"Crichton," Rygel groused, "I realize that your brain is inferior, but how could you have completely forgotten meeting that man until this very microt?"
"I don't know. He said he could prove he was telling the truth by going back in time and saying, 'Hello'. It didn't make any sense to me before, but now, I think that's exactly what he just did."
"So he travelled back to when you were a child and showed you how to use that welder?" questioned D'argo dubiously.
"Sonic screwdriver," Crichton corrected him. "And yeah, he was a substitute teacher for my science class one day. The dude looked exactly the same as he does now, shoes, clothes, hair... everything. I remember working on a miniature rocket and the wires had somehow become detached. He pulled this thing out of his pocket and showed me the setting for soldering wires."
"Wait. How could he have shown you that screwdriver when you were a kid if he left it here with you now when he went back to the past?" asked Chiana.
"Well, maybe it's not the same one. Heck, it's a screwdriver," Crichton shrugged. "He's probably got a drawer full of 'em."
Aeryn sighed and rolled her eyes with mild skepticism. "Crichton, are you sure you're actually remembering that and not just --"
"Going nuts? I don't know, but it seems pretty real. Oh wow!" Crichton exclaimed as another recollection came to mind. "I just remembered something else. Halloween!"
"What or who is Halloween?" asked Jool.
"On my planet there's this holiday where kids dress up in costumes and go through the neighborhood collecting candy and treats. It's the one time of year that everybody can walk around looking like anything they wanted to and nobody would think anything weird was going on. The one day on Earth that D'argo would be considered cool."
"And what would I be considered the rest of the time?"
"Creepy. No offense."
"So what about this Halloween?" asked Jool.
"I remember a few months after the rocket incident, the Doctor paid me another visit on Halloween. He showed up at my front door dressed the same as before but he had this kid with him. Everyone assumed it was just an elaborate mask, a makeup job like what they do in the movies, but now I know... she was real. She was a Pathfinder. Said her name was Vidalia or Veyama -- something like that."
"He took a Pathfinder back in time to meet you as a child?" asked Aeryn. "Why would he do that?"
"So I could remember it now. He probably knew he wouldn't be able to make it back here, but he wanted me to know that he had saved those families."
"Mmm," said Rygel as his ears perked up in response to a certain sound. "Somehow I believe there's more to it than that."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you hear it?" Rygel asked as he gazed towards the ceiling.
"Crichton's hearing is as poor as his eyesight," said D'argo, also looking up and about as though he heard something.
"Hey, just 'cause I don't have bat hearing..." Crichton's words trailed off as his inferior Human ears finally picked up the sound his companions had already sensed.
The weird noise that had announced the departure of the blue box, now heralded its return. There was a slight disturbance in the air as the Tardis began to emerge out of nothingness and appeared virtually in the same spot as before. As it fully materialized, the noise faded away and the pulsing light on top went dark. Moya's crew stood and waited for the door to open. It did so very slowly, pulling back just a crack and allowing a face to peer out cautiously. The initial flash of blue skin made several hearts skip a beat as the thought of Zhaan's return filled everyone's mind. But the blue was the wrong shade and the height was obviously too short to be their beloved Zhaan. The door opened fully to reveal a young Pathfinder female. She stood in silence and stared fearfully out at the strange aliens in the room. A Human-looking hand settled on her right shoulder and gave her a comforting squeeze. She looked up at the Doctor and was encouraged by his warm smile.
"Go on," he spoke to her softly. "It's okay."
The young girl took in a nervous breath before stepping out of the Tardis and walking alongside the Doctor towards the group of aliens. She took hold of his hand for extra security as they came to a stop within a short distance of Moya's crew.
"Introductions," said the Doctor as he presented his new companion. "This is Veyadad, the younglin daughter of Pathfinder Neeyala." He proceeded to point out and name all the strange new aliens to her. "That's the lovely but distrusting, Aeryn Sun and the somewhat scary but probably very nice, D'argo. Then we have the lovely Chiana, the equally lovely Joolushko Tunai Fenta Hovalis, Jool for short; the very spiritual Stark, the royalty of Dominar Rygel the 16th, and this somewhat starry-eyed fellow I believe you already know."
Crichton shook his head while grinning broadly, too much in awe to even speak. Apparently, Veyadad recognized him as well as she stared at him with wide eyes, her head canted to the side in wonderment.
"John-ny?" the younglin inquired.
"Yeah. I'm... I'm Johnny. John."
She looked him up and down and marveled, "You have grown!"
