The raging flames between her and her loved ones.
With her eyes open she saw the Doctor wrestling with the controls of TARDIS. He looked as haggard as she had ever seen him, his chestnut curls a straggly mat of perspiration. His velvet jacket was torn and discarded over one of the rails bordering the console.
He’d collected the remains of one of the fallen monitor screens and jammed it against the controls as he tried to bring a flicker of life to it. Immersed in work as he was Xan couldn’t tell what he may have been thinking or felling for the passing of his friends. There was a threat out there and whatever this HOST was it still needed to be defeated.
But for Xantist Kowarth, defeat had already occurred.
“Aha!” the Doctor exclaimed and hopped a little on the spot “there they go, tricky but I should be able to keep up.” He started throwing switches and pulling levers. “Just hold together old girl this’ll be a rough ride. But we have to catch up with them or there's no telling what that Avatar will do to Max”
At the mention of her husband’s name Xantist finally took an interest in what the time lord was doing. “You’re taking us to hell?”
“No, the planet Chicago43 according to the time space indicator. It’s where the Avatar went next.”
“No of course they didn’t, that was a rather primitive time ring wormhole. Impressive for mental energy alone I have to admit, similar sort of thing to what Ichigo does to travel, though with a few more bells and whistles to terrify the populace I suppose.”
“Then Max is alive?”
“Yes! Yes he is indeed. And with any luck he should be waiting for us outside any moment.. Now!”
The groan and roar of the mighty Engines slowed down with a solidifying thump and the Dr was whirling around the shelves in no time collecting a variety of instruments and even a big coat.
“Ichigo, I’ll need you to carry this lamp, it’s a bit cold outside for Xan!” he called as he worked. He called her name twice more before he realised the shapeshifter wasn’t on board. “Alright, Xan, you’ll have to get a big parka, there's one in the drawer under atmospheric density jacket. I’m sorry about this. I wonder where she could have got to?”
Xan stepped from the TARDIS tensed ready for the arctic cold the Doctor had warned her to expect. She blinked in the wan sunlight that filtered through the tall brownstone buildings that made up the street the ship had decided to settle in. a breeze flicked at her hair and she wrinkled her nose at the scents it brought with it.
Burning fabric, cooking meat. She didn’t need to look at the rubble to know something terrible happened here.
“I thought you said it was cold.” Xan complained at the timelord. “And I don’t see max”
“Well, this is Chicago43.. I don’t understand, it shouldn’t be colonised for years yet.”
The Doctor started rooting around in the pile of equipment he’d brought with him, pulling out something that resembled a fishnet umbrella.
There was a scattering of rocks nearby and the timelord jammed the handle into them, connecting some other bits and pieces as he did.
Xan peered about her nervously. She thought she could scent something else, but couldn’t pinpoint what. She saw a flash of cloth and reacted instinctively, throwing herself forward to drop the Doctor to the ground. She heard the feet thunder towards her and rolled into a fighting crouch, tail counterbalancing her. A ragged band of figures were emerging from the rubble, all of them carrying weapons of some kind.
Before things could get out of hand a familiar voice rang across the clearing.
“Stand down people. It’s a false alarm.”
Xantist turned wide eyed at the sound of her husband’s voice. There he was, large as life. Filthy, his hair matted with dusted and his jacket missing its sleeves but still the man she loved.
“You took your time.” he smiled thinly at his friends. Xantist was dismayed to see that the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Tank, blade, set up a perimeter. If the TARDIS is here, it might grab the avatar’s attention.” He ordered as he moved to hold Xan's hand.
“I thought you were dead.” She whispered
“So did i.” He replied bitterly. “You shouldn’t have come.”
Xantist settled against the wall of the TARDIS and watched Max prepare the ragged troops that had surrounded them. At either end of the city block stood the men he had called Tank and Blade. Tank was a thick set African with a mechanical arm and Blade was a willowy Asian with dyed blonde hair and a look of murder in his eyes.
Closer to them were a teenager with a mechanical boomerang and a balding mechanic who was helping the Doctor get his equipment ready.
Two women stayed alert nearby, one a dark haired buxom 20something and the other a thoroughly out of place blonde of high class. She wore a red and blue robe and her hair in a thick braid behind her. If she was armed, Xan couldn’t tell with what.
This woman seemed to notice Xan’s eyes on her and turned to stare at the Siabarian. Xan stood her ground, somehow sensing psychic tendrils poking at her mind. She growled instinctively and the blonde looked away.
