The Doctor frowned as she stared out of the now open TARDIS doors. Light, hot wind blew beads of sand into the console room, which the TARDIS hummed in objection to. She coughed when sand blew into her face, waving her hand in front of her face to clear it. She shook her head wildly, in a way that reminded the others of a wet dog.
“Blegh, sand,” she spat out.
“I didn’t realise there was sand on a Tundra planet,” said Ryan, his eyes narrowed as if he had missed something.
The Doctor looked sheepish as she slid a pair of sunglasses on and leaned out of the TARDIS. She swung on the doorframe and lifted one leg for balance. She stayed like that for a minute, in which time the others had delved into another conversation.
“Well, this is definitely not where I wanted to go. Yaz, were you thinking about Egypt again? ‘Cause I said it before, you cannot place a bet with Ryan over who could get Cleopatra to fall in love with them first. The reason you’d both lose is because she’s already in love with me. Long story, was sort of an accident,” said the Doctor, folding her sunglasses into her pocket.
“No, I wasn’t. But I still think I’d win. Does that mean we’re in Egypt then?” asked Yasmin.
“Ah, no actually. Looks a lot like it, but it’s a whole other planet. It’s called Manussa actually, I’ve been here before. Promise it’s safe now.”
“Are you sure?” asked Ryan with a raised eyebrow, hesitant to step out of the TARDIS.
“Of course! It’s a type 314-S planet, with almost the exact same atmosphere as Earth. Though the gravity is a little off, so you might feel a little dizzy. Go on, go and stretch your legs while I try and reason with the TARDIS,” offered the Doctor.
“I could do with some fresh air,” agreed Graham, stepping onto the sand below.
“Yeah, me too,” said Yasmin as she joined him, landing on two feet in the sand as she skipped out.
“Quick thing, though,” added the Doctor as she moved aside for Ryan to join the others, “the TARDIS has a sort of protection bubble. Don’t wander outside of it if I’m not with you. She’ll keep you safe, but she can’t do anything if you go too far.”
“We won’t wander off,” said Ryan, patting the Doctor reassuringly on the shoulder.
The door closed behind Ryan, and the Doctor could still hear their bickering on the other side. Yasmin yelped, and Ryan laughed, and the Doctor would’ve rushed to help if she hadn’t heard Graham smack Ryan for throwing sand.
“Right, kids are out, just you and me. Why did you take us to Manussa, huh? What’s so special about sand? It’s not like you want it in your console,” said the Doctor.
The TARDIS hummed in response.
“Okay, brilliant. I’ll just set the coordinates back and we’ll be out of here in no time, is that what you want?” asked the Doctor.
The TARDIS hummed once again. The Doctor threw her hands up in exasperation, kicking about the sand that was causing a mess on the floor.
“You’ve seen something, haven’t ya? You won’t let me leave until I figure out what. You know, you should try bein’ a little less smug. It really doesn’t suit you.”
This time, the TARDIS didn’t make a sound, except a few quiet beeps. The Doctor laid a hand on the console and rolled her eyes.
She was about to continue arguing with the TARDIS when she was interrupted by a squeal. The Doctor spun around to the TARDIS doors, wondering what had happened. The TARDIS had fallen silent too, as if she herself was wondering what the travellers had gotten up to.
‘Ryan, stop throwing sand!” she yelled, using her hands to amplify her voice.
“That wasn’t me that time,” answered Ryan, his voice muffled.
The Doctor knew for sure the squeal belonged to Yasmin when the companion screamed out the alien’s name in a panic. She broke into a sprint, the TARDIS doors thrown open before she even had a chance to click her fingers.
“What’s wrong?” asked the Doctor breathlessly, looking between the three of them.
“Nothing Doctor, Yaz is just freaking out because she saw a snake,” said Ryan, shaking his head.
“I-I don’t like snakes, okay!” said Yasmin, her arms folded across her chest.
“Hey, hey it’s okay. Get back in the TARDIS, nothing to be scared of. Where did you see it, anyway?” said the Doctor.
“Came from under the sand, wrapped itself around Yaz’s foot. It wasn’t that big, but still,” said Graham, watching his own feet in case it made a reappearance.
