The Belphegor Inheritance
The Impossible Police Box
With incredible reflexes, Doctor Smith grabbed the black box he had taken from the drawer, and pressed down the controls. A strange vibration filled the air, culminating in a deep resonating boom as the sphere of light seemed to hit an invisible barrier, and stopped dead on its course.
Doctor Smith snatched up the silver cylinder, and pushed down the plunger at the end. After a moment, the cylinder seemed to vanish from his hand, melting and dissolving into the very air. "Programmed for one use only," Doctor Smith muttered. "Well, it should be enough."
He looked at the ball of energy, which crackled against the edge of the invisible barrier. "I don't think it's going to hold much longer," he said, looking at the black box. "We have to get out of here." He jumped to his feet.
"But what is it?" asked Rhonwen, also managing to get up despite her fear. She could see the glowing sphere hovering mere inches away from her, making angry buzzing sounds as it rubbed against the barrier.
"Some kind of psionic energy," Doctor Smith explained. "I think it must be keyed to my mental frequencies, to home in on me. It'll just consume anyone else who gets in its way."
Rhonwen deliberately avoided looking over the edge of the desk. She didn't want to see what was left of Douglas Shelley on the floor. No one deserved to die like that, not even an obnoxious bore like Douglas.
"Will it kill anyone else?" she asked.
Doctor Smith shook his head. "No," he replied. "Once I've gone, it should leave Earth to pursue me."
The air was filled with a weird screeching, scraping sound, as of some ancient mechanism protesting after centuries of being overworked. In the far corner of the room, behind Doctor Smith, a shape started to fade into existence. The noise increased in volume, finally ceasing with a definite clunk as the shape solidified.
Rhonwen was amazed to see that it was a police telephone box, just like the ones that stood on street corners. Despite the incongruity of seeing such an object materialize out of thin air in her professor's office, she found herself blindly accepting the fact. She wouldn't have believed that balls of light could fry people alive before today. After seeing that, she was prepared to believe in anything.
Doctor Smith walked up to the police box, staggered, and fell against it. He clutched the side of the box to steady himself. The police box provided more than just support. Doctor Smith seemed almost to be drawing strength from it.
Recovering slightly, he turned urgently to Rhonwen. "I can't keep the force field up much longer," he said.
He started to pat his pockets, looking for something. Eventually, he resorted to hopping on one foot, so that he could take off the boot from the other. He shook the boot, and a metal object fell out into his free hand. Quickly slipping his boot back on, he held the object up. It was a length of chain, on which was some kind of medallion. It was a long thin shape, with a strange spiral design etched onto one side. On the other side were a series of raised dots connected by thin spidery lines of another colour.
"Key," he explained. Then he staggered again, slumping against the side of the police box. Rhonwen moved over to support him. Doctor Smith smiled apologetically. "The synapses are being swamped with all the new information," he said. "It should all work out soon. I need to get the door open."
With Rhonwen's help, he managed to raise the peculiarly shaped key to the lock on the police box door. Looking closely, Rhonwen saw that it was not a standard lock. It had a depression set in it, that corresponded to the shape of the key. Doctor Smith pressed the key into this depression, and an electrical humming sound was emitted. The lock started to extend outwards from the door, a stubby metal cylinder, and set in it were many slots, at least twenty of them.
From behind them came a crackle of power, as the sphere of energy struck itself against the invisible wall. Doctor Smith seemed to sag even more, as if he was losing his concentration. He struggled to raise the key, and then hesitated, clearly trying to choose which of the slots he should insert it into.
Finally, he made a determined effort and thrust the key into a slot, seemingly at random. There was another hum of power. Doctor Smith removed his key, and the lock slid back into the door.
This task completed, Doctor Smith collapsed entirely, falling against the door, which now swung open under his weight. He looked up at Rhonwen beseechingly. "Must get inside," he said. "Help me."
Rhonwen turned to look at the buzzing energy sphere, and then back at Doctor Smith. Making a quick decision, she took him by the arms. Half lifting him, half dragging him, she helped Doctor Smith into the police box.
At first, it was like passing into a confined black space. Then up ahead, Rhonwen saw a bright light and moved towards it. She realized that she was passing through a set of double doors, and then she knew that she was having a dream.
The room she was standing in was far too big to fit inside a police box. It was predominantly white in colour, a huge polygonal space with thick rectangular pillars set at each corner. The walls were decorated with a peculiar design of inset circular depressions. In the background she could hear a gentle electrical humming sound.
