Lilith knew that they were headed for something bad when the time rotor sounded off. The TARDIS shook more than usual as they materialized. The Doctor and Lilith were both frowning as they stepped out of the ship.
They had landed in a pretty tight space. “I don't know what's wrong though. She's sort of… queasy. Indigestion, like she didn't want to land.” The Doctor studied the outside of the TARDIS.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this place,” Lilith muttered.
“Oh, if you think there's going to be trouble, we could always get back inside and go somewhere else,” Rose suggested.
The three of them laughed.
“I think we've landed inside a cupboard. Here we go!” the Doctor said, pushing a door open.
“Open door 15,” came a computerized voice.
“Some sort of base,” hee mused. “Moon base, sea base, space base. They build these things out of kits.”
“Glad we're indoors. Sounds like a storm out there,” Rose said, looking at the ceiling.
“Open door 16.”
“Human design,” Lilith noted. “Pretty basic, if you ask me. This place was put together like a flat pack wardrobe, only bigger. And easier.”
The hall they were in led to steps down into an area with tables and chairs. “Open door 17.”
“Oh, it's a sanctuary base!” the Doctor grinned. “Deep Space exploration. We've gone way out. And listen to that, underneath.” He paused. “Someone's drilling.”
“Welcome to hell.”
Lilith looked at Rose, confused. “What?”
“Oh, it's not that bad,” the Doctor said.
“No,” Rose chuckled, “over there.”
The words were painted on the wall in big block letters, and a vertical alien script was written underneath. Something about the writing made Lilith’s stomach twist into knots.
The Doctor furrowed his brow. “Hold on, what does that say? That's weird. It won't translate.”
“But I thought the TARDIS translated everything, writing as well,” Rose said. “We should see English.”
“Exactly. If that's not working, then it means this writing is old. Very old… impossibly old. We should find out who's in charge.” He started to spin the wheel on another bulkhead door. “We've gone beyond the reach of the TARDIS’ knowledge. Not a good move. And if someone's lucky enough—”
The door swung open, revealing aliens with tentacles where their noses and mouths should've been. They all had a tube going in behind the tentacles, and held a white globe in their right hands. Lilith struggled for the name of the species. The odds, or something.
“Oh! Right. Hello. Sorry. I was just saying, er, nice base,” the Doctor smiled.
The white spheres all lit up and the aliens spoke. “We must feed.”
“You've got to what?” His smile slipped away.
“We must feed,” the aliens repeated.
“Yeah. I think they mean us.” Rose gulped.
The aliens entered and the trio backed away. “We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed.” More of the aliens entered from other doors. The Doctor got out his sonic screwdriver, Rose picked up a chair, and Lilith's hand drifted to the handle of her blaster.
“We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed. We must feed.”
Ood! That was it! “Hold up!” Lilith said loudly. To their surprise, the Ood stopped. Lilith stepped up to the closest alien and rapped on its communication sphere.
“You, if you are hungry,” the Ood finished.
The Doctor lowered his sonic slightly. “Sorry?”
“We apologize,” the Ood said. “Electromagnetics have interfered with speech systems. Would you like some refreshment?”
“Fixed it.” Lilith beamed.
“Open door 18,” the computer announced. The door that Lilith assumed was number 18 opened and three humans came in.
“What the hell?” one of them gaped. “How did?”
The Ood made way for the newcomers. The lead man used a wrist-comm. “Captain, you're not going to believe this. We've got people. Out of nowhere. I mean, real people. I mean three living people, just standing here right in front of me.”
“Don't be stupid,” the Captain said on the other side of the comm. “That's impossible.”
“I suggest telling them that.”
“But you're a sort of space base,” Rose said. “You must have visitors now and then. It can't be that impossible.”
The man frowned. “You're telling me you don't know where you are?”
“No idea!” the Doctor said jovially. “More fun that way.”
A woman's voice made a broadcast. “Stand by, everyone. Buckle down. We have incoming. And it's a big one. Quake point five on its way.”
The man opened another door. “Through here, now. Quickly, come on! Move! Move it! Come on! Keep moving. Come on! Quickly! Move it!”
They walked into another room where more people were working at a control panel. “Oh, my God. You meant it,” a dark skinned man said.
“People! Look at that, real people!” one of the three women exclaimed.
The Doctor stuffed his hands in his pocket. “That's us. Hooray!”
“Very real people,” Lilith said.
“Yeah, definitely real,” Rose added. “My name's Rose. Rose Tyler. And, and this is Lilith Smith and the Doctor.”
“Come on, the oxygen must be offline,” another one of the men said, staring at the three travelers. “We're hallucinating. They can't be. No, they're real.”
