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In the interior of a vast alien vessel, everything is silent with anticipation.
Two seconds later, the silence is broken with the sharp whistle of a boiling tea kettle.
Veronica Hyde races into a small kitchen inside the alien vessel, still in her pajamas and her hair in curlers. As she pours the hot water into her teacup, she notices the ginger-bearded man in the tweed coat sitting at the kitchen table, reading a British newspaper and dipping biscuits into a bowl of custard.
"What year is that?" Veronica asks.
The Doctor chews thoughtfully on a biscuit, still reading. "1963. Some old American codger is predicting the imminent end of Beatlemania. As usual."
Veronica smiles at the thought of thousands of girls screaming and shaking their heads in a frenzy. She never appreciated the band as much as her parents did, though she had a soft spot for "Yellow Submarine."
"Been thinking that we've had quite a terrible run lately." The Doctor folds up his paper and looks over at his companion with a tired frown. "Cybermen, dragons, Jovian warlords--all a bit much for your first trip round the cosmos, isn't it? So I thought we might find someplace that's actually quiet for a change. Sestra Prime, year 2753."
"What's that like?" Veronica adds milk and sugar, then sips her tea slowly. It's almost as good as the kind back home. Almost.
"Oh, lovely planet." The Doctor's smile seems nostalgic. "No major continents. Just chains of islands on one worldwide ocean. Uses hydroponics as agriculture. Lots of self-contained, storm-proofed cities on stilts. And as I understand it, the Sestrans and the Puerin have finally reached a peace agreement. No more guerilla wars and acts of piracy."
"That's a shame." Veronica grins behind her teacup. "I would liked to have met a real pirate."
The Doctor shrugs. "If it means that much to you, we'll go see old Blackbeard after this."
She can't help but smile, though she tries to glare at him. "You promise?"
"You bet I do."
An ethereal hum fills the air--the ringing of the Cloister Bell at the heart of the TARDIS. After weeks abroad the ship, Veronica has slowly gotten used to the sound. She's had to adjust to a lot of things lately. Like time travel. And the existence of aliens and monsters. And what her schoolteachers called a "stable domestic situation."
As she changes out of her pajamas and into her cold-weather clothes, Veronica is still amazed at how normal and accepting the Doctor was. He didn't bat an eye when he found her smuggling drugs for her father's gang in the East End of London, nor did he hesitate to accept her plea to come with him when her father proceeded to disown her after she denounced his latest criminal enterprise (a nasty bit of business involving an arms sale and an agent of the Cybermen). She'd heard stories of wizards and angels all her life, but on the streets of London, she never expected them to actually mean anything--not until a cold November morning when she ran into the Doctor.
Completing her all-black outfit with a white silk scarf and cap, Veronica checks herself out in the mirror and decides she likes what she sees. She can barely remember the last time she was on holiday, or at least one that didn't involve something with one of Dad's "business partners." She grins at her reflection and turns to leave the wardrobe, taking the helix staircase down to the main hold.
The Doctor leans over a console at the center of the hold, fiddling with something that glows blue. The only thing he's added to his usual ensemble is a red scarf. When Veronica reaches the end of the staircase, he looks up and grins at her. "Well, well. Someone looks ready for another adventure."
"I thought you said this was going to be a quiet trip, Doctor."
His eyes shift quickly to the left, theatrically exaggerated. "Oh, yes. Yes, I most certainly did. I'm sure it'll be very quiet..." He clears his throat and glances back down at the console. "Very..."
Slowly, the Cloister Bell lapses into silence. The TARDIS has reached its destination. Moving toward the exit, the Doctor links arms with Veronica and pushes the door open with a dramatic flourish.
Outside their vessel is an endless expanse of rain and tumultous ocean waves. Veronica nearly stumbles back, but the Doctor catches her. She takes a moment to clutch her hat against the rain and realize that they're standing on a metallic pier. She turns around, looking past the police box facade of the TARDIS and sees that the dock leads into a massive geodesic dome that rises up from the waters. Its silvery surface is buffeted constantly with rain, wind, and flashes of distant lightning.
