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The TARDIS Ate My Socks!

By Alden Bates

"Look, girl, look!"

Mel obediently bent down to take a look.

The normally counter-sunk roundel was jutting out at ninety degrees to reveal a cavity. Inside should have been technological paraphernalia far exceeding human scientific advancement; Instead a parchment shaft terminated a kilometre away with a pale luminescence.

"Someone's made a hole in my TARDIS!"

"Well, what was meant to be there?" Mel was ever practical.

"A galvanic relay." A lie. The Doctor had no more idea than Mel did. "Gone! Dismantled!" He waved his arms in imitation of some avian creature.

His diminutive assistant stuck her head back in for another look. The sides of the hole, made of the same strange material as the rest of the Doctor's time/space machine, lead an unturning course to an opening in the distance.

"But there's a corridor on the other side of this wall!" Her voice echoed in the tube.

"There are no constants in non-Euclidean space." The Doctor was supercilious. He pushed her aside and began clambering into the orifice.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Doctor."

"Nonsense!" the Time Lord was unrepentant as his upper torso vanished into the cavity.

Mel watched as he suddenly stopped and started making perambulatory motions with his feet, struggling to gain a foothold.

Stuck!

The Doctor fell still and lay there, jammed like a cork in a wine bottle. Mel imagined his aggrieved expression and giggled.

"Silly old bear," she quoted and, grasping hold of his breeches, tugged. This would teach him for resisting her exercise routine!

Eventually the Doctor pulled free and regained an even footing. He took a moment to straighten his cravat and patchwork coat.

"It's hopeless. We'll just have to do without it." He went to replace the roundel.

Mel stopped him. "You're missing the obvious, Doctor. I can go!" She gestured down at her petite form. "I'm small enough to fit."

"Er, yes of course," said the Doctor. "I was just about to suggest that."

The view on the TARDIS scanner wobbled precariously, showing the green of Mel's trouser suit and the white length of the tube she was clambering down. The camera was situated in the gold amulet Mel was wearing, and as it swung, the picture experienced wild turbulence.

"Nearly there, Doctor!" her voice came cheerily over the audio system. Indeed, the circular opening was by now the apparent size of the midnight moon on Earth.

"Why've you stopped?"

"Just taking a breather. I've just crawled over a mile!"

Mel was still catching her breath when suddenly the gravity inverted! She was sent in an uncontrolled slither towards the tunnel mouth. What was happening?

She screamed and twisted in the air before impacting on a soft, springy surface.

"You did that on purpose!" she admonished the remote Time Lord.

His denial did nothing to calm her temperament. Instead she climbed to her feet and looked around.

"Socks!" She cried, for that was what she was standing on a mountain of!

The Doctor instructed her to hold one up for him to see, and she did so.

"I lost that sock half a millennia ago," he announced.

Mel sniffed it cautiously. Well-laundered, probably some thousand years before Mel was even born, in fact!

"It never came out of the wash," the Doctor continued. "Do you know what this means, Mel?"

"Yes: we can open a used-sock store."

"We'd clean up!" the Doctor punned, and Mel groaned.

"No," he went on seriously. "I think we've just found where all of the lost socks go."

"Here? But why?"

"I don't know, Mel. We'll have to find out who's responsible and sock it to them."

Mel dropped the amulet into the sock. "There. You can come out again when you're ready to behave!"

She took stock of her surroundings. The chamber she was in was a vast pantheon, containing not only the mountain she was standing on, but innumerably more, all of varying colours. The walls sloped inwards, creating a vast cone with a single bright star at its apex.

The hole she had fallen through was a small circle in the roof. There would be no exit that way unless she grew wings!

She began to trudge down the side of the mountain.

The Doctor looked up as the screen resolved once more.

"You're not going to believe this, Doctor!"

"I can believe anything," he said in sulky contraposition.

Ahead of Mel there was something moving.

"People, Doctor, and they're made entirely of socks!"

"Socks?" The Doctor sprang from the console. "Socks?" He stepped up to the screen. "Socks?!" he repeated.

"I heard you the first time," Mel chided. She shifted position in her concealment amongst the footwear to allow the Doctor a better look through the bug.

In the distance were two bipedal figures, their bodies paradoxically composed of the self-same silk, woollen and synthetic podiacal apparel that Mel was currently concealed in.

They had striped socks for eyes and sock puppet mouths. They walked with a lubberly gait, ungainly and gawky. There were nasty tube-like weapons clasped by their sides. Mel did not want to see what would happen if the weapons were fired, least of all at her!

"Are you getting this?" she squeaked.

"Oh course, Mel," came the answer. "Stop flustering."

"I am not flustering," Mel was adamant. "What are they?"

There was a pause and a sigh. "How should I know? Perhaps it's a bunch of tourists who wandered in by accident. Maybe that's their native costume."

"Socks?!"

"It's not too far-fetched. One of my previous..."

"Doctor!"

"What is it now?"

Mel wordlessly held up the amulet to show the sock person who had sashayed up behind her and directed his firearm at her cranium.

The Doctor sprinted back through the TARDIS corridors, perplexed by this current imbroglio.

