Universal Constant

by Nix Nada

Without taking his eyes off the wide view screen before him, Chancellor Izet pointed a finger towards a technician seated at one of the many control terminals in the room.

"On my signal," he commanded, "open a window relative to three seconds over five meters in the transduction barrier."

Around him, the assembled Chancellery Guard shifted nervously and raised their rifles to their shoulders ceremoniously.

After a moment of staring, unblinking, at the view screen, Izet let his hand drop. "Now!" he said.

The technician jabbed a button and the room was filled with a grinding, undulating roar. Slowly, a tall blue box appeared before them, a small light on top flashing on and off.

For a minute, nothing happened. Then, hesitantly, the door of the box was pulled open from within and a shaky, liver-spotted hand rested on the doorframe. A deeply lined face, framed with a mess of fine white hair, peered around the door. Looking out to see a ring of guards around him, the man inside the box shuffled forwards and raised his hands in surrender, a look of disappointed resignation in his eyes.

Izet stepped forward, a proud grin on his face. He shot a quick look over his shoulder and the guards snapped to attention sharply.

"My friend," he said loudly. "Welcome home! It is indeed an honour to greet you on this, your true homecoming." Reaching out his hands, he gently pushed the old man's arms down from their position of surrender. Gesturing towards the guards behind him, Izet gave a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about them," he said. "An honour guard, nothing more."

Leaning in conspiratorially toward the old man, he spoke quickly and quietly. "Doctor, it truly is an honour to be present on your return. It was written in the Matrix that you would return at this time to live out the remaining days of your final regeneration. The guards of course know nothing of who you are other than that you are a returning dignitary of great note. You understand, I'm sure. It wouldn't do for word of your presence here to spread, not now. It would create… complications."

The Doctor smiled slowly and nodded his head as the Chancellor straightened up.

"Come, my friend!" Izet said grandly. "Everything has been prepared!"

As they made to leave, Izet handed a small datacard to one of the technicians. "Have this man's TARDIS moved to these coordinates."

The technician glanced down at the card. "But sir," he began.

"Just do it," Izet said firmly.

The technician swallowed. "Yes sir."

The party made their way from the room, leaving the technician alone at his computer. He looked again at the datacard, shook his head, then pressed a few buttons on his console. Beside him, the Doctor's TARDIS faded away with the same rough wheeze with which it had arrived.

o o o

Night fell on the Citadel, the great city of Gallifrey. A race unbound by time as the Time Lords are has little regard for the usual conventions of the working day and the corridors of the Capitol still echoed with the footsteps of scholars, with the heavy boots of the patrolling guard, with muted discussions of distant times and galaxies, and with the sharp, commanding voice of a white haired man, striding along, pulling a timid-looking young girl in his wake.

"Come along, child!" he called out.

The girl hurried to catch up. "Grandfather," she whispered. "We'll get caught."

"Nonsense," replied her grandfather. "The only people who get 'caught' are those who skulk in the shadows. No, we are just two people enjoying a leisurely stroll around the Capitol. Now do make an effort to keep up, my dear!"

"Besides," he went on, his tone haughty, "everyone of any importance seems to be at that silly dinner tonight. Probably in honour of some old stuffed shirt or other, I shouldn't wonder. A complete waste of time, of course, but it does free us up for a little investigation, hmm?"

The girl knew that the old man rankled at not having been invited to an occasion attended by so many of his peers and wisely said nothing.

He pulled a small, palm-sized device from his pocket and checked it. "The transport beam terminated down this way, I believe," he said, pointing down a corridor. "Yes, most odd."

They walked on in silence for a while before stopping at a nondescript utility door.

The girl suppressed a laugh as the old man stole a furtive glance over his shoulder to ensure that they were alone.

"Now who's skulking in the shadows, grandfather?" she giggled.

The old man opened his mouth to make a reply, stopped, frowned and waved a finger at her. "You need to learn some manners, Susan, my girl," he admonished. "You're not too old to go over my knee, you know."

Susan attempted a look of contrition, but only just succeeded in stifling a smirk. "Sorry grandfather," she said.

The old man looked on the verge of saying something more when the door slid open before them unbidden, revealing a dark storage space filled with dim, angular shapes.

"Well," he said, raising his eyebrows in surprise, "how very strange."

"Oh, grandfather!" Susan exclaimed, gripping his sleeve. "We should go!"

The old man put his finger to his lips and stepped stealthily into the room. As he did so, a dim light came on automatically, illuminating a large blue box, standing in the centre of the floor. He gave a gasp of joy when he saw it.

Susan looked around his shoulder and gave a disappointed click of her tongue. "It's just an old type forty," she said dismissively.

"Such beauty," breathed the old man, "such craftsmanship. You know, my dear, they say that a TARDIS forms a telepathic link with its owner, that it somehow knows who owns it." With a faraway look in his eye, and almost to himself, he said, "Imagine it, child; to see the universe, to explore the totality of time and space. The experiences you would have, the knowledge you could gain, the freedom."

Susan looked at the old man sharply. "Oh, no, grandfather. You can't be serious. Don't even think such a thing – that TARDIS is not yours!"

He reached out a hand and laid it on the door of the TARDIS, marvelling at the tiny vibrations emanating from within.

Without warning, the slim door swung gently inwards.

The Doctor turned to his granddaughter. "Is it not, my child?" he said, with twinkle in his eye. "Hmm? Is it not?" With a little chuckle, he stepped inside.

With a nervous glance over her shoulder, Susan followed him in, closing the door behind her.

Slowly, the TARDIS faded away.