AUTHOR: Roseveare, email@example.com
RATING: PG-13/nothing worse than the televised episodes.
SUMMARY: MA-style. In which the Doctor refuses to save the world, Nyssa isn't turned into a monster or taken over by an alien intelligence, and Tegan is in several places at once. Part 1 of 4.
TIMELINE: Between 'Arc of Infinity' and 'Snakedance'. Obliquely references BBC Eighth Doctor books, namely 'Alien Bodies'. Only somewhat tenuously fitting canon post 'The Ancestor Cell'.
NOTES: The majority of this was written back in university. A couple of years ago, it got tidied up and a book proposal sent to the BBC Past Doctors range. Consequently rejected, but finally finding its way to the net as I get around to a last few bits of editing.
DISCLAIMER: All Doctor Who characters and concepts belong to the BBC. The ones you don't recognise are mine. Especially Verani. No profit, just borrowing, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Marea Drex shivered inside her thermal suit. The dying sun high overhead provided little warmth to the excavation site, and in the thin atmosphere no longer capable of supporting most oxygen-breathing species, no vegetation grew on land little more than cold, wind-torn plains of dust. Although once civilisations had flourished here, it was now a desert barren of all but the most simple and hardy of native life. A world in its death throes, orbiting a dying star slowly burning its way towards extinction in the footsteps of a binary companion reduced to ashes millennia ago.
Her research team were working as speedily as they could, reluctant to damage findings due to haste, but aware that time was short, so they worked against time to unearth a last few alien artefacts. Before funding ran out, before the expedition was pulled, before conditions degenerated so much it became impossible to work at all. The team members already had to wear thermal suits, with gloves and face masks and bulky breathing apparatus, making an ordinarily difficult and delicate task close to impossible.
Most of the archaeologists were Krian, and although there were members of other Alliance races on the team, they tended to keep to themselves and to bite or worse if disturbed, so the Krians had developed the habit of respecting their personal space. Marea was the only one of the expedition not currently huddled inside their space vessel trying to thaw out fingers, toes, and other bodily appendages.
She swore inside her oxygen mask as she worked, wondering if the temperature regulator in her suit was broken. Her toes were freezing but she thought she could feel her fingers starting to burn. The lure of a good intellectual mystery was fighting a losing battle against the temptation to head back to the ship and curl up in the warm with a cup of something hot and preferably intoxicating.
As she worked she reviewed their findings so far in her mind. From the orbital scan, the only signs of civilisation ever existing on the planet were located in a single spot; a sizeable city near the equator. From this it was clear the former inhabitants were a colony rather than a species evolved on the planet itself. The evidence of the city now remaining comprised of some rather scrambled foundations and indications of a large underground system of some sort which had been mashed almost beyond recognition by minor seismic activity giving it a good stir around in the many, many years it had been buried there.
It was so much of a mess their instruments were having trouble scanning a current picture, let alone piecing together a reconstruction of its original shape. There was a lot of metal down there in concentrations pure enough to suggest a manufactured origin but with no clear artificial forms. Her theories ran to this being the remnant of alien technology which had suffered from the stresses of heat and pressure within the ground somewhere in the planet's turbulent past.
Marea continued her slow progress around her taped-off ten metre square, making sure she ran the scanner over every millimetre of ground, collecting the data of everything contained within it to a depth of up to fifty metres. Ancient star charts and references from other alien cultures had suggested a name for the planet, a name that would appear beside her name in academic writings for centuries to come if circumstances allowed the completion of her research. It wasn't every archaeologist who had opportunity to excavate the site of an ancient alien civilisation.
She shivered and glanced back to the ship, thinking again about joining the others for a break. But she knew if she quit now nothing would persuade her to leave the comfort of the ship again that day. She returned to her work.
She sensed rather than heard or saw she was not alone. In the thermal suit, hearing and vision were limited. She looked up to see a stranger walking across the dead, dust landscape towards her.
He wore neither oxygen mask or thermal suit, but didn't seem concerned about the absence of these items. He looked Krian, but Marea couldn't think of a krianoid species capable of survival unprotected in the planet's hostile conditions.
As he walked closer, she took in further details. The stranger was a fairly elegant, pleasant-faced youngish male. He was wearing strange and wildly inappropriate clothing, consisting of red and white striped trousers, a white jersey with a splash of colour dashed around the collar, and a long, beige-coloured jacket. The jacket appeared to have some kind of green vegetation attached to it near the collar. This shrubbery was not faring as well as its wearer in the cold, thin atmosphere.
The stranger was also wearing a hat, which he held on his head with one hand. In his other hand he carried a small oxygen cylinder, from which he took a breath before politely removing his hat and tucking it under his elbow to hold out a hand in greeting. "Hello," he said cheerfully, shouting so she could hear him inside her thermal suit. "It's a bit chilly out here!"
Marea stared at him blankly. He grinned back at her, and waggled the fingers of his extended hand. Courtesy demanded she take it, and she managed to return the greeting in a somewhat garbled voice. She realised she had to shout to be heard through her face-mask, and repeated herself louder.
"Am I right in thinking you are the famed archaeologist Marea Drex?" he enquired as though he'd walked up to her at a dinner party.
Famed? Well, she wasn't about to contradict him. "I-I'm Marea Drex, yes."
His grin widened. "I came here to see you!"
Now that her wits were returning to her, some pressing questions about the legality of the stranger's presence on the planet came to mind. She recovered enough to question, as she ought, his being there. "Are you aware this is a private expedition in a restricted zone of space? The only people permitted to be on this planet are the members of my team."
"Yes, yes," he said, as if he considered himself exempt from such technicalities, although he did start to look uncomfortable as he took another breath of oxygen and continued. "I need to speak to you about a matter of some importance." He rubbed the back of his neck in an embarrassed gesture, absently put his hat back on his head then had to snatch for it as it immediately blew off, and he generally looked as though he'd like to be somewhere else. Then he grinned charmingly again, and said, apologetically, "My explanation may take some time. It might be better to retire to your ship and discuss it in the warm?"
Marea shook her head firmly. If it was important - and there was a seriousness and sincerity to this strange individual which inclined her to think it was - then she wanted to hear it first alone, unaccompanied by arguments and squabbling from the rest of her diverse team. "Go ahead!" she said.
He didn't know where he was. For a long moment after his arrival he didn't even know who he was. But then his head cleared, a little, and he remembered he was Ryn Luthen, and realised he was not dead but lying on his back on a damp, lumpy surface with moisture soaking through the back of his clothes to rest cold and clammy against his skin.
He knew he shouldn't be there. Because he shouldn't be anywhere; shouldn't be alive.
He could still hear Sergeant Dunae's warning shout reverberating inside his head. Seconds too late, as one of the enemy whose ship they'd boarded fired and the force of the glancing shot knocked him backwards through the failing force-shield into the interstellar drive's open, damaged core. At that moment he had known he was a dead man.
Yet he could feel the sunlight on his face, hear the sounds of birds. When he opened his eyes he saw he was surrounded by an open, grassy landscape. The grass was, admittedly, slightly blue, but it was a welcome sight to someone who had never expected to see anything again. He doubted he was in the afterlife. If there was one, it certainly shouldn't be so damp. He tried to sit up, to stand, to get out of the soggy, muddy grass.
Only to discover limbs that should be working weren't. Whatever had happened to him, it had shorted out the mechanisms in his cybernetic arm and leg. He swore, then looked around nervously at the lapse, but merely reaffirmed the fact that the landscape was deserted, discounting the odd clump of scruffy trees.
One such straggling knot, crouched just below the crest of a small, shallow hill some two hundred metres across the grasslands, promised some modicum of cover. The decision to reach it, from his broken-bodied, sprawled position, was easier made than actualised. Every movement dragging the weight of unresponsive cybertechnology required so much effort as to seem almost an impossibility. Luthen let his training take over, shifting his body across the ground in an awkward, shuffling crawl. By the time he finally rolled under the dubious cover of the trees, his breathing was a series of quick, ragged gasps and the muscles that still existed in his arms and legs were afire.
For several minutes he lay there, looking up through the latticework of branches to the sky with its two suns, his body recovering and his mind trying to break through an overlay of fuzz to assess the situation logically.
One of the suns was high and one was setting. He frowned, aware that he was failing to make some obvious connection. There weren't many habitable planets in binary star systems. Only two in the entire Union, that he could think of. Neither, as far as he knew, had blue vegetation.
The cobwebs in his mind smothered his train of thought, and he made an effort to concentrate on more immediate concerns. Such as the minor problem of every cybernetic element of his body deciding to quit during transit.
With gritted teeth and a force of will Luthen hadn't expected to find, he managed to haul himself up into a sitting position against the slim trunk of a tree. The tree was none too sturdy and it shook as he leaned his weight against it. He imagined hordes of hungry barbarians on the other side of the hill spotting the shaking treetop and charging to the attack, and he hoped the landscape would stay empty until he had chance to repair his systems and attempt to figure out what had happened.
Luthen turned his attention to the access panel above his left knee, prying off the metal cover to study the controls inside. He'd been taught, of course, advanced maintenance and repair functions, but hadn't had cause to put those lessons into practice in the field before. He just hoped he could get everything in working order again. The thought of being trapped on an unknown planet, alone and crippled, was terrifying.
What kind of freak energies at work in the drive core could have caused such an apparent impossibility to occur, that he should be transported instead of disintegrated? Maybe he was injured, and dreaming, and the whole sequence of events nothing more than a hallucination. His mind grasped at the idea, but his situation felt too real for it to convince.
He fiddled with the failsafe mechanism in his leg. Emergency shutdown, he realised. There had been too much energy in whatever process had transported him, and failsafe mechanisms had closed down the power in his cybernetic limbs before he could be killed by the artificial parts of himself exploding. He grit his teeth as he made the final adjustment to the controls and brought the cybernetic leg back on line. Difficult to affact repairs without the full command of all his nerves and muscles.
One moment he was bending the leg slowly to test the mechanisms, the next he'd become aware of someone approaching, whether by some small sound or some other sense he wasn't sure. He slid the gun from his belt. Checking the power with quick and quiet efficiency, he gripped it firmly in his right hand, the hand that worked, and crawled on elbows and knees the last few feet up the crest of the hill, just far enough that he could peer over the top and see down the other side.
Two things stood out among the grasslands. The city he saw instantly, a distant shimmering array of white and towers amid the blue-green of the landscape. It gripped the attention so forcefully he almost missed the small humanoid figure, about half the city's distance away and running towards him at speed.
As the figure came closer, he saw it was a woman. Young, small, dark-haired. She was wearing a green outfit that had once been very fine but was now muddied and scuffed. An expression of frustrated terror and panic distorted her face. She was running awkwardly, because she was wearing shoes heeled with spikes.
Luthen edged to his right and stood up behind the cover of a tree trunk, holding the gun ready. By the time she reached him she was losing speed. When he stepped out of cover she was within metres of him and, mouth agape, she stared at him, stared at the gun, and slid down onto her backside on the ground, where she sat and stared at him some more. He felt ridiculous pointing a gun at a peculiar, unarmed woman, so he lowered the weapon.
"Are you real?" she said, and her voice had the strangest inflection he had ever heard. She glanced behind her fearfully, and relief crept over her face. "It's gone." She squinted at him. "You couldn't see it, could you? Then it was all in my head." She appeared to notice for the first time that she was sitting in the mud, and held a hand out expectantly. He had to holster the gun to free his right arm to help her up.
Somehow, the next thing he knew she had the gun in her own hands and was backing away from him. Her hands were shaking, and he was more afraid she would shoot him by accident than design. Her voice held raw desperation as she half shouted, "Who are you? You're not one of them, you're something else. Who are you? What are you? Tell me!"
"My name's Ryn Luthen. Where is this place?" He tried to hold up both empty hands in surrender but the left one still wasn't working. He was a fool to have underestimated her, just like all the others said. Stupid. Stupid and careless.
"You mean you don't know where you are?" she demanded with disbelief, then realised he had evaded the second part of her question. "Where did you come from?"
