The Belphegor Inheritance
Attack on the Citadel
The terrible whining sound cut off abruptly. The Doctor found that he was staring at the ceiling of the Council chamber. He could pick out the details quite clearly. There was no sign of the energy sphere.
He managed to struggle into a sitting position. He was surprised to discover he was unharmed. The councillors were starting to emerge from their hiding places, staring at him in amazement. The Doctor was as astonished as they were, but he didn't think he was worthy of such adulation.
An oddly blurred light caught his eye, and he suddenly realized that the councillors weren't staring at him at all. Turning his head, the Doctor saw that the President was bathed in a strange swirling glow, that seemed to melt and twist around her.
Within this effect, she slowly got to her feet, a blaze of colour and light. Astounded, the Doctor quite forgot to stand up himself.
The colours started to fade and the light dim, and after a moment the President was normal again. Only the golden Sash about her neck continued to behave strangely, throbbing with a strange internal glow.
Chancellor Cabulas moved towards her. "Are you all right, my Lady?" he asked in concern.
The President slowly nodded. "I believe so, your Excellency," she said quietly.
The Doctor heard a clatter of footsteps and turned his head. Rhonwen emerged from the transmat terminal into which he had pushed her, and dashed towards him. The Doctor got up from the floor, and smiled at her.
"Why aren't you dead?" Rhonwen asked. After a moment, she realized how dreadful that sounded. "I mean, I've very glad you're still alive, but I thought that thing was lethal."
The Doctor nodded. "I'm not really sure what happened," he said. He turned to look at the President again. "But I think I can hazard a guess," he added.
Chancellor Cabulas turned to regard him. "The Sash?" he queried.
"Yes, I think so," said the Doctor. "Madam President, how do you feel?"
The President turned eyes upon him that were filled with a new sense of vigour. "Strangely alive," she said. "Suffused with energy."
"The Sash of Rassilon acts as an energy shield," the Doctor explained. "We know it can protect its wearer from the forces of a black hole. Obviously it's capable of withstanding more than gravitational energies. I'm very grateful, Madam. You've saved my life."
"But what was that thing?" demanded Castellan Rodan. "Some kind of energy weapon?"
"Negative psionic energy," said the Doctor. "And aimed at me, I'm afraid."
"By whoever's responsible for Gallifrey's latest crisis." The Doctor
dusted off his hands. "Well, I think that's enough excitement for one day,"
The Doctor still lived. Belphegor felt anger boiling within him. The Doctor's persistent ability to cheat death was threatening everything.
Belphegor allowed the anger to consume him for a moment. Then he forced it to subside. He would not let the Doctor outwit him. He knew precisely what the Doctor's next move would be. In a manner of speaking, Belphegor had suggested it himself.
It would be perfectly simple to trap the Doctor. This time there would
be no failure. Pandak's plan of an armed rebellion might serve some purpose
after all. Tomorrow, when the insurrection got under way, there would be so
much confusion that the Doctor's demise might not even be noticed until it
was far too late.
The path up the mountainside was long and winding, but still very steep in places. He remembered thinking how difficult it must be for her. Her bones were old and frail. She was not as young as she had once been.
She stood and looked out of the window, looking at the town way down at the foot of the mountain. Her back was stooped, and she clutched the window sill for support.
He moved to stand beside her. She did not turn round to face him. They didn't need to see each other to know what they were thinking.
"It's not your fault," she said.
That didn't make him feel any better. He had lived with the guilt pent up inside him for nearly sixty years.
"You know I never intended to become a Time Lord," he said. "I wouldn't have married you if I had."
"You were already at Prydon Academy when I met you," she replied.
"Yes. The family made me attend. They wanted me to become a Time Lord. I resisted as best I could. I never paid attention to my studies. I failed twice. You know that."
"So why did you change your mind?" she asked. She already knew the answer. He had told her hundreds of times already. But she needed to hear it again.
"Because I had to complete my life's work," he explained. "My experiments were successful. I had the means of creating the ultimate time travel machine. Better than the capsules and jumpships they use now. And the only way I could proceed was to take the Rassilon Imprimature into my DNA structure. To become a Time Lord."
"Well, you got what you wanted," she said. "The High Council are funding your experiments."
He laughed. "They've given me an old type forty to tinker around with. It's practically falling apart. I'll have to rebuild it before I can upgrade it."
"How long will it take?"
"Who can say? It may be as long as fifty years before I perfect all my modifications. I have to go back to the Academy to undertake some post-graduate studies. I need to brush up on my technical skills."
"That will occupy most of your time, then," she said.
He wished she would turn round. He wanted so desperately to see her face. "I will always have time for you," he said. "I'm sorry."
"For marrying you."
"You don't have to be sorry," she said. "Think what you would have missed. Our life together. The children. If you could change the past, would you really give all that up?"
