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Of The Essence (3/?)

Title: Of The Essence(aka The Temp, The Spaceman and the Flyboy)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Series: Doctor Who/TOC Files
Characters: Ten, Donna, OC
Word Count: 2845/14372
Rating: G (I believe)
Summary: The Doctor and Donna arrive on a ship taking refugees from a war zone and are naturally taken for stowaways. An old friend of the Doctor's then asks for their help to rescue members of his team on a hostile planet.
Notes: This story has been sitting on my computer for ages! I actually started it after seeing Donna's reaction to Jack in "Journey's End". It sat around unfinished until last year when my niece and nephew helped me past my block and worked on a plot on the way to a spring training game. It's un-beta'd so feel free to point out typos or any ohter errors you find. Disclaimer The Doctor, Donna and the TARDIS belong to the BBC. Alan Kelly is mine.



The Doctor saw the welcoming committee and tried to figure out the best approach. They weren’t armed which was a good sign. Perhaps thankful would be the best way. “Hello! Thank goodness, we’ve found you. We’ve been wandering quite a bit now.”

One of the men came forward. “Welcome, stranger. I am Leiman, mayor of Shadowbrook.” He looked behind the Doctor at Donna and Alan. “I see one of your party is injured. Why don’t we move this inside where she can be tended to.”

“Thank you.” He looked over at Alan as he came up alongside. He was barely breathing hard. He rubbed his head and hoped Alan understood the hint. [Follow my lead] he projected.

Alan nodded. From the surprised look on Donna’s face, Alan had relayed the message in the same manner.

Leiman led them into the reception area of the municipal building. The Doctor sat in a deceptively comfortable chair and watched as Alan set Donna on the sofa, propping up her “injured” ankle. “I noticed as we walked in that you don’t seem to have suffered as much as other places we’ve seen,” he commented.

“We did near the start,” Leiman answered as he sat in a chair that was twin to the Doctor’s. “I think the fact that we have no true resources to plunder and hold no strategic value, we were left alone.”

“We’re certainly thankful for your location,” remarked Donna.

“You’re quite welcome, Miss...”

“Oh, sorry. That’s Donna Noble, Alan Chesterton and I’m the Doctor.”

Alan looked at him questioningly but said nothing.

Leiman smiled. “You can stay the night at the hotel—free of charge, of course—until Miss Noble is ready to travel.”

“That’s very hospitable of you. I don’t think we’ll be too long. We were separated from some friends and need to meet up with them.”

“We’ve had no one come by this way for some time. I think we’ve been forgotten.”

“You seem to be doing well enough,” commented Donna. “Everyone looks healthy and well-fed.”

“We’ve managed to get by with what we have.” Leiman stood. “Let me escort you to the hotel.”

Alan bent over and lifted Donna once more as the Doctor stood. “That would be most welcome. I think we could all do with a bit of kip.”

“’Kip’?”

“Rest, sleep, nap, doze,” the Doctor clarified.

“Ah, of course.”

They followed Leiman outside where a crowd had gathered just to see them. The townspeople followed at a discreet distance and their odd silence made the Doctor uneasy. Leiman did nothing to disperse them as they stopped outside the hotel and took up a vigil.

“You must not get many visitors if we get this reaction,” commented Donna.

“Yes, strangers are rare. We treat them like precious gems.”

There was something about Leiman’s manner that seemed at odds with his words, but the Doctor couldn’t place it. Perhaps once they spoke in the hotel room, the others might have noticed it too.

Leiman opened the door and showed them into a suite. “Oh. My. God!” declared Donna.

Even Alan was stunned. “This is quite...unexpected,” he said as he set Donna onto a chaise.

Leiman looked at him curiously. “I meant what I said about treating guests like gems. Rest well.”

The moment the door closed behind him, Donna was up exploring the suite. “This place is huge! It’s all top quality.”

“Stayed in many five-star hotels, have we?”

“No, but I know it when I see it.”

“What is a luxury suite doing in a city in the middle of nowhere?” the Doctor mused.

“They said they like to treat visitors well,” replied Donna, her enthusiasm waning.

“Being caught in the middle of a war, you would think they would have other priorities.” The Doctor began to pace the room, rubbing his hands back-and-forth over his head to help him think. “Even if they do treat their guests like gold, they shouldn’t have been able to keep up the hotel. It should be shabby and worn.”

“Yet everything looks brand new.”

“We have to find out if the rest of the rooms have been remodelled or just this one,” said Alan from his position by the window.

“What will that prove?” Donna questioned. “Lazy decorators?”

“It could make this a trap,” the Doctor replied.

**************************************************

Donna tried to rest but couldn’t relax. The Doctor and Alan had learned that this was the only remodelled room. The rest was all cobwebs and dust. Believing this to be a trap, she couldn’t sleep waiting for it to happen. Alan had no trouble and was fast asleep. The Doctor was reading some of the books left in the suite. How can they act like we’re not in trouble? Any moment now, the creepy townsfolk will spring their trap and it’ll be too late.