"The last thing I knew I was on a starship inside the borders of the Karalian Union," he said, knowing it sounded lame. "I don't know how I got here. I don't even know where here is."
The strange woman laughed, and went on laughing, her eyes taking in the cybernetic nature of his left arm and leg. "I don't believe this. You're one of the enemy. You're the reason we're stuck in this mess in the first place." Abruptly she stopped laughing and leaned forward and slapped him across the face. "Bastards! If it wasn't for your lot the Janovians wouldn't be in danger and neither would we!"
Luthen reeled back with the impact of her open palm and her words. He was on Janovay. The next target of the Karalian Union. Janovay with its dual suns and a store of technology buried beneath the planet's surface that just might hold the answer to save all their lives, save future generations of Karalians the suffering the present ones had to live with.
To his surprise the woman threw down the gun, which hit the wet grass with a slapping sound, and slid down again herself, her back leaned against a tree. "What do I care?" she muttered. "I'm dead anyway. Fading away." She held out her hands in demonstration and with shock Luthen realised he could see straight through them if he looked hard, pick out individual blades on the grasslands floor beyond.
He knelt down in front of her, too horrified to pick up the gun again. The woman wasn't any danger to him. He touched one of her hands. It felt solid enough. She whipped both back out of his reach and folded her arms across her chest.
"What's happening to you?" he asked.
She glared as though he was personally responsible, and rapped, "None of your business, tin man!" She buried her head in her hands, and muffled a sob. "Oh, rabbits. I'm dead, the Doctor's dying, and Nyssa's going to be trapped here when your people invade." She raised her tearstained face to glare at him again. "I should have bloody well shot you. At least it would have made me feel better."
Luthen held up his hand with the reclaimed gun, but she batted it aside as if it was an insignificant irritance. He wondered if it was actually possible to shoot her in her present not-quite-material state, or whether the bullet would go straight through without damage. "You're not a native of this planet, are you?"
"No I'm not, thank you very much. I'm a human..." she stopped and seemed to be caught up in thought for a moment. "Of course, you won't have heard of humans. They don't exist yet. The Doctor says they won't exist for millions of years."
"What?" Luthen was becoming convinced that the woman was mad. He sighed, stared down at the gun and then holstered it. "Let's start this again. Hello, I'm Ryn Luthen. Nice to meet you."
"Tegan," said the woman, reluctantly, as if she begrudged him even this simplest piece of information. "Tegan Jovanka."
"Doctor, this doesn't look like any Earth city I've ever seen!"
He replied with a glum nod, studying their distinctly un-Earthlike surroundings. The TARDIS had materialized on a blue-tinged hillside. Around them, the countryside stretched, dotted with trees. In the distance, at the base of the hill, stood a glimmering white city, the crisp lines of its architecture, the paleness of the stone and the general impression of grandeur it radiated reminiscent of some ancient Roman city. Behind it, the land showed field divisions and signs of farming, the blue-green of the grass replaced by an orangish-yellow crop and in some cases bare, ploughed fields. In the far distance beyond the farmland, shallow, rounded mountains decorated the skyline. Two suns shone down from the sky, one reaching its zenith, the other low and setting.
The TARDIS stood lopsidedly on the slope of the hill. To all appearances the blue police box was leaning well beyond its centre of gravity, but the TARDIS didn't always choose to obey the laws of physics as its outer form suggested it ought and it stood solidly at this incongruous angle.
"Doctor," Tegan said in tones that could strip paint, which suggested she thought she was being ignored and that she was losing patience.
"Yes," he said mildly, distracted by the idyllic surroundings. "We seem to have gone somewhat astray."
Tegan sighed, clearly intending her exasperation to be heard. "All right, so where are we this time?" she asked, and tagged on under her breath, "If you know."
"As a matter of fact I do know," the Doctor replied, trying for an injured tone. A wasted effort; she didn't even register it. He frowned, and searched his pockets for his hat. "What I don't know is how we got here." He punched the crumpled hat back into shape, jammed it on his head, and marched several paces down the hillside before she could muster a reply.
He sensed she was following him as he slowed his pace to a stroll, relaxed and breathed deeply of the fresh air. The slightly blue grass, which wasn't grass but in the absence of the correct term it seemed a good idea to use the nearest available, was springy and slippery underfoot. He heard Tegan's footfalls as she ran across it to catch up.
"What a splendid place!" he announced, spinning to face her with both arms outstretched and a grin on his face, vague hopes of instilling some enthusiasm in her yet.
She folded her arms across her chest and looked annoyed. Looking annoyed was one of the things she did very well. The Doctor predicted another question was on its way, and was not disappointed. "Where are we, Doctor?"
"Planet called Janovay." He knelt to study the grass-like growth carpeting the ground. "Binary system. Earth-type planet. Delightful looking place. Blue sky, blue grass." He rubbed his fingers across a ragged, textured blade. "Interesting."
Tegan took an ominously deep breath, and opened her mouth, possibly to say something to the effect that he'd got all that information from the TARDIS location readout and from what was painfully obvious. Rescue appeared in the form of Nyssa, who chose that moment to step out of the TARDIS and exclaim, "It's beautiful!"
The Doctor stood up and wiped his hands on his striped trousers. "Yes. I thought so." He waved a hand towards the brilliant white city perhaps a mile or two away. "Look at it. No roads, no air traffic. Clear air without a trace of pollution. No power lines. It's as though this place is saturated with restfulness. Have you ever been anywhere so peaceful?"
Nyssa began to reply, but Tegan's voice overrode hers, refusing to be turned from her subject. "Doctor, this may seem a wholly unreasonable question from someone who's stuck here until you decide to leave, but do you actually know anything about this planet beyond the name you read off the TARDIS console?"
"No, no. I may have heard the name mentioned once in passing, can't seem to recall where. It may come to me in a few hours - that's the trouble with having so many memories... " He realised he was beginning to ramble and switched back to placating Tegan. "But don't worry, this place certainly looks harmless enough. I'm sure the people will be friendly. Don't you agree, Nyssa?"
Nyssa's long-suffering expression told him she wasn't planning on taking sides. "I'm still getting used to the fact we've landed somewhere nice. But how did we get here?"
"Ah." The Doctor took a deep breath, and breathed it out again. He paced backwards and forwards a few times across the same two metres of ground. He took off his hat, screwed it up in both hands, stopped still with his back to his companions, glanced down at his hat and noticed its mangled state, straightened it out again carefully, put it back on his head, and spun around. "That's a tricky one."
"Is that another way of saying the TARDIS messed up again?" asked Tegan, who had watched his performance unimpressed. "However wonderful you seem to find that city down there, it isn't going to have any high street clothes stores."
"The TARDIS did not 'mess up again'!" the Doctor replied, quite offended. If he'd been near enough to give the police box a reassuring pat to repair any damage done to its feelings, he would have done so. "It's just..." He paused and glanced at both young women to check he had their attention. Nyssa raised her eyebrows and Tegan's expression was impatient. "Cantankerous old dear that she is, I think she gets bored doing what she's told. So every now and then she picks a destination herself. After all, why should I choose where we go all the time? It's only fair, really."
Tegan groaned. "And I was expecting science."
"So it's an accident again," Nyssa translated with good humour.
Cynics, the both of them.
"Well," said Tegan. "I suggest we jump straight back into the TARDIS and get out of here quickly before the peace is shattered and the usual nasty sorts of things start happening."
"Oh, Tegan," Nyssa sighed. "We've been nice places too."
"Krasia Major was nice."
"More like boring. You and... and Adric and the Doctor were so caught up in the scientific stuff I spent three days on my own in..."
"Yes, yes, all right," the Doctor cut in, most particularly not wanting to get onto that subject again. "I know we're not where you wanted to be, but I can't believe you could leave this place without even taking a little look around. Where's your sense of adventure - or aesthetics for that matter? This place is so idyllic I'd have brought us here on purpose if I'd known it existed! As it is, I suggest we take advantage of a happy accident." He headed back to the TARDIS to lock the door, fishing for the key in his pockets.
"I don't see what harm it could do to take a look around," Nyssa said, almost reluctantly, walking over to Tegan's side. "After all, you don't know where we might end up next."
The two girls grinned at each other. It was a conspiracy, the Doctor decided, affronted. He'd only gone out of his way to show them some of the wonders of the universe. He gave up on his left coat pocket and concentrated on the right one, which turned up a question-mark embroidered handkerchief and half a jelly baby.
"I still need some new clothes," Tegan said.
"I still don't see what's wrong with all the clothes in the TARDIS," Nyssa said.
He located the keys alongside a garlic bulb in his right trouser pocket. After contemplating the garlic a moment in confusion, he shrugged and shoved it back into a different pocket. The key was in his hand and halfway to the door when Tegan snapped, "Don't bother! We're going to Earth."
The Doctor sighed and turned around. Tegan had not been overly happy once she realised she'd been dragged from Amsterdam with nothing but the white top and shorts she'd been wearing at the time, and he'd agreed to return the TARDIS to Earth so that she could go shopping.
"It won't take long," he said.
"You look fine as you are," Nyssa assured her. She currently wore a trouser suit similar to Nyssa's Traken ones, made from jade green velvet. It had a vast frilly collar and cuffs, and she didn't like it. But it was warm, and that was why she grudgingly wore it.
"It's not mine. I want something designed for humans. Not something where I have to sew up all the extra sleeves. I'm not an Irallian or whatever you said this thing came from."
"Ithalian," said Nyssa.
"Whatever." She resorted to asking nicely; always her last resort. "Please, Doc?"
The Doctor locked the TARDIS door and pocketed the key, making a note to remember which pocket, in case the key was needed again in a hurry. "Just a quick look around then back to the TARDIS," he said briskly. "Promise."
Tegan threw her arms up in defeat. "As if it's ever that simple."
"Will you pack that in, okay? I'm all right, but if you don't stop giving me these concerned looks, you won't be!"
Luthen wondered if his strange companion was always so hostile or if he ought to give her the benefit of the doubt considering her surely stressful condition. He tentatively chose the latter. "All right. I'm just worried. You looked as if you were about to vanish a few minutes ago."
She glowered, but explained, "It's easier to control it now I'm not alone. You being here helps my concentration. I suppose I ought to thank you for sticking around."
"Control what?" Distracted, he caught his foot on a rock and slid down in the mud. The woman, Tegan Jovanka, glanced back to see what had happened and cursed.
"Control the device," she said evasively. She grabbed his flesh arm and hauled him to his feet.
She was already hurrying forward again, leaving him behind, before he could thank her. He awkwardly caught up. They were skirting the edges of the valley, staying just out of sight behind the line of the hilltops. Since she seemed to have a destination and some plan of action in mind, he contented himself to follow her. She didn't object to his presence.
"So exactly what are we doing?" he asked as he fell into step at her side.
She dismissed the question with a wave of one hand and a 'hush' sound, and broke pace to climb higher up the hill until she could look down the other side. Luthen copied the move. And stared.
They had traversed about a quarter of the perimeter of the valley, and he could now see the hillside previously obscured by the city. On it there stood a squarish blue object about the size of an escape pod, leaning at a strange angle. Walking down from it towards the city were three distant figures. And one of them...
He turned to Jovanka. "That's you."
She pulled him down as he started to stand. "Don't! They mustn't see us. We have to get to the, erm, that blue box. Come on, we've got to hurry. I don't know how much time I have left."
Luthen ducked down beneath the line of the hill again and moved after her. Despite the way her spiked shoes were sliding and sinking in the ground, she set a fair pace. A bit further on, she stopped to rest, again hunching down on the top of the hill so she could watch the progress of the three figures. "This feels so weird," she said in between harsh breaths, grief in her eyes. "I wish I could go and warn them..."
"So why don't you?"
The expression of contempt on her face said, 'don't you know anything?' She said, "That would cause all kinds of problems. We could all end up zapped out of existence or something. Probably."
"Probably?" Luthen's astonishment matched his confusion. "Do you even know what you're talking about?"
"Yes," she snapped. He deduced that she actually didn't. "Sort of. I know more about it than you do!"