He shook his head, even though she couldn't see it. "No," he replied softly. "I wouldn't change any of it. I'm just concerned for you. I thought we would live out our last few years together. But instead, I have to watch you grow old and die. How will you feel, knowing I'm not going to age with you?"
"You're already old," she replied, and he could hear the smile in her voice.
He put his hand to his face and felt the lines, the wrinkles worn deeply by the ages. Yes, he was old. Most Time Lord candidates were a youthful 125 when they graduated from the Academy. He'd had to take the course three times before he passed. Fifty more years of his life. And even then, he'd only just scraped through, his mind on other things the whole time. The Gallifreyan ageing process started to set in at around 150, so when he did finally become a Time Lord he was already wizened by the passing years.
"There's a difference," he said. "I may be old, but I won't age any more. Not noticeably. And I won't die. I'll just go on for centuries until this form gives up the ghost, and then I'll regenerate."
"Whereas I've only got a few years left?" she replied.
He hadn't wanted to say it.
"It's all right," she went on. "I don't begrudge you your dream. I'll be happy with the short time we still have together."
Please turn around, he thought. I have to see your face. I can't go until I've seen you.
"There's talk of you joining the High Council," she said. "Is it likely?"
"Maybe," he replied. "Some of them think my genius ought to be recognized. Technological achievement is usually rewarded with a political appointment. It's a tradition that stems from the time of Rassilon. Cardinal Morbius said just the other day that I could well be destined for the supreme office."
"Of course, that won't be for many centuries. There are plenty of others in line before it would be my turn."
He broke off suddenly. It was all too easy to be taken in by such visions of the future. "I don't want any of that," he said earnestly. "I've never wanted that. I could never fit into Time Lord society."
He turned and walked away from her, to the other side of the house. He looked out through the window, up to the summit of the mountain above, silhouetted against the orange sky. "I've never wanted anything more than to live here. I should never have taken the genetic modification. I don't want to be a Time Lord."
"What about your time machine project?" she asked.
He stopped, his eyes fixed on the mountain top. He remembered the old hermit who used to sit under a tree there, who had taught him the secret of life. He knew he couldn't go and vegetate in the Capitol, spending his life among dusty archives and dustier people. That would be worse than death. But if he got onto the High Council, he might have a chance to change the Time Lords for the better. He didn't know which way to turn.
He went back to stand behind his wife. She was an ordinary mortal. He was a Time Lord. He didn't know whether he could cope with the grief that would dominate his life. Over the next few years, just passing moments in his life span, he would lose her, the children, maybe grandchildren and other descendants who would follow them - he would outlive them all, and still go on for centuries.
"Will you still remember me when I'm gone?" she asked. "Centuries from now?"
He placed his old arms around her frail body. "Of course I will," he murmured. He wanted so desperately for her to turn round. He had to see her face.
"Then I'm happy," she said.
The Doctor awoke with a start. For a moment, he didn't know where he was. Then gradually he took in the vague shapes of the room. It was a very small apartment that had been provided for him, replacing the one that had been damaged by the earthquake. Even for a guest of honour, there was no better accommodation to spare. The Capitol's housing capacity was stretched to the limit coping with the hundreds made homeless by the earthquake.
The Doctor settled back into the pillow. As a Time Lord, he didn't need to sleep very often. He could go for months on end without closing his eyes. Then he would go to bed for days at a time, and replenish himself. He had the ability to store up the beneficial effects of repose, and release them slowly into his body as they were needed.
There was another reason why he avoided regular sleep. He was afraid of dreams. He had seen too much evil and horror and suffering, and it came flooding back to him in his sleep. He was forced to relive the deaths of Katarina and Adric, and the thousands of others who had died for him or because of him. He saw again all the decisions he had ever made, and was tormented by the possibility that it might have been better if he'd taken the other option. It was morally right not to have destroyed the Dalek incubators. But how many had suffered as a result of his allowing the Daleks to live?
He didn't need to go through the horrors again in his sleep. And now he had suffered a new dream, one he had never had before. Somehow it was more terrifying than the other nightmares. It was simply a precise re-creation of a scene which he had forgotten.
He had not kept his promise. He had forgotten his wife. He had to concentrate intensely to even remember that he had had a wife at all. So, after more than seven hundred years, it was disconcerting to have such a vivid memory of her.
The most frightening aspect of the dream was his lack of control over
it. He had been simply forced to watch the events unfold. He could not get
her to turn around. He had not seen her face, and he had so desperately
needed to. For, to his shame, the Doctor could not remember what his wife
had looked like. He felt he had betrayed her.
Rhonwen regarded the dress held before her. It was made of silk, in a discreet pastel shade of purple. The skirt was very long: it would reach to the floor. The sleeves were padded and the collar and cuffs were trimmed with lace and gold and silver thread. It was rather different from the clothes she was used to wearing.