She turned to her other side and punched the pillow before trying to settle down again. Think tranquil thoughts. She conjured up a tropical beach where the only sound was the waves against the shore. It was perfectly idyllic and she could feel herself drifting off.

When she woke up, she was disappointed to realize she wasn’t in a tropical paradise. Then she noticed she wasn’t even in her hotel bed. The trap had been sprung. In the dim lighting, she could tell they were in a cave of some sort. There were maybe ten others with them and the Doctor and Alan were conversing with two of them.

The Doctor spotted her. “Donna, glad you’re awake. Come join us.”

Only the Doctor would treat being locked up underground like a cocktail party. “Hang on!” She stumbled slightly on the uneven ground and thought how ironic it would be if she sprained her ankle for real. She reached the Doctor’s side in one piece and pushed her hair back. “So, what’s this pow-wow in aid of?”

“Planning an escape,” Alan answered. “Donna, this is my brother Ryan and my friend Shannon.”

Donna really couldn’t see much of a family resemblance under better lighting and if Ryan were clean-shaven, she might see something. Shannon was ginger too even though she looked a little grimy right now. “Hi.”

The two smiled and greeted her in return.

“They were caught the same way,” the Doctor informed her.

“We had heard some stories about this place so we decided to check it out.” She was Irish. The name should have been a clue, but that didn’t mean the same nowadays.

“How come Alan couldn’t contact you?”

“They must be jamming us somehow. Believe me, we tried calling out ourselves.”

“How many people know you’re telepathic?” the Doctor questioned.

“Only a handful,” responded Shannon.

“So, since your abilities aren’t public knowledge, I doubt it’s being done on purpose. This may sound like a stupid question, but did you try communicating with each other?”

Ryan and Shannon looked at each other. “We didn’t even think to try after the other didn’t work,” admitted Ryan.

“Well, go on.”

Donna watched the three friends and could tell it worked when Shannon blushed. She had a feeling the two were teasing her about the Doctor. “I see it works,” she commented.

“What does that prove?” Ryan wanted to know.

“Just supports a theory.” The Doctor stood and walked to the cave wall behind them. One spot in particular interested him. He scraped off some dirt, dabbed a bit on an index finger, which he placed on his tongue.

Donna couldn’t help but make a face.

“Tell me he didn’t just eat dirt.” Shannon sounded a little disillusioned.

“He does that a lot,” Donna confirmed.

“So how does it taste?”

“Like nikolai.”

Donna had never heard of it and, going by the others’ faces, neither had they. “And that’s special because?”

“It’s a rather blah little mineral that’s usually found in bellarium mines.”

“Which this was,” Shannon stated.

“Anyway, it was always overshadowed by its more glamorous twin, as it were. It doesn’t do anything except in a high concentration when it blocks all psi abilities. So, the good news is that nobody above is aware of your abilities.”

“But,” Donna finished, “the bad news is we’re stuck here anyway.”

********************************

After the Doctor’s announcement that they were well and truly imprisoned until he could think of something, he brightly dodged the subject by asking how they’d been since he last saw them.

[Guys, let me just warn you. Rose is gone, in another universe and they can never see each other again. Don’t bring it up.]

[Like I would be so insensitive,] came Ryan’s reply.

[Yes, you would. You have been,] Shannon answered.

They made small talk with the Doctor and Donna as they tried to figure out why they were imprisoned and hopefully find a way out. They had no idea how far below the surface they were, which limited their options.

Donna was sitting against a wall, just staring at the ceiling. “What’s that?” She was pointing at a dark area.

The Doctor walked over and looked directly up at the spot. He then licked a finger and held it up. “Brilliant!” he said with a laugh.

“What?” Shannon asked coming up beside him.

“Air vent.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Ryan.

“Perfectly serious. This leads to the surface and we can get out that way and head for the TARDIS.”

“But how do we know it will stay the same width?”

“Because they sometimes doubled as access.”

Alan could hear the uncertainty in the Doctor’s voice but ignored it. “One of us should go up first to make sure it’s safe.”

“And you want to volunteer,” Ryan said. “You realize there are others who could do it just as well.”

“What? You want to shoot for it?” As an officer, Alan felt it was his duty to take risks. Ryan should be used to it by now.

“Boys,” Donna said, "this is not the time.” Donna walked up to them. “I’ll do it.”

“Donna, are you sure…” the Doctor started.

“I need to contribute to this. You each bring something to the table and there's not much in a mine that can use my clerical expertise.” She looked at the Doctor. “I can do this.”

“Just be careful.”

“Right then.” Alan and Ryan prepared to lift Donna to the opening.

One of the other prisoners rushed over. “They’re coming,” he said nervously.

“Crap. Okay, change of plan.”

“What? I can still make it.”

“Donna, no time for arguing.” Alan pressed a hand to the leather bracelet on his wrist, returning it to his true appearance as his machine. He pressed a few buttons before handing it to Donna. “This will take you to Jacsmira. Tell Maddie Chase everything.”

“You had that with you the whole time? Why didn’t you leave before?” Donna berated him.

“He’s got these strange ideals of self-sacrifice,” Ryan said by way of explanation.

