Brought to Book
Mark Phippen & Paul Leonard
Very slowly, the Answerer became aware that he was no longer dead.
His first sensation was the sun on his leaves: an irregular, itchy warmth. Then, gradually, the cold, crystal feel of the stony soil around his roots.
Discomfort, pushing aside comfort. Nibbling at drowsiness.
He opened the buds that protected his eyes, and saw a valley. It was familiar, yet strange, as if he had never quite seen a valley in these colours before. The clumped talkerplants were copper-bright, the bare soil between them blood red, laced with narrow amber and gold trails. Tiny gildenshraves, shimmering like flames, moved along the trails, gradually slowing down as he watched.
In the distance, there was a lake, serene pink in the dawn: on a spur above it,
there was a small, squat, rust-coloured shape.
Yes. Night Watcher had promised he would wait. Wait until...
The Answerer was beginning to remember.
Suddenly, there was movement amongst the crimson grass of the valley: a flickering thing, like a drifting seed in the breeze, half-seen, not quite resting.
It came closer.
Two. There were two of them. One was quite still now, cross-legged, courteously sitting to one side so as not to shade The Answerer's leaves. The other flickered, sometimes occluding the sun, gesturing, making half-comprehensible sounds.
'- talk to a plant? ... all day? -'
Soon, at a twitch from the still one, the speaker left, seed-drifting down the hillside. The other waited, the shadows on his face moving as the sun rolled towards the zenith.
The Answerer remembered that he could speak.
To the waiting one, the syllables must have been as slow as the wind: but his head twitched immediately in response.
The Answerer had to tell the story, then. It was unavoidable. But the memories now were like a pack of cards, dog-eared, stained, the rules of the game long ago forgotten. It had been too long ago: he had been too young. Incredibly, impossibly young. And he had been first-life: no, something before first-life, something so basic, so empty –
Yes. That was the name for it.
Associations rushed at him, like a swarm of insects: the black skull-ship – the red monsters - the strangers - the blue box.
The sun was already near the zenith, the hills were russet with heat-mist: he must begin.
'You,' began The Answerer, 'were there, Doctor. When I died. You missed so much, understood so little.'
The story went on through the long, quick, heat of the afternoon, its twists and turns as many as those of the tiny, tickling mites that moved amongst The Answerer's roots. The Doctor remained absolutely still as he listened, the shadows on his face moving with the moving sun. Once he twitched, maybe to dislodge an insect.
At length, the sun faded, the telling of the story came to an end. Slowly, The Answerer's leaves furled, his vision faded, his voice stopped. He saw the Doctor move, heard his voice, the words fast, blurring, almost incomprehensible: 'But you haven't explained -'
'Not - to - ex-plain.' The Answerer struggled with his stiffening voice box. 'To tell - is - a - sto-ry.'
The cooling of soil, the small contractions of grains around the roots. The soft, soft touch of night-mist.
Somewhere a tiny, inconsequential creature squeaked. 'I need to know - need to know - need to know,' it said.
The Answerer no longer cared to reply. Death was coming: the story was over for today. He felt the cool, slow, sleep-comfort of the nightmist rise around him.
The cooling of soil, the small contractions of grains around the roots. Water forming on the leaves, soothing. Mist: no stars: no sounds.
The peace of night.
In the morning, perhaps, The Answerer would live, and tell more of the story. Or perhaps the leaves would open, unsentient, to the sun.
A clearing in the jungle.
Birdsong fills the air, and the only movement is the gentle swaying of the tall trees that circle the glade. Perfect peace.
A peace that is shattered by a raucous noise, like that of a large, elephantine creature calling for its mate, that reverberates around the clearing.
The birds take their leave as the ground begins to shake, and the smaller trees that line one edge of the clearing are pushed apart to admit a large, elephantine creature, its trunk high in the air as it calls for its mate. Standing for a while in the centre of the clearing, the creature eventually moves on to continue its search.
But before the clearing can resume its peaceful resting, there is another noise, like the modulated sound of a key scraped along piano wire.
A figure was manifesting itself in the clearing. A humanoid, old but distinguished. He wore fine robes and a high collar around his neck, and had the bearing of someone who was very important indeed.
