Chapter 7 - The Deal
The Scarran kept his hand loosely draped about Veyadad's neck, knowing that keeping the child close was the best way to control the movements of the adult aliens. "Your weapon, Peacekeeper" he hissed at Crichton. "Disarm it slowly and place it on the floor.
"I'm not a Peacekeeper," said Crichton as he carried out the order, removing the Chakkan oil cartridge from his pulse pistol.
"You wear the clothes of a Peacekeeper, you carry a Peacekeeper weapon...."
"I picked them up at a yard sale," Crichton replied as he stood up from placing both his gun and its ammunition on the floor.
"In there," the Scarran motioned with his weapon for the entire group to head into the main entry room. "Sit," he commanded when they had reached an area with a seating bench big enough for the three adults. The three men sat while the Scarran kept Veyadad standing close in front of him.
"Well, this is pleasant," said the Doctor. "We can sit and chat for a bit."
The Scarran lifted his hand briefly from Veyadad's neck to activate the communication device attached to his shoulder harness. "Commander Niwek, Shegwon here."
"Shegwon, tell me you have located the missing child."
"I have, Commander. She returned to her home as anticipated."
"Good, bring her in and place her with the others."
"Commander, the child did not arrive alone. There are two Sebaceans and a Pathfinder male with her."
"They claim not to be," said Shegwon in response to the question and to Crichton's negative head shake.
"We're travelers," the Doctor spoke up. "Just out randomly exploring the universe."
"How is it they are there?" the Commander asked. "I have received no reports of spacecrafts entering the atmosphere."
"Well, you wouldn't," said the Doctor. "But it really doesn't matter how we arrived. What matters is that we're here and we happen to know what you're up to on this planet. You're holding the family members of the wormhole exploration crew hostages and threatening to release a deadly toxin among the population. I can't allow you to do that so I think we should meet face to face and discuss the matter."
It was obvious that the Commander was intrigued by the Doctor's bravado. There was momentary silence on the other end of the comm, then the deep voice of the Scarran leader asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm the Doctor. And you are Commander Niwek, was it?"
"I ask the questions! Shegwon, bring the Sebaceans to me and place the others in the containment area."
"Understood, Commander." Shegwon waved his weapon at the adults, indicating for them to head towards the entrance.
As they walked out of the door, Crichton kept his voice low as he spoke to the Doctor. "You sure it was a smart thing to do telling him all that?"
"It got us a personal invitation, didn't it?"
"Silence!" Shegwon hissed. "Walk that way," he pointed out a direction that would take them right past the TARDIS. "Do not attempt to escape. I will kill the child first."
"No need for threats. We won't try anything," the Doctor assured him. "Promise. I'm looking forward to meeting your leader. Get this whole matter all sorted out."
They walked on in silence after that. As they passed within a few feet of the brightly lit TARDIS, Crichton gave the Doctor a worrying glance, but the Time Lord only smiled knowingly. The Scarran paused for a moment after passing the TARDIS and looked back as though he caught sight of something from the corner of his eye. Apparently, he decided that there was nothing out of the ordinary and continued on. Hiding behind the TARDIS, Aeryn held her breath until she heard the footsteps of the group move away from her position. She was very tempted to go on the attack. If the Scarran's hide was not so difficult to penetrate, she could easily pick him off with one well-placed shot of her pulse rifle. But killing a Scarran was not so simple and the fact that he held the child so close to his body made it unwise to attempt a gun fight. Aeryn had no choice but to keep her distance and wait for a better opportunity to launch a rescue. She silently cursed the Doctor and Crichton for being so stubborn and careless, then proceeded to stealthily follow their trail.
After confining Lastren and Veyadad in the basement with their families, the Doctor and Crichton were escorted by Shegwon to the top floor of the research building and into an office occupied by the Scarran leader. Their hands were bound behind their backs and they were made to kneel down on the floor awaiting the Commander's attention. The leader of the Scarran troop stood with his back to them, his reflection visible in the dark-tinted glass of the large window that looked out over the twinkling lights of the city's distant skyline. The Commander was just as tall and muscular as Shegwon, but his head had a markedly different shape. There appeared to be a significant genetic deviation between the leader and his mercenaries. Unlike Shegwon and the other guards around whose jaws and nose were elongated and somewhat horse-shaped, the Commander's features were flatter and more human-like. He was still just as ugly and scary looking, thought Crichton, but at least his facial expressions were easier to read. He finally turned to face them, sniffed the air and frowned as though their scent offended his senses. He stepped closer and looked Crichton over first, noticing his Peacekeeper leathers which seemed to make his frown grow deeper. He then shifted his gaze to the Doctor and was slightly taken aback by the being's bright eyes and cheerful, wide grin.
