Chapter Seven: Communications
"You should go to Medical, get yourself checked out," said Romana. She was pacing up and down, long sweeping strides devouring the floor again and again to no purpose.
"I'm fine," said Elah. This time (Romana had made that suggestion twice before) there was a touch of frost in her voice. "I'm only half human, after all."
"She says she's fine, Romana," called the Doctor from his seat amid the wreckage. He looked worse that Elah did, face puffy, bruised and bloody, though that was subsiding with the spray from an emergency medical kit. Loryan didn't look much better. They'd explained what had happened with the transit capsule. "We have bigger problems. Someone programmed a power surge that's taken out the sensor records. Started a fire and physically burned out part of the computer."
"Can we trace it?" asked Elah.
"I have traced it," said the Doctor. He had a jeweler's eyepiece screwed into one eye, scrutinizing broken bits of circuit board, and looked every inch a mad scientist. "It was done from here. Whoever attacked Elah …"
And Drax, he didn't say.
"And then smashed the equipment in this room, rendering the station damned near blind," added Loryan. He'd stopped playing the martinet around her, Romana noticed. Either familiarity bred contempt, or vacuum exposure did wonders for your priorities.
"Arkeros?" asked Romana, though she suspected she knew the answer.
"No," said the Doctor. "Believe me, I've checked. The sighting of her coincides too closely with the sabotage. She wouldn't have had time to get from here to there. Or vice versa. Anyway … it isn't quite her style."
Romana looked around. "It's destructive enough."
"Yes, but …" The Doctor waved a hand at the trashed room. "It's mere destruction. Utilitarian. Sane. Boring. As I said, not her style. It's hardly got a style at all."
"And then there's Drax," said Loryan. "What would she want with him?"
"Maybe she wanted something else reprogrammed," said Elah.
"No," said the Doctor again. Romana saw he developed a slightly guilty look whenever Drax was mentioned. "I don't think so."
"Drax is an idiot, not a deserter," agreed Loryan. "He wouldn't simply leave with her."
"Maybe she threatened to hit him," said Elah, rubbing her head.
"No, no, no," insisted the Doctor. "You're forgetting the time problem. It couldn't have been her. Anyway … she seemed to think Drax was in danger from some other source. She warned me to watch out for him, for his own sake."
"And you said nothing?" said Romana. "You left Elah with him, and said nothing? She could have been—"
"I hardly intended to leave them alone," said the Doctor, looking both guilty and angry. "I hadn't counted on my transit capsule being catapulted into a parallel timeline!"
"If you had told her from the beginning, it wouldn't matter that—"
"Stop that," ordered Elah. Everyone (especially Loryan) looked at her in shock. She was giving Romana a hard look. "Ma'am. I can look after myself as well as anyone. I should have looked after myself better. I was already on guard because of Arkeros, and the saboteur. One more warning wouldn't have made any difference. Now if you must fight, please don't do it over me, and please take it outside—my head aches enough already."
"Oh," said the Doctor, looking stricken. The eyepiece fell out into his lap. "I'm sorry, Elah."
Romana waved a hand to dismiss the entire conversation. "Back to practical matters … Doctor, I need you in the Heart. Coriakin's sealed himself in. Or someone has sealed the Heart from the inside. Apparently, no one has spoken to him face-to-face in weeks."
"You overestimate my control over the Heart," said the Doctor.
"Nonetheless," said Romana.
The Doctor sighed. "Oh, very well," he said, bouncing to his feet. "I suggest we stay together, though. You'll recall what Arkeros said. Every person who was in that conference room is in danger."
"What makes you think she was telling the truth?" asked Loryan.
"She was right to warn me about Drax," said the Doctor.
"Yes," said Elah, "but she may have told the truth once to trick you into thinking it was all true."
"She very seldom lies," said the Doctor. "She very seldom needs to. And I have a very bad feeling about this." He gave Elah a worried look.
"In any event, I think more caution is in order," said Romana. "We'll stay together for now."
"And Drax?" asked Loryan. "Are you going to order a search, Lady President?"
