Doctor Who: Black Skies
In the deepest, blackest bowels of his castle, Father hid in the shadows, watching his children swim in the pool below. His face was a sliver of white inside his dark hood and his lips were pulled back in a thin and bloodless smile. In the chamber beneath him, his children disappeared beneath the black surface of the pool. Some sat on the edge, their feet dipped in, while others stood and watched, like him. They were naked, they always swam naked. He felt a strange stirring as he observed them.
He cleared his throat, softly.
At once his children were on their knees. Those in the pool leapt out and sank to the stone, through they could not have possibly heard him beneath the surface.
Father stepped off the ledge of his alcove and fluttered to the ground below, his robes whipping around him. His bare feet touched the stone, and he summoned his children to him. They clutched at him, at his robes, their eyes wide and eager, their mouths split in grimaces of hunger. Blood from the pool dried on their pale skin, in their hair.
"Children of God," he intoned.
"Father of Man," they responded as one, and then they were upon him, sinking their teeth into his flesh, clawing at his robes, tearing them from his body. They plunged their tongues into his veins and found no blood there, no life. As always, they pulled away, desperate and crazed. Some turned on each other.
"It has been so long," one of the Sons of God moaned.
"We are ravenous," said one of the Daughters.
"The blood from the pool keeps you alive," Father said, gathering the tattered scraps of his robes. "It is enough for now."
His children sobbed. The blood in the pool had once been their own. It had passed through them many times before. It fed them, but did not satisfy their constant appetite.
They were hungry. Always hungry.
"Soon, my children. Soon the others will come again, like they always do. And then we shall feast." It was a promise he had made every night for years.
It had been so long.
"My Sons," Father said, caressing a white face. "My Daughters." He fingered a lock of her dark hair. "Come to me."
They fell upon him, on each other. Their cries and moans filled the chamber, gasps of pain and pleasure echoing off the stone walls.
"Children of God," Father said, his lips against the pale flesh of one of his Sons.
"Father of Man," they responded, and spoke no more.
All she knew was pain. Her head was a screaming, throbbing cauldron, and all down the left side of her body pain coursed like a river of molten lava through her blood, her bones. She was lying on her back, the ground rough and jagged beneath her. Something heavy was crushing her, constricting her breath.
Romana opened her eyes.
It was the Doctor. His face was stained with blood and grey dust. She struggled to pull her arm from beneath him and pressed her fingers to his neck. She felt his hearts beating and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Wake up," she groaned, shaking him. "Come on, Doctor, get off me!"
He stirred. "Not now, Oscar."
"Come on," Romana said through gritted teeth. She gripped his shoulder and tried to push him away.
He moaned and his eyes fluttered open. He peered down at her through narrow slits.
"Where's K-9?" he asked.
"I'm fine, by the way," she said dryly. "Would you please get off of me?"
He rolled onto the ground and collapsed. She turned onto her aching side, her damp hair hanging in her face. It was streaked with blood.
"Where are we?" the Doctor asked.
"I don't know." Romana sat up and looked around, taking in their surroundings for the first time.
"Describe it to me," he said. He had closed his eyes once again. She noticed a large dark stain on his white shirt.
"It looks like a courtyard of some sort," she reported. She craned her neck. "There's a kind of massive structure towering above us, but it's too dark to really make it out. The ground is stone, and there's a wall several feet to your left. It's night. The sky is heavy with clouds and I can barely make out the stars."
"Any that you recognize?"
She studied them. "No, I don't think so."
"And the TARDIS?"
She shook her head. "No sign of it."
He fell silent.
"What's the last thing you remember?" she asked him.
"We were in New Orleans," he said slowly. "There was a Sontaran. It was Halloween, I think."
Romana smiled. "Yes, that's right. I was a witch."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." The Doctor sat up and looked around. "I wonder where we are."
"You don't suppose we're still in New Orleans?"
The Doctor shook his head. "The air is all wrong. It's...thin."
"Like we're at a high altitude," Romana agreed. "I was thinking the same thing."
"New Orleans is below sea level." He held out his hand, and she helped him to his feet. He adjusted his scarf around his neck and brushed off his coat. "Let's have a look at this massive structure of yours."
As they walked Romana looked down at herself, at the sleek black dress that clung to her frame. It was sticky with blood in several places, torn and dirty in others. She wore a diamond choker around her neck. "I think I'm beginning to remember now. There was a party, and an explosion..."
"Most great parties end that way," the Doctor said. Ahead, they began to make out details of the structure. It was a huge stone castle with high turrets and spires that vanished into the dark clouds. Stained glass windows were set at regular intervals, lit with the dim, flickering light of many candles.
"It's beautiful," Romana said.
The Doctor said, "Can you feel that?"
He veered off toward the far edge of the courtyard. Romana followed. They reached the wall and the Doctor peered through a small crack in the stone.
"Take a look at this," he said. Romana put her face against the hole. Below them clouds heavy and black with rain swept across the sky.
"We're above the clouds!" she gasped.
"Can you feel it?" He asked again. "A sort of low rumbling. Engines."
"A flying castle?" Romana smiled. "How wonderful!"
"We're certainly not in New Orleans anymore." The Doctor started back toward the castle. "I don't like this."
They reached the huge wooden slab of a front door. The Doctor clutched the iron knocker and banged it rapidly against the wood.
"Let me do the talking," he said.
They waited, and when no one answered the Doctor tried the ornate handle. To their surprise, the doors swung open easily. They found themselves in an elaborate entrance hall. The floor beneath them was black marble, and high above the domed ceiling was made of stained glass. They peered up at it through iron and crystal chandeliers lit by hundreds of candles.
"Those chandeliers," the Doctor said. "They're not hung from anything."
He was right. They appeared to hang in mid-air, suspended by some invisible force. Romana followed him deeper into the hall as, behind them, the door slammed shut. They whirled around, but there was no one there.
"Look," Romana said, pointing to a tall suit of armor. It stood against the wall, a broadsword gripped in its hands and planted on the floor between its boots. There were perhaps a dozen similar statues at intervals along the room.
"There are more on the other side," the Doctor noted. He walked over to one and ran his finger along the sharp edge of the sword. The breastplate was etched with strange patterns and symbols. "They appear to be from Earth's Middle Ages, although I don't recognize any of the detailing." He turned to peer up at the staircase that stood opposite the front door. The steps were covered with a plush red carpet. A long iron railing intersected the staircase at the top, and beyond that was another wall set with flickering sconces and several tall doors.
"Looks like we're going up," Romana said.
"We could go back outside," he suggested.
"There's nothing out there," she said. "Come on."
"Maybe you should wait down here," he said as they walked up the stairs. "This could be a trap."
"It's almost certainly a trap," she said.
"Don't go anywhere, and shout if you see anything." He bounded up the stairs, his scarf trailing behind him. He reached the top and, after a moment's hesitation, made his way toward one of the doors. He tried the knob and, finding it unlocked, slipped inside.
Romana sat down on the stairs and shivered.
Thomas Hind watched the castle come into view on the scanner. The screen was ancient equipment, salvaged like the rest of the ship from whatever could be snatched from the sky. He had been a Salvager, years ago, but it was a young man's game, competitive and fast. And dangerous. Once something had been aboard, it then had to be dismantled for scrap, and often there were strange gasses and fuels, valuable in the right hands, deadly to the inexperienced.
"We've got sight," one of the engineers called out.
General Veden pushed past Hind and peered over the engineer's shoulder. Others gathered, and together they stared at the screen.
Hind had studied the Castle, had seen ancient photographs and countless paintings and etchings, but he was still unprepared for the sheer enormity of it. It was unlike anything else he had ever seen. The Citadel, the University, their ships—all had been rebuilt so often that they no longer resembled anything like the photographs in the history books. The Castle, however, was as it had always been, one huge and imposing structure, forever drifting half a world apart from the Citadel, from civilization. The Children of God kept to themselves.
For the most part.
"How much longer?" the General demanded.
"Approximately one half hour, sir."
"Excellent." Veden walked to the other side of the bridge and began to issue commands into a microphone. His voice echoed through the ship, and his soldiers scrambled to get ready.
"General," Hind said when he was finished. "A word."
"What is it, Professor?"
Hind kept his voice low. "I wanted to remind you that the University is funding this mission. I have been given command status aboard this vessel."
"I just don't want you and your soldiers to go in guns blazing," Hind said. "This is still a rescue mission."
The general snorted. "Come on, man. You don't think she's still alive, do you?" He shook his head and planted a firm hand on the professor's shoulder. "I know she was a student of yours. I'm sorry. But you must realize—"
Hind shrugged him off. "I'm not a fool, general. I know what this is, where we're going. But I need a chance to talk to them."
Veden sighed. "If one of them so much as blinks—"
"I understand," Hind said. "Now you'll excuse me, I have preparations of my own."
He left the bridge and stepped out onto the deck. The wind whipped his gray hair around his head. Hind walked to the railing. It had once been waist-height, but ten feet of chain link fence had been lashed to it to prevent the crew from being swept overboard by the strong winds typical of sectors beyond the tame skies of the Citadel and the University. He clutched the cold metal and peered out into the night. Clouds below, stars above. And somewhere, still out of sight, the Castle. He closed his eyes.