"And you haven't. You look exactly the same as you did when I was twelve. Man, this is blowing my mind." He looked to the Doctor and asked, "How is it I'm just now remembering meeting you when I was a kid?"
"Well, you didn't remember because technically it didn't happen until after I met you as an adult."
"But... that doesn't make any sense! If I met you when I was a kid, then I should have had that memory all along."
"Yeah, you would think so, wouldn't you? But, you see time doesn't necessarily follow a straight line. It can bounce around a bit. Have you ever experienced déjà vu, the sense that something has already happened before?"
"Yeah, a few times."
"See, prime example of time bouncing about. So how long have I been gone?"
"Not long. Less than ten microts."
"Microts to minutes," the Doctor took a nanosecond to calculate the time. "Oh, good. That's good. Plenty of time then."
"How did it go with the Pathfinders?" asked Stark. "Were you able to save everyone?"
"Not yet. It's sort of an ongoing process."
"Explain," said Aeryn.
"Well, the families all reside in a small cluster of homes on one end of the research base. I landed the Tardis in the communal playground area, and began knocking on doors. Only one door, actually, the home of Kreetago's family. His lovely wife answered, but unfortunately, much like Jool there, she startles quite easily at the sight of a strange alien face. And though her scream was not a hazard to my health, her poisonous bristles were. She darted me in the chest and slammed the door in my face before I was able to utter a single word. I found I had a slight problem breathing. One of the bristles had pierced my right heart, which allowed the toxin to race through my system quite rapidly."
"Thought you said you were immune to the poison," said D'argo.
"Most poisons, yes, but still, there can be some slight adverse effects until I'm able to purge it from my system. At any rate, I saw her peering out the window at me while apparently making communication with the local authorities. I'd forgotten that in general they are not a race that automatically embraces other species."
"Yes, they made it quite clear that they did not care to socialize with any of us," said Rygel.
"They are pretty much an isolated race and would prefer to keep it that way. When I saw she was calling for help I decided to head back to the safety the Tardis to rethink my approach. I made it as far as the door, when I became increasingly dizzy and collapsed. That's when this younglin came along." The Doctor smiled down at Veyadad as he gently patted her hairless head. "Not only is she inquisitive, brave, and caring, she's also highly intelligent. She helped me into the Tardis where I was able to fully recover after a few minutes, then I sat her down and explained to her everything that's happened."
Her mother was dead was the first thing that entered Crichton's mind. The sense of guilt that accompanied that thought weighed heavily in his heart. He knelt down on one knee so the child would not have to strain to look up at him. "I'm sorry about your mother, Veyadad. Neeyala... she did her best to complete her mission and get back home to you. But... things just...." His voice faltered as he lowered his gaze to the floor. He wasn't sure what he could possibly say to the child that could make the loss of her parent less painful. He looked up in surprise as the child reached out and placed a consoling hand on his shoulder.
"My mela knew that her work was dangerous," said Veyadad solemnly. "She said that wormhole travel was unpredictable and that there was always the possibility that something could go wrong and she might not return to us. My family and I understood this and prepared for this uncertainty. The important thing now is to save the others from execution and to rid my planet of the Scarrans."
"Scarrans?" several of Moya's crew spoke at the same time with the same shock to their voices.
"I take it you've heard of them?" said the Doctor looking about and gauging everyone's reaction.
Crichton stood up straight and nodded his head. "Yeah, we've had a couple of close encounters. What are they doing on the Pathfinder world?”
"Apparently, pulling strings. I don't have all the details yet, but Veyadad overheard her parents discussing it. Tell them what you told me, luv."
"Once, when I was suppose to be sleeping, I heard my beduas talking. My mela was upset. She did not want to tell my eada what was wrong. She said that she had been ordered to secrecy, but she did not like keeping such important news from my eada. She told him that aliens had come to the research lab. She called them Scarrans. She said that they were very large and fierce creatures. She said that they would kill us all if she did not obey them. Then she said... they would destroy our whole world if they did not get what they wanted."
"They're after the wormhole technology," Crichton speculated.
"That's my assumption as well," the Doctor agreed. "They don't want to put forth the effort themselves, they just want to reap the benefits of someone else's hard work. I thought it was a bit odd that the Pathfinders were ordering the executions of their own scientists. Of course, there was the possibility that someone with power had gotten a little carried away, but it just didn't feel right. The Scarrans obviously have a powerful hold over them."
"And that's why you've come back here," said Aeryn. "You're looking for help to get rid of them."