“Alright, everyone. Take Yaz back inside, I’ll make sure it’s nothing dangerous. Quick scan should do the trick,” said the Doctor.
“No, no I’m not leaving you here with it,” argued Yasmin.
“Yaz, I’ve fought nearly every monster of the universe, you think a little serpent is too much for me?” said the Doctor.
Yasmin and Ryan pushed each other out of the way, each wanting to be first into the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor and Graham. The Doctor scanned the surroundings, and Graham watched awkwardly from where he stood.
“You don’t have to watch over me, Graham,” said the Doctor, not looking up from the sonic.
“Yeah Doc, I know. Can’t stand to listen to those two bicker any more though, you’d think they were still in primary school. Ryan was definitely the boy who pulled her pigtails, I’m telling ya that,” said Graham.
The Doctor wasn’t listening, “Graham,” she asked slowly, “what did the snake look like?”
“What? Oh, eh, looked like an anaconda. It was mostly red, with a white underbelly. Hissed quite a bit too,” said Graham.
As if on demand, the sand beneath them began to move. Something burrowed up by the Doctor and she frowned. Graham protested when she crouched down and pressed her sonic screwdriver into the sand.
“Doc, be careful,” said Graham, but his warning came too late.
The head of the snake came menacingly from the sand. The Doctor whispered something to it, her tone almost impressed, but then it reared upwards and hissed loudly. The snake was obviously threatening the Doctor, so she aimed her sonic at it to protect herself. The snake ignored the sonic and lunged for the hand that held it.
“Doctor!” shouted Graham as the red snake sunk its fangs into the skin.
“Oh, ouch!” pouted the Doctor, prying the snake from her hand.
It scurried back into the sand, the Doctor’s blood seeping from two pristine white fangs. Graham pulled the Doctor to her feet. She cradled her injured hand, glaring in offense at the hole in the sand the snake had made.
“Are you alright?” asked Graham, looking at the two small puncture holes in the Doctor’s hand.
“Oh yeah, I’ve had worse. Kinda important thing though, I need you to come with me to the TARDIS and scan my hand. You know…in case of poison or whatever,” said the Doctor dismissively.
“Oh, geez. Sure Doc,” said Graham nervously.
They stepped through the TARDIS to find Yasmin and Ryan sitting on the floor, lazily talking as they leaned against the pillar. They both looked up worriedly when Graham hurried the Doctor inside, who was still hugging her hand to her chest. Yasmin jumped to her feet and ran over.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Your snake friend didn’t take too kindly to the sonic. Doesn’t matter though, it doesn’t really feel poisonous, so there’s that.” Said the Doctor.
“Poison!” exclaimed Ryan, wide eyed.
“It’s probably nothing. Graham, there’s a scanner plugged into the console to your left. If you could just zap it over the wound, that would be brill,” said the Doctor.
The scanner lit up red and beeped three times. Graham held it over the puncture wounds until the Doctor told him it was finished and asked him to hand it to her. They all crowded around the Doctor, waiting for her to announce whether or not the snake had been poisonous.
“What does it say?” asked Graham when a series of words came up on the scanner.
“Okay…mixed bag,” answered the Doctor, her voice raising in pitch.
“What do you mean?” asked Yasmin.
“Good news, the snake isn’t poisonous. Or venomous.”
“Okay…what’s the bad news then?” asked Graham worriedly.
“The snake…isn’t a snake, it is just taking the form of a snake,” answered the Doctor.
“So, what is it?” asked Ryan.
“A Mara,” said the Doctor, darkly.
“What’s that, then?” asked Yasmin, a frown on her face.
“The Mara is a gestalt creature. The gestalt principles…proximity…it’s keeping you all close for some reason. Continuity…maybe it’s the same creature? That would be impossible, I saw it die. I wouldn’t take any chances, not after Tegan. Or would I?” rambled the Doctor.
“Doc, no offence, but what the Hell are you on about?” asked Graham.
“It’s a dangerous species that likes to possess a host. And it looks like it chose us. Unfortunately for me, but lucky for you, it bit me. That probably means it wants to possess me. Ryan, Graham, Yaz, this is incredibly important. I need you to tie me up,” said the Doctor.
