Rani was prepared for this. She knew enough from what Sarah Jane said, and more from what she didn't say, to fully understand that when you travelled with the Doctor, things happened. Plus, she already knew things happened anytime there was alien involvement. So there was no need to worry about being separated from the boys. Luke and Clyde at least could take care of themselves, and she supposed the Doctor could as well.
"Don't fret," she whispered to herself. "Just because you are all alone on an alien planet in the past and you are slowly being covered by these things -" she struggled a bit against the little stone vine things that skittered up her skin and latched her into place, "- Absolutely no reason to. You need to think about it like Sarah Jane. When did the vines show up? Investigate." Rani smiled a bit at her little pep talk. Enough blather, time to work.
She could still move her head back and forth, if she was gentle about it. Rani used that to her advantage, looking around at her surroundings. The view hadn't changed much in the time since she was first rooted here. Rani tried not to think that she might not even have that movement soon. She needed to concentrate on why this had happened, what triggered it. Because if she knew why should could figure out the how and, more importantly, the how to stop it.
The light in here was dim, a diffuse purple glow leeching in from through the stone tendrils sprouting out of the tunnel walls. The vines probably weren't vines at all, considering she could feel the thick rock-like texture of them crawling against her skin. They were also purple, a deep maroon like the color of irises in her mother's shop. Rani pictured the scene of the shop, with the yellow sun shining, and resolutely did not wish to be back there. She was investigating new planets. That was way cooler than spending an afternoon in the shop.
Not that she had been all that thrilled with this planet even before it attacked her. The sky outside had been almost grey, dully illuminating the scrabbled backdrop of this planet. It was desolate, hard, the ground covered in dark rubble. When Rani first saw it she thought she would take one step and sink into the surface. But once she stepped out of the TARDIS the land was firm, though she still thought it looked like something out of one of the old Mars movies Clyde had made them watch. (He said it was so they could laugh at all the things they got wrong about aliens, but Rani suspected he rather liked them.)
"Get back on track, Rani," she told herself. No mooning about with thoughts of home, she had work to do. Who knew how long the light would last anyway? She wriggled again. Rani knew with actual poisonous vines you were supposed to stay still. The same things also applied to ylx. Luke had found that out rather the hard way when he accidentally startled one who had stopped by for tea with Sarah Jane. Its tentacles had been soft though, warm and almost furry when Rani had shook one. Once it knew Luke was friendly they had all sat down to tea and had a lovely time.
Today was not quite so pleasant. At this point the vine-y things were starting to crawl onto her face. In fact, they were almost everywhere now. Rani flinched at the rough texture as one slithered across her lips. And slithered was exactly the right word. None of the vines were adhering to her lips. Rani rubbed her lips together and felt the sticky remainders of her lip gloss.
She wiggled her hips up enough that her lip gloss tube jutted over a rock tendril and forced it upwards until it bumped against her hand. By twisting her hand into painfully contorted positions (that possibly would result in carpal tunnel when she was older, she thought ruefully) Rani managed to dislodge the cap. Once the wand was out it got easier. She slicked a bit on her fingers and the stone retreated away from her hand.
Within a few minutes she had the stone vines fully routed. They were still raised upwards, leaving a clear Rani shaped hole in the middle. Carefully, she walked forward, lip gloss wand extended like it was magic, or at least a little bit sonic. The purple light had faded to something a lot closer to black than she was comfortable with, but she couldn't go back, not now.
She had entered the crevasse which turned out to be this tunnel after feeling some weird vibrations from the area. The boys had been faffing about looking at the stars. The Doctor had been going on and on about some kind of supernova, a once in two-hundred lifetime occurrence or something. Luke thought the science was fascinating, and kept asking the Doctor questions. Clyde had put on a show about not caring, but had brought out his sketch book as soon as the lights started flashing in the heavens.
Rani had watched for a minute. She supposed the colours were a bit pretty, but not quite as awesome as exploring a weird bit of an alien planet that wouldn't even exist by the time she would be born. So it was clear that she had to keep exploring. Rani had originally thought it could just be the movement of the vines that had caused the way the surface of the planet had shifted slightly, bits of the ground twisting like pieces of playground rubber caught in a wind.
