Donna was glad that she didn't easily succumb to seasickness. The TARDIS rocked and swayed, groaned and wheezed, through the space-time vortex. And indeed, their faces did look ill, bathed as they were in the blue-green light from the churning central column.
"Where're we going?" Donna called across the console to the Doctor.
"No idea." He shrugged.
"You mean you don't know?" She boggled at him.
"That is usually what I mean when I say that, Donna." He shot back at her.
"There goes the all-knowing alien theory out the window, then." She smirked, crossing her arms. "Typical man, you are. Afraid to use a map or ask for directions, cos you think it will insult your manhood."
"Donna! I'm not..." The Doctor flung her an exasperated look. "This isn't a time for guessing! One wrong move and we could end up someplace like, I dunno'..." he made a face. "...Arizona."
As he spoke, the Doctor was kept busy manically dancing around the console, checking readings and fiddling with switches.
"What's wrong with Arizona?" Donna asked. "Nice and warm. Lovely. They've got old London Bridge there, you know."
"They've also got thousands of guns in the hands of a culturally constipated, self-serving mob. And that's just the twenty-first century." He rolled his eyes in disgust. "Makes the Wild West look tame. And before you ask, that whole OK Corral thing had nothing to do with me. Well," he shrugged. "maybe just a little..."
"What's that red light over there?" Donna suddenly pointed towards what looked like the taillight from an old Morris Minor, which had suddenly begun blinking on and off.
"Oooh, that's not so good." The Doctor winced.
"Well, duhhh! Flashing red lights usually aren't, Doctor. All I've gotta' say is, it better not mean that we're about to blow up or something." She told him crossly.
"It's Pharaoh's ship!" The Doctor hissed in alarm, his face abruptly creased with anxiety. He scrambled to move the TARDIS out of the other ship's way. "He's traveling in the same part of the vortex as we are. Nothing too serious, as long as the two ships stay far enough apart. If I can keep at least five hundred kilometers distance between us, it should be fine."
"And if our two ships collide? That's bad." Donna surmised.
The Doctor paused only long enough to shoot her a sober glance. "Bad doesn't begin to cover it, Donna. Take everything bad that has ever happened since time began, and multiply it by a hundred billion. And you still wouldn't even come close. If two fixed points in the vortex happen to meet, then time would instantly implode. Everything in the universe will not only cease to be. It will never have existed in the first place."
"But, you said before, Doctor. You've been traveling in the vortex for hundreds of years. How come you never meet yourself?"
"I have, on rare occasions. Though I do try to avoid it, Donna. Some of those hairstyles I had. What was I thinking?' He shook himself. "Bleurgh! It's highly unlikely, though. That's because there's a failsafe built into every TARDIS. Binary temporal avoidance system." He answered, not bothering to look up, as his busy hands feverishly worked the controls. "Automatically detects another TARDIS in the vortex, and readjusts its flight path to go around. Thing is, it only works for standard time-space craft. Which, unfortunately for us, Pharaoh's ship isn't. You know," He sighed, pausing long enough to tug on his ear with a rueful expression, "I really should do something about that."
"Lack of hindsight. Bit embarrassing for a Time Lord, if you ask me." Donna shook her head. "And lack of foresight. Too bad you have no way of knowing when and where he's going to end up. Instead of coming upon his ship out of the blue like that and nearly destroying time. We could've landed there ahead of him."
The Doctor stopped what he was doing, and frowned at her. "Blue...blue...blue..." He pondered. Then flashed her a huge grin. "BLUE! That's it! Oh, Donna Noble. You're absolutely brilliant, you are!"
"Eh? What's this sudden obsession with colour? Are you feeling depressed, Doctor?" She asked, concerned.
"Project Bluebook! The American government's list of official excuses for UFO sightings in the nineteen-sixties. Contains information on nearly all of their military investigations of UFOs. Last time I clocked Pharaoh, his ship was somewhere over North America, headed for nineteen sixty-three. Then, for some reason, it slipped out of time and went back into the vortex. Hence our near-collision. I'm getting out of here. Taking us somewhere safe. Then I'll see what information there is on UFO sightings. Maybe I can find a match for his ship."
Donna opened the TARDIS door. Her hair was whipped away by a sharp wind. The air was cold and thin. And so pure and refreshing, that it was like drinking a glass of ice water on a hot summer's day. Yet, it was the sight which met her eyes that truly took her breath away.
They'd landed on the roof of an enormous whitewashed building. Its breathtaking expanse took up the entire top of a broad, high hill. In the centre of the complex, the white paint was replaced by red. The part of the building with red walls sported gilt rooftops, shining with gold. Whitewashed stone walls and wide staircases, zig-zaged in seemingly haphazard fashion down the hill, beneath which sprawled a small city. This consisted of single-story buildings and a few scattered temples.
And, as if the man-made grandeur wasn't enough, everywhere Donna looked were immense, towering, snowcapped mountains.
