"The Vanished City"
No one saw the blue box materialize in the deserted alley beside a pair of overturned trash cans and a few broken plastic milk crates. No one saw the Doctor and Sarah Jane step out into the gray afternoon.
"Cheerful sort of place," the Doctor said, kicking an aluminum can down the alley. "Utterly charming."
"Well we didn't come here to hang around the bins," Sarah said. She shivered and wrapped her scarf around her neck. "Come on, I'm freezing."
"It's very warm inside the TARDIS," the Doctor pointed out, a grin splitting his face. "Shall I show you the East Wing? I don't think you've gotten around to that yet. There's a lovely conservatory tucked between the Surrealist gallery and the Multisonic Stabilizers. I could build us a nice fire and then I could read you some of my correspondence with Oscar Wilde. Good old Oscar."
"That sounds wonderful," said Sarah.
"Splendid!" the Doctor said, turning around. Sarah grabbed the end of his scarf.
"After we've finished our shopping."
The Doctor's eyes widened. "That's just the thing, Sarah. There's no point. You see, the TARDIS supplies us with everything we need."
"Doctor, I need a new pair of jeans. And a few personal items. I never did get the hang of those Hexetonian deodorizing crystals. Oh, and something to read--"
"Yes, all right, all right," the Doctor snapped. "The recitation of your shopping list is unnecessary and offensive. Where are we going?"
"I thought we would pop into a few boutiques," Sarah said. "Then make a quick stop at the chemist's, then finish it all off with a trip to the book shop."
"The wardrobe, the infirmary, and the library," the Doctor said. "I see you never bothered with the map I drew you."
"What, this?" Sarah asked, plucking a wrinkled sheet of notebook paper from her purse. "I thought it was a drawing of Batman. See, there's the cape."
"Those are the Hyperdimensional Accelerators!" The Doctor exclaimed, snatching the map from his companion. "Here is the console room, and that's the library, and there's your room there."
"What's this line here?" Sarah asked, pointing.
The Doctor frowned. "I'm not sure. It might be a part of the football stadium."
"Some map," Sarah said, taking the paper and tucking it back into her purse. "Anyway, I've read everything in the library. And I've completely given up on ever finding anything I like in the wardrobe."
"Everything in the library?" the Doctor asked, his eyes wide. "Everything in the library?"
Sarah rolled her eyes. "You'll forgive me if I skipped a few of the heftier volumes of The Complete Rocks and Minerals of Gallifrey."
"That's a wonderful series," said the Doctor. "Did you know the smallest Callexian diamond ever recorded is the size of your head?"
"Look," Sarah said, losing patience, "you can channel Ebenezer Scrooge any other day of the year, but we're going on holiday and I need to make a few preparations, all right? You're going to be cheerful if it kills you."
"Yes, you'd like that," the Doctor said, scowling. He pulled his hat from his coat pocket and planted atop the wild patch of curls that crowned his head. "Perhaps I'll be more agreeable in my next incarnation."
"Perhaps you will be," Sarah said. "Come on, let's get out of this alley. Why couldn't you materialize during June or July?"
The Doctor followed her out onto the sidewalk. "This is the only time to buy beachwear. Everything's on sale."
"A Time Lord and a bargain hunter," Sarah said, amused.
The Doctor craned his neck at the tall buildings that towered over them. "New York City! December, 1997!"
"1997?" Sarah asked.
"A wonderfully boring year. And the fashion! You're sure to find something hideous you just adore."
"Says the intergalactic hobo with the sixteen-foot long scarf. I thought we were going to Paris."
"Ah," said the Doctor, "now there's a city. A city for wine, for great food, for cinema, for art! But not for fashion."
"Isn't Paris the fashion capitol of the world?"
"The TARDIS isn't a runway, Sarah. You need to dress for comfort." They came to a stop before a large glass display of camping equipment. "Look at these mannequins, for example. Notice how comfortable the one getting mauled by the black bear looks."
"Doctor?" Sarah asked, looking around. "This is New York City."
"New York City!" the Doctor exclaimed, spreading his arms to take it all in. "I never tire of New York. Central Park! Lady Liberty! The pizza!" His eyes widened. "Here we are talking about fashion when I know an incredible pizzeria not three blocks from here. Come on, let's get there before the lunch rush."
"Yes, but, look around," Sarah said. She stepped out into the street. "There's no one. No people. No cars."
The Doctor stopped.
"It's just us," Sarah said.
"Yes," said the Doctor quietly. He frowned. "That is rather odd."
"It's creepy," Sarah said, hurrying back to the Doctor's side.
"Sarah," the Doctor said, "let's get back to the TARDIS. Quickly. I think we're in terrible danger."
The first time Sarah Jane saw the stark, barren white of the TARDIS console room, she found the effect alien and unnerving. The room was harshly-lit, the source of the light unseen and apparently coming from the walls themselves, perhaps from the mysterious roundrels that, as far as she could tell, served no other purpose.
