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"He’s going to choke!" Donna screamed as she continued to work the handle of the car. "Doctor!"

Rose was searching desperately for something heavy enough to break through the tempered glass of the car’s windows. There were no handy statues lying about, and no rocks that would make any sort of impact. Her gun was out. Psychokinetic wavelength disruptors simply went through inorganic objects without affecting them, unless they were made out of certain very rare metals which would muffle the signal. She could knock Wilf out, but she couldn’t break the glass. Not even smashing the gun against the window would do that. Unlike twentieth-century Earth guns, the Psychokinetic wavelength disruptor was made from light, strong alloys. It had a third of the heft that a decent size pistol did.

Meanwhile the Doctor was under the car, desperately trying to get rid of the ATMOS device. If he could destroy the central unit than the gas would stop and the Sontarans would no longer be able to control the locks. He was having very little luck.

"It won’t open!" Donna yelled again, and then she looked up. Her mother stormed out of the house clutching a large ax. She stopped in front of the car and swung her weapon at the windshield. It shattered. Rose, Donna, and the Doctor stared at her for a moment. This—this was new.

"Well don’t just stand there!" her mum yelled. "Get him out!" The shock diffused, Rose and Donna pulled Wilf out of the car and helped him to the door of the house.

"I can’t believe you’ve got an ax!" Donna exclaimed.

"Burglars," her mother protested. They were standing on the front stoop now. Rose gave Wilf a kiss on the cheek and joined the Doctor by the curb. Donna hesitated. "Get in the house!" her mother ordered. "We’re letting that gas stuff in!"

Rose and the Doctor said nothing but looked at her expectantly. She shook her head. “Gotta go, Mum.”

"With that madman?" Her mother was not impressed. "

"Go on Donna," Wilf ordered. "Go with the Doctor and do some good!"

"Dad!" her mum protested, but Donna was off.

Ross pulled up behind the Doctor in what appeared to be a cab. “This was all I could find without ATMOS,” he explained.

The Doctor nodded, and then turned back to Donna’s family. “Seal up the windows and doors,” he ordered. “That should help keep the gas out.”

"I’ll be back!" Donna promised, mouthing the words through the glass of the windows as Ross turned the car back towards the ATMOS factory. "We’ll figure this out and I’ll be back," she said quietly. Wilf waved until she could no longer see him, but her mother did not.

UNIT was in uproar. Ross pulled the cab just inside the checkpoint and the Doctor bounded out. Rose and Donna followed more slowly, the smoke-choked air making their eyes water and their throats convulse in racking coughs.

"Ross, look after yourself," the Doctor directed. "Get inside the building."

The young man nodded. “Will do. Greyhound forty to Trap one, I’ve just returned the Doctor to the base safe and sound,” he continued on his radio as he pulled further into the complex.

"The air is disgusting,” Donna gasped.

The Doctor looked concerned. “It’s not so bad for me,” he replied. “You should get inside the TARDIS. She’ll filter the air, keep it clean for you.” He glanced at Rose, who had pulled a bandanna out of her pocket and was tying it around her face just under her ears. “What about you?”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Go to the TARDIS and miss all the fun? I’ll stick with you, thanks.”

He grinned at her. “The old team, then. Oh!” He reached into the breast pocket of his suit and pulled out a silver Yale key. “You’ll need this to get in, Donna. You can keep that. Quite a momentous occasion, really.”

Donna rolled her eyes. “We can get sentimental when the air is breathable again, Spaceman!” She grabbed the key and jogged away in the direction of the TARDIS. The Doctor held out his hand to Rose and wiggled his fingers. Her eyes crinkled at the corners and he knew that underneath her mask—which, coincidentally, made her look like an old-Western style bandit—she was smiling. She slipped her hand into his and their fingers wove together.

"Run!" she barked, and they ran.