It was only the black and bloody eye, the torn sleeve and broken collar that diminished the effect.
As he fully materialised, the figure checked a small device held in his right hand. Nodding with satisfaction, the figure looked around him, as if searching for a way out of the clearing.
But before he could get his bearings, the silence was shattered yet again by a noisy wheezing and groaning. Looking around in horror, the man watched as two more figures joined him in the clearing, appearing, as had he, from nowhere.
As the figures formed, his eyed widened in horror as he saw the tall, horned, red-skinned creatures that stood before him. He turned to run, hoping to reach the edge of the clearing, but the new arrivals were quick. In two strides of their long legs, the creatures were upon him, bearing him to the floor.
The man screamed as one of the creatures cupped his terrified face in its hands. His face was burning, smouldering at the touch of the red creature, which held its grip tight as the man's face blackened and burned until his features were unrecognisable.
The man was still alive, still screaming, as, while the first creature held him down, the second clawed at his chest with its long talons, cutting deep into his flesh and pulling apart his ribcage with a loud crack.
The creature growled with obvious delight as it found the man's heart. The man's hearts. The screaming stopped as it plucked first one, then another from the open chest, to be replaced by a wheezing groaning sound as the three figures disappeared as if they had never been there.
And then the TARDIS arrived.
As the clearing recovered from this intrusion it began making tentative steps to return to its peaceful normality. Returning birds began singing again, accompanied by the gentle rustle of the wind in the trees. But this attempt did not succeed, as moments later the doors of the blue box swung open, disgorging three chattering figures.
The first, a tall, rather stout man in a multi-coloured patchwork-quilt of a coat strode out purposefully, looking around him with a look of satisfaction. The second was a young, attractive, dark haired girl who followed the first man confidently, looking around in fascination at the variety of plant life in the area. The third was another man, stocky, handsome but less sure of himself.
'So remind me, Peri,' the third arrival said to the girl, 'just why are we here again?'
'I've told you,' Peri replied, 'the Doctor needs to research what happed on the Vipod Mor.'
'I know that, but why here, in the middle of a jungle?' The man, who answered to the name of Shellingbourne Grant, cast his eyes around, but could see nothing other than trees, plants and birds. Despite his words, however, Grant gave a shudder. There was something else here. He could feel it.
'Because this jungle,' the Doctor put in, 'happens to be the home of the most complete library in the Universe. Here on Kar-Charrat you'll find every scrap of information, every work of fiction, every reference work ever committed to paper. Everything.'
'Including the creation of the Universe following the destruction of the Vipod Mor?' Grant asked.
'That, and how it ties in with what happened on Terminus,' the Doctor nodded. 'I've always wondered about that. Things I should have know. Something as important as that…'
'You can't know everything, Doctor!' Peri pointed out.
'I should have know that. The creation of the Universe! Hardly in the same league as remembering your Kings and Queens, is it?' The Doctor was pouting. He looked like a bad loser after a disastrous game of Feliam Poker, thought Grant.
'So where is it then, this wondrous library?' Grant was growing impatient with the Doctor's self-admonishment.
The Doctor licked a finger and held it aloft in the breeze, finally pointing to a slight gap in the trees that surrounded the clearing. 'That way,' he said, making for the opening. 'Come along!'
'Why do they make it so hard to find, Doctor?' Peri asked his back as it marched purposefully ahead of them.
'Membership of this library is somewhat, shall we say, exclusive,' the Doctor yelled back over his shoulder. 'They don't want any old race gaining the answers to life, the Universe and everything. Besides… aha!'
The Doctor had stopped because on emerging from the passageway between the trees the trio had been confronted with their first sight of the library. Sitting atop a cascading waterfall was the most impressive building Peri, and, if he was being truthful, Grant had ever seen in their lives.
It was a potpourri of styles, amber minarets, high green crystal spires, sharp as swords; brick arches and a vast wooden dome; flying buttresses in rainbow glass. The water that fed the falls seemed to flow through the building, jet-black rivulets, emerald swirls, white-mist cascades. Trees grew inside, breaking the complex lines of the roofs, making dark canopies over white-stone walls, shading the dome, at their highest forming a living spire. Huge blooms hung, roseate, crenulated, and coloured birds glittered like jewels as they moved amongst the petals.
