By TERRANCE d.i.c.kS.
1. Abduction of an Earthling
People disappear. There's nothing illegal about walking out of your old life, changing your name, getting another job in another town or another country. Sometimes there may be a more sinister explanation. In criminal circles people have been known to drop out of sight - and never reappear. There are rumours that the concrete pilings that support some of our new motorways are hiding grisly secrets. Even in a small country like England there are wild stretches where a body can be hidden and never found. Some disappearances have far stranger explanations - like the disappearance of George Morris.Mr Morris was an a.s.sistant bank manager in a small country town. Tall, slim, with horn-rimmed gla.s.ses and pleasant open face, he was about as average a specimen of his kind as you could wish to find. He was fortunate in that he lived close to his work. Most days he didn't even take the car. Twenty-minutes brisk walking across the common took him from the front door of the little High Street bank, across a pleasantly wild and unspoiled common and up to the front door of the big house in a quiet country lane.On this particular evening he telephoned his wife just before he left the bank and told her, as he told her every weekday evening, that he would be home in twenty minutes. Mrs Morris said, 'Yes, dear,' went to the drinks cabinet and poured him a gla.s.s of medium-dry sherry. Twenty minutes later she would hear his key in the lock.Sometimes she found herself wis.h.i.+ng George would be a little less predictable.As it happened, George Morris's life was about to become very unpredictable indeed.He strode briskly out of the town, across the common and followed his usual path which led through a clump of trees, down into the little hollow and then on home. It was a fine summer evening, he wasn't taking work home, so he was quite unenc.u.mbered, no rain coat, no brolly, not even a briefcase, and he marched smartly through the green countryside, a faintly incongruous figure in his dark business suit.At the top of the little hollow he stopped in utter astonishment. There was a square metal shape, squatting there in the centre of the hollow. At close range it looked enormous, the size of a small building. It seemed to be made of heavy steel plates, scarred and pitted with rust. Morris walked cautiously up to it.There was a clanking, grinding sound, and a door slid open in the side. A group of men came out, extraordinary men in wild, barbaric, vaguely military-looking clothes. The leader was big-bellied and bearded, with cunning little eyes in a piggy face. The man behind him was taller, with a stubble of grey beard on his chin. More men appeared, tough savage-looking types with oddly shaped weapons in their belts.To Morris's indignation two of them darted round behind him, gripping his arms. He struggled wildly, but found he was quite helpless. 'What's going on?' he demanded indignantly. 'Is this some kind of student rag?'No one answered.The burly, bearded one, obviously the leader studied Morris thoughtfully, as if checking him off against some mental specification. Then he nodded. The tall thin one took a small silver cylinder from his pocket and pressed it to Morris's neck. Immediately, Morris became quiet and still. He was more or less asleep on his feet as they led him into the s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p. Slowly, lumberingly, the s.h.i.+p took off. It gathered speed, dwindling rapidly it shot up into the summer sky, then vanished completely as it entered hypers.p.a.ce.Morris remained under electronic sedation for the long voyage across the galaxy. It was when he awoke that the nightmare really began.As it happened, the kidnapper's s.p.a.ce craft was converging with another, even more extraordinary s.h.i.+p, a s.p.a.ce/time craft in the form of a square blue box with a flas.h.i.+ng light on top - a police box of a type used on Earth in the twentieth century.It was called the TARDIS and it was the property - or at least it was currently in the possession of - a wandering renegade Time Lord known as the Doctor.The TARDIS had many unusual features, among them that of being dimensionally transcendental, small on the outside, infinitely larger on the inside.In the brightly lit central control room of the TARDIS, the Doctor was hard at work. At this time in his lives, he was a very tall man with wide staring eyes and a mop of curly hair. Much of the time he wore a long elegant coat, something between overcoat and smoking jacket, made of some reddish, velvety material and cut in a vaguely Edwardian style.Just now the Doctor was in his s.h.i.+rtsleeves, and wearing an ap.r.o.n round his waist. The coat, together with an incredibly long multi-coloured scarf and a broad-brimmed soft hat were hanging on an old-fas.h.i.+oned coat-stand, that looked strangely out of place in the control room.At this particular moment, the Doctor wasn't actually controlling the TARDIS. He was leaving this to his Time Lady companion, Romana, a fair-haired, cla.s.sically good-looking young woman with an impressively high forehead and an air of aristocratic hauteur. Romana had a great sense of her own dignity - which sometimes suffered in her a.s.sociation with the Doctor.The task presently occupying the Doctor was the repair of K9, who had been temporarily immobilised by a rash dip in the sea. In appearance a kind of robot dog, K9, as he would be the first to tell you when in good health, was a self-powered mobile computer with defence capabilities. If anything, the little automaton had an even greater sense of dignity than Romana. For the time being however, K9 was lying mute and immobile on a table, his circuits corroded by brine. The Doctor, who loved a good tinker, was happily working away at K9's innards with his sonic screwdriver, leaving Romana in charge of the many-sided central control console.The Doctor worked absorbedly for some time, occasionally muttering to himself, odd, disjointed phrases like, 'Aha!' 'That's it' and 'Where did I put those electro-pliers?' In between times, he whistled an old Martian lullaby between his teeth.For some reason Romana found all this very irritating. She moved around the console, adjusting controls and checking dials, shooting the Doctor an occasional glance of irritation.At last the Doctor looked up. 'Nearly there, Romana. This is the delicate bit. You'd better stop the TARDIS, we don't want any nasty jolts.' Romana studied the navigational console. 'We seem to be in the Prion Planetary System at the moment. We'd better land.'The Doctor frowned. The Prion Planetary System sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn't remember whether what was familiar was good or bad. 'Never mind, hovering will do.'As always, Romana felt her way was best. 'You're sure, Doctor? There's a planet called Tigella that looks quite handy.'The Doctor was brooding over K9's circuits. 'Tigella? Never heard of it.' 'Well, there's one called Zolfa-Thura as well. You must have heard of that, it's in all the history books.''They're all in someone's history books. What's so special about Zolfa-Thura?''A great technological civilisation. Supposed to have made incredible breakthroughs in energy-matrix technology. Destroyed itself in some mysterious internal war. A whole great civilisation blown away to sand and ashes. Now all that's left is the screens.''Quite. What screens?''Enormous metal screens, five of them set up on the surface of the planet for some long-forgotten purpose. The Screens of Zolfa-Thura.''Oh, those screens . . .' The Doctor's head popped up. 'Of course! I've been to Tigella. You did say Tigella, didn't you?''That's right.''Well, I've been there.'Romana looked at him in exasperation. It was understandable that the erratic course of the Doctor's many lives should sometimes leave him confused about when and where he'd been. But did he really have to be quite so scatterbrained? 'You've been to Tigella? When?''Oh, some time ago. Terribly nice chap called Zastor showed me round. Remind me to get in touch with him some time. Tell you what, I'll do it now!'He made for the control console, but Romana headed him off. 