The Doctor and Rose burst into the mobile command center. She skidded to a halt, but he continued, releasing her hand and brushing past her to where Colonel Mace stood in conference with an older man. “Right!” he barked. “Here I am! Whatever you do, Colonel Mace, do not engage the Sontarans in battle. There is nothing they like better than a war.” He turned, scanning the scene in front of them. People rushed about, some narrowly avoiding collisions. Phones rang and the center screen displayed a map of the world with numbers dotting it sporadically. Percentage of gas concentration, he wouldn’t wonder, and it was increasing. They needed more information! If only he knew what the gas was. The unknown element taunted him; the flavor clung to his mouth, bitter and starchy and it made him long for a banana or a jammy dodger or something to make it go away.

"For a man who doesn’t give orders, you’re certainly throwing them about," the older man observed with a wry smile. The Doctor blinked and a grin split his face.

"Alistair! When did you get here?" He shook the man’s hand vigorously. "I thought Doris made you retire?"

Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart returned the handshake. “Oh, old generals and brigadiers don’t retire, Doctor. They fade away.” He glanced around. “As if retirement would mean anything in a situation like this.”

"You know you miss the action," the Doctor replied, his eyes sparkling with mirth.

"Perhaps," the Brigadier allowed. "But this is Colonel Mace’s command. I’m here to advise, only."

"And if that advice would perhaps be ‘forward march?’" the Doctor inquired.

One of the Brigadier’s eyebrows canted up sharply, but he did not answer the question. “You haven’t introduced me to your companion, Doctor,” he pointed out instead. Rose had pulled the bandanna down and stood next to the Doctor, her fingers twined in his own. The gesture appeared to be automatic, as the alien hadn’t even acknowledged the action.

"Right!" the Doctor agreed. "Bit rude of me, that. Alistair, this is Rose Tyler. Rose, the Brigadier."

She smiled as they shook hands. “We met already, actually. You just don’t remember.” She turned her head and shot the Doctor a look. “Have I mentioned how inconvenient that is?”

"Ah, yes." Alistair nodded. "Doctor Jones mentioned that you appeared to have worked with UNIT closely during the year-that-never-was." He noted the Doctor’s slightly possessive stance and her own calm assurance as well as the odd-looking weapon strapped to her side. "Pity that we had to forget everything. I’m sure it was an interesting partnership."

Her answering grin was wolfish. “Indeed.”

"But," he continued. "Back to the situation at hand." He and Mace looked expectantly at the Doctor, who had been staring at the wall for several moments.

"Oh, that." He straightened and focused on the screens lining the opposite wall. "Leave that to me."

"And what are you going to do?" Mace demanded. He seemed to lack the Brigadier’s patience, and possibly faith, in the Doctor. Or perhaps the alien’s commanding presence and odd actions were finally getting to him. Alistair remembered the headaches he endured while working with the Doctor quite well. He got results, spectacular results sometimes, but his methods were unpredictable and strictly at odds with the protocols UNIT used to operate. Also, this regeneration seemed to have the bubbling energy and attention span of a five year old child.

"I’ve got the TARDIS," the Doctor replied. "I’m going to get on their ship."

The girl—Rose—raised an eyebrow. “We,” she supplied.

The Doctor glanced at her, frowning. “What?”

We are going to get on their ship,” she replied levelly.

For a moment he looked like he was going to argue, but then apparently decided against it. “Yes. Right. We.”

Alistair’s eyebrows fought to climb towards his hairline, but he maintained a straight face. He’d never heard anyone speak to the Doctor like that, and he would certainly remember if he’d ever seen the alien give in without a lengthy diatribe. He studied the two of them again with renewed interest. The possibilities were endless and intriguing.

The Doctor glanced around the room again and spotted Martha standing next to a computer console, staring at the screen in front of her. He bounded over and tapped her on the shoulder. She started. “Come on,” he invited with a cheery smile and then returned to Rose. Martha looked at Colonel Mace for approval. He nodded sharply and she followed the two of them out of the command center.