The strangest sight of all was in the centre of the room. It was a large hexagonal shape, rather like some abstract metal sculpture of a mushroom. Its upper surfaces consisted of six sloping panels, which were covered all over in little red and white buttons. Some panels even appeared to have small television screens set into them. Rhonwen thought her father would have been fascinated, for the object was clearly packed with the latest transistor technology. In the centre of the thing was a clear perspex cylinder which housed a complex array of crystalline shapes.
Doctor Smith managed to drag his way across to this bizarre structure. On the side nearest him was a red handle attached to a long plunger. He reached out to close his hand around this, and pushed down the plunger so that the handle was flush with the panel.
There was a whirring sound from behind them. Rhonwen turned round to see the double doors closing under their own power. They shut together solidly, and Rhonwen saw that the doors too were decorated with the pattern of circular depressions.
Almost immediately, Doctor Smith seemed to get better. He stood up to his full height, and flitted around pressing various buttons on the hexagonal shape. It appeared to be some kind of control console, and he obviously knew exactly what he was doing. He looked up at Rhonwen. "Hold tight," he warned. "This might be a bit bumpy."
He pressed another button, and the floor gave a sudden lurch. Rhonwen
was thrown from her feet, and landed sprawled across the floor. Two things
happened. The note of the background hum became higher in pitch, and the
perspex cylinder at the centre of the control console started to rise and
fall with a steady rhythmic motion.
Doctor Smith's office was empty except for the police box and the energy sphere. The scraping sound was heard again, and the lantern on top of the police box started to flash in unison with each burst of noise. The box began to fade slowly from existence.
At the same time, the shimmering ball surged forward with a crackle of
energy. The invisible barrier seemed to have disappeared. The sphere flew
straight towards the police box, converging on the flashing lamp. The glow
of the sphere seemed to merge with the light of the lantern. Finally the
energy ball was absorbed into the lamp, just as the police box faded
completely from view.
Rhonwen felt her head spinning dizzily. She opened and closed her eyes a few times to try and clear it, but it didn't seem to do a lot of good. A shadow fell over her, and she looked up to see Doctor Smith beaming down at her. "It's always disconcerting at first," he said. "It will get better in time." He extended a hand to help her to stand up.
Rhonwen took his hand, and got slowly to her feet. She felt a little unsteady, and realized that it was because the floor seemed to have a very slight motion, like the roll of a ship at sea. Rhonwen looked around the room in wonder. She was still not sure exactly where she was or what was happening to her. All she knew was that she had entered a police box in Doctor Smith's office.
"What is it?" she asked. "Some kind of trick door?"
"No," replied Doctor Smith with a smile. "It's a trans-dimensional gateway."
"I see," nodded Rhonwen, who didn't see at all. She imagined she must be in some hidden room behind the Doctor's office. There could be no other explanation. As for the police box appearing from nowhere, that had to be some trick done with mirrors. It was all quite rational. Except that she remembered Douglas Shelley's body bursting into flames, and knew that couldn't be so easily explained away. "What is this place?" she asked.
"This is the TARDIS," said Doctor Smith, sweeping his arms around the room for good measure.
"TARDIS?" repeated Rhonwen, none the wiser.
"It's short for Time And Relative Dimension In Space."
"And this is all inside the police box, is it?"
"Well, not exactly. The interior exists in a different dimension from the outer plasmic shell. As long as the doors line up, you can pass from one to the other easily enough."
Doctor Smith spoke casually, as if such an explanation was a commonplace fact for him. Rhonwen couldn't decide whether he was mad or telling the truth. Everything seemed so real, she was almost prepared to believe him. Perhaps she was the mad one.
Suddenly a vicious buzzing sound filled the room. It was just like the sound of the energy sphere that had killed Douglas in Doctor Smith's office. Rhonwen looked around in trepidation. On one wall, there was a blank rectangular panel. The sound seemed to be coming from behind that.
Doctor Smith ran to the control console, and pressed a button. The wall panel split in two, and the halves began to slide apart. Rhonwen realized that they were shutters covering a sort of screen. Through the widening chink between the shutters, they could see a glowing shimmering light, accompanied by a terrible crackling sound, that grew in intensity.
Quickly, Doctor Smith pressed the button again, and the shutters slid closed over the screen. "Oh dear," he said. "It entered through the scanner lens. It must have been programmed with my bio scan. That's the only way it could get past the ship's defences, by convincing her it was me."
There was a loud bang, and a shower of sparks burst from the control console near the Doctor's hand. He jumped back in surprise and then ran to examine one of the television monitors. "It's inside the operating system," he announced. "Rewriting the command subroutines."
He tried to press buttons in hurried succession, but more sparks were showered from the console. "It's no good. It's trying to take the ship out of my control. I knew I should never have gone over to these digital systems." He gave the console an angry thump, but only succeeded in causing another minor explosion.