“Come on, we're in the middle of an alert!” the dark skinned man snapped. “Danny, strap up. The quake's coming in! Impact in thirty seconds!” He turned to look at them. “Sorry you three, whoever you are. Just hold on, tight.”
“Hold on to what?” Rose asked.
“Anything. I don't care. Just hold on. Ood, are we fixed?”
“Your kindness in this emergency is much appreciated,” an Ood said.
“What's this planet called, anyway?” the Doctor wondered.
“Now, don't be stupid. It hasn't got a name,” the second woman told him. “How could it have a name? You really don't know, do you?”
The whole place shook for a few seconds, reminding Lilith of the TARDIS landing.
“Oh, well, that wasn't so bad,” the Doctor said. Lilith rolled her eyes.
The shaking started again, much worse that time. Consoles burst into flames. Then, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. “Okay, that's it. Everyone all right? Speak to me, Ida.”
“Yeah, yeah!” the second woman said.
“Fine,” said the man in black.
A blond nodded man. “Yeah, fine.”
“No damage,” reported the other woman
“Check!” the man from before confirmed.
“We're fine, thanks,” Lilith muttered. “Don't worry about us.”
“The surface caved in,” the still unnamed man looked up at a schematic of the base. “I deflected it onto storage five through eight. We've lost them completely. Toby, go and check the rocket link.”
“That's not my department!” Toby protested.
“Just do as I say, yeah?”
Toby left reluctantly.
“Oxygen holding. Internal gravity fifty-six point six. We should be okay.” Ida said.
“Never mind the earthquake, that's, that's one hell of a storm,” Rose breathed. “What is that, a hurricane?”
Scooti shook her head. “You'd need an atmosphere for a hurricane. There's no air out there. It's a complete vacuum.”
“Then what's shaking the roof?”
Ida looked at them. “You're not joking. You really don't know. Well introductions. F.Y.I— as they said in the olden days— I'm Ida Scott, science officer. Zachary Cross Flane, acting Captain, sir. You've met Mister Jefferson; he's Head of Security. Danny Bartock, Ethics committee.”
“Not as boring as it sounds,” Danny assured them.
“And that man who just left, that was Toby Zed, Archaeology, and this is Scooti Manista, Trainee maintenance. And this? This is home.” Ida pulled a lever.
“Brace yourselves,” Zach said. “The sight of it sends some people mad.”
The shutters overhead pulled back to reveal a white hot, angry, disc with a black center and black dots falling into it.
“That's a black hole!” Lilith gasped. Oh, she had a really bad feeling about this.
The Doctor stared out the window. “But that's impossible.”
“I did warn you,” Zach said.
“We're standing under a black hole.”
“In orbit,” Ida added.
“But we can't be!” he insisted.
“You can see for yourself. We're in orbit.”
“But we can't be...” the Doctor repeated.
“This lump of rock is suspended in perpetual geostationary orbit around that black hole without falling in.”
“And that's bad, yeah?” Rose guessed.
Lilith cringed. “Bad doesn't even begin to cover it, Tyler.”
“A black hole's a dead star. It collapses in on itself, in and in and in until the matter's so dense and tight it starts to pull everything else in too,” the Doctor explained. “Nothing in the universe can escape it. Light, gravity, time. Everything just gets pulled inside and crushed.”
“So, they can't be in orbit,” Rose concluded. “We should be pulled right in.”
“We should be dead,” Lilith confirmed.
“And yet here we are, beyond the laws of physics,” Ida said slowly. “Welcome on board.”
“But if there's no atmosphere out there, what's that?” Rose pointed up.
“Stars breaking up. Gas clouds. We have whole solar systems being ripped apart above our heads, before falling into that thing.”
“So, a bit worse than a storm, then,” Rose deadpanned.
“Just a bit.” Ida nodded.
“Tiny bit, yeah,” Lilith agreed, mentally swearing in Gallifreyan.
Zach called up a hologram over the central console. “That's the black hole, officially designated K three seven Gen five.”
“In the scriptures of the Falltino, this planet is called Krop-Tor, the bitter pill. And the black hole is supposed to be a mighty demon. It was tricked into devouring the planet, only to spit it out, because it was poison.” Ida explained.
“The bitter pill,” Rose mused. “I like that.”
The Doctor studied the hologram intently through his specs. “We are so far out. Lost in the drifts of the universe. How did you even get here?”
“We flew in. You see,” the hologram changed, “this planet's generating a gravity field. We don't know how. We've no idea. But it's kept in constant balance against the black hole. And the field extends out there as a funnel. A distinct gravity funnel, reaching out into clear space. That was our way in.”
“You flew down that thing? Like a rollercoaster.” Rose was smiling and it was starting to irritate Lilith. Couldn’t she see that they were in a very, very bad situation? Just the name of the planet, Krop-Tor, sent shivers down her spine.