"Hello, there! I'm the Doctor. And you must be Niwek."
"Commander Niwek. How did you get to this planet? Why were you with the child?"
"I was just out roaming the universe in my spaceship when I picked up a distress signal. When I reached the location, I found that two ships had collided. The Pathfinder ship was destroyed and one survivor remained."
"You lie. The child was not on board that ship."
"No, not her. Lastren, the engineer."
"Lastren?" Niwek cast a questioning eye towards Shegwon. "Lastren was the Pathfinder you brought in with the child? Why was I not informed?"
"I did not know," Shegwon shrugged sheepishly. "They... all look the same to me."
"Lastren may have saved some of the research. What else did you think was not important to tell me?"
Shegwon seemed reluctant to speak but thought it best to report what he had overheard. "There was strange talk. I was in hiding when they came into the home. I heard the child ask if they could travel back in time to prevent her family from being taken. I did not think she meant anything by it, but now...."
"Well, you know, kids say the darndest things," said the Doctor. "In fact, Veyadad told me about you lot threatening to kill the people of this planet if you didn't get your hands, or claws on their wormhole research."
"The people on this planet mean nothing to me. If they wish to live, then they will give me what I seek."
"In that case, I will have to stop you."
Niwek grunted. "You, stop me? You are nothing more than an insect. I could snap your neck in an instant."
"Oh, but you won't."
"Because there is much you don't know about me. You don't know how I got here or if there are others waiting to launch an attack if I don't report back. Perhaps I have a plan already in progress to take you and your troop down. I could you know."
"I will see." The Commander raised his right hand within inches of the Doctor's face and released a blast of heat that would have caused most other beings insufferable pain. For the Time Lord, however, it was no worse than a bit of steam from a hot cup of tea.
"Ooh, that tickles a bit," said the Doctor with a twitch of his nose.
Niwek stared at the Doctor in amazement, unable to understand why he had no reaction to the mind probing, heat blast. Sebaceans were not known for their tolerance to heat, which meant that the being before him was not Sebacean or that he had some form of immunity that protected him. The Commander looked to the other pale-skinned being and decided to test his powers on him. As the heat poured from Niwek's palm, the reaction was quite different. Crichton arched his neck, threw his head back and groaned in pain as the heat penetrated his skull and began to disrupt his thought patterns.
"Peacekeeper, what is your mission on this planet?" Niwek demanded to know.
"I'm... not a Peacekeeper." Crichton began, the mind probing heat ensuring that he spoke only the truth. "We came here to stop you from harming the Pathfinders and stealing their wormhole technology."
"How do you plan to stop me?"
"No plan," Crichton hissed in agony. "The Doctor... figured he could talk you into playing nice."
"Stop it!" the Doctor cried out. "You're hurting him. Please, stop! I can tell you what you want to know. You don't have to use torture."
The Scarran lowered his hand, pleased with the fact that it worked but somewhat perplexed by the information it garnered. He watched as Crichton nearly keeled over from the pain and exertion of the mind probe. He then looked to the Doctor and said, "You are not Sebacean. What is your species?"
"I'm a Time Lord."
"How is it you arrived here so soon after the destruction of the research vessel was detected? According to their last reported location, it would take at least two monens at maximum speed to return here. You made the trip in a matter of arns. Explain how it is so."
The Time Lord could envision the cogs working in Niwek's mind. The earlier mention of time travel and now the mention of his species' name had the Scarran putting two and two together. He might not be smart enough to comprehend the workings of wormholes, but he was obviously bright enough to figure out that they possessed the potential for expediting space travel. The Doctor silently debated the pros and cons of confessing his knowledge and ability to harness time and space. He'd had no qualms discussing the matter among Moya's crew and Veyadad, but he knew that the Scarrans would want to exploit his knowledge and technology for their own gain. Apparently, he had taken too long to answer because Niwek raised his hand to Crichton again to get the answers he sought."
"How did you get to this planet?"
"TARDIS," Crichton responded through clenched teeth, fighting through the pain of the mind probe. "The Doctor's spaceship."
"You flew through the wormhole?"
"Not sure how he did it. Just... disappeared from one place and time and reappeared in another. Only the Doctor understands how it works."
"Please, leave him alone," the Doctor pleaded. "He doesn't really know anything."
Niwek turned off the heat projection and lowered his hand again. "I want to know all about your spaceship."
"Right. Okay. Well, it's bigger on the inside, it's a tad rundown and the old girl can sometimes be a bit temperamental, but most times--"
"Is it a time machine?"
"Time machine," the Doctor frowned "Oh, she doesn't really like to be called that. Time ship is more appropriate. Well, time and relative dimension in space to be more exact. TARDIS for short."