“Ryan believes in self-preservation,” commented Shannon. “Donna, just go before it’s too late and it won’t matter.”

With a last look at the Doctor, Donna pressed the blinking button just as the door to the mine opened and Leiman entered. “Everyone outside,” he declared.

The prisoners shuffled along towards the exit. Alan and the others mingled so as to hide the fact Donna was gone. The bright sunlight was blinding as they were herded like prize cattle towards an open field. Alan was half expecting to see a corral. Armed villagers took up position around them marking the perimeter as well as any fence. Slave trade.

Leiman took position at the edge of the field and spoke to everyone gathered. “You are here to help save this village. It is not the way we want this to work, but it is the only thing we have. You will wait here until they come to collect you.”

“Short and sweet,” the Doctor muttered.

“That’s how they keep this town in decent shape,” Shannon said.

“But who are they trading with?” Ryan needed to know.

**********************************************

The Doctor had come across slavers before but this was different. This was luring people into a trap and then passing them along for survival. For greed, for money, he could understand, but doing this for survival made him furious. It was inconceivable. There had to be something else they could do, something else they could trade in. Perhaps something they had already traded in. He approached Leiman. “You don’t have to do this,” he told the mayor. “There is something else you can trade in other than flesh.”

“You have seen Shadowbrook and its environs.” He spread his arms out. “We have nothing.”

“Yes, but I’ve also seen under the town. I’m guessing the area is riddled with mine tunnels. I’m sure I could find you rich veins of bellarium. It’s very sought after. I’m sure you could trade for supplies with anyone you wanted.”

“The mine died out years ago. Why do you think we’ve resorted to this?”

“I can find it,” the Doctor said. “You just hold off the trade until I do.” He stared at Leiman, silently pleading for the man to see the truth.

“I will delay until you find this vein. If not, the trade will go through as planned.”

“Brilliant! Ryan, Alan, Shannon, let’s go.”

“No.”

That terse syllable made the Doctor look at Leiman in surprise. “What?”

“Those two,” Leiman said, pointing at Alan and Shannon, “will stay here to ensure your cooperation.”

“He volunteered to help you,” Shannon argued. “Cooperation isn’t in question.”

“Perhaps, but your presence here will inspire him to succeed and return.”

Shannon looked like she was ready to argue, but the Doctor put a restraining hand on her arm. “It’s all right, Shannon. It’s not like I haven’t been through this before. You and Alan keep things calm. The last thing we need is panic ruling up here.”

Alan turned to Leiman. “Do you have a way for us to communicate? We’ll need to know when the vein is exposed.”

“Of course.” Leiman motioned to a middle-aged man who turned and head back to town. “Dyas will bring back communication devices for you. Is there anything else you need?”

“My sonic screwdriver. The silver wand thing I had on me at the hotel,” he clarified. “And we’ll need some equipment and some people to help with the digging. I won’t know about anything else until we get down there.”

“This can be arranged.” Leiman pointed to some of the village men who looked like they wouldn’t mind some manual labor. “They will help you, Doctor, bust should you do anything they construe as harmful to Shadowbrook, they will stop you.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Dyas returned with devices for the Doctor, Alan, Shannon and Ryan. The Doctor slipped his into his ear. “Right. I guess we’ll go back to town so I can get the sonic and then it’s underground.”

“Heigh ho,” said Ryan sarcastically.

“I guess that makes you Grumpy,” teased Alan. “You’re certainly not Bashful.”

The Doctor knew that the brothers would get into it if he let them, so he stepped in. “Gentlemen, this is not the time. Ryan, we have to go.”

“We will finish this later,” Ryan stated.

“Yes, Dad!” Alan called after them as they walked away.

After a stop at the municipal building to retrieve the sonic, the Doctor, Ryan and their group of miners headed for the mine entrance. The Doctor was already planning how he would go about revealing the vein while keeping a high level of purity. Oh, and of course, keep the mine from crashing down on them.

“You do know what you’re doing, right?” Ryan questioned as they entered the large cavern in which they had been held.

“I am hurt that you could even think such a thing,” he responded indignantly. “I’ll have you known I’ve been in quite a few mines.”

“That doesn’t really answer my question, Doctor.”

The Doctor had forgotten that Ryan was in Intelligence. The man knew how to read people and how to get them to speak. Well, he’d been around too long to fall for such tactics. “I thought I had.” He took out the sonic and began to scan the walls, taking periodic readings. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ryan and the villagers standing in the middle, watching him. At least they weren’t talking, distracting him with unnecessary questions.

He stopped for a moment to think about Donna. Oh, he wasn’t worried. He knew Alan’s machine would take her right back to Jacsmira. He was just worried that she wouldn’t be believed and relief would arrive too late. He smiled at the thought of her bossing the officers around.

He checked the sonic and slipped it into his pocket. “Gentlemen, ready your pickaxes.”

“Aren’t you gonna use your sonic?” asked Ryan. “It’d save us a lot of time.”

“And possibly bring the whole thing down on us? I need to find the right setting and to do it safely takes time.”

“Fine.” Ryan started swinging his pickaxe with the others.

Chapter 4

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