'Can't we just do one thing at a time? I'll set the controls to hover, Doctor, you finish repairing K9, then we'll send a message to Tigella.''First things first, eh?' said the Doctor approvingly.'Exactly.''Though not necessarily in that order.' With this baffling observation, the Doctor went back to his work.Deep below the surface of Tigella they were in trouble. It is no easy matter to move a whole civilisation underground. Without the natural resources of sun and air and running water, you need power, a great deal of it - power for heat and light and air-conditioning, power for hydroponic farms, for food storage and a hundred other needs. Fortunately, the Tigellans had power in enormous quant.i.ties, power from a unique inexhaustible source, that was the centre of their religion and basis of their civilisation, the Dodecahedron. A great crystal had mysteriously descended from the skies in the distant past. Now enshrined in the Power Room, the Dodecahedron was the mystic, glowing core of all Tigellan life. But the Dodecahedron was failing. Not completely of course, or even continually. Some of the time it glowed as brightly as ever, powering the entire underground civilisation. But recently, the power had begun to fluctuate. Sometimes it would suddenly fail, sometimes, even more dangerously, there would be an unexplained surge. And the fluctuations were getting more frequent...The whole of the interior of Tigella was honeycombed with caves and tunnels. Over the years these had been extended and developed by the Tigellans as their civilisation grew. The Tigellans called them walkways, and here or there one might still see a patch of exposed rock behind the metal cladding of the tunnels, or the occasional rock-walled chamber, still in its natural cave-like state.At the end of one of the service tunnels, close to the Power Room, an attractive young woman called Caris was frantically at work on a smoking control panel, watched by a terrified, white-faced technician. The panel had suddenly gone into overload and Caris had been sent to deal with it. She was a Savant, one of the scientific and technical caste of Tigella, and like the rest of her Guild she wore a neat white quilted jacket, trimmed with black at the belt and collar, black trousers and boots. Her s.h.i.+ning yellow hair was neatly trimmed in a plain functional style.Working against time, Caris struggled frantically to replace a burnt-out power unit and prevent a major overload. She had almost succeeded when another inexplicable power surge made all her work in vain. She looked at the power gauge and shouted, 'Look out, it's going to blow!' Covering her face with her hands Caris threw herself backwards, just as the panel exploded with a blinding flash.The technician at her side was not so quick, or not so lucky. He fell screaming to the floor, his hands to his face.Caris operated her portable communications set, relieved to find it still working. 'Emergency, emergency! Burn-out on walkway nine. Medical and lighting a.s.sistance needed immediately.'Not far away in Central Control Caris's voice came crackling out of a loudspeaker. The enormous control room, lined with instrument panels from floor to ceiling, was the nerve centre of Tigellan civilisation, monitoring and controlling the energy flow produced by the Dodecahedron in the Power Room. Now the power was out of control, and here too lights were fading and brightening again, dials flickering wildly.At the main control desk sat Deedrix, one of the inner group of Chief Savants, monitoring the flow of emergency messages, and issuing orders to deal with the crises that constantly arose. He wore the same neat black-and-white uniform as Caris, and like her, his blonde hair was trimmed short and neatly brushed. There was a close resemblance between all the Savants - their enemies said they all looked and thought alike.Deedrix acknowledged Caris's message and issued a rapid stream of orders. He switched back into Caris's circuit. 'Are you hurt, Caris?' There was more than professional concern in his voice. He waited tensely until Caris's voice came back.'No. One of my technicians got a flash-burn, but it's not too serious.''Good. Medical detail has been despatched.'Another message came through. 'Air Purification Unit One is malfunctioning.'Deedrix switched to another channel. 'Open air vents three to eight in Unit One.'A shadow fell across the control desk, and he glanced up to see a cowled figure standing over him. Deedrix jumped to his feet. Despite the simplicity of his monk-like robe, this tall white-haired old man was perhaps the single most important person on the planet. This was Zastor, Leader of all Tigella.'Forgive me, Zastor, I did not see you enter.''Be seated, Deedrix, this is no time for ceremony. You must continue with your work.'Another message came through, though this time a rea.s.suring one. 'Power levels steady on all fronts. Irrigation levels holding.'Deedrix gave a sigh of relief. 'Thank you. Clearing all channels.' He slumped back in his seat. 'That seems to be it - till next time.'Zastor looked compa.s.sionately at his weary face. 'Well, Deedrix, how bad is it?'Deedrix said steadily, 'Very bad indeed, sir. We can't control the power levels much longer. If these surges go on there'll be complete breakdown - and the end of all Tigella.'
2. The Deons
Zastor looked worriedly at Deedrix for a moment. The young Chief Savant was one of the most brilliant members of his Guild - and one of the most cool-headed. A man to underplay a crisis, rather than exaggerate...Zastor glanced round the gleaming control room with its multiplicity of multi-coloured control panels, their lights winking steadily. 'All this, and yet you are helpless? So much for science.' Even as he spoke Zastor knew the criticism was unfair.Predictably, Deedrix sprang to the defence of his Guild. 'We can do nothing without a detailed investigation of the Dodecahedron, and that the Deons will not permit!''That is so,' agreed Zastor, sadly and a little helplessly.Although Zastor was Leader of Tigella, he ruled over a divided people. Everyone on Tigella belonged to, or at least supported, one of two groups - the Savants and the Deons. Evenly matched in size, power and influence, the two groups were irrevocably opposed over one crucial factor - the Dodecahedron. To both parties the Dodecahedron was a kind of miracle, mysterious and all-powerful. Even its arrival on the planet was shrouded in mystery. Legend said simply that it had descended from the skies.To the Savants, however, the Dodecahedron was a miracle of science, to be studied observed and ultimately used to benefit Tigellan civilisation. Most leading Savants agreed that the energy they were drawing from the Dodecahedron, sufficient though it was to power the entire planet, represented but a fraction of the device's potential.And there was the difference. To the Savants the Dodecahedron was a device. To the Deons it was a G.o.d.Now that the Dodecahedron seemed to be failing them, the reactions of the two parties were more opposed than ever. To the Savants the power surges were a malfunction, to be investigated and corrected. To the Deons, they were punishment for the sins of Tigella, to be dealt with by penitence, meditation and prayer.The only link between the two factions was Zastor - a Leader with no real power to act, since he had always to balance one side against the other. At the same time Zastor was a figure of supreme importance, since he alone could save Tigella from a bitter civil war. It was not an easy position.Zastor looked sympathetically at the angry young Savant. 'I understand, Deedrix. Believe me, I understand.''I've always argued -' began Deedrix.Zastor chuckled. 'That is most certainly true!'Deedrix gave a reluctant smile - trust Zastor to defuse the situation - but he was not to be distracted. 'For thousands of years our lives have been dominated by a mystery. The Dodecahedron belongs to all of us, not just to the Deons.''Whatever you think of their opinions, their religion deserves respect.' 'Religion,' snorted Deedrix. 'I might just as well wors.h.i.+p this control console.''Perhaps you do in a way,' said Zastor gently. Deedrix sighed and gave up the argument. He touched a control. 'Control to walkway nine. Update on the burn-out, please.'In the walkway, Caris straightened up from her work, mopping her forehead. The burned technician, a dressing on his face, was being lifted onto a stretcher by the medical team. Caris and a replacement technician were working under emergency lighting from portable power packs, welding a new transformer into place.Caris spoke into her com-unit. 'I'm replacing the transformer now, Deedrix. There'll be no power for about three hours.' Bitterly she added, 'Now will you believe I'm right?'Deedrix said formally, 'Thank you, Caris. Acknowledged and understood.' He looked challengingly at Zastor. 'Caris seems to feel that recent events add weight to her arguments.''This ridiculous scheme of hers to re-inhabit the surface, face the attacks of the vegetation?' Zastor shuddered. 'It would take years of preparation.''Decades, more likely.''So, we agree for once?''As it happens I don't much favour the idea myself,' admitted Deedrix.'There are better ways in my view - like learning to use the full power of the Dodecahedron.' He leaned forward urgently. 