Ryan and Graham looked confused, oblivious to Yasmin’s flustered blush.
“Uh, why?” asked Ryan.
“Because, if the Mara has decided to possess me, it will hurt you all. It’ll probably hurt me too. The Mara thrives on madness, and pain, and chaos. Trust me, you really wouldn’t want the Mara in a host body to be free with you,” explained the Doctor.
The Doctor turned to Yasmin, “Yaz, do you have those handcuffs?”
Ryan elbowed her, choking back a laugh.
“She means my official police handcuffs that are part of my uniform and only used to hold criminals. Obviously. And no Doctor, they’re in my police jacket pocket,” said Yasmin, flushed.
The Doctor gestured to a door beyond the console room and asked one of them to fetch something to tie her with. Graham went into one of the vast cupboards of the TARDIS, sifting through boxes, tools and jackets until he found varied lengths of rope. He tugged at it to make sure it would hold and walked over to the Doctor with it slung over his shoulder.
“Here ya are, Doc,” said Graham as he re-joined the others.
“Great, now tie me around the pillar, hands behind it. Get my ankles while you’re at it, just in case the Mara is a kicker. Come on, Graham,” encouraged the Doctor.
“This is ridiculous, it literally looks like we’re holding you captive. Why can’t we try and get rid of your snake instead?” said Ryan as Graham began tying the Doctor up.
“Ryan, there’s only one way to get rid of a Mara. It has to face itself, in its true form. I can handle it, but it won’t work if the Mara is controlling my body as well as my mind. While we’re going over it, I need you all to make sure no one is left alone with it. You all need to stick together until I figure it out,” said the Doctor.
“Sure, Doc. But…don’t you have a plan?” asked Graham.
“Oh, not really, but I do really well under pressure,” reassured the Doctor.
“Is there anything we can get you, Doctor? You don’t look extremely comfortable?” asked Yasmin worriedly.
“Don’t worry about me. Though, Yaz, if you wouldn’t mind passing me a biscuit every now and again, I would appreciate that a lot,” said the Doctor.
“That I can do,” said Yaz warmly.
The Doctor’s eyes fluttered closed, and Yasmin looked in concern at Ryan. Graham gave them both a comforting hand, which also held them back. She was muttering something under her breath, something obviously not meant for any of them to hear.
“Sounds like she’s arguing with herself,” whispered Ryan.
“Uh, no, don’t,” came the Doctor’s strained voice.
“Can we help her?” asked Yasmin.
“You know what she said. We need to wait for her to come up with a plan,” said Graham, hand on Yasmin’s shoulder.
The Doctor tossed her head with a pained, frustrated groan. Yasmin resisted the urge to run to her, helped by the calmness of her friends either side of her. Though, they both looked as though they were extremely close to untying the Doctor. Each expression of pain made them edge closer.
The Doctor’s head snapped up, but her eyes were still tightly closed. She twisted her arm that was still tied down by ropes, and Yasmin took a step forward to look at it.
“Yaz, stop,” warned Graham in a whisper.
“She’s not awake. But look at this,” said Yasmin, hovering over the Doctor.
There was a snake shaped mark on her arm that looked like a tattoo. It was a bold, threatening red. Yasmin gulped, as she knew for a fact the Doctor didn’t have a snake tattoo.
“Hosts of the Mara developed a snake mark upon the arm,” mumbled the Doctor, seemingly in her sleep.
“Guess the Doc was right then, the Mara was after her,” said Graham.
“Correction,” said the Doctor in a low, quiet voice, “the Mara got her.”
The Doctor’s eyes met Yasmin’s, just as she stepped back to join the others. Except, it wasn’t the hazel eyes that Yasmin had grown so fond of, instead they were red; the same shade as the snake on her arm. She bared her teeth at Yasmin, and the companion noticed they were sharp, like fangs.
“Who’ve we got here, then?” asked the Doctor, or Yasmin supposed it was the Mara.
The Mara’s voice was almost like the Doctor’s, but it was distorted as if it was coming from somewhere else. It spoke through the Doctor’s mouth, except it was harsh, grave and husky. It sent a shiver down Yasmin’s spine when it reached her ears.
“We’re friends of the body you’ve stolen. I presume you’re the Mara?” said Graham.