"Forgive me," he whispered.
The room beyond the entrance hall was lit not by hovering chandeliers but by tall pillared candles on two huge, intricate stands. They stood atop a long wooden table. The Doctor ran his finger over the tabletop.
"No dust," he said, peering around the dim room. One wall was covered by an immense tapestry. A full round moon was depicted over a thick copse of trees, a line of black specks marring its warm glow. The Doctor squinted.
They were bats.
He continued his inspection of the dining room. On the wall opposite the tapestry was a series of portraits, men and women in rich, expensive clothing painted with severe expressions on their faces. Behind him, over the door to the entrance hall, hung an iron shield over two crossed rapiers. There was an insignia on the shield, a bird with a beautiful plume clutching a severed head in its talons. Across the room was another door, another shield. This one bored a slightly different image, the same bird holding a human heart.
The Doctor tested the handle of the door beneath this shield. It was locked. He found his sonic screwdriver and a moment later the door opened with a soft click. He found himself back in the entrance hall, walking through the door that should have led out into the courtyard. Romana leapt to her feet.
"How did you get out there?" she asked.
"I haven't the faintest idea." He looked back into the room. "This door should take us outside."
"Close it," Romana suggested. "Maybe it'll change back."
He closed the door and reopened it. It was still the dining room.
"Something very peculiar is going on here," he said. He unraveled his scarf and handed one end to Romana. "Hold this. I want to try something." Holding the other end of the scarf he stepped back into the room.
"Not even a ridiculous thing like this is going to reach the other side," Romana said.
The Doctor gave his end a sharp tug and Romana lurched forward. He turned back to the dining room and scowled. She was right. The scarf stretched taunt halfway across the room. The Doctor set it upon the table and pulled a yo-yo from his pocket. He tied it to the end of the scarf and continued. When the yo-yo had reached the end of its string hr found a pair of shoelaces, a jump rope, a pink handkerchief, and a tiny chicken skull on a leather cord, a charm against black magic. One by one he tied them together until at last he reached the door.
"Hold your end tight!" he called, and opened the door.
He saw the upper level of the entrance hall. Below, Romana stood holding her end of the scarf. He took walked through the doorway...
...and out into the courtyard. He turned to holler back into the castle. "Come on through! And don't let go of the scarf!"
Romana stepped out into the frigid air. Her eyes widened. "What happened?"
"A rudimentary temporal distortion loop," he explained. "They're easy enough to trip up. A simple physical link between its two ends will often break it."
Romana peered across the empty courtyard. "There's nothing out here."
"Really?" The Doctor asked. "Yes, I suppose you're right. There is nothing. No gate or door or entrance or exit of any kind apart from the castle itself."
"Which means there's only one way in," Romana said. She pointed up to the sky, where dark clouds had formed to blot out the light of the stars. "That proves your theory that we're aboard some kind of flying contraption."
The Doctor nodded. "There must be other ships that land here in the courtyard."
"But there are no traction marks, no blast patterns, no broken stones, nothing in fact to indicate any ship has ever touched down here. I think you might be mistaken."
"And what do you make of that?" He asked, pointing up. The clouds parted and a ship dropped out of the sky. It looked like a pirate ship, only without sails. Instead, satellite dishes, smoke stacks, solar panels, and other various and confounding equipment crowded the deck, around which a tall chain link fence had been erected. Below the hull, flames shot from rocket boosters, and propellers spun wildly as the vessel a few hundred feet above the ground.
"I hate you," Romana said.
A platoon of soldiers ran past the professor's door, and Thomas Hind waited until they had passed before he stepped out into the hall, pulling his coat over his shoulders and adjusting the pack that hung around his waist. As he hurried through the ship's narrow corridors, General Veden came over the intercom and once again began to bark orders. Hind was filled with adrenaline. It put him on edge and made the sound of Veden's voice grate through his ears and in his skull. He hurried up a small flight of stairs and emerged out onto the deck. He pushed past a few soldiers and peered through the fence at the castle. It towered over the ship, its tallest spires disappearing into the clouds. It was massive, dwarfing any structure the professor had ever seen. Even the great Citadel seemed small in comparison.
He turned to find one of the young engineers running toward him. Hind recognized him as a student of one of his colleagues at the University. He came to a stop and gave a swift salute before doubling over and gasping for breath. His red hair hung in his face and sweat glistened on his brow despite the chill in the air.
"What is it, Ronis?"
"We're picking up a low-level temporal distortion field," Ronis wheezed. "It's affecting the landing equipment. General Veden wants to see you right away."
As they walked Hind asked Ronis about his recent exams, his upcoming dissertation, and his experience as a student engineer under Veden's command. He listened distractedly as the young man prattled on about helping to design a new radar that could theoretically be used to better detect pirate vessels.
Temporal distortions, Hind thought. A bending of time and space, highly complex and unstable. What was it doing here? The Children of God were technologically primitive, possessing only the most basic knowledge, enough to keep them airborne.
Hind cleared his head as he followed Ronis onto the bridge.
"Professor," Veden said. "We've got a problem."
"So I hear." He stepped past the General and studied one of the scanners. Sure enough, it was unmistakably a temporal distortion. A weak one, but still...
"We're going to have to take the zippers," he announced. "There's no way the landing equipment can be repaired, not while the distortion is still active."
Veden said, "We can use the matter transmitter."
Hind paled. "Are you insane? A matter transmission within a hundred miles of a temporal distortion would cause a massive explosion."
The two men glared at each other. Ronis and a few of the other engineers shifted uncomfortably.
"Prepare the zippers," Veden finally announced, and six of his soldiers fled from the room.
"We need to go over our plan," Hind said.
"I'm going in alone."
The General shook his head. "Absolutely not. You're still a civilian, after all. I don't think you know how dangerous those...things really are."
"If you want to talk about danger give me an hour and a half and I'll tell you about that distortion field. We had no idea the Children of God had access to that kind of technology. That makes them deadlier than either of us could have imagined, General. I'm the only one on this ship who knows anything about what's going on down there."
Veden drummed his thick fingers on the back of a chair. "What do you propose?"
"That I go alone and attempt to dismantle or somehow disrupt the distortion effect. We won't get anywhere until I can do that."
The General thought for a moment. "Fine. But you're taking one of my officers with you."
Hind nodded. "If you insist."
Ronis cleared his throat. "Ah, Professor, what about me? My focus during my third year was temporal fissures. I think I might be able to help you down there."
"Out of the question!" Veden roared. "What are you, fifteen?"
"I'm twenty-four," Ronis said glumly.
"I believe he actually might be of some use to me," Hind said. "You're aware of the severity of the situation, Ronis?"
"I am, sir."
"Fine," Veden spat, obviously not happy with the arrangement. He slumped into his chair. "Go on, then. The zippers should be ready by now."
Hind and Ronis started for the door, and Veden called, "Professor?"
"If I don't hear from you in one hour we're coming down."
Hind continued toward the door. He held it open for Ronis and they walked back out onto the deck.
"I've never seen anyone stand up to him like that," Ronis said.
"I have no patience for militaristic pigheadedness." They strode past the entrance to the living quarters and entered a doorway toward the rear of the ship. They descended two flights of stairs and found themselves in a large hangar where a dozen sleek silver machines were lined up facing a bay of circular hatches. Soldiers and scientists bustled about, making preparations.
"Professor!" A woman in a sharp officer's uniform approached them and saluted. Ronis returned the greeting, but Hind only scowled. The woman stood at rigid attention. She was middle-aged, tall and thin, her dark hair cropped short and just visible beneath a green beret that signified her rank.
"At ease," Hind said wearily.
"Sir." The woman relaxed only slightly. "I am Captain Rena Taft of the First Defensive Unit. General Veden requested that I accompany you."
"Yes, fine. This is Alden Ronis, and now that we've all been introduced shall we get on with it?"
Hind approached a group of engineers, who were running last-minute safety checks on one of the zippers. "Are we ready?"
"Good." He climbed onto the back of the machine. Ronis got behind him and wrapped his arms tightly around the professor's waist.
"Nervous, Ronis?" He could feel the boy shivering.
"Just a little, sir. I've never ridden a zipper before."
"There's nothing to it." Hind felt the weight of the machine shift as taft climbed on behind Ronis. "It'll be over before you know it."
He waited for the engineers to clear the hangar. One of the hatches rolled open and he gripped the handles and pulled back. He pressed the accelerator with his foot and the zipper rose a few feet off the ground.
"Hold on, Ronis!" Hind said, and slammed onto the pedal. They surged forward, picking up speed as the zipper swept across the hangar. Seconds later they passed through the hatch and spilled out into the clouds. It had started to rain, and the wind and water battered them as Hind pushed down on the handles. They dipped forward, toward the ground. The stones of the courtyard hung below them, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. Ronis screamed and buried his face in Hind's back.
The zipper dropped through the storm, racing toward the ground with sickening speed. Hind pulled back at the last moment, bringing them up once again. He circled once and lowered the craft gently. Here, beneath the ship, they were sheltered from the worst of the rain. He parked the machine and shook the water from his gray hair.