That was a fact. She began struggling back to her feet and he tried to help her. For the first time she appeared to notice something was amiss with him. "What's wrong with your arm?"
"Oh, right." They continued walking, at a brisk pace. After a while she plucked up the curiosity to ask, "So how much of you is cybernetic?"
He decided that if she started sniggering he was going to turn round and walk away from her. "None of your business," he retorted, and changed the subject, "So what was it you were running away from earlier?"
Irritably, she said, "If you must know I thought I was being chased by a giant snake."
"We're all afraid of something," she said defensively. "At least mine has a basis in reality. It's not like I was running from bloody mice or something. I mean, snakes can harm you."
"I never said anything."
"You didn't need to. You looked it." She peered over the brow of the hill again. "We're nearly there. We'll get in line with the TAR... the blue box, so we can't be seen from the city's watch-tower, then make a run for it. With any luck they won't spot us. Of course, if I was on my own I could just slip out of phase with the timestream again and they wouldn't see me-"
He resisted the temptation to make comment about how she must have been visible to this same watch-tower in her mad dash for the hills. He also deliberately forbade himself to ask what 'out of phase with the timestream' meant. An answer he probably wouldn't understand anyway wasn't worth the trouble.
Jovanka fumbled signalling for him to follow her and he didn't realise he was supposed to be running for the blue box until she was already halfway there. He broke cover and dashed across the open space to join her where she stood leaning against the box's side, facing away from the city. She scowled, obviously considering the error his fault entirely. "The door's on the other side. I don't think they've seen us yet. They shouldn't have seen us." She searched her pockets. "Rabbits! Don't say I've lost it."
"This!" She triumphantly pulled out a battered piece of metal attached to a piece of string. Strangely, it seemed to share her transparency.
"And what's that supposed to do?"
"It's a key, of course."
"Of course. So what's in this... capsule... that's so crucial?"
Her face broke into a wide smile. "Are you going to be surprised. I'll show you." She stuck her head around the corner, presumably to check that herself and the other two figures were now out of sight, then signalled for him to follow, keeping her back close against the blue box as she sidled around to the doors. He copied her actions automatically, and it occurred to him to wonder why he was letting an untrained civilian order him around.
Jovanka raised the key to the double doors. She set it to the lock, turned it - and nothing. She wrenched at the door, and finally battered her fists against it in a burst of temper. About to offer to try, Luthen noticed he could see the blue of the box through her hands. She noticed it too, sagging against the door, face buried in her transparent arms.
Slowly, as if taking pity on her, the doors creaked open.
The Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa had walked through an open gateway into a colourless city. Within the confines of the walls, everything was white, as though they were trapped inside a line drawing on an otherwise blank page. All the buildings were constructed of white stone, the street was paved with slabs of the same in a close-tessellating diamond pattern. There were no cracks where vegetation had broken through. Within the city, there didn't seem to be any gardens or parks - no signs of anything ornamental or recreational, merely the stark simplicity of the necessary. Even the people wore plain white robes.
"Nothing like standing out in a crowd," the Doctor remarked. They themselves were the only splashes of colour that seemed to exist here.
"Clearly a society heavily into simplicity," Nyssa agreed. "It doesn't look like they have much in the way of technology - although appearances can be deceptive."
"They probably like maths, as well," Tegan muttered.
The Doctor coughed, and switched his attention to the Janovians themselves, who despite the conspicuous colourfulness of the three strangers, seemed to have barely registered their presence. He noted the sparse scattering of people with interest - if the TARDIS indicators were right, this city was the only populated area on the planet, suggesting a colony, and its lack of residents suggested a colony in decline. He tried to catch the eye of a man walking past, without success. The Janovian's eyes flickered across to him for the briefest instant before turning away.
Perplexed, the Doctor removed his hat and scratched his head. "Curious."
"They don't seem very worried by the appearance of aliens among them." Nyssa had moved close to his side and leaned closer still to whisper the words. He guessed it was their very lack of concern that made her so uneasy.
"Yes, you would expect we'd attract a little attention. Obviously they're either very familiar with alien visitors or they've evolved without a sense of curiosity - which would cause one to wonder how they evolved at all." He broke off, realised he was for some reason wringing his hat into a mangled mess in his hands, stopped and stared at it, then straightened it carefully and put it back on his head. He glanced down at his companions. "We're not going to find out standing here. Come along." He surveyed the two paths into the city, took a few steps in one direction then changed his mind and followed the other, deciding that one looked more likely to lead to the city centre.
The few people they passed on the street were as serene and unflappable as the ones by the gates. Although they looked human enough (not particularly unusual, the Doctor admitted), he was certain they weren't. And it wasn't a certainty springing from his knowledge that, chronologically speaking, the human race didn't exist yet and wouldn't for a long time to come. These people simply could not be mistaken for human - it positively radiated from them. To the Doctor, they felt alien yet familiar. He mentally noted down telepathy as a possibility, then scribbled it out and considered the familiarity again. And was ambushed by a feeling that it mightn't have been a good idea to stay on this planet.
"It can't be," he said to himself, stopping in his tracks, vaguely aware of Tegan cursing as, distracted by her study of the box-like houses, she bumped into his arm. "This is the past. The distant past..."
Trying to reassure himself and failing, he shelved the thought in the back of his mind to examine later and reconsidered telepathy as an option since on the whole it was much less worrying.
"What was that, Doctor?" Nyssa asked.
"Just thinking aloud," he replied, and started walking again. "We've travelled a long way into the past. Back into ancient galactic history, in fact." As he said the words, realisation blazed across his thoughts. "Janovay! I knew I'd heard the name before." The Doctor stared around with new eyes, remembering half-heard lectures at the academy on Gallifrey, when he'd been more interested in plotting with the Rani an evil scheme to time-jump the lecture-hall forward to the end of classes. "Janovay... well I never."
"You've remembered something?" asked Nyssa.
"Hmm. Ancient Galactic History. Compulsory course at the academy. But that was a long time ago." He shut his eyes, trying to concentrate on the memory. He had the sense that something important was evading his thoughts. He shook his head and let out a sigh. Gave in and opened his eyes again. "It's famous for something, I know that much for sure."
"Can't be that important," Tegan reasoned. "You'd remember if it was something important."
"Mm." He hoped she was right, had a bad feeling she wasn't. Something was very wrong. On top of his suspicions, he was beginning to feel a nagging sensation inside his head, like an itch in his mind, which could signify some minor temporal distortion concentrated nearby. "It would be in the TARDIS databank. Perhaps. Or other historical records back in the TARDIS."
He was seriously considering going back to look when an exclamation from Nyssa drew his attention. She bent down to pick up an object from the pavement, and held it out for him to inspect. He fished out his half-frames and put them on to examine it. "Now what could that be doing here?"
"A piece of wiring from some sort of machine?" Tegan said, looking over his shoulder. "But these people don't look as if they have any technology to speak of."
"Maybe things are not as they seem, as indeed Nyssa suggested," the Doctor mused.
"Unless it was left by other alien visitors like ourselves," Nyssa said. "It's a possibility, considering their lack of reaction to us. And it is the only sign of technology we've seen since arriving here." She took it back to investigate. "It looks old - beginning to corrode. You'd certainly need a higher level of technology than these people display to manufacture it."
"Strange for a society to stay at this level if it's had any contact with spacefaring races, though. You'd think someone would have given them a few pointers." The Doctor watched a horse and cart trundle across their path some way ahead, where another road intersected the one they followed. Horse? No - he squinted, and removed his half-frames. It was similar to a horse, but it had a flatter, broader face and thicker legs. The cart itself was efficiently constructed but basic, and an unlikely sight in a society with technology.
He was about to suggest they get back to the TARDIS when he noticed what was being transported in the cart. Nyssa gave a small cry of astonishment and they exchanged glances. Then, the Doctor broke stride to sprint after it. The noise of Tegan's heels on the paving reassured him his companions followed close behind.
It quickly became clear he wasn't going to catch up. The cart was moving at a moderate speed and had too much of a head start. The Doctor yelled, "Excuse me! Wait! I'd like to talk to you!" with a last burst of energy as his burning lungs forced him to slow down, but it was no use, the driver either couldn't hear or was ignoring him.
He halted to catch his breath. Running was harder than normal under the burning heat of two suns. A moment later his companions caught up at a pace and posture more closely resembling a crawl.
"I thought I saw something that looked like a machine gun in with that lot!" Tegan announced between gulping great lungfuls of air.
"I could make out part of the navigation array of a ship's drive system," Nyssa said. "And radio equipment."
"Along with an assortment of component parts and tools and broken pieces," the Doctor concluded. "Very strange indeed."
"Like seeing a caveman drinking Fosters."
"Hm. Quite, Tegan. Obviously they're collecting it from somewhere. It would be interesting to see if we can find out where." Even as he spoke, he saw an empty cart round a street corner a short distance in front of them, heading back the way they'd just run from. "Aha, and here's our ride there, right on time!" He inclined his head towards it. His companions saw what he intended and looked doubtful. The cart was almost level with their position.
The Doctor sprang forward and caught the side of it, hauled himself over and into the back. About Tegan, only seconds behind, he had few worries - she grabbed the side, determination on her face, and cartwheeled over, landing in a messy heap but recovering herself to help him catch Nyssa and pull her safely aboard.
"Do excuse us," he said politely to the driver, who spared them the briefest of unconcerned glances. "You don't mind us hitching a lift, do you?"
He took the Janovian's silence as agreement.
Luthen stared around the interior of the blue capsule, his brain having problems accepting that the room he was standing in was contained within a box that, according to its outside dimensions, should hold no more than a few cubic metres of space. He reached out to touch the nearest wall. It felt solid enough. Luthen came to the conclusion he'd gone insane as the only explanation that made sense.
Jovanka had gone straight to the hexagonal control console in the centre of the room, and pulled a lever that closed the doors behind them. Now she leaned weakly against the console, taking deep breaths. She noticed at the same time as he did that she looked solid again, contemplated her hands in wonder for a moment, then grinned broadly at him. "It worked! I wasn't sure it would. The TARDIS has stabilised the deterioration - it's sealed off from the world outside, so the molecular degradation brought on by the machine's duplication effect can't affect me in here." From the sound of it she was only repeating verbatim something said to her by somebody else, but she still seemed to take smug delight in Luthen's incomprehension.
He was still trying to take in the fact that the small blue box had a large control room inside when he noticed an open door, beyond which a corridor led to yet more rooms.
"What's the matter?" asked Jovanka, smirking. "Haven't you ever been inside a dimensionally transcendental Time and Relative Dimension in Space vehicle before?"
Luthen's temper snapped. "Oh, sure. Everyday sight where I come from. No, of course I haven't! Now would you please explain exactly what's going on?" He took a deep breath and attempted to regain his calm.
Jovanka looked first angry, then recalcitrant. "Okay. I'm sorry. Look, Ryn, or whatever your name is, I'm not telling you anything because I don't know if I can trust you. I do realise you might be perfectly trustworthy and all this totally uncalled for, so I'm sorry. You can stick around, if you want, but you have to understand, I can't afford to explain anything I don't have to. After all, you are the merciless enemy these people have been telling us so much about, even if you don't look it."
"Merciless enemy?" Luthen repeated. "That's a good one. I'm as lost and far away from my home as you are."
"Unlikely," she said with a bitter snort of laughter.
"Whatever... We're both trapped here, on an alien world. It makes sense we should stick together."
"That's not going to last for long." She placed both hands flat against the surface of the console, staring at her fingers as though attempting to see through them to the metal underneath. "It's all right for you. The Janovians won't hurt you unless they have to, and your own people are going to be here within days to pick you up. Right before they wipe out all other life on the planet."
"We don't do things like that-"
"Don't give me that! Haven't you been listening? It's your lot who are to blame for everything that's happening here!"
Luthen fell into silence, a silence that Jovanka seemed unwilling to break. She left him to his thoughts while she tottered around the room trying to read the various instrumentation. Eventually, Luthen dredged up another question. "What do you mean, it's not going to be for long? I thought you said you were safe in here." Though they were far from a perfect team, he shuddered at the thought of being trapped alone.
