The TARDIS landed with its regular jolt and the Doctor and Rose went outside to check the surroundings.
“You ready for your first experience of a new world, A-levels?” Lilith asked Adam, who was looking a bit nervous.
“Course I am.” He said confidently.
Lilith laughed to herself; she was going to enjoy his reaction.
Rose opened the TARDIS door. “Adam? Out you come.”
Adam came out, and his jaw dropped. “Oh, my God.”
“Don't worry, you'll get used to it.” Rose assured him.
“Where are we?”
“Good question. Let's see,” the blond said. “So, er, judging by the architecture, I'd say we're around the year two hundred thousand. If you listen…” She paused. “Engines. We're on some sort of space station. Yeah, definitely a space station. It's a bit warm in here. They could turn the heating down. Tell you what- let's try that gate. Come on!”
‘Judging by the architecture, huh?’ Lilith raised her eyebrow at the Doctor who just winked back at her. Rose led the group through the metal gate to a room with a massive viewing window.
“Here we go! And this is, I'll let the Doctor describe it.”
“The Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. And there it is, planet Earth at its height. Covered with mega-cities, five moons, population ninety six billion. The hub of a galactic domain stretching across a million planets, a million species, with mankind right in the middle.”
“Your pet human decided to take a nap, Tyler.” Lilith said, not bothering to turn around and check if the boy was okay.
“He's your boyfriend,” said the Doctor.
After bringing Adam to, they made their way to the common area.
“Come on, Adam. Open your mind!” the Doctor said, wrapping an arm around Adam and Rose’s shoulders. “You're going to like this fantastic period of history. The human race at its most intelligent. Culture, art, politics. This era has got fine food, good manners—"
“Out of the way!” a man yelled.
They had walked into an area with a lot of people bustling around, opening up food vending stations and serving customers at their counters. Lilith vaguely heard someone mention something called a Kronkburger and chuckled at the image of the cartoon character the name brought up.
“Fine cuisine?” Rose repeated, examining the food at one of the vendor’s shops.
“My watch must be wrong,” the Doctor frowned and checked his watch. “No, it's fine. It's weird.”
“That's what comes of showing off. Your history's not as good as you thought it was.” Rose grinned.
“My history's perfect!” he insisted.
“Well, obviously not.” Lilith snorted. But the lack of the refinement of the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire unsettled her just as much as she could tell it did the Doctor. Something wasn’t right.
“They’re all human.” Adam noted. “What about the millions of planets, the millions of species? Where are they?”
“Good question,” the Doctor paused. “Actually, that is a good question. Adam, me old mate, you must be starving.”
“No, I'm just a bit time sick.”
“No, you just need a bit of grub. Oi, mate,” the Doctor said to one of the vendors, “how much is a kronkburger?”
“Two credits twenty, sweetheart. Now join the queue,” he replied.
“Money, Uncle. We need money.” Lilith reminded the Doctor.
“Right. Let's use a cashpoint.” The Doctor went over to a Credit Five cashpoint and buzzed the sonic screwdriver at it. It produced a metal rod, which the Doctor handed to Adam. “There you go, pocket money. Don't spend it all on sweets.”
“How does it work?” Adam asked.
“Go and find out. Stop nagging me. The thing is, Adam, time travel's like visiting Paris. You can't just read the guidebook; you've got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?” Lilith and Rose giggled. The Doctor shot them a look. “ Now stop asking questions, go and do it.” Adam wandered back towards the food. “Off you go, then,” he shooed Rose after the boy, “your first date.”
“You're going to get a smack, you are.” Rose threatened jokingly and followed Adam.
The Doctor crossed his arms and watched her leave, Lilith elbowed him with a grin. “Somebody’s jelling!” she teased.
“Jealous. You’re jealous of Mr. A-levels.” Lilith accused.
The Doctor snorted. “No idea what you’re talking about.” He walked over to a pair of women who were walking by. “Er, this is going to sound daft, but can you tell me where I am?”
“Floor one three nine. Could they write it any bigger?” one of them answered,
“Floor one three nine of what?”
“Must've been a hell of a party.”
“You're on Satellite Five,” the other woman told him.
“What's Satellite Five?” the Doctor asked.
The first woman rolled her eyes. “Come on, how could you get on board without knowing where you are?”