Rani felt vindicated now. As she moved forward, there weren't any more tendrils advancing. The tunnel itself was getting clearer, sides smoother. Rani didn't need to crouch at all, the ceiling low enough that Clyde could probably reach his hands up and not it.
"It's like it's guarding something," she smiled to herself. Now this was a story she could write for Sarah Jane.
"Good observation, but not quite perfect."
Not that anyone else ever would read it, not unless she decided to go the pulp fiction route - wait, what? Did she actually just hear that voice?
"Someone there?" Rani asked. She peered around, trying to find a figure. Unfortunately she had met a lot of odd shaped aliens so Rani spent precious minutes of light investigating all the shadows thrown by the twisted stone walls to the tunnel.
She was concentrating so hard on one odd little bit of jagged shadow falling on the tunnel beside her that she was almost startled when she reached a bit that almost looked human. There was a head, two upper limbs - in fact it looked very human. Slowly she turned around, following the edge of the shadow back to its source.
The figure was female, which matched the voice that had definitely not been a byproduct of her own mind. Rani guessed she looked as flabbergasted as she felt, judging by the sardonic eyebrow that arced up in what she really hoped was amusement and not hunger. Who knew what kind of people hang out in creepy tunnels protected by living stone vines. But there was nothing to do about it now. Rani extended her hand in greeting with a smile.
"Hello, my name is Rani." The stranger looked at her a bit harder, eyes flickering up and down.
Rani dropped her hand as it became apparent that it wasn't going to be shaken. Maybe they didn't shake hands here on this supposedly deserted planet. The silence was getting awkward, so she answered the question. "No. Rani." Trying to keep the conversation going she laughed a bit. "Just Rani. It would sound pretty silly the other way, wouldn't it? I mean, who goes around calling themself 'The'?"
Apparently the stranger didn't find it funny. She turned her back and started walking further down the tunnel. Her voice floated back "Yes. Never mind. I can't imagine what I was thinking."
Okay, that would never do. Rani picked her feet up and ran after her. "Wait, but who are you?"
The stranger stretched her face into a tight smile and said calmly, "Not you."
"Well, that doesn't exactly help me know what to call you, now does it."
The stranger just continued on until she stopped so suddenly Rani almost ran into her back. She pressed a random twist in the stone wall. A portion of the wall slide back to reveal a lab. While it was made of the same stone twists as the rest of the planet, it looked almost woven. Strands were laid out in grids, except on one far wall. That section had tendrils weaved into patterns that reminded Rani of the pictures she'd been shown of DNA.
"It's like it's alive." Rani's voice came out hushed.
The stranger shot her another assessing look. "It is. This whole planet is. Not that it thinks, but each cell, but all connected. Can't you feel it? So many possibilities." She was smiling now, not tight and cold, but wide. Rani supposed some people might call it fierce, but no, this was just mad.
Rani edged around one of the lab tables the appeared to have grown up out of the stone as the stranger stroked the wall of the lab. "Just a few tweaks of the bio-chemistry and I can make it into anything I want." Her eyes were almost unfocused. "I can grow it into any image, into perfect order. You've already got a taste of what I can make it do."
But while the other woman didn't seem to notice, too fixated on some mirage of perfection, Rani saw it. Stone vines were reaching out towards her. They looked hungry. Rani tightened her grip on the lip gloss, but they didn't seem to care about her at all. They were going straight for the stranger.
They were choosing where to go. The stranger was wrong. This planet must be thinking, had to know what was being done to it, that this woman was experimenting on it.
Rani didn't need to think past that, she just acted. She pushed the stranger into the wall and watched as the stone grasped onto her, more and more vines covering her. "Yeah, but did you ask to change them up? From the way they're acting I think you changed them too much."
Getting out and back to everyone else was much easier. The stones reformed themselves as she stepped forward, creating strong, clear pathways. "Thank you," she said, even though she wasn't 100% sure it had ears.
She could tell when she was close. The others apparently noticed the ground moving and were chattering about it loudly, excited for an alien adventure. She smiled smugly as soon as they were visible and called out, "Are you done stargazing yet? Because the planet is apparently alive and I think I fed a mad scientist to it."
The Doctor's wide smile stood in counterpoint to Luke and Clyde's less enthusiastic faces. They clearly did not appreciate missing all the action. She smiled at them again. "Don't look so surprised, after all, I am the Rani."