"What do you mean," asked Rhonwen, "ship?"
Doctor Smith had no time to explain. He suddenly ran towards Rhonwen, and taking her by the arm, bundled her towards another door on the far side of the room. "There's only one thing for it," he declared. "I have to try and isolate it, and expel it while there's still time."
He pushed Rhonwen through the door, and she found herself standing in a long corridor. It seemed to stretch off in both directions for as far as the eye could see, vanishing to a point in the distance. The walls were covered in the now familiar pattern of circular indentations, and numerous doors led off the corridor at regular intervals along its length.
Doctor Smith dropped to his knees just beyond the door, and tried to get his fingers around the edge of one of the circular depressions nearest the floor. At the same time, the deep sonorous booming of a bell started to echo along the corridor from somewhere very far away.
In apparent response to this, Doctor Smith muttered, "I know, I know." But otherwise he ignored it, going on with his work. He succeeded in pulling open the cover of the roundel, and discarded it on the floor. Within, the circle was filled with some complex looking mechanisms. The Doctor adjusted some of these, and then started to wrench a huge metal lever. It was stiff and didn't seem to want to budge, and he had to apply the very greatest effort to it.
Finally, the lever slammed into place. There was a huge jolt and the whole corridor shook. Rhonwen was thrown back against the wall.
Doctor Smith got to his feet, and dusted off his hands in evident satisfaction.
"What did you do?" asked Rhonwen.
"I used the architectural configurator to jettison the console room. Hopefully the intruder was jettisoned with it."
"Jettisoned?" Rhonwen said. "You mean if I open the door, the room won't be there any more?"
Doctor Smith nodded. Rhonwen wasn't sure what to think. There was no rational explanation for any of it. If she could believe everything else, she might as well believe that a room had vanished. There was an easy way to find out. She reached for the door and pulled it open. Behind it, there was just a wall, marked with the usual circular shapes.
Doctor Smith crouched down to fit the roundel cover back in place.
Rhonwen looked along the corridor both ways. The pealing of the distant bell had stopped. "Doctor Smith," she began.
There was no response. He went on with his work.
"Doctor Smith," Rhonwen repeated, more loudly.
After a moment or two, he looked up at her. "I'm sorry," he said, "you were talking to me, weren't you?"
Rhonwen was hit by a sudden thought that Smith might not be his real name. She recalled the number of times he had failed to respond to it. "Are you Doctor Smith?" she asked.
He got to his feet. "Only when it suits me," he replied.
"Then who are you?"
He took a deep breath. "I am the Doctor," he announced. "Or at least, part of him. If everything goes according to plan, I may soon be whole. Come on." He started to march purposefully along the corridor.
Rhonwen hurried to catch him up. "Where are you going?" she demanded.
"I need to find one of the other control rooms," the Doctor explained. "I have to find out how much damage has been done. And besides, we're flying blind. The old girl's been in mothballs for so long, she might need a guiding hand for the first few voyages."
"Voyages?" repeated Rhonwen. "Earlier, you said ship. What did you mean?"
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "This is a ship," he said. "Not in the conventional sense, of course. The TARDIS is capable of free movement through all time and space."
"A time machine?" Rhonwen queried incredulously.
"Yes," the Doctor said.
Rhonwen looked along the corridor. There was still no sign of the end up ahead. "Just how big is it inside here?" she asked.
The Doctor sighed. "I've never really had a chance to explore it all," he said.
Rhonwen began to wonder whether he knew where he was going. "Are there any other control rooms?" she asked.
"Oh, there were several at one time," said the Doctor. "But they won't necessarily be where I left them. That's the trouble with an architectural configuration system. I sometimes think the TARDIS has a mind of her own."
He continued to stride along the corridor, and Rhonwen endeavoured to
keep up with him.
The President waited as the Chancellery Guards cleared the Panopticon. She looked away in distaste while a gang of Shobogans was expelled with gentle force. It didn't pay to antagonize them. Since the revolution, they weren't so afraid of Time Lord authority. In the past, Shobogans wouldn't have been allowed in the Panopticon at all, except late at night to clean it before some important function. The President told herself that she had to lose some of her class prejudice, if she was to honestly represent the people who had elected her.
Castellan Rodan emerged from the Panopticon, arrayed in the brown and grey robes of her office. She was in her second body, and appeared to be a dignified middle aged woman with greying hair, although in reality she was young for a Time Lord, less than four hundred years old. She had always worked in security. In her younger days she had been greatly involved in the defeat of the Sontaran invasion, and she had been one of the first Time Lords to support the revolution, which was one reason she had been granted such high office at an early age.