“It is an interesting body. I’ve tried your kind before, so loud and angry. You humans don’t have two hearts, so what am I possessing?” asked the Mara.
“We’re not telling you that!” said Yasmin, her hand balling into a fist at her side.
“Shame, I’ll have to do some digging, then,” the Mara hissed.
A voice, so painfully the Doctor’s, interrupted the Mara with a loud shout. She writhed and struggled against her restraints with a frustrated cry. Whatever was happening to her, it looked like it hurt.
“What’s happening?” asked Ryan in concern.
“It…the-the Mara is digging around in my mind. Distract it…” said the Doctor in between short, ragged breaths.
“Hey, Mara,” began Graham, “why don’t you tell us what you want? You wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble so you could find us if it wasn’t something important. Maybe we could help you?”
Once again, they were confronted by the Mara, “You don’t know everything about your friend. She’s killed more of my sisters and brothers than I can count. The only way we can finally be free from that pain is to make the Doctor feel it too.”
“So, you know whose body you’re in now?” asked Yasmin.
“I knew when that retched machine landed that it would be one of you. You all smell of Earth, but the Doctor smells of Time. It wasn’t hard to find her,” said the Mara.
“What are you gonna do? In case you haven’t noticed, you’re a little tied up mate,” said Graham.
“Oh, it’s easy. I’m going to trick one of you into letting me go. Humans are surprisingly easy to manipulate,” said the Mara.
“Nah, fella, I think you’ll find you don’t give humans enough credit,” said Graham.
“I give credit where it is due,” said the Mara with a lick of her lips.
“Give her back to us,” said Yasmin, as sternly as she was able.
“Or what, human?” hissed the Mara.
“Well, even if us humans can’t do much, the Doctor definitely can. You chose the wrong person to possess, I’m telling you that now!” said Ryan.
“Your bodies would crumble under my power, I would melt your minds with my own thought. You are nothing compared to the power possessed by a Time Lord, and now by me,” said the Mara.
“You clearly don’t know humans like we do then,” said Yasmin.
“I know them better than you do, I’ve destroyed more of your kind than you’ve even met. I know what makes you tick, and what makes you die,” said the Mara.
Yasmin huffed and span around to face the two boys. Their eyes were trained on the Mara. Neither of them could believe their light, happy traveller had become, in a sense, a snake. Her red eyes hypnotised them all.
“Right, we need to do something. Any ideas? Maybe we can find something on the sonic that’ll…distract the Mara?” said Yasmin.
Graham opened his mouth to offer an idea, but Ryan interrupted him.
“Just stop trying to take charge Yaz,” said Ryan exasperated, “you’re not the Doctor.”
Yasmin huffed, “Well, she’s indisposed at the moment, isn’t she?”
“So, what puts you in charge after her? You ain’t our second in command,” argued Ryan.
“Oh, so you want it to be you instead do ya? Fat lot of use you’d be!” scoffed Yasmin.
“Guys, the Mara is messing with you…listen to yourselves,” warned Graham, uncomfortable as he witnessed their first fight since primary school.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Ryan, ignoring Graham.
“What do you think? You can’t even stand on your own two feet, let alone keep us on ours!” yelled Yasmin.
“Oh yeah, and what’s a trainee policewoman got to offer? Are you going to give me a ticket? No, maybe a fine, that would really show me up,” Ryan yelled back.
“What would you do? I’d say throw a spanner at me, but we all know it’d end up on the other side of the room! You’d probably end up on the floor with it!” countered Yasmin.
Ryan turned on his heels, muttering something about not trusting cops, and disappeared down the corridor towards his bedroom. As soon as he left the room, Yasmin paled and her eyes softened. The Mara leaned back, watching her gleefully.
“Graham, I didn’t mean-”
“Yaz, it’s alright. I know you didn’t,” said Graham gently.
“Should I go and apologise?” she asked sheepishly.
“Nah, I’ll go and talk to him first. He just needs help cooling off, he’ll be fine afterwards. Always is,” said Graham.
Yasmin watched, shoulders slumped, as Graham chased after Ryan. She hadn’t meant to snap at him at all. It was like something made her do it, and she suspected that thing was the Mara. It unnerved her to see something so cruel, so angry in the form of her Doctor.