A path led up the falls, at first rough stone, then smoother brick, and finally an improbable outdoor Persian carpet, plum-purple and sea-blue, with an iridescent sheen like the blue of peacock feathers.
'Wow!' said Peri. 'How do we get in?'
'We knock on the door, would you believe?' The Doctor flashed her a grin.
'Shouldn't they have some kind of protection?' Grant asked. 'I mean with all that knowledge in one place, surely some of it could be of use to, er, the wrong kind of people?'
'Oh, it will have protection,' the Doctor replied. 'A rather nifty temporal grid designed by the Time Lords. So nifty in fact that I think I must have had a hand in it at some point. But it doesn't yet, if you get my drift.'
Peri was puzzled. 'But what's to stop races capable of time travel from popping back to this time, before it was protected, and making off with anything they want?'
'The fact that we know they didn't!' The Doctor replied with a grin, which was returned in kind by Peri, but a frown from Grant.
'Don't worry,' Peri whispered to Grant, 'you'll get used to it.'
Grant watched as Peri quickened her step to keep up with the Doctor who was marching purposely onward toward the library.
'Not if I can help it,' he muttered under his breath.
The past hurts.
It is a very real pain, not some overstated metaphor. Memories stab at you like daggers, cutting deep. In an effort to outrun the pain you hurtle forward, living only in the now and looking only to the future. But comes a time when you can't run any more; when your body and mind conspire to bring you to a halt, payback for the years of abuse you've subjected them to over the years. The past again. It'll always catch you.
He is a man of evil. Born of badness. Created by cruelty.
Here he sits in his black skull-ship in his black skullcap. A cruel grin splits his face, his eyes sparkle. He is high on anticipation, so close to his prey. If ever a man could be said to live in the past, this is he. Which is ironic, because he has little of his own. What he does have, however, are memories of another life: the life of the very man he has come here for. But he wants so much more.
But there are ways and means, if one is patient. A right way of doing things.
There were times, he remembered, when his hatred blinded him to attention to detail, like a feral thing, unthinking, wild. Driven by his desire to see his enemy destroyed.
This is a man who knows how painful the past can be.
Imagine remembering your own creation. Imagine remembering your death. Now imagine they are the same event. The death throws of one life become the first kicks of another. Life from death.
But he had not been the only one to emerge from the maelstrom of that death. There had been another, purer, more true to the original. A white to his black.
Since that very first day on Skaro, not a day had passed that he had not plotted to defeat his nemesis, his mirror. His creator.
Now, after centuries of battle, a new plan. Clever, subtle, restrained.
Strike in the past, lay a trap for a man who isn't even aware of this sworn enemy of the future. A trap for a man who is perhaps more guilty than at any other time of his lives of taking steps that will lead to the creation of his foe. A neat circle.
Strike in the past. Because the past is what he craves.
He remembers flashes of another life, other lives, before this one, but he feels detached, like his is watching from afar. But these are his lives, and he wants them back.
He remembers lying on his back with his father, watching a meteor storm raging above, dreaming of exploring all that time and space could show him. He remembers, fleetingly, those first few steps into the Universe, remembers the shock upon realising just what time had in store for him. The weight of responsibility.
But pieces are missing, large chunks of his memory are hazy, unreadable. These should be his memories, yet they are blocked from him, like a locked diary.
He remembers a trauma, a period of memory loss sometime in his eighth life. Could this be the reason? No, that can't be it – memories since then are just as inaccessible, while earlier memories sometimes surfaced; a kiss, an Earth woman – what was her name? Grace? – as realisation dawned following regeneration, memories of his father resurfacing again. His father, finding him – Earth again – leaving the boy with him, watching as he took the youngster under his wing as he had never done with his own son – as he couldn't have done with his own son.
These memories were the strongest, perhaps because they had touched him so deeply in his past life that no amount of wilful blocking on the part of his nemesis could possibly keep them from him.
But he should have them all. This life should be his. These lives should be his.
And if the Doctor fell for the bait here on Kar-Charrat, it would only be a matter of time.