A silence settled over the room.
"An alert, perhaps," said Romana. If no one else was going to say it … "I think an active search would be a waste of manpower. Drax is almost certainly dead."
Even the Doctor didn't argue with her.
Palanzar prowled around the Heart, his thoughts tracing even more constricted circles than his body. Technicians kept having to scramble out of his way. He only noticed when they weren't fast enough to clear a path for him.
Romana was going to blame this on him. Vanandin might take some of the heat—the little gray bastard hadn't noticed Coriakin was missing, after all—but Palanzar knew enough about politics to know that situations like the Charalin attack required a scapegoat, singular, one person on whom all misfortune could be heaped.
He kept telling himself that he was far too important a person to be sacrificed like that, and far too well known for anyone to believe any unfounded accusations. But how well known was he? And was that an asset to him at the moment? Romana needed a high-profile villain. Vanandin wasn't famous enough.
Then, too, Palanzar was feared and hated as the Assassin of Dreams. Up till the past hour or so, he'd enjoyed that image, even cultivated it. Now … now he realized that the public would accept him quite readily as the hand behind this day's work.
"Technician Vanandin," he announced. "I have business to attend to. You will continue to monitor the Heart in my absence."
"Very good, my lord," said Vanandin, with a subservient bow. He paused the moment required by decorum, and turned back to the console he'd been busy at. Probably pretending to be working on something dreadfully important.
"What are you doing there, anyway?" he asked aloud. "I thought you couldn't get Coriakin out."
"No, my lord," said Vanandin. "Lady President Romana has requested that I investigate a spatio-temporal disturbance affecting a transit capsule earlier."
Smarmy little shit. Palanzar turned on his heel and strode from the room. He made his way as rapidly as possible to his quarters, and activated the hidden comm unit.
"You're taking a risk, contacting me under these conditions," warned the voice. "I assume you have reason."
"I felt it was a greater risk not to apprise you of the situation." Palanzar cleared his throat, trying to calm himself. In no way, of course, had he called his contact within the Brotherhood in order to receive reassurance. Nor because he needed someone to tell him what to do. It was simply a rational desire to make sure they knew what was going on out here. "Coriakin has been compromised. The Charalin intervention went badly wrong. They—"
"We are well aware of the actions of the Charalin. Tell me of Coriakin."
Palanzar told what little he knew, including his concerns for his own career.
"Your life, rather," corrected the voice. "If the President chooses you as a scapegoat, be sure the charge will be treason."
Palanzar felt his throat constrict. But before he could answer, the voice continued.
"Nevertheless, it is unlikely to come to that. We have matters well in hand here. This is a great opportunity for us—the President has failed. The people are looking for scapegoats of their own, and they look to her. For leadership … they may, perhaps, now be ready to look elsewhere."
"I understand," said Palanzar. Now he was calm. There was a way out of this. "What do you want me to do?"
"There may come a time," said the voice, "when the President may require … removal."
"Are you … are you talking about assassination?" asked Palanzar, appalled. He would by no means weep if Romana were to come to a sticky end, but … to be involved in such an act himself? No. He had taken oaths of loyalty. It was one thing to support a political rival in a legitimate bid for election (by nearly any means—there being no such thing as "clean" Gallifreyan politics). But to commit an act of violence against the office he was sworn to protect …
"No," said the voice. Palanzar thought his own shock caused him to imagine the slight pause. "Removal from office. Plans are underway to call for a special election, possibly even to declare her unfit for duty. We may require testimony. Have you ever known her to be careless? Confused in her orders? Reckless, perhaps?"
"I am sure that, given a little time, I could recall many such occasions," said Palanzar. This was the Gallifreyan politics he knew how to play.
Anyone who was foolish enough to allow themselves to be accused of incompetence was guilty of it.
Lord Kothan, secret (so to speak) head of the Brotherhood, candidate for the Presidency of Gallifrey, and heir to a pile of debts and worthless estates … was having a very interesting day.
