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)