"You can let go of me now, Ronis."
"Y-yes, sir. Sorry, s-sir."
"Kindly extract young Ronis from me."
Taft pried the young man's arms from around the professor, and she helped them him off the zipper. Hind jumped down and his eyes traced the castle against the black sky. It looked so much bigger from down here.
"Come on, then," he said.
"Perhaps I should go first," Taft suggested. She had unholstered her Solar Flare and gripped it firmly in her gloved hands.
"Let's get something straight," Hind said. "You're here for defensive purposes only. You're not to fire at anything until my command. Do you understand?"
"Now put that gun away."
She holstered the Solar Flare with obvious reluctance.
"Now follow me," Hind said.
Halfway across the courtyard they left the shadow of the ship and the rain began to pummel them. They ran toward the castle. Hind was wondering when they would begin to feel the effects of the temporal distortion when Taft raced past him, gun drawn. She dropped to her knees and pointed at the castle door.
"Show yourself!" she screamed over the wind and rain.
"Damn it!" Hind said. "Stand down!"
Hind was about to grab her by the collar when he caught a slight movement from the doorway. Two figures appeared, their hands raised over their heads.
"Identify yourselves!" Taft commanded.
One of the figures strode forward, a tall man with a tangled mop of hair. He wore a heavy coat and a long multi-colored scarf looped around his neck.
"Hello," he said. "I'm the Doctor. I wonder if you wouldn't mind not pointing that gun at me. You see I'm terribly sensitive about such things."
"Stand down," Hind said. "He's not one of...them."
Taft stood up and lowered her Solar Flare.
"Come on out, Romana. They've decided not to shoot us after all!" The Doctor covered the space between them in three long strides. He gripped Hind's hand in his. "That's very kind of you. Tell me, has any of you happened upon a police box or a little silver dog?"
Hind turned his attention to the Doctor's companion as she came to stand by his side. She was a thin blonde in a torn, soaked black dress.
"How did you get here?" He demanded.
"That's a very good question. Isn't that a good question, Romana?"
"A very good question," Romana agreed.
"They're obviously civilians," Hind said to Captain Taft.
"Maybe they're pirates!" Ronis said.
Hind ignored them. He said to Taft, "Take them back up to the ship for questioning."
"Oh, that's all right," the Doctor said. "Romana and I were just leaving. As soon as we find our TARDIS we'll be out of your hair."
"Look, Doctor whoever-you-are, your life and the life of your friend here is in very serious jeopardy. I don't think you could even begin to comprehend the predicament you're in."
"Are you referring to the temporal distortion?" Romana asked.
Hind's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What do you know about that?"
"Look why don't we finish this conversation somewhere else?" the Doctor suggested. "I've got a got half a ham sandwich in my pocket and I don't want it to get wet."
"Inside!" Hind ordered. Taft took the lead. The Doctor and Romana fell behind her, followed by Hind and Ronis.
"What do you make of them, Professor?"
Hind shook his head. "I don't know yet. Keep your eye on them. They know more then they're letting on."
"I don't trust them, sir. They way they talk—they're educated. What if they're helping...them? What if they're the ones who set up the distortion effect?"
"That would be treason," Hind said. "And that means we would have to kill them."
Father pressed his face against the cold iron bars of the cell and flicked his tongue at the girl lashed to the wall. She didn't look up at him.
"See me, girl," Father hissed. "Look at me."
Nothing. She didn't move.
He slapped his forehead on the bars. "Am I so ugly?"
"They won't come," the girl said quietly. "They know what you're playing and they won't come. Not any more."
"Yes they will. They always do." Father poured through the iron a cloud of white smoke that wrapped itself around her, luxuriating in the smell of her the feel of her skin and her hair. The hot, bitter taste of her sweat. He swirled around her and she screamed.
He fell back and formed once again in the small chamber outside her cell. He threw himself at the bars in a frenzy, pounding at them with his fists enjoying the theatrics, savoring her fear.
"Father!" One of his Daughters rushed into the chamber, and he snatched her throat and slammed her to the floor.
"Forgive me," she whispered. "They have arrived!"
Father offered her his hand and he pulled her to her feet. "Thank you, my Daughter."
She bowed and hurried from the room, her black robes whipping around her bare feet.
Father turned to stare at the girl. He smiled.
"The game has begun," he said, and vanished.
They were being watched.
"Can you feel it?" Romana asked. She looked around the entrance hall. "There's definitely someone here."
"Who are you, exactly?" Hind asked. "How did you get here?"
"We're just passing through," Romana said.
The professor glared at her. "I could have you arrested for treason."
The Doctor's eye bulged. "That sounds very serious."
"What do you mean, treason?" Romana asked. "What are we supposed to have done?"
"I've studied the Children of God for years," Hind said. "They're technologically primitive, and certainly not capable of establishing a temporal distortion. Someone must be aiding them, must have given them the knowledge."
"Forgive me for speaking out of turn," Captain Taft said, "but what exactly are we dealing with here? What's a temporal distortion?"
"Have a look outside," Romana said. Taft looked at Hind, who nodded, and she walked back across the hall and opened the door.
"It's a room." She sounded alarmed. "The ship is gone!"
"Not gone," said the Doctor. "Just not quite where you left it."
Taft slammed the door. "I don't understand."
"Temporal distortions are small pockets of space that branch off an established dimension," Romana explained. "They require massive amounts of energy to create and maintain."
"Even a relatively small one like this," said the Doctor.
"But what's it for?"
The Doctor shrugged. "It's one of the primary functions of transdimensional engineering. It's how I can fit an entire rain forest into my TARDIS."
Romana rolled her eyes. "I've never seen a rain forest in the TARDIS—"
"You've never seen Tokyo either," the Doctor snapped, "but it's there. How do you think I got this little Nintendo?"
Romana took it from his hand. "This is an electronic pregnancy test." She indicated a blinking blue light on its side. "And it's got some rather upsetting news for you."
"Are you two quite finished?" Hind demanded.
"How do you know so much about temporal shifting?" Ronis asked. "I've never seen either one of you at the University."
"Which university would that be?" The Doctor asked.
"There's only one University, Doctor."
"Where are we, anyway?" Romana asked.
"Enough!" Hind said. "Taft, stay here with the girl. Ronis, come with me."
"What about me?"
"You, Doctor, are going to show me how you managed to bypass the distortion to make it back outside."
Hind looked at Captain Taft. "I don't know what they're capable of or what their game is. If she moves, stun her."
The Doctor winked at Romana and strode across the room toward the staircase, Ronis and the professor at his heels.
"Does he usually have such a violent disposition?" The Doctor asked the young engineer.
"Which door?" Hind demanded when they'd reached the landing.
"Let's try that one," the Doctor said, pointing, "or that one over there, or maybe--"
The professor rubbed his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was soft.
"Doctor, please. I don't know who you are or what you're doing here, but this isn't a joke and it isn't funny. One of my student has been abducted and taken here and it's very possible that she's dead or dying. I need to find her. And I need your help."
The Doctor's grin vanished.
"I wish you hadn't told me that," he said quietly.
"Why?" Ronis asked.
"Because now it's my problem." He unwound his scarf. "Take this, Ronis. We'll have to create a physical link to get through the distortion. Here, tie that to one end. And this." He handed the young man his yo-yo and a length of twine. "Professor, you'd better tell me who took your student and why. And while you're at it I want to know where we are exactly."
Hind had been struck speechless by the Doctor's sudden transformation. "What...where should I begin?"
"At the beginning," said the Doctor, and after a moment Hind began to speak.
"The beginning," he said softly. "I suppose that means the Citadel."
Not even the oldest history books housed in the Great Library could agree on where it had come from or when it was built, or how. It was a collection of domes and towers constructed on a large chunk of black rock several miles wide. The inside of the rock was a confounding network of caves and passages. It housed the engine rooms, where concentrated sunlight was converted into rocket fuel, and it was home to denizens of the Citadel too base or common to live in the glittering city above.
The Doctor frowned at this, but let Hind continue. The professor told him about the small, middle-class neighborhoods huddled at the base of the mighty buildings, neighborhoods like the one he himself had been raised in.
"It's uncommon for someone from the middle-class to be accepted into the University," he said with a hint of pride. "I was the first in nearly a decade."
Where the middle-class were given minimal educations in crowded public schoolhouses (and those in the caves below were afforded no schooling of any kind) the affluent were sent to the University, a series of Great Houses under a dome similar, though vastly smaller, than the one over the Citadel. Unlike the Citadel, however, the University's origins were well-documented. It had been erected first as an addition to the city itself, then jettisoned off when it had grown large enough to become a serious drain on the city's resources.
"The University was the first site to successfully exist independently of the Citadel," Hind explained. "It was an important step in the evolution of our society."
"Now there are hundreds of autonomous sectors," said Ronis.
"And that's where we are now?" the Doctor asked.
Ronis and the professor exchanged a glance.
"You mean to tell me you don't know any of this?" Ronis asked.
"I'm not from around here," the Doctor said. He called down to Romana, "How are you holding up?"
"Never better," she called back.
"You said something earlier about the Children of God," the Doctor said to Hind. "I take it this is their castle?"