"Yes, I am," said the Doctor as he pulled out a pair of 3D glasses with white frames. He slipped them on and casually turned his head in different directions as he continued to speak. "The Pathfinders don't have much in the way of weaponry. They mostly depend on their poisonous bristles as their best line of defense. Unfortunately for them, the hide of a Scarran is too tough for the bristles to penetrate which makes them virtually impervious. They may as well be tossing dentics at them."
"Even my qualta blade has trouble piercing their skin," said D'argo.
"Mmh, just as well," the Doctor murmured, a bit distracted as he looked all around the cargo bay, apparently fascinated by the view with his 3D glasses on. "I'm not interested in maiming or killing anyone. Just want to make them play nice or go home."
"And how do you figure on doing that?" questioned Rygel. "By asking politely?"
"I always do," the Doctor replied, continuing his search amongst the storage crates. "Doesn't work as often as it should, I'm afraid. Still, it's worth a try."
"What are you looking for?" asked Chiana. If she had been expecting a simple reply, she was out of luck. The Doctor glanced briefly in her direction, still wearing his 3D glasses, then began the rather long explanation of his quest.
"When we were going over the researchers' files, it was noted that there were five members on the team, but Crichton said there were only four on board. Dominar Rygel pointed out that they had the ability to turn invisible, so that got me thinking. I went back and checked the records, and indeed, five members were on board the ship when it launched. Their last scheduled report verified that all members were accounted for. It's possible the fifth member was killed instantly when the ships collided, or he immediately went into hiding as a precaution or protocol."
"So you're looking around for someone who's completely invisible," Crichton surmised. "And I'm guessing those funky glasses are not just a bold fashion statement."
"They're multi-dimensional spectrometers. Let's me see if there's any spacial electromagnetic radiation floating about. Unfortunately, I'm not picking up anything."
"Yo! Pilot," Crichton spoke out to the often unseen but always present pilot of the ship.
"Yes, Commander?" Pilot's voice came from the overhead sound system.
"Have you been following any of this?"
"I have. And may I say, Moya seems quite taken with the Doctor. She said that he spoke to her in her own language."
"You speak Leviathan?" asked Stark.
"Only the basics."
"Pilot," Crichton took over the conversation again, "are you picking up any signs of that missing researcher?"
"I'm sorry, Commander, but due to extensive damages, Moya's scanning functions are severely limited at present."
"So, it's on to Plan B," said the Doctor as he pulled off his glasses and placed them back into his pocket. "Aren't you impressed that I have a Plan B?" he asked Crichton.
"Depends on what it is."
"Not what... who." The Doctor moved to stand behind Veyadad and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Didn't you wander why I took Veyadad back in time to meet you?"
"I figured it was because you wanted to prove to me you could travel in time and that you had rescued those families."
"Actually, the first visit was to prove I could time travel. The second visit... well that was to prove I could time travel as well. Only I was proving it to this younglin here. She didn't quite believe everything I told her in the beginning. And I seriously needed her to believe and trust in me because I'll require her help to get through to the others. Speaking of which... Pilot, it's the Doctor. I need to ask a small favor of you."
"What is it you require, Doctor?"
"I'd like to make an announcement that can be heard throughout the ship."
"That, I can do. Go right ahead."
"Engineer Lastren. This is the Doctor speaking. I know you can hear me and understand what I'm saying. Your world is in danger from the Scarrans. I need your help to save not only your family, but your entire planet from possible annihilation. Please make your whereabouts known now."
Everyone looked around expectantly and waited for the missing Pathfinder to come forward, but nothing could be heard other than the natural sounds produced by Moya. After a reasonable amount of time, the Doctor leaned down and whispered to Veyadad, "Why don't you give it a try."
The girl nodded and spoke out confidently. "Engineer Lastren, this is Veyadad. Pathfinder Neeyala is my -- was my mela. You recognize my voice, yes? We have met on occasion. You know what the Doctor says is true. We have to save our families. We have to stop the Scarrans. The Doctor says he can do it, but he needs your help. Please, Lastren, let me know if you can hear me."
Again they waited, but there was still no indication that Lastren was aboard the ship. Just as the Doctor was about to have Veyadad try again, a soft, timid voice spoke up from behind him.
"It... it was my fault," Lastren admitted sadly.
The Doctor turned to look but saw no one. That didn't stop him from responding. "No, it wasn't. It was an accident. No one is to blame."
"You hear something?" asked Crichton, looking to the empty spot where the Time Lord's gaze was focused upon.
"It's Lastren," the Doctor replied while getting out his 3D glasses and slipping them back on. "Apparently, you can't hear him because he's still out of phase." With his glasses in place, the Time Lord was able to make out the glowing outline of molecules surrounding the Pathfinder standing a few feet away. "There you are. It's all right. You can show yourself now. No one will hurt you."