But during the course of her adventures with the Doctor, she had come to see the console room from a different perspective. Often, the room was reached after a frantic run as she and the Doctor tried to escape whatever alien menace was chasing them at the time, and the sight of the open doors of the police box, and the white room beyond, was always the most welcome one in the world. The moment the doors shut and she and the Doctor collapsed onto the floor, panting and grinning at each other, she felt like she was home.
Now, after the eerie stillness of the New York streets, the brightness of the console room was a welcome change indeed. She followed the Doctor inside and made sure the doors were closed before she allowed herself to fully relax. She threw her scarf and coat onto the hat rack and joined the Doctor at the console. His fingers danced across the board, punching buttons and pulling levers and tapping touch screens.
"I'm creating a data field around the TARDIS," the Doctor said in response to her unspoken question. "The sensors will pick up any signs of life, as well as any alien technology. It will test for air quality, oxygen levels, weather conditions, and space-time anomalies." He grinned at her. "This should only take a moment."
"Maybe there's a quarantine," Sarah offered. "Maybe there was some sort of outbreak."
"An interesting theory," the Doctor said. He studied a small screen set onto the console. "But the data field detected no airborne pathogens. Perhaps everyone's on holiday."
Sarah smiled weakly.
"Let's see," said the Doctor. "We'll set the coordinates for the same place...say, two days ago."
A moment later the time rotor began its asthmatic wheeze as it pumped up and down, powering the TARDIS through the vortex of time and space.
"There we go," the Doctor said. He strode toward the doors. "Coming?"
They stepped out into the same alley. It looked exactly as it had a moment before.
"Look," Sarah said. "There's that can you kicked a few minutes ago."
"Impossible!" the Doctor said. He stormed back into his ship and surveyed the screen.
"Well?" Sarah asked.
He shook his head. "It says we've arrived at our destination. Same place, two days earlier."
"But we haven't," said Sarah Jane, peering into the console room.
"No," he said. "We haven't. Stay out there, Sarah, I want to try something."
"You're not leaving me!" she cried, but the doors slammed shut before she could cross the threshold. A moment later, the TARDIS began to dematerialize.
"Doctor!" Sarah screamed, balling her fists and pounding her thighs in frustration. She stomped over to the bins and kicked one of them. She winced in pain as, behind her, the TARDIS reappeared, slowly materializing in the exact same place.
The doors opened and the Doctor stepped out. "How long was I gone?"
Sarah glared at him.
"Not long," the Doctor answered his own question. He shook his head. "I don't understand. I set the coordinates for one year ago. And according to the scanner, that's exactly where we are."
"And what if you had opened those doors and I wasn't standing here?" Sarah demanded. "I should have hidden behind the bins and given you a good scare."
"Come on, back in the TARDIS," the Doctor said. "There's one more thing I want to try."
She followed him into the console room. "I should have jumped out and given you a heart attack. That would have showed you."
"It's a good thing I have two hearts," the Doctor murmured absently. He closed the doors with a punch of a button and reset the coordinates. The time rotor gasped and the Doctor took off his hat and placed it atop the flashing, pumping column.
"What are you trying now?" Sarah asked.
"Space," the Doctor said. "Perhaps we can still travel through one dimension. Let's see."
The doors opened and they stepped outside. To Sarah's surprise, the scene had changed. Instead of the dark and dreary alley, they were in an empty playground, the TARDIS having materialized between the swings and the monkey bars. All around them were vast expanses of green grass and tall, leafy trees.
"Central Park," the Doctor said. "And not a soul in sight."
"I thought you said it was December," Sarah said. "Look around. The trees, the grass...and its warmer here. Doctor, what's going on?"
"I haven't the faintest idea. But I do know one thing." He closed the TARDIS doors and surveyed the deserted park. "We can't leave until we figure it out."
As the Doctor and Sarah walked through the park, the grass beneath their feet began to crunch. The air became chillier, and Sarah found herself wishing she hadn't left her coat and scarf in the TARDIS.
"Here," the Doctor said, taking off his coat and tossing it to her. "It's getting progressively colder. Look over there." He pointed to a little huddle of bushes that were dusted with clean white snow.
"None of this makes any sense," Sarah said. "We can't be in two seasons at the same time. We can't be in two years at the same time."
"We certainly can't," the Doctor agreed. "But here we are. And we can't seem to get away."
"But the TARDIS can still travel through space," Sarah pointed out.
"Only just," said the Doctor. "I set the coordinates for London."
"Yes. The TARDIS moved us perhaps half a mile."
"What do you think—"
"Ssh!" the Doctor hissed. He came to a stop and raised his hand to silence her. "Listen."
They stood for a moment.
"I don't hear anything," Sarah Jane said.
"Over there," said the Doctor. She followed his gaze past a line of snowy evergreens and through another playground to a small, colorful tent that had been erected beside a drinking fountain.
"That tent wasn't there a moment ago," the Doctor said. "I heard it materializing."
"Materializing?" Sarah asked. "What, like a TARDIS?"
"Exactly like a TARDIS. Come on!" He began to outpace her as he walked faster through the park.
"Not so fast, Doctor! My legs aren't as long as yours."