“Just you and me,” came a breathy voice.
“Well, that’s not really true, considering there’s three of us. Which one’s talking to me?” said Yasmin.
“You know who it is,” came a whisper.
Yasmin faltered for a moment. She’d forgotten all about her fight with Ryan, the look on Graham’s face, and the fear for the Doctor’s life. Now, she stared up at the Doctor, whose eyes still glowed red but somehow it looked more like the time lady than before.
“I don’t,” said Yasmin, crossing her arms.
“You have to trust me, Yaz. I need you to trust me, because I need your help. I-I was wrong, I can’t do this alone,” said the Doctor.
“Prove it,” said Yasmin, “prove to me you’re her.”
The Doctor-Mara, Yasmin still wasn’t sure which, paused for a moment. Yasmin could see her thinking, not breaking eye contact once. Eventually, she leaned forward to lose the gap between her and Yasmin.
“Yaz,” said the Doctor-Mara softly, “I know that you’re uncomfortable being around Graham and Ryan without me because you aren’t as close to your family as they are to each other, I know you became a police officer for the same reason I ran away, and I know the others pretend not to see how smart, funny and beautiful you are, but I can’t.”
“Can’t what?” said Yasmin, her voice cracking slightly.
“Can’t ignore it,” confirmed the Doctor-Mara.
Yasmin’s eyes widened and she stared. She wasn’t sure what she was feeling, but it was some sort of confusing combination of bewilderment, fear and excitement.
“Don’t make me say it again, Yaz,” said the Doctor-Mara.
Yasmin sighed, “What can I do to help you?”
“I can’t do anything without my limbs. You don’t know how much you miss them ‘till they’re tied behind your back, you know? I can get rid of the Mara if I can sonic myself, but it needs a specific frequency that humans won’t be able to find. Can you do that for me Yaz?”
Yasmin didn’t know what had come over her, but the calming, trustful energy radiated from the Doctor’s body, hitting her like it was a perfume. She looked into the red eyes, now seeing familiar hazel, and knew she had to untie the Doctor to help her.
Her fingers found the knots they’d made in the rope and she wriggled them free. She unwound the rope carefully, noticing the raw, pained wrists underneath. She wanted to hold them, but she knew it was more important to help the Doctor with their more pressing problem.
The Doctor-Mara pulled her wrists free from the remaining rope, rubbing her wrists. She smirked coyly at Yasmin, which made the younger girl shiver.
She leaned in Yasmin’s ear, hot breath on her neck.
“What did I say? Humans,” spat the Doctor-Mara, “are pathetically easy to manipulate.”
Yasmin froze, looking up to find the Doctor-Mara’s eyes once again burning red.
“Doctor?” said Yasmin quietly.
The Doctor, or rather the Mara, didn’t respond, she just flicked her tongue and stood up to match Yasmin. She stepped forward, shoving Yasmin back by placing two rough hands on her shoulders. Yasmin yelped as her back collided with the buttons and levers of the TARDIS console. By the time she had straightened up, the pain subsiding, the Mara was rummaging wildly through the console room.
“W-what are you doing?” asked Yasmin with a gulp.
The Mara, as if the TARDIS was her own, found each hidden compartment and drawer in the room. She opened one compartment in the console and found the tools the Doctor used to fix the machine. She threw a hammer, a handful of buttons and a notepad over her shoulder, each narrowly missing Yasmin.
The Mara straightened up once she found what she had been looking for. She weighed up two items in each hand, throwing one in the pile behind her. It was a large pair of golden scissors that struck into the floor, making Yasmin winced. Her heart thudded faster when she realised whatever was left in the Mara’s hand was worse.
In her white-knuckled hand, she held a very human pocket knife. The Mara flicked it open and the blade shot out from the handle, a menacing gleam to the silver. Yasmin backed up, expecting to find the knife pointed to her. Instead, though, the knife was brought to the Mara, or rather the Doctor’s, neck. The tip was just deep enough to extract a drop of blood, like a warning. Yasmin tensed as the Mara marred her friend’s skin.
“Now,” began the Mara, “want to play a game Yasmin Khan?”