'But at least Caris and her friends have a plan - a rational, scientific plan.''A plan which the Deons have declared a blasphemy.''You could over-rule them, Zastor!''And how long would I remain Leader if I did?' It was the old dilemma. If Zastor was seen to favour either side he would be instantly overthrown, to be replaced in all probability, by someone far worse.'I know your problems, Zastor. But I tell you this, and I speak as a Savant, one who has worked all his life to understand these things. Unless somebody does something soon, our safe and bountiful city may well be on the edge of total extinction. You are leader, Zastor - the responsibility is yours.'Zastor brooded for a moment, and then bowed his head. 'Very well. I will send a message to Lexa.'In the cathedral-like hush of the huge Annexe to the Power Room, Lexa, High Priestess of the Deons, was deep in meditation, surrounded by her purple-robed acolytes. They were grouped round the great triangular rock that dominated the centre of the room.Lexa was a tall handsome woman, sumptuously dressed in the elaborate regalia of a Deon priestess, her long hair hanging free from beneath her high-crowned ceremonial head-dress.It was dark and silent in the huge circular chamber, lit only by flames of the ceremonial torches in their brackets on the walls, and occasionally by the fitful glare that came from the arched doorway to the Power Room. The acolytes, robed and head-dressed like Lexa, though less elaborately, sat around her in a semi-circle, soothed and half hypnotised by the low energy-hum that came from the Power Room. This was the Ceremony of Concurrence, the most important ritual of the Deon religion.Lexa looked up in annoyance when the black-uniformed, black-helmeted guard appeared in the doorway of the Annexe. 'Well?'The guard approached, bowed deferentially and handed her a scroll, bearing Zastor's seal.She opened it, read the lengthy message and rose angrily to her feet. 'No!' The acolytes crowded round her, but dared not speak.'No!' said Lexa again. 'Zastor is our Leader, but he has no right to lead us into sacrilege!'She waved the acolytes back to their places. 'Resume the Concurrence. I shall explain this matter to Zastor and the Savants - yet again!'The acolytes bowed their heads. Lexa strode determinedly from the Annexe, and along the walkway to the stairway that led to the higher levels. As she reached the bottom of the staircase, she saw Zastor waiting at the top. It was typical of him that rather than waiting for her to attend him, as was his right as Leader, he had come to escort her.When they reached the top of the staircase, Zastor said disarmingly. 'I see that you are angry, Lexa.''It is not me whom you have angered, it is the Power,' replied Lexa forbiddingly.'For the moment at least, its anger seems to be under control. And so perhaps should ours be.'They began walking along together. 'The Savants have some proposals,' Zastor went on. 'Proposals that will help to solve our problems, or so they believe.''Belief!' scoffed Lexa. 'It is a word too great for their small minds. They are children, wilful, ignorant and lost.''We shall all be lost, Deons and Savants alike - if the Power fails us.' 'Where are we going?' asked Lexa.'To the debating chamber, to listen to the proposals of the Savants,' replied Zastor placidly.'I warn you, Zastor, this is not a matter for compromise.''Lexa, I'm an old man, with less faith, perhaps, than you. Yet I think you trust my judgement, do you not?'After a moment's pause Lexa said grudgingly, 'Yes...''Then hear the proposals of the Savants. They ask only to be allowed to make a few measurements, some calculations. They will not even touch the Dodecahedron.''They will not even enter the Power Room,' said Lexa grimly. 'No one can revoke our ancient laws - not even you, Zastor.'It was unfortunate that at this precise moment they were pa.s.sing the door to Central Control just as Deedrix came out on his way to the Debating Chamber, and he joined in the argument. 'And not even your precious Concurrence, Lexa, can revoke the laws of science.'Lexa rounded angrily on him. 'Now see here, Deedrix - 'Zastor stepped between them. 'Deedrix, Lexa, enough of this squabbling. Try to act like leaders.''Then lead us by example, Zastor. Make a decision!' urged Deedrix.For a moment Zastor looked tempted, then he shook his head. 'I cannot choose between one side and the other.' He sighed. 'I was afraid it would come to this. However, I have taken a decision of another kind.'Deedrix and Lexa looked at him in astonishment.'Some fifty years ago,' said Zastor, 'I knew a man who solved the insoluble by the strangest means. He seemed to see the threads that bind the universe together, and have the ability to mend them when they break.''A Savant?' asked Deedrix sceptically. 'Or a mystic, like Lexa here and her acolytes.''A little of each, I think, and much more of something quite different. As it happens he is near by, and he has asked to visit us. I have invited him to do so.'Deedrix frowned suspiciously. 'You've invited an Alien - here?'Zastor nodded.'Why?' demanded Lexa.'I think this situation needs his delicacy of touch.'At that particular moment, the Doctor's delicacy of touch was being used to make a few final adjustments to K9's circuitry. 'The reflexes seem to be all right now... but he'd better stay out of the sea in future, or he'll find himself in deep water.''It's hardly his fault if someone forgot to sea-proof him!''Yes, quite,' said the Doctor vaguely. 'Do you know where I put his manual?''Yes, Doctor.' Romana went to retrieve the manual, which was wedged under the too-short leg of the hat-stand, another of the Doctor's emergency repairs. She handed it to the Doctor.'K9 had better be all right, we may need him on Tigella.''The Tigellans aren't hostile.''The plants are, Doctor. According to my intergalactic guide and history, the surface of Tigella is covered with lush aggressive vegetation.'The Doctor flipped through K9's manual, 'You don't want to believe all you read in books, you know.''According to the history books, Doctor, it was the lush aggressive vegetation that made the Tigellans retreat beneath the surface. Didn't you notice it when you were there?''It was reasonably friendly to me, I think. Mind you, that was quite some time ago.' He looked up from the book. 'Post Repair Test Questions, it says here. Number One: Can you hear me?' He leaned towards the little automation. 'Can you hear me, K9?''Affirmative - Mistress.'The Doctor sighed. 'Not the most promising start. Pa.s.s me my sonic screwdriver, would you Romana?'In the Debating Chamber on Tigella the debate, or rather the row, was in full swing. The tiered ranks of seats were packed, Savants on one side, Deons on the other, and in a very short time the debate had degenerated into a shouting match.Zastor was on his feet. 'Savants! Deons!' he shouted. 'Remember the dignity of this place. Have we come here to squabble? If we cannot have agreement, let us at least have order!'He sat, and for a moment, there was a rather chastened silence.Then Deedrix jumped up. 'I've said all I have to say. I'm just wasting my time here. I'm needed back in Main Control.'Before he could leave, Lexa was on her feet. 'Do not let him leave. He should be arrested for heresy.''And crushed to death, no doubt,' sneered Deedrix.Lexa glared furiously at him. It was unfortunately true that in the early days of the Deon religion, offenders had been punished, or sacrificed, by ceremonial crus.h.i.+ng beneath a huge rock. There had been no sacrifices for many years now, though in view of the recent troubles, some of the more conservative Deons were in favour of reviving the custom.'You will respect the Deon laws, Deedrix,' said Zastor sternly.'How can one respect a creed that practices the cruel and primitive rite of human sacrifice? Is that how you propose to deal with our present troubles, Lexa, by making sacrifices to your monstrous myth?''Remember where you are, Deedrix,' said Zastor wearily. 'Be silent!''No! This should be said - and before all Tigella. The Dodecahedron is no G.o.d. It is an artefact. It was engineered!'This horrifying blasphemy drew a howl of protest and rage from the Deon acolytes. Fierce and exultant, Lexa's voice rose high above them all. 'The Dodecahedron descended from the heavens. It is our G.o.d!''Not from the heavens,' shouted Deedrix desperately. 'From somewhere - anywhere, but not the heavens.'Triumphantly Lexa confronted him. 'Then from where, Deedrix? Where?' It was the one unanswerable question. Defeated, Deedrix turned away.