"The Panopticon is ready, Madam President," she said. She then signalled to the members of the Chancellery Guard, to take up positions guarding the entrance to the Panopticon. No one was to be allowed in.
The President turned to Chancellor Cabulas, and held out her hand. Into it he reverently placed the Rod of Rassilon, an ebonite staff with a globe at one end, that was the key to the Eye of Harmony. The President already wore the golden Sash of Rassilon about her neck - it was a ceremonial artifact, the badge of the presidential office. It had the power to protect her from the immense forces of the Eye. Not that she had any plans to release the Eye from its containment.
The President entered the Panopticon, accompanied by Cabulas and Rodan, and a group of technicians with various monitoring instruments. At a nodded command from the Chancellor, they started to set up these devices around the presidential dais.
The President herself stepped up onto the dais. She located the slot in the platform, and inserted the end of the Rod into it. A large rectangular panel opened in the floor of the dais, and with a rumbling sound a tall black monolith rose up from within. When it reached its full height, it stood taller than any of them. Heavy cables connected it to the containment field generators buried deeper still.
Stepping back from the Eye of Harmony, the President felt a tiny shudder of fear run through her. Close proximity to such immense power always disconcerted her, even when it was sealed within its containment vessel and she was protected by wearing the Sash.
She turned to Chancellor Cabulas and the senior technicians. "Is this really necessary, your Excellency?" she asked. "Surely we can monitor the Eye well enough from the control room?"
Cabulas shook his head. "As you saw before, Madam," he explained, "the calibration of the instruments there gave rise to inaccurate data. The monitor equipment here is being especially tuned to the energy levels of the Eye itself. It will provide more viable information."
"But surely it is the sun that is changing, not the Eye."
"That is true, my Lady, but our technicians predict that the continuing imbalance of the Gallifreyan system may result in massive energy fluctuations in the Eye. Under normal circumstances, its power is held in check by the mass of the system, an eternal balance. That was Rassilon's genius. If the system's mass has altered, the Eye may react to that. We need to be able to monitor its fluctuations as early as possible, so that we can strengthen the containment field as necessary."
"And will that continue to keep the Eye under control?" asked the President.
"I regret, Madam President, I cannot say," replied Cabulas. "We can only hope that this measure serves to buy us some time, during which we might be able to find a solution. Or to locate someone who might find it for us."
"How is your search for such a person progressing?"
"I am afraid there is as yet nothing to report," said Cabulas. "There are many technicians and engineers who can repair TARDISes and other temporal engineering projects, but they are simply working from the original designs. Even the various modifications and upgrades to TARDISes were derived from the standard design. Interpolative development appears to be our speciality now, not original thought. And it is an original thinker we need to deal with this problem."
The President stepped down from the dais. She shook her head in disbelief. The oldest civilization was now unable to understand its own technology on any level but the most basic. But perhaps that was not so strange. She herself was a jurist. She knew and utilized the Rassilonic Law, and she had often built upon its foundation to formulate new statutes. Yet she did not really understand the history of the Law, the reasons why Rassilon had drawn up the legislation at the time.
"Well then," she said, with sudden inspiration, "let us go to the source. Who were the designers of the prototype TARDIS? Those with the originality of thought, the masters of such creative engineering. It was only a few hundred or so years ago. Some of them may still be alive. It is their sort of talent that must be applied now."
"I know, Madam," said Cabulas, "and I have tried to trace them. I have scoured the Archives for many hours, and I have Co-ordinator Engin working still. But their names do not seem to be recorded anywhere. It is possible that the records were lost. As you know, some damage was done to the Archive section during the Sontaran invasion, and again in the fighting during the revolution. We have tried to replace what was lost, but it is possible that gaps persist in our knowledge."
The President said, "We must find them, your Excellency, we must. They
may be our only hope."
They made their way along the seemingly interminable corridor. The Doctor, as he called himself, strode at great speed, without becoming in the slightest way exhausted. Rhonwen found herself getting out of breath in no time at all, and had to fall back from him to rest for a moment. At that point she became curious about her surroundings, and decided to look behind the nearest door.
She reached out and pulled it open. The room beyond was a vast empty space, at least the size of a cathedral. It was so large in fact that it couldn't possibly fit between the adjoining rooms which the doors either side suggested must exist. Rhonwen supposed that those doors must open onto blank walls, like the one that had originally led to the console room.
The cavernous interior of this room stretched so far into the distance that she couldn't see the wall on the far side. However, in what she judged to be the centre of the arena, stood a statue of a classical goddess. She was draped in a long robe, and her arms had been severed below the shoulders. As Rhonwen took a step into the room, a spotlight came on from nowhere and illuminated the sculpture. It was clearly the famous Venus de Milo, although how it had got here was beyond her imagination.