A being who introduced himself as Elgin, the Chief Librarian, greeted the Doctor and his companions at the library. He was a thin, graceful, insect-like creature who reminded Peri of a butterfly: though he had no wings, his two pairs of long arms, shimmering with green and indigo, seemed to dance constantly, as if he hoped to fly. He seemed particularly pleased to see the Doctor, who, likewise, greeted the librarian warmly.
'It's good to see you again, Doctor,' Elgin said, extending a long, glimmering green, snake-like proboscis to touch the Doctor's face. 'It's been so long.'
'Even longer for me,' replied the Doctor, 'far too long.'
Big, dark, owl-like eyes blinked slowly in response.
The Time Lord introduced Peri and Grant, and the librarian told them that they had the run of the library for the duration of their stay.
The Doctor explained that he was here to research a particular subject about which there were several worrying gaps in his knowledge.
'Well, you've come to the right place, Doctor,' assured Elgin, 'and what of your friends?'
The Doctor turned to Peri and Grant. 'I'm sure they can amuse themselves. Unless they fancy helping me in my research?'
Both Peri and Grant respectfully declined.
'Thought as much,' the Doctor grinned, 'There's plenty here to interest anyone. I'll come and find you when I'm done.'
'Okay, Doctor,' replied Peri, 'good luck.'
She and Grant watched the Time Lord and the librarian as they headed off up a carpeted staircase for the reference section, then looked at each other.
There was an awkward silence.
Peri was the first to speak. 'So, er, what do you feel like doing?'
Grant shrugged. 'I didn't even want to come here. Why couldn't the Doctor have dropped me off somewhere first?'
'This is important. The Doctor nearly made a terrible mistake.'
Grant was silent for a moment.
'I thought you'd forgotten about me.'
'We almost did,' Peri admitted. 'I'm sorry.'
'No, it's okay. It's no more than I deserve.'
Peri sighed. 'There must be something in the air.'
Grant was puzzled. 'What do you mean?'
'Self-pity. It's everywhere I turn.' Peri smiled. 'Anything interest you?' She pointed to the map of the library on the wall behind them.
Grant scanned the map, his eyes lighting up as found something that interested him.
'The "Alien Artefact Exhibition" sounds intriguing. Coming?'
Peri shook her head. 'No, you go. I'll just have a look around.'
Grant nodded, and started down a green-lit passageway.
Peri was about to walk away when he stopped and turned around. 'Oh, Peri.'
Peri smiled. 'You too.'
He had performed this task a thousand times.
Cataloguer Thrank sat in his office, methodically processing the latest acquisitions. Once catalogued, the books would be taken to Chief Librarian Elgin who would have the final decision on categorisation of each item and arrange for it to be added to the collection.
Thrank would then add the catalogue entry to the main index on the library's computer system, and keep a hard copy of the records in his meticulously maintained filing system.
A thousand times Thrank had done this, but never once before had he found a body in his filing cabinet.
The body's face was badly burned, and had a terrible wound in its chest. Even with these horrific and disfiguring injuries, Thrank was sure that the man was a stranger. So where had he come from, and who had placed the body in the cabinet?
The answer to Thrank's queries came quicker than he could have hoped. Or wanted.
With a discordant wheezing and groaning, two large, horned red creatures appeared in front of him. Thrank could focus on nothing but the evil in their eyes.
That, and the two pairs of talons that came cutting through the air towards him.
Elgin showed the Doctor into the cosmology reference section, and directed him to the section dealing with Setna Streen, the Vipod Mor's home planet.
The Doctor thanked him, and invited him to help with the research, knowing full well that the old librarian couldn't resist a spot of academic investigation.
As Elgin began to pull relevant books from the shelves, the Doctor took a moment to take a look around the department.
'I've never noticed that before.'
'What's that, Doctor?' Elgin's voice came from above, and the Doctor turned round to see him up a ladder, retrieving some of the higher books.
'The vines. Now I've noticed them, I can see they're all over the place.'
'One of the small problems we encountered having chosen a jungle planet on which to build the library. The building is good and strong, but the jungle is stronger. We try to control the vines by trailing them around the building in these pipes,' he pointed to the large, silver pipes that ran around the length of the room at waist height. 'But really we are at the mercy of the forces of nature. I always joke that the jungle must be jolly interested in academic research if its that keen to get in.'
