"COME QUICKLY!" the message on the psychic paper had said, so the Doctor had immediately set a course for the coordinate.
"Who sent it?" Donna inevitably wondered as she stood looking at him anxiously. "It's not going to end the same as last time, is it?"
"We won't know until we open those doors," he had tried to entice her wanderlust. "Shall we?"
She accepted his hand held out in invitation, and stepped out of the TARDIS.
"Not the usual quarry then," she remarked with disdain.
Almost twisting your ankle by stepping awkwardly on a rock can be the reason for turning someone's opinion against a place; but in this instance it was not the case. Before them was a desolate scene, filled with broken buildings, rubble, and an acrid taste in the air. Behind them was evidence of a large fire that had decimated a once grand tower. This had once been a noble city or a badly constructed town; it was really hard to distinguish.
The Doctor automatically moved protectively closer to her side. "This doesn't look good," he near whispered. "Whoever sent us that message was a strong telepath, but we may be too late."
A sad gasp stuck in her throat. "That would be awful," she sympathised. "Do you think they might be near?"
Out came the sonic screwdriver, and he swung it round as he read the signal. "Could be. It's really hard to tell. Something is causing the reading to spike wildly. But there's something else…" He then lifted his head to take in a deep sniff. "Something very familiar, but I can't quite place my finger on it."
"Knowing you you'd try to lick it," she jested, hoping to lighten the mood. "All I ask is that you don't put it in your mouth in front of me."
Still glancing around for any sign of life, he asked, "Why's that?"
"I'm feeling a bit sick, if you must know," she reluctantly admitted. "There must be something in the air that is making me queasy."
"Perhaps we should try moving away from here," he readily suggested. "Where you okay when we left the TARDIS?"
"Yes, perfectly fine," she confirmed as she gingerly stepped over a vicious-looking pile of bricks. "It'll go away in a minute once I've adjusted."
"Have a mint," he offered, producing from his expansive pocket a bag containing fondant mints.
Donna cautiously peered into the bag to double check that it did indeed contain mints, and plucked one out. "Mmm, that tastes good," she enthused as the spearmint hit her palate and soothed her stomach. "Keep that bag handy, just in case."
In reply, he ignored her whelp of indignation in order to shove the bag into her brown leather coat pocket. "Here you go; keep them."
"Bloody Martians not understanding personal boundaries," she muttered to herself as she moved away from him and continued to climb warily over the mini mountain. Why did he always have to be so up-close and personal with her? She wished she knew. If she wasn't careful, he'd be licking her face next. She'd seen him do it to other things, like doors and weird objects, so it wasn't exactly improbable to happen.
He followed her, and equally faintly murmured, "I'm not from Mars."
But he knew it was useless to say the words. She'd had him pegged as some sort of Martian from the first day that they had met, and she knew very well that he was from Gallifrey instead. It was just something that she rarely said to rile him; and she was strangely successful when she did. There were quite a few things that she liked to tease him with and normally he was grateful that she did. It was part of the charm of their relationship.
Climbing higher, they could see a lot further; but there wasn't much to cheer them. As far as the distant horizon was desolation and destruction. Evidence of intervention by someone, but who that someone is and why they had done it was another matter. Whoever had once inhabited this landscape had long gone; if they had had any sense.
Suddenly there was a flutter of red cloth to their side that quickly disappeared.
"Did you see that?" the Doctor whispered closely into Donna's ear as his senses went on alert.
She nodded. "I did. What do you think it was?"
"No idea yet, but somebody must have waved it." He jerked his head silently to the side, suggesting that she follow him in the direction where they had seen the mystery object; and then he took her hand to make sure that she did.
They hadn't taken five steps when a voice rasped out, "Over here!"
Wordlessly accepting the challenge, they climbed towards the voice, and weren't at all surprised when a head bobbed up. It was a young man, probably no older than eighteen, who stared at them in horror.
A panel, held in place by three bricks, slowly lifted.
"Get in here quick!" he grated. "Unless you fancy being fodder."
Fodder for what? Not wanting to find out yet, they clambered down into the hole beneath the panel in order to meet the boy. He fidgeted about, making sure the panel was back in place securely before he even attempted to greet them. Turning to face them, he switched on a torch and brought back some semblance of normality with its light.
They were stood inside some sort of dugout. No doubt it was something very similar to one found during WW1. As usual, the Doctor took the lead.
"Hello! I'm the Doctor and this is Donna." he added in a small wave with his spare hand. The other one was holding on tightly to Donna.
The lad seemed rather put out by this, as though he had no idea how to respond. "I am Harden. You really shouldn't have been walking about out there."