"Where are we off to, then?" she called.

"TARDIS!" The Doctor responded. He failed to notice the phone she palmed into her pocket. If he had, he would have realized that the TARDIS—and anyone inside it—was beyond his reach.

They raced through the factory complex to the alley where the Doctor had parked the TARDIS. Thick white smoke swirled around—nothing. The space was empty. The Doctor moved further into the grungy off-shoot in the futile hope that perhaps he had simply forgotten where he’d parked it. He knew, of course, that he hadn’t, but the TARDIS remained missing. He whirled around and faced Rose and Martha, who had stopped just where the blue box had sat.

"But, where’s the TARIDS?" Martha asked, her eyes wide.

The Doctor took a breath and stopped. There! A metallic tang coated his tongue and the back of his throat. “Do you taste that?” he asked Rose. She stuck her tongue out and made a face.

"Teleport," she replied.

"Exactly! Teleport exchange." His face fell. "It’s the Sontarans. They’ve taken it." He turned on the spot, one hand going up to clench his hair. "I’m stuck—stuck on Earth like, like an ordinary person. Like a human. No offense,” he held out his other hand and gestured at Martha and Rose. “But it’s a bit rubbish!”

"So what are we going to do?" Martha asked insistently. The Doctor was still staring at where the TARDIS had been. Rose stepped forward and laced her fingers through his.

"We’re gonna get her back, yeah?" she said quietly, her voice even and carrying a confidence that she wasn’t sure was entirely real. The last time she and the Doctor had been without the TARDIS was on Krop Tor, and for all her jokes about carpets and doors, she remembered in exquisite detail the look of agonizing pain that had accompanied the idea of losing the last piece of his home. It’s all I’ve got—literally, the only thing.

"Course we will," he replied. His eyes were far away, an expression she called his ‘calculator face’ because she could practically hear him thinking. "The question is how they could have found her in the first place. She was shielded—they’d never have been able to detect her." His eyes wandered on to Martha, who made a face at him.

"What?" she demanded.

His whole demeanor shifted in the way it was prone to. “I was just wondering, have you phoned your family and Tom?”

She blinked at him. “No, what for?”

An eyebrow went up slightly. “The gas. Tell them to stay inside.”

She laughed, a nervous, forced sound. Rose narrowed her eyes just a bit. Martha was off, she realized, finally picked up on what the Doctor had been thinking. No one else from UNIT knew where the TARDIS was. It was Martha who met them there, who led them out into the open when the operation began in earnest. And her behavior was anything but typical, if the Doctor’s stories were to be believed. According to him Martha had been very close to her family, had in fact left him at least in part so she could be with them and help them deal with the consequences of the Master’s actions. “Of course I will,” the other woman continued. “But what about Donna? Where’s she?”

Rose blinked. Donna was on the TARDIS—and the TARDIS was now with the Sontarans. They weren’t completely blocked off, and she had the Dimension Cannon, after all, but she decided to keep that information to herself.

"Oh, she went home," the Doctor said. "She’s not like you. She’s not a soldier." Martha smiled in response to the apparent compliment, and Rose was sure. Whoever the person in front of them was, she was not Martha Jones. She looked like her and sounded like her, but she wasn’t. Martha would never believe that the Doctor would call her a soldier as a compliment, nor would she let the people she cared about be endangered without at least checking on them. The Doctor jerked his chin back at the command center. "So, right! Avanti!" Martha said nothing and followed their lead with a smile. Rose squeezed the Doctor’s hand. They’d figure out what was wrong with Martha and get the TARDIS back. He was brilliant, after all, and she wasn’t so bad herself.

"Right, change of plan!" the Doctor announced as he once-more burst through the doors of the command center. Really, would opening them properly kill him? Rose grumbled a bit under her breath but let it drop. Suggesting that now would be less than useful, as he was half-listening to her at best. Most of his attention was focused on the situation in front of him, i.e. how to avert a war without the most formidable tool in his arsenal next to, of course, his gigantic alien brain.