3. The Screens of Zolfa-Thura
A fiery red sun blazed out of a clear blue sky onto burning yellow sands. Barren and featureless the desert stretched away in all directions. Only one thing - or, to be strictly accurate, five things - dominated the empty landscape: the screens. Five colossal metal screens of gun-metal blue, tilted at an angle to the heavens, propped up by ma.s.sive metal supporting struts: the Screens of Zolfa-Thura.A squat ugly shape appeared out of the clear blue sky. Down and down it came, revealing itself as an ancient star-s.h.i.+p, a blunt square shape of pitted and rusted metal plates, a flying junkyard, an intergalactic sc.r.a.pheap. It thumped clumsily down on the wide expanse of sand between the screens.The door creaked open and General Grugger swaggered out onto the sands; Grugger the Gaztak, burly, big-bellied, in boots and breeches and a long military overcoat covered with decorations, to none of which he was in the least ent.i.tled, with an extraordinary hat on his head, a cross between a Roman helmet and a flower-pot, all jewelled and spiked. Little squinting eyes in a cruel piggy face glanced round cautiously, alert for ambush. Behind him was Brotodac, his second-in-command, a great creaking skeleton of a man, with a stubble of white beard covering a long bony toothless chin, and wearing an a.s.sortment of military finery even, more tattered than that of his chief.Behind these two came their men, a motley, ragged, fierce-looking band. Gaztaks - the sc.u.m of the galaxy. Dressed like their chiefs, in whatever sc.r.a.ps of uniform, they could lay their hands on, wearing an a.s.sortment of knives, swords and blasters of all shapes and sizes, murderers, mutineers, s.p.a.ce-pirates, thieves, deserters, the criminal ragtag and bobtail of the cosmos.There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of Gaztak bands like this. They roamed the galaxy in their battered old s.p.a.ces.h.i.+ps, living on whatever pickings they could find, looting and stealing from anyone weaker than themselves. Grugger's band was typical enough, though perhaps rather smaller than most. General Grugger had once led a little mercenary army, carried in a mini-fleet of battered s.p.a.ce-cruisers. He had hired out to a local warlord on a primitive planet on the edge of the galaxy. Things had gone well for a while, but Grugger had made the mistake of choosing the wrong side.After the last disastrous battle he had been lucky to escape with just one s.h.i.+p and a handful of men, and of course the faithful Brotodac, the one person who never lost faith in Grugger's military genius.That was why General Grugger and his band had been reduced to accepting what was little more than an odd-job. The pay offered was good though - not that they'd seen any of it yet.Brotodac looked disgustedly around him. 'Sand everywhere, nothing but sand. The whole planet!'Grugger squinted thoughtfully up at the nearest of the towering screens. 'There's these things.''"Bring an Earthling to the Screens of Zolfa-Thura"', quoted Brotodac scornfully. 'I never liked this job.'Grugger beckoned to two of his men, and they led the still-dazed Morris out of the s.h.i.+p. He was conscious now, in a confused sort of way, conscious and terrified.Grugger looked at him. '"Male human, Caucasian, about two metres tall,"' he said in a satisfied voice. 'Just what the client ordered.''All right, we've delivered him. So who pays us?'Strange choking sounds were coming from Morris's throat.'Seems to be trying to say something,' said Grugger without much interest. Brotodac was still looking suspiciously around him. 'This could be a trap, you know!' He glared at the terrified Earthling. 'Him say something? What does he know?''Nothing,' croaked Morris. 'I don't know anything. What have I done?''No one knows anything,' said Grugger morosely.'But why me?''Why any of us? You don't think I do this through choice do you?'Sobbing with fear, Morris made a feeble attempt to escape from his guards. Grugger yawned. 'Better give him another one.'Brotodac fished out his silver cylinder and slapped it on Morris's neck. Morris became quiet and still.'I still think the message was genuine,' said Grugger obstinately. 'We'll wait.''Genuine?' growled Brotodac. 'We don't even know who sent it. There's no one here. Let's kill the Earthling and go.''Go where?' asked Grugger. 'Let's try thinking for a change.' He nodded towards the Earthling. 'Now why would anyone send clear across the galaxy for a creature like that?'Brotodac thought. But the question was too difficult. He gave up. 'No idea.''Me neither.'Suddenly the ground before them began to shake. The Gaztaks leapt back suspiciously, reaching for their weapons.Some little way ahead of them, between the screens an enormous square structure was rising out of the sand. The upper section was transparent, with some kind of pillar glowing inside, the lower part gleaming and metallic. The Gaztaks stared in astonishment as what was obviously a very large building, rose before their eyes out of the sand.Fully emerged, it was a ma.s.sive gleaming square structure, crowned with a transparent tower that looked somehow incomplete. A door slid open in the side of the building, and cool greenish light gleamed enticingly from inside. Everything was silent.Grugger began moving towards the door.Brotodac caught his arm. 'Don't! It must be a trap.''Shut up. Follow me.'Followed, at a cautious distance, by some of their men, they headed for the open door.On the threshold, Grugger paused for a moment, then went inside. Brotodac followed.They found themselves in a larger room, full of mysterious equipment, humming silently to itself. There were rows and rows of gauges, dials and control consoles, some free-standing, some built into the walls. What it was all for, why it had all risen so magically out of the sand, Grugger hadn't the faintest idea.On a stand in the centre of the room stood a huge cactus, almost the size of a man.Brotodac prowled round suspiciously. On top of one of the consoles he found a mysterious metal instrument, L-shaped, set with controls and a tiny screen. Instinctively, he scooped it up and slid it into one of the many pockets of his tattered military coat. It was standard Gaztak procedure to steal anything that wasn't actually nailed down.A deep slurred voice said, 'Arrival noted. Welcome, gentlemen!'Brotodac whirled round suspiciously, fearing he had triggered some alarm.'Don't be afraid,' said the voice mockingly.Grugger was frankly terrified, but he managed to summon up a sneer.'Afraid? Me? Who do you think you're talking to?''General Grugger, I presume, and Lieutenant Brotodac, together with their little band of fortune-hunters. There should also be an Earthling about somewhere.'Grugger nodded to one of the men in the doorway. 'Bring him.' He looked around. 'And you - what are you?' Already a wild suspicion was forming in his mind.'Forgive me,' said the voice smoothly. 'Most remiss of me. I am Meglos, only survivor of this planet.'Brotodac stared at Grugger in total bafflement. Grugger shrugged, and nodded towards the great cactus.'Well observed, General Grugger,' said the voice. 'I am the plant. A xerophyte to be precise.'Morris was shoved into the room by his guards. Grugger beckoned and the Earthling was brought to a halt in front of the plant.'Excellent, General Grugger,' said Meglos. 'You have served me well. Now, I have a real proposition for you ... 'In the debating chamber on Tigella, the wrangling was still going on, with Zastor vainly trying to keep order. 'This chamber will yield to my authority.''You've lost it,' said Deedrix mockingly. 'Delegated it to the Alien friend of yours.'For once Lexa was in agreement with him. 'A Time Lord, a non-believer. How can we trust him?''The Doctor's good faith is beyond question,' said Zastor.Deedrix laughed bitterly. 'Faith! That word again? What we need is knowledge.''The Doctor brings that too.''We have knowledge here, if only you would allow us to use it!'Lexa stood up. 'These arguments go round and round, and accomplish nothing. I shall seek guidance from the Power itself.'She was about to leave when Caris burst into the room, her hands and face still smudged with the grime of her work. 'I have something to say to this chamber.''No,' shouted Lexa, and a howl of protest from the Deon faction came to support her.Zastor held up his hand. 'Caris has risked her life often to help this city. Let her be heard.'Gradually the tumult died down.Caris faced the a.s.sembly. 'Even if we manage to restore the Power - or as the Deons would say, if the power condescends to restore itself - the bulk of the frozen food stocks will be spoiled. We shall have to return to the surface.'The Deons, and some Savants too, shouted in protest.