Of course, she knew that it had to do with the memories locked away in the recesses of her brain. Whatever was going to happen wasn’t going to be anything to smile about.
“But if that gravity funnel closes, there's no way out.” Danny was saying.
“We had fun speculating about that.” Scooti said.
Danny rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah. That's the word. Fun.”
“But that field would take phenomenal amounts of power. I mean not just big, but off the scale! Can I…?” The Doctor pointed to a calculator.
“Sure. Help yourself,” Ida handed it to him.
An Ood came over and gave Rose and Lilith plastic cups filled with liquid. “Your refreshment.”
“Oh, yeah. Thanks. Thank you,” Rose said. “I'm sorry, what was your name?”
“We have no titles,” the Ood answered. “We are as one.”
“Er, what are they called?” she asked.
“Ood,” Lilith told her. “They’re called the Ood.
“The Ood,” Danny confirmed.
“Well that's… ood,” Rose joked.
“Very ood, but handy. They work the mineshafts, all the drilling and stuff, supervision, and maintenance. They're born for it. Basic slave race.”
Lilith made a face. “Slave race,” she spat.
“Don't start. She's like one of that lot,” Scooti complained. “Friends of the Ood.”
“Maybe I am,” Lilith said indignantly. “Typical humans. Since when do you actually need slaves?”
“But the Ood offer themselves,” Danny defended. “If you don't give them orders, they just pine away and die.”
Rose turned to the nearby Ood. “Seriously, you like being ordered about?”
“It is all we crave.”
No, something told Lilith, it’s not. She vaguely remembered a story about the Doctor and Donna Noble. It had something to do with freeing the Ood. “Why's that, then?” she asked.
“We have nothing else in life.”
“Yeah, well, I used to think like that, a long time ago,” Rose said quietly. Lilith put a hand on her shoulder.
“There we go. Do you see?” The Doctor shoved the calculator in Lilith’s face. “To generate that gravity field, and the funnel, you'd need a power source with an inverted self extrapolating reflex of six to the power of six every six seconds.”
Six, six, six. More bad omens.
“That's a lot of sixes,” Rose noted.
“And it's impossible,” Lilith added.
“It took us two years to work that out!” Zach said incredulously.
“I'm very good,” the Doctor said with a sniff.
“But that's why we're here.” Ida pulled up another hologram. “This power source is ten miles below through solid rock. Point Zero. We're drilling down to try and find it.”
“It's giving off readings of over ninety stats on the Blazon scale.”
“It could revolutionize modern science.”
“We could use it to fuel the Empire.”
“Or start a war,” the Doctor muttered, taking off his glasses.
“It's buried beneath us, in the darkness, waiting,” Toby said.
Rose glanced at him. “What's your job, chief dramatist?”
“Well, whatever it is down there is not a natural phenomenon,” Toby insisted. “And this, er, planet once supported life eons ago, before the human race had even learned to walk.”
“The letters on the wall,” Lilith remembered, “did you do that?”
“I copied it from fragments we found unearthed by the drilling, but I can't translate it.”
“No, neither can I,” the Doctor grumbled. “And that's saying something.”
“There was some form of civilization,” Toby continued. “They buried something. Now it's reaching out, calling us in.”
“And you came.”
Ida shrugged. “Well, how could we not?”
“So, when it comes right down to it, why did you come here? Why did you do that? Why? I'll tell you why. Because it was there. Brilliant.” The Doctor grinned. “Excuse me, er, Zach, wasn't it?”
“Just stand there, because I'm going to hug you. Is that all right?
“I suppose so.”
The Doctor hugged Zach. “Oh, human beings. You are amazing! Ha! But apart from that, you're completely mad. You should pack your bags, get back in that ship and fly for your lives.”
“You can talk,” Ida snorted. “And how the hell did you get here?”
“Oh, I've got this er, this ship.” The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck. “It's hard to explain. It just sort of appears.”
“We can show you,” Rose offered. “We parked down the corridor from, er. Oh, what's it called? Habitation area…”
“Three.” Lilith supplied.
Zach frowned. “Do you mean storage six?”
“It was a bit of a cupboard, yeah. Storage six. But you said… you said… you said storage five to eight.” The Doctor ran out. Lilith followed on his heels. 'Old Girl? Can you hear me?' she projected, but she got no response.
“Open door 15. Door 16 out of commission.”
“It can't be. It can't be!” the Doctor panicked.
Rose caught up with them. “What's wrong? What is it? Doctor, the TARDIS is in there. What's happened?”
“The TARDIS is gone,” he said quietly. “The earthquake. This section collapsed.”
“But it's got to be out there somewhere,” Rose said. She looked through the porthole in the bulkhead door.
“Look down,” the Doctor instructed her.
Lilith bit her lip and shook her head. She swore in Gallifreyan.