"Yes, I am... but we can't stay in here. Because in a little while there'll be people here, and we wouldn't be able to get out." She gestured emphatically with both arms as she spoke. "What could I possibly hope to achieve stuck in here anyway? I can't fly this thing, so my friends will die and I won't even have tried to do anything!"
"How long is a little while? Long enough for me to try fixing this arm and some of my weaponry?"
"Long enough for me to do what I came back here for and to get out. I don't know how long it'll take, but we have some hours yet, before they come." Jovanka folded her arms and paced across the room, unhappy with the request. She studied him a moment, and sighed. "I suppose you've time enough." She added, in a low mutter, "So long as you're as harmless as you seem."
"Thanks." Luthen's gratitude skirted the edges of sarcasm.
Tegan didn't think much of either the alien city or the aliens themselves. Any civilisation oblivious to the concept of idle chatter was most assuredly not to be trusted. Aside from that, she was being shaken around to the point of feeling sick, she'd got splinters in her hands from her vault into the back of the cart, and she was having little success in trying to pick them out while the cart was in motion.
They drove over a bump in the road, which drove the splinter she was trying to dig out further into her palm, which provoked her to snap out an obscenity. The Doctor twisted around to direct at her his most disapproving glance. The problem with his most disapproving glance was that while it might have had significant impact in his earlier incarnation, in his present one it made him look petulant, and Tegan always had to resist the urge to snigger. She didn't think the 800-or-so year old alien had quite got used to looking little older than she herself, in human terms. "I've got splinters," she said defensively, allowing the tone of her voice to deliver the unspoken, 'And its your fault'.
She met the next bump in the road unprepared due to the effort she was putting into glaring at him. Her teeth rattled and her shoulder received a ferocious crack on the side of the cart. This time she caught the curse before it left her tongue. For some reason, the Doctor was as touchy about bad language as he was about megalomaniacs and psychopaths out for galactic domination or whatever.
"When we find someone in charge, we'll have to complain about the state of these roads!" he exclaimed and, as often the case, she honestly didn't know whether it was a joke or he meant it seriously.
As they progressed deeper into the city, the buildings were larger and more official of character. There were more people on the streets, but still not many and the impression of emptiness continued to pervade the atmosphere. More unsettling was the silence. None of the people spoke. The only sounds were their own voices and the clatter of the wheels.
"Peaceful, isn't it?" said Nyssa, a little later, the edginess in her voice conveying exactly what she meant by 'peaceful'. Tegan shared a sympathetic eye contact. She wondered if they'd humoured the Doctor's curiosity quite long enough, but decided to give him a little while longer before she started sniping at him proper. There did seem an unusual gravity behind his not-unusual interest, but she wasn't sure what to make of it. His reactions could be irritatingly hard to read. In the past, she'd seen him walk into almost certain death with a casual smile on his face, and she'd seen him go into a panic when he thought he'd lost his hat.
"It looks like we're there," he announced, interrupting her thoughts. "Fascinating!"
He was staring at something directly in front of them. Tegan had to risk standing up to see. She craned her neck over the top of the driver's head, and almost lost her precarious balance when she saw what had gripped the Doctor's interest. "That's impossible!" she said. "It's ridiculous!"
The cart drew to a halt. What she was looking at, in the middle of the street in front of a large, official-looking building, was an archaeological dig. There was a big hole dug out of the street, with removed mud and paving slabs piled neatly to one side. The Janovians inside the hole carefully handed unearthed artefacts to others standing on the surface. Except this was the dawn of history, and a society wholly lacking in technology, and the items they were digging up were technological components and equipment years beyond their level of development.
"Apparently not," said Nyssa, with similar bewilderment.
At that point the driver of the cart turned around and gestured to them - a wave of the hand that unmistakably signalled they should disembark. They piled off, Tegan wondering if the others were as relieved as she to find their feet solidly on the ground again. The Doctor certainly showed no sign of it, proceeding to thank the silent Janovian, at length, for his unintentional taxi service.
Tegan straightened her crumpled clothes and stared blankly at Nyssa, who shrugged, mystified, and stared blankly back. Then they both switched their stares onto the hole in the ground from which the Janovians were working hard to produce the sorts of items they'd earlier seen in transit.
"This is somebody's idea of a very strange joke," Tegan decided. Although she was beginning to realise that, the more she studied the scene, the less it looked like an archaeological dig. For a start, though there was a large and indisputable hole in the ground, nobody was digging. The earth at the sides of the hole was compacted hard, as if the actual digging had been finished some time ago. Furthermore, the equipment people were carrying out was not dulled or muddied. It hadn't just been carelessly buried or dumped but... stored?
The Doctor finished apologising to the driver and joined them. He looked flustered about something.
"Well?" asked Nyssa.
He searched his pockets for his half-frames, a more obvious stalling ploy than usual since he certainly didn't need them to peer down at Nyssa or to answer her question.
"What is it, Doctor?" Tegan demanded. She was sure he suspected something about Janovay he was keeping from them, and was getting tired of his evasiveness.
He found his half-frames but didn't put them on, simply frowning at them like he'd forgotten why he'd wanted them in the first place. "I have a feeling I shouldn't be here," he said. "As though I'm interfering in a future I shouldn't be, a future that's too close to home... but this is the distant past. The earliest intelligent civilisations to form. Ancient history." He broke off to carefully remove his jacket, replace his half-frames in the pocket, and fold it over one arm. "It's hot here."
"I don't need to be told that," Tegan retorted. "I feel like I'm being roasted alive inside this thing." Why was it the only time they landed somewhere that was warm rather than freezing cold, she had exchanged her usual brief outfits for a warm one? "Now, what about the dig?" She stepped out of the way of the Janovians who were beginning to pile their findings into the cart, who walked around the three strangers so impassively they might not have been there at all.
"Well, nobody seems too worried about our presence here... let's go and take a closer look." He was already walking away before she had chance to disagree.
She and Nyssa caught up with him at the edge of the pit, where he was standing close to the several-metre drop. Tegan tugged on the back of his cricketing jersey to haul him a step back, but he just looked cross and moved forward again. She rolled her eyes in exasperated defeat.
"It's some kind of vault," the Doctor concluded, oblivious, in the ridiculously happy voice he used when he discovered something he considered terribly interesting. "Yes, I see now... they stored their technology down there, for whatever reason, a long time ago, and now, again for reasons unknown, they want it back." He frowned suddenly. "Or maybe not for reasons unknown after all," he added, casting a nervous glance towards the sky.
Tegan followed his gaze. The sky was empty, as she'd expected, and, dual suns aside, perfectly normal.
The Doctor was looking to Nyssa for approval of his theory. She nodded slowly. "It's not necessarily the only explanation... but it fits. They outlawed technology? Why would they do that? Why abandon progress after coming so far?"
"A war, maybe?" Tegan wondered. "Would that make sense?"
"It might if there were any indication that massively destructive weapons had ever been used on this planet," the Doctor said. "But we've seen no evidence of that. Besides, I doubt it would be so easy to give up all the comforts of technology, especially in the aftermath of war. If they did give it up they must have been very determined... am I missing something?" He turned to Nyssa again, who shrugged, no wiser.
Tegan was beginning to feel bored. Once the initial shock of the dig's incongruity had worn off, she realised she wasn't especially interested in any of this. She didn't honestly care why the Janovians were unearthing their technology, or why they had buried it in the first place. She just wanted to get back to the TARDIS and leave the unsettling planet for good. The strange thing was, she would've sworn the Doctor felt the same way, except something seemed to be drawing him on, calling for him to stay despite his discomfort.
She squinted down into the hole. About four metres down, a hatch had been unearthed. It stood open, and through it she could see, dimly lit, smooth surfaces of artificial walls and a narrow metal staircase. It was up this that workers brought the artefacts to the surface. She leaned further over, trying to see how far down the stairway descended. Her heeled shoes skidded on the compacted mud and she let out a shriek as her legs slid from under her.
The Doctor caught her around the waist, hauled her back and stood her upright again. He calmly dusted the mud from her clothes with his hat.
"Are you alright?" asked a Nyssa all too obviously trying not to grin.
"Perfectly, thank you." She didn't quite manage to pull off the offended act, due to the huge snort of laughter which burst through before she'd finished speaking.
The Doctor interrupted, "Look, the cart's leaving again. This is our chance to find out where these things are being taken."
"Oh, no," Nyssa said.
"That thing was bad enough when it was empty!"
"Well, this time we won't ride in the back." He left them behind again as he hurried to talk to the driver, who was as unresponsive as before. A moment later, he waved them over, patting his hand on the surface of the bench-like seat at the front, where there was enough space for two people to sit next to the Janovian.
Tegan hesitantly climbed on, followed by a still more hesitant Nyssa. "What are you going to do?" she asked the Doctor.
In reply, he flung his jacket into the back of the cart and stepped up onto a small ledge above the wheel. He grinned as he clung there.
"Oh, surely not," Tegan groaned, feeling ill just watching him. She wondered if it would be embarrassing for him to explain to other Time Lords that his fifth regeneration had been brought on by falling off the back of a horse-and-cart. She shook her head in disgust and cracked it against the wooden boards at her back as the cart unexpectedly began to move.
Slightly malicious satisfaction was to be found in the Doctors frantic scrabbles as his grip almost failed.
After only a few streets, she realised something was wrong. She craned her head around to face the Doctor - she saw from his frown that he was aware of it too. But it was Nyssa who voiced it, slightly accusingly, to the driver. "This isn't the way we travelled before."
"No," the Janovian agreed. "You are required to meet with the Councillors. They will answer your questions."
"Do you ever get tired of corridors?" Tegan asked, a touch of irritation in her voice, as they were led through the interior of a large building lacking much in the way of decoration both inside and out. Like the TARDIS, it was bigger than its exterior would suggest, extending back some considerable distance behind its street-facing facade. Tegan's voice sounded unreasonably loud, echoing hollowly.
Their Janovian taxi-driver had set them off in front of the building, where another of the silent aliens was already waiting for them. He, their guide, answered their questions briefly as possible, if at all. The Doctor wondered if the natives were always so restrained.
He was beginning to think they were trapped inside an endless eternity of corridors when their guide halted in front of a door, silently opened it and waited for them to walk through. The Doctor shrugged and entered the room.
It was not an overly large room, but it had a high ceiling which made it seem larger. The dimensions of the chamber and the accuracy of its measurements harmonically corresponded to various advanced theories of spacial manipulation that ought to be centuries beyond the Janovians.
Three of the aliens waited within. Two, both men, sat quietly in chairs. The third, a woman, had stopped still in the midst of pacing the room. The men looked as serene as the others they'd seen. She, on the other hand, looked somewhat agitated, perhaps as close to nervousness as these people were capable of. She stood for a moment taking in the three strangers' appearance, and the Doctor felt oddly as though he was being catalogued, useful information filed away in her mind for further analysis. He made an effort to meet her gaze calmly.
"Welcome," she said. She was a little taller than he, and it looked unnatural, as though her bones had been stretched. She made up for her lack of grace with a uniquely purposeful manner of movement. Her red hair was tied back simply but was askew and escaping the binding. A dusting of darker freckles marked her sun-darkened skin. Her dress was the customary robe, but a bright red cloth belt around her waist announced her distinct from the norm. "I am First Councillor Verani. My fellow Council members you see before you are Councillor Crivthen-" she indicated the older of the two men, who had iron grey hair and a grim smile "-And Councillor Bannot." The young Janovian inclined his head, but neither his expression or the direction of his gaze altered. He focused not on the three visitors, but past them.
"Fantastic to meet you!" The Doctor remembered his hat, and whipped it off apologetically. "I'm the Doctor, and my companions here are Nyssa-" he placed a hand on her shoulder, to both indicate and reassure "-and-"
"Tegan Jovanka," Tegan said brightly. "G'day."
He blinked at her, his thoughts knocked off track by the interruption. He tried to realign his concentration. "Yes, quite. As I was saying, very nice to meet you and all that, but we really ought to be going. I have a distinct feeling I shouldn't be here."
