Chapter 9 - The Not So Great Escape

The Doctor knelt down in front of the half-Scarran and placed his hands on either side of Harvey's head. Just as he had done with Crichton, he closed his eyes and began to concentrate on entering into what was actually the human's subconscious. Then, he instantly vanished.

"Harvey! What the frell did you do to him?" asked Crichton with alarm.

"Wasn't me. Perhaps you should..." Harvey gave a suggestive nod towards the exit door.

Crichton raced to the door and tumbled back into reality. He opened his eyes to see the Doctor standing in front of him, his hands held up in surrender and the barrel of a pulse gun held just inches from his head. Dread turned into relief when he saw who held the weapon.

"Aeryn!"

"What was he doing to you, John?"

"Nothing, it's okay."

"What did he do?" Aeryn hissed, insisting that he give her a full answer.

"He was... just... talking to Harvey." He knew how ridiculous it sounded and saw the disbelief in her wide eyes staring at him as though horns were sprouting from his forehead.

"What?"

"He was talking to Harvey. The Scarran boss used his heat ray on me earlier. The Doctor was trying to fix it so that I would be immune to it if they tried it again."

"So you gave him permission to enter your mind and read your thoughts?"

"No, not to read my thoughts; just to talk to Harvey. Look, I know it sounds weird, but it's okay... I'm fine. No harm done. No reason to shoot him. So just...." He motioned for her to put away the gun.

Aeryn wasn't completely convinced about the Doctor's good intentions. She was reluctant to lower her weapon but she did so begrudgingly. As she stepped over to Crichton's side, the Doctor lowered his hands and let out the breath he'd been holding. He then quickly walked over to the door and glanced out, checking for signs of the Scarran guards. Everything appeared to be quiet, so he turned his attention to Aeryn.

"Mind if I ask how you managed to get inside the building without detection or setting off any alarms?"

"I scaled the outside of the building up to the roof. From there, I worked my way through the air ventilation system and down the elevator shaft."

"Impressive. However, I doubt we'll be able to get the others out that way. We'll have to go for something easier and straight forward. Come on, we should leave now."

The Doctor opened the door and crossed over to the opposite enclosure. He waved at the occupants through the window as he slid back the bolt on the door. Veyadad and her father were quickly on their feet. Although the child was obviously pleased to see the thin, pale alien, her father was apprehensive and held his child back protectively when the door was opened.

"Veyadad, are you all right?" asked the Doctor, keeping his voice just above a whisper.

"Yes. I am fine," she whispered back. "This is my eada."

"Thought as much. Hello, I'm the Doctor, and your name is...?"

"Skeekon," the tall, blue-green alien replied after a brief moment of hesitation.

"Skeekon, very pleased to meet you. Now I'm guessing you've had enough of these uncomfortable accommodations and wouldn't mind very much getting out of here. Am I right?"

"What of the Scarrans?"

"Oh, I'll take care of the Scarrans. Don't you worry about them. Come on out. We need to get going."

Skeekon stepped warily out of the enclosure, holding securely to the hand of his daughter. He was slightly alarmed at seeing another pair of similar pale-skinned aliens with furry heads, carrying what he assumed to be weapons. The Doctor paused to introduce them.

"Skeekon, this is Aeryn and John. Don't be afraid. They're here to help free you and your people from the Scarrans. Now, let's get the rest of these doors open and get everyone out of here."

There was no time wasted in getting the doors opened and ushering out several frightened females and children of various ages, warning them to keep together and remain quiet.

"What of our brother?" whispered a young adult male, his right arm being clasped tightly by an even younger female.

"What are your names?"

"I am Goren. This is Renog."

"And my guess is that your big brother is Engineer Lastren?" asked the Doctor.

"Yes. He was here earlier, but they took him away."

"I know. He's on the fourth level in the research area along with two other technicians. Don't worry. I'll see to it that they get out safely. Now everyone, this way, quickly and quietly."

The Doctor led the way down the corridor towards a storage bay in the rear of the building. Crichton was by his side, now armed with a pulse pistol while Aeryn with her pulse rifle, brought up the rear. The group moved swiftly and cautiously through the storage bay, beyond numerous crates of supplies and machinery until finally reaching a locked exit door. The small purple light in a wall panel with keypad next to the door signified that a security lock was in place.

"Don't suppose you have a gadget for figuring out the combination, do you?" asked Crichton.

"Funny you should ask."