"We're a bit new around here, Harden," the Doctor continued as though they had just walked into a different office rather than a bunker. "Can you tell us why we were in danger."
Harden gulped nervously. "Because of the Dreadel. They come out near night time to feed."
"A what?" Donna blurted out.
"And these Dreadel are dangerous because…?" the Doctor encouraged Harden to explain.
"They like humanoid flesh, d'uh!" Harden supplied, as though they were thick not to know. "Where have you been hiding since the invasion not to know that?"
"We tend to keep ourselves very much to ourselves," the Doctor vaguely answered.
"We travel about quite a bit, so we missed the whole invasion," Donna helpfully added. "You wouldn't believe how out of touch we are."
It looked as though Harden was having a hard job believing anyone could miss so much. "Don't be daft! Everybody remembers the Dreadel coming here."
Donna immediately queried inaudibly under her breathe, "Dear Del? Don't tell me; we've stumbled onto a scheme to become millionaires by this time next year, Rodders."
Stifling an answering chuckle, the Doctor shook his head and plastered on a silly grimace. "We honestly don't know about the Dreadel. Are you also saying that you didn't send us a message?"
"What message?" Harden wondered, sounding somewhat irritated. "I don't know what you're on about! The Dreadel came about six months ago to try and treat us like fish in a barrel. We fought back, with bombs, tanks, anything we could find; but they still picked us off, one by one." There was a loud sniff as he wiped a hand down his face. "I've no idea how many of us are left. Communications were kicked out quite early on."
Realisation hit the Doctor. "This is Hureenax, isn't it!"
"Yeah. Why? Were you expecting somewhere else?" Harden sarcastically confirmed his suspicions.
Instead, the Doctor leaned into Donna's personal space again, to explain, "Hureenax is a human colony that was attacked late in the forty-ninth century. By the time their distress signal was answered and help arrived, it was like finding the Marie Celeste."
"Oh great. This is straight out of a horror film. Thank you so much for bringing me here, Spaceman," she bit back. "I've always fancied playing the dumb blonde bimbo who runs towards the killer."
All he did was glance up at the top of her head. "Surely you are lacking in a vital feature for that?"
She merely glared at him. "Look, you are lacking in the brainy stakes at the moment, but do you hear me criticising you for it?"
Pretending momentarily to ponder this question, he answered, "It is one of the things you often bring up. Talking of which…?"
"I have felt better," she confessed.
"Excuse me, but what are you and your wife going on about?" Harden cut into their conversation.
"Oh we're not married…"
"We aren't a couple…"
Harden watched the mutual swivelling of fingers in front of him in confusion. "Then why were you holding hands like that? You're not exactly selling your story," he dismissed their words. "Anyway, I don't care. All I thought about was getting you to safety."
"And very thankful we are for that, Harden," the Doctor grinned at him. "Is there anyone else around here we could talk to?"
Harden slowly shook his head. "Everyone else I knew got eaten, although there were rumours of a settlement on the other side of the city."
"So you're all alone," Donna sympathetically stated. "How awful. You can definitely stick with us, can't he, Doctor?"
He flashed her an anxious gaze. "We shall need to talk about that but we certainly won't leave you on your own."
"I don't need your pity!" Harden protested. "I've been here surviving longer than you have."
"Oh, I'm a past master at surviving," the Doctor mildly boasted.
"Yeah, he… Ooh, I really don't…," Donna mumbled, and then to their dismay she folded up like a deckchair onto the dirt.
"Donna!" the Doctor cried out as he desperately reached out to break her fall. Within seconds he had her closely embraced as he scanned her with his sonic screwdriver.
"What's the matter with her? Is it infectious?" Harden frantically queried. The last thing he wanted was to go down with some horrible illness.
"No, you have nothing to worry about; you can't catch this," the Doctor tightly revealed as he finished his scan. "Come on, Donna," he murmured. "You're okay. You're with me."
"Where am I? What happened?" she asked as she came to. "Don't tell me I passed out."
"Okay, I won't," he quipped, smiling to comfort her.
"Oh gawd. How embarrassing," she faintly complained. "Go on then; you're dying to tell me what's wrong with me. Just spit it out. It must be bad judging by your face. How long have I got?"
Taking another chance to read the sonic, he airily guesstimated, "I'd say you've got another thirty two weeks."
She frowned up at him from where they still sat together on the hard earthen floor. "Why are you talking in weeks instead of months? People only do that when they're talking about…" She then loudly gasped in shock. "Please tell me I'm not!"
Oh dear! This didn't look promising. "I won't lie to you, Donna. You're eight weeks pregnant."
"Congratulations!" Harden broke the sudden silence by proclaiming.