They’ll send someone out to recover it, and they’ll likely be robots of a sort. I recommend we exit the ship, quickly find a place to hide and see what we can learn. Perhaps we can follow the robots back to a base or something.”

Captain Light crossed him arms and looked at the Doctor disdainfully. “How the hell do you survive out here with planning like that? You call yourself a time traveler? You know, I bet you’re the very type of absent-minded and oblivious fool who’d recommend we immediately split up and get ourselves lost, or captured or worse. Thank God you don’t travel with companions.”

“Uh, well, yes. What would you do then?” The Doctor bit his lip nervously, remembering more than a few occasions where just such absent-mindedness and obliviousness had landed both he and his companions in trouble. Repeatedly, in fact.

“They probably tracked us coming into the atmosphere and supposed we were destroyed when you ditched our thrusters. They probably think we’re debris. They’ll send scavengers, most likely with orders to kill anything still alive on the ship,” the Captain said with certainty. “So, we step out prepared for a fire fight.”

“Well, let me go out first,” the Doctor suggested. “If they are just friendly robots, I won’t blow their heads off before they have a chance to say hello.”

“I’m going out first,” Captain Light countered. “So if they are scavengers, they won’t blow our heads off before we have a chance to say hello.”

The tension grew in the tight quarters, and the Doctor visibly gulped and adjusted his bowtie. “How about we open the door and peek out together?”

“Alright then,” the Captain agreed.

Carefully, both men stepped to either side of the door. The Doctor drew his sonic screwdriver, while Captain Light powered up his blaster.

“Ready?” Captain Light hissed. The Doctor nodded.

With a creak, the Captain opened the door and slowly both men peeked outside.

A small girl in animal hides stood looking up at them just outside the ship. Beyond her, thick forest surrounded them. The sky was dark, and only the light of Fallox’s single moon illuminated the scene.

“Oh hello,” the Doctor chimed in a friendly voice.

“Get your hands up!” Captain Light barked at the girl, leveling his blaster at her.

“Will you stop that!” the Doctor exclaimed, grabbing the Captain’s blaster. Fighting back, Captain Light tried to pull away, but the Doctor stubbornly held onto the weapon. “She’s a little girl for goodness sake! A primitive!”

The struggle turned more violent as both men lost their balance and fell in a tangle. For a minute or so, both men struggled to gain control of the weapon and gain the upper hand, but soon the blaster and sonic screwdriver were cast aside as the bout descended into a wrestling match.

Distracted, the two time travelers did not notice the little girl walk over and pick up the blaster. Casually, she aimed the blaster and fired.

A foot from both men’s heads, the ground erupted in a controlled explosion, showering them with dirt and hot rock. The scuffle stopped immediately and both men stared aghast at the girl.

“Are you two finished?” she said to them.

“Yes,” they both replied sheepishly.

“Get up,” the girl demanded, waving the blaster menacingly. “Hands in the air.”

“Now wait a minute–” the Doctor began. He was cut short as the girl fired the blaster again, this time close enough to singe Captain Light’s duster.

“Hey!” the Captain cried out.

“Shut your mouths, scum!” the girl barked at them. “Empty your pockets!”

“Please listen–” the Doctor began again.

“Do it or I fry you!” the girl yelled.

Quickly, the Doctor began tossing out the contents of his pockets. Likewise, Captain Light was desperately digging out lint and cracker bits from the deepest confines of his clothes.

In a few moments, the pile was quite impressive, containing but not limited to two yo-yos, a shrunken head, several dice, three bags containing what appeared to be jelly babies, a golden Venus idol, half an Oreo, various components to scientific equipment, some jacks, no less than twelve rubber balls of different size, assorted galactic coinage, and a very agitated fire newt in a plastic water bottle.

The girl looked disappointed, but sifted through the debris, keeping the blaster leveled at the two shocked men.

“Robbed by a little girl,” the Doctor muttered. “Didn’t see this one coming.”

“She’s a primitive,” the Captain replied in a whisper. “How does she even know how a blaster works?”

“Shut it!” the girl barked. With an exasperated sigh, the girl took the sonic screwdriver and placed it in a pouch at her hip. To both travelers’ dismay, she also took the small cube containing Penelope.

Admiring it, but still focusing the blaster at them, she commanded, “Lay down, hands on your heads. Try anything funny and I vape the lot of you.”

The men complied quickly. The little girl stepped over to them and crouched down, holding the cube before the Doctor’s face.

“What’s this?”

The Doctor hesitated.

Pressing the blaster against his head, she asked again. “What is this?”

“Nothing,” the Doctor lied. “Just a bit of junk I carry.”

The girl shrugged and tossed it to the ground. “No use? Then I guess I’ll vaporize it.” She stood and aimed her blaster at it.

“No, please!” the Captain cried out.

The girl smiled and retrieved the cube, before turning to crouch down beside Captain Light. “What is it?”