"Really?" Verani's eyebrows raised quizzically. "I assure you, you are all welcome. All bar the Karalian are welcome on Janovay. Indeed, you are more than welcome - you are needed."
"Karalian?" repeated the Doctor bleakly. Suspicions solidified into fact. It became all the more necessary to get off Janovay, and quickly. But it wasn't going to be easy. He was getting the impression that despite their benign appearance, these people were not going to allow he, Nyssa and Tegan to leave in a hurry. And though he doubted they would use direct force, he imagined they had equally effective subtler means.
Verani smiled. "Forgive me; I get ahead of myself. You would like refreshments?" She signalled to their guide before there was chance to reply, and he hurried away. The Doctor noticed that the older councillor, Crivthen, was drinking from a rough pot mug, and he found himself hoping they had tea on Janovay, even if it would add another incongruity to the situation. He could really do with a nice comforting pot of tea.
"How come you're so happy to see us?" Tegan asked suspiciously. She'd been looking around the room in slightly bored interest and now stared up into the gaping expanse of the high ceiling. The Doctor would have preferred a more subtle approach to the situation. "I wouldn't have thought you get many visitors here?"
"On the contrary, this planet is on the main shipping route between the Miros system and the planet Chalx. We've known many different races to stop here on route, although there are few now, since the war," Verani answered calmly, at ease using vocabulary at odds with her surroundings.
"Yes... Nyssa, isn't it? The Karalian Union have become rather determined of late to annex the Miros system and its related resources and allies."
"Meaning you?" Tegan blurted. "You're in danger from them too. That's what all this is about."
"Quite," replied Verani.
"What are the Karalians?" Nyssa asked, failing to pick up her note of reluctance. "Why are they so bad?"
There was a brief silence. Verani's lips were set in a slight frown; she looked deep in thought. The other two councillors exchanged glances, and the elder moved to respond.
"They're a Cyborg race," the Doctor said wearily, deciding it was about time he let his companions know of his misgivings, hopefully without letting the Janovians on to too much. "A more primitive version of the Cybermen, or so it was speculated. The main power in this part of the universe at the moment. Considered to be rather ruthless. They work in the same way as Cybermen - those they conquer become a part of their cyber race." He noticed Tegan shudder slightly. Nyssa looked intrigued. She mouthed the words 'ancient history?' and he nodded.
"How could you pass through this sector of space and not know of the Karalians?" Councillor Crivthen asked. His voice was gruff, faintly ill-tempered, but the Doctor sensed in him a directness Verani lacked. "And exactly what are these 'Cybermen' of which you speak?"
A strangeness had taken over the expression of the First Councillor. She said quietly, almost trance-like, "It seems I have heard the word before, although I know I have not."
The Doctor looked at her sharply. "No. You haven't." The Cybermen wouldn't exist for quite a while yet.
"You said something?" Verani asked, her expression back to normal but her voice sounding shaken.
"Nothing at all." He grinned brightly, which he didn't expect to fool her, but which did persuade her to drop the subject for the moment at least. "Ah, you were saying then that we are not the only alien visitors to Janovay?"
"Assuredly not. In fact, we have a citizen of Miros II in residence in the city at this very time, aiding us... in the same way we beg of you to aid us." In the short pause after that statement, the drinks arrived. The Doctor stared down at his. It looked suspiciously like tea.
"You want our help?" Tegan asked. "What for?"
"To stop the invasion," Crivthen rumbled.
Tegan snorted, then seemed to realise he was serious and gaped at him. "What - what can we possibly do to stop the Karalian invasion?"
"You come from a world of technology. Ours, as you have seen, has been forbidden for centuries. We retain the equipment but lack the knowledge. We have no idea how these items work, or even what they all are. Verani has been able to put names and purposes to some of them and our friend from Miros has been a great help, but there is so much to be done, and we have little time."
"I'm hardly a genius myself! Just because we come from a world with technology doesn't mean we know everything about the science surrounding us... besides, the Karalians have some pretty powerful weapons by the sound of it, and so must the races they've already conquered. Dredging up this stuff can't be the answer to all your problems, surely?"
Crivthen's face was grim. "When it is our only chance, it is the one we must take, however small. But I am told... that some of the machines hidden in the vaults are of far greater strength and sophistication than any the Karalians possess."
"But how could that be?" Tegan turned to the Doctor for an answer. He caught her eye and shook his head.
"Tegan may be able to help you more than she realises," Nyssa said sympathetically. "And I certainly know enough to lend a hand." She too turned to him, but it was with a rather more challenging gaze. "Doctor? We can help these people, Doctor."
He mangled his hat between his hands, torn at the thought of the line they had to draw now before they became any more involved. "No," he said, afraid the words came out more brusquely than intended. "I'm sorry, but we can't. We have to leave, Nyssa. Tegan. Now."
Putting the dismantled energy weapon back together was a tedious task, broken by the occasional oath floating down the TARDIS corridors from wherever Jovanka was working to where he sat on the floor in the console room, and it drew Luthen's thoughts to morbid contemplations of the past and future - what he had of a future.
He couldn't help but wonder if he ought to be missing his people more than he was. After all, they were what he fought for, killed for, and that should indicate a certain amount of dedication. But the truth was that however mad or unstable Jovanka might be, she was more alive than any Karalian he had ever encountered. She was radiant with life, despite the irony that she was dying.
But then, they were all dying. That was the point. How long did he have left now? The surgeon had estimated three years of physical usefulness to the Karalian Union when he had first been diagnosed with the active strain of Amnos Syndrome. After that, a slow wasting away or a mercy killing. It had been almost two years since the diagnosis. The intervening years had been spent first in arresting the corrosive capabilities of the disease and setting him up with artificial limbs to replace the ones eaten by the AmnoSyn, then later in combat training. And finally, after only three months of active service, he'd inexplicably ended up here, on Janovay. A few days ahead of the invasion force.
He'd been seventeen. A reasonable shot of normal life compared to some, not so long as others managed to live undamaged. It was still in him, of course - Amnos Syndrome, the curse of his people. It had lain quiet in his cells since the day he was born. It would kill him eventually.
Fearfully, he wondered if he was already responsible for bringing the contamination to Janovay. In its temporarily arrested state it shouldn't be communicable, but you never knew for sure. And there was always a chance the disease could become active again anytime. Not that it mattered, since the invasion force would inevitably bring the contamination with them when they arrived.
He completed the final adjustment on the energy gun and slotted the power pack back into place. The arduous task of repairing the damaged equipment complete, he realised he wasn't sure how long he'd been engrossed in the task.
He'd been aware of Jovanka's invective all the time on a subconscious level, but abruptly a scream of frustration startled him. Concerned, he levered himself to his feet, leaning against the roundelled wall for support, and ventured down the corridor following the direction of the sounds.
A few corridors later he was beginning to think he was trapped in a maze. He came across an open door onto a smallish room that looked like some sort of lab. Edging through the doorway, he saw Jovanka standing with her back to him in front of a work desk covered by a scattering of lab containers filled with various substances. Unaware of his presence, she screamed again in fury and brought both fists down on the desk top. Its contents jumped and rattled. Realising she was being watched, she whirled around, snatching up an empty glass container - presumably with the intent to hurl it at the intruder.
"Jovanka!" Luthen ducked. A few seconds later when the blow still hadn't impacted, he slowly straightened up. She was standing looking at him, not moving.
"It's you," she muttered, accusatory, lowering her arm reluctantly as if she might still decide to throw the container at something out of sheer temper. "I don't suppose you know anything about chemistry?"
Luthen shook his head. Took a few cautious steps into the lab, not wholly convinced it was a safe thing to do.
"Rabbits!" She glared at him as though it was his responsibility to know and he'd failed her miserably. "This is ridiculous. I didn't even pass 0-level science at school! How on Earth did I expect to be able to do anything? Why did I put myself through any of this!?"
She leaned back against the table, looking drained. He noticed for the first time how tired she was, and how it wasn't only her clothes that were ragged and torn. There were bruises and scratches on her exposed skin. She looked as though she had been in battle. The purpose that had driven her before had left her eyes, and now he saw her as she was - a small, fragile-seeming woman, little older then a girl, not combat trained or qualified to deal with a situation such as she found herself in.
"Whose lab is this?" Luthen asked quietly.
"It's Nyssa's." She put a hand to her head as though fighting a sudden stab of pain, or grief. "Or at least, she uses it. I suppose it's the Doctor's really. This is his ship, we're just... passengers." She sighed and met his eyes, frankness in hers. "Nyssa told me what I needed to do. I memorised it. But everything's scrambled up inside my head now and I can't remember it all. Only pieces, and that's no good. A mistake could make things even worse. It means I can't do anything and all of this has been for nothing. But I'm still dying - I can't do anything about that either!" Her voice had risen as she spoke. Luthen winced, his head throbbing.
"You should try to calm down. There are always options. It may not be as hopeless as it seems. Can you contact your friends? The Janovians? Is there nothing either of them can do?" He risked resting a hand on her arm in an attempt at comfort, and she immediately slapped it away.
"They might be able to do something, but I can't ask them. Haven't you understood a word I've said? All this has already happened. I can't go to anyone because this is the past, and there's nothing I can do to stop things happening as they did before. So I'll just fade away to nothing..." She covered her face with her hands as though about to burst into tears, and he reached out to her again.
She slapped his hand away again. "Will you pack it in! I have to think." She hesitated. "Maybe there is a chance. Either way we can't stay here. We have to get back to the city... With any luck I can hang on long enough to sort this mess out yet!" She marched out of the lab, then paused in the doorway and looked rather sheepishly back at Luthen. "That is, erm, if your arm's fixed and all that."
He nodded. "It's done. Everything's fixed."
"Isn't that portable armoury rather heavy to carry around all the time?" she asked, then contemplated said armoury in sudden silence. She shook her head and sighed. "No, I suppose shooting Verani at this point would only cause even more trouble." She glared at Luthen, faintly accusingly. "I suppose you've killed dozens of people?"
"One, I think." He shuddered at the thought of the enemy he'd shot, back on the ship, moments before falling into the drive. She gave him a sceptical look. "I've only been in active service to the Karalian Union for three months, and most of that was spent on ship duty. I've only been in combat once."
Jovanka said, "I don't believe it! Of all the menacing Cyborg commandos that must be out there, I get saddled with a rookie!" She huffed and marched off down the corridor. Her voice floated back: "Are you coming with me or not?"
Luthen spat a curse and followed at an awkward, lopsided run.
The Doctor had spun around, presumably with the intention of marching out the door. Nyssa was not sure why the Doctor, usually so willing to devote himself to a hopeless cause, was refusing to help in this case. But she knew it had to be something serious, and wished now that she hadn't offered the Janovians her help so impulsively.
The Doctor did not get very far. Before she and Tegan could even move to follow him, Verani stood in his way, her arms outstretched to cover the doorway. She had moved there like lightening, and her very lack of concern for the dignity of her title accorded her a dignity of majestic proportion as she blocked them inside the room, her height towering over even the Doctor. "No," she said. Her voice was soft, without aggression, but Nyssa sensed that she was prepared to go a long way to get what she wanted. "You can't abandon us. We've waited, we've prayed for the help you can give. You can save us."
"We can't save you." The Doctor's words were harsh, an unmoveable finality, but Nyssa saw the depths of sadness in his eyes. He wanted to help the Janovians. For a moment he stared sadly at Verani and it seemed his conscience was going to give in, but instead he firmly gripped Verani's wrists and set her aside. "So sorry - must dash," he said, sounding faintly embarrassed. Nyssa could only stand and gape at the uncharacteristic action as he disregarded Verani, abandoned the Janovians, and pushed the door open.
Verani was not someone easily pushed aside. Before he could cross the threshold into the corridor, she grabbed his arm, hauling him back. It made Nyssa wince just to witness the depth of the creases her fingers bored into his cricketing jersey, the stark white of her knuckles. The Doctor looked pained, annoyed and puzzled in rapid succession.
"Hey!" snapped Tegan. "You let go of him right now!"