The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver, adjusted the setting on it, then held it up to the keypad. Everyone looked on curiously as the odd little tool lit up with a blue glow and made a strange whirling sound. Almost instantly, a series of symbols began to flash by on the keypad display window, well on its way to deciphering the six digits of the security code. As the screwdriver worked its magic, Crichton took a few steps towards a nearby wall where he saw a long row of canisters the size of trash cans that were stacked three tiers high. He sniffed the air picking up an unusual but not unpleasant odor.

"Mmm, something smells good... like someone's frying up some bacon."

Nearly as soon as he uttered those words, the group of aliens he was helping to guard, suddenly all began to cough as though they had just inhaled some sort of irritant. The Doctor became instantly concerned, temporarily abandoning his attack on the door lock. He glanced over at the canisters and back at the Pathfinders, coming to a quick and dangerous conclusion.

"It's the toxin! One of the canister's must be leaking. Quickly, everyone cover your gill flaps, hold your breath and keep close to the floor." They all followed his advice, squatting down, and placing their hands over the gill openings on either side of their heads while the Doctor went back to breaking the code on the lock. After a few more seconds, the final digit fell into place, the purple light turned blue and the low click of the locking mechanism release could be heard. The Doctor carefully pushed the door open just a crack and cautiously peered out into the semi-darkness before waving the others out into the fresh air. He herded them into the shadows close to the building and gave them time to catch their breath and clear their lungs.

"Aeryn, did you notice any guards outside when you came in?" the Doctor asked.

"Two walked around the perimeter every half arn. I estimate we have less than ten microts before they come through again."

The Doctor scanned their surroundings. They were in the rear of the building, a section used for parking transport vehicles. There were several truck-like and bus-like vehicles stretched out in a row within fifty feet of where they stood. There was also one medium-sized spaceship parked under a protective steel canopy. No doubt it was the Scarran's ship, big enough for a crew of no more than a dozen and likely fitted with weapons. He looked to Aeryn and Crichton and asked, "Are either of you familiar with Scarran spaceships?"

"I've studied them as part of my Peacekeeper training," said Aeryn. "I'm not so sure I could fly one though."

"No, don't need you to fly it. The Scarrans are going to fly it. They'll need a way off this planet. I just wouldn't want them to start blasting weapons at anyone once they get on board."

"I believe that particular model is equipped with two long-range canons, one forward and aft. And probably one or two smaller short-range laser guns."

"I was afraid of that. Suppose we'll have to worry about that later." The Doctor turned his attention back to his new entourage, deciding that their safety was his first priority. "Everyone feeling better?" he asked and received nods all around. "Good. There's transportation over there. Let's go." He led the way to the nearest bus, and as the others boarded it, Crichton and Aeryn remained outside to stand guard. As everyone found seats on the bus, the Doctor checked to make sure the vehicle was in operable condition. He made quick use of his sonic screwdriver to turn on the electronic engine which thankfully was virtually silent. "Any drivers among us?" he asked, once the engine had started.

Skeekon came forward and announced, "I can drive."

"Good man."

"But... where to? We can not return to our homes. The Scarrans will only come after us again."

"No, they won't. The Scarrans will be leaving your planet. I'll see to it. But, everyone listen. In order to get the Scarrans to leave and never return, I will have to take away their only reason for being here. That building," he pointed to what stood outside the window, "and all the technology inside of it... will have to go."

"You are going to destroy the building?" asked Skeekon.

"Yes."

"Our brother is still inside," Goren spoke up worriedly, seated beside his equally perturbed little sister.

"I haven't forgotten. I'll go back for him and the others in just a bit, but first, I want to make sure you all are safely away from this place."

"We can drive into the city to the authorities," suggested the frightened female the Doctor had encountered during his first visit to the planet.

"That would not be so simple," said Skeekon. "We will not be able to get through the main gate. It has a security lock and an armed Scarran on guard at all times.
 
"In that case, the safest place for you to be is aboard my spaceship. Veyadad, you can show him where it's parked." He pulled the TARDIS key from his pocket and gave it to the younglin, pressing it gently into her palm and folding her fingers around it. "Here you go. Once inside, keep the door closed and make sure no one touches any of the controls. Just wait for me there. Understood?"

"Yes, Doctor."

"Hold on for just a moment." The Doctor stepped off the bus and approached Crichton and Aeryn standing near the rear. "The two of you should get on the bus and go back to the TARDIS with them."

"Thought you were going back inside for the others and to set off you little device," said Crichton.

"I am. Actually, I still have some work to do on it. But it shouldn't take too long."

"Will you be needing any help?" Crichton asked.