Rhonwen heard a voice at her shoulder. "We haven't got time for artistic appreciation," said the Doctor, "as enjoyable as it is." He cast a quick glance at the statue. "I'd forgotten I still had this," he added. "I always meant to take it back to the Louvre, but I never found the time."
He took Rhonwen gently by the arm, and led her back into the corridor. Behind them the spotlight went out. The Doctor closed the door, and then set off at breakneck speed once more. Rhonwen hurried to keep up.
They passed many more doors, before eventually the walls of the corridor changed from gleaming white with circular decorations to plain red brick. They went down two metal staircases in quick succession, and then up three more, before entering what appeared to be a conservatory. The walls looked like they were made of glass, but Rhonwen couldn't see them very well because the room was packed out with all manner of exotic plants. They grew so densely that it was like walking through a jungle.
They came to a door at the far end of the conservatory, and went through into another white corridor. This was different from the first, for there were no doors leading off. Instead, at fairly regular points along its length, the corridor opened out into a wider space, before the walls closed in to become a corridor once more.
The first of these open areas was empty, except for a pennyfarthing bicycle leaning against the far wall. The second was laid out as a croquet lawn, complete with balls and hoops. Rhonwen could swear that they were walking across real grass.
At last they came to a corridor intersection. The Doctor paused for a long moment, and looked thoughtfully along the side corridor. Rhonwen followed his gaze, and saw that the passage was poorly lit, with merely a very subdued glimmer showing the vague outline of its walls. It was only then that she realized there weren't any lights in the TARDIS, no bulbs or strip lamps. The internal illumination seemed to come from the very air.
Coming to a decision, the Doctor started to walk along the dark corridor.
"Where does this lead?" Rhonwen asked as she followed him.
"I'm not sure," the Doctor replied. "It's been some centuries since I was in this part of the ship."
In the half light, Rhonwen could just make out a few pieces of antique furniture in the corridor, which she was able to avoid tripping over. Eventually the Doctor stopped beside a Chesterfield settee. Before him was a pair of double doors, marked with the familiar roundels.
The Doctor took a deep breath, and with some trepidation pushed open the doors. They made their way through, into a small alcove. The light was quite poor in here also, but Rhonwen could make out an antique globe to one side, and some bizarre looking pieces of machinery to the other. Ahead the alcove opened up into a larger room.
They made their way forward. The room was cold, and Rhonwen found herself shivering slightly. It was also deathly quiet, and her footsteps echoed loudly and clearly about the room. She couldn't make out the walls properly, but from the sound of the echoes the chamber must have been vast.
The Doctor went towards a structure in the centre of the room. To Rhonwen, it was just a vague shadow until she put a shape to it. Then she realized that it was the same as the control console she had seen when she first entered the TARDIS.
The Doctor pressed a few controls, and a sound started to fade up from all around the room. It was a deep hum of brooding power, that seemed to fill the room, creating an effect of almost hypnotic calm in Rhonwen. At the same time, the lights came up and the room was suffused with a pleasant warmth.
Rhonwen had her first look at the new room. It was obviously a control room, but it was not the same as the one she had first entered. For a start, it was at least three times as large. Only some of the walls bore the circular indentations. Others were covered in banks of computers, complete with whirling spools of magnetic tape, and still others with various cupboards. Several alcoves opened off the main room, which contained different pieces of scientific equipment and machinery. There were no pillars at the corners, but instead there were two freestanding rectangular columns to one side, which contained a number of flashing lights. Standing between these were three clear plastic screens, which shrouded one of the walls from the rest of the room. This wall also had a computer bank, and various indicator lights flashed on it. The scanner was not a shuttered panel on the wall, but a monitor rather like a television set, that depended from the ceiling on a metal bracket.
The most obvious difference was the control panel. It was still hexagonal, but it was shaped slightly differently from the other one. The strange crystal instruments inside the perspex column were different. The controls themselves were much more old fashioned. All the little buttons and television screens were replaced here with large knobs and levers and switches. There were dials and sliding indicators to relay information. If the other console contained transistors, Rhonwen imagined that this one most definitely utilized blown glass valves.
Around the room were scattered pieces of antique furniture, such as an ormolu clock, a lectern in the shape of an eagle, and a number of different chairs.
The Doctor was fussing around the control panel, reading information off several of the dials. "The old analogue control room," he said. "The intruder won't have been able to affect the systems in here. Progress isn't necessarily a good thing, you know."
"Will these controls work the same as the others?" Rhonwen asked.
"Probably," said the Doctor. "It might take a while for them all to settle down. It's been a few centuries since they were last used."
Rhonwen looked at the far end of the room, where there stood a pair of double doors, like those through which she had entered the TARDIS. "Where do these doors lead?" she asked.
The Doctor looked up. "Outside," he said. "Where else would they lead?"
"Out through the police box?" queried Rhonwen.
"But this isn't the same room where we came in. We must be miles away. How can we go out through the same door?"
"I told you," said the Doctor. "It's a trans-dimensional gateway. I just have to line these doors up with the door of the plasmic shell."
Rhonwen closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, she was still in the control room with the Doctor. She knew she wasn't dreaming or imagining it all. She just decided to accept it. "In that case," she began, "can we go out now?"
"No, of course not," the Doctor replied sternly. "We're still in flight."
"Flight? To where?"
The Doctor smiled apologetically. "I don't know," he said. "The co-ordinates have been pre-set. I must have done it some time ago. That's why I can't remember."
Even as he spoke, a sound permeated the control room, the same protesting screech that had presaged the police box's first appearance. The Doctor turned his attention to the control panel.
"Ah, we're starting to land now," he announced. "I'm sorry about the noise. We're closer to the engines here. I never was able to sound proof this room properly." He turned his attention back to the controls. "I wonder where this is," he said.
He pushed home a huge lever. With a final clunk, the ship came to rest.
The TARDIS stood in one corner of a dingy cellar. The walls were made of
bare stone, and a crumbling old staircase led up to a door. The only
illumination came from a couple of windows set just beneath the ceiling, at
what must have been ground level. They were covered over with years of dust
and grime, and only the barest glimmer of light penetrated the cellar.
Cho Je did not stir from his chair. He did not need to. Even from the privacy of his sanctum, he could see the scene in the cellar. He felt joyful that the Doctor had made it this far. It was part of a chain of events that had been set in motion years ago. Cho Je could still remember the Doctor's last visit with absolute clarity.
Now, the next stage of the plan was coming to fruition. Again the
Doctor's TARDIS stood in the cellar of the meditation centre. This time it
carried a new Doctor. Not even a complete Doctor, but one who was just a
reflexion of what the future might be - if all went according to plan.
Doctor Smith - no, Rhonwen reminded herself, the Doctor - stood hunched over the central control panel. The ship was no longer in motion. The floor was as steady as a rock. But the Doctor was still peering intently at the instruments and dials. In the centre of the glass column, the array of crystals was slowly rotating.
The Doctor was making little satisfied grunts. He flipped a switch, and turned to look up at the monitor screen. It showed the rather limited scene outside, just some grimy dank stone walls. "Very promising," the Doctor said. He turned his attention back to the control panel. "Well, atmosphere breatheable, gravity Earth standard, no radiation."
"Where are we?" Rhonwen asked.
The Doctor turned his attention to the co-ordinate plotter. "Somewhere in England, I think," he replied.
Well, thought Rhonwen, a room in the London School of Economics is somewhere in England. The trouble was, she didn't think this was all a big deception. She really believed that she had just travelled through time and space.
"Yes," the Doctor went on, "we're out in the country, somewhere in Mummerset. The nearest town is about ten miles away."
"Well, what are we doing here?" Rhonwen asked.
"Mummerset," the Doctor repeated to himself. "That rings a bell. I'm sure it will come back to me." He tapped impatiently at a dial whose pointer had grown stiff with age. "The year is 1993," he announced.
"Doctor," Rhonwen insisted. "What are we doing here?"
The Doctor looked up at her, seemingly puzzled for a moment. Then, he spoke to her in an unexpectedly apologetic tone. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to drag you into all this. I'm very glad you were there to help me. I might not have escaped otherwise. As soon as it's all over, I'll take you back."
Rhonwen nodded, and managed a brave smile. "It's all right," she replied.
"Well," said the Doctor with renewed briskness, "I'd better get on with it. You can stay here, if you like. It shouldn't take too long."
"If it's all the same, Doctor, I'd rather like to come along with you." If it was all some colossal trick, Rhonwen wanted to make sure she got as far away from here as possible. But more importantly, she remembered what had happened to Douglas Shelley and thought she would probably be safer with the Doctor.
"All right." The Doctor pressed a switch, and the double doors swung open with an electrical buzz. Without waiting for Rhonwen, the Doctor strode straight out.
Rhonwen followed rather more cautiously. She crossed the black void beyond the doors, and found herself stepping out through the door of the police box. After this, she'd really know whether it was all true or not. Sure enough, she emerged into a dark and damp cellar, the same place that had been displayed on the scanner screen.