"Without my ship, I cannot reverse this process," Lastren explained his predicament.
"Oh, well maybe I can help." The Doctor reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his sonic screwdriver. He aimed it at the outline of molecules but nothing happened. "Oops, forgot. Older model. This one doesn't work so well." He looked to Crichton and saw what he really needed still in the man's hand. "Mind if I have that back now?" Crichton turned over the screwdriver without a second thought and watched as the Time Lord aimed the object seemingly at thin air. A flash of blue and a whirling sound later, the invisible Lastren gradually came into view. "There we are. Much better," said the Doctor as he put away his glasses and both screwdrivers.
The alien was about Crichton's height and weight, his coloring a mix of light shades of blue and green. His expression was one of sorrow and guilt. He seemed to find it hard to look into the faces of those surrounding him.
"Forgive me, Veyadad," he spoke softly, keeping his head down. "It is my fault that your mela has perished."
"The Doctor said it was an accident."
"Yes. But, it was an accident that I caused."
"What did you do?" asked Aeryn, her voice tinged with suspicion.
"Does it really matter now?" the Doctor replied, wanting to move on to more important matters. Lastren, however, felt the need to get things off his chest so he responded to the question.
"I performed an experiment of my own design. It was an experiment that I had no authorization to attempt, but I was certain it would more efficiently gather the results we sought. But my calculations were incorrect, causing an abnormal fluctuation within the wormhole. It became unstable, flared outward and pulled this ship inside, directly into our path. All that has happened... it is my doing."
"You!" Chiana cried out angrily. "It's your fault. Zhaan's dead and it's all your fault!" She started to launch an attack with her bare hands, but D'argo quickly intercepted, lifting the Nebari off her feet and holding her in a tight embrace to keep her from assaulting the Pathfinder.
The Doctor stepped in front of Lastren, further protecting him from the wild, gray girl struggling to get loose while spewing obscenities. "Chiana, wait... just...." the Doctor attempted to calm her down with gentle persuasion, but quickly realized he needed to take a different approach. "Chiana, stop it!" He used his "Oncoming Storm" voice, the one that demanded instant attention, respect and obedience. Gone was his meek, carefree attitude and in its place was a stern expression with piercing, dark eyes. Even though his reprimand had been directed solely towards the Nebari, everyone in the room took heed, surprised by the booming volume of his voice and the unmistakable authority it carried. Chiana instantly halted her rampage, although still held in D'argo's grasp. The Doctor spoke in an even temper, his voice returned to a normal level. "We do not need to fight amongst ourselves," he told her. "Lastren is already punishing himself for what happened. I doubt anything you say or do could possibly make him feel worse."
The Doctor turned around to face Lastren and placed a comforting hand upon the forlorned alien's shoulder. "Look at me." Once eye contact was made, the Doctor spoke softly to the distraught man. "You made a costly error in judgement, and unfortunately some lives were lost. But what's done is done. That's in the past. We have to think about the present now. Other lives are waiting in the balance so this is very important. I need you to tell me everything you know about the Scarrans on your planet."
What Lastren knew about the Scarrans proved to be fairly significant. There were six that he had seen in the research lab, but possibly more were stationed elsewhere. The leader was named Niwek, an entrepreneur seeking wormhole knowledge that he could take back to his world and sell to the highest bidder. Besides having a sizable arsenal of firearms, the Scarrans had brought with them several small canisters containing a deadly biological toxin designed specifically to infect Lastren's people. Exposure would cause swelling in their gills blocking off air intake and resulting in suffocation in a matter of minutes. The Scarrans had already proven the effectiveness of the compound on the families of the previous research team. They claimed to have enough of the poison on hand to decimate a tenth of the population and would do so if the wormhole technology they sought was not soon forthcoming.
Once Lastren had offered up every detail he could think of, the Doctor patted his shoulder and thanked him. "All right, now that I know what I'm up against, the first thing I need to do is get you and Veyadad back home. We can gather your families together and get you all to safety. Then I'll go have a talk with the Scarrans."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Crichton waved his arms in a wild motion to stop the Doctor from herding the Pathfinders towards the Tardis. "Wait. You... you're saying you're going to go talkto the Scarrans?"
"Yes. Talk to them, see if I can't persuade them to leave these people alone."
"You can not be serious!"
"Why can't I?"
"Let's do a quick review, okay?" Crichton threw his arm around the Doctor's shoulders and walked him off to the side a few feet away from the others.