At the other end of the pier, right where it meets the dome, a blank silver panel slides open, releasing a tiny spot of pure white light. The Doctor takes Veronica by the hand and they run toward the open door as quickly as they can. The wet metal plates under their boots make running a treacherous activity, but the Doctor seems to navigate the worst of it intuitively.
Some kind of force field keeps the rain and wind out as the Doctor and Veronica pass through, giving them both a mild electric tingle. The door dilates shut as soon as they're inside, muffling the roar of the storm.
"Hullo there!" The Doctor claps his hands together twice. Veronica turns around to see a two-meter tall woman come gliding into the pure white antechamber. Despite her human-like shape and facial features, the newcomer is distinctly alien. She wears a yellow cloak over a blue jumpsuit, which accentuates her lavender-tone skin and wispy gray hair. Something about the woman's kindly smile and regal bearing reminds Veronica of the headmistress at her old school--the sort who seemed to like children but had no actual capacity to handle them.
"We are honored by your visit, Doctor," the woman replies. She claps her hands together twice and inclines her head. "The Sestran Collective remains indebted to you for your assistance."
"Oh, that." The Doctor strokes his beard and glances sheepishly at Veronica. "I just happened to be passing through."
"You stopped a war that had lasted for centuries." The Sestran claps her hands together once as if adding a punctuation mark. "We could never have reached our accord with the Puerin without your counsel." The Sestran's cheeks flush to a shade of pink as she turns to Veronica. "But where are my manners? Welcome to Sestrapolis. I am Hanna, Governess Third Class."
"How do you do?" Veronica nearly extends her hand for a shake, then thinks better of it (having learned from the Doctor just how widely customs vary across the universe). "Veronica Hyde, Doctor's companion."
"And speaking of the Puerin," the Doctor interjects, "how are relations now between the Collective and the Clans?"
Governess Hanna doesn't say anything for a moment. Her cheeks flush pink again as she steps aside. When the Doctor exchanges a puzzled look with Veronica, the Sestran quietly adds, "Perhaps it would be best to show you around our city, Doctor. A lot has changed since your last visit."
The Governess's tour leads them into a multi-directional elevator that shoots through the massive expanse of Sestrapolis. Veronica stares in wonder at the numerous walkways bridging housing units and office blocks together like the intertwining tree branches. Automated worker pods fly through the air, repairing holes in walkways and moving light cargo between the internal buildings. Every surface seems to be silver, white, or gold-trimmed. She thinks of the old 1950s view of "The Future," and how everything was going to be silver spandex, ray guns, and hovercraft. Then again, the pure white backdrop also reminds her of the local Apple Store.
None of this seems to faze the Doctor. He stands between Veronica and Hanna, listening politely to the Governess's speech about peacetime industry and post-war economic stagnation. Veronica barely notices the monologue, although she does wonder how stagnant their economy would be if everything seems so shiny and expensive.
Eventually, the elevator comes to a halt, as an accented male voice announces, "Level Thirty-Eight, Block Spetaa, Subsection Karn." The glass doors open and Governess Hanna leads her guests down a small gray corridor.
"This is normally where I work," the Governess explains. She pauses at the end of the corridor and taps a button on the wall three times. The door beeps and slides open.
Veronica feels the Doctor tremble as they look at the scene within. For all intents and purposes, it appears to be a very large nursery, complete with painted sea waves on the walls, fold-out changing tables, brightly colored plastic chairs and tables, and a row of six comically large cribs. And waddling and playing amidst these furnishings are six young men and women, all pale-skinned, brown-haired, and golden-eyed. They wear white one-piece suits that look a lot like footed pajamas and a few of them sit on the floor, contentedly sucking on pacifiers.
"Do you see, Doctor?" Hanna waves at the overgrown children at play. "This is the price of our hard-won peace. Our original sin."
The Doctor stares at the scene in horror. Veronica can't remember seeing him so apalled. Neither Cybermen in the East End nor dragons in medieval France could stir him up like this.
"Doctor," she asks quietly, "what is it?"
He frowns and shoves his hands into his coat pockets. "Veronica, these children... they're the Puerin. Or perhaps it's better to say, they were the Puerin."