"I'll handle it, thanks. You two should go now."

"We've got company!" Aeryn announced in a hushed voice as she gestured towards the far end of the building where two Scarrans were just rounding the corner.

"Frell," Crichton hissed. "No way you'll get past them, Doc."

"Not without a diversion," said Aeryn. "Stay here. I'll draw them away."

Before either the Doctor or Crichton could object, Aeryn dashed away, darting behind the other parked vehicles heading in a direction opposite their present location. In a scant few moments, she had been spotted by the Scarrans who immediately began a pursuit. 

"Oh, she's going to get herself captured or killed," the Doctor grimaced.

"I'll watch her back," said Crichton. "You'd better take off."

"No, Crichton, you--" the Doctor's attempted warning fell on deaf ears as the earthling hastily trailed after his female companion. "Oh, wonderful. Now, they'll both get themselves captured or killed."

There really was nothing he could do to stop them, so he chose instead to take advantage of the diversion they provided. He turned briefly towards the opened bus door, and signaled to Skeekon to drive away quickly. He then ran alongside it keeping in its shadow until he was forced to move away in order to make it back to the rear entrance door. He entered the building again without detection and raced down the corridor, skidding to a stop in front of the elevator doors. He pressed the button for the lift and bounced nervously for all of two seconds before he lost patience and decided to take the stairs. He burst through the staircase door and bounded up the steps three at a time until he reached the fourth floor.

He was cautious about stepping out into the fourth floor corridor. Everything was still quiet. He quickly but quietly walked past the laboratory door to the end of the hallway to the little room that served as sleeping quarters for the scientists. He slipped inside and gently shook Lastren awake first.

"Come on," the Doctor whispered. "We're getting out of here. I need your help."

"What? Doctor..."

The Doctor gave the other two scientists a quick shake to stir them awake. "Let's go. We've got work to do. Quickly!"

"What's going on?" Lastren asked as he sat up in bed and swung his feet to the floor.

"I've helped your friends and family to escape. I came back for you three and to make sure that the Scarrans won't cause you any more trouble."

"How?"

"No time to explain. We've got work to do and very little time in which to do it. So, if you don't mind, we really need to go. Now!"

Fortunately, they were already dressed and only needed to slip into their shoes before obediently following the Doctor back to the laboratory. The door to the lab was locked with the same type of keypad combination lock as the exit door in the basement. Rivortus pressed in the code to unlock the door, and as soon as they were inside, the Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and used it on the keypad. A series of symbols flashed by until they all read the same and then blacked out.

"What did you just do?" asked Rivortus with suspicious concern.

"Secured the lock. I imagine that the Scarrans have the code to get in but I'd rather we not be disturbed. Now, the project we were working on earlier, we need to finish it right away."

"Wait!" Rivortus grabbed the Doctor's arm and turned him away from his projected direction. "Exactly what is that project? It is not a wormhole machine, is it?"

The Doctor really did not want to waste time explaining himself, but he could see by the Pathfinder's expression that he would not be cooperating if he did not get an answer to his question.

"No, it is not a wormhole machine, exactly. It's something that will destroy this building and everything in it. That is the only way you will be able to rid this planet of Scarrans."

"You want to destroy our life's work?"

"No, I don't. I really don't. But I do want to save your planet. And there's only one way I can think to achieve that goal. Which is more important to you? Your life's work or everything else?"

That seemed to do it. There were no more questions and no further delays. His three helpers followed his lead and faithfully performed his bidding. They worked quickly and effectively, and in only twenty minutes were close to completion. Rivortus, the eldest of the Pathfinders, looked over the odd looking contraption which was comprised of several parts from a previously non-working generator, a jumble of wiring connected to and from one of the computers and a power source, topped off with a small laser aimed at the donated clear crystal that was once a treasured pendant belonging to Vanitem.

"How does this device work?" asked Rivortus.

"Simple, really," the bespectacled Doctor replied while making some last minute fine-tuning. "Just flip the red switch and wait for it to warm up...."

"I mean, what does it actually do?" Rivortus rephrased the question. "Is it a bomb? Will it cause a huge explosion?"

"No. That was the original plan. An explosion of sorts, but then I saw those canisters of toxic gas in the basement storage area. An explosion would damage the canisters and release deadly fumes into the atmosphere. So, I've made some significant alterations. Now, the building will simply be sucked into another dimension."

"That's not possible," said Vanitem, in disbelief. "Is it?"