"Where is it?"
"Oh, just parked down at the end of the road there."
Niwek looked to Shegwon who shook his head and said, "It must be cloaked. I saw no ship."
"Are there others of your kind around?"
"No. Not anymore."
Niwek didn't believe that so he started to get the facts from Crichton again.
"I'm telling you the truth!" the Doctor insisted. "You've never heard of Time Lords, right? There's a good reason for it. Look, I know you're intrigued by this whole time travel thing, so if you'd like to go for a ride, I'd love to have you on board. We could go now. You, me, Shegwon and the rest of the gang."
Niwek was suspicious of the offer. This Time Lord definitely had something he wanted, a machine that could traverse time and space. But what was more important was the technology behind the machine. If he allowed the Doctor back onto his ship, it might allow him a chance to escape and take the technology with him. He might also find a way to make good on his intentions to help the Pathfinders. Niwek needed to keep the Time Lord close and under his full control.
"You will give me the designs to your TARDIS and teach me your time travel technology."
"Or...? There's usually an, 'or' after a statement like that."
"You are intelligent enough to figure that out, but if you must hear the words, give me what I want or I will release the toxin and every Pathfinder on this world will be exterminated."
The Doctor's eyes closed involuntarily at that word. It automatically sent chills up and down his spine. But he needed to hear it, needed to have something to keep him motivated and focused on saving lives. He opened his eyes, looked up at the Scarran and spoke calmly.
"What you're asking for is impossible. The TARDIS was not designed, it was grown, and it is the last of its kind. And as for my time travel technology, it would take several of your life-spans to learn all that you would need to know."
"I think you lie."
"Of course you do. But it's the truth. Now, what I can offer you, however, is the wormhole technology you've been seeking through the Pathfinders. I could teach you all that you have ever wanted to know about wormholes but didn't know who to ask.... providing certain conditions are met."
"No, Doctor, you can't --" Crichton tried to object but the Doctor ignored him and continued on with his conditions for trading wormhole secrets.
"The conditions being that my friend here is released unharmed along with the Pathfinders you currently hold as prisoners. You must destroy the toxin you had planned to release upon the population and agree to never obtain any more of it or do anything whatsoever to harm this planet or its people. You and your group must leave this planet and never return. And whatever I teach you about wormholes, you must promise not to use for military purposes, personal gain, evil intent or anything that will lead to dire consequences. Only use it for doing good and saving lives, but for the most part, try not to use it at all." The Doctor glanced over at Crichton and asked, "Did I leave anything out?"
"Yeah, the part about not making you their tech support slave or killing you after they have what they want."
"Ooh, good point." The Doctor addressed Niwek again. "Right, what he said. I will not become your prisoner or slave. I will not be threatened or harmed in any way, and after I have taught you all I can, I will be free to go with no further obligations to you and yours. Deal?"
The Commander stood menacingly over the Doctor and growled, "You do not give orders. You will give me what I want or this one," he said, pointing to Crichton, "will be made to suffer, as well as all the others."
Instead of cowering as the alien had expected him to do, the Doctor suddenly rose up off his knees and stared the Scarran fiercely in the eyes. "Obviously, you don't know a good deal when you hear one," he spoke in a low but assertive voice. "I strongly suggest that you take the offer I made, because if you don't, and you continue to threaten the lives of others, I will have no choice but to destroy you. And before you go assuming that a puny, Sebacean-looking alien such as myself can't carry out that objective, just stop and ask yourself this... if I know the workings of wormholes and time travel and can also withstand the blast from your little built-in heat ray, what else am I capable of doing."
It was fleeting and almost imperceptible given the Scarran's leathery skin and natural scowl, but both the Doctor and Crichton caught the glimmer of fear in Niwek's expression. It seemed that he was about to give in and make the deal, but his attention was drawn by Shegwon to the right of them who canted his head slightly awaiting his leader's decision. Niwek realized that bowing to the Doctor's demands would lower his status in the eyes of his minions. He could not allow himself to appear weak or in the least bit intimidated by the skinny and pale, thin-skinned creature in front of him. In response to the Doctor's words, the Commander pushed him back down onto his knees with one hand while aiming another blast of crippling heat at Crichton's head.
"No, don't!" the Doctor pleaded as he watched Crichton spasm in pain. His plea went unheeded and the assault went on much longer than before. This was not done for interrogation purposes, but rather the infliction of pain for the pure pleasure of it. Tears began to stream down Crichton's cheeks as he screamed continuously. "Stop it!" the Doctor tried again. "Please stop it! All right, all right! I'll do it your way. Whatever you say. Just stop hurting him!"