As they approached, Sarah began to notice smaller details of the tent. From a distance, its garish colors had looked brilliant, but up close they were beginning to fade and were, in some places, splashed with mud or covered with streaks of dirt and grime. Parts of the canvas were ripped and had been clumsily sewn back together, and the flag hung limply from the pole atop the sad little heap.
"Is that really a TARDIS?" Sarah Jane whispered.
"I think it is," said the Doctor. As he spoke, the front flap was thrown aside and a beautiful young woman emerged. She was tall, blonde, and wore a white leather jumpsuit.
"Who are you?" she demanded. Her voice was cold, emotionless.
"I'm the Doctor. This is my friend, Sarah Jane Smith."
"Hello," Sarah said.
The woman frowned. "Stay where you are. I'm going to summon the Doctor."
The Doctor and Sarah Jane exchanged glances. The woman disappeared into the tent. A moment later, she reemerged with a man at her side.
The Doctor groaned.
"Not you!" he said.
His lined and ancient face was topped with two great white bushels, expressive eyebrows that matched the wild, shaggy mane of hair that poked out from under a garish yellow baseball cap.
"Pike!" said the Doctor.
The blonde woman flicked her wrist and a long, gleaming blade dropped into her hand from a hidden spring in her sleeve. "You will address Doctor Pike with respect, worm, or you and your wench will die."
Sarah's mouth dropped.
"Well, mystery solved!" The Doctor said angrily. "Old Pike here probably opened an interdimensional rift while trying to materialize his dilapidated TARDIS."
"Watch your tone!" The woman commanded, taking a menacing step forward.
"It's all right, Aura," Pike said. He pulled a pair of comically oversized plastic glasses from his white lab coat and placed them on his head. They made his eyes appear freakishly large, and Sarah hid her smile behind her hand as he peered at them.
"Doctor!" he said, hobbling toward them. "I thought that was you! Hard to mistake the needless arrogance. Let me get a closer look at you." He stopped a few feet from the Doctor and studied him. "Ah, yes. You've regenerated!"
The Doctor turned to Sarah Jane. "I had the horrendous displeasure of being paired with Doctor Pike during my first incarnation. We were sent on a mission to the planet Sol VII to collect seeds from giant sunflowers and were nearly killed when he decided to provoke a colony of gigantic Borestrae bees."
"Quite a vicious infestation," Pike said. "I remember having to drag you back to my TARDIS when the queen gave you a great thump with her stinger."
"You were stealing their honey!" The Doctor roared. "You fed the council an outrageous string of nonsense detailing your heroic exploits and I was consequently banned from piloting a TARDIS for the rest of my first incarnation. You're an insufferable old fool and I was glad to be rid of you."
Aura trembled with rage. "Let me cut them, Doctor."
"Now, now," Pike said, patting her arm. "Let's remember our civility. You haven't introduced me to your companion, Doctor."
"Hello," said Sarah. "I'm Sarah Jane Smith."
"Lovely to meet you. I'm Doctor Pike and this is my assistant, Aura."
"Enough with the banalities," the Doctor said. "In case you haven't noticed, Pike, we're in a terrific spot of bother thanks to you and that archaic heap of rubbish you call a time machine. Come on, shuffle your rickety bones back inside and keep this blonde menace away from me."
"It's all right," Pike said to Aura, "let him pass."
Sarah brought up the rear of the little group as they entered the tent. Pike's console room was fashioned after a Victorian laboratory. The dark wood-paneled walls were covered with stained glass roundrels, charts and diagrams printed on yellowed parchment, and blackboards scrawled with chaotic formulas and lengthy strings of hectic mathematical functions. Long tin-topped tables bowed under the weight of the scientific equipment jumbled haphazardly atop them, and on every surface, everywhere Sarah looked, there were cats. Black cats and white cats, fluffy cats and sleek, hairless ones, robotic cats that emitted a hollow purring noise, and one great fat cat who lazily surveyed the newcomers from his perch on the console.
"This is ridiculous," The Doctor said. "I would feel sorry for you, Pike, except your loathsomeness precludes my sympathy. Stand aside." He stepped up to the console and frowned down at it. "You don't even have a proper time rotor. It's just a hole with a great knot of wires sticking out of it."
"Yes, I had to rig that together rather quickly," Pike mumbled. He smiled at Sarah Jane. "The rotor exploded when I materialized too close to a black hole. I was lucky to escape."
"Doctor Pike is one of Gallifrey's most renowned engineers," Aura said proudly.
The Doctor snorted. "Is that what he told you?"
"That's what I know," Aura snapped. "His ingenuity has saved my life more times that I can count. He is a brilliant scientist."
"He's the demented custodian of one hundred maddening felines and one very unstable and possibly deranged young woman," The Doctor said, prodding the fat cat, who was batting at the end of his scarf. "Shoo, go on."
"Can I help?" Sarah asked, coming to stand beside the Doctor. She offered him a reassuring smile.
"I don't think so," the Doctor said. "The state of this console is despicable, but it doesn't seem to be operating outside of its normal capacity. Something else is going on here, Sarah Jane. I don't think Pike had anything to do with what's happening outside."