"It's all right," said the Doctor. "There's no one about." He turned back to the door, and carefully locked it behind him.
Whilst he was busy with the complex mechanism, Rhonwen moved a little distance into the cellar. It was too dark to see clearly, but there didn't appear to be anything here save a few sticks of broken furniture. Suddenly, she felt something brush against her face, and jumped back with a start.
"What's the matter?" asked the Doctor.
Rhonwen took deep breaths to calm herself down. "It's just a cobweb," she said. She felt rather silly.
"Not giant sized, I hope?" the Doctor replied. "I wonder why I thought of that. Of course, it's all coming back to me now. I've been here before."
Rhonwen turned to look at him, but she couldn't see his face properly in the poor light.
Out of the blue, the Doctor said, "K'anpo."
"I beg your pardon," said Rhonwen.
"Or Cho Je," the Doctor went on. "That's why we're here. He'll have the answers."
Before Rhonwen could say anything further, there was a sound from somewhere above them. The door at the top of the stairs opened, and light started to stream into the cellar. Silhouetted in the doorway was a large, well built man. As Rhonwen's eyes adjusted to the influx of light, she saw that he was middle aged, with greying curls of hair. It was his face that most surprised her. It seemed to convey a sense of wonder, a feeling of absolute peace with himself and with the world. He was a man who had not a single dark thought in his head.
The man took a step or two down the stairs. "Hello, Doctor," he said. "The Abbot sent me to fetch you."
The Doctor smiled back at him. "Tommy," he replied. "It is nice to see you again. This is my friend, Rhonwen."
Tommy turned to Rhonwen. "Hello," he said. "Come with me, the Abbot is expecting you."
Tommy led them up the stairs and through the tranquil corridors of the building. Occasionally they passed people, who greeted them quietly and went on their way. But aside from that, there was hardly a sound. Only after a while did Rhonwen realize that there was a gentle murmuring sound floating on the very air, that only just stirred the edges of her consciousness. As she listened more carefully, she realized that it was the sound of a group of people chanting the same rhythmic formula over and over again.
"What is this place?" she asked the Doctor.
"A Buddhist meditation centre," he replied.
"Why not?" said the Doctor. "It was founded by the Abbot K'anpo Rinpoche about fifteen years ago. He studied in Tibet for a long time before he came here. People stay here when they want peace and quiet, or a chance to reflect. People who need to recuperate from some emotional trauma. They don't even have to be Buddhists. They can get much from the meditation."
"What's that they're chanting?"
"Om mane padme hum," said the Doctor. "It's a Buddhist prayer. The jewel in the lotus. It gives them something to concentrate on."
Tommy had shown them into what seemed the quietest corridor of the building. It terminated in a single door. Tommy pushed the door open, and ushered them inside. Then he withdrew, closing the door behind them.
They were left alone in the room, which was in semi darkness. Rhonwen looked at the Doctor, but she could not discern his face.
Then a voice spoke, from out of nowhere. "Greetings, Doctor. Greetings, Rhonwen Jones. It is kind of you to come and visit me."
Rhonwen strained her eyes, and suddenly she could discern the figure of a little man sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. He was dressed in the orange robes of a Buddhist monk.
"Who are you?" asked Rhonwen. "How do you know who we are?"
The Doctor took a couple of steps forward. "Cho Je," he said. "There is still much I do not understand. What has happened to me?"
"Patience, patience, my son," said Cho Je, holding up a hand to calm
him. "There is plenty of time for us to talk. Tommy is fetching us some
buttered tea. You have made a long journey. But the longest journey may be
about to start."
Down in the cellar, the lantern of the TARDIS started to glow and pulse
with light. Then, with a buzzing sound, tendrils of energy began to extrude
from the lamp. They joined together, wrapping around one another, and
merging to form a sphere. With a crackle of power, the sphere broke away
from the TARDIS, and moved deeper into the cellar, as if seeking to explore
its new environment. After swooping around a few times, it headed towards
the staircase and started to soar up towards the door.
Cho Je handed another dish of tea to the Doctor. "So you see," he said, "the Doctor realized that he wouldn't be able to fight the influence himself. That's why we created you."
The Doctor nodded. "That's why I feel so incomplete. You're saying that I'm a psycho-temporal projection of the Doctor's future self."
"Potential future self," Cho Je corrected him. "Unless you can now save your previous incarnation, you will never come to exist."
"But how do you know I'll be free of the alien influence?" the Doctor asked.
"We spent many days in meditation, your predecessor and I, gleaning and refining from his mind all that was the Doctor. From that we created you. You are more purely the Doctor than he is. If you succeed in your mission, the Doctor will be free forever."
"What is this alien influence?"
