Spoilers: ENT "Shockwave I and II", "Storm Front I and II"
DW: "The Doctor's Daughter" and the movie "The Five Doctors"
Other Notes: The Death Zone was an area of Gallifrey where the Time Lords used people in 'The Game'. The object of The Game was to find the Tomb of Rassilon (or the Tower of Rassilon) and escape the Death Zone safely. There were mountains, marshes, thick mists, and complicated traps that made the Game deadly.
The Companions traveled with the Doctor in his various incarnations. The ones listed in this chapter are Martha Jones (Ten), Donna Noble (Ten), Jenny (the Tenth Doc's daughter, but not a real companion), Romana I and II (Four), Sarah Jane Smith (Three and Four), K-9 Mark II (Sarah Jane's "pet", Four), Jo Grant (Three), Grace Holloway (Eight) Amy Pond (Eleven), Rory Williams (Eleven), River Song (Future Companion (?))
Note: There's one important Companion missing from this list. Who is it?
Ianto Jones, Owen Harper, Gwen Cooper and Toshiko Sato were the other members of Jack Harkness's Torchwood. Martha worked with them for a time.
The two voices had British accents. The first one was definitely more of a drawl, but the second voice's calmer undertone reminded Trip of Phlox's 'professional' demeanor in Sickbay. A medical doctor? He felt a gentle pair of hands help him move until he felt a solid wall behind his back. He managed to open his eyes a crack and immediately stared into a bright penlight.
“Hey! I'm awake! Get that damn thing out of my face!” He tried to push the offending object away, but the light dropped before his hand made contact with it.
“I guess he's awake, Martha,” Donna deadpanned. She put a supportive hand on his shoulder. “How's the head?”
“Awful. Feels like someone stuffed it into a bass drum and started beatin' on it.”
The world came into abrupt focus. Trip carefully turned his head and surveyed his surroundings. They were in some sort of bubble? He frowned at the transparent energy field and the inky blackness beyond it. A slight vibration ran through the walls, like the one from the Enterprise's warp core, but this one turned his stomach.
Trip leaned back and closed his eyes again. “Ow. I hurt all over.”
“It's the negative ion field. It drains your energy and makes you feel weak and exhausted. A pretty effective cage.” Martha placed the penlight in her pocket. “Head's the worst?”
“It's one of the side effects of this place. Hold still.” She put her hands on his shoulders and pressed down on the nerve points. It helped, but Trip still felt lousy. “That okay?”
“Yeah, a little.” He opened his eyes and asked curiously, “Where'd you learn neuropressure?”
She chuckled, though the lines of strained exhaustion were clear on her face. He noticed her eyes were velvety brown, like liquid chocolate. “It wasn't from medical school. I pick up a few things here and there. Remember, the Vulcans didn't invent it.”
Trip opened his mouth, thought better of it, then closed it. Okay, the TARDIS has really stuck me someplace really weird now. A twinge of memory sparked in his mind, but it faded before he could really be sure.
“Wait. You've been to Vulcan?”
“Yeah, just not...the one you know. We ended up there long before logic, back when they were all still fighting each other.” Martha sighed and tugged at her jean jacket. “Long story short, I nearly got stabbed by their equivalent of a halberd.”
Trip grimaced. Before Surak, T'Pol's people fought and slaughtered each other. If Martha had visited Vulcan before the Kir'Shara...he grimaced again. Maybe it was good that he and Malcolm hadn't ended up that far back in their pre-history.
“They're called lirpas. Heard they're nasty things...though Malcolm would know more about 'em than I would. I build things, he blows 'em up.” He frowned. “Wait...where's Malcolm?”
“Bomb Boy?” Donna chuckled and jerked a thumb in the direction of the emptiness beyond the bubble. “He's with Jenny. She's gonna take good care of him.”
Trip's mouth quirked at her nickname for Malcolm; he had to admit it was appropriate. “Jenny?”
“She's a relative of the Doctor's,” Martha interrupted, with a pointed look at Donna. “They're in the next floatin' bubble, having a bit of a chat.”
He stared at his fellow prisoners. The one named Donna had shoulder-length red hair and wore a black shirt tucked into slacks. Martha was her complete opposite in size and stature: dark-skinned with a jean jacket over a red shirt and denims. Trip's eyes widened as recognition set in; he kicked himself for not noticing it earlier.
“I know you two! You're part of the TARDIS's crew!”
The dark-skinned woman flashed him a smile that reminded him so much of Travis Mayweather. “Really perceptive of you. I'm Martha Jones, and this is Donna Noble.” The red-head nodded, her eyes sparkling with genuine humor.
“Pleased to meet you. Commander Charles Tucker the Third, chief engineer of the Enterprise, NX-01. My friends call me 'Trip'.”
Donna grinned and shook his offered hand. Like Martha, she hid her nausea and pain under a smiling veneer. “'Trip', eh? And people think I come up with the weirdest nicknames. You avoid stairs and railings, then?”
He rolled his eyes at the tired joke. “Heard it before, Donna. And before you ask: Third Charles in the family, Triple, Trip. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.” She smirked and crossed her arms. “Nice, short explanation there.”
“You get used to the routine.” His eyes strayed towards the empty space beyond the bubble; there was absolutely nothing, no reference points to orient himself, and although he could feel their movement, the lack of visual confirmation bothered him. “Where are we?”
“It's called the Death Zone and it lives up to its name. Just a dark Nothing, and no one's supposed to be able to escape from it. The operative word's 'supposed to',” said Martha.
“That's two words,” Donna joked.
“Close enough.” She reached over and tapped the transparent 'wall' of their bubble and sparks flew into the air around them. Trip jumped as one landed on his hand and shocked him.
Donna gave him an ironic smile. “Pretty nifty, eh?”
“Uh...yeah. Neat, as long as the bubble doesn't pop while we're in it.” He tried to sit up straighter, but decided to keep as still as possible. “Now...will someone please tell me what the hell's goin' on? Is your entire crew stuck here in this Death Zone?”
“Ianto, Owen, Gwen and Tosh...they were in the Hub when I was.”
“Great. So that's what...nine Companions, plus the four from Torchwood...”
Trip didn't know the people mentioned, or what a 'Companion' was, but he sat up straighter at the familiar name. “Torchwood? Hold on...you know Captain James Harper?”
Donna rolled her eyes. “His name's not Harper. It's Harkness, and he's her boss. Was. Sort of.”
“Jack Harkness! Dammit, I knew it! I knew it was him!” His shout startled both women and they both involuntarily flinched. “He saved my life on Risa and got killed in the process.”
Donna blinked in shock. “He's dead?”
He swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. “Yeah.”
“But...” Donna seemed to be in genuine shock. “He can't be dead! He's larger than life, he's---”
Martha reached over and put a comforting hand on his arm, her eyes compassionate, but she seemed oddly calm, considering the news that her boss was dead. “I'm sorry, Trip. We didn't know.”
Trip frowned at her strange reaction. He recalled the information about the multiple 'James Harper's from the TARDIS database, then his mind made a completely illogical leap. “He isn't really dead, is he?”
Martha heaved a big sigh. “It's not my place to explain this one, and I'm a medical doctor. Ask him the next time you see him.”
He clamped down a surge of frustration, but another wave of nausea overcame him. Martha pressed on the neural nodes in his back and shoulders again, while Donna murmured soothing noises. Trip heard a slight humming sound, similar to one of Phlox's medical tricorders. He managed to raise his head to see Martha frowning at a glowing screen in her hand.
“Easy...our 'cage' can detect extreme changes of emotion, like sadness or anger. It reflects it back on us and makes us feel even worse,” Donna whispered. “Try to calm down, Cowboy.”
Martha chuckled and shook her head. “Emulate your Vulcan girlfriend.”
“Hey! She's not my girlfriend---” Trip clamped his mouth shut again, but it was too late. “How the hell do you know about that?”
“Whoa, Cowboy.” Donna's mouth quirked into a sly smile. “Methinks you're protesting too much.”
He glared at her as he tried the ignore the surge of hope in his chest. Donna just gazed at him with smirk that resembled Malcolm's on a good day. Despite himself, he started laughing. She couldn't keep the saucy expression and also dissolved into laughter. Trip realized their laughter had a tinge of genuine madness, but he didn't care. Martha grinned like a idiot, though she managed to keep from chortling herself.
“Good to hear you laugh,” she said, her face becoming sober. “We were starting to get worried about you and your friend. Some people don't take very well to traveling through time and space. I guess it helps that you've done it before by accident. The Doctor chooses his Companions carefully.”
Trip shook his head and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “The Doc didn't choose us, not really. We ended up with his TARDIS---”
“The TARDIS picked you up, all by herself?” Donna asked. “That's...weird. I thought she doesn't do that, Martha.”
“Not usually, but she does have a mind of her own. It means she's functioning independently of the Doctor, which means---”
Donna's smile fell and her eyes became worried. “Spaceman's in big trouble.”
“Spaceman? The one with the glasses and the red sneakers?” Despite their situation, Trip chuckled under his breath. “You got a nickname for everyone?”
Donna's hand tightened on his shoulder. “You've got to listen and listen carefully. You and your mate aren't really here...somehow the TARDIS sent you to where we are. We're stuck in, well, wherever this bloody place is. All of us. And you've got to get us out before we all get too weak to do it.”
Trip looked pointedly at the walls of the 'bubble' and the cold darkness beyond them. “How are we gonna do that?”
Martha took up the explanation. “Whoever took us wants to control every single possible universe and he's doing it slowly, one by one. I think he tried to take yours, but your crew stopped him. Now he's mad and he's going to try again.”
He tried to make sense of her words. “My crew? You mean the Enterprise crew?”
Donna's expression darkened even further, her mouth tight. Trip resisted the urge to shrink back, even if he was already pressed against the 'wall'. It was like an oncoming storm, just barely kept in check. Trip had the feeling that Donna Noble was one of those 'silent means very bad trouble' types.
“He's got these little men who look like sandstone figures, all crackly and odd looking, with glowing eyes. One of 'em yanked me right out of the TARDIS, and nothing's supposed to get in without the Doctor's permission!”
Martha nodded and added, “They're able to blend into their surroundings so you can't see 'em. That's how they were able to snatch me right out of the Torchwood Hub without anyone seeing---”
“Wait!” He held up a hand and everything finally fell into place. “You're talking about the Suliban!”
“Who?” Donna demanded as she gave his shoulder a gentle shake. “The Suli-what?”
“Suliban.” He quickly recounted how the Suliban had hijacked the Enterprise, and how Captain Archer managed to contact them from the 31st century and how the Suliban's mysterious benefactor was finally defeated after Enterprise returned from an alternate 1941. Neither Donna nor Martha seemed surprised at the completely absurd story.
In fact, they looked rather sympathetic. Donna cocked her head at him and asked, “I take it you've never told your superiors about this?”
“It's all classified. I'm not sure if the Cap'n ever told the Starfleet brass about it.”
Martha chuckled and gave him a wide smile. “If he did, I'm sure they probably thought it some sort of post-traumatic stress hallucination of some sort.”
“The entire crew?”
“Why not? The best retcon is the 'you dreamed it all in the shower' excuse.”
“Retcon?” Trip had the feeling they were crossing circuits, talking about things that went way over each other's heads. “Never mind. I don't wanna know. But how're we gonna do this? Even the Cap'n didn't find out who Silik's boss actually was.”
“Boss Guy thinks Humans are as dumb as rocks,” Donna said abruptly, “and he thought that if he takes away all the help, you won't know what to do. That's why he decided to stuff us all in this wherever-it-is and throw away the key. But I don't think he expected you and Bomb Boy to be as successful as you've been.”
“You mean fixin' up the timelines?” Trip smirked, despite himself.
Donna matched the smirk. “Yeah, you really bollixed up his plans. Once you fix 'em, he can't touch 'em. So...keep doin' what you're doin and you'll keep kicking his arse.”
Martha sighed and rolled her eyes as if praying for patience. “In a nutshell, that's what the Doctor managed to tell us before he went missing. Donna and I think Boss Guy--” she winced at the nickname, but went on, “--locked him up somewhere, so he can't save the universe.”
“So it's up to me and Malcolm.” Trip sighed and rubbed his temples again. Now he noticed a tightening in his chest, as if his heart literally ached. “Great. The more timelines we change, the closer we get to Boss Guy, and the closer we get to the Doctor, right?”
Their cage shuddered and slowly began to descend deeper into the blackness. Trip frowned as he saw a planetary surface materialize directly below them. The rugged mountains in the distance towered over a string of marshes and sheer cliffs. A paved road cut through the marshes; its ragged edges slowly crumbled into the boggy ground.
“There's only one road out of there,” Donna whispered, “and it cuts through those bogs. Ugh, we're gonna have to wade through that mucky mess.”
Martha pointed at a tall spire in the distance. “Is that...a tower?”
Trip shaded his eyes from a sickly yellow glow on the horizon. The tower jutted out like a shard of poisonous glass, high up into the black sky. Huge walls made of the same glass-like material rose around it, cut in an irregular pattern. From their vantage point, he made out gravel paths among the walls.
“You mean we're gonna have to follow the road to the maze, then get through the maze to the tower? Seems pretty straightforward.”
Martha shook her head. “Yeah, but nothing is as straightforward as it seems. I bet the maze is loaded with nasty traps and hidden surprises.”
“Rats,” Donna tightened her lips again. “Lovely.”
The bubble continued to descend until the maze sank from view. He glanced down to see the paved road coming up fast. “Brace yourselves! We're gonna touch down!”
Just as the forcefield touched ground, it cut out and the three of them ended up falling onto the road. Trip managed to tuck and roll, so he ended up on his back instead of his head. Donna cursed as she rubbed her right knee, and Martha brushed gravel off her face.
“Yeah, I think so, Cowboy.” Donna grimaced as she stood up and tested her right leg. “Nothing serious, as long as I don't run any marathons any time soon.”
Martha nodded in agreement. “None the worse for wear. Looks like we got dumped right between two bogs.”
Trip shivered at the cold mist that rose all around them. It reminded him of the one time he visited the Scottish moors...in February. Chilly, damp and generally unpleasant. Eerie sounds echoed around him: human-like wails and whispers among the stones.
“We'd better get movin'. If anythin', it'll keep us from catchin' hypothermia--” He frowned as he realize the mist had thickened all around him. “Donna? Martha? Hey, where'd you go? Guys?”
The Death Zone, the mist whispered, if you want to save them, you must find your own path.
“What?” he yelled. “I don't have time for riddles!”
Find your own path, seek your own destiny. Either you travel the road by yourself, cold and alone...or you travel with companions and share the load. The darkness. Use the light within and the warmth with-out from those you trust, and you will save them.
He felt a wave of dizziness and knew the TARDIS was pulling him back to safety. Trip knew he had to find the Suliban and their leader before it was too late. Wherever the Suliban was, he'd find the Doctor as well.
The women's voices were was rapidly fading in the mist. “Stay strong, Trip. We'll see you later, okay?”
“Yeah, and tell Bomb Boy it's the red wire, not the green, when the time comes.”
“What? I don't understand--”
But they were already gone, and so was he.