When Meglos finished speaking, the two Gaztak leaders were silent for a moment, stunned by the sheer audacity of the proposition.Then Brotodac looked at Grugger. 'He's crazy. Let's get our payment and go!''Gaztaks!' sneered Meglos. 'Pillagers of the galaxy! Thousands of little marauding bands like yours. And what's it all for?''Loot!' said Brotodac simply.'The motley collection of useless trophies! How long have you been acc.u.mulating them?''We've done it all our lives,' said Brotodac proudly.'And you accuse me of wasting your time.''Look,' said Grugger heavily. 'What you're asking us to do is impossible.''Not impossible - simply beyond your comprehension.''There's only one way into that city: through a man-eating jungle. And those Tigellans will guard that Dodecahedron with their lives; it's a G.o.d to them.'Brotodac nodded. 'That's right. And even if we reached the thing, they say it's too dangerous to touch.''Really, gentlemen,' said Meglos wearily. 'Do you think I haven't considered the hazards - and found ways to deal with them? But perhaps you're right to refuse. Your timidity worries me. I see you're not interested in real wealth, real power. So if Lieutenant Brotodac will return my Re-dimensioniser, we'll conclude our business.''Give it back, you fool,' snarled Grugger. 'What use is it to you? What do you know about ma.s.s conversion mechanics?'Sulkily Brotodac produced the Re-dimensioniser and slapped it back on the console.Thoughtfully, Grugger lowered his bulk into a chair. 'Let's not be too hasty, Meglos. I'm not saying I'm not interested, but I want to know a lot more about all this before I decide.'
The Doctor stared moodily down at the p.r.o.ne K9. 'Bit of a nuisance if we have to reprogramme all his constants.''It'll take forever,' said Romana gloomily. 'I'm worried about the power depletion. At this rate, he'll need recharging about every two hours.''Oh, I'll soon fix that. I happen to be an expert on power sources.''I see. This little job on Tigella won't take you long then?''Flying visit!' said the Doctor airily. 'All it needs is a quick service.''What exactly is the energy process, Doctor? Baryon multiplication?''Yes, something like that. They didn't actually let me look at it last time. Religious objections you see...''So the Dodecahedron was actually made here, on Zolfa-Thura?''Correct, General Grugger. Those primitive fools of Tigellans are using only a fraction of its potential.''A fraction? It powers their entire planet!''A mere fraction. These present fluctuations are simply part of its in-built programming. In its re-start mode, its output will be raised to a point where it could feed an entire galaxy.''That's impossible.''Within your limited frame of reference perhaps,' said Meglos impatiently.'Now that terms are agreed, shall we begin? You are clear about the procedure?'Grugger rose, went over to the main console and stood frowning down at it. He stabbed at a control. Two transparent plastic cylinders descended part-way from the ceiling, hanging suspended.At a nod from Grugger, a couple of his men led the Earthling forward, positioning him under one of the cylinders. Then they moved the plant on its stand until it was under the second cylinder.Grugger pressed another b.u.t.ton and the two cylinders came down till they reached the floor, completely enclosing both Meglos and the Earthling, each in a separate container.Meglos's voice boomed from within his transparent prison. 'Now, General Grugger, have I explained the procedure clearly?''Oh yes, I think I've got it clear.' Grugger pointed. 'This b.u.t.ton starts the transference process. This one releases you when it's finished.''Excellent! Then let it commence.'Grugger winked at Brotodac. 'Oh yes, we'll definitely let it commence.' Grugger walked round the container holding Meglos. He reached out and shook it, ensuring that it was firmly secured.Brotodac looked on uneasily. 'Shouldn't we get on with it? He looks ready to me. This b.u.t.ton wasn't it?'As Brotodac moved towards the controls, Grugger snapped, 'Get away from there.''What's the hold-up? I want to get off this planet.''So do I.' Grugger waved his hand around the room. 'But it would be a great pity to leave all this behind.'Brotodac beamed, his faith in Grugger vindicated. 'You've got a plan! We're going to leave him locked in there, steal everything we can find and then clear off!'Grugger slapped his hand down on the nearest console. 'How much do you reckon this would fetch on Pelagos?''Five million credits?' suggested Brotodac hopefully. 'We've struck lucky, haven't we?''Lucky?' Grugger tapped his own forehead significantly. 'Brains, my lad.'He looked round the room, pointing here and there. 'We can take that main console for a start. Be pretty heavy, though.''We could break it up.''And lower the value? It's a nice piece that!'Brotodac grinned happily. Looting was something he knew and loved. 'I'll get the others.' He went to the door, tried it and turned round indignantly. 'It's shut.''Then open it!''It won't open.' Brotodac frowned. 'It opened all right when we came in - automatically.'The voice of Meglos said. 'Exactly, gentlemen. Automatically!'Grugger looked at Brotodac. 'He's trapped us.''Didn't trust us,' said Brotodac mournfully.Meglos laughed evilly. 'Nothing so petty. I knew that as ardent pragmatists you would feel bound to attempt some variation of our arrangement, some adjustment to your own advantage. I wanted it to come sooner rather than later - so you could realise its futility.'Grugger and Brotodac looked crestfallen.The hateful, triumphant voice went on. 'I know you and your kind so well. If we are to co-operate, I want you to know me!'Still Grugger and Brotodac found nothing to say.'Well, gentlemen,' said Meglos silkily. 'Shall we now resume our original arrangements?' The voice hardened. 'Or shall we all descend into the earth together for another thousand years?'
4. Time Loop
There was an awkward silence.Grugger cleared his throat. 'I'm prepared to forget all about this incident!''I do hope not, General Grugger!'Brotodac understood the implied threat. 'We'll remember! We'll remember!''Good. The second b.u.t.ton please.'Grugger pressed the second b.u.t.ton and both cylinders lit up. Grugger and Brotodac stood watching in fascination.Gradually the giant cactus that was Meglos began to shrivel and deflate. It shrank and shrank until it was no more than a spiky green blob on the floor of the container.At the same time the body of the Earthling went rigid, and slowly took on the green colour of the cactus. Little spikes appeared on the skin of the face and hands, as gradually the personality of Meglos took over the Earthling's body.'I don't believe it,' muttered Brotodac.Grugger pressed the third b.u.t.ton and the green spiky figure of the Earthling stepped out - speaking with the voice of Meglos! 'We must work quickly. I've intercepted a Tigellan message.' Meglos hurried over to a communications console, adjusted controls and a diamond-shaped vision screen lit up. A face appeared on it, the face of a tall curly-haired man. Data began to flow across the bottom of the screen.Grugger glanced at it. ...usually known as the Doctor. Planet of origin: Gallifrey. Age...He could make nothing of it and turned away. 'Who is he?''A travelling Time Lord known as the Doctor - whose travels I shall now interrupt!'Meglos went over to yet another console and moved between one and the other making a series of delicate adjustments. 'Now, exactly where is he?' he muttered. 'And when?'