"And they took your student. Why?"
Hind shrugged. "Why do they ever take anybody?"
"You mean this has happened before?"
"Every few years someone goes missing, taken from their home in the dead of night."
The Doctor studied him. "How do you know they're taken here?"
"They leave a mark," Ronis said. "An eye, drawn in blood."
The Doctor nodded thoughtfully.
"No one has ever returned from the castle," said Ronis.
"So why are you here? This student of your, professor—what makes her so special?"
Hind cleared his throat and averted his eyes.
"I see. More than just another student, then. What's her name?"
"That's a pretty name." He tested the strength of their makeshift rope. "I think we're ready."
"Good." Hind turned to Ronis. "I want you to stay here with the others."
"I'm not going to sit here and stare at the floor while you to go looking for Cora! I knew her, professor, she was a friend of mine."
"You'll be of more use to us here," Hind said. He looked at his watch. "It's been forty-five minutes since we left the ship. Soon that idiot Veden is going to send a whole platoon of his troops and I need you to keep them distracted. I don't want them trying to follow us. If we're going to find Cora it's not going to be by waving a Solar Flare at every shadow."
Ronis sighed. "Yes, sir."
The Doctor clapped him on the shoulder. "There's a good chap." He took Ronis' end of the rope and tied it to one of the iron bars of the railing. He held the other end in his hands. "Now, professor, hold on to my shirt. Tightly. Break the physical connection and you'll be right back where you started, got it?"
"Off we go, then. Goodbye, Ronis." And they walked through the doorway, into the dining room.
"You lied to him," the Doctor said quietly after a moment. "Those soldiers couldn't have gotten through the distortion even if they tried. Romana never would have told them how to use the physical link."
"He's only a student, Doctor."
"Good man." The Doctor pointed to the portraits along the wall. "Do you recognize any of them?"
"No, I don't think so."
They reached the door at the far end of the room. The Doctor unlocked it and they walked into a dark hallway.
"You can let go now, professor." The Doctor tied his scarf around the door handle. "Now, shall we have a look around?"
As they walked he asked Hind what he knew about the Children of God.
"Unfortunately not much. For generations it was taboo to even utter the name. Only recently has serious academic study been attempted. For the last few years I've been pouring through the history books, researching a series of essays I've been writing on the subject. It's a foul project, Doctor."
"What have you found out?"
"We know that they enjoy a considerably longer lifespan than those of us who live in the Citadel. It's my theory that this is a direct consequence of radiation from some sort of Salvage."
"Salvage?" the Doctor asked.
"Equipment and machinery harvested from falling debris. The Children don't possess the sophisticated Salvaging ships that we do, but the castle could have been struck directly. It's happened often enough at the University."
"So it's possible that they could have obtained the technology to produce a temporal schism?"
Hind shrugged. "I suppose. It's an enormously difficult process, as you are no doubt well aware."
"I'm curious, Professor Hind, how you managed to secure a military vessel to bring you here when, as your young friend put it, no one has ever come back alive."
"I convinced the chancellors at the University that I had been in secret talks with a spy in the ranks of the Children, someone who could arrange a meeting with the Father. Not only could we negotiate the release of my student but we could perhaps gain invaluable knowledge about the Children and their castle."
They came to a door at the end of the corridor. The Doctor tried the handle, and it opened easily. Hind followed him into an empty ballroom, a large round space surrounded by tall windows that looked out onto the black clouds, furious rainfall, and occasional flashes of lightning. Hind walked over to the windows and peered out at the storm. "Who are you, Doctor?"
"Just a visitor."
"But from where? Where else is there?"
The Doctor thought for a moment. "What do you call this world?"
Hind shrugged. "It's just the world."
"That's not very clever at all. What about the surface?"
Hind turned from the surface and watched the Doctor run his hands along the wall. "The what?"
"The surface. The ground! What's below the clouds?"
"Nothing," Hind said. "There's nothing at all. Where do you get these ideas, Doctor? They don't make any sense!"
The Doctor joined him at the window. He whispered, "Professor, did you notice that there are no other doors in this room? We've reached a dead end."
"I suppose we go back," Hind said.
The Doctor nodded. They were halfway across the room when the door slammed shut. The floor began to tremble.
"Look at the windows!" Professor Hind exclaimed.
Outside, the view was slowly being eaten away by darkness as the walls of the castle rose up around them.
"The entire room is descending," said the Doctor. "Like a giant lift." The floor shuddered and he swayed on his feet. "They know we're here, and they're taking us right to them."
"I don't like this," said Ronis. "They've been gone too long."
"It's only been ten minutes," said Romana. She had wrapped herself in the coat Taft had given her. She and Ronis sat on the stairs and watched the captain pace the marble floor of the entrance hall, gun in her gloved hand. Outside, thunder rumbled, and a moment later the entrance hall was briefly illuminated by a flash of lightening.
"What kind of gun is that?" Romana asked her. "I've never seen one like it."
"It's a Solar Flare," Taft said. "It fires it as a high-intensity laser blast."
"A bit primitive," Romana sniffed.
"The Doctor says you're not from around here," Ronis said.
"It's been so long since I've been from anywhere."
Ronis admired her. "I've never met anyone who's not from the Citadel."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Taft. "What else is there?"
"The universe," Romana whispered to Ronis, ignoring her. "There's Gallifrey, for a start. And Earth. There's Hyspero, Draconia...Skaro. Billions of suns, trillions of planets and every one is different."
"How did you come here?" Ronis asked. "To the castle?"
Romana shrugged. "I don't remember, exactly. There was an accident, an explosion. We've lost our ship. Without it I suppose we're stuck here."
Ronis studied his hands. "There are old religions, ancient, that spoke of worlds beyond the stars."
"That ship of yours," said Romana. "It has very recognizable plating on its hull. It's from a Rutan reconnaissance unit. The crystalline structure is unmistakable."
"It was probably salvage."
"From the surface?"
"The surface of what?"
"Of the planet!"
Ronis blinked, confused.
"How," Romana asked slowly, "did you salvage it?"
"Salvagers," he said. "Salvage ships, that is. They can detect falling debris from miles away. They draw it into their storage holds using high-powered gravity vacuums."
Romana smiled. "And where do you think this magical debris comes from? It doesn't just appear."
"The remains of ancient civilizations that once existed high above the Citadel."
"And below?" she asked. "Below this Citadel you keep talking about?"
"Nothing," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "Absolutely nothing ever? The sky just continues down into eternity?"
"We've descended over seventy miles beneath the Citadel," Taft said. "There is nothing."
Romana thought for a moment. "What about above you? Have you ascended? These ancient civilizations you mentioned—"
"We've gone up a few miles," Ronis explained. "The air pressure decreases and our ships malfunction." He leaned forward. "You sound surprised, like we should have found something. Like there should be something more."
"There should be a lot more, Ronis. Most planets have a surface, a core surrounded by an atmospheric shell. To hear you talk this entire planet is just...sky. That shouldn't be possible. There are completely gaseous planets, of course, but none with a breathable atmosphere."
Before Ronis could respond Captain Taft hissed and held up a warning hand. She crouched on one knee, pointing her Solar Flare at the entrance.
"I heard something," she whispered.
Ronis stood up. "It's probably just Veden's men."
"He would have alerted me."
"It's almost impossible for radio signals to penetrate a temporal distortion," the young engineer said, and then the front door was flung open and six men and women in black robes ran into the room, their bare feet propelling them incredibly fast across the floor, their arms outstretched before them.
"Run!" Taft screamed. She fired her gun, and a dazzling beam ripped through the air and struck one of the women in the chest. She shrieked and exploded in a cloud of dust. Taft fired again, and another figure vanished.
"Come on!" Romana said, pulling Ronis to his feet.
"We've got to help her!" he screamed.
She dragged him up the staircase. "There's nothing we can do. Come on!"
Ronis couldn't look away. One final blast took out a third creature, and then they reached Taft. They tore her flesh easily from her bones with their long, jagged teeth and filthy claws. Blood gushed from her wounds, and the creatures bathed in it, howling laughter that resounded cruelly through the enormous hall.
"They'll come for us next," Romana said, and Ronis forced himself to follow her upstairs. They ran through the open doorway and into the dining hall.
"Grab the line!" Romana said. "Otherwise we'll just end up back at the entrance."
They raced through the room, clutching at the line. When they reached the dark corridor beyond, Romana untied the link and pulled it through. She slammed the door shut. "What were those things?"
Ronis was slumped against the wall, pulling air into his lungs in ragged bursts. "The Children of God."
He nodded. It took him a moment to catch his breath. "Just a name. As far as we know they don't worship anything."
"How many are there?"
"We've got to find the Doctor." She started down the corridor. "I never should have let him out of my sight."
They walked until they reached the end of the corridor, a door set into the wall. When Romana opened it there was nothing but solid stone beyond.
"How odd," she said, prodding the stone with her hands. "Why would anyone put a doorway over a solid stone wall?"
Ronis seized her hand. "Romana!"
She whirled around. Three Children stood at the far end of the corridor, barely visible in the gloom. Their hands and faces were covered with dark blood. They stood motionless, staring at them.