A busy day, as well. He'd already made one public address on Gallifrey's most-watched vid-channel, in which he'd called for an investigation into the Charalin treason (but very carefully didn't accuse anyone of any wrongdoing—yet). He'd met privately with several other Senators, projecting an air of calm confidence that the twittering geezers clung to like a lifeline.
Shortly, the Senate would meet more formally. During this meeting, he would continue not to make any accusations. After all, he would point out (after the accusations were made by carefully groomed others) there was no proof of wrongdoing. He would be a steady, reliable voice of reason, a port in a storm.
Everyone would believe Romana was to blame, anyway. Let someone else come off as the hothead. Or everyone else, actually.
Before the Senate session, however, he received a visitor to his chambers. A visitor who had been in contact with a Brotherhood pawn on Arcadia itself.
"I don't think we can rely on Palanzar," said the visitor. "He's too much a coward at heart. He's very resistant to endangering the health of our Dear Little Friend."
Even in a room routinely swept for bugs, and between two men who trusted each other, "assassination" and "President Romana" were words not to be used in the same sentence.
Kothan merely smiled. He was a youngish man, early third regeneration, with a strong-boned face and thick black hair just turning to silver at the temples. Young and vigorous enough for these games, but old enough to be taken seriously.
"I think you overestimate the resistance of cowards," he said. "Handle him carefully. If he becomes frightened enough for his own skin, he can talk himself into just about anything. No, it's brave men who worry me. They can't be herded. A coward … well, with a big enough scare, a coward will leap off a cliff to get away from a shadow. Especially if you trick him into thinking it was his own idea to jump."
"Yes, my lord." The visitor turned to leave.
"Carefully, I said," called Kothan. "A coward is a dangerous tool. He breaks unexpectedly. Be sure our enemies are the ones damaged by the splinters."
35. Where the Heart Is
The Doctor dreamed.
He was a young boy, in a young world, and he ran over the red grass in the warm light of a sun like a huge red apple in the sky. A brown dwarf star gave off most of its radiation in the form of heat; the light at noon was dim, like a balmy sunset.
It was a strong world, as well as young, and it would last for a million years or more. The grass stretched for miles, up the hill where the house was, down to the stream, over to the copse of nut trees that gave children the boy's age hours of fun in the "autumn" collecting snacks while their parents did the more tedious work of harvesting the crop.
Far beyond the trees, the edge of the habitat sphere was obscured from sight by distance and vegetation. It was vast enough to produce its own weather patterns, though said weather was regulated by Arcadia's computer system.
There was a soft breeze over the fields, smelling of cinnamon and flowers. The boy stood barefoot in the soft grass, raising his skinny arms over his head and his face to the sky. He was alone, with no one to hear him, and he shouted.
"THUNDER!" he yelled. "I'm the King of the Storm, and I call you! THUNDER!"
The thunder answered.
The Doctor woke with a start, batting away the tissue-knitter someone was waving over his face. "Elah! I'm fine!"
"Everything but your eyes," retorted Romana, shoving his hand away and getting back to work. "Hold still, you fool. You're no use to me in this condition."
The Doctor's eyes focused on the dark hair and green eyes of his unlikely nurse, and he fell silent. He was thinking of a boy, too young to know you couldn't speak to a storm.
The boy grew up, he thought—and it was closer to memory than speculation, but not by much. The boy grew up, and the grown-ups taught him weather didn't listen to you, weather wasn't alive. And the boy almost believed it, but there remained a wild streak in him all his days, and in the bottom of his hearts he remained the King of the Storm.
He'd fallen asleep. How had he managed that?
"Did you drug me?" he asked. He'd been drugged and hexed so many times today he couldn't tell any more.
"Nobody drugged you, Uncle," said Elah. She came and sat next to him, taking his arm while Romana put the finishing touches on his bruises. Loryan looked away from the display of emotion, embarrassed. The presidential guards who accompanied them stayed staring straight ahead. They didn't need to look away to pretend not to see something. It was part of their training. "Romana's right," continued Elah. "You're going to get yourself hurt one of these days. You need to get a genetic enhancement."