"Yes, it is. Mind you, I had to rush this into production so it's more than a bit crude. But it should still get the job done." The Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to actually tighten a screw, then put it away, his project finally complete. "As I was saying before, just flip this switch to turn it on, give it a moment or so to warm up, then once the light begins to flash, turn this knob all the way to the right."

"No timer or remote starter?" asked Lastren.

"No. I did mention it was crude, didn't I?" the Doctor asked as he pulled off his thick-rimmed glasses and placed them in his pocket.

"But," Lastren queried, "once it is activated, how long before it does what it is supposed to do?"

"Not long. Which is why everyone needs to evacuate before I set it off."

The three Pathfinders shared equal looks of worry and disbelief. It was Lastren who spoke what they all were thinking. "You will stay behind and risk your life to save ours?"

"I'll be all right. I'm a very fast runner."

The rattling of the door handle to the lab drew their attention to another problem they faced. The rattling was quickly replaced by intense banging as the Scarrans attempted to penetrate the sturdy, locked door.

"It would appear," said Lastren, "that none of us will be leaving. You are certain that our families and friends are safely away?"

"Use your communicator to call your brother. Ask him where he is now."

Lastren lifted his wrist and pressed the button to activate his communicator. "Goren? Can you hear me? Are you and Renog safe?"

"Brother, I hear you. Yes, we are all safe. Everyone is aboard the Doctor's ship. His remarkable, impossible ship. Are you coming?"

"Soon, Goren. Just... stay there." Lastren switched off his communicator, then looked to his fellow colleagues. "Everyone else is safe. Perhaps we should activate the device now and save our planet."

"Yes," both Vanitem and Rivortus agreed.

"No, no, wait!" the Doctor raised his hands to discourage their line of thought. "My plan is for everyone to get out of here alive."

"But the Scarrans--"

"Will no doubt choose survival and retreat over being sucked into the black void of space."

The banging on the door abruptly stopped and was soon followed by the sound of weapons fire as a pulse rifle was used to destroy the door lock. A moment later, the door burst open from the impact of Scarran brute force. Commander Niwek stepped a few feet into the room and stood menacingly starring at the Time Lord.

"I know what it is you are up to, Doctor," he sneered. "I had another conversation with your companion Arthur Dent." He snapped his finger towards the opened door which was a signal for two of his men to enter with their prisoner. "Or should I say... John Crichton."

The two armed guards dragged in a dazed and bloody-nosed Crichton. It was apparent he had been subjected to the Scarran's heat ray again, and probably for a much longer interrogation. He was unable to stand on his own and after the guards released their grip on his arms, he sank to the floor in a heap.

"You didn't have to do that," said the Doctor, not moving away from nor trying to hide his science project. "I could have told you what I was up to myself."

"I can believe nothing you tell me. Crichton, however, is more truthful. He has told me of your plans to destroy all the research here. I found the news upsetting at first, until I discovered his true identity. He is a being of much interest among my associates. It appears he has great knowledge of wormhole technology locked inside his brain. One merely needs enough time and the right methods to retrieve it. So, destroy this place if you wish. These so-called scientists do nothing but fail and are no closer to a breakthrough than they were when I first arrived. You can have them. I will take Crichton. I am sure I will be well compensated for his capture."

"Listen, Niwek, why don't we swap? Let Crichton go and you can have me. My technical knowledge is far greater than his, and you don't even have to unlock it. Just ask nicely."

The corners of Niwek's mouth turned upwards. "Your knowledge may be great, but you have a certain power that cannot be easily harnessed. You can not be made to speak the truth and you have already proven that you should not be trusted. I will take my chances with Crichton."

As Niwek began to turn away, the Doctor took a step forward and stated, "You are right about my power not being easily harnessed. And perhaps you can't tell when I'm being honest, but trust me on this, release Crichton and leave this planet now, or I will be forced to destroy you. I won't ask again."

There was a momentary flash of fear in Niwek's eyes. It was the second time the Doctor had threatened to destroy him with an intensity in his voice and eyes that said indeed he could make good his threat. Again, the commander decided to brush off the possibility of death at the hands of the frail looking alien that was surely all bluff.

 "I have a counter offer for you, Doctor. I take Crichton, have you shot, and as a parting gift, have all the canisters in the storage room opened to release the gas that your new friends find so deathly unpleasant."

 The Doctor sighed sadly and spoke softly. "I'm afraid you leave me no choice." In one swift motion, he turned and reached down to flip the switch on his machine. "I'm sorry," he apologized to the Pathfinders standing nearby. All three seemed resigned to their fate and only nodded in understanding.