The Doctor laughed politely at what he knew was a rare, if rather weak, joke from the old librarian. 'You'll have to give it a library card soon.'
He was a thief.
Grant had long ago come to terms with that fact. He was comfortable with it. Of course, these days he was a poor thief, after having bought this, his latest identify. But being poor had made him more resourceful, and even here, amongst the confusion and the death, his mind was working overtime.
Priceless alien artefacts, here for the taking. Transport provided by the escape shuttles he had noticed marked on the map of the complex. An unimaginably wealthy future awaiting him. Actually, he would have a damn good try at imagining it. The thought made him giddy.
There were no guards, just the occasional passing Cataloguer who paid him no attention. He had been given the run of the place, trusted by virtue of being a companion of the Doctor. Well, not for much longer.
The exhibition was more fabulous than he could have imagined. Artefacts from the Universe over collected, catalogued and put into display cases that helpfully told Grant just how rare each item was on its homeworld. Each artefact alone would be enough to set him up for life. Or this life at least – there would be others, now that money was no question.
Grant stepped up to the nearest display case. It contained an original copy of The Ambuehl Lores, its worth unimaginable. It would do for starters.
Looking round for a jemmy, Grant's eyes alighted on a metal bracket that held the pipes that he had noticed snaked their way around the complex to the wall. The bracket was loose; it shouldn't take too much pulling… there. It came away in his hand.
Placing the thinnest side of the bracket inside the small gap next to the lock of the glass cabinet, Grant pushed against the other end in an attempt to force the door open.
The was a smashing sound, and for a moment Grant had thought that he smashed the glass of the door, but he realised that the cabinet remained intact. The sound had come from behind him.
Spinning round, Grant saw to his horror that the pipe that had previously been held up by the bracket had now fallen to the floor, where it had split open. Emerging from the split were the tendrils of a plant, snaking their way towards him.
Grant opened his mouth to scream, but before he got there, the roof above him burst open in several places, admitting several more tendrils, which joined the others from the pipe in advancing on him.
Grant looked at the door, but it was too far away, with the tendrils between him and freedom. He began backing up, but found his back against the cabinet he had been trying to open. There was nowhere to go.
As he opened his mouth to scream again, one of the tendrils from the pipe shot forward into his mouth, smothering him, stifling his screams.
As consciousness faded, Grant became aware of the other tendrils rapping themselves around him, pulling him upwards.
Then everything went black.
He was floating.
No, that wasn't the right word. To float you must have something to float.
He had nothing, yet he had everything.
He felt nothing, yet he knew all.
He was nowhere, yet he was everywhere.
He was the air, the water, the plants, the trees.
He was the tendrils that had smothered him, he was the building that had let them in.
The rush of information was too much, he couldn't take it all in.
The voice was faint, hard to distinguish from everything else that hit him like white noise.
'I can't!' He shouted, though he knew he had no mouth.
You need a focus.
'I can't take it all at once! Help me!'
You need a being.
'What's going on? Tell me!'
You will have the answers.
'I want my life back!'
It is not yours to return to.
'Take me back!'
New life. I will protect you.
'Who are you?'
Night Watcher. I will protect you.
Peri was not having much fun.
Despite the spectacular exterior, most of the rooms in the library were dry, stuffy, academic studies, filled with dry, stuffy, academic types. It was as if some stultifying force lived inside the place, reducing it to a catalogue of itself, a desiccated husk where there should have been life and beauty. She had spent some time in the botanical section, but the collection was so vast that references to Earth plant life were hard to find. She had considered asking one of the Cataloguers, but decided that she wasn't that bothered.
What she had noticed, with some puzzlement, was that there seemed to be no reference in the entire department to the plant life of Kar-Charrat itself. Perhaps, she reflected, this planet warranted a section all of its own.
So Peri had taken to wandering the corridors at random to see what she could find. Which had not been much.
The first thing to strike Peri as odd was encountering a locked door. As the rest of the complex had been open to her, Peri's curiosity was piqued, and she found one of the Cataloguers to explain why that room was out of bounds.