Max had heard her and walked over, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“What do you think?” she mewled at him, shying away from the coldness in his eyes.
Xan was always scared when Max got angry, even though he’d never been angry with her. It was the look he gave. That same cold-eyed stare he held now.
When she was young the humans who wanted to hurt her had given her that look. Hate just for what she was, it was the same look Max had for the HOST – hate the entity that killed faro and Miko. He’d looked the same from the instant it had stolen lily.
“Don’t let the hate win Max.” she pleaded. He blinked at her. With a fast glance he checked the others before taking her hand and leading her to the edge of the rubble from where he had appeared.
“Humans are good at hate, you know that. It consumes us, blinds us. Hell, even the Dr isn’t immune. I want you to see something.” He led her to a doorway set in the earth and down a flight of well-worn steel steps. The steps lead out on to a metal walkway over an underground car park. There were no cars, only people. Crammed in with makeshift tents and sobbing children.
“I’ve been here for three weeks. The avatar arrived at the same time; the journey effected us both. In the last 9 days almost no one has gone to the surface. The thing that’s taken over lily has reduced us all to cowering in these dungeons of our own making.”
“But you still came up. You weren’t expecting to find us were you.”
“Not really no.” he admitted, slumping against the railing that ran along the walkway. “We were expecting her, the Avatar.”
“What is that? The Doctor called Lily that?”
“He did? Maybe that’s where she got it from, that’s what she’s been calling herself since we got here. Tank tells me its Hindi, the physical manifestation of a god.”
“The HOST thinks it’s a god?”
“In its own universe I suppose it is. But it’s not here for worshippers though.”
“You know why it came here?”
“I‘ll show you.” He turned back to the stairs, holding her arm tenderly for a moment. “Xantist, my love. I can’t promise to stop hating, but I can try to stop it showing, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know.” She smiled finally and hugged him. She was relieved to find that he hugged her back.
“Hello there, where have you two been?” The Doctor grinned at them as Max and Xan returned to the street. He and the blonde lady were delicately threading wires together in the Doctor’s creation.
“Showing her where everybody’s gone.” Max replied “and now I’ll tell her why.” He pointed across the clearing to the dark haired buxom girl.
“Susan Pli-Afit a geologist.”
“I don’t understand, why would the HOST want her?” Xan asked staring at the unassuming girl. The Doctor stood and walked over to smile at the girl. His eyes glittered with his grin and she smiled back. The Doctor took her hand and kissed it formally before turning back to his friends.
“This lady is a direct descendant of the little chap in the pushchair!”
“And that’s why she’s the target of the avatar?”
“Oh no, that doesn’t make any sense. There has to be something far more important that that. The HOST is an extra dimensional consciousness capable of entering into our universe at any point. So why wait centuries to track down another of them. No, no, no, no, no this doesn’t make any sense, whatever this girl has its nothing to do with her heritage is it?”
“No. Its not.” The blonde lady interrupted.
“The lady Valeristhednatrad.”
“A time lord?” Xan guessed “what’s she doing here.”
“Romana finally worked out the HOST is more of a threat than she thought has she? Or is this more of Narvin’s work?”
“I shouldn’t be here at all.” Valeris muttered. “I was sent to the third moon to investigate where it had come from.”
“Perhaps we could start from the beginning?” The Doctor asked. Max glanced at the skies.
“You tell them. I think she’s worked out where we are.” He nodded at the girl with the boomerang and they headed for the perimeter. Max scoped a large rucksack and a shotgun from the pile of equipment nearby.
“Chicago43 had two moons. It always had two moons. Until last year when suddenly, it had always had three. We weren’t the only people who had noticed, the colonists here knew things weren’t right and Susan was sent to examine the satellite.”
“And what you found is the reason the Avatar wants you, is that it?”
“We think so.” The girl said quietly.
“Now let me make a guess, its not a moon is it, it’s a living entity of some kind, dormant, maybe hibernating but alive.” The Doctor reasoned returning to his equipment
“How could you..”
“Well Lily is many things but I don’t think the HOST is going to achieve universal domination one life at a time – if that moons alive, think of the potential of a planet sized Avatar! You could take whole planets at a time and should you happen across a new planet sized being bingo, upgrade!”
“So why does it need the girl?” Xan asked confused. The Doctor smiled at her.