"I knew it," Pike said. "While you're having a look at it, Doctor, would you mind giving the chameleon circuit a good once-over? It's been acting up again."
"No time," the Doctor said. "I need to get back to my TARDIS."
He struggled to heft the cat off the console and pressed a button beneath it. The doors creaked open and Sarah gasped.
Outside, Central Park was gone. In fact, she could see nothing but endless, unbroken darkness.
Aura pointed an accusing finger at the Doctor. "Where have you taken us? I demand you return us to the park this instant."
"Oh, be quiet," Sarah said. "He hasn't done anything, have you, Doctor?"
"No," the Doctor said. He ran around the console until he found a screen, where he punched in a series of commands. "We haven't moved, according to the data banks. We're still in the same time and space."
Pike peered out into the gloom. "Doctor, how did you get here? Aura and I landed several days ago and haven't been able to leave. I thought maybe the rotor was malfunctioning again."
"Hush," the Doctor said. "I need to concentrate. We're in very grave danger, and unless I can figure out what's going on none of us will get out of here alive."
Doctor Pike shoved a cat off a splintered wooden stool and sat down, wincing as his knees popped. "Aura, be a dear and make us a pot of tea. Take Miss Smith with you. She must be very curious about our kitchens."
"I'll go," the Doctor said, cutting off Sarah's biting rebuttal. "I need to take a look at your isotropic converters. Stay here, Pike, and keep an eye on the chronoptic readout. Sarah, I need you to make sure the Doctor stays on task." He showed her a tiny screen where a green line danced wildly. "If this line starts to go flat, rouse him from his sleep. He'll know what to do."
"Are you sure about that?" Sarah whispered.
"Let's hope so," the Doctor said. He followed Aura out of the console room into a short corridor lined with rusted metal filing cabinets that spilled their contents onto the floor. They walked across the carpet of papers into a cavernous lobby. A huge, ornate crystal chandelier descended from the high, domed ceiling and hung over an elaborate marble fountain where no water flowed. Instead, more cats slept in its tiered bowls. The Doctor and Aura emerged from a huge archway framed by tall white columns. Around the circular chamber, similar arches led to more corridors, and the Doctor bit his lip in frustration.
"That senile old fool has gone and changed everything!" he said. "The converters used to be just off the console room."
"The kitchens are this way," Aura said, walking across the broken tiles toward one of the arches.
"Forget about the kitchens. It's vital that I re-connect the isotropic converters to the stabilizers or we might never re-emerge from whatever heinous parallel dimension we've stumbled into."
"Doctor Pike requires a pot of tea," Aura explained with infinite patience, as if she were addressing a very young or very stupid child.
"I enjoy a nice cup of tea as much as the next fellow," said the Doctor, "but this is not the time, I'm sure."
She ignored him and continued down the corridor. The Doctor followed her through another archway. Beyond, the kitchens were a series of rooms that branched off another circular chamber with its own broken fountain.
"Please, you must listen," the Doctor said.
"I must make the tea," Aura replied, and the Doctor plucked a frying pan from a metal rack and swung it, crashing it through the right side of her head. Sparks flew, and Aura stumbled and fell. The Doctor dropped the pan and peered down into the crater, where wires and circuitry spilled out onto the floor.
"I thought as much," he said. "An android, and a spectacularly unhelpful one at that."
He found a touch screen set into the wall above a wire bin full of rotting potatoes. He used it to access a map of Pike's TARDIS.
"Ah," the Doctor said. "Here we are."
At that moment the room gave a great lurch. The Doctor fell to his knees as, around him, pots and pans clattered to the floor, crockery smashed, and more sparks flew from the fallen android. Far away, he heard Sarah Jane calling his name.
The Doctor climbed to his feet and raced back into the lobby. He skidded to a halt in the console room, where Sarah and Doctor Pike stood before the open doors.
"Doctor!" Sarah gasped. "Look!"
Outside, huge chunks of rock were hurtling through the darkness, rocketing straight toward the TARDIS. The Doctor ran to the console and slapped the button that operated the doors. Nothing happened.
"Doctor, help me!" Sarah cried. He hurried across the console room as something crashed into the ship, sending screeching cats flying off shelves and chairs and stacks of books that scattered everywhere. He grabbed one of the doors, Sarah the other one, and they pushed them shut. The heavy doors seemed to meet an invisible force, and it took several long moments to close them both. The Doctor and Sarah collapsed, sweating and exhausted.
"Rubbish!" The Doctor panted, glaring at Pike. "Does anything in this relic actually work?"
"Where's Aura?" Sarah asked.
"She's an android. Never mind." He got to his feet and stumbled toward the console. A few moments of frantic motion by his long, slender fingers brought a small and hazy screen into view over the hole where the time rotor should have been.
The Doctor snorted. "I haven't seen a holoscreen in ages. Positively primitive."
Pike hugged one of his frightened cats to his chest, and Sarah was suddenly flooded with shame at the Doctor's treatment of him. He looked so scared, so lost, so much like a little boy for that one fleeting moment.
"Are you all right?" Sarah asked him. Pike nodded and gave her a weak smile.