The Cataloguer, a man by the name of Prink, was as puzzled as she, confessing that he had no idea why that room should be locked. He gave her a key for the door, as, he pointed out, she had VIP status while visiting the library.
Thanking Prink, Peri returned to the room and inserted the electronic key, the door sliding open with a 'shhtick'.
In the cosmology reference section, the Doctor and Elgin had completed their search of all references to the legend of Vipod Mor, the man, and Vipod Mor, the vessel, and were currently poring over several volumes of the history of Setna Streen.
'One thing I don't understand,' said Elgin, looking up from his current book, 'is why they called the ship Vipod Mor in the first place.'
'The way things are going lately, I'd wager it was supposed to be a warning to anyone foolish enough to try to meddle with its destiny – i.e. me!' The Doctor slammed his book shut in disgust.
'The accumulated knowledge of every civilised planet in the Universe, and I still can't find the answers I'm looking for.'
'Perhaps there are no answers,' suggested Elgin, folding his upper pair of arms. 'Perhaps you know all there is to know. At least, all you need to know.'
The Doctor sighed. 'Perhaps you're right, Elgin. I'm probably being too hard on myself. Even a genius can be wrong sometimes.'
Elgin chuckled. 'That's the spirit. The life you lead, you need more arms than I have to juggle all of your responsibilities!' He passed the Doctor three volumes on the subject.
'Perhaps I should learn the techniques,' the Doctor grinned, looking at the covers, 'though the lack of arms may put me at a disadvantage.'
'I'm sorry we couldn't help you, Doctor. Perhaps… ah, here's Thrank with some more books to be catalogued.'
The Doctor turned to greet the newcomer, offering his hand in greeting. 'Nice to meet you, Cataloguer Thrank.'
But the man ignored the proffered limb, placed the books he was carrying on the table in front of Elgin, bowed slightly, and left the room.
'Doesn't say a lot, does he?' Observed the Doctor.
'Which makes him the perfect library assistant, Doctor. At least he doesn't prattle on incessantly like that Cataloguer Prink. Hardly get a word in edgeways.'
Elgin realised that the Doctor wasn't listening, engrossed as he was in one of the books that Thrank had brought into the room.
'You say these are new books, just arrived?' The Doctor asked.
'That's right. Our researchers across the galaxies send us copies of all reference works published for immediate addition to our library. Why do you ask?'
'It's just that this particular book looks rather old to be a new publication,' the Doctor replied, blowing the dust from the open pages.
'Occasionally our researchers come across an ancient text, having lain unread for centuries in forgotten ruins. They are my favourites. What is this one about?'
'Intriguing, and highly improbable,' the Doctor muttered as his eyes scanned the pages. 'For a planet to have exactly the same mass, angle of…'
'Doctor!' The Time Lord was interrupted by the flustered arrival of Peri. Her eyes were red, and it was obvious she had been crying.
'Peri, whatever is the matter?'
'They're dead! And I can't find Grant!'
'Wait, slow down. Who is dead?' The Doctor's face darkened.
'The librarian… Cataloguer… or whatever you call them, and another man – his face was burnt. It was horrible.' Peri was sobbing again. 'I've been looking for Grant…'
The Doctor rested an arm on Peri's shoulder, and she buried her head in the folds of his coat.
'It's OK. We'll find Grant later. But we need you to show us where you found the bodies. Can you do that?'
Peri looked up, sniffed her tears away and nodded. 'It's just down the corridor. I'll show you.'
The Doctor and Elgin stood in the Cataloguer's office, while Peri stayed at the doorway. She had no wish to see the bodies again.
The Doctor was examining the slashed, ribboned body of the Cataloguer.
'This is the man we just saw, Thrank wasn't it?' The Doctor looked at Elgin, who nodded his confirmation.
'He must have been killed just after he left us,' the librarian pointed out.
The Doctor shook his head. 'The body is already starting to get cold. He's not been dead long, but certainly more than a couple of minutes.
'Then how…' Elgin shook his head.
But the Doctor had already turned his attention to the other body, its face a charred mess, the ribcage pulled open, empty.
'This man was a Time Lord!' The Doctor said, aghast.
'How can you tell?' Elgin asked.