The Doctor had taken off his ap.r.o.n, was pacing up and down the TARDIS control room, leaving the final fiddly bits of K9's repairing to Romana, who had changed into a kind of red-velvet trouser suit for her trip to Tigella.The Doctor was deep in thought, and scarcely seemed to hear when Romana spoke to him. 'Where did you put the electro-pliers, Doctor?''In a cave... a sort of shrine,' said the Doctor answering a thought of his own.'The electro-pliers?''No, the Dodecahedron, on Tigella.' He stared at Romana. 'What?''The electro-pliers?'The Doctor fished in his pockets. 'Here.''Thank you.' Romana made a final adjustment, and K9's eye-screens lit up, his ears swivelled, and his tail antenna wagged. 'I think I've nearly finished.''Perfectly understandable they should be in awe of the thing,' said the Doctor, continuing his conversation with himself. 'Their whole way of life depends on it.'K9 's eyes went dim, and his antennae drooped. 'Oh blast!' said Romana.'Here we go again!'Distracted, the Doctor tripped over the now wobbly hat-stand, knocking his coat to the floor. 'What's the matter?''Now his probe circuit's jammed.''Oh, that's easy, just waggle his tail.' The Doctor picked up his coat and tossed it carelessly back on the stand.'All right. We've tried everything else.' Romana waggled K9's tail.His eyes lit up and his antennae quivered alertly. 'Thank you, Mistress, repairs complete.'Shoving the electro-pliers in her pocket, Romana straightened up, stretched, and walked over to check the console.'Well done, Romana,' said the Doctor kindly. 'You're developing a very sound grasp of this kind of high technology.''Developing? I was better qualified than you when I arrived!'The Doctor chose to ignore this. He went over to the table. 'K9, what do you know about the Prion Planetary System?'K9 chanted metallically, 'There was once an advanced hi-tech society on Zolfa-Thura, a more primitive one on Tigella. Zolfa-Thura destroyed itself in a global war. The planet is now featureless desert.''And now only Tigella's left,' said the Doctor thoughtfully. 'With the Dodecahedron...''Affirmative.'Suddenly Romana was back at the table, repairing K9. His eyes went dim. 'Oh blast! Here we go again!'The Doctor tripped over the hat-stand, knocking his coat to the floor.'What's the matter?''Now his probe-circuit's jammed!''Oh, that's easy, just waggle his tail' The Doctor picked up his coat, tossed it back on the stand.'All right, we've tried everything else!' Romana waggled K9's tail.His eyes lit up and his antennae quivered alertly. 'Thank you, Mistress, repairs complete.'The Doctor and Romana looked uneasily at each other. Something was very wrong.
Meglos chuckled silently as he watched the repeated sequence on his viewing screen. 'Flies trapped in amber. Not even the Doctor can escape from a chronic hysteresis!''A what?' asked Grugger uneasily.'A time loop. I have the Doctor trapped in a fold in time. All it requires is a little local reshaping of the continuum.''That's good,' said Grugger. 'That's very good!' He didn't really understand what Meglos was saying. What he did understand was that his new partner had a number of very unexpected and dangerous powers. Shape-changing, psychic transference, now time-engineering. Grugger decided to treat Meglos with the utmost caution, and not to betray him until he was sure it would be absolutely safe.'Makes no sense to me,' grumbled Brotodac.Meglos was studying the Doctor's face on the screen with peculiar intensity. 'His only respite is the short period before he loops back to the start. Whatever he does he will always return to that point.' Grugger laughed. 'Round and round, eh? For all eternity!' 'Exactly. An appropriate fate, don't you think, for a Time Lord?' said Meglos. His eyes were still fixed on the Doctor's face.
'Oh blast!' said Romana. 'Here we go again!'The Doctor tripped over the hat-stand, knocking his coat to the floor.'What's the matter?''Now his probe circuit's jammed!''Oh, that's easy, just waggle his tail.' The Doctor picked up his coat and tossed it back on the stand.'All right, we've tried everything else!' Romana waggled K9's tail.His eyes lit up and his antennae quivered alertly. 'Thank you, Mistress, repairs complete.''That's the third time,' said the Doctor explosively. 'What's happening?'Romana hurried over to the console and made a rapid check. 'The TARDIS seems to be working normally.''Then what is it?' muttered the Doctor. 'Repeated time cycles. It couldn't be a chronic hysteresis, could it?'Romana was appalled. 'I hope not. If it is, we'll be stuck here forever.'She was back at the table, repairing K9. 'Oh blast, here we go again!'Under the circ.u.mstances her words had a new and ironic meaning.The Doctor tripped over the hat-stand and his coat fell to the floor.'What's the matter?'
Meglos was hunched over the viewing screen, his hands fingering his face. Grugger meanwhile was trying to explain things to Brotodac. A difficult task, since Brotodac's understanding was severely limited, and Grugger himself didn't really know what he was talking about. As Grugger finished his explanation, Brotodac scratched his head, more bemused than ever. 'So this Meglos can bend time?''That's right. Bend it right into a loop.''I've never heard of that, have you? How's it done?''What does it matter how it's done?' asked Grugger, who had very little idea himself. 'The whole point is, the Doctor doesn't get to Tigella.''But he does, gentlemen,' said Meglos softly. 'He does!' He pressed a control and for a moment his whole body was bathed in a column of brilliant white light. The light faded, and Meglos swung round to face them. 'We mustn't disappoint the Tigellans!'Grugger and Brotodac gaped.The green colouring and the spikes of Meglos were gone. The features of the Earthling were gone. They were looking into the face of the Doctor.Meanwhile the Doctor, the real Doctor, was striding up and down the TARDIS, desperately trying to think of some escape. He slammed a fist into his palm. 'It's just no good! Every time we try to -'Romana was back at the table. 'Oh blast! Here we go again!'And so they did. Remorselessly, inevitably, the Doctor tripped over the wobbly hat-stand, knocking his coat to the floor. 'What's the matter?''Now his probe circuit's jammed.''Oh, that's easy, just waggle his tail.' The Doctor picked up his coat and tossed it back on the stand.''All right, we've tried everything else!'Romana waggled K9's tail and once again his eyes lit up and his antennae quivered, and once again he said metallically, 'Thank you, Mistress, repairs complete.'Romana and the Doctor dashed back to the console. 'Doctor, what can we try now? How can we break it?''I'm not sure. Try asking K9.'Romana ran to the table. 'K9 is there any way out of a chronic hysteresis?''Negative, Mistress. No known technological procedure.''What about stopping the time rotor, Doctor? There must be something.''No known technological procedure,' muttered the Doctor. 'No technological procedure...'Romana was back at the table. 'Oh blast! Here we go again!'
