The Doctor sprinted down the plain corridor of industrial steel, choosing new directions at each branch and intersection seemingly at random. His brief pauses during each decision allowed Martha to catch up, and then he was off again, the tail of his brown duster flapping behind him. The tramp of boots behind them spurred them on, to shake their pursuers or find some escape.
“This way,” the Doctor called behind him as he bounced off a corner to veer into the passage on the right.
“I can see that,” panted Martha. She paused in the middle of the intersection and, with a groan, hauled off after him. “Doctor!” she called. “We’ve got to hide!”
“Just up here!” he replied, dashing down another hallway. Martha redoubled her efforts and tailed him down a long corridor dotted infrequently with doors. The Doctor came to a dead stop at the flat, solid end and stared up at the impassable barrier.
“Oonh!” Martha groaned in frustration, her fists balled by her hips. Whipping around, she spied a door five metres behind her. “Doctor, over here!”
“There!” the captain of the pirate cruiser shouted as he and his lackey appeared at the intersection. Noting the lack of escape routes, they grinned and strode forward, readying their rifles.
“Martha, no!” Hopping forward to catch her hand, he pulled her toward the dead end despite her protests. As their captors approached, he stepped in front of her, arms out to shield her, and Martha peeped from behind his wide coat like a child from her mother’s skirts.
“You’ve led us on quite the merry chase, Doctor,” boomed the captain as he leveled the muzzle of his gun at the Doctor’s chest. The ensign trained her weapon on Martha. “It’s difficult to get the required exercise during space flight, so I thank you for this opportunity.”
“Glad to oblige,” the Doctor replied with a bright grin, jamming his hands in his pockets. “I’ve got quite the workout regimen. Running’s my specialty, but I’m also tops at hurdles and climbing. Got a brochure, if you’d like?”
“Cheeky to the end, aren’t you?” the captain smirked. “Because this is your end. You are done getting in our way, over and over again. I have taken this ship and proven my claim. It is mine now.” His finger tightened around the trigger mechanism, and the ensign’s lips curled in a cruel smile.
The Doctor’s hands shot up in front of him, holding off the shot. “Wait a mo’, now! Just a, just a, just a tick. Forten, you don’t want to do this!”
“Oh, yes, I do!” Forten crowed with a triumphant smile. “I’ve built quite a fleet, and with this gunboat, I’ll have enough firepower to take out that moon. I’ve been working all my life for this, and you’re not going to stop me. Your death will be the first shot fired in my just revenge.”
“But, but, hold on, just, just listen.” The Doctor’s words tumbled over each other as he tried to forestall his execution. “This isn’t you. You never wanted this. All you wanted was to go back to a normal life, not to destroy those that wronged you. You can still have that.” Forten rolled his eyes and snarled. “Please. Let me help! I can take you to Ellorbiliss. Tiny planet on the other side of the galaxy. Bit of a way for you but just a hop for me. They’ll welcome you in, I promise, welcome all of your crews, and you can have that normal life. Settle down, find good honest work, raise a crew of little space buccaneers, conquer the community playground. Come on. It’s what you’ve always wanted. What do you say?”
Forten’s jaw tightened. He glanced at his ensign, then turned back to the Doctor. “Okay,” he pronounced, nodding.
The Doctor’s gaze hardened. “Then what happens nex- Wait, what?” Unsure that he’d heard correctly, the Doctor gaped for a moment. His eyes crinkled in disbelief, his left eyebrow shooting high into his fringe as he stumbled backward into Martha.
“I said yes.” Forten nodded again, his lips pursed. “You’re right. That’s what I wanted, why I got my first ship: to find somewhere to rebuild my life. I got a bit sidetracked, is all.” He looked at his ensign again, then clapped her shoulder. “And my men deserve better. This Ellobus place sounds like a dream.”
The Doctor was still gagging on his incredulity. “Ellorbiliss,” he corrected as a matter of rote. “You really want to go to there?”
“Absolutely,” Forten averred as his ensign echoed, “Yes.”
A shadow of panic swept over the Doctor’s face and he beckoned them with both hands. “Then come here! Quickly!”
A tremor shivered the corridor as a great grinding noise rose under their feet. A gaping hole opened below the pirates and they vanished, shouting in surprise. Another rumble, and the trap door flipped back up into place. The Doctor and Martha stared at the spot in which their adversaries had stood a moment before.
“Doctor…” Martha coughed out.
Stepping out from behind him, she continued to study the floor, then turned and tugged on his sleeve. “What was that?”
Straightening, he replied, “Automatic garbage chute,” like a salesman touting the features of the ship. He strode over and patted a green downward-pointing arrow on the wall that Martha had been too scared to notice. “Opens every day at precisely this time, in various places all around this vessel. Pile your rubbish here, and wham! Not a trace left and no worries.”
“Quite efficient, if you ask me,” he nodded. “Not as efficient as the TARDIS, mind you, but then, what is?”
“Doctor!” Martha set her fists on her hips. “What have you done?”
Shrugging, he planted his hands in his pockets. “Technically, I haven’t done anything. It’s automatic. I just told you that.”
Martha gaped at him as she slumped. “They said yes! They wanted to take you up on your offer!”
Glancing away, he scratched at the back of his neck. “Yeah. About that…”
“Well, you see, no one ever does that. No one ever says yes. I mean never. Not once. In all the time I’ve been travelling the universe, not a single person has chosen to stop whatever evil they were perpetrating and taken me up on my offer.” He grimaced in embarrassment. “I suppose I’ve started assuming they won’t and just spring the trap automatically. You’ve got to admit, it saves an awful lot of time and worry.”
Setting her fists on her hips, Martha glared at him. “Doctor…”
He paced in a tight circle as he explained. “It takes a bit of trouble to rig things up with a remote switch whilst you’re running for your life. And it’s a rare villain that lets you hold anything in your surrendering hands.” He wiggled his hands by his ears to demonstrate. “So much easier to just set it in motion and assume they’ll turn me down, which they always do.”
“They didn’t this time, Doctor,” Martha scolded him. “Are they hurt? Are they in danger?”
“Nah. They’ll land in a nice squishy pile of refuse. Recycling doesn’t kick in for another hour.” He glanced away again. “Probably.” Crossing her arms, Martha glowered at him and he sighed, bobbing his head around in reluctant agreement. “Yes, you’re right,” he breathed. “We’ve got to get them out. Let’s go.”
Turning, Martha trotted back to the intersection, the Doctor trailing behind her. “Which way?”
“Straight, then down the ladder you’ll see on the left.” They broke into a run. “I’ve gone and mucked things up, haven’t I?”
“I’ll say.” She shook a finger at him over her shoulder. “They’re going to be mad when we get them out. You’re going to make it up to them and make sure they accept your offer again.”
“Yes, I suppose I will.”