"Those aren't just rocks," the Doctor said, studying the screen. "That's New York City hurtling at us in fun-sized chunks. There goes a van, a hospital, a hot dog stand. My TARDIS!" The familiar blue police box flew into view on the holoscreen, and the Doctor pulled a lever. The screen began to blink and sputter. "Hold on, we're going to follow it."
Sarah patted Doctor Pike on the shoulder. "Trust the Doctor. He's good at this kind of thing."
"Oh, I should imagine," Pike said absently. "He seems to be racing through his regenerations with alarming speed."
"Sarah!" The Doctor whispered.
Alarmed by his tone, Sarah hurried to his side. He nodded toward the holoscreen, where a massive ship hovered in the center of a swirling, chaotic vortex of debris, a storm made from the ruins of the city.
"A Sword of Rassilon," he said.
"A what?" Sarah asked.
The Doctor pointed to a hatch near the bottom of the ship, where, very slowly, matter was being drawn into its hull. "The remnants are drawn to the ship by an artificial gravity field," he explained. "They're slowly compacted and used to generate enormous stores of power. The Swords of Rassilon were developed by the Time Lords to convert dead planets into energy. They were outlawed centuries ago after a faction of renegades used one for their own foul purposes and destroyed a Class One planet. It appears someone has come into possession of one of these ships and is using it to demolish New York and compress the raw matter into energy." He traced a small clump racing toward the storm. "And there's my TARDIS, soon to be crushed into atomic particles."
"What are we going to do?" Sarah asked.
"Ah," said the Doctor. "That is the question."
After several failed attempts and a bout of epic swearing that made Sarah Jane's face turn crimson, the Doctor was able to materialize Pike's TARDIS.
"We're somewhere aboard the Sword of Rassilon," the Doctor said. "Impossible to say where, although given the erratic and frankly quite infuriating nature of this idiot machine we're likely to step out into the airlock."
"I'll just go and fetch Aura," said Doctor Pike. "She might need a hand with the tea."
"She might need more than just a hand," the Doctor muttered.
"What did you do?" Sarah asked, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.
"Never mind about all that," the Doctor said. "We've got to hurry before the TARDIS—my TARDIS, the proper TARDIS—is destroyed."
He opened the doors a crack and he and Sarah peered out. They had landed in a small, dimly-lit room where metal boxes and huge pallets of wooden crates where stacked in tall piles.
"A closet," the Doctor said, stepping out of the tent. "A very pleasant surprise."
"Not all bad, is she?" Pike said. He had produced a silver-tipped cane from his coat pocket.
"Don't gloat," the Doctor said.
"Just imagine," said Sarah, a glint in her eye, "if your TARDIS is destroyed, Doctor, we'll have to travel with Doctor Pike from now on."
"I would sooner hurl myself into a black hole," the Doctor said. He made his way through the closet, and Pike and Sarah followed out into an empty corridor.
"Right," said Sarah. "Which way?"
"I suppose one way is just as good as the other," the Doctor reasoned. "Let's go left. No, right."
"Let's try this way," Pike said, waving his cane to the left.
"Well, that settles it," said the Doctor, turning right. Sarah rolled her eyes and followed him. The walls of the corridor were the stark, clean white she had come to associate with space vessels. The lights overhead where strikingly similar to fluorescent bulbs back on Earth, and they walked on what appeared to be nothing more than ordinary white carpet.
"I don't understand how this all works," Sarah said. "If this ship breaks down matter and converts it into energy, why did it have to meddle with the seasons and the timelines? Why not just come and...scoop up what they need?"
Before the Doctor could answer, Pike said, "The Swords of Rassilon were designed to harvest both the physical and the temporal. Quite literally, they can turn time itself into energy."
"A ridiculously inefficient design," said the Doctor. "That sort of conversion requires massive amounts of power. Hardly anything is gained from the procedure."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Pike said. "The later models were remarkably resourceful. I'm not sure what the make on this one is. Hard to say from one corridor."
"Who do you think is controlling it?" Sarah asked.
"Who knows?" The Doctor said. The corridor ended just ahead, where a small door was set into the wall.
"Look at this door," the Doctor said. "Notice how short it is."
"So?" Sarah asked.
"Well," the Doctor said. "Look at the wall just above it. It's obviously been filled in. This door used to be much taller. Think, Sarah. Whoever is in possession of this ship fitted the doorways with much smaller doors. Now why would they need to do that?"
"They must be very short," said Doctor Pike.
"Yes, that's right," said the Doctor.
"Sontarans!" Sarah said. As if on cue, the air in the corridor shimmered and three squat, bulky forms in black leather armor appeared. Their heads were covered in metal helmets and each held a gun in its gloved, three-fingered hand.
"Hello!" The Doctor said brightly.
"Sontarans!" said Doctor Pike. "I say, this is quite exciting."
"We've been expecting you, Doctor," said the Sontaran. He removed his helmet to reveal a hideously misshapen head. It extended from its chest without the support of a neck, and it was covered in rough brown skin. Its small, beady eyes sparkled with malice.
"Nonsense!" said the Doctor. "I myself had no idea I'd be here. Sarah here wanted to do a bit of shopping before we went on holiday."