The Gaztaks watched in astonishment, as Meglos completed the process of transformation. He made a few final adjustments to his height, and the shape of his face. He studied the Doctor's clothes carefully, punched co-ordinates into a machine and disappeared into a cubicle, returning very shortly dressed exactly like the Doctor. He looked at their astonished faces and smiled. 'If you are ready, gentlemen?'Pre-setting the controls, Meglos led the way out of the laboratory across the burning sands towards the Gaztak s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p. As Meglos's laboratory sank slowly into the sand, the Gaztak s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p lumbered into the skies. The attack on Tigella had begun.
5. The Double
Meglos spent most of the short journey to Tigella in a disdainful silence. It was true that General Grugger's s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p was nothing to enthuse about. It was small and dark and cramped, with a grimy metallic interior. The instruments in the two-man c.o.c.kpit were almost obsolete, and the only concession to pa.s.senger comfort were the rows of hard uncomfortable seats that filled the body of the s.h.i.+p.Brotodac was at the controls, with Grugger behind. Meglos, now in clothes and appearance an almost perfect replica of the Doctor, sat beside him. The rows behind them were filled with Grugger's Gaztaks, who sat clutching their strange collection of weapons in phlegmatic silence, neither knowing nor caring where they were going. Soon they would land somewhere, and then they would rob and murder and pillage, just as they always did. That was enough. After all, they were Gaztaks.The shape of a planet swam up on a murky vision screen. Brotodac pointed. 'Tigella. Ten seconds to atmospheric entry. Activating heat s.h.i.+elds.' He thumped a control, and there was a slow grinding of heavy machinery. 'Heat s.h.i.+elds,' said Meglos patronisingly. 'What a fascinating vessel this is.'Grugger caught the sneer in his voice. 'It still works. And without it, you'd still be in your pot on Zolfa-Thura.'Brotodac turned. 'I've got a fix on the main city entrance. Are we putting down there?'Frontal attack had never been Grugger's style. 'No. A jungle landfall, a bit to the north.''Stand by for landing,' said Brotodac. 'Entering foliage now.'Flame blazing from its retro-rockets, the Gaztak s.h.i.+p smashed into the jungle like a falling meteor.
In the fluctuating light of the Power Room Annexe, Zastor stood waiting. After a moment, Lexa came out of the Power Room, her face grave.'Well, Lexa?' asked Zastor gravely.Lexa made no reply.From somewhere in the distance there came the sound of an explosion, followed by faint shouts and cries. Lexa and Zastor both knew that technicians and medical teams would be rus.h.i.+ng to deal with yet another crisis. Recently, the power surges had been more frequent than ever before.Reluctantly Lexa said, 'This Time Lord may visit us.''You will allow him to inspect the Dodecahedron?''On one condition. He must take the Deon Oath.''No! That would be an insult to our guest. How can we ask a Time Lord to swear allegiance to Ti, G.o.d of Tigella?'Lexa smiled coldly. 'Another chance for you to impress us all with your diplomacy, Zastor.'
The doors of the Gaztak s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p slid open, and Meglos, Grugger and Brotodac emerged. They stood in a tiny charred clearing, newly created by the blast of the s.h.i.+p's landing rockets. Outside the little circle of burned foliage, dense impenetrable jungle seemed to press in on them malignantly. Vines and shrubbery and reeds and oddly shaped plants were all crowded together, struggling for survival.Grugger looked round and shuddered. 'We wait here for one hour then?'Meglos nodded. 'One hour precisely.''Do we come and get you if anything goes wrong?'Meglos smiled the Doctor's smile, though with none of the humour and warmth. 'If something goes wrong? My dear General, I sometimes think you forget who I am!' He turned and strode away, forcing his way through the jungle as if he expected it to make way for him.'What a mind,' said Brotodac admiringly. 'I think he could do anything. Anything!'Grugger didn't care for this hero-wors.h.i.+p of their new ally. 'Don't think too hard, Brotodac, you'll burst something.'Brotodac watched the tall figure disappear into the jungle. 'I'll tell you something else - I like that coat!'
Once again, Deedrix was busy at Central Control, dealing with the unending flow of crises. Zastor and Lexa looked on. He despatched an emergency team to deal with the latest burn-out, and leaned back wearily. 'When will thisDoctor arrive, Zastor?''Soon. Very soon.''The moment he arrives, I want Caris to bring him here.''Having first filled his mind with scientific nonsense I presume,' said Lexa acidly.'I hope the Doctor will appreciate all our difficulties, Zastor,' said Deedrix pointedly.Zastor refused to be drawn. 'The Doctor has the maturity to respect many points of view.'An urgent voice came from the console. 'Temperature rising in food store.' Deedrix returned to his work.
Caris stood waiting at the City entrance. The entrance itself was a double door in a kind of stone blockhouse in the jungle. Inside, steps led downwards, to the safety of the underground city.Caris stared hungrily around at the jungle. 'We could inhabit the surface again,' she said fiercely. 'We could! If this Doctor fails us, we may have to!'There were two black-uniformed City guards flanking the gate. Caris glanced at them to see their reaction, but their faces were impa.s.sive. To them Caris's words were blasphemy, and they feared contamination.There was a rustling in the foliage and a figure stepped out of the jungle, a tall curly-haired man in a long, elegant coat. 'I am the Time Lord, the Doctor,' said Meglos. 'You are expecting me, are you not?'Caris bowed her head. 'Yes indeed, and you are most welcome. Please follow me.' She led the way into the City.
A panic-stricken voice blared from the console. 'Central storage banks overloading. Shall I close off receptor panels?''No,' snapped Deedrix. 'Not yet. Re-route surplus to section five, they have spare capacity.'Lexa came back into Control. 'Zastor! The preparations for the oath-taking ceremony are complete.'Deedrix looked up. 'What? You're really going to make him take that ridiculous oath? This is madness, Zastor.''It is necessary, Deedrix.'Caris appeared in the doorway. 'The Time Lord is here.' She stood aside as Meglos, in his Doctor shape, came into the room.Zastor said eagerly, 'Doctor, it's good to see you again.'The new arrival stared blankly at him. 'Again?'A little hurt, Zastor said, 'Of course it has been many years since we met. I must have changed greatly. I am Zastor, now Leader of Tigella.''Of course. I remember you well.''You've hardly changed at all, Doctor. A little older, a little wiser, eh?''Oh, much wiser, I a.s.sure you.' Brusquely dismissing Zastor, he turned to Deedrix. 'I gather your energy source has become a little capricious?''Capricious? It's totally out of control.''Indeed. You will excuse me?'Deedrix moved quickly aside, and the visitor took his place at the console, studying the banked rows of instruments. 'You employ some form of energy absorption system I presume?''A series of receptor panels, placed above the Dodecahedron. The radiated energy is absorbed and stored.' He pointed. 'It's measured here.''The panels can be closed down?''The central storage banks will be able to absorb the energy for about one hour. But it's extremely dangerous, of course, and with these fluctuations ... ''One hour is all I need. Turn them off.'Deedrix looked at Zastor, who nodded.Deedrix flicked a switch and spoke into the console. 'Close down receptor panels until further notice.''Excellent! Now take me to the Dodecahedron.'Zastor waved the distinguished visitor ahead of him. 'After you, Doctor. I'm sure you remember the way.'The visitor hesitated, then said smoothly. 'You are Leader now, Zastor. I will follow you.'Lexa stepped forward, barring the way. 'Time Lord! Before entering the Power Room, you must swear allegiance to Ti. You must take the Deon Oath.' Zastor looked anxiously at the visitor. 'A mere formality, Doctor, but a necessary one.''Well, Doctor,' demanded Lexa. 'Will you swear allegiance to Ti?'It was quite clear what she hoped the answer would be. But she was to be disappointed. 'With the greatest of pleasure. I'd be delighted. Indeed, I am most flattered that you should think me worthy. Will you lead the way?' Baffled, Lexa led the way from the control room. Zastor glanced curiously at the Time Lord. Of course, the Doctor was only being diplomatic. But, just for a moment, Zastor had had the distinct impression that his visitor would say or do anything to get inside the Power Room.