"I thought you said they couldn't follow us!" Ronis said, a note of panic in his voice.
"They must be able to circumnavigate the temporal distortion," she mused. "Fascinating."
One of the Children crouched low to the ground, and the others did the same.
"Stay where you are!" Romana called. "We're armed!"
They lunged toward them, moving with inhuman speed. Ronis screamed and clung to Romana.
"Do something!" he cried.
"I'm warning you!" the Time Lord shouted, to no avail. They were now only a few yards away.
Ronis began to shriek.
"Don't come any closer!" Romana commanded, and then they were upon them.
The room gave a final lurch, and then all was still. The Doctor looked at Professor Hind.
"Now what?" Hind asked.
The Doctor looked back at the windows. They were dark, obscured by a wall.
"Maybe one of us should stay here," the Professor offered.
"You're not frightened, are you, Professor?"
"Of course I'm frightened, damn it! You haven't seen those things; you don't know what they're capable of. Now we're about to walk right into a trap. There are probably a hundred of them on the other side of that door, just waiting to pounce on us." He shivered.
"Nonsense. That door's not locked. They could have surged in here the moment we stopped." The Doctor patted him on the back.
"I suppose you're used to this sort of thing."
"Shall we go on?"
Hind nodded, and the Doctor led him toward the door. A thin sliver of light shone from beneath it, providing the only light in the massive chamber.
"Stay behind me," the Doctor whispered, and he opened the door and peered out. The hallway beyond was identical to the one off the dining room, and it was empty. At the far end was another door just like the one above.
"Maybe it's another distortion," Hind whispered. "We could be right back where we started."
"I don't think so. Look at the wall. About halfway down, third stone from the bottom. There's a slight crack in it."
"That crack wasn't in the corridor above. Come on."
Hind followed him to the other door. The Doctor pressed his ear against it.
"Ssh!" The Doctor pulled a strange instrument from his coat pocket and held one end to the door. The other end split into two small silver discs, which he plugged into his ears.
"Stethoscope," he explained. He listened, then tucked the thing away. "Machinery." He tried the knob. It was locked. He removed another piece of equipment from his pocket.
"Sonic screwdriver." The door clicked open, and they stepped into a long, narrow room dominated at the far end by a tall staircase leading up to a platform that supported the largest throne the Doctor had ever seen. A man was draped over the arm of the edifice; he wore rich velvet robes so black they seemed to consume the light from the chandeliers that hovered far overhead. His face was hidden in the depths of his hood so that only his thin smile could be glimpsed, red lips on white, almost colorless flesh.
"Welcome," the man said, his deep voice booming through the room, amplified against the stone walls and marble floor.
"Hello!" the Doctor called brightly, picking a small white bag from his pocket and striding confidentially across the room, leaving Hind in the doorway. "I'm the Doctor and this is my friend, Professor Hind. Would you like a jelly baby?"
The man spoke a single word in a harsh, unfamiliar language, and the Doctor heard the Professor scream. He turned and saw Hind struggling to fight off two thin young men in black robes. One pinned his arms behind his back, and the other sliced the Professor's throat with a long fingernail. Blood poured out onto his hands, and he placed his mouth to the wound and sucked hungrily. Hind's eyes rolled back in his head and his body began to jerk and spasm. He was thrown to the floor and both attackers pounced, lapping at the blood even as the Professor flailed and flopped until finally he was still.
The attack lasted less than five seconds.
The Doctor turned, slowly, to face the throne. "Who are you?" He asked with quiet menace.
Still the man did not move. "I would ask you the same question, Doctor. Your answer is no doubt far more interesting than mine."
"Why did you kill that man? He did nothing to you." The Doctor hurled his bag onto the ground and took a step forward. "That was murder!"
"That was justice. He was a trespasser, as you are." The man pulled his cowl back. His skin was smooth, unlined, his eyes sunken into his skull. He had not a single hair on his head. "I am the Father of Man, and this is my domain."
"Father of Man," the Doctor snorted. "What a stupid name. Who are you really?"
The man moved with sudden, surprising speed. He leapt into the air and landed atop the Doctor, knocking him to the floor. He gripped the Time Lord by the throat and brought his face up inches from his own.
"I should kill you now. I should rip your head from your neck and gorge myself on your blood." He released him and stood up. "I will spare you a while longer, however. There are questions you must answer."
The Doctor coughed. He sat up. "I've got some questions of my own. How did you create the temporal anomaly? And why?"
Father's robes whirled around him as he fluttered back to his perch. "My Children discovered a strange machine that had crashed into one of the courtyards. It took me weeks to gain access, and much longer to obtain a feeble grasp of how to operate it. It was with this machine that I was able to create the distortion, although it is a primitive one and, as you discovered, easily broken."
"The TARDIS," the Doctor said. "Where is it?"
"Nowhere you can get to it. You will tell me its secrets, teach me to harness its power."
"And then you'll kill me."
Father's lips parted and he bared his teeth in a savage grin. "Yes. Yours will be a slow, excruciating death. You've more than earned it."
"Then why should I help you?"
Father spoke another word in his guttural tongue, and a holoscreen blinked into existence in the air beside the throne. On it, Romana and Ronis were being held by three robed figures. Romana stared defiantly ahead, while Ronis was white-faced, his eyes wide and frightened.
"Your death is assured, Doctor. Theirs is not."
The Doctor sighed. "If I help you, will you release them?"
"I don't trust you," the Doctor spat. "Send the boy back to the ship. Keep the girl, and then I'll help you."
"Why should the boy return?" Father asked, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"His safety is my primary concern. He's my friend, my travelling companion. If anything should happen to him I would be devastated."
Father thought. "I will return the girl to the military vessel. The boy will remain until I have finished with you. This will ensure your cooperation."
"Very well." The Doctor climbed to his feet as, on the holoscreen, Romana was led away. "I will of course require proof of her safe return."
"Wonderful," said the Doctor with a feeble smile. "Now, let's have a look at that TARDIS."
At a command, the two young men who had killed Hind came to stand beside the Doctor. He frowned at Father issued instructions in the weird, alien language, instructions that he should have been able to comprehend. His telepathic link to the TARDIS has obviously been severed, preventing the automatic translation he typically enjoyed.
The young men gripped his arms and pulled him to a small door beside the throne. Another corridor led to a laboratory, and there, connected to a jumbled nest of wires and cords and cables, was the TARDIS. Its doors were propped open, and he was led into the console room, where Father was already waiting. He stood at the controls, which had been gutted and awkwardly reassembled.
"No wonder you can't get anything to work properly!" the Doctor said.
"Fix it," Father snarled.
The Doctor shook his head. "This is going to take awhile."
Father smiled. "I am in no hurry. Stay with the Doctor, my Sons. Watch him very closely. I will return in an hour." He blinked out of existence.
The Doctor pulled a small plastic tube piece from his pocket and put his lips to it. One of the black robes snatched it from him.
The Doctor snatched it back. "Do you mind? This is an aural converter. It sends a high-pitched signal to the databank alerting it to my presence. I can't access the main controls without it."
The Children exchanged a glance, then stood back. The Doctor began pulling wires from the console as, behind him, he heard a familiar whirring followed by a series of low clicks. He tapped a message on the floor.
Stay where you are. I've got a plan.
The Doctor grabbed another handful of wires from the console and threw them over his shoulder. K-9 was alive, had stayed hidden. Good dog.
Now all he needed was that plan.
Romana's captors shoved her through the door into the dining room. She stumbled and fell.
"The energy field has been temporarily disabled," one of them said. "Return directly to your vessel. If you are seen again in the castle you will be consumed."
The door slammed shut. Romana stood and brushed herself off. She could feel eyes, everywhere, watching her. As she made her way through the room and into the entrance hall, she thought of Ronis, alone, a prisoner of the same fiends who had killed Taft and Hind. She pushed the thought from her mind as she ran down the staircase, past the suits of armor and to the front doors. She flung them open and dashed outside, into the storm. The military ship still hung suspended a half a mile above the courtyard. The rain fell hard and fast, stinging her face, her back and arms. She reached the dry ground beneath the ship and found the little silver craft the Professor had piloted. She pried off the front casing and made short work of the circuitry beneath. The machine sprang to life, lights blinked and flashed on the control panel and the machine trembled and rose a few inches into the air. Romana straddled the seat and, after a moment's experimentation with the unfamiliar controls, she began to ascend. She flew up, the wind and rain slashing against her, until she reached a circular portal set into the side of the ship. It opened and she glided into a large, brightly-lit hangar. She was immediately surrounded by soldiers, their guns drawn and pointed directly at her.
"Land it!" someone ordered, and she obeyed. She raised her hands over her head and stepped off the machine.
A tall man with close-cropped gray hair pushed past one of the soldiers. He studied Romana.
"I'm not one of those cannibals," she assured him. "I'm a prisoner."
"Where is Professor Hind?"
"Dead. And Taft. They've still got Ronis."
He approached her. "Why did they release you?"
"They're forcing my friend to help them, but only if they released me."
"And the girl, Cora? Does she still live?"
"Look, can I put my hands down?" Romana pulled her wet hair back from her face. "I don't know anything about a girl. We've got to help the Doctor. They're going to kill him and Ronis."