She glanced down at her own miniskirt, mud stained and tattered at the hem. Yesterday's earthquake had left its mark upon her. Last night, Castellan Rodan had promised to find her some replacement garments, and this morning's visit from Commander Stalred was the result.
Rhonwen looked up coolly at Stalred, who held the dress for her perusal. "Is it fashionable?" she asked.
"I believe so," Stalred replied. "Quite a popular style in fact."
"You haven't got anything a bit shorter?"
Stalred raised an eyebrow, and couldn't help glancing at the scandalously short skirt Rhonwen was wearing. "I'm afraid not," he said.
"Well," said Rhonwen with a sigh, "I suppose it will have to do." She reached out, and took the dress from him. She held it up against herself. "At least it looks like it might be the right size."
"It is made from morpho-form material," Stalred told her. "It will shape itself to fit your body."
Rhonwen laid the dress upon her bed. It was actually quite an attractive design, and she thought it might look good upon her. She was especially keen to see whether the material would behave as Stalred had promised. And she supposed that adopting the local customs was the right thing to do.
She turned back to Stalred, and took in again his plumed helmet and gleaming breast plate. "You're quite important here, aren't you?" she asked.
Stalred drew himself proudly up to his full height, and announced, "I am the Commander of the Chancellery Guard."
"Then why are you working as a couturier's assistant?"
Instantly Stalred was deflated once more. He said, "The Castellan instructed me to bring you new clothes. I think it was the only assignment she would trust me with." He spoke with bitterness, and a tinge of regret.
Rhonwen smiled sympathetically. "Have you done something to upset her?" she asked.
"The energy sphere that attacked the President last night. I failed in my duty. I did not defend the President."
"But she wasn't hurt," Rhonwen protested.
"That makes no difference," Stalred replied. "It was only the Sash of Rassilon that protected her, and that by pure chance. It could so easily have been a tragedy."
"You were on the scene as soon as it happened. No one could say you weren't doing your duty. I don't see what else you could have done. I've seen those energy balls at work, and they're unstoppable. If anyone gets in their way..." She tailed off, remembering Douglas Shelley. She still shuddered to think about his death.
She looked down at the dress on the bed. "I'd like to get changed now," she said, "if you wouldn't mind leaving."
"Yes, of course," replied Stalred, a little embarrassed. With a polite
nod, he turned to the door, and beat a hasty retreat.
The time had come. With a sense of great elation, Pandak could feel the very milliseconds ticking away. Everything had been meticulously planned and co-ordinated. Fifty years of waiting were over.
His loyal followers would now be in position. Pandak reached for his
communicator. "Attention all units," he began.
Rhonwen waited as the Doctor emerged from his new apartment. Unlike the square where they were billeted before, these new rooms were situated on a narrow side street.
"Well, what do you think?" asked Rhonwen, indicating the long flowing skirt of her new dress. She even performed a twirl for good measure.
The Doctor only gave her a cursory glance. "Very nice," he muttered. "It won't make the natives so restless."
He started to stride off along the street. Rhonwen tried to move after him, stumbled, and tripped on the hem of her dress. She sighed, and lifted up her skirts, something of a new experience for her. Then she started to hurry after the Doctor.
When she finally caught him up, he was waiting outside a door. "Where are we going?" Rhonwen asked breathlessly.
"Archive section," replied the Doctor.
There was a hum of power and the door slid open, to reveal the interior of a lift within. The Doctor strode inside, and Rhonwen followed. The door slid shut and the lift rose at a phenomenal rate. Rhonwen knew that because the floor indicator whizzed through over fifty floors in a matter of seconds. And yet she didn't feel any forces bearing down on her. The lift came to a dead stop, and again she experienced no ill effects. She thought she ought to be flattened against the ceiling.
The door opened, and they emerged into the quietest room Rhonwen had ever encountered. It was vast, and filled with storage racks on which rested row upon row of small metal canisters. She couldn't see where the shelves ended - the room might have been infinite.
The Doctor led the way through the shelves and into a brightly lit area in the midst of them. This was filled with a number of computer panels, covered in push buttons and flashing lights. Information streamed across display screens. Sitting hunched over one of the panels was the stooped figure of an old man.
He looked up at their approach, and gazed shrewdly at the Doctor, an alert intelligence blazing in his eyes.
"Hello, Engin," the Doctor said.
After staring at him for a moment or two, the old man smiled with thin, colourless lips. "Doctor," he replied, a little uncertainly. "Forgive me, for a moment I didn't recognize you. Well, you've regenerated of course, but there seemed to be something odd about your telepathic signature." He shook his head resignedly. "I'm getting old, that's what it is."
The Doctor smiled in return. He knew that his own projected nature was the cause of Engin's confusion. He was not the whole Doctor, so there were inevitably gaps in his telepathic signