The uniform body of the craft ended at nine powerful engines, sprouting out like massive pipes from the hull, sending a long trail of exhaust out into the darkness which propelled the ship onwards. They were on low power, and gave off only the smallest propulsion available. The spacecraft was moving into orbit...
The planet was grey and lifeless. It was routed by an empty sea which once had ater flowing through, like blood through veins, but those veins were now dry. Only underground streams fed the sparse vegetable life, everything else was dead. If any great civilisation had existed once, it was long eroded by the winds of destruction. From the space craft it looked like a moon or any other lifeless rock. It was covered in dense, grey clouds. A forbidding place, almost a light year from any established or thriving civilisations.
Captain Johnson sat at his control desk and surveyed his crew. It was an unusual mission sent by the Federation, consisting mainly of military personnel the rest, scientific. Computer console lined the walls covered with glowing screens and emitting low hums of power and beeps according to the instructions that they received in their circuits.
A female scientist, Doctor Renshaw was Johnson's second-in-command. He detested the idea but orders were orders. She sat coolly at the desk next to his. He glanced at her for a moment, then returned to his work. He opened the report channel. The message that followed would be beamed to the nearest beacon where it would be sent to Federation Headquarters for filing - no one listened to these, so he kept it brief:
'The Victory on course for planet AE/TE/3. We have come to investigate strange disruptive energy readings emanating from this planet over the last seven months, following the reports from a robot probe. All sections are prepared for scanning and analysis. This is purely a scientific mission led by Captain Johnson and the crew of The Victory of the Federation Fleet. At present all readings are normal, except for a slight variant in one area. HMS Victory is set to land at that particular point on the planet. End.'
Johnson flicked the channel off and turned to his console. He had been informed that the crew were waiting for him to give the word. 'Fire retro-rockets and slow to mark one.' he ordered.
'Slowing to mark one,' came the immediate response from the ship's navigator. 'Gravity reading registered at two. This is now programmed in and will be compensated for accordingly.'
Renshaw studied her console for a moment then turned towards Johnson with concern in her voice. 'Energy readings fluctuating higher, Captain.'
Johnson nodded slowly, 'Maintain scan. Inform me of any that go over the safety margin.'
Renshaw almost looked offended. She was well aware of what Johnson thought of her. 'Of course!' she snapped.
Johnson ignored her. 'Alright!' he bellowed, 'Take her down!'
The Victory slowly started to descend through the uncompromising atmosphere of the planet. Incongruously it stood out amongst the clouds, and made itself even more obvious by leaving a thick, black vapour trail in its wake. Despite all its clumsy features it performed a graceful turn in the sky, so that its engines were facing the ground. Now, using its retro-rockets, the great form began to lower itself once more, like a giant trying to find room for its feet. On the bridge the reports to the Captain were flowing quick and fast.
'Standard descent speed obtained.'
'Hull stress reading at fourteen.'
'Engine heat steady.'
'Ground surface scan commencing.'
Johnson leaned forward in his seat and studied the map being displayed on his VDU. Rather than geographical features, it showed energy concentration points. The point which held his interest was shown to be some distance away. 'I want to land as close to that energy source as possible,' he grunted, 'I don't want to walk very far if I can help it. According to the probe there should be a place suitable in section D82.' He raised his voice 'Check it!'
'Landing zone confirmed in section D82,' replied the navigator.
One of the pilots leaned over, 'If you'll let me have the exact co-ordinates I'll re-plot the course descent.'
The navigator touched a control, 'You have them now.'
It was a dull valley in which the Victory had come down in. It held no charm and was dotted with ugly, barbed bushes. The ground was shattered and laid waste as if it had been routed by war several centuries ago. The weeds poked out of the surface only to be greeted by the stark clouds above. It was a picture of misery.
The undercarriage was lowered and gently The Victory came to rest, a black vapour continued to seep from the engines and around the ship. It stood like a headstone, an epitaph from casual visitors. On the bridge of The Victory, the Captain looked at the same view on the scanner screen. He was far from impressed.
'Another hole for us to explore,' he said and turned to his crew. 'Will we need spacesuits?'
'The air is breathable and the gravity is bearable. It's quite harmless.'
Johnson nodded. 'Alright,' he sighed, 'Just get the scientists from below and kick them out when I give the word to open the hatch.' He stood up and as he turned away, heading from the exit of the bridge, he said, 'I'll be in my cabin. Be ready in five.'
'Okay! Open up!'
The hatchway swung open and the ramp descended to the ground. Johnson walked out on to the surface and looked around. He reached down and picked up a handful of soil. It was dry and it crumbled to dust in his hand. He noted how bleached it's colour was.
'It's like a moon,' Renshaw said, picking her way towards him. 'No animal life, just rocks and boulders.'
Johnson had noticed that for himself, but wasn't in the mood to argue. 'Enjoy it while you can.' he murmured.
Johnson quickly turned at the sound of one of his crew members calling out. The officer in question was pointing his pistol at something just out of sight, around the corner of the ship. Johnson and Renshaw began to walk towards the scene, promting the officer to explain himself.
'I found something lurking around the other side of the ship.'
The answer was answered by an indignant cry. 'I wasn't lurking.' the voice continued to point out, 'just studying the design.'
Johnson waved his arm. 'Flush him out!'
The crew member reached behind the ship and dragged the mysterious person out. The person in question wore a coat which can only be described as a patchwork quilt clashing and unlikely colours. The waistcoat he wore was similar in that respect and had a watch and chain hanging from its pockets. The trousers he wore were yellow, striped with black and his shoes were brown and swathed in orange spats and his hair was an unruly mess of blond hair. The strangely garbed Victorian figure waved a multicoloured umbrella at the crewmember.
'Being cooped up like a battery hen doesn't seem to have done you any good,' he snapped, 'Have you been wormed recently?'
The crew member aimed his pistol at the alien that stood before him his intent on hitting should he have to pull the trigger. 'Just shut your mouth!'
'Charming!' was the response.
Renshaw drew up with her scanner, a small handheld device which all of the Scientific crew members carried. Johnson noticed it and quickly stopped her from suggesting its use.
Renshaw held up the device and aimed it at the stranger. The image produced on the small screen gave a sort of heat-sense / x-ray. Renshaw looked puzzled. 'Definitely non-human. Two hearts, apparently. But he can't possibly have originated from here, he must have landed here, like us.'
Johnson moved forward to cover the stranger. He didn't like things that he couldn't understand. 'Who the hell are you?'
'I'm usually referred to as The Doctor.'
'Oh, is that so?'
'Why are you here?'
The Doctor shrugged and twirled his umbrella. 'I was just passing.'
Johnson kicked the umbrella out of his hand.'In a ship?'
The Doctor turned towards him slowly. 'Of sorts.' He looked up at The Victory. 'It's a bit more advanced than the heap you arrived in.'
'Enough of the snide remarks,' Johnson growled, 'What do you know?'
The clown spread his arms and smiled broadly saying, 'Absolutely nothing at all'
Johnson gritted his teeth but eventually gave in to his feelings. He grabbed the Doctor by the collar and forced him back. The Doctor struggled but that only made Johnson even more determined. He shoved hard and the Doctor was sent reeling against the side of the ship. He fell to the floor but before he could rise up once more, Johnson pressed the muzzle of the gun into the Doctor's face. 'I don't believe you,' he hissed.
'Look! I mean you no harm,' jabbered the Doctor, 'I'm merely an observer and I carry no weapons either. I think I should be protectorate for this planet, and there was never a colony here either.'
Johnson began to speak but the Doctor cut him short. 'Put plainly, I'm an innocent victim of circumstance who wants to join the party, provided I know the ends and the means.'
There was a long pause, at which point Johnson lowered his gun and stepped back. 'Okay, you've convinced me,' He spoke softly, 'But I'll be watching you, and I'm not going to have anything explained to you either, you'll have to pick it up as we go along. If you should think of anything, anything at all, you'll tell us. Understood?'
'Without question.' The Doctor agreed, nodding.
Johnson turned his back on him and began to walk off, leading the way for the crew to follow. He turned momentarily to face the Doctor. 'As for our end, it's this way,' he pointed. Then raised his voice to the rest of the crew. 'I want all blasters set on stun and no smoking, it's disgusting!'
Reluctantly, everybody followed.