Nyssa was horribly aware that the Australian was ready to launch herself at the alien woman. "Please stop," she said, attempting to interpose herself between Verani and the Doctor. "We can talk reasonably about this."
Help arrived from an unexpected source. The other two councillors had been watching aghast, struck dumb by their colleague's actions. Now, they recovered themselves to intercede.
"Verani!" Councillor Bannot said. "We cannot coerce these people. We have no automatic right to their help, we can only take it freely given."
Crivthen echoed his fellow. "Verani! I beg you, cease this violence. Think what you are about. Do as the girl asks."
From her unique viewpoint, looking up into Verani's face, Nyssa was the only one positioned to see the expression of despair that crossed it, before the First Councillor released her grip and stepped back. With a shocked innocence, the alien woman bowed her head. "Forgive me. I act only out of concern for my people. I am sorry."
The Doctor frowned as he brushed down the sleeve of his cricketing jersey. His reassuring smile was rather too strained to reassure Nyssa. His reply to Verani was unusually sharp. "So am I. But we can't help you. It's impossible."
"Why?" Tegan demanded, to be simultaneously shushed by both of them.
"Yes, why?" asked Verani, clinging to the question as support. "We are not asking you to risk your own lives or to sacrifice anything more than a few days of your time to our cause. But by doing so little you could save our civilisation. If it is payment you desire then I assure you Janovay's vaults hold more than just machinery. Won't you at least stay and listen to what we have to say?"
"No," the Doctor said. "Sorry, quite impossible. Have to be going."
"Surely it could do no harm to listen," Nyssa said quickly, seeing a slight darkening of the freckles on Verani's face and taking it as a sign of growing annoyance.
"Oh yes it could! If these people persuade me to interfere it could have catastrophic results on the timeline. Plus that lot on Gallifrey would most definitely not miss this one and I really don't want to be tried and sentenced again!" He waved his arms agitatedly, almost cracking Verani across the nose with the hat he still held.
Verani was oblivious to the narrow miss. Her eyes were unfocused again, as though she was staring a million centuries into the future, disconnected from the moment. "Gallifrey..." she repeated, as if it was a magic word. The Doctor stared at her, eyes widened, absolute horror fleetingly crossing his face before he pointedly jerked his head around away from her and ignored her aggressively.
"Hang on," Tegan said, by now probably particularly fed up at this barrage of incomprehensible events if Nyssa knew her friend as well as she thought. "They're saying all we have to do is listen for a little while, then we can clear off? What's wrong with indulging them a little, if we get to leave in the end?"
The Doctor sighed and put his hands over his face. Nyssa imagined he was slowly counting to ten. After a moment he lowered his hands, and smiled brightly at the three councillors. He seemed polite and reasonable, as though he'd deliberately forced his normal good humour to re-emerge, but she guessed it was only a superficial veneer. She could sense worry underlying it.
The Doctor started to say something, then stopped, his mouth half open. After a moment of rather transparent indecisiveness and conscience-wrestling, he said, painfully politely, "Councillors. If you would permit - I'd like to have a few moments to discuss the situation with my companions?"
The three Janovians exchanged glances and an agreement seemed to pass between them. As one, they nodded to their visitors and filed out of the room. Nyssa stared after them incredulously, as the Doctor was also doing, having expected to be shown to another room rather then left to the councillors' chamber itself. Tegan marched over to one of the vacated chairs and sat down. As the door shut on the Janovians' exit, she asked, "All right, Doctor, what exactly is going on here? Why can't we help these people? We've done this sort of thing before."
"Yes," Nyssa echoed. "We've interfered before, what's so different this time?"
"Questions, questions..." He sighed and winced as he rubbed the arm Verani had grabbed. She watched him pace the room a few times. He seemed almost about to burst at the seams with nervous energy. He moved to sit down near Tegan, but immediately changed his mind and stood up again, flinging the hat and jacket he carried over the chair instead. After a moment of further indecisiveness, he said, "Let me give you a history lesson."
Tegan groaned and mimed thumping herself in the head repeatedly with both fists, and he ignored her.
"Ancient history! Compulsory course at the Academy!" His voice had risen to a high pitch, as it tended to when he got excitable like this. He continued to pace the room as he spoke. "Before humans, before the Time Lords and Traken... the dawn of civilisation in the universe. The first few intelligent races to develop and explore the stars. That's the time period we're talking about! One of the most well documented of the races around at this time is the Karalian." Nyssa's attention snapped up the familiar word and the sudden relevance of his lecture. Tegan stopped her bored study of her cracked nail varnish and paid attention. The Doctor continued, "Think of them as a more primitive version of the Cybermen, expanding to assimilate different planets and cultures into the Karalian Union. Their race has been a source of study for archaeologists and historians for millennia, ever since the first few relics of their civilisation were discovered by the Krian, the race who will inhabit this section of the galaxy in several thousands of years time." He paused to catch his breath, something he hadn't done throughout the lengthy speech. Nyssa had a feeling she knew what he was going to say.
"The history of the Karalians' campaign and their amazing progress, a line of conquered planets stretching to maybe a hundred star systems where their relics have been found, is widely known. An incredibly adaptable race - they accomplished the impossible. Conquered planets within days, or so findings on several of the major expedition sites have revealed." He paused once again, and his brow creased with concern and concentration as he glanced at his companions to check they were still following. "Major expedition sites including, of course, Anka Major, the Corruda series of planets, Themia Syrus, and then there's Janovay... hurriedly excavated by the Krian under appalling conditions, whose celebrated findings on the subject have been passed on to race after race. Now - Nyssa, Tegan - do you begin to see the nature of our problem here?"
"You're saying we'd be changing history," Nyssa concluded bleakly, feeling a terrible weight descend on her mind at the thought of the Janovians struggling in their hopeless cause, a history already written and set out unchangeable. He was right; they couldn't help them.
Tegan did not give up so easily. "But we've interfered before. What if they're right when they say we can give them a future? How can we deny them that?" Nyssa guessed she had no real desire to hang around and help, but the dilemma would weigh on her conscience all the same.
The Doctor rubbed at his eyes. "Tegan, you have to understand, they have no future. They're already a dead race. Millions of years dead and gone, and what's more half the universe knows it. You can't set out to change that. If we tried we'd probably fail, and if we did succeed it might create a temporal paradox that could tear the universe apart. This planet is destined to become a part of the Karalian Union. It happens, it will happen, it already happened a very long time ago and there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it happening!"
There was a silence in the room following the Doctor's words that it seemed neither Tegan or Nyssa wanted to break. He looked from one to the other, aware that they were both caring and compassionate in their own ways, and it was hard for them to accept there was nothing to be done. He had enough trouble accepting it himself, but you couldn't argue with history.
"So we can't help them," Nyssa said eventually, resignedly, infinities of sadness echoing in her voice. But she accepted it, as he'd known she would. It wasn't her reaction he was worried about.
"What I'd like to know," Tegan hissed, half whispering as if she expected the Janovians to overhear, sounding stressed, guilty and irritated, "Is how we're going to tell them that! I don't trust them one bit. And there's something very strange about that Verani. The way she spoke, and the way the other Janovians looked at her. Like she was some kind of mystic." Her voice caught on the last word as though she wasn't quite sure it was the term she was searching for.
"Oh, but she is." The Doctor barely realised he'd spoken aloud until both his companions turned puzzled stares upon him. He coughed uncomfortably. "She had heard of Gallifrey and the Cybermen," he said by way of explanation, unwilling to voice his speculations much further.
"So?" Tegan asked.
"So, this is the dawn of history," Nyssa murmured.
"Exactly." He thrust his hands into his trouser pockets. "So how do you remember something that doesn't exist yet?"
"You don't expect us to believe she really is psychic? Some sort of... of seer?" Tegan's outburst of scepticism ended on a disbelieving snort.
"Oh, but I do. But don't worry; there's sure to be a rational explanation for it. In fact, that's rather what I'm afraid of." He frowned and fell into silence. Genuine magic would be a very comforting alternative to the suspicions dragging at his mind.
Random images collided at the edges of her thoughts, bursts of knowledge rather than vision, as though in her moments of insight she recovered memories and accessed parts of her mind previously lost. Usually it wasn't difficult to shield them out, and she would chose, when she wanted to, to allow the visions access to her conscious mind. But in recent days the kaleidoscope of thought-images was intrusive, demanding attention mid-sentence, battering upon and then breaking down her mental doors if she attempted to refuse them. Verani suspected that, given time, it would eventually drive her mad. Except time was the very thing they were running out of.
The future was catching up with them. It was a clawed beast ready to pounce, and its name was extinction, genocide, death.
She had seen it. In her head, it had happened already, played out in an unfolding drama a thousand times to torment her in her sleep, or even waking these past weeks. It was the future, the past and the present. Sometimes, alone, she would claw at her head, wishing for the physical strength and mental resolve to twist her fingers deep into her brain and cut off the visions for good.
You couldn't live like that, sure of no future. And she had responsibilities to her people, who couldn't see it and didn't know. She was their eyes, the only one of them capable of fighting the beast. Their only choice of a champion. So she denied the things she had seen; she would change the unchangeable. She would defy the future - you couldn't live, sure of the hour of your own death.
Verani knew the strangers wouldn't help. The man was in charge and she had caught brief glimpses into his mind. He knew the future as she did, but unlike her he was determined to let it run its course. She recognised him as an ancestor, and the voices in her head had replaced the label with another one. Time Lord. A name new to her but, as always, familiar just the same.
The Time Lord wasn't involved as she was. He didn't understand. She'd decided to help him understand. When there was no choice, when he faced the same fate they did, her path would become clear to him.
Verani had told Bannot and Crivthen that the Doctor would help, and she'd left them waiting for the strangers to finish their private discussion. They did not suspect the means by which she intended to achieve this end. They had an innocence unviolated by future-knowledge. It was inconceivable to them that a Janovian should be capable of the lengths she had prepared herself to go to if necessary. It was why they would not be able to prevent her.
She searched around her improvised workroom, assembling bottles and jars on the worktable in its centre. Aware she did not have long to complete her task. Opening the doors in her mind and letting the voices lead her through what she had to do. Assembling death and pain and salvation. Despising herself more with every action she committed towards her purpose.
"I don't think Verani is going to stand by and let us walk away. Whatever she might be." Nyssa crossed to the door and stood with her ear to it, listening for the Janovians' return.
"Yes." The Doctor absently rubbed his aching arm, remembering the extraordinary strength behind that grip. The other Janovians might abhor violence but Verani was clearly prepared to sacrifice such scruples on the altar of expediency. She differed from the others in more ways than just her apparent psychic traits. He wondered if the difference might be brought about by the stress of living with those unusual abilities. A twinge of pain like a needle boring through the centre of his forehead distracted him momentarily. He squeezed shut his eyes and pressed the heels of his hands over them, blanking out the rest of the world in an attempt to focus on the cause. Definitely some minor temporal disturbance going on. Surely it couldn't be a consequence of their own presence on Janovay? No. Mere random fluctuations, it had to be.
"Are you sure you're all right?" A perplexed Australian voice broke through his concentration. The Doctor parted his hands, peered down through the gap. Tegan's face stared up at him with concern. "Doctor?"
He assembled an expression he hoped resembled a smile. "Just a minor twinge of the local temporal field. Probably quite harmless."
She nodded slowly. "Just to make it absolutely clear," she said, with a careful precision, "I really don't want to be trapped on this God-forsaken planet in the path of an invasion by maniac cyborgs. So don't let anything happen to you, all right?" Something in her voice told him it wasn't herself she was chiefly concerned about.
Feeling strangely lost for words in the face of her sentiment, the Doctor fumbled for a moment, then rested a hand on her shoulder in tentative reassurance. "Not to worry, Tegan," he said vaguely. "Now, where was I?" He glanced around the room, searching for inspiration.
"First Councillor Verani," Nyssa prompted.
"Ah. Yes. Well. We'll just have to humour her for a while. Play along, until we have a chance to slip away undetected. It should be possible, though I'd rather we didn't have to put up a pretence...."
"Never mind about that," Tegan said. "Do you think it will work?"