"We were unable to extract it through simple meditation. It has somehow become woven into the very fabric of the Doctor's consciousness. It is most definitely not an external force, but dwells within the Doctor's mind."
Cho Je paused for a long time, and took a sip of his buttered tea. Rhonwen looked down at her own dish, and hoped the monk would not notice if she didn't drink any of it. One sip had been enough for her. It tasted disgusting.
Cho Je went on, "We did not know whether you would ever be needed. The possibility remained that the Doctor would not be overwhelmed by this other consciousness, that he would be able to defeat it through his own mental discipline. Obviously, we couldn't have two Doctors roaming around the Universe at the same time, so we blocked your memory and sent you out of the Doctor's time stream. We hid you away in London at the turn of the century. Your teaching post was easy to arrange. The principal of the LSE was an old friend of mine."
"Now you have unblocked my memory," the Doctor said, "I suppose that means the worst has happened."
Cho Je nodded gravely. "The Doctor, your predecessor, has been lost to us. I felt the shift in his mind as the new consciousness took over. Now, Belphegor is in control."
"Belphegor?" the Doctor repeated.
"Does that name mean anything to you?" Cho Je asked.
The Doctor sunk deep into thought for some time. Finally, he shook his head, but he seemed uncertain. "I feel as if it should ring a bell, but I can't think why."
"There's no reason why you should know of him. Very few Time Lords do. Only the legends of our people contain a hint of the truth. When you get to Gallifrey, you must search for the sealed Archive records that pertain to Belphegor."
"Am I going to Gallifrey?" the Doctor asked.
"You must," replied Cho Je. "That is where the battle for your mind will be fought. That is where the Doctor is to be found. Or rather Belphegor."
The Doctor dropped back into his contemplative mood. Rhonwen looked between him and Cho Je. She couldn't follow a single word of the conversation. "Where's Gallifrey?" she asked.
The Doctor looked up in some surprise. The question seemed to throw him completely for a moment. Then he gathered his wits about him, and said, "Gallifrey is my home planet. It's twenty nine thousand light years in that direction." He pointed towards the ceiling, seemingly at random. "It orbits the star Kasterborus Gamma."
Rhonwen shook her head in wonder. "You mean you're not even human?" she said. She didn't know whether to believe him or not. The TARDIS had been more than enough to accept for one day.
"No, of course not," replied the Doctor. "Didn't I mention that?"
Rhonwen said nothing. She supposed she should have realized. She found she had no doubt that the Doctor was telling the truth.
"Have you not heard the summons?" asked Cho Je.
"The summons back to Gallifrey?" the Doctor said.
Cho Je nodded. "I expect your projected nature means that you are out of step with the Gallifreyan time stream. But I have heard it. So, I imagine, has every other Time Lord at large. There must be an emergency of immense proportions for the High Council to order the recall of everyone. Do you believe that could be a coincidence?"
"You mean the Doctor... Belphegor... has caused the emergency?"
"Yes," said Cho Je. "I sense his evil intent. You must defeat him."
The Doctor nodded, and got to his feet. "Very well," he said. "I will do what I can to defeat Belphegor. At the end of the day, it's my mind I'm fighting for."
Cho Je got to his feet. He went to a desk that stood against one wall, and opened a drawer. He removed a scrap of paper from within, and handed it to the Doctor. It appeared to be a complex mathematical formula composed of High Gallifreyan symbols.
"What's this?" the Doctor asked.
"It's some kind of mathematical formula," said Cho Je. "Your predecessor gave it to me, for you. I suppose its meaning will become clear when you get to Gallifrey."
The Doctor took a step towards the door. "I'll just have to take Rhonwen back home," he said, "then I'll be on my way to Gallifrey."
He suddenly broke off and looked around in some concern. He exchanged a glance with Cho Je. It was clear that the Abbot had sensed the same disturbance. The Doctor thought he could recognize the pattern. It was the mental energy that had attacked him back in London.
"It must have come here in the TARDIS," he said. "I thought I'd expelled it. It must have downloaded into one of the auxiliary systems before I could isolate the console room."
"There isn't time to talk further, Doctor," said Cho Je. "Good luck."
The Doctor nodded. He gestured for Rhonwen to join him.
The door burst open, and Tommy rushed into the room. "Forgive me, master," he began. "Something terrible is happening."
There was a scream from somewhere along the corridor. Then came the horribly familiar crackle of energy, and a shimmering ball of light appeared in the doorway behind Tommy. Rhonwen closed her eyes. She couldn't bear to see another person consumed by that terrible fire. And after Tommy, the sphere would attack the rest of them. This time there was no remote control to bring the TARDIS to their rescue.