"Good to have you fighting alongside us, Doctor," Mace commented. The Brigadier remained silent.

"I’m not fighting," the Doctor clarified as he pressed buttons on the console in front of him. "I’m not-fighting, as in ‘not hyphen fighting.’" The buttons suitably pressed, he whirled away to contemplate a sample of the strange white gas. "Have we figured out what it is yet?" he called back.

"We’re working on it," Martha replied as she slid into one of the work stations.

"It’s harmful," another soldier replied, a blond woman. "But it’s not lethal until it reaches eighty percent density." The Doctor was beside her in a flash. She appeared startled, but continued speaking. "We’re getting the first reports of deaths from the center of Tokyo city."

"And who are you?" he asked.

She stood and saluted. “Captain Marion Price, sir.”

He made a face. “Oh, put down your hand.” Then he bounded back to Colonel Mace, the Brigadier, and Rose. Captain Price shot a confused look at the Brigadier, who waved at her to sit back down.

"Jodrell Bank’s traced the signal to a spot approximately five thousand miles above the Earth." The alien was pushing buttons again. Briefly Mace wondered if he actually had a plan or was simply incapable of standing still. "We think that’s what triggered the cars. NATO has gone to Defcon one. We’re organizing a strike."

"You can’t do that!" the Doctor argued as he continued to push buttons and flick switches. He glanced back at the Brigadier. "Nuclear missiles won’t even scratch the surface!" He pulled out the screwdriver. "Let me talk to the Sontarans."

"You’re not authorized to speak on behalf of planet Earth," Mace pointed out.

"Oh, I earned that right a long time ago," the Doctor snapped back. Mace looked to Alistair, who nodded.

"Very well, then," he said stiffly and stepped back.

The Doctor planted the screwdriver firmly on the panel and put on his best ‘impressive’ face. “Calling the Sontaran Command ship under Jurisdiction Two of the Intergalactic Rules of Engagement. This is the Doctor.”

Inside the TARDIS, which was currently surrounded by little blue-armored men, Donna jumped at the sound of the Doctor’s voice over the speakers. The display screen flickered into life and she was rewarded with the image of the Doctor and that Colonel Mace. Unfortunately, although she could see them it appeared that they could not see her. “I’m here!” she yelled at the screen anyway. “Doctor, I’m here!”

The Sontarans did not appear at all startled or worried. “Breathing your last?” one of them sneered at the screen.

"They’re like trolls," Mace mused as he stared at them. The Brigadier had lost all traces of amused patience and instead regarded the aliens with careful animosity.

"Loving the diplomacy," the Doctor commented. Rose grinned. Always rude, he was. And yet he often informed others of their social transgressions.

"Pot, kettle, black, Doctor?" she muttered. He shot her a look and a quick smile before he swaggered around the control console and slouched into an empty chair.

"So tell me, General Staal," he commanded in his cockiest voice. "When did you lot become cowards?"

"Right, diplomacy," Mace said under his breath.

"How dare you!" Stall cried. "Doctor, you impugn my honor!"

The Time Lord smirked. “Really glad you didn’t say ‘belittle,’ ‘cause then I’d have a field day.” Rose rolled her eyes. He couldn’t resist a terrible pun, this Doctor. “Poison gas—that’s the weapon of a coward, and you know it.” All traces of casual mirth had faded and he stared at the aliens with all the force of the Oncoming Storm. “Staal, you could blast this planet out of the sky and yet you’re sitting up above watching it die!” He tiled his head back, chin up. “Where’s the fight in that? Where’s the honor? Or—” he paused as an idea flourished in front of him. “Or are you lot planning something else? This isn’t usual Sontaran warfare! What are you lot up to?”

"A general would be unwise to reveal his plans to the enemy," Staal responded stiffly. Clearly the Doctor’s barbs about honor and pride had hit home.