"Hello," said Sarah, waving timidly.
"You will come with us," said the Sontaran leader. "Any resistance will be met with swift and painful death. Are the terms of your capture clear?"
"Yes, I suppose they are," the Doctor said. "Tell me, how did you come by something as advanced as a Sword of Rassilon? This kind of technology is far beyond anything Sontar ever achieved."
"You will be silent!" The soldier roared. "Failure to do so will be considered resistance. Nod your heads if you understand."
"Good. Now follow me."
The transmat the Sontarans had used for their grand entrance was not equipped to transport both them and their new prisoners, so the Doctor and his companions were led through several long corridors until at last they came to a door similar to the one they had seen near Pike's TARDIS.
"Halt!" the Sontaran leader commanded. "You will remain here. I will announce you to the Marshal."
He waved his hand over the door in a complex sign, and it slid open. The Doctor tried to peer around one of the remaining Sontarans, but he couldn't see anything beyond the door frame save for impenetrable darkness. Obviously some sort of rudimentary cloaking device. He was about to announce this to the group when he remembered he wasn't allowed to speak. He found this immensely unfavorable to their predicament and opened his mouth to say so.
Sarah gave him a menacing look, and the Doctor sighed.
A moment later the Sontaran platoon leader reemerged.
"You will follow me," he said.
The Doctor, Sarah, and Pike were led into a cavernous, multi-leveled control facility, where Sontaran troops busied themselves at control panels and in front of computer screens. Some studied print-out or talked urgently into their communicators, while others analyzed maps and fleet formations and other wearying battle plans. At last the Doctor simply had to speak.
"Pardon me for saying so," he said, "and understand that I am in no way in favor of the perpetuation of stereotypes, but this kind of facility is beyond the single-minded focus of Sontaran intelligence. It's quite dangerous to tamper with this kind of advanced science, even for those of us who understand such things. Isn't that right, Doctor Pike?"
"Uh, yes, indeed," Pike said, somewhat taken aback.
A Sontaran approached them, one who stood out from the others by the uniform he wore, which was decorated with dozens of gleaming medals and badges.
"Doctor," he said. "I am Battle Marshal Vryx of the Sontaran Special Space Service. Welcome aboard the Glory of Sontara."
"Thank you very much," said the Doctor. "It's quite a fascinating operation you're running. I wonder if you would tell me how you came upon such a sophisticated vessel."
"I believe the Time Lords call it a Sword of Rassilon?"
"Yes, I think so," said the Doctor.
"It was given to us. A gift to General Sontar from one of your own people, a renegade who traded technology for protection."
"His name, and his fate, are unimportant. I tell you only so that you may have the knowledge necessary to perform the tasks that are required of you. You have been brought here for a reason, Doctor, you and your companions."
"Yes, I thought as much."
"You did?" Sarah Jane asked.
"They need us to fix something for them, isn't that right, Doctor?" Pike said.
"You are correct," said Vryx. "Although we have learned to operate the vessel we cannot repair it. If you agree to help us, your lives will be spared and you will be returned to Earth. Unharmed and alive."
"Just in time for you to turn it into fuel!" the Doctor said. "How did you know I would be here, precisely in this time and place? How could you have possibly known that?"
"We were given your coordinates by the G3 Military Assessment Survey, who implicated you in the death of Field Marshal Styre. We followed you until you came to this time and place."
"But New York was already gone when we landed," Sarah said. "At least, its people were."
"Yes," said the Doctor. "If you had waited until we landed to activate the Sword we would have been in a New York populated by millions."
"When we saw where you chose to land, we travelled back through the vortex, arriving a mere ten minutes earlier. Just enough time to activate the Sword, to trap you in its temporal schism."
To Sarah's surprise, the Doctor's face broke out in a sunny grin.
"That's magnificent!" he said.
"Doctor!" Sarah Jane said.
"In a minute," he whispered out of the corner of his mouth.
Vryx seemed not to hear. "It is a rather fortunate coincidence that your old associate Doctor Pike happened to be in the general vicinity, only a few light years and two centuries away. We transported him here so that he might be of assistance to you, Doctor."
"An excellent idea! Two heads are better than one, as they say. Now then, Marshal, what can we do for you?"
"The ship's gravitational rotors are operating at fifteen-percent capacity," said Vryx. "With only this limited amount of power we cannot hope to continue to produce the energy required for fuel conversion."
"Yes, I was just saying that," said the Doctor. "The Swords of Rassilon were notoriously inefficient sources of power. They used almost as much as they could create."
"Their later redesign fixed many inherent problems—" Doctor Pike began, and the Doctor held up a hand to silence him.
"In any case, Marshal, I believe we can help you."
Vryx grinned, a hideous sight that made Sarah's skin crawl.
"On one condition," the Doctor said.
"Sontarans do not bargain with our prisoners," Vryx said.
"We're not your prisoners," said the Doctor. "Not anymore. Think of us as your engineers, and as such I demand that you have your thugs remove their guns from the backs of our heads."
"Is that your condition?" Vryx asked, waving a hand to disperse the guards.