"Absolutely not." The Doctor sat up straighter, despite the aches in his body. He'd had this body too long, he thought sometimes. It was getting tired. This mind, too.
Sometimes he thought about going mad. Just for a bit. As a vacation.
They were in another transit capsule. Loryan had been hesitant—as had the Doctor—but the only other option was the transmat, and the argument against that still stood.
The question, thought the Doctor, was this—how had his and Loryan's capsule been targeted in the first place? His biology might be a bit odd for a Time Lord's, and Loryan's was significantly enhanced, but neither was distinctive enough. Even if somebody hadn't been in the act of sabotaging Arcadia's sensors at the time.
There were, of course, the TARDISes docked at the station. But the Doctor didn't think they'd have the ability to pinpoint his presence, either.
There was, of course, the question of how the dimensional shift had been arranged to begin with. But until they figured that one out, it would be easier to determine the culprit by their ability to track the Doctor's location.
The transit capsule bumped to a halt. They'd arrived, with no near-death experiences whatsoever. And Station Security had reported no further incidents.
Romana and the others rose to their feet. Elah made as if to help the Doctor.
"I'm perfectly all right," he protested. Good grief, he sounded like his first incarnation. He really had had this body far too long.
"Come on, Doctor," she said, and it was more an order than a request. He let her help him up—the old must sometimes humor the young, after all.
"You should have let Romana see to that bruise," he told her.
"It's fine," she said, shrugging. "It's nowhere near as bad as your injuries."
The Doctor brushed her cheek with his thumb. She looked healthy, eyes bright and alert. But the bruising itself bothered him.
"Vacuum rose," he said. Elah frowned at him.
"What?" said Romana, from the door of the capsule.
"Vacuum rose," said the Doctor. "This bruising here. Elah, you can't remember anything that happened after you were struck?"
"No, nothing," she said. "Are you saying I was exposed to vacuum? But how? I never left the sensor room!"
"Briefly exposed. Presumably the same way Loryan and I were—there's a congruent reality with no air pressure."
"Far too real, if you ask me," muttered Loryan.
"Yes," mused the Doctor. "Remember, Arkeros stole a respirator. And the witness says she had a nosebleed."
"How much tolerance do her people have to vacuum?" asked Loryan. "Anywhere near as much as Time Lords?"
"More," said the Doctor. "I'd say that reality has some importance."
"Indeed," said Romana. "Something else for Vanandin to look into. Or to ask Coriakin about, if we ever reach him. Come on."
Vanandin had little to report when they arrived. "I have a reading for a dimensional disturbance surrounding the travel capsule, but no indications what could have caused it."
"Keep trying," said Romana. "Any progress with Coriakin?"
"None. I beg your pardon."
The Doctor had elbowed his way in to check the readings himself. "There's no sign of any other dimensional disturbances," he said. "Nothing in the sensor room."
"Is there some reason there should be?" asked Vanandin. He looked slightly annoyed.
The Doctor ignored it. "Possibly," he said.
"I'll go over the records for that area again more closely. If you're permit me?"
"Hm," said the Doctor, losing interest in the technician and moving aside to allow him access to the console again. He'd been sure there would be something. Maybe it was just too small for the scanners at the Heart to detect it.
On the other hand, if there had been no disturbance, it was more likely that the timeline could be tweaked to bring Drax back to life. The fact that he'd died (presumably) on Arcadia made the prospect somewhat bleak to begin with, because of the station's complex timelines, but it had been done in the past. Normally the Doctor disapproved of such practices, but …
He tried not to look at the Heart too closely. It brought back memories. Most of them weren't even his.
"It's beautiful," said Elah, following his gaze.
"It's a glorified Paradox Machine," he retorted, "and I should never have—"
He stopped abruptly, shaking his head. Said enough already.
"Should never have what?" asked Elah.
"Doctor, if you would?" prompted Romana.
"Oh, very well," said the Doctor. "I feel like a set of keys. You only want me when you want something opened. The rest of the time you stash me in your pocket or lose me under a pile of clutter on the coffee table."