“You know that’s a very good question, if the Time Lords know about the moon why doesn’t the HOST? It has to know something or why come here in the first place? And there's another thing, why don’t you just take her away in your TARDIS if she’s that much of a cornerstone to events?”
“susan knows how to contact the creature, how to wake it up.”
“Why do you think we waited here?” Susan said quietly.
“Its coming for the TARDIS isn’t it, it has no idea where the girl is.” Xan realised.
“I found Susan on the moons surface, her vessel had been destroyed and when I tried to rescue her the avatar came for me. I made it here and managed to set my TARDIS into a temporal orbit out of the way. Now you’re hear it’ll come looking.”
“And you intend to shoot her?”
“The body is still human, it can still be injured, Max found that out when they arrived, both of them were unconscious, he woke up first.”
“But it’s only a fragment of the host, what good will killing Lily do?”
“It’s all we’ve got!”
“No I won’t accept that!” the Doctor screamed. “There has to be another way. Max get over here!” As soon as he started moving the Doctor ordered Valeris, Susan and Xan into the TARDIS. “See if you can prepare a temporal orbit to match your own TARDIS, just in case what I have in mind doesn’t work.”
“What do you have in mind?” Xan pleaded, worried for them all.”
“I’ll explain later, now just get inside. We’ll be right behind you.”
Max stared at the closing Police box doors, distracted from the Doctor’s exposition.
“Are you listening Max?”
“Sorry. What was that?”
“I said you don’t have to kill her, this little triangulation device of mine could be used to broadcast, I can engineer a dsleep transmitter that should just knock her out of the air. She doesn’t have to die!”
“Can you do it in less than 2 minutes? I think that’s all we’ve got.”
The two friends stared at each other “ok, let’s try, I’ll get back to the perimeter.”
Xan opened the TARDIS doors and peered out. The Doctor was hunched over the mess of wiring he had been using. Max was walking around the others, keeping moral up. She glanced up and saw a flicker of orange against the stone of buildings at the end of the street. She called out and Max waved at her to get back inside. She saw him shoulder the bag and raise the shotgun. The Doctor was shouting, sparks flying from his machine as an unhealthy whine of power tore through it.
The avatar turned the corner.
Tendrils of flame and electrical energy writhed around her. Xan could still see the fragile girl in her tattered yellow dress at the heart of the orange energy.
She felt the tears in her eyes and fought the urge to call to the girl.
A movement caught at the edge of her vision. The Doctor ran forward, fishnet umbrella ahead of him. Xan sensed the charge of particles that blasted from it.
Energy tendrils snaked along the ground, surging towards them. The boomerang swung from its owner’s grasp, impacting the edge of the building the avatar was passing. The stonework crumbled and began to fall. As it rained down on the creature it turned to dust, showering in drifts around her.
Flame splashed across the street towards them, dodging past the fighters and heading straight for the Doctor’s machinery.
Max noticed it too; he dived for the timelord just in time to pull him away from the exploding construction. Blade took this as a sign that the plan had failed and reverted to original. With a roar he ran for the avatar, the leather pouch across his back splitting open to reveal a massive multi bladed sword.
Xan ran to her husband’s side. “Get the Doctor inside, the TARDIS might protect you.” Max urged reaching for the shotgun.
“Max, don’t. Don’t kill her, you don’t want to become as bad as her.”
“I’ll try not to, but we have to stop it. Now get in there, and stay safe.”
The Doctor was heavier than he looked. Xan watched the flicker of energies and flame, saw Blade engulfed in a flash fireball. Tank roared and a flurry of fire spat across at the avatar. Xan looked away.
Hands joined hers on the Dr’s coat and Xan looked up at Susan. From the scream that called towards them, Xan wasn’t the only one.
Max watched the beam of energy released by the avatar, he knew he had a split second to act before the beam contacted the TARDIS.
Xan watched her husband jump. Just as he had done before, putting himself in the line of fire.
She saw him suspended in mid air and the look of triumph on his face.
She the single tear roll down his cheek.
She saw the TARDIS doors close in front of her.
She heard the lady Valeris swearing at the antiquated controls behind her.
Heard the rumble of the overhead viewer squeal into neglected life.
She turned to see her husband still held by the creature.
Watched the blaze of energy headed straight for them and heard the groan of the time ships ancient engines as it tried to get away.
As the engines whined around her and the lights flickered out to be replace with the baleful blue glow of the central column all Xan could see was her husband leaping to save them one more