The Captain sighed. “It’s the AI for my ship. She’s … It’s important to me.”

With lightning quick movements, the girl removed cord from her pouch and began to tie up the Captain.

“Look, miss,” the Doctor pleaded. “We’ve come here for some information. We mean you no harm. This is Captain Light and I’m the Doctor. We’d pay you for your time, we just want to ask a few questions.”

Having finished binding the Captain, the girl walked over to the Doctor.

“You came down in that?” she asked, gesturing to the ship.

The Doctor nodded.

“Through the shield?”

The Doctor nodded again.

The girl laughed at him, and then began to bind him as she had Captain Light.

“What’s so funny?” the Doctor asked. Captain Light was confused as well.

The girl did not answer. Instead, she continued laughing as she finished binding the Doctor.

“Listen, maybe we can work something out,” the Captain offered.

“Tell it to the Vex,” the girl laughed and walked away.

“I say, did you say ‘Vex'”? the Doctor asked nervously.

His answer was an inhuman roar that echoed through the forest that surrounded them.

 “Well, that’s very interesting, now isn’t it?” the Doctor mused.

“What? The girl? Being robbed? Being bound and left for some beast to come chew us to bits?” Captain Light queried. “What could possibly be interesting at a time like this?”

“Well, just so you know,” the Doctor replied, “If that is a Thripitifalus Vex headed this way, then it certainly won’t be chewing us to bits.”

“Well, thank goodness,” the Captain sighed. Relieved, he began to struggle against his bindings and managed to get himself on his knees.

“Yes, Vexes don’t have teeth, and they get very cross about that. They happen to love flesh, but only have a proboscis with which to ingest, so they tend to rip their prey apart and stomp on it until its a sort of goo they can suck up,” the Doctor explained quite matter-of-factly.

The Captain was up and running, having loosened his feet.

“Hey!” yelled the Doctor, squirming on his side. “A little help here!”

The Captain stopped and turned around, his face flushed with frustration. Kneeling, he quickly unbound the Doctor as much as he could, freeing his legs but not his hands. Both men jumped up to their feet and began to run.

Behind them, crashing through trees and the remains of Captain Light’s ship, the Thripitifalus Vex broke into the clearing and gave chase. The creature resembled some of the rhino-like brontotheriums from Earth’s Eocene, sporting wicked horny protrusions around a face that terminated in a long snout. Two openings on either side of the creatures neck blew open and the inhuman roar vibrated from them.

“Oh, now that’s very interesting!” the Doctor puffed, now at full sprint.

“What’s so bloody interesting about it?” the Captain screamed at his shoulder as they ran.

The two men hurdled low shrubbery as they entered thick forest that surrounded their crash site. Behind them, the Thripitifalus Vex trundled, roaring through it’s sounding flaps.

“Most of the specimens I’ve seen have just been trophies, cut off well above those flaps,” the Doctor gasped, leaping over underbrush and ducking under vines. “Most scientists believe those flaps are somehow used in underwater breathing.”

“And?!”

“Obviously, that’s how they communicate!” the Doctor said cheerfully. “Interesting, no? I’ll have to mention this to Curator Heems!”

The Vex was closing in on them; massive trees began to fall around the time travelers as the massive beast crashed its way through the forest.

The Doctor, caught up in a sweeping branch, was tossed roughly to the side as the creature barreled past. Captain Light was not so lucky. With the Captain in focus, the Thripitifalus Vex jerked its head upward, its horns catching the Captain’s duster, and threw the man straight up into the air. Completely out of control, Captain Light flailed madly before coming down heavily on the trunk of a fallen tree.

The Vex had not lost its prey, and nimbly spun on its four legs. Focusing on its target again, it charged, head down.

“No!” the Doctor cried out, extricating himself from the tangle of branches. Struggling greatly, the Doctor began to see its futility as the beast closed the distance in only a handful of gallops.

And then, suddenly, the creature reared up, teetered on its back legs, and fell heavily on its back. Confused, the Doctor ran to the Captain, but noticed as he did so that there were other humanoids coming out from the trees. He ignored them, and made straight for his wounded companion who had propped himself against the fallen tree trunk he had landed on.

Captain Light’s face had deep gashes in it, and it appeared his right arm was broken, but he was breathing.

“Are you alright?” the Doctor asked, assessing the damage.

The Captain moved slightly, then winced, before answering, “I’m fine.”

“You need medical attention,” the Doctor concluded after a quick check of vitals. “The title’s merely honorary, but I’ve done some free study in medicine. Your arms broken, you need some stitches, but I bet you’re the type that likes scars.”

The Captain grunted a laugh, but then his face turned to stone as his eyes fell on something behind the Doctor.

“We’ve got company,” he said to the Doctor.

Looking over his shoulder, the Doctor saw several men in hides approaching. Most of them carried what appeared to be spears, but one was carrying a plasma rifle. “Hang tight, let me talk to them,” the Doctor said, patting the Captain’s shoulder. The Captain gasped in pain at the touch.