"No," said the Doctor. "They were merely getting on my nerves. My condition is this: you retrieve my TARDIS immediately. It is in imminent peril of becoming nothing more than a jumble of atoms. Once it's been recovered I demand that my assistant, Sarah Jane Smith, be allowed to return to it until the gravitational rotors can be repaired."
"I will obtain your ship," said Vryx," but your female will remain here. Your request is an insult to my honor. I have already promised that you will be freed in return for your cooperation."
"I'm not anybody's female," said Sarah Jane, "and I don't give a damn about your honor, you pompous little toadstool. If you intend to bark orders at me you'd better call your guards back along with every last Sontaran on this horrible ship. Now go and fetch the TARDIS and leave us to fix the gravity whatevers in peace."
And to the Doctor's amazement, the Marshal turned on his heel and marched away, muttering under his breath.
Sarah smiled, flushed and trembling with adrenaline yet obviously pleased with herself.
"Yes," said the Doctor. "Well. Ah, shall we get on it then?"
"I suppose you have some sort of plan," Sarah asked as they walked across the control room toward a long bank of equipment set against the far wall.
"Well, some sort of something. I was very encouraged to hear that the Sontarans had doubled back on their own timeline in following us to 1997."
"Why? What does that have to do with anything?"
"There is a very good reason the Time Lords are so severe when it comes to time travel, Sarah. While I may not agree with their methods I do see the necessity for some basic rules, one of which is to never, under any circumstance, double back on one's own timeline. You might say this is the cardinal rule of time travel. It creates horrible paradoxes."
"A necessary evil of travelling through the vortex," said Pike. "In fact there are many branches of science that focus on the study of paradoxes. I always found them to be more trouble than they're worth, but if they can be controlled—"
"Never mind," said the Doctor irritably. "A paradox is one thing, an alternative timeline is quite another. When the original timeline is dramatically altered an alternative timeline is created, and that's precisely what happened when the Sontarans travelled back through time. In the original timeline you and I landed in New York and went about our business. I like to think we stopped off for a pizza and then maybe I persuaded you to abandon your appalling notion of a shopping spree."
Sarah smiled in spite of herself.
"But the Sontarans went back, just ten minutes before we arrived, and activated the Sword of Rassilon, destroying millions of lives and beginning the temporal shift that would eventually dismantle the entire city, piece by piece, and send it spiraling into space. They created an alternate timeline."
"And that's where we are now?" Sarah asked.
"So what's your plan?" Sarah asked.
They had come to a stop before the complex equipment whose purpose Sarah could only guess at. The Doctor threw his scarf over his shoulder and said, "I don't know just yet. Doctor Pike, do you suppose we could fix the gravitational rotors?"
"Not a chance," said Pike. "That would require weeks of careful planning and an entire catalogue of tools and paraphernalia we don't have access to. Not without returning to Gallifrey."
The Doctor snorted. "That would be a sight. An outlawed ship full of Sontarans landing on the steps of the Capitol."
Sarah beamed as the two Time Lords shared a laugh.
"Well," the Doctor said. "It may not be possible to completely patch up the rotors, but can we at least rig them to make one final jump?"
"That would be terribly dangerous," Pike said, wringing his hands. "Fifteen percent capacity! The lights shouldn't even be on right now."
"Nevertheless, we shall have to make it work. Sarah, that plan you were talking about?"
He grinned. "I think I know what it is."
Sarah watched Pike and the Doctor tear fistfuls of wires from a panel set into the wall. Bizarre instruments were produced from endlessly deep pockets, sonic screwdrivers were held over fiber-optic cables, and sparks flew from metal connectors and small glass tubes that contained some sort of strange glowing liquid.
"Hold your bit still!" Pike snapped.
"I am holding it still! Hand me that biliary link casing. No, the other one."
"It must be nice to finally meet someone else who really knows about these things," Sarah said.
"It's a bloody nuisance!" The Doctor said, snatching a miniature blowtorch from Pike. He used it to weld together two steel tubes. "This is exactly what happened on Sol VII. I made the mistake of allowing Pike to drive the rover while I took a short nap. When I awoke we were upside down at the bottom of a canyon, where he informed me that fixing the engine would be as simple as rigging what could be salvaged from the tracers into a makeshift locomotive anti-gravity device."
"It did the trick, didn't it?" Pike asked. "Without that jetpack we might still be in that canyon."
"You set my hair on fire," the Doctor muttered.
Sarah heard some sort of commotion from behind her. She turned to find Marshal Vryx leading a small contingent of soldiers across the floor of the operations center toward the entrance. In the doorway, another group of Sontarans were struggling against a headless android in a white leather jumpsuit.
"Doctor!" Sarah gasped. Pike and the Doctor looked up.
"Aura!" Pike said. "What happened to her head?"
"We're almost finished!" the Doctor said. "Quickly, Pike. Now might be our only opportunity."
Sarah watched in horror as the Sontaran troops formed a firing squad and began shooting at Aura, who was fighting off soldiers using only her knife. She sent several to the floor, clutching deep, bleeding wounds and cursing in their guttural voices. Several red blasts of energy struck the android, but she continued her rampage, slicing through the ranks and getting closer to Vryx and his brigade.