Lilith stepped in. “Look at him, he’s stupid.”
“Thank you, Lilith,” the Doctor said sarcastically.
“Hold on, wait a minute,” the second woman said. “Are you a test? Some sort of management test kind of thing?”
“You've got me. Well done. You're too clever for me.” The Doctor held up the psychic paper.
“We were warned about this in basic training,” woman 2 told her friend. “All workers have to be versed in company promotion.”
“Right,” the first woman said, straightening up. “Fire away, ask your questions. If it gets me to floor five hundred I'll do anything.”
“Why, what happens on floor five hundred?”
“The walls are made of gold. And you should know, Mister Management. So, this is what we do.” She went over to a wall monitor. “Latest news, sandstorms on the new Venus archipelago. Two hundred dead. Glasgow water riots into their third day. Space lane seventy seven closed by sunspot activity. And over on the Bad Wolf channel, the Face of Boe has just announced he's pregnant.”
Bad Wolf. Lilith shivered. Wait… “Did she just say the Face of Boe is pregnant? How the hell does that even work?”
“I get it. You broadcast the news,” the Doctor said.
“We are the news. We're the journalists. We write it, package it and sell it.” She crossed her arms. “Six hundred channels all coming out of Satellite Five, broadcasting everywhere. Nothing happens in the whole human empire without it going though us.”
“Well that’s not self-righteous at all.” Lilith muttered.
The Doctor turned around. “Oi! Mutt and Jeff! Over here!” he called to Adam and Rose.
“What’s up?” Rose asked.
Lilith noticed Adam slip something into his pocket. She decided to ignore it. “We’re getting a tour of floor one three nine. Come on.”
In what the woman said was called the newsroom, seven people were seated at an octagonal desk around a central chair with wires coming out of it. The Doctor, Rose, Lilith, and Adam stood to one side, observing.
“Now, everybody behave. We have a management inspection. How do you want it, by the book?” she asked, addressing the Doctor.
“Right from scratch, thanks,” he said.
“Okay. So, ladies, gentlemen, multi-sex, undecided or robot, my name is Cathica Santini Khadeni. That's Cathica with a C, in case you want to write to floor five hundred praising me, and please do. Now, please feel free to ask any questions. The process of newsgathering must be open, honest, and beyond bias. That's company policy.”
“Actually, it's the law,” the other woman from earlier pointed out.
Cathica frowned at her. “Yes, thank you, Suki. Okay, keep it calm. Don't show off for the guests. Here we go.” Cathica settled into the central chair. “And engage safety.”
The seven held their hands over palm print on the table in front of them. Lights started to come on around the room. Cathica snapped and what Lilith could only describe as a ‘door’ opened in her forehead, revealing a bit of her brain. The seven put their hands into the palm prints. “And three, two, and spike.”
A beam of light shined into Cathica’s head.
“Compressed information, streaming into her,” the Doctor explained to a shell-shocked Rose and Adam. “Reports from every city, every country, every planet, and they all get packaged inside her head. She becomes part of the software. Her brain is the computer."
“If it all goes through her, she must be a genius.” Rose said.
“It would explain her attitude.” Lilith mumbled.
“Nah, she wouldn't remember any of it,” the Doctor said, dismissively. “There's too much. Her head'd blow up. The brain's the processor. As soon as it closes, she forgets.”
Rose knelt between two of the people sitting cross-legged. “So, what about all these people round the edge?”
“They must have tiny little chips in their head, connecting them to Cathica and they transmit six hundred channels. Every single fact in the Empire beams out of this place.” Lilith mused. “Now that's what I call power.”
Rose went back over to Adam. “You all right?”
“I can see her brain!” he breathed.
“Do you want to get out?”
“No. No, this technology, it's amazing.”
“This technology's wrong,” the Doctor said darkly.
“Trouble?” Rose asked, almost hopefully.
The Doctor smiled at her. “Oh, yeah.”
Suddenly, Suki pulled her hands away as if she had just been shocked. The other six lifted their hands and the information beam shuts down. Cathica's head door closed. “Come off it, Suki,” she snapped. “I wasn't even halfway. What was that for?”
“Sorry,” Suki said, “it must've been a glitch.”
A projection lit up one of the walls of the room. “Promotion,” a voice said.