Standing, the Doctor brushed off his jacket and straightened his tie. With a flourish, he turned and faced the men approaching.

“Hello! I’m the Doctor!” he said to them, his smile beaming.

With a cursory glance behind the men, the Doctor noticed that the Vex was down and being bound by several other men. Hunters? he thought to himself.

“I must say, we certainly are lucky to have run into you,” he continued. “We seem to have run afoul of the local fauna, it seems. Without you we might be a pile of goo by now. Excellent show there.”

The man with the plasma rifle raised a hand to the men flanking him, and they stopped their advance. Continuing forward to stand before the Doctor, the man leveled the rifle at him. “Are you with her?” he barked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t–“

“Do you serve her or not, fiend?! Show me your hands!” the man demanded, raising the rifle level with the Doctor’s head.

The Doctor raised his hands above him. The man with the rifle, stomped over and roughly grabbed the Doctor’s arm and looked at the Doctor’s right hand specifically, turning it over to look at both sides. Keeping the gun leveled at the Doctor, the man inspected the Captain’s right hand as well.

“I don’t know who she is, but we serve ourselves. Like I said, I am the Doctor, and my friend over there is Captain Light. We need medical attention, as you can plainly see. So, why don’t you lower that dreadful weapon, and help us. We’re obviously already overpowered by you, and we’ve no intention to run.”

The man, apparently the leader, seemed to think this over. He lowered his gun and made hand motions to the others, who quickly broke line and trotted back to help the others with the Vex. “How did you come to be here?”

“Yes, well, we met a little girl when we landed. She took something of value from us, tied us up, and left us for that Vex,” the Doctor explained.

“Then you’ve lied to me,” the leader said. “Though you probably don’t realize it. You two are lucky. You have met her, but you had something she wanted more than your service. Few men see her and live.”

“That little girl?” the Captain chimed in. “She knew her way around a blaster, but surely she’s no real threat to men like yourselves.”

The leader smirked, but remarked no further on the subject. Looking at each of the two men in turn, he shouldered his rifle and held out his hand to the Doctor. “My name is Jaron, and I am tribe leader of the Kinzix.”

The Doctor happily shook Jaron’s hand as best he could, still being bound.

Seeing the difficulty, Jaron removed a knife from his belt and freed the Doctor before likewise cutting Captain Light’s bindings.

“If you can keep up, you can follow us back to the village. We can treat your friend there, but we must hurry. There are more Vexes about.”

Helping his companion to his feet, the Doctor nodded. “Lead on then, we’ll follow.”

The Captain and the Doctor followed Jaron as he made his way over to the fallen Vex. The great beast’s chest heaved as it slumbered.

“The ropes we use to trap them have barbs that inject a sleep poison. As long as he’s bound, we can handle him easily,” Jaron explained.

“What will you do with it?” the Doctor asked, curious.

“There are more men coming here from the village. They’ll construct a cart to move it, and then they will attempt to transport it close to her kingdom’s borders, where they’ll set it free to wreak havoc on her lands.”

The Doctor had moved around to look at the creature’s head, and more specifically the sounding flaps on its neck.

“Why are you so obsessed with this thing?” the Captain asked, gingerly stepping up beside the Doctor.

The Doctor smiled, and turned to the Captain. In a whisper, he said, “Because I think this is the very same Thripitifalus Vex that was missing from Heem’s collection.”

“How can you tell?”

“This marking between the eyes,” the Doctor explained. “I’ve only seen a few specimens, but only one has had this exact marking. Could just be a coincidence though.”

Turning his attention away from the Vex, the Doctor made his way over to Jaron who was giving instructions to some of his men.

“Just out of curiosity, Jaron, what was all that about my right hand?” the Doctor queried.

Several of the men nearby gasped, all looking at the Doctor’s right hand in terror.

“It’s fine!” the Doctor said, waving it at them. They seemed to relax and went on about their business.

Grimly, Jaron leaned in to speak to the Doctor where his men could not hear him. Captain Light had made his way over and listened in.

“The girl has magic powers,” Jaron explained. “She gives men a sickness. Their right hands turn red, and they go mad, killing innocent people. That is how we know someone has been turned by her. That is why we checked your hands.”

“How do the people with the sickness kill others?” Captain Light asked.

“That’s a bit morbid, isn’t it?” the Doctor replied, turning up his nose.

The Captain shushed him, then pressed for an answer. “Do they use a weapon, or are the victims burned?”

Jaron’s eyes went wide. “You know more than you say.”

The Doctor turned to his companion. “What do you know?”

“I’ve seen this,” Captain Light replied. “Red right hand. And the deaths, they are from the hand. It’s like an energy blast, massive power.” He took a deep breath, before concluding with, “This just keeps getting worse.”

“He speaks truth. I’ve seen the blast,” Jaron confirmed.

The Doctor was smiling. “I think we’re onto something now.”

(to be continued)