'All right, we've tried everything else,' said Romana. She waggled K9's tail.K9's eyes lit up, and his antennae quivered. 'Thank you, Mistress, repairs complete.'And once again the Doctor and Romana had a few brief minutes of freedom.'We can't get out of it,' cried Romana hysterically. 'We've tried everything.''That's what you said about repairing K9 -' The Doctor broke off. 'That's it. "We've tried everything." Of course!''What?''Romana, can you remember the rest of what you said?''I should do, we've been through it enough times.''That's how we'll get out! We'll throw it out of phase.''Go through the sequence deliberately?''Exactly. Before it comes round again.'Romana ran to the table. 'Hurry, Doctor, you were over there by the hat-stand.''Yes, of course. Right then. Off you go!''Oh blast, here we go again,' said Romana brightly.A little belatedly, the Doctor tripped over the hat-stand, knocking his coat to the floor. 'What's the matter?''Now his probe circuit's jammed!'The Doctor picked up his coat and tossed it onto the stand - and stood looking at Romana with his mouth open. He had forgotten his lines.Romana pointed frantically at K9's tail and the Doctor said very quickly, 'Oh-that's-easy-just-waggle-his-tail!'Suddenly time seemed to slow down as the re-enactment fought against the power of the chronic hysteresis.The Doctor and Romana spoke in slow groaning voices, and moved very, very slowly, as if wading through treacle.'All . . . right . . . we've . . . tried . . . everything . . . else,' said Romana laboriously. Very slowly, she waggled K9's tail.Even more slowly K9 responded. 'Thank ... you . . . Mistress . . .' Suddenly time snapped back to normal speed and K9 said crisply, 'Repairs complete.''Phase cancellation!' shouted Romana. 'We've done it.''Well done,' said the Doctor cheerfully. 'Mind you, for a moment there, I thought you'd forgotten your lines!'
Meanwhile another Doctor, the Meglos version, was standing on the huge triangular rock in the centre of the Power Room Annexe. There were ominous rusty brown stains around the base of the rock, though no one ever referred to them.Lexa was standing next to him on the rock, and they were surrounded by purple-robed acolytes bearing blazing torches. 'And never to transgress the laws of the Dodecahedron,' chanted Lexa.'And never to transgress the Laws of the Dodecahedron,' repeated Meglos obediently.'Thanks be to Ti,' chanted Lexa.'Thanks be to Ti,' chanted the a.s.sembled Deons.Zastor, Caris and Deedrix, who had been watching the ceremony, gave a collective sigh of relief.Meglos and Lexa stepped down from the rock, and Lexa said majestically, 'You are now free to enter the Power Room, Doctor.''Thanks be to Ti,' muttered Deedrix under his breath.Meglos looked across to the arched doorway of the Power Room. The light that streamed through it was pulsing more erratically than ever. He raised his voice. 'People of Tigella! What I have to do now is extremely dangerous. To control the output of energy it may first be necessary to provoke even more violent emissions.'Deedrix looked worried. 'Then you'll be in danger yourself?''Hardly,' 'said Meglos loftily. 'I am a Time Lord. Having existed in the future, I cannot die in the present.''That can't be true, it's a philosophical paradox.''No, simply beyond your comprehension.' Meglos raised his voice again.'However your lives will be in great danger. You must all leave!' A note of exultation came into Meglos's voice. 'I alone - I alone shall enter the Power Room!'Lexa said angrily. 'It was agreed that I should accompany you, on the G.o.d's behalf.''I have taken the Deon oath,' Meglos reminded her. 'I now have the protection of Ti. Would you appear to distrust his blessing?'Defeated by her own weapons, Lexa stepped back. 'So be it.' She raised her hands. 'Leave! All of you leave. No one shall come near till the Doctor is done.'
The TARDIS door opened and the Doctor - the real Doctor - emerged into a jungle clearing, followed by Romana and K9.The Doctor looked around the dense green wall of jungle. 'According to my, calculations, this should be close to the City gate.'Romana looked around her. 'Well, if this is so close to the City, I can only a.s.sume we're in some sort of park, or zoological gardens.'The Doctor looked at the dense jungle in mild surprise. 'All this greenery has shot up quite a bit since I was last here...''Where's the City gate, then?'The Doctor tried to fix his bearings. 'Let me see . . . I think it has to be . . . this way!' The Doctor set off through the jungle.K9 however was setting off in the opposite direction. 'Bearing of City, 22 degrees north, 36.4 degrees south.''Doctor!' said Romana warningly.'Ah, yes of course! Anyone can make a mistake.' They set off after K9.
Alone, Meglos walked into the Power Room, and stood for a moment gazing silently at the Dodecahedron.The immense five-sided crystal stood on a ma.s.sive plinth in the centre of the bare rock-walled chamber, filling the whole room with its fiercely pulsing golden light. Above were ranged the great silver receptor panels. 'Ten thousand years,' said Meglos softly. 'Ten thousand years!' He took the L-shaped Redimensioner from his pocket, and adjusted its controls. The Redimensioner glowed, and gave out a low hum of power. Meglos placed it on the plinth beneath the Dodecahedron. He stepped back - and waited.
6. The Impossible
Led by K9, the Doctor and Romana were trekking through the jungle. 'Listen,' the Doctor was saying, 'I only got the direction wrong because of Tigella's anti-clockwise rotation.'Romana wasn't listening. She was peering at a patch of charred vegetation.'Look, K9, these leaves are burned.''Partial incineration of vegetation evident,' agreed K9. 'Anomaly.''Come on, you two, there's no time for botany,' said the Doctor over his shoulder. 'We're late already!' He strode off through the jungle.Romana crumbled a charred leaf between her fingers. 'What would cause that, K9? Thinness of the atmosphere?''Negative, Mistress.''Something to do with this Dodecahedron?''Negative. Projection of Dodecahedron pulse insufficient to explain anomaly. Possible cause, retro-rockets of descending s.p.a.ce vessel. Come, Mistress.' K9 trundled off after the Doctor.Romana studied the patch of charred vegetation. There seemed to be a kind of trail of it, with the burning more severe further along, as if it was closer to the source. Curiously, Romana moved forward a little - and a snakelike creeper lashed out and wrapped itself around her foot. She opened her mouth to scream and a bell-like flower swooped down and dropped over her head like a hood. She smelt the sweet fumes of some narcotic gas. The scientific part of Romana's mind was registering an interesting attack method evolved by the carnivorous plant: one end of it tied up the prey, the other knocked it out. At the same time, the more practical side of her nature led her to struggle frantically until she had wrenched the bell-plant from her head.Groping in her pocket she produced the electro-pliers she had used on K9 and began snipping at the
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