"Bring her some dry clothes," the man instructed on of the soldiers. He said to Romana, "I sent five of my men in after the Professor. That was twenty minutes ago."
Romana looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry."
A moment later one of the guards handed her a dry uniform.
"Come to the bridge when you're finished changing. You will be escorted." The man and several of his soldiers left. A black woman with cropped blonde hair motioned for Romana to follow her.
"I take it that was the General."
"Veden," the woman said. She led Romana through a corridor and pointed at the door to the restroom. Inside, Romana splashed hot water on her face, ran a towel through her hair, and changed into the baggy soldier's jumpsuit, a welcome change from the wet, tight-fitting black dress. Romana left the dress, and her diamond choker, on the floor and rejoined her escort in the corridor.
"This way," the woman said. Romana followed her into a lift. When the door opened they stepped out onto the bridge. General Veden was standing with a group of soldiers and men and women in white coats, all of them studying a long row of data screens.
Veden turned when he heard the lift doors open. "Sergeant Nellis."
The black woman saluted. "Sir."
Romana stepped forward and frowned down at the data screens. She pointed to one. "The temporal distortion has been reactivated. It's stronger this time."
"Who are you?" Veden asked. "How did you get here?"
"I don't have time for these dull, endless questions," Romana told him. "We have to establish contact with the castle. If the Doctor can somehow deactivate the distortion field we can get inside and rescue him and Ronis. Have your troops ready to go at my command."
Veden's face paled, and he trembled with rage. Before he could respond, however, there was a hiss from one of the screens and a technician jumped.
"We've got contact!" she said.
Veden, Romana and the others crowded around the screen. It was covered in static, but beneath it they could make out a few faint outlines. The engineers worked frantically to adjust the image, and at last they could see clearly.
"It's the Doctor!" Romana said.
"Hello?" the Doctor asked. His voice sounded faint and tinny, and the image skipped. "Hello, can you hear me?"
"Doctor, it's Romana. I'm on the ship."
"So am I. I've found the TARDIS. It seems the natives were using it as toy."
Veden cleared his throat. "This is General Avak Veden of the command ship SR-71. You will identify yourself immediately."
"The distortion has been reactivated," Romana said. "It's more powerful now and it encompasses a much larger area than before." She checked another screen. "It's reached the courtyard."
"Yes, I'm afraid that's my fault. They forced me to bring it back online." He paused. "It's been lovely talking to you, but I really must be going. Bye bye!" The screen was once again filled with static.
"They're using the TARDIS to spread the effects of the distortion," Romana said, drumming her fingers on the table in front of the screen.
"Yes," Veden said. "And it looks like your friend was helping them."
"Don't be an idiot." She turned to one of the engineers. "Can you trace the exact location of the Doctor's signal?"
"Yes, I think so."
"I need to get down there." She looked at Veden. "Do you have a molecular transmitter?"
Veden snorted. "Everyone knows you can't operate a transmitter within a hundred miles of a temporal distortion. You'll blow us to bits."
"There's a reason the Doctor increased the intensity of the effect," Romana said. "By reversing the polarity of the temporal output he changed the structure of the distortion field. It's bigger, it's stronger, but it's also much more vulnerable to infiltration."
Veden crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Excuse me, but it seems you've forgotten who's in charge of this vessel."
"Oh, do be quiet."
Veden said, "I want this woman taken to a holding cell. Now!"
"Sir!" Nellis grabbed Romana by the arm and started dragging her back toward the lift.
"You've got to listen to me!" Romana shouted. "If I don't get down there they'll kill us all!"
"Maybe we should hear what she has to say," one of the technicians said nervously. He was older than the others, middle-aged and balding.
"Shut it, Corber," Veden snapped.
"Please!" Romana said. She struggled against Nellis, but the soldier's grip was too strong. "Corber, don't listen to him!"
Corber hesitated, then punched a command into the system.
"What did you just do?" Veden demanded. He grabbed the engineer by the collar and shook him. "What the hell did you do?"
Veden threw him toward the lift. "Lock him away, both of them. Let them rot together."
Nellis shoved Romana into the lift and pointed her Solar Flare at Corber. "Get in!"
Corber stumbled past her. Nellis followed and the doors slid shut.
There was a bright flash and one of the computer terminals began to spark.
"What's happening?" Veden asked.
The engineers studied the data screens, their eyes wide.
"Will someone tell me what the hell is going on?" Veden roared.
A young woman looked up at him. "Corber re-routed the molecular transmat."
Veden massaged his temples. He felt like he was losing control.
He had never lost control.
"Re-routed it where?" he asked.
"Into the lift, sir." The young woman pointed to one of the screens, where every biological organism on the ship was accounted for. "They're gone."
Romana felt a strange sinking sensation. The world around her spun with dizzying speed, and then her breath was forced from her lungs as she fell to the floor. She gasped and lay there, steadying herself until she could breathe. She sat up.
They were in the TARDIS console room. Corber was in a heap near the door, and a few feet from Romana, Nellis was doubled over and clutching her stomach.
"Doctor?" Romana crawled over to the console and pulled herself to her feet. She could hear him through the open door, arguing with someone. It sounded like they were coming closer. Romana rushed over to Corber. She grabbed him by the arms and dragged him across the room to the interior door. She dropped him in the corridor beyond and ran back. She skidded to a halt as the Doctor and two men in black robes entered the TARDIS. Romana saw Nellis still struggling to stand, and she backed into the corridor and gently closed the door. She peered through the window.
The Doctor was pointing to a small screen on the console. "I don't like the look of that."
Stay down! Romana mouthed to Nellis, who was crouched on the other side of the console. She turned and, grabbing Corber, started to drag him deeper into the ship.
"You are wasting time," one of the black robes said. "Father commands that you repair the machine."
"Well perhaps Father should have thought of that before he started tinkering with someone else's TARDIS!" The Doctor tapped the screen. "That line should be green, not red."
"You don't like the color?" the black robe sneered. He smashed his fist into the screen. "There."
"How do you expect me to repair anything when you keep breaking things?"
Suddenly the men rushed past him, moving as one and with incredible speed. The Doctor turned and saw one of them explode into a cloud of dust. The other landed on a woman holding a gun, a black woman in a military uniform. He buried his teeth in her throat and ripped out a ragged chunk of flesh. They collapsed onto the floor, and the Doctor lunged. He grabbed the gun from the soldier and fired. Both the black robe and the soldier disintegrated.
The Doctor dropped the gun with a grimace and flicked a switch on the console. The doors hummed shut and walked through the interior door into the corridor.
"K-9?" he called.
"Doctor!" Down the corridor, in the library, a familiar voice.
The Doctor peeked his head into the room. "Romana?"
She was bent over a man in a white lab coat. She looked up at him. "He's alive. The transmat was routed through a standard electrical system, in the ship's lift. It must have malfunctioned."
"You should see what they did to my TARDIS," the Doctor said sourly.
"Never mind. We've got to rescue Ronis. And they said something about a girl."
"Yes," the Doctor said, plucking a book from the shelf and thumbing through it. "Cora. One of Hind's students."
"Did they say where she's being held?"
The Doctor shook his head. They heard a noise at the door. K-9 clicked his ears and glided into the library. The Doctor grinned.
"I thought I'd lost you!" he said. "For a while it looked like I was going to have to settle for just Romana to talk to."
"Master," said K-9. "My sensors detect unauthorized life forms in the console room. I have sent a signal locking the interior door, but it will not hold for very long."
"More men in black robes?"
"Negative. They appear to be part of a small militia."
"Veden," Romana groaned. "He must have followed us. The coordinates were already programmed into the transmat."
"We can slip out through the secondary console room," the Doctor said. "K-9, stay here and keep an eye on those soldiers. I don't want the military sniffing around my TARDIS, not again."
"And watch out for our friend here!" the Doctor said, indicating Corber. "Come on, Romana."
She followed him as he made his way through the familiar corridors until they reached a small round room with wood-paneled walls and stained glass roundrels. A fine coating of dust covered the small console. The Doctor took a handkerchief from his pocket and swatted the controls. He turned a knob and the doors opened. He and Romana stepped out into the laboratory.
"Have you worked out how we managed to get here?" Romana asked him as they walked. "Or where we actually are?"
"I'm beginning to remember," the Doctor said. "The Sontaran, on Earth. He held you under a sort of mind control and forced you to sabotage the TARDIS. When I tried to dematerialize there was an explosion and we were flung into the vortex."
"But that's impossible!" Romana said. "We would have been killed."
"We would have been if it hadn't been for K-9. He must have created a force field to protect us. He was able to pull us out of the vortex when the TARDIS materialized, although the coordinates were slightly off. We landed months later, giving Father Creepy time to figure out how to break into the console room and create a rudimentary temporal distortion."
They had reached a door along the far wall. Romana asked him what was behind it.
"I don't know," he said, "but the only other door leads into the throne room."
This door was unlocked. There was another, larger laboratory beyond. It too was empty.
"Where is everyone?" the Doctor wondered.
Romana walked over to a long table where various body parts—a pair of hands, a liver, two glistening brains and a diseased-looking heart, all floating in tubs of green fluid—were connected by a tangle of wires to a network of computers.