Never before had he encountered anthropomorphic footwear, neither had he expected to! He was frantically searching his mind for an apposite occurrence in his previous lives. There were the glove-people of Gerprologranious of course. He remembered perplexion at their pernicious plans. He and Peri had foiled them in the end using a good deal of guile and cunning, not to mention washing detergent.

He skidded to an abrupt halt before the hole in the TARDIS. For the first time he regretted resisting Mel's attempts to shorten his girth. If he had, he might have been able to squeeze into the fissure.

Mel might be doomed!

He examined the edge of the hole. If only it were a minute fraction larger!

The Doctor struggled out of his multicoloured coat and began pushing his way into the hole. He could get through, but only at the cost of his beloved coat! Could he survive without it?

Quickly he pushed his way down the conduit. As he propelled himself rapidly towards the conclusion, his mind raced over the possibilities. He was no expert on orthogenesis, particularly not pertaining to sock evolution, but he suspected artificial intervention.

Suddenly he remembered: Mel had mentioned the bizarre gravitational effects at the other end of the tube.

Too late!

The hole expelled him bodily! He tumbled head over heels into the accumulation of footwear, arms flailing.

Mel was brought up short before the construction. It was made of socks! The walls were woven of a multitudity of shades and the door was a flap of knotted socks. To be honest, she was beginning to get sick of the sight of socks.

The sock person pulled the flap aside and motioned Mel in.

Inside, there was a lot of socks. It wasn't much different from outside.

There was a large throne of concealed sock-matter, on which was seated a broadly proportioned sock person, with a woven crown of socks.

"H... Hello?" Mel hesitated. She had no idea of the proper protocol for addressing sock nobility.

An orifice in the King opened, and the air was filled with a foul smell. Mel gagged.

The King gestured angrily with a starched sceptre. What could he mean?

"I'm sorry, I don't understand," Mel said helplessly.

Another orifice opened and a second smell combined with the first. Mel clutched a hand to her mouth. A third smell began wafting around and she struggled to still her poor stomach.

The King struck a pose of impatience.

Too late Mel realised the problem: She was trying to speak in sounds while the King was trying to speak in smells!

"Wait!" she shouted vainly as the guard dragged her away.

"Breathtaking."

The Doctor stood aloft the towering pile of socks and appraised the outlook. Great dunes of multicolour stretched as far as the eye could see. He felt a sudden pang of melancholy for his poor lost jacket, all alone at the other end of the tunnel.

Could the accumulated lost laundry of twentieth century Earth be concentrated here? What manner of force could bring them here, and for what end? Could the Rani be up to some evil machination? Perhaps the Master had concocted some diabolical plan to destroy him and his companion.

The Doctor set his face in a scowl of worry and pulled a tracking device from his trouser pocket. The device was attuned to the pendant which Mel possessed. It beeped, as such devices do, and indicated to him the direction he should take.

He began striding rapidly down the hill.

The cell was a simple hut with no door and barely enough room to crouch. Four of the sock people had lifted it on their shoulders and dropped it over her. Even with the benefit of her superb fitness, Mel couldn't lift the edge to escape. Besides, there was a sock person on guard right outside.

She lifted the transmitter to her mouth and whispered urgently into it. "Doctor? Are you there?"

"Yes." came the answer.

But not from the transmitter!

The Doctor's curly mop was poked under the rim of the wall!

"Doctor!" Mel almost jumped up before she remembered the proximity of the ceiling. "What about the guard outside?"

The Doctor grinned. His hand thrust under the wall and waved a sock. "Simple knot theory: I found the crucial knot. I'm rather afraid he came to pieces."

"Doctor!"

"Oh, don't look so shocked, Mel," the hand dropped the sock and it began wriggling of its own accord. "They appear to be gestalt organisms. He'll reassemble himself eventually. Now, let's get you out of here."

With not a little difficulty, the Doctor held the wall open long enough for her to squirm her way out.

Mel jumped up and straightened her trouser suit.

"They communicate by smell, Doctor," she informed him.

He nodded thoughtfully, not moving. She tugged at his shirt sleeve. "How are we going to talk to them?"

The Doctor absently produced an object from his pocket and handed it to her.

"A can of beans? Oh, Doctor!"

The Doctor smiled thinly and took the can back. "Mel, I think it might be better if we beat a hasty retreat."

"Why?"

The Doctor pointed behind her where a large number of sock people waving spears were bearing down on them. "Don't just stand there gawking, Mel. Run!"

The Doctor and Mel lead the creatures on a willy-nilly chase across the dunes. They were almost yapping at Mel's heels for much of the time, an undesirable arrangement to be sure.

"Doctor," she called ahead. "You're leading us somewhere, aren't you."

"Your cognisance is commendable, Mel," he fired back, engrossed in his studies.

"Hardly, your eyes haven't left that tracking device." She drew to a halt beside him. "Where are you taking us?"

The Doctor waved the device. "I'm getting some strange readings."

Mel looked around while the Doctor was procrastinating. It was peaceful and idyllic here. The socks were all plaid and soft pastel tones. She was beginning to think that maybe socks weren't all bad, when she saw a movement.

"Doctor," she was alarmed.