"Maybe. It certainly seems to be our best option." He sighed and stared down at the tiles on the floor, and found himself wondering yet again if there wasn't any way at all to help the Janovians. If only their story was not so well known. They didn't deserve to die like that, slaughtered by an enemy more merciless than the Cybermen. Not that anybody did. But the Doctor could not afford to get involved. Neither could he risk involving Nyssa and Tegan, not with sadistic invaders only days away.
His thoughts were interrupted by Nyssa, at the door, who announced with nervous urgency, "I think they're coming back!"
Verani was barely aware of the presence of Bannot and Crivthen at her heels as she walked back into the council chamber. She felt her own guilt draped around her shoulders like a cloak. The ever-present murmur of other people's thoughts at the edges of her mind had become more like a clawing than its usual undemanding itch. They were trying to get inside her head, to push her own personality into the background. It was getting worse. She thought it would continue to get worse, the nearer they came to the hour of destruction. When she walked through the doorway and set her eyes upon the Time Lord, she almost drowned in his thoughts.
Worry. Concern for the safety of his companions. A need to get them away from the action. Inability to act. Impossible to alter the set course of history. Too much this time. Confusion. Awareness. He'd realised she could read him. A sudden slamming down of mental barriers and then a blissful quiet.
Crivthen caught her arm as she stumbled, coming back into awareness of her own mind and body. She murmured thanks but did not look at him. The Time Lord had not flinched, had merely developed a puzzled expression that was both deeply unhappy and slightly comic. He looked ridiculously young for someone with centuries of life behind him. He had his hands in the pockets of his striped trousers and was waiting, uneasily, for her to speak first.
The girl called Nyssa spoke instead, and Verani was surprised that the Time Lord would permit the girl to speak for him, but rather then overrule her he looked grateful.
"We've decided to listen to what you have to say. We can't know for sure whether we can do anything to help you without knowing more about what is happening here."
It was a logical answer, a sensible decision, but Verani knew it for a lie. The Time Lord had already decided they were beyond saving. They were playing for time; playing into her hands. "I am gratified you are willing to give the matter more thought. If the two of you would like to accompany councillors Crivthen and Bannot, who will show you our operation-" she indicated the two young women, then turned to the Time Lord who called himself the Doctor. "And I should like very much to speak with you, if you would permit it? Ah, we can rejoin the others shortly."
The Time Lord looked first to his companions. It was they he worried about. The other girl, Tegan, said, "We'll be all right, Doctor," and Nyssa nodded firm agreement.
The Doctor smiled broadly; a sham. "Why not?"
"Are you sure this is a blind spot?" Luthen hissed as they half-ran, half-crept down the slope of the valley to the city.
"Yes!" snapped Jovanka. She was trying to keep to some invisible line, constantly looking up at the tower dominating the city's skyline. At the same time she kept glancing back to make sure Luthen was following the exact same path. "I've been in that tower, and I know! You can't see that funny shaped mountain peak over there." She waved a hand limply in the direction of backwards.
Jovanka's movements were a parody of a military stance that might in other circumstances have been amusing. Every so often her shoes betrayed her and she narrowly avoided landing flat on her face in the mud. The first few times it had reddened her cheeks with embarrassment, but now it simply amplified her cross expression ever more.
They had circled the valley to find what Jovanka swore was a blind spot in the city's lookout system. Except it wasn't actually, she had admitted in one of her moments of loquaciousness, because if you leaned out far enough you could see it anyway, but Luthen agreed with her that it was their best option.
At their running - or more accurately, slipping and sliding - pace, it wasn't too long before they leaned against the city's outer walls, gasping for breath. He was miserably aware of the heat of the suns, which was building up to unbearable as the day dragged on, and was also aware of the need for water. He couldn't remember when he'd last had a drink or, for that matter, anything to eat. His companion was worse off, and as he studied her he noticed the transparent effect was once again beginning to take hold of her features.
"I know!" she replied grimly. "The time in the TARDIS gave me the rest I needed to last a little longer, but I still don't have much time. We have to hurry." She turned and took a few steps backwards, gazing up at the wall. "So do something useful, and give me a leg-up."
"You want to climb over?"
"I want to see what's on the other side. Then I'll know whether we can climb over. I thought you were supposed to have had training?" Her voice was habitually rather than deliberately irritated, and she placed a muddy shoe on Luthen's offered hand and used the wall's support to climb onto his shoulders. She weighed astonishingly little.
"I was trained to do what I was ordered," he retorted. "What can you see?"
"Rooftops. There's a house right on the other side. If we climb over, I doubt we'll be noticed. People don't tend to walk around looking up. And if you ask me that's bloody useless training. What happened to initiative and thinking for yourselves?"
"I didn't ask you, actually," Luthen said, as he felt her weight leave his shoulders. He looked up to see her flailing legs as she toppled inelegantly across the top of the wall, disappearing over the other side. "Jovanka? Are you all right?"
"Of course I am." A moment later her head reappeared and she threw down a length of cloth. "Climb up, quickly! I've anchored the other arm this side, I hope it'll hold your weight."
The remark drew his attention to the fact the cloth was the top half of her green suit, and he felt his face redden. But how else was he going to climb over the wall? He gripped the end of the garment. The fabric was thick and strong - she must have been cooking inside it, in the sun - but with his extra weight of cybernetics he wasn't sure it would hold. He scrambled up, hearing ripping just before he grabbed the top of the wall. Jovanka took hold of his arm and helped him over. He landed on a flat rooftop a few feet below the top of the wall, and looked away from her semi-covered form. She was wearing a white vest that didn't leave much concealed.
"Don't be so wet," she said as she untied the arm of the garment from a drainage pipe and pulled it back on. One of the arms was now half ripped off at the shoulder. "It's not as if you haven't seen skin before."
Luthen ignored the amusement in her voice. He found very little amusing about their situation. "What are you going to do now?" he asked, watching her crawl to the edge of the roof and peer down.
Her expression was apprehensive despite the confidence in her words. "Well, if we're going to get inside their council building, we'll need to at least look the part. I wonder if whoever owns this house has any spare clothes, because they don't appear to have a door, let alone a lock. Too good an invitation to refuse, really, to not take them up on it..."
The Doctor frowned as he watched the door close behind Tegan and Nyssa. He hoped he was right in his assessment of the two Councillors as essentially benign.
Only seconds after closing, the door opened again to admit a silent Janovian menial who inclined her head to Verani and handed over a tray with a jug and two glasses on it, then departed.
The Doctor waited calmly, hands in pockets, while Verani crossed to the table, placed the tray down on it, and pulled two chairs closer to the table and each other at a friendly conversational distance. She sat down in the chair Tegan had recently vacated and gestured to the other one, which still had the Doctor's jacket and hat draped over the arm. "Please, be seated." She poured out two drinks, and he realised that one of the factors contributing to the aura of strangeness around the First Councillor was the way her straightforward, inelegant body-language contrasted with the formality of her speech.
The Doctor moved his jacket and hat to the floor and sat down. He didn't trust Verani, but that was no excuse for bad manners. He took the offered glass from her hand. "Most civilised."
"My thanks. I hope you will forgive me my hasty action earlier. I acted without thinking. The future of my people weighs on my mind."
"Yes, I imagine it does," the Doctor murmured absently. He glanced at Verani's face, and something in her expression tore through all pretence of deception. "You've seen it, haven't you?" he asked quietly.
Verani nodded, the motion curling her red hair up around her face like snakes ready to strike. Her eyes were dangerous. She had, he remembered, nothing to lose.
The Doctor leaned forward, fascination overriding caution, and gently touched her wrist. "What exactly do you see?" Her expression didn't change, but her gaze seemed to bore through the centre of his forehead into his brain.
"Everything." Her voice was more like a rasp, her gaze suddenly trance-like.
He recalled how, earlier, he had felt a presence in his mind. He tried to pull down mental barriers carefully this time, closing her out more gently than before. He suspected it wasn't something she could control, and he didn't want to harm her.
"You obviously have a very advanced psychic ability," he remarked, letting go of her wrist and leaning back in the chair, stunned by the weight of this new discovery. And what it meant. "So you know, then, what I am?"
"Ah... this is rather awkward," he said, massaging his forehead with the heels of his hands, trying to think. "And you know, then, that I can't possibly help you?"
She smiled. The expression had a falseness to it. "I know that is what you believe. I am still hoping you will reconsider."
"If you've seen the future you must know that I can't!" the Doctor exclaimed. "You can't alter what's already happened. You shouldn't know what the future is. It shouldn't be possible and it's a disastrous, tragic twist of fate, but you must understand, there is nothing you can do. The fact you have seen it means it will happen - has happened." It sounded pathetic even to himself, fragile conjecture weighted against the lives on Janovay that were definitely at stake, the deaths Verani's vision piled upon her mind.
"You want me to do nothing in the face of my people's extermination. What you ask is impossible. I have to try."
"You'll fail," he said, so quiet he was barely whispering. "It's already happened."
"That's why I need you to help me." Verani was almost pleading now. She averted her eyes from the reply in his, and picked up her glass and slowly sipped at it.
"We'll visit the centre of our operations last," Crivthen had said, "To give Verani and your friend the Doctor chance to catch up. That is, if you'd like a look around the rest of the building?" His old eyes smiled as he spoke. Nyssa had to admit, she liked him - and of course had agreed to his suggestion. Even Tegan seemed to have calmed down now they were away from Verani. Bannot and Crivthen were not remotely threatening.
Nyssa worried briefly about leaving the Doctor alone with the First Councillor, but she didn't think Verani posed a direct threat, and the Doctor should be able to deal with any trouble besides, so she put the matter from her mind.
"This is all very impressive," she commented as they entered another high, spacious hallway. At first glance it had a peaceful simplicity, but she knew there was nothing simple about the mathematics that had gone into calculating the optimum dimensions to generate such tranquillity. "I wonder - could you tell me how your people managed to build this place so it looks so much more compact from the outside?"
Crivthen smiled. "I'm afraid Verani may be the only person who could answer your question. All the structures of the city were built by the ancestors, many centuries ago. The knowledge, as with much of the ancestors' methods and wisdom, is lost to us now."
"Except of course through Verani's Seeing," Bannot added, in somewhat indifferent tones, as if by rote. They turned a corner, heading for a flight of stairs. Nyssa craned her neck to look up a staircase that seemed to wind into infinity. "It is the first time our Seer and our First Councillor have been one and the same."
"Your Seer?" she repeated lightly.
"Yes," Crivthen said. "It is a hereditary role. Verani's bloodline. One in each generation. A position of authority in itself. But Verani also chose to offer herself for the role of First Councillor and the people affirmed her suitability."
"That's fascinating," Nyssa said.
"So how long ago was that? Verani becoming First Councillor, that is." Tegan asked, distracted, her neck craned upwards as she climbed the spiralling staircase.
After a moment, Crivthen replied, "Twenty-three years." He looked slightly wondrous as though he hadn't realised it had been quite that long.
"Must have started young, then," said Tegan, impressed.
Nyssa did a quick calculation and said softly, "Actually, the Janovian year is a lot longer than Earth's. In your terms, Tegan, that would make the figure close to three hundred years."
Tegan's lips moved soundlessly for a moment. "Crikey," she said.
"Please, Verani, you have to believe me." The Doctor clasped his hands together, leaned across the table towards her once again. "If there was something I could do to save your people I would do it, but it isn't possible. It's already happened." His eyes bled pity, and she didn't need the thoughts he now shielded from her mind to know that he was telling the truth... so far as he saw it.
She steeled her will, striving to suppress the sudden surge of remorse that gripped her hearts. There was more at stake here than the life of a stranger, however innocent and sincere he might be. Angrily, she raised her glass and swallowed half its contents.
It didn't help her own situation, or her aggrieved conscience, to see how much it hurt the Doctor to turn his back on them. She noticed her hand gripped the glass so hard her fingers were white, and forced herself to relax. "Nothing is irredeemable," she said, and only realised afterwards that her voice had diminished into a whisper.