Niwek lowered his hand slowly, finally ending the bombardment of heat. Crichton collapsed to the floor writhing and moaning in agony. The Commander ignored the fallen man and instead reached down to grab the Doctor by his necktie and pull him to his feet. He leaned forward so that he was almost nose to nose with the Time Lord.
"This is the deal, Doctor. You do as I say, or everyone suffers. Understood?"
The Doctor knew when to swallow his pride and give up. He nodded and whispered his acceptance of the new terms. "Yes."
Niwek straightened up to his full height and sneered down at the Doctor. "Good. We will now go to the research laboratory and you will show me how knowledgeable you are about wormhole technology. Any objections, Time Lord?"
"No," said the Doctor respectfully, his eyes drifting from the Scarran to catch a glimpse of the Human lying on the floor in an awkwardly twisted position. With his hands bound behind his back and the pain lancing through his brain, Crichton was unable to pick himself up.
The Commander followed the Doctor's gaze and asked, "What is his name?"
"Arthur Dent," the Doctor softly replied. He knew that lying to the Scarran might come back to bite him in the arse, but he felt it was important to protect Crichton's identity for as long as he could.
"Shegwon, take Arthur Dent below and place him with the others."
"And bring Lastren to research lab one. He has work to do."
"As you command," Shegwon replied dutifully as he pulled a wobbly Crichton roughly to his feet.
"Careful, please," said the Doctor, then looked to Niwek seeking pity. "Please."
Niwek gave Shegwon a small nod and said, "Cause him no more harm without my orders."
"Understood." Shegwon wrapped an arm around Crichton's waist to help support his weight and aid him in walking.
As Shegwon and Crichton went down one hallway, Niwek took the Doctor in the opposite direction. Research lab one was where raw data was analyzed. There were panels of flashing lights with beeping noises, and several large monitors displaying three-dimensional graphs of wormhole activity. Upon entering the room, Niwek turned the Doctor around and removed the bindings from his wrists. He then proceeded to point out the two Pathfinder technicians poring over a plethora of complex data on their computer screens. Vanitem, a young female and Rivortus, an older male, kept their heads down and eyes on their work as the Doctor approached and looked over their shoulders.
"Hello there, I'm the Doctor," he introduced himself.
"They will not understand your words," Niwek explained. "They do not have translator microbes implanted. We have none to inject them with, but they have managed to learn some of our language over time."
"Oh, I don't rely on translator microbes myself," said the Doctor. "I speak a vast number of languages. What's that you're working on then, Vanitem?" he asked the mostly green colored female."
She finally turned away from her work to look at him, and was obviously surprised by his pink skin, the wild tufts of fur extruding from his head and his odd attire. She looked from him to Niwek and back again.
"It's okay," said the Doctor. "I'm here to help. We'll give the Scarrans what they want as quickly as possible so they will leave you and your people in peace. All right?" He received only a simple, wide-eyed nod from her. "Good. So, let's start by speeding up the data processing a bit, shall we?" The Doctor gently nudged Vanitem aside to get to her keyboard, then began typing in a few paragraphs of code. After he hit the enter key, the screen went blank for a second, then suddenly the data started racing across the screen four times as fast as it had before.
"How did you do that?" asked Vanitem, highly impressed.
"Oh, just added a special little algorithm to strip out unnecessary repetition and other stuff that slows things down."
"You understand the data?" asked Niwek who had been standing nearby and watching the Doctor's actions.
"Mmm, it's a bit rudimentary. The math is off by at least forty-two percent. Won't be easy, but with some major tweaking, and a nice cup of tea, I believe I can at least have the plans ready for a two-tier generator stabilizer by this time tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? The Pathfinders have been working on that for over a cycle. You are saying that you can complete it in a few arns?"
"With proper assistance, yes. These two, of course, and I'm sure Engineer Lastren would be a tremendous help. Also, my Sebacean friend fancies himself a bit of a scientist. Perhaps after he's had some rest --"
"How do I know I can trust you not to sabotage the work already done?"
"Well, I could have done so just now if I wanted to. But, I know that you will harm my friend and the Pathfinders if I try anything so stupid."
"You are correct."
"Then you've nothing to worry about. I won't do anything that will endanger innocent lives."
At least he hoped he wouldn't do anything to endanger their lives. But he was well aware of his track record. Something drastic would probably have to be done to stop the Scarrans. And someone innocent would probably end up paying the price. He'd do his best to keep the casualties down to zero but he knew he could not make himself any promises. He would take it slow and really think things through before jumping into action. Lives hung in the balance, the fate of a planet rested in his hands, and the future of an entire galaxy depended on him getting John Crichton out alive and back on board Moya. "Right then. Best get started."