Max hit the sidewalk running. The rattle of shots they had heard in the store was being replied to with a deeper retort, a shotgun perhaps. The noise was deafeningly close but there was no evidence of a source. More footsteps announced lily catching up with him. From somewhere behind him he could hear the Doctor complaining about a time track or something similar.
He turned back for an instant and that was the last thing he remembered for quite some time.
Xan pulled up short as she watched Max reaching for his neck. ‘He’s hit!’ she yelled, running twice as hard towards him. Before she arrived Lily too had reached for her head and both of them had vanished from site as they pitched forward.
“MAX!” she yelled into the suddenly empty air. The Doctor’s hands were on her shoulders, pulling her backward in no time. She was still in shock as the time lord spun his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and scoured the ground. “What happened?”
“That,” he whispered darkly, tapping the screwdriver against his lip in thought, “is a very good question.”
He took her hand and pulled back to the alleyway “back to the TARDIS, I need to check something.”
Xantist let the Dr Race ahead. The midday sun seemed to be vanishing rapidly and the chill breeze through her fur made her shiver. There was something increasingly unnerving about this place.
The feeling failed to drop even once she was back on board the venerable time craft. The wolf girl narrowed her eyes and concentrated on her other senses, blocking the fevered whirrs and whoops from the console as the Dr worked.
“Doctor...?” she questioned quietly only to find him waving his hands at her distractedly. “Something’s not right.”
“So you said” he snapped irritably.
“No, something’s not right here, in the TARDIS” his chestnut curls flicked around him as he spun toward her. His eyes too peered at the walls of his battered ship. Their round spotlights seemed dimmer. The cables that spilled around the central column from her recent repairs swung in a breeze that shouldn’t be there.
“Stupid!” he yelled and spun back to the console bashing it with an open palm and causing the old TV propped on one side to topple onto its face. Propping it back up the time lord scanned the display as data spiralled across its antique surface. He took a deep breath and turned to his companion. “I’ve been a stupid Doctor and you have every right to tell me so”
“You’ve been stupid now how do we put it right?”
His finger swung out to point at the screen, following a circle of text that Xan couldn’t follow for a minute. “You said it yourself something in the ground. There’s a source of Tralousinium nearby.”
“Should I be worried?”
“Worried! You should be terrified, Tralousinium isn’t an element, it’s more... like temporal waste.”
“Doesn’t help” she told him levelly. Her mind racing around from where max may have gone to when.
“All we have to do is return it to the vortex and whatever’s going on around here is done”
“And this tarlosium...”
“Tralousinium” he corrected.
“Would be responsible for the soil and the way the room is still getting darker?”
The time lord nodded. “So we’re on a time limit too by the looks of things” he ducked his head under the console and pulled out a long black tube, dropping it into his jacket pocket as he headed for the door again.
“And that will help?” Xan nodded at him as she followed.
“Not really, the torch is there in case we cut things a little fine...”
Xan was feeling breathless by the time they reached the other end of the street once more. She scowled at the Doctor’s back, frustrated by his rush to arrive at a point where he promptly stood very still. Steadily, as her breath returned to her she came to the realisation that her frustration was also with herself.
“I shouldn’t be out of breath” she growled.
“It’s the Tralousinium, it must be affecting us as well as the area, and we may have less time than I...”
His words tailed away, replaced in Xan’s ears by the soft clink of a piano and the gentle laughter of a party. She turned away from the Doctor’s back, looking along the street.
Except there was none. Instead her view contained a ballroom “Doctor?”
“Well, that’s not something you see everyday” the time lord’s voice seemed to be distant. When he moved past her she was bemused to find him translucent against the background.
When she reached for his shoulder she saw that her own hand was as see through. “Or not see, as it were” The Doctor was grinning madly at her as he slowly began to solidify. That when Xan caught site of her husband.
He was stood by the bar in a smart suite, red bowtie and waistcoat marking him out as a waiter judging from the barman’s attire. As Xan moved towards him she noted that he was scanning the room as he gingerly slipped something into one of the glasses of drink on the tray in front of him.
‘Max?’ she called to him as he turned out into the ballroom.
‘Evening miss, may I offer you a dimpled sunset?’ he waved the tray, carefully edging it so that she didn’t take the one he had presumably spiked. Xan sniffed at the concoction but declined.
‘Why the disguise? What have you found?’
Max blinked at her, an edge of panic in his voice/
‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean miss, if you’ll excuse me I have guests to serve.’
Xan almost reached for him when the calming hand of the Doctor took her wrist.
‘Another clue’ he beamed.
‘Has he been taken over?’ Xan started asking when she realised that the time lord’s familiar costume had been replaced with a tight pinstripe suit. With a rakish fedora pushed onto his mass of curls. Xan took a deep breath and used his grip on her to drag him to a table.
‘What’s going on?’
The Doctor leant back in his chair and frowned. ‘It would seem we aren’t the first one’s here to uncover the presence of the Tralousinium. One of its more unusual properties is that of psychic resonance with certain mineral life forms’
‘Makes rocks telepathic?’
‘No more like a massive LSD trip. Question is whose behind it all and how do we stop it.’
‘Wait for it to burn out?’
‘Can’t do that, the effect on the local ecosystem is already devastating enough. No we need to find a way to identify the nonhumans around here’
‘Won’t they be dressed differently or...?’
‘So were we’ he pointed out the figure hugging polkas dot leotard and the flared taffeta skirt that she had not been wearing moments before. ‘First move it made was to integrate the locals, even max seems to be part of it, I wonder why our minds haven’t been so affected?
A new voice offered his reply ‘because you’re not quite human maybe?’
Xan looked up into the mixed eyes of Lily. She wore a beaded mini dress which left little to the imagination and a deep plum lipstick ‘and we aren’t the only ones’ she smiled lewdly.
‘Come on, we’ve been expecting you’