He marched up to the Heart. He could feel it, distantly, in his mind. Like the Pit beneath it, it was at the center of convergent timelines, possibilities swarming around it. The light of it was warm, like the light in his dream.
The Doctor flung his head back and spread his arms. "Open Sesame!" he proclaimed.
"Really, Doctor," said Elah. "There's a man trapped in there. This is hardly the time."
"Shh," said Romana. Elah looked at her askance.
"You're right," said the Doctor, a little chagrined. Perhaps he was getting so caught up in his own … prelude to insanity, he decided to call it, that he was forgetting there were innocent lives in the balance. Well, perhaps not so innocent, in Coriakin's case. But a life nonetheless. "I should take this more seriously. But I'm not quite joking, either. My timelines are really remarkably complicated. Potentially complicated enough to interact with the Heart. I did tell you it might not work, Romana."
"It should have." Romana gave him a thoughtful look, as if wondering if perhaps he wasn't trying very hard.
"Yes," agreed the Doctor. "It should have. If, and it's a very big if, nothing is actively holding the Heart closed. You're assuming simple sabotage, or a mechanical accident. Perhaps that Coriakin's fallen and can't get up to open the door."
Loryan had been staring at the Heart in awe. And a little unease. Few Gallifreyans were truly comfortable with the Heart, to the extent they understood it. It was very powerful, and it wasn't quite theirs. "Well, he's dead, isn't he?" he asked.
"He can't be," said Elah.
"It is unlikely," said the Doctor. "There's someone operating the Heart. But very few people have the aptitude. And it's a skill that takes time to acquire. No, my guess is that he's alive—a prisoner, but alive, acting under duress."
"Whose duress?" wondered Romana.
36. The Prisoner
Coriakin raised his head with great difficulty. He was a very old man, with a long, thin beard of snowy white, sick and weak from his captivity, and the neural interface made a heavy crown for his head. It was only the restraining straps his captors had placed on him that kept him from falling out of his chair altogether.
He saw, and heard, what was going on in the control center outside. The red-haired young woman in particular caught his eye. He knew her very well from the timelines, though they had never met in person. Yet.
Most of his mind, as had become usual these last few weeks, was cast into the future. It was the only escape he could make for himself, and it grew narrower day by day, but it was far preferable to the present.
He'd managed to throw his mind clear into his next regeneration. Well, that wasn't so far—this body didn't have long left in it. Odd, to put his mind into another. Like a child, dressing up in the clothes of his adult self. Or vice versa.
He saw the warm blue eyes, the fall of red hair, the faint trace of freckles over her cheekbones. He would never have believed he could fall in love at his time of life—fifth regeneration!—until he'd seen it in his own timeline.
"Elah," he whispered. "Save me, love. Save me soon."
"So how do we get him out now?" asked Romana.
"You're asking me?" scoffed the Doctor. Then he deflated slightly. "Sorry," he said, before anyone could complain. "Ah, let's see …"
"Can we cut it open?" asked Loryan.
"Don't be absurd," said the Doctor. Loryan scowled at him, and shot a furtive glance at Romana, apparently aware he'd made a very stupid remark in front of the Lady President of Gallifrey. "The Heart's got all the protection of a TARDIS, and more. It's slightly out of phase with this reality. There's nothing in this universe that could force its way in from the outside."
"I suppose it seemed a good idea at the time," said Romana.
"No, wait, but that's the answer!" said the Doctor, suddenly excited. "Loryan, you're brilliant! The Heart is at the core of Arcadia's timelines. It's impenetrable here. But if approached from another angle … perhaps Palanzar could have a practical use after all. If his team could penetrate an adjacent timeline and gain access to the Heart there …"
"Why, Doctor," said Romana. "That's so absurd … it might just work. It's much more likely to end in disaster, of course. But it might work. Where is Palanzar?"
"I believe he left some time ago to attend to personal business," said Vanandin.
"Really, of all the times," said Romana. "Elah?"
Elah tapped her comm and contacted Palanzar.
"Do you really believe he can accomplish this?" asked Vanandin.
