Disclaimer: I own only my various muses... The Master took one look at what I had in store for him and demanded a holiday.
Summary: Pending the inquiry into her actions on Gryben, Lady President Romana pays a visit to the secretive Keeper of the Matrix. Set between "Square One" and "The Inquiry" of season one of the Gallifrey audios; no major spoilers, but be warned, this is an AU from that point - it will not slot nicely into the Gallifrey canon. Also, I should mention that even though I've been known to 'ship Valeyard/Matrix elsewhere, this is not one of those occasions - so please don't be reading...insinuations...where there aren't any!
Warnings: Just a touch of Floyd and Kafka... ;) And the Valeyard. Being...creepy.
Buried deep in the ancient heart of the Citadel, the central control room of the Matrix archives was rarely visited these days. The air was cold and still; drawing her robes closer around herself, Romana could almost feel the miles of stone and glass that rose above her weighing down the very air as she hurried through the corridors.
The inquiry was less than a day away now, and her frustration was mounting by the hour at the speed of the progress that was being made with the investigation into the timonic fusion device. It seemed that even now, as President of the Time Lords, secrets were being kept from her – in fact, there were days when she felt she knew less than ever about what went on behind her back. If there was one thing her time in her Presidency had taught her more effectively than the Academy had ever done, it was that politicians were the same the universe over, and Time Lords were just as evasive, just as corrupt, just as slippery as any others.
There was, however, one way in which the innermost workings of their society could be laid bare – one source of information held under lock and key, the great minds of countless millions of Time Lords sealed eternally into a single composite repository of wisdom and experience: the Matrix. For the most part, K-9's access to the Matrix was sufficient for her requirements, but advanced as his own excitonic circuitry was, there was only so much a robot could make of a conglomeration of once-living minds. He could access information, retrieve facts, nothing more. The archivists were little better – no more than simple technicians, most of them, they were denied access to much of the Matrix even at the order of the President herself.
So, as she was so accustomed to doing, Romana had taken matters into her own hands. She sought out the highest authority, the bearer of the Key of Rassilon itself: the Keeper of the Matrix.
As she pressed the button on the intercom beside the door to the archives, it occurred to her that she had never actually seen the Keeper in person. She supposed the very nature of the position called for a Time Lord who could remain away from public attention – after all, not just anyone could access the immaterial wealth contained in the Matrix – but whoever he or she was, this Keeper was even more secretive than their predecessors had been. Even for High Council meetings, she could only recall seeing higher-ranked archivists as representatives to speak on their behalf.
"Romanadvoratrelundar, High President of Gallifrey, requires access to the Matrix. I seek an audience with the Keeper." She spoke briskly into the intercom, a no-nonsense tone that had become a natural flavour of her voice almost without her realizing – power had given her an air of authority, and she knew how to use it.
Within the chamber, the light was low; only the winking, flickering lights on the panels of circuitry glinted off the smooth obsidian and green walls, and the Matrix screen high on the wall was dark and silent. Overhead, glassy chronarachnids spun their tiny webs across the angular architecture, pulling in threads of time to catch passing seconds.
Time was creeping steadily over the room, claiming it for its own – unlike the figure who sat beside one of the control panels, still untouched by the years. Eyes closed, the Valeyard rested his elbows on the edge of the panel, a heavy brass key clasped between his folded hands.
Gallifrey was embroiled in political machinations and the order of society was in a delicate balance, he knew that much, but many of the precise details eluded this Keeper of the Matrix. Preoccupied with the future, with the maelstrom that was brewing on the horizon of their civilization, with the whereabouts of the latest of the parts that made up his whole, he had been spending more time in the mental labyrinth of the Matrix than would have been healthy for any Time Lord. There, at least, he retained form and sentience even with the Doctor so insufferably kind-hearted as he was at this point in his timestream.
The sound of the voice through the intercom caused his eyes to snap open, and a shiver of uncertainty ran through him. Romana… He remembered her well – companion, protégée, friend…others might have said more, although he could no longer distinguish or even recall such feelings. Would she – could she even bring herself to – recognize him now? The Master had – but then, the Master had known the Doctor for much longer – and had known the Valeyard for what he was, almost as though he had expected it. He could imagine his former selves – his fifth, …no, I don't want you to see me like this… – his eighth, perhaps, …I don't know who I am any more… – or his tenth, of course, …I'm sorry, I'm so sorry…
Let her think her noble Doctor had lost his mind – what was that to him? However, he was concerned about the involvement of the Inquisitor Darkel in the events that were taking place – she would expose him for certain, and see to it that he was removed from the time-space continuum. So, as he pressed the security pad to open the door and rose from his seat to greet the Lady President with a respectful, "My Lady…", he lowered his head, keeping his face slightly averted – it was fortunate that he was attired in the gold robes of the Keeper, with the high, curved collar to shield his features.