"Looks like some sort of primitive genetic engineering," she said.
The Doctor was holding a small glass vial up to the light. "Does this look like blood to you?"
"It's a bit thicker than blood."
"Yes," he murmured. "Genetically altered into a partially-congealed state. It's more satisfying that way." He slipped the glass into his pocket. "We'll have a look at it later, in the TARDIS."
Romana found another door, and they unlocked it and pushed it open. They were peering into another laboratory. At the far end was a door, and they saw themselves leaning against the frame and looking back at themselves.
"Another temporal distortion," the Doctor said. "Someone's obviously trying to keep whatever's really behind this door a secret."
"We might be able to materialize within the effect," Romana suggested.
"If we're very lucky. Short trips like that are notoriously difficult to pull off." They made their way back to the TARDIS and slipped inside. They were back in the secondary console room.
"Do you find it odd that we still haven't seen anyone yet?" Romana asked.
"Very odd. It feels like a trap."
"Maybe this is exactly what they wanted us to do," Romana said.
"Perhaps. But I have a feeling Ronis and the girl are inside that temporal distortion." He set the coordinates and the TARDIS began to dematerialize. The laboratory on the scanner disappeared, replaced seconds later by a room surrounded on three sides by small cells behind thick iron bars. In one, Ronis and a young blonde woman were lashed to the stone wall with lengths of chain.
"No guards," said Romana.
"Definitely a trap, then."
There was an explosion of static from a small speaker mounted beside the scanner.
"Master." It was K-9, using the ship's intercom. "The interior locks have held. The intruders are leaving the TARDIS."
"No!" the Doctor shouted, but it was too late. Veden and six soldiers appeared on the scanner.
"Come on!" the Doctor said, heading for the doors. Romana grabbed his arm.
"Look," she said. On the screen, a dozen black-clad men and women had appeared seemingly from nowhere and were making short work of the soldiers. Veden held on the longest, taking out three with his Solar Flare, but he tripped on a fallen comrade as he stumbled backwards. He twisted his ankle, and the Children of God seized their opportunity. They tore his limbs from his body, slashed his face into bloody ribbons, and feasted on the gore.
"We've got to find a way to get into that cell," the Doctor said.
"Doctor, what if it's too late? They haven't moved. Maybe that was part of the trap."
The Doctor leaned into the speaker beside the scanner. "K-9, scan for biological entities outside the TARDIS."
A moment later K-9 said, "Discounting standard microscopic organisms there are two such entities."
The Doctor frowned. "Scan again!" To Romana he said, "How many black robes do see out there?"
Romana studied the scanner. "Twelve or thirteen. It's hard to tell them apart."
"So why isn't K-9 detecting any life forms beside Ronis and Cora?"
K-9 confirmed the count.
"Androids?" Romana suggested.
"Or maybe," said the Doctor, "they're not alive at all."
Alden Ronis could barely move his head. He heard, like in some terrible dream, an unfamiliar groaning and wheezing, and Veden's last desperate commands seconds before he and his soldiers were killed. He saw blood splash across the floor of the cell in an angry, jagged spray, but still he could not move his head to see.
He wondered if his neck was broken. The Children of God hadn't seemed concerned with his well-being as they had dragged, kicked, prodded and carried him to the dungeons. They had slammed his aching, bleeding body against the wall and chained him to it. He had long since lost any feeling in his arms, raised high above his head like two dead, heavy pieces of driftwood.
He had tried to call out to Cora. He knew she was there, had caught a brief, dizzying glimpse of her as he was thrown into the cell. She was alive; he could hear her ragged breathing, but she would not answer him. And so he hung, head down, silent, not daring to hope. He knew the Doctor's reason for sending Romana back to the ship, knew he probably had some grand scheme, but still his eyes stung with the hot, bitter tears of the betrayed.
He listened to the grunting and wet, slick smacking as the Children feasted on the soldiers. He heard a rubbery tugging sound and then a smack as something, some organ or strip of flesh, snapped. His stomach lurched. The noises continued for a small eternity. The Children of God were evidentially very meticulous and wasted nothing. Finally there was a dry clatter as they gathered the gleaming bones like firewood.
Ronis waited several minutes before gritting his teeth and forcing himself to pull his head up. The room beyond the iron bars of the cell was deserted. Except...
Except that tall blue police box hadn't been there before. Or had it? His head grew too heavy and he let it fall. He was still for a few moments.
He heard a soft click.
His heart lurched in his chest.
A trick, he thought. A cruel joke.
He looked up. It was the Doctor, holding a metal wand against the cell door. The lock turned and the traveler stepped inside.
"Don't try to speak," he said. He held two fingers against Ronis's neck, then did the same to Cora. He nodded and waved the instrument above Ronis's head. Ronis cried out as his arm swung down, slapping the Doctor with the thick metal chain. The Doctor winced and undid the other arm, catching Ronis as he slumped forward. He passed him to Romana.
"Where did you come from?" Ronis tried to ask, but his mouth was suddenly filled with blood. He stumbled, almost knocking Romana off her feet. She dragged him toward the blue box. Behind him he heard the clinking of the chains as the Doctor freed Cora.
"Hurry!" Romana said. They passed over the threshold into a large, wood-paneled room. Romana dropped Ronis and doubled over, panting. Outside, they heard the Doctor's frantic shout and a loud, piercing shriek. Romana dashed back outside, and Ronis jerked his body so that he was facing the doorway. Three of the black robes had returned, and were trying to wrest Cora from the Doctor. They gripped her feet and legs, and the Doctor held her around the waist. Both sides were pulling desperately. Ronis had felt the Doctor's surprising strength, but he was no match for them. Cora's legs were ripped from her body, and she shrieked. Romana grabbed the Doctor and dragged him back. The Children of God dropped the bloody stumps and fell upon Cora. Romana tried to throw Romana off him, but she held tight, dragging him back toward the blue box. Ronis saw, for one horrible moment, Cora clawing her way across the room toward him, her eyes wide and crazed, and then the black robes had her.
"Help me!" she screamed. Romana managed to get the Doctor inside the box, and the doors began to close. The last thing Ronis saw before they shut was Cora's longing stare into his eyes, into the future she would never know.
The Children of God gathered in the deepest chamber of the Castle. They stood around the pool and waited silently for their Father to emerge from its dark depths.
He drifted beneath the surface, his eyes open though he saw nothing. His pores had blossomed, wide and eager, drawing what meager sustenance they could from the old blood. He felt his Children, felt their impatience, their constant hunger. They had news for him, horrible news. He already knew.
He should have killed him the moment he and the girl entered the palace. He had seen them, as he saw everything within the ancient walls, and he had known they were not from the Citadel, were not from this world. He had been curious, and so he had waited, and watched. He saw the circumvent the distortion and deduced that the wonderful, mysterious machine belonged to them.
Still. He should have killed them.
The Doctor thought himself clever. Father had played along, pretending to be fooled into letting the girl go. He had left the Doctor alone with his machine, had commanded his Children to remain hidden.
And now the Doctor was gone, but not far. It was time for him to leave this world, but there was still the boy, Ronis. They would have to return him to the ship.
Father kicked himself toward the surface. He felt rested, fed. Restored.
His head broke the surface and the Children dropped to their knees. Father rose, hovering in the air above the pool, bloody cascading from his pale and naked body.
"Children of God!" he shouted.
"Father of Man!" they returned in unison.
He raised his hands before him. "Now, my Children, now every promise will be kept. Now, after an eternity of hunger, we feast!"
They quivered with anticipation, with naked desire. Lust burned like madness in their dark eyes.
Father descended and they draped him in his black velvet robes. In the pocket was a small, jagged shard, a series of wires inside a rough crystal. He held it up to them.
"A fragment of the machine!" Father told them. "It will take us to the Doctor! Gather around me, my sons, my daughters! Hold tightly to my robes." They grasped him and he pressed a small button on the base of the crystal. Father was ripped from the chamber, and a few of his Children fell to the floor as he slipped from their fingers. They howled with murderous rage and began to attack each other. One was thrown into the pool, one had her head bashed against the wall until gray brains bled from behind her eyes. Finally the few who remained gathered in a huddle and sat by the pool to wait for their Father's return.
The Doctor carried Ronis into the library and set him on a sofa across from the one where Corber, the engineer, was still unconscious.
"Well?" Romana asked K-9.
"Scan complete. The subject's injuries are not life-threatening. He had a fractured rib and a mild concussion."
"Good, good." The Doctor brushed the boy's hair from his slick forehead.
"Is that a dog?" Ronis asked.
The Doctor produced a small bottle from his pocket. He twisted the cap off and shook out two white caplets. "Here, take these. They'll help with the concussion."
"I still can't move my arms," Ronis groaned.
"Well, hold out your tongue, then."
After Ronis had swallowed the pills the Doctor led Romana out of the library and back into the familiar white console room. The console itself had sustained an incredible amount of damage, first from Father's deranged experiments and then from Veden and his soldiers as they tried to find a way deeper into the ship. Evidently they had given up at some point and had just fired blast after blast at the control panels. Burned wires, broken buttons and shards of glass from shattered displays littered the floor.