The Doctor was pacing around the Heart, staring at it. Even with his bruises healed, he looked tired, the skin of his face taking on a faint gray hue to match the streaks in his hair. Or perhaps it was merely his Arcadian heritage.
"Oh, absolutely," he called. "I doubt anyone else could, but I suspect he could manage it."
Romana went to his side, lowering her voice. "Are you all right, Doctor?" She told herself it wouldn't do to have him get sick now, when she—when Gallifrey needed him.
"Fine," he said. Even his voice was tired. Or perhaps he was just tired of arguing with her. And he had a face for looking tired, this one, long and sad.
"Don't," she sighed.
He shook his head, irritably. "You need to start carrying emergency breathing apparatus," he told her. "We all do. Best to be prepared. Suits would be best, but bulky. Everyone who was in that conference room needs to be on guard. I'd send someone to look after Palanzar, by the way. The man's an idiot."
"Perhaps idiot is a bit strong, but I take your point," said Romana, with the barest twitch of her lips. "Perhaps I'll send Elah and Loryan. They're trustworthy, at least. And you'll stay with me. Someone seems to have it in for you, but will take quite a bit to get past my guards."
"You feel it too," said the Doctor, pensive. "Treason in the air."
"There are far too many things going wrong around here, with far too little explanation. As much as I'd like to blame everything on your friend Arkeros—"
"My friend! My friend!" sputtered the Doctor. "You hired her to kidnap me!"
"This seems to have started before her arrival," finished Romana. "She's been ominously absent for some time. I would hope that she'd fallen into a temporal discontinuity and broken her neck, but somehow I doubt she'd do anything that convenient."
"It wouldn't slow her down, in any event," said the Doctor. "Just wait for the worst possible time, she'll show up, don't worry."
They both paused to think about this.
"No, never mind," said the Doctor. "Do worry."
38. Message Received
The computers that regulated Arcadia were almost a world in themselves.
They were vast, ancient, the product of technologies long lost. They'd been added to so many times over so many millennia that they had long since surpassed the complexity of a single humanoid brain. Like a brain, they'd grown organically.
But they were far less centrally organized than a brain. They more closely resembled a tree—an ancient giant of the rainforest, its branches hosting entire ecologies of other life—subsystems, rogue programs, symbiotes, viruses.
In the very, very oldest parts of the computers—in the sections that had been installed at the colony's founding—there was a sealed compartment. It housed a virtual space in which dwelt an intelligence. An intelligence that predated Arcadia itself.
This intelligence imagined (and, in its virtual prison, therefore inhabited) a room. The room had antique wallpaper of black and gold geometric designs, heavy ebony furniture, a black and white marble floor. A large fire burned in a fireplace with a black marble mantelpiece.
The intelligence was fond of black.
It was a quiet room, a room that spoke of power and domination from behind the throne, of a hand that manipulated nations like finger puppets. The intelligence was aware of this effect, and found it good.
It, or rather he (he imagined himself as a man, pale of face and dark of hair, with a gray-touched goatee and shining dark eyes) was dressed in a simple black suit, and sat in a black leather chair, sipping black tea from a white china cup.
Another cup had been poured, and a second chair imagined. There had been no visitors here since the founding of Arcadia, over a million years ago. This did not deter the man.
Anyway, it was virtual tea. It wouldn't get cold unless he wanted it to do so.
His patience was rewarded, if one could phrase it like that.
"YER DADDY WAS A TOASTER—"
A black wooden door which hadn't existed until that moment slammed open. A small woman in a leather jacket and a battered hat fell through just ahead of a bolt from an energy weapon, which scorched half the wallpaper off the far wall.
"AN' YER MAMMA WAS A SQUID!" she finished, and kicked the door shut again.
She turned to the man with an evil grin, doffing her hat. She had a very large blaster-type gun slung over one shoulder. "How do, Koschei. Got yer message."
The Master mended the wallpaper with a thought and an unnecessary snap of his fingers. "I was beginning to wonder if anyone had," he said. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
Coming Soon: Treason