'Two heart cavities,' the Doctor pointed to the holes left by the missing organs, 'and those robes, that collar. Even with his face undistinguishable, I can't shake the feeling that I recognise him. Someone I've met recently…'
'Doctor,' Peri called from the doorway, 'if there's a killer about, don't you think we should find Grant.'
The Doctor nodded. 'Elgin, I suggest you warn your people that we have a most unwelcome visitor in the library.'
'So where did you last see him?'
The Doctor and Peri were searching the facility, concentrating on the area surrounding the reference section, reasoning that Grant couldn't have gotten very far away in the time since Peri had last seen him.
'Outside the reference section, where you left us. He didn't hang around very long, said he was going to look at the display of alien artefacts.'
The Doctor stopped abruptly.
'He said what?'
Peri looked worried, wondering what she had said. 'What's wrong with that?'
'The man we know as Shellingbourne Grant, though I doubt that's his real name, is a thief of the highest order. I should never have brought him here – the temptation must have been too great!'
The Doctor consulted his guidebook. 'We're not too far away. Quickly!'
Peri ran to keep up with his rapid stride.
'We're too late.'
The Doctor and Peri stood at the entrance to the artefact exhibition. The room was a mess – cabinets had been smashed, their contents spilled onto the floor, many broken. The roof was smashed too, several holes letting in the daylight and affording a view of the jungle that surrounded them.
Glass crunched underfoot at the Doctor made his way into the room, gazing around in dismay. He picked up an artefact that had spilled from its cabinet.
'I should have dropped him off somewhere before we came here,' the Doctor said angrily. 'This is my fault.'
'You weren't to know, Doctor. I trusted him too.'
'Two people are dead!'
'You think Grant killed them?' Peri couldn't believe that, even now.
'Who else? Right know he's our only candidate,' the Doctor replied. But he didn't look convinced.
'So where is he now?' Peri asked.
'I think I may have the answer to that one,' replied Elgin, who had arrived, unnoticed, at the entrance to the room. 'An escape shuttle is missing from the landing bays.'
'An open and shut case, it seems,' the Doctor muttered. 'Elgin, I'm so sorry. I should never have brought him here.'
'I think you had better leave, Doctor,' the librarian said sadly.
The Doctor nodded, and handed the artefact to Elgin. 'I think, perhaps, you're right.'
The Doctor had promised Elgin that he would have a word with the Time Lords about installing a temporal defence grid around the library, to avoid this sort of thing happening again. Then he and Peri had made a hasty retreat, leaving the Cataloguers to salvage what they could from the destroyed artefacts and bury the dead.
It was not until they were already making their way back to the TARDIS that the Doctor noticed that he still had some of the books from the reference section.
'Three volumes on juggling for Alpha-Centurians? Why do they need so many?' Peri asked.
'Well, they do have a lot of arms,' the Doctor grinned. 'Even more than Elgin.'
But despite the Doctor's apparent jovial air, Peri could tell that he was still troubled.
'You don't think it was Grant, do you?'
'Hmm?' the Doctor seemed distracted, but eventually focused on Peri's question. 'No. No, I don't. The man was many things, and a thief was certainly one of them, but I don't think he's a murderer. You saw how that Time Lord had died. I'll guess I'll never know who he was, but I can only guess that he was here to warn me about something. But whatever it was that killed him, it certainly wasn't Grant.'
'Then we can only hope that it was Grant who stole the escape shuttle. To get away from whatever killed those men?'
The Doctor shook his head. 'I can't put my finger on it, Peri, but I think that I've missed something very important here today.'
'You need a holiday, Doctor,' insisted Peri, 'somewhere peaceful.'
'As it happens, I think I've found just the place. A fascinating little place with the same mass, angle of tilt and period of rotation as Earth, but with one important benefit.'
'And what's that?'
'No humans!' the Doctor grinned.
As the Doctor and Peri made their way back to the TARDIS it began to rain.
As the warm drops of water fell onto the jungle they awakened the plants, spreading new knowledge across their leaves, soaking down to their roots.
The plants were old, as old as the planet. At least, most of them were.
A new, young plant sat beside the lake at the foot of the waterfall, feeling, for the first time, the sensation of the sun and rain on its leaves: an irregular, itchy warmth. Then, gradually, the cold, crystal feel of the stony soil around its roots.