"What is it now?" His impatient tone didn't inspire confidence in his tracking abilities.

"Something's coming for lunch, and I think we're on the menu!"

The Doctor saw it too! A huge fin of socks arched up through the ground, cutting leviathan-like towards them! The beast was of gigantic proportions; the Mothra of the sock ecosystem!

"Melanie, I suggest we run very quickly in the other direction."

"Good idea, Doctor."

The Doctor took her hand and they dashed between the dunes. Mel looked back and screamed as a gaping mouth elevated from the terrain, sock teeth flapping menacingly. The Doctor pulled her onwards.

As they rounded another dune, a guard leapt out at them, provoking another shriek from Mel. They dodged around the startled sock person, spinning him around.

Mel shouted a warning, but the ravening beast in pursuit swallowed the guard down whole.

"Doctor, that was horrible!" she shouted.

"Don't worry, Mel! I think we're about to experience a peripeteia!"

"What?"

The Doctor pointed. They had managed to run around in a circle, and the pursuant's tail was exposed. At the very end, the crucial knot waved tantalisingly. The Doctor lunged!

"Keep it busy, Mel!"

Easier said than done!

Mel wheeled and started a new course. The monster turned from the Doctor to follow her. He was left struggling to maintain his grip on the whipping tail, digging his fingernails into the knot, trying to untie it. He strained at the fabric, gradually loosening the knot enough to begin untying it. Mel's screams indicated that he didn't have much time!

With a great turbulence, the tail whipped around. The Doctor fell clear, and the knot was still ravelled!

Desperation looming, he threw himself once more upon the tail and tore at the nodule. Mel's distant screams truncated ominously.

inally the knot came free! The heaving beast completely unravelled, tail to tip, disintegrating into its component socks.

The Doctor stood up, dusting his hands off and grinning from lobe to lobe. Mel was struggling from beneath the fallen leviathan.

"Ah, Mel," He said cheerfully. "It doesn't look like you made a very sockulent morsel."

Mel groaned, wadded a ball and threw it at him.

They finally attained their goal. The Doctor's beeping tracer led them up the side of a dune to a small crater.

Mel halted in astonishment. The hollow was filled with a slurping green liquid, pustulous bubbles bursting on its surface. As if this weren't enough, a steady, if light, rain of socks pattered down from the sky.

As the two companions watched astounded, a delivery of socks tumbled from above and plopped into the tumultuous liquid. They floated on the broiling surface before detaching and swimming to shore of their own accord!

"Ah, the miracle of life!" the Doctor was first to his senses. "New-born socks venturing out into a hostile world for the first time."

"Enough of the nature host commentary, what is that stuff?" Mel couldn't take her eyes off the frothing slime.

It gurgled at the Doctor as he looked closer. "No, it can't be!"

It was!

"Muskatozene-80!"

The Doctor had encountered the strange chemical on a trip to the planet of Karfel. It had the unique ability to warp matter, perverting it into bizarre genetic patterns. He and Peri had only just survived that adventure, and Peri had almost fallen victim to the chemical herself.

He wasted no time in explaining all of this to Mel, who remembered it all from the TARDIS data banks anyway, due to her photographic memory.

"That's all very well, Doctor," she said. "But what are we going to do about it? And where are all these socks coming from?"

The Doctor gestured at the glowing orb above their heads. "That's not a sun; it's an error in the block transfer computations which govern the TARDIS' internal dimensions."

"Oh!"

The Doctor looked at Mel.

"I was trying to upgrade the gymnasium," she admitted, pursing her lips in dismay. "The TARDIS manual had some practice exercises in block transfer to work through. Sorry."

"Sorry? Sorry?"

"I was sure I deleted them all!" she protested.

The Doctor stroked his chin in thought before smiling. "There's one or two inaccuracies in the manual. It's not your fault. Now let's see if we can clear up this mess."

The Doctor finished with a flourish. "There!" It had been quite clever, his idea to use the uncertain geography of the erroneous chamber to escape to the console room.

"What have you done?" Mel asked.

He tapped a control soundly and whisked past her. The scanner screen displayed a rocky void; a planet in the middle of nowhere.

"I'm placing the socks on a barren world where they can grow and expand. Atonement, if you will, for the Vervoids."

Mel remembered the charge of genocide with a shudder. The Doctor's evil persona had almost had him executed for that. "But what about the people who owned the socks?"

"No, Mel! The socks are a new race now. They must be allowed to roam freely, as all sentient socks should."

Mel had heard enough hyperbole to last her several lifetimes, and unless the Doctor felt like donating her one of his, she didn't have any to spare! "But where did the chemical come from? This Muskatozene-80?"

"Ah, I believe that came through the warp in the same manner as the socks." He looked insufferably pleased with himself.

"Someone was washing a chemical?"

"No, I suspect it was vacuumed up from a storeroom somewhere." He grinned and ruffled her hair. "It's over now. I've eliminated the error in the internal architecture circuits which created our little conundrum, so it won't happen again."

"Great, so let's go do some adventuring!"

Deep within the TARDIS's bowels, a room opened up.

In that room, a warp formed.

And from that warp, a small cluster of paperclips fell...

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