“Come on. This is it. Come on. Oh God, make it me.” Cathica prayed. “Come on, say my name, say my name, say my name.”
Rose and Lilith shared a look of disbelief. The latter rolled her eyes.
“Promotion for Suki Macrae Cantrell. Please proceed to Floor five hundred.”
“I don't believe it.” Suki breathed. “Floor five hundred.”
“How the hell did you manage that?” Cathica demanded. “I'm above you.”
“I don't know. I just applied on the off chance and they've said yes.”
Cathica crossed her arms. “That's so not fair. I've been applying to Floor five hundred for three years.
“What's floor five hundred?” Rose asked.
“The walls are made of gold.”
“Cathica, I'm going to miss you.” Suki said. She turned to the Doctor. “Floor five hundred, thank you.”
“I didn't do anything,” the Doctor said.
“Well, you're my lucky charm.”
He shrugged. “All right, I'll hug anyone.” Suki laughed and hugged him.
Lilith raised her eyebrows at him.
‘Nothing.’ Lilith smiled at Rose as she joined them. “Where’s Adam?”
“Went to cool off on the observation deck.” Rose told her. She nodded, not that she trusted the shifty human on his own. Lilith didn’t like Adam all that much, but she didn’t know why.
“Oh my God, I've got to go. I can't keep them waiting. I'm sorry.” Suki got into the elevator and waved. "Say goodbye to Steve for me. Bye!”
Lilith and Rose waved back, but Cathica looked away sourly. “Good riddance.”
“You're talking like you'll never see her again,” the Doctor said. “She's only going upstairs.”
“We won't. Once you go to floor five hundred you never come back.”
The Doctor and Lilith shared a frown. That didn’t sound good.
“Have you ever been up there?” the Doctor asked.
“I can't. You need a key for the lift, and you only get a key with promotion. No one gets to five hundred except for the chosen few.”
Lilith didn’t particularly like the sound of that.
The Doctor continued asking Cathica a multitude of questions until they got back to the newsroom and the woman started to get irritated. “Look, they only give us twenty minutes maintenance. Can't you give it a rest?”
“But you've never been to another floor?” the Doctor pestered her. “Not even one floor down?”
“I went to floor sixteen when I first arrived. That's medical. That's when I got my head done, and then I came straight here.” Cathica looked down at her clipboard. “Satellite Five, you work, eat and sleep on the same floor. That's it, that's all. You're not management, are you?”
“Oh darn, you’ve caught us in our vicious plot.” Lilith said sarcastically.
“Yeah, well, whatever it is, don't involve me. I don't know anything.”
“Don't you even ask?” the Doctor questioned.
“Well, why would I?”
“You're a journalist. Why's all the crew human?”
Cathica frowned. “What's that got to do with anything?”
“There's no aliens on board,” the Time Lord noted. “Why?”
The journalist shrugged. "I don't know. No real reason. They're not banned or anything.”
“Then where are they?”
“I suppose immigration's tightened up. It's had to, what with all the threats.”
Cathica looked increasingly uncomfortable. “I don't know all of them. Usual stuff. And the price of space warp doubled so that kept the visitors away. Oh, and the government on Chavic Five's collapsed, so that lot stopped coming, you see. Just lots of little reasons, that's all.”
“Adding up to one great big fact, and you didn't even notice.”
“Doctor, I think if there was any kind of conspiracy, Satellite Five would have seen it. We see everything.”
“I can see better,” the Doctor said. “This society's the wrong shape, even the technology.”
“It's cutting edge.” Cathica protested.
“It's backwards!” the Doctor insisted. “There's a great big door in your head.”
“He’s right.” Lilith agreed. “They should’ve gotten rid of this system years ago.”
“So, what do you think's going on?” Rose asked.
“It's not just this space station, it's the whole attitude. It's the way people think,” the Doctor gestured to Cathica. “The great and bountiful Human Empire's stunted. Something's holding it back.”
“And how would you know?”
“Trust me.” Trust me, I’m the Doctor, the voice of Lilith’s linear Doctor said in the back of her mind. “Humanity's been set back about ninety years. When did Satellite Five start broadcasting?”
Cathica went silent. “Ninety one years ago.”
Lilith snorted. “Typical.”