The plant feels, for the first time, the knowledge pass through it, the accumulation of information from everything on this planet coursing through its veins.
It has the answers.
In his black skull-ship, the man of evil smiled. The bait had been taken, the trap sprung. It was now only a matter of time. The man chuckled at the irony.
Bernice felt the sun's heat on her face, on the backs of her hands where they rested on the stone. There was a slight, warm, wind blowing - it smelled of something she couldn't place, some Earthborn spice, turmeric or coriander perhaps. She listened for a moment, until she could hear the slight pulse of the waves on the shore of the lake.
Without opening her eyes, she said, 'This is a perfect place.'
'The concordance of spaces moulding the hill-line,' agreed her host.
Her own voice had seemed to shatter the calm, Bernice thought, even though she'd spoken quietly. But the bubbling, chiming voice of her native host was part of the landscape. It was true that she hadn't understood anything that Night Watcher had said to her all day: but she'd greatly enjoyed the conversation.
She opened her eyes, looked again at the silent, cherry-coloured lake, the huge ruby sun, the tangerine sky. The black trees leaning over the lake, each with their own phosphorescent fruit, blue, green, violet - exotic colours on this red-sun world.
She turned to her host, whose one huge eye seemed almost too big to fit in its oval head. The tiny spot of the pupil moved through the golden-brown swirls of the iris, like a storm through a planetary atmosphere; came to rest facing her.
'Night Watcher, when you see the stars at night, do you ever wonder what's out there? Not the stars and gasses and planets and things - the people. What they're like. What shape they are. What they do.'
A brown membrane slid across Night Watcher's eye, from left to right: for an instant Bernice was looking at a featureless ovoid. Then the eye opened again.
'The discordance of points moulding the hill-line,' replied Night Watcher, the voice chiming like a bell on the word 'points'. 'The strangeness of concordance in discord.'
Bernice smiled again. She gestured at the dull blue cuboid of the TARDIS, which (oddly enough) seemed very much in place on the low shore of the lake.
'You don't mind having visitors, then?'
Night Watcher appeared to consider for a moment.
'Distance, distance; the distance which connects all things.'
A three-fingered hand moved to grip Bernice's arm: a firm, velvet touch.
'We are grateful.'
Bernice frowned. It was the first thing she'd heard Night Watcher say all afternoon that made any sense, and she wasn't sure why her host had said it.
'Yes, I suppose it must get rather boring here,' she said at last. Though she was certain that wasn't what the little alien meant.
She caught a movement at the edge of her vision: looked up, saw a tiny figure by the lakeside, in a cream linen suit and limp fedora hat, waving an umbrella in the air.
When he saw Bernice looking, the Doctor began beckoning her: as he did this with the arm holding the umbrella, the end result was a rather curious movement, but the intent was unmistakable.
'Oh-oh,' said Bernice. 'I'm afraid I'm wanted.'
But Night Watcher held on to her arm for a moment.
'Do not be afraid.'
Bernice turned, crouched down so that her face was level with the huge eye.
'What am I meant to be afraid of?' she asked carefully.
'Good. That is better,' said the alien, letting her go. Then the brown membrane slid over the eye again, and this time it stayed there.
Bernice muttered to herself, 'Life is full of little misunderstandings.' She turned round to see what the Doctor was up to.
He was making huge scooping gestures with both arms, as if requesting an aircraft to land. Bernice sighed. He'd better have a good explanation for this, she thought. She set off at a trot down the path to the lake.
By the time she got to the TARDIS the Doctor was frantic.
'Quickly!' he said, waving his umbrella towards the TARDIS door, which was open. 'Get in! Now!'
'Hold on, Doctor. I'd like the answers to some questions first. One, where -'
'Planetary orbit, about two thousand years ago. To prevent a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.'
Bernice, who hadn't really been expecting any sensible answers anyway, allowed herself a small grin, then turned and looked for one last time at the cherry-coloured lake, the black trees with their lanterns, the lemon-coloured sky. She waved at Night Watcher.
'Oh, well,' she said. 'Tar-ra, I suppose.' She stepped into the TARDIS.
Behind her, Night Watcher died, quietly. His long wait was over.