She entered without hesitation, head held high, just as proud as ever – …Romana! How marvellous to see you! Why, you haven't aged a century… – just as arrogant, just as conceited…he could have curled his lip in contempt as she spoke again.
"Keeper of the Matrix. I don't believe we've met?"
"Our paths may have crossed," he replied. "But as I am sure you are aware, My Lady, the duties of my office prevent me from venturing far from the archives – to my great regret, of course." Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he detected a slight tensing in her expression, as though his voice had struck some familiar chord within her, but she appeared to shrug it off, turning her head to peer around the dimly lit room.
"Is it always so gloomy in here?" she wondered aloud. "Let's have some light, Keeper – I can barely see your face." He obliged, flicking several carefully selected switches on a panel to turn on just a few lights along the wall, but reflecting off the dark walls, the effect was more of a sickly pallor that cast sharp shadows across the room.
"To business, My Lady?" Turning aside, he reached for the rows of coloured biog data extract capsules. "You wished for information." His fingers lightly touched the red and orange cap of one that was intimately familiar to him, one that lingered on his mind every moment of his tentative existence, the only one he concerned himself with; they rested there for the briefest second, before moving down to the DE of Romana and lifting it from the rack.
"I do," she confirmed. "You are aware, of course, of the events on Gryben – of the course of action I took – and now, the inquiry that has been called. Do you have any experience in legal matters?"
"I…have some knowledge of court procedure." Caught off-guard by the throwaway question, the half-truth hadn't come as smoothly as it should have done. …I don't like lawyers – always askin' questions… "It seems to me, My Lady," he added quickly, still turned away as his gloved hands expertly moved across a control panel, "that you already have all the evidence you would require for such an inquiry. Is it not standard procedure to present the facts as they occurred and are recorded in the Matrix, as far as pertains to the personal timeline of the accused? Surely you have access to such information?"
"What I did is not in question," Romana said sharply. "What I must convince the court – and Darkel – is that I was right to do it. That timonic fusion device existed, I am certain of it – and what's more, there are Time Lords in this Citadel who know more than they are letting on. I…" She paused, drew a breath, and when she resumed speaking, the stern edge had left her voice; she sounded weary, almost relieved, as though without realizing, she felt herself in the company of an old friend. "I don't know who I can trust any more, Keeper. But I have to know that I was justified – I have to know that I was in the right."
"Can you be so certain of that?"
A slip of the tongue. Times had changed – he had changed – but one thing had not changed, and that was that he had never had much respect for authority at the best of times. Oh, he could be flattering when he needed to be, feigning the ingratiating deference which Time Lords in positions of power so loved…and how they infuriated him, every last one, with their tedious traditions, their narrow-minded narcissism, their… His right hand, which still held the Key of Rassilon, clenched into a fist.
"You presume to be the only one who could possibly be right," he bit out through gritted teeth. "But your opponents believe the same thing. Who is to say that you are not at fault?"
"I would remind you, Keeper," she said sternly, "that you are addressing your President."
"Indeed. The Lady President of Gallifrey…one of the highest temporal authorities at this point in the timeband." She couldn't have missed the note of scorn that had entered his voice; he was losing his temper, and he knew it – …you need to contain your bloodlust… – but how could he feel anything else, when every fleeting moment of irritation at his companions that even the Doctor had not been immune to was distilled into pure hatred in the entity that he had become – … fire and ice and rage…? He could feel Romana's eyes on his back, feel his palms sweating, his shoulders tensing – not guilt, never that, never again – but to make matters worse, long-buried memories were beginning to drift to the surface of his memory, distant recollections of a happier, foolish, ignorant time… "And is it not your duty, My Lady, to ensure the integrity of the causal nexus? Yet you are content to turn a blind eye while an old friend of yours blunders about the universe, blatantly flouting the most basic Laws of Time?"
"The Doctor," the Valeyard spat. "Crashing through fixed points in time like a bull in a china shop!" The instant the old Earth idiom slipped out, Romana's eyes widened.
"Who are you?"
"You should have executed him when you had the chance!" Voice escalating with bitterness and fury, he whirled around and the colour drained from Romana's face at the sheer loathing that blazed in his pale eyes – eyes of a soul she recognized instantly.
Breathing heavily, he held her gaze for as long as he could bear – and then, before she could even register the movement, he had turned and flung the Key of Rassilon straight into the centre of the Matrix screen. A blinding flare of white light erupted from the screen, flooding the room and jolting Romana out of her shock as she flung up her arms on reflex to shield her eyes.
When the light faded and she lowered her arms, he was gone, vanished through the fissure that had opened up in the wall before her – a rectangular gap in the solid obsidian and the time itself that had shaped the room, spilling a white glow and tendrils of time energy like mist across the floor – the Seventh Door.
Picking up the hem of her robe, she hurried forwards and followed him without hesitation through the door, as she had done so many times before.