There was a sound at the hatch. Miles froze, reaching for his stunner. Surely they hadn't found him? He'd jiggered the controls so that the lifeboat appeared to be empty.
The hatch opened quietly, as if whoever it was was trying to be stealthy. Miles aimed his stunner, but hesitated to fire. What if it was a fellow passenger or crew, and not one of those... things?
It was neither. Human, yes, dark-haired and wearing dark clothing, but also a complete stranger.
"Oh, hello, I thought this was empty," the man said. "Mind if I join you?"
Miles gestured him inside. Better that than get caught because he was standing outside. "Who are you?" No uniform, so he wasn't part of the crew. And not a passenger; Miles had checked everyone who was supposed to be on board. Spy? Saboteur? Escaped prisoner?
The man smiled. "I'm the Doctor."
"Doctor who?" Miles asked.
"Just the Doctor," the man said. "Well, you can call me Doctor Smith if you like, but it's not my real name."
"So what's your real name?"
"Oh, it's unpronounceable," the Doctor said. "What's yours?"
"Miles Naismith," Miles said. No point in using his cover ID now that things had gone to hell. And it would be interesting to see how this "Doctor Smith" reacted to his "official" name - well, his name with the Dendarii. Though sometimes that felt more real than his real name.
"You're Admiral Naismith?" The stranger grinned and grabbed Miles' hand, shaking it in the custom of Earth. "Marvelous! It's an honour to meet you. What you did on Dagoola IV was brilliant!"
The rescue of 10,000 Marilacan prisoners from the Cetagandan prison camp on Dagoola IV was highly classified. Perhaps the man was a spy. But, on the other hand... "You're a pretty poor spy if you don't know what I look like," Miles said.
"You were taller in the movie. And I'm not a spy."
"'The Greatest Escape'? Written by Suegar?"
Miles frowned. By Suegar? I bet that would make interesting reading - if it exists.
"Maybe they haven't made it yet."
"You are a spy." Though if he was, not a very good one. Unless it was a double-bluff.
"Nah, I just love escapes," the Doctor said. "Speaking of which, we can't really hang around in this lifeboat forever." The Doctor bent over and peered at the open panel where Miles had been working. "Lifeboat beacon's not much to work with," he said. "Nice job with the indicators, though." He poked at the wiring. "Trying to get a signal to the Dendarii?"
"What makes you think that?"
The Doctor grinned. "Why, you're almost as good at getting into trouble as I am. Now here we have an alien incursion, a mystery, and you - of course the Dendarii are involved!"
Miles gestured a concession. "They're just waiting for a signal..."
"Which isn't working," the Doctor surmised. He leaned back and frowned. "Now, if we could get to my, er, equipment..."
Miles noted the hesitation. "Equipment?"
"Tall blue box, says "Police Box" on the outside," the Doctor said. "Unfortunately, the Galyari recognised it; they've got it under guard."
"Those lizard-people are called Galyari? How do you know that?"
"Oh, I get around." The Doctor frowned. "The puzzle is, what are they doing here? They're a long way from the Clutch. Not even sure this is the right time, either."
The right time? Miles wondered.
"Maybe they fell through a rift," the Doctor continued.
"A rift in space-time," the Doctor said. "There's been a lot more of them around since - never mind."
"Where is your equipment being held?"
"Second storage hold," the Doctor said. "Two guards outside, but I don't think we'd be able to take out more than one with your stunner. Not before the other one got us." The Doctor frowned, running his hands through his hair and making it stick up more than ever. "It doesn't make sense! Why are they taking prisoners? The Galyari are either peaceful traders or gung-ho warriors. If these ones are traders, why take prisoners? And if they've gone all conquering hordes on us, they'd just kill everyone, not take prisoners."
Do I look like that when I'm thinking aloud? Miles wondered. "Not ransom, there haven't been any demands," he said aloud. "In fact, there hasn't been any communication at all. People thought it was just ordinary pirates, wanted us to investigate, but..."
The Doctor sighed. "But obviously they're not ordinary pirates, and perhaps not pirates at all." The Doctor stood up. "Still, we won't find any answers sitting around here!"
Miles went through the plans of the ship in his head, something he'd made sure to memorise before he'd gotten on board. Second storage hold... maybe there was a way... "I have an idea," he said slowly.