The Doctor put his feet up on the console and grinned. “The war’s not going so well, then. Losing, are you?”

"Such a suggestion is impossible!" Staal blustered.

"War?" Mace asked. "What war?"

"The war between the Sontarans and the Rutans," the Doctor explained, his face hard and mocking. "It’s been raging far out in the stars for fifty thousand years. Fifty thousand years of bloodshed.” He snorted. “Makes human wars look like schoolyard scraps. And for what?”

"For victory!" Staal asserted. He pulled out the wand and beat it into his hand. The assembled Sontarans began to chant in time with the blows. "Sontar-ha!" The Doctor rolled his eyes, pulled out the sonic screwdriver, and changed the channel to a cartoon.

"Give me a break," he muttered. Rose wound down around the workers and set a hand on his shoulder. He covered her fingers with his own and squeezed them reassuringly. She knew he was thinking of the Time War again. His face was set in lines that made him look older, weary. He always did, when he talked about the war that forced him to destroy his people. Sometimes she wondered if that was why he seemed so lighthearted—because he was consciously trying to forget just how old he really was. How much bloodshed had he seen in his very long life? How much death and destruction?

She glanced back at Colonel Mace and met the Brigadier’s gaze instead. He was watching them with a look of intense assessment. She could hear the unasked question—what was her relationship with or to the Doctor? She met his look with a question of her own, a level challenge and a slightly raised eyebrow. He seemed to consider her for a moment, and then nodded briefly. She flashed him a quick smile and then turned back to the Doctor, who was aiming the sonic at the screen again.

"Finished?" he asked General Staal.

"You will not be so quick to ridicule when you see our prize!" Staal declared. The camera pulled back to reveal the TARDIS behind the assembled Sontarans. "We are the first Sontarans in history to capture a TARDIS!"

"Well," the Doctor drawled, "as prizes go, that’s—Noble."

In the TARDIS, Donna started at the mention of her name. “As they say in Latin,” the Doctor continued, his voice echoing in the nearly-empty console room, “Donna Nobis Pacem.”

"I’m here!" she cried before she remembered that they couldn’t hear her.

"But did you never wonder about its design?" the Doctor went on. "It’s a phone box. It contains a phone—a telephonic device for communication. It’s sort of symbolic, like if only we could communicate, you and I." She recognized that tone—it was the same one he used when he was trying to babble his way out of trouble. He was talking in code! She had a mobile!

"All you have communicated is your distress, Doctor," a Sontaran spat from off-screen.

The Doctor leaned back in the chair once more. His message was sent—hopefully Donna understood. “Big mistake showing it to me,” he told Staal. “Cause I’ve got a remote control!”

"Cease transmission!" the Sontaran barked, and the screen went black.

Donna stood staring at the now-empty display screen. “What number to I call?” she yelled. “You haven’t even got a phone!” She flung her arms out. “Oh, this is so typical Spaceman!”

"Well, that achieved nothing!" Mace snapped. He’d been incredibly patient, he thought. He had humored the Doctor even when the man was beyond insulting. He had brought him into the operation with the hope that he would solve problems, but he seemed hell bent on creating them! And he spent half an hour chatting with the enemy and antagonizing them!

"You’d be surprised," the Doctor said as he slipped past him. "Come on, Rose. Off we go!"

The Brigadier put a hand on the Colonel’s shoulder. “He’s not the easiest person to deal with,” he muttered, “but he does get results.”

"Yes sir," Mace responded, his irritation once more in check. Blimey, but the Doctor could try the patience of a saint!

Five thousand feet above the Earth four Sontaran soldiers pushed the TARDIS out of the main war room. Donna clutched at the console as the whole room shook. “What do I do?” she asked the empty room. The TARDIS hummed sympathetically, but could not answer her. She stared at the phone in her hand, a lifeline, a way out, if she could only discover how to get in touch with the Doctor.

Chapter Twenty-Seven