"Hurry, Doctor!" Sarah said.
"Finished!" He used his sonic screwdriver to bolt the metal door of a small compartment containing a complex web of tubes and wires. Then he turned to Sarah.
"I've set the coordinates. We've got less than five minutes to get back to the TARDIS."
"Forget the damned rifles!" Vryx was screaming. He threw one of his men aside and charged Pike's android. They collided and fell to the floor, limbs flailing. One of Aura's arms was tossed into the air, and several Sontarans joined the melee, dropping their blasters in the excitement of a rare hand-to-hand brawl.
"They'll kill her!" Sarah said.
The Doctor grabbed her hand. "Come on, now's our chance. Pike, keep up."
They bolted past the Sontarans, out into the corridor.
The corridors all looked the same to Sarah, but the Doctor seemed to know which path to follow. In a matter of minutes they were back in the storage closet, being ushered into the circus tent.
"What about Aura?" Pike asked. "I can't just leave her!"
"We'll build you a new one!" the Doctor spat, shoving him inside. He and Sarah closed the doors and then raced to the console.
"What about the TARDIS?" Sarah asked.
"If I'm right, we won't need it."
Sarah stared at him, horrified.
The Doctor ignored her as he ran around the console in frantic circles, grimacing as he swallowed the insults he longed to hurl at Doctor Pike, who had climbed back on his stool and was nervously rubbing his hands together.
"Here we go!" said the Doctor, and sparks flew from the chasm where Pike's time rotor had been. The TARDIS trembled, and Sarah's stomach churned as the ship began to dematerialize.
No one saw the colorful yet slightly worn circus tent materialize in the deserted alley beside a pair of overturned trash cans, a few broken plastic milk crates, and an old blue public call box. No one saw the Doctor and Sarah Jane step out into the gray afternoon.
No one saw because everyone in New York was looking up at the sky.
"Look, Sarah Jane."
It was the Sword of Rassilon, hovering in the sky above the city.
"You might want to cover your ears," the Doctor said to Pike as the old man stepped out of his TARDIS. The ground shook as, above them, the sky seemed to split apart. Sarah caught a glimpse of darkness beyond the clouds, and then a second ship appeared, launched from the rift and rocketing straight toward its twin.
"They're going to crash!" Sarah said.
At that instant the ships collided with a noise that seemed to rip the world out from under her. Sarah was thrown backward. She landed on a pile of soggy cardboard boxes and the wind was knocked out of her. She could hear nothing save a shrill ringing that tore through her head and made her eyes throb.
When she could move, she tried to sit up. It took her several attempts, and by then her hearing was starting to return. She expected to hear screaming, sirens, maybe even distant explosions as debris from the wreck hailed down upon the city.
Instead, she heard the Doctor laughing.
"What's so funny?" she asked, her voice a toneless drone in her own head.
"I haven't the faintest idea how we managed to get out of that one."
"Now you know how I feel most of the time," Sarah said, laying back on the wet cardboard. "Oh, my head."
The Doctor helped her to her feet. "Look at the sky, Sarah. Not a trace of either ship."
"What happened to them?"
"One ship hovering over New York just before its destruction, one powered by the ruins of that very city, both existing in the same place at the same time. The alternate timeline merged with original, and both ships were sucked into the Void at the moment of impact."
"You're not helping my headache." She limped over to Doctor Pike and threw her arms around him. "I'm sorry about Aura."
Doctor Pike adjusted his lab coat and cleared his throat, obviously embarrassed.
"Well that's settled," the Doctor said. He grinned. "New York! Did I ever tell you how much I love New York?"
"Doctor," Sarah said.
"I once traveled with a lad from New York. Brilliant fellow. He had the most absurd blue mohawk and a wonderfully ridiculous tattoo of a dragon on his face."
"He ended up marrying Queen Nasasha of Tara."
He sighed. "I know what you're going to say." He smiled at Doctor Pike. "Maybe I've been too hard on you, Doctor. It's been wonderful to work with you again."
"Yes, well, you always were good in a crisis." He offered his hand, and the Doctor clutched it. They shook, and then Pike tipped his hat at Sarah Jane.
"Goodbye, dear. Stay with him. I think you're good for each other."
"Goodbye, Doctor. Maybe we'll see you again."
"Let's hope not," the Doctor muttered as Pike's TARDIS dematerialized.
"I heard that," said Sarah Jane. She and the Doctor walked out of the alley onto the crowded sidewalk. There were people everywhere, hundreds of people, ignoring them and each other.
"Isn't it wonderful?" the Doctor asked.
"Come on," said Sarah Jane. "Let's go get a pizza. On you."
"What's that supposed to mean? I don't have any money. I've never had any money."
"You're a Time Lord! You fly around in a magic blue box saving the universe from Daleks and Cybermen and Sontarans. And whatever those big rhino things are called."
"Well I don't exactly get paid for it!" the Doctor said. They walked to the end of the sidewalk and turned the corner, disappearing into the crowd.