"Maybe it's time for an upgrade," Romana said distractedly. "I've heard the Type 88 is quite luxurious."
The Doctor stood back as the time rotor began to grind up and down. He studied a spot of blood on his scarf. "We need a holiday."
"After we drop Ronis back at the ship," Romana said. "I don't think Veden's crew is going to be too happy to see us, especially when we tell them what happened to their fearless leader."
"Those military types are all the same," the Doctor said. "I suppose we'd better take K-9 in case they decide they want to hold us for questioning." The Doctor blew into his dog whistle.
K-9 whirred into the console room TARDIS landed with a distant thud. Romana flicked a switch and an image appeared on the scanner. It was the bridge. Several soldiers had already surrounded them, guns drawn.
"Cover us," the Doctor told K-9, and they stepped out of the TARDIS.
"It's the prisoner!" one of the soldiers announced.
"Let me see those hands!" another ordered. Romana prodded the Doctor, and they raised their hands over their heads.
"I've captured the scoundrel!" the Doctor grinned, nodding toward Romana. She glared at him as the soldiers rushed toward them. They struck an invisible force a few feet from the Time Lords. They tried again and bounced off the mysterious obstacle.
"I re-routed the force shields to extend a few feet outward," Romana explained to the Doctor. They let their hands drop as the soldiers raised their Solar Flares and began to fire. The blasts struck the barrier and illuminated it, surrounding the TARDIS with a large glowing bubble.
One of the soldiers, a thin man with a long, serious face, stepped forward and waved for the others to stop. "I order you to surrender immediately. Lower your defenses and you have my word that you will be given an opportunity to explain yourselves."
"Who are you, then?" Romana asked.
"Lieutenant Simon Merritt, acting Commander."
The Doctor sighed. "I'm afraid you've just been promoted. Veden is dead."
There was a rumble of outrage from the assembled soldiers.
"Where is Nellis?" Merritt demanded.
"Also dead. But Corber is alive. He and Ronis are inside."
Merritt spat onto the ground. "Corber is a traitor. His actions led to the deaths of Commander Veden and seven other men and women, including Sergeant Nellis. I'll see him executed for treason."
"Corber is no traitor," Romana said. "He was brave enough to do what he thought was right, even if it meant not listening to that pompous idiot Veden." A pause. "May he rest in peace."
"We can argue about this later," one of the engineers called from across the room. He tapped a data screen. "We've got an incoming matter transfer!"
The air around the TARDIS rippled, and the glowing bubble dissipated like smoke. The Doctor grabbed Romana and shoved her into the TARDIS, just as a dark, writhing shape appeared mere inches from where she had been standing. Bursts of white energy crackled around the shape, and then it broke apart as the Children of Men released their grips on their beloved Father. They darted in a dozen different directions, teeth bared, slashing the air with their jagged claws.
The bridge erupted into chaos. Merritt began to scream orders at his troops, but they ignored him, fear and hatred overpowering logic and decorum as they rushed to meet the enemy. Solar energy ripped through the room as they fired wildly.
One of the Children, a woman, lunged at the Doctor, and K-9 blasted her with his laser. She fell in a smoking heap to the floor. The Doctor ducked as a solar beam shot past his left ear. He crawled over to K-9.
"Shoot to kill," he said grimly. "Just leave the soldiers alone."
The Doctor gave him a light push, and K-9 disappeared into the riot, firing his laser. The Doctor leaned against the TARDIS and spotted Father hovering over the melee, his face contorted in devilish glee as he watched the slaughter. The Doctor dug into his pockets, searching for something to throw. He found the vial of genetically-engineered blood he'd taken from the laboratory. He stood up and hurled it. It struck the side of Father's face and shattered.
Father turned and noticed the Doctor for the first time.
"There you are!" he said cheerfully, descending into the conflict. A moment later the headless body of a soldier was thrown toward the TARDIS, and Father re-emerged, holding the head by the hair. He swung it and struck the Doctor across the face. The Doctor stumbled and fell to his knees. Father brought the head down again and again on the Doctor's back, his legs, his head and neck.
The Time Lord crawled away, grimacing. He screamed as the head smashed into the back of his skull.
Father tossed the head over his shoulder and pulled the Doctor up by his curly hair.
"Stand, you unholy bastard, stand and face me!"
"With a face like that?" the Doctor mumbled. "No, thank you."
Father yanked the Doctor's head back, exposing his throat. The Doctor flared his arms, balling his fists and beating against his attacker, to no avail. Father pressed his lips to the Doctor's neck.
I know what you are...Time Lord. Father's voice slithered through his mind like a black snake. He took a playful nibble of the Doctor's flesh. Your mind is well-guarded, fragmented, whole lives not even yet conceived, and even now there are secrets you keep hidden away, but I will know these, too. I will find a way in, no matter how strong the defenses.
You're a telepath, thought the Doctor.
Father took another bite, drawing a small bead of blood. He caressed it with his tongue and shivered in sensual pleasure.
I have never known a mind like yours, Father thought. It will be a pleasure to consume you.
Consume this, the Doctor thought, and pulled Father into his mind.
The world around him disappeared, and he was falling, tumbling through infinite darkness.
"What have you done?" Father screamed. He kicked and clawed at the air. "Where have you taken me?"
The Doctor appeared before him.
"Oh, nowhere," said the Time Lord casually. "We're still in the bridge, still in the middle of that meaningless slaughter with your tongue still tickling my neck. You really should consider taking it a bit slower. At least take me to dinner first."
"Laught, Doctor, while you still have the breath to do so. Do you know the most wonderful thing about killing a Time Lord? You get to do it over and over again, each death more devious and excruciating than the last."
"You're not the first to make that threat," the Doctor said.
"Get me out of here!" Father shrieked. He tore at his robes. "What hell is this, where have you taken me?"
"Hell? This is my mind you're talking about that." The Doctor surveyed the endless darkness. "A bit boring, I'll admit, but hell? Never."
"This...is your mind?"
"A Time Lord trick for beating particularly nasty telepaths at their own game. Highly illegal, of course. I've stolen your consciousness like your stole my thoughts, my memories. You now exist only in my mind."
"Release me!" Father screamed. "I command it!"
"I don't think so," the Doctor said. He did a lazy somersault in the air. "Not yet, anyway. I think I'll find a more suitable body for you first, maybe a rhesus monkey. Or a cockroach."
Father threw his head back and howled.
"Or a wolf!" the Doctor said. "That's thee spirit. Goodbye, Father." He waved with the end of his scarf and vanished.
Father plunged into the void, alone and afraid for the first time in his long, long life.
The Doctor's eyes flew open and he grimaced, shoving Father's lifeless body away from him. He groaned, clutching his chest. At least two ribs broken. It would take hours for them to repair themselves.
The Doctor cupped his hands to his mouth. "Children of God, hear me! Your Father is dead, at long last dead, and the world breathes a sigh of relief!"
The six or seven remaining Children tore themselves from the battle and ran at the Doctor as one. They flew into an invisible barrier, crumpling to the floor in a heap.
Romana poked her head out of the TARDIS and waved her sonic screwdriver at the Doctor. She came to his side and watched as the soldiers cornered the Children against the force shield and blasted each in turn to dust.
"Are you all right?" she asked, not taking her eyes from the slaughter.
"Of course I'm all right!" he snapped. "Just give me a moment to catch my breath."
A few feet away, beyond the force shield, Merritt was conducting a swift survey of his team.
"Nine casualties," he announced.
"Nine more casualties," Romana reminded him. "Please, don't add Corber to the list. If he hadn't gotten me back down to the Castle we might never have rescued Ronis."
"And the commander might still be alive," Merritt said. "Release the traitor. Things will be much easier if you do. The High Court might have mercy on you."
"No, not today," said the Doctor. He stood up. "Come on, Romana."
They ignored Merritt's shouted threats and walked back into the console room. The Doctor leaned against the controls and the doors closed.
"What about Corber?" Romana asked. "And Ronis?"
"Well, they were going to execute poor Corber," the Doctor said. "We can't have that. We'll take him somewhere safe. Think of it as a sort of witness protection program."
"Doesn't Corber have a say in any of this?"
The Doctor ignored her as he continued to set the coordinates. "There's one more thing I need to do before we leave this world."
"You mean like let K-9 back into the TARDIS?" Romana asked, indicating the scanner. K-9 was waiting patiently at the doors as, behind him, the soldiers continued to fire at the force shield.
The Doctor slapped his forehead and opened the doors and K-9 rolled inside.
"You're just in time, K-9," the Doctor said. He set the final coordinates and the TARDIS began to dematerialize. A moment later, an image appeared on the scanner: a small, jagged chunk of rock that spat steam and great jets of lava into the air.
"The core of this planet," the Doctor said. "I knew there had to be one. They just didn't descend far enough." He busied himself setting new coordinates. "Curiosity satisfied. Shall we take our new friends somewhere a bit friendlier?"
Romana bent to pat K-9 on the head. "He means Earth, of course."
She stood up. "Well, Doctor? Back to Paris?"
The Doctor thought for a moment. "Wherever the wind takes us," he said, and then he grinned.