"Perhaps that's true." A moment's doubt, a flood of desperation - his mental barriers were slipping. She watched as the Doctor stood and paced the floor, distracted and preoccupied. Then he spun around and continued, addressing her directly and with a certainty slightly marred by the way his voice had broken into a higher pitch. He punctuated his speech by stabbing the air with a pointed finger. "It's absolutely out of the question! You can't play games with the web of time - you can't take those kinds of risks. I suspect there's already been enough temporal meddling over this planet without adding more to the mess. Can't you see what the consequences could be? How drastically an attempt to change things here could affect the universe? I can't help you, Verani, I'm sorry. I may have interfered before but there is a limit and this is it. I do have some responsibilities!"
Verani watched his performance, searching for the strength to remain impassive. A confused jumble was all she received from his mind now. A large mind, disordered and cluttered eccentrically with items superfluous to function, filed in no logical order, scattered remnants of former personalities doing nothing to help the confusion. Few of his thoughts were visible to her, but she didn't even have to try to sense his emotions. He wasn't sure he was making the moral decision, although he desperately wanted to do the right thing.
How very much they were alike.
The Doctor moved to sit down again, changed his mind and remained standing, but picked up his drink from the table. Verani quietly drank the last of her own. She was moving to pour herself some more when he spoke again, distracting her attention.
"I know you hoped to persuade me to help you if we talked alone. It hasn't worked because nothing could. The possible consequences of altering your future - our history - are worse than that history itself. I can't do it. So let's rejoin the others and explain that this is the way things have to be." His eyes pleaded for her to understand. He was expecting her to react. He drained his drink and placed the empty glass down carefully on the table, collecting his hat and jacket from the floor. He crossed over to the door and held it open for her hesitantly.
"All right." Verani sighed, seeing her options before her solidified into one pattern as she led the way through the door and down the corridor.
As Nyssa was beginning to think her legs would give way if she couldn't stop to rest soon, they ascended the final spiral and arrived at the top of the staircase. She leaned on the railing, looking back down the twisting stairs, not quite believing the distance they seemed to stretch below.
Neither Bannot or the more aged Crivthen were out of breath from the climb. That and Verani's reported age would suggest the Janovians were an unusually hardy race. Nyssa was comforted by the more human reaction of Tegan who, after crawling up the last of the steps, sprawled flat-out on the floor to catch her breath, staring blankly at the ceiling.
Nyssa studied the tower-room with interest. It was a perfect circle, with windows stretching around the length of its walls. There was no glass in them, but the Janovian climate made the room anything but the windy, exposed position that might have been expected. It was warm and lit by a flood of sunlight through its many windows. A Janovian man they hadn't met before stood gazing out, unconcerned by their presence.
Tegan climbed to her feet and the two councillors, who had been waiting for them both to recover, returned to life.
"The city's watch-tower," Bannot said, with an indicative wave of one hand. As his gaze panned around the vista of Janovay's landscape, his face broke into a smile. It was the first time Nyssa had seen his expression change.
She understood perfectly. The view was very beautiful. "You can see for miles. Look, Tegan-" As she turned to her friend, she saw the Australian wasn't paying attention to the windows; she was still staring upwards. Nyssa followed her gaze to the ceiling and blinked in a foolish, blank astonishment that she imagined was very similar to Tegan's.
The ceiling was a transparent circular disc of an unfamiliar material of quite extraordinary properties. It brought the stars in the sky above them into sharp focus despite the day, lit by the sunlight that poured in from the windows below. It occurred to Nyssa that perhaps this had been the point, and the tower had never been built to watch for any terrestrial threat. After all, didn't the Janovian city contain the only higher life forms on the planet?
It was also beautiful, a shimmering array of colours, intermingled clouds and stars. And although she couldn't see the substance close enough to guess at how it worked, she knew it must have taken a very highly advanced technology to create it. Which reminded her of a crucial question the Janovians hadn't yet explained. "Why did your people bury your technology?"
It took her a moment to realise she'd said it aloud.
Crivthen smiled amiably and shook his head. Much as she liked him, she couldn't help wondering if his friendly, bluff manner was just a facade. "It is no longer remembered. All that we are sure of is that it is forbidden." A shadow crossed his face, perhaps at the thought of their current transgressions of that rule. "It is possible that Verani might know."
Nyssa frowned in frustration. That was a reply she was growing tired of hearing. It seemed to be the reply they gave to all the interesting questions. She was beginning to wonder if Verani was the only person on the planet who knew anything.
She leaned over the stairwell, thinking she could hear voices rising from it. Someone was climbing up, too far below yet for her to tell whether it was the Doctor and Verani.
Nyssa cast another speculative glance up to the cloudy starscape, then switched her attention back to the comfortingly rural landscape outside the windows. She could see the TARDIS, if she looked carefully, a pinhead sized shadow of darker blue on the grassy slopes.
"We're lost." Jovanka glared accusingly.
Luthen, who had suspected this for some time, said, "Well don't look at me. You're the one who's supposed to have been here before. Although I can't say I blame you. This place is nothing but corridors. And it didn't look anywhere near this big from the outside." They stopped at another junction of passages. Both routes looked exactly the same. No defining features whatsoever. Luthen put his flesh hand to his aching head and groaned.
They were both wearing white Janovian robes, and Luthen felt ridiculous. He didn't look anything like one of these people. As they'd made their way through the city he'd been convinced all the natives they'd walked past had known he wasn't one of them. He was sure the bulky cybernetic limbs were blatantly obvious under the robe. And Jovanka could never pass for one of the serene Janovians, at least not unless she was either asleep or heavily drugged.
"This way." She chose a direction at random. After a few steps, she spun around and went the other way instead. She crossed to the nearest door, opened it a crack and peered through into the room beyond. She waved for him to follow and disappeared into the room.
Luthen hurried after. "What are you doing? You're going to get us both caught, taking risks like that."
She'd gone straight to the window, where she stood looking out. "I'm finding out what side of the building we're on; looking to see what's outside," she said. "So I can work out where we go from here. Think I've got it. Come on." She led the way back into the corridors.
"The architecture of this place really is remarkable," the Doctor said, gazing up as they ascended the watch-tower staircase. He immersed himself in studying the mathematical detail of the surroundings, trying to put from his mind the guilt of abandoning the Janovians to their fate.
His remark was met by silence from Verani, and when he glanced back he saw she was several steps behind. He stopped and leaned against the handrail, waiting for her to catch up, noticing how her limbs seemed to drag as she climbed. Weighted, perhaps, by despair. He felt annoyed at his own insensitivity. Considering Verani's present situation the last thing she needed to hear was his appraisal of the architecture.
"Are you all right?" he asked. Her face was paler than it ought to be, her breathing ragged.
She raised her head with an odd touch of defiance, her eyes looking straight through him, focusing somewhere a few metres beyond infinity. "Of course I am," she said, her voice colourless and dead.
"Along here," said Jovanka. "Yes, I think this is it. Crivthen's rooms are near the council chamber where we first met them all... He ought to be going back to them shortly. We can probably wait inside."
"Are you sure we can trust this man? And even if we can trust him, how can he help us?"
"I don't know. I'll think of something. At the moment he seems our best bet. We can't change what's already happened, you see - and talking to the Doctor or Nyssa, or even Verani, would do that. I didn't see Crivthen again after this point, so he was out of the way, doing something else. Maybe helping me!"
Luthen nodded wisely, pretending he understood what she was getting at.
"And stop bloody nodding when you've no idea what it is I'm saying," she snapped.
Oh, well. He found himself grinning at her. And was surprised when she grinned back.
"On the other hand," she added. "Keep up the good work. It makes a nice change for someone to agree with everything I say. I could get used to this."
The Doctor leaned heavily on the handrail, staring down. The depths below seemed to rotate giddily, and he scrunched shut his eyes. He'd never liked heights much this incarnation, but this felt different. He opened his eyes again, shook his head to clear it and managed to focus. He took a deep breath and moved away from the edge, turning to Verani, who was sitting a few steps further up. She looked grey.
"Feeling any better now?" he asked.
She shook her head but stood up anyway, and would have continued. The Doctor, about to protest, heard the sound of voices from above. Obviously Tegan, Nyssa and the others had tired of waiting and had decided to walk down to meet them. And, he had to admit, he was glad, not only for Verani's sake. He was beginning to feel decidedly strange.
"No need," he said to Verani, bounding up the steps in a brief burst of energy to catch her arm before she went any further. "We'll wait for them here." He helped her to sit down again. She obviously wasn't well. Not really surprising, the stress she was under. He thought guiltily that it was probably his fault.
"It's somewhere on this corridor," Jovanka announced, stopping and placing her hands on her hips in a curiously aggressive gesture. "I'm sure it is."
"Try a door?" Luthen said, and shrugged, as she looked to him for inspiration.
She returned the shrug and crossed the corridor to the closest door. After contemplating it for a moment, she shoved it open and walked in. He followed her more cautiously.
They found themselves in some kind of lab or work room. The first thing Luthen noticed, which Jovanka apparently hadn't, was the alien working over in the far corner, half obscured behind a bench heaped with technical equipment. The surrounding room, with its clutter of gadgetry far in advance of what he'd previously seen of Janovian society, was of secondary importance.
"Jovanka..." he began worriedly as the alien looked up and saw them. It was a reptilian Mirosan, humanoid but hairless, covered in scaly skin that varied in shade from pale beige to dark brown. It was wearing oddly bright-coloured clothes, like some sort of vagabond spacer. He recognised the species because his people were currently occupying their home planet.
The Mirosan wasn't fooled by the Janovian robe. It took one look at Luthen and reached for the energy weapon at its belt. Luthen, knowing he wasn't going to be fast enough, did the same.
"Oh, for crying out loud!" A strident voice interrupted the proceedings. Jovanka had seen what was going on and blindly flung herself between them. "Can we just wait one bloody moment before we all start shooting each other?!" Her last word came out as a gasp, as the Mirosan fired.
Ignoring the burn of a shot glancing inches from his hip, Luthen staggered, struggling to hold her weight as she fell back against him. The gun fell from his hand. He could see a charred hole in her clothing and didn't want to think about what kind of state her flesh was in underneath. Unable to support her, he fell backwards to the floor and she sprawled across him. He struggled to free his arms, attempted to staunch the bleeding, but knew it wasn't enough. Her head lolled to one side as he slid an arm around her shoulders. Her eyes flickered down to her injury and widened.
"Rabbits," said Tegan Jovanka.
Luthen saw the life leave her eyes. "No, please!" he said frantically, panicking. She couldn't leave him alone here, on an alien world. "Please. You can't die..."
She wasn't listening any more. He watched the transparent effect creep across her dead form, increasing, swallowing her up until she was no longer there. As though she had never existed.
"Don't move, Karalian."
Luthen looked up at the armed Mirosan standing over him.
Tegan clattered down the spiral stairs to join them ahead of the others. "That tower room's amazing!" she announced, not realising something was wrong. The Doctor glanced up at her from where he stood worriedly over Verani, then had to snatch at the handrail as a sudden weakness gripped him. He stared down at his hands, then back up at Tegan.
"Verani..." He relaxed his grip and slid down onto the steps beside her. Her head lolled and she didn't move at the sound of her name. He grabbed her arms and shook her, not quite as gently as he'd intended. "Verani! What have you done? It was that drink, wasn't it? What was it? What have you done to us?"
Tegan, and the others who had caught up now and halted just behind her, watched stunned. Only Crivthen moved, with a speed giving lie to his aged appearance, to kneel down behind the First Councillor and grasp her shoulder. "Verani, what have you done?" he groaned.
"Saved us," she said, sickly. "I'm going to save us all."
"By poisoning our visitor and yourself?"
"Addictive poison..." she said. "It's all right. I'll be all right. It's just the initial shock; the poison taking hold. It will clear up soon. Remember... zayol flowers... unique to Janovay... initial planetary survey results." The Doctor realised she was once again relating information in her trance-like state. Then she managed to raise her head and look straight at him. "You'll help us, won't you? You see, if you don't - if you leave - you'll die, and in beings such as ourselves, Doctor, the poison not only kills, but destroys the entire regenerative process."