"Review? Review what?"
"Your plans, such as they are. When you first came aboard Moya, you planned to help us out in some way, right?"
"Yes, but you actually seem to have everything under control, so --"
"No, I'm not finished." Crichton held up a hand to silence his new buddy. The Doctor snapped his mouth shut and begrudgingly allowed the Human to continue. "So, you come on board and next thing you know, you're flat on your ass out cold because a startled Barbie doll screamed at you."
"Yes, but you have to admit that was a very unusually high-pitched --"
"And then," Crichton continued his own line of thought, "you went to the Pathfinder world with a plan to rescue some folks, but you had to abandon that idea because a frightened housewife shot you in the heart with a poisonous dart. You starting to see a pattern here, Mr. Wizard?"
"Well..." First of all, his name wasn't Mr. Wizard, and secondly, he didn't really care to discuss the other matter, so he merely responded with, "What's your point?"
"My point is, Slim, you basically got your ass kicked twice by females who are technically the good guys. Now you're talking about going up against Scarrans, giant lizards with long, sharp claws, built-in body armor, the ability to fry your brain with their body heat or squeeze the life out of you with their Kung-fu grip. And I happen to know first hand, they've got technology that can get inside your head and make you think whatever the hell they want you to think. You see where I'm going with this, Doc?
"I take it, that's your roundabout way of saying that the Scarrans may not be receptive to alien intervention. I agree. But I still have to try."
"And get yourself killed in the process?"
"Believe it or not, I have faced bigger, meaner and smarter adversaries all on my own and survived the encounter. The Sycorax for example -- not all that smart actually -- but large and aggressive like the Scarrans. I faced down a whole ship full in nothing more than borrowed jim-jams and a bathrobe. Mind you, it wasn't all talk though. I had to battle their leader in a sword fight. He managed to cut off my right hand but since I was in the early stages of regeneration, I was able to regrow another one."
"The point is, I stood up to the Sycorax all on my own and convinced them to behave themselves."
"But Rose Tyler was with you, right?" Veyadad asked. Both the Doctor and Crichton turned to look at the child. "Or was it Donna Noble?" She stepped forward, trying to recall the names and stories the Time Lord had told her during their trip to Earth. He had rambled on and on about companions and adventures, although much of what he'd said had made little sense. At first there had been joy in his eyes and excitement in his voice, but after a while his expression had turned grim and his voice sounded sad. The one thing Veyadad had gleamed from his words was that others had been very brave and had helped him to stand against terrible enemies. "Always, there was someone by your side, you said. Some were killed or damaged or lost. And you felt responsible, so you said, 'Never again.'"
The Doctor felt exposed by the girl's words. He hadn't realized that he had revealed so much to her or that she had even comprehended what he'd been blabbering on about. He found it hard to look into her eyes, so the floor was where he focused as he tried to gather his thoughts. There was no denying he had said those things. No denying that defeating his enemies usually meant that someone had stood steadfastly by his side, or at least in his corner rooting for him to win. It was hard to remember the last time he had actually faced any type of serious threat all on his own. "You know what I think, Doc?" Crichton's voice broke through his self-absorbed thoughts. The Human stood directly in front of him with his hands on his hips, eyeing him intently.
Crichton glanced around at his friends for a moment, then looked back at the Doctor. "I believe that a lot of people are going to die if something isn't done to stop the Scarrans. Not only are they a threat to the Pathfinder world, but once they get their hands on wormhole technology, they'll use it to dominate every other planet out there. You claim you can stop them. I don't know why, but for some reason, I believe you can. You've got the smarts, you've got the guts, and you've got a cool ride...." Crichton placed a hand on the Doctor's shoulder as he added, "I just don't think that's enough. You need backup. Even Superman needed someone to flick away that piece of kryptonite holding him down. Know what I mean?"
The Doctor nodded solemnly, knowing exactly what the Human meant. He opened his mouth to speak but wasn't able to make anything come out. He wanted to assure everyone that he had the situation well under control and that he could save the planet and the day with nothing more than his quick wit and a sonic screwdriver. In reality, he always seemed to need someone to provide a brilliant idea or simple diversion, to push a button, pull a trigger, or die in his stead. Quite often, just like Superman, he found himself crippled by a small piece of kryptonite, and needed someone to rescue him so that he could rescue everyone else.
The Doctor's inability to contradict his words told Crichton everything he needed to know. "That's what I figured." He gently slapped the Doctor's arm and said, "All-l-righty then! Let's get this show on the road. I'm going with you."