"It's..oh my God." Donna gasped, for once nearly at a loss for words. "This is amazing. I've never seen anything like it. Where are we?"
"The Portala. In Lhasa, Tibet. Nice and safe." The Doctor informed her. He'd donned his glasses and was stooped down, busy reading the geometric Galifreyan writing on the console's monitor. "Five hundred rooms. Fourteen hundred windows. The seat of the Tibetan government. Home to the Dalli Lama. We used to be best mates. He had a wonderful sense of humour. Once told me this joke; a Sherpa, a yak herder and the Tibetan pope walk into a bar, and..."
"Doctor..." Donna interrupted him.
"Oh. Right. You've probably heard it already."
"You're supposed to be finding out where Pharaoh went to." Shaking her head, Donna shut the door and walked back over to the console.
"You'd like early twentieth century Tibet, Donna. One woman can have up to three husbands to nag."
"Look, Doctor. If all you're gonna' to do is stand there taking the mickey, I'm going for a walk."
"Patience, Donna! It's gotta' be in here, somewhere. Blimey!" He ran a hand through his hair, squinting at the information scrolling down the screen in front of him. "The sixties were busy. All those tourists, hanging out in space, recording rocket launches on their video vones. One of 'em has a break down, and it's hello Area 51. No STA back then. They're on their own."
"STA? Is that like an alien version of the CIA?"
"No, Donna. It stands for 'Space Transport Association'. It's the Outer Space version of your auto club." He shook his head. "Nowadays, most intergalactic travelers can simply ring up for an emergency teleport. Back then, if they crashed, they were at the mercy of the military. Hence the Americans having to come up with stupid explanations for what happened. Believe me, Donna. The truth isn't half as absurd as this tedious adherence to that whole weather balloon theory."
"So, all those UFO sightings reported in the news in a couple of years back. Like that police helicopter chasing a UFO over Cardiff. They were tourists?"
"No. That lot were only a couple of extreme thrill seekers. I got the Judoon to let them off with a warning and sent them home to their parents. But, then there's all the others: illegal scientific research projects, military reconnaissance. Not to mention lost children, runaways and refugees. Earth antique collectors. Escaped criminals. Black marketeers. Policemen, soldiers, pirates, witches, demigods."
"Something tells me you're not telling porkies." Donna said, trying to digest this staggering information. "We've really been visited by all those aliens."
"Too many sometimes, Donna. Cybermen, Sontarans, Zygons, Parthagonian Weedheads, Slitheen, Daleks, Blowfish, The Most Righteous Order of Indignant Clowns. Just to name a few. More arriving with every passing year. I can barely keep up with it, myself. And almost all of them definitely not supposed to be here. Earth's a listed planet. Has the equivalent of a brass plaque on the moon. Closed to tourists, these days. Need a special permit to get in. Takes years of red tape. Everything in quadruplicate, and don't get me started on the required vaccinations." He frowned and rubbed his face. "At least, Earth's supposed to be protected. Somehow, that doesn't seem to be taken very seriously."
"I think it is very well protected, Doctor." Donna said, giving him a knowing smile and a broad wink.
"It will be, if I can just figure out...Oh! Wait! I've got it! Why didn't I remember?" The Doctor tore at his hair in self-anger, pacing back and forth rapidly. "How could I forget an important detail like that? I'm getting old and thick, Donna. Too much stuff to remember. Sometimes I feel like my head's turning into treacle."
"What did you forget?"
"Kecksburg, Pennsylvania! Nineteen Sixty-five. According to eyewitness accounts, a UFO crashed with what was described as hieroglyphic markings on it."
"And you think that's Pharaoh's ship." Donna nodded.
"Only one way to find out." The Doctor said happily, as he cranked a lever and sent the TARDIS back into flight.
"Hang on, Doctor. What made it crash?" Donna shook her head. "Maybe you should wait until you're sure—Arrgh! Where'd you get your license to drive this thing?" She exclaimed, as, without warning, she was torn off her feet and fell in a heap onto the jump seat. "You buy it off some hoodie on a street corner?"
Donna's alarm was caused when the TARDIS suddenly gave a violent shudder. Once again, sparks showered the console deck. The Doctor was thrown to the floor, but quickly recovered and virtually threw himself across the controls. He was flying his ship like a madman, using both hands and a foot.
"It's Pharaoh's ship! It's still in the vortex. And it's out of control!" He shouted at her.
"Here we go, again!" Donna sighed with resignation. "Well at least now we know where he's gonna' land. You can get out of this."
She gaped at the Doctor. He wa standing there clutching the edge of the console, staring at her, wide-eyed. His expression appeared genuinely shocked.
"I'm sorry, Donna." He said, with infinite sadness. "I'm so very, very sorry. I can't stop it. We're gonna' crash. Time and all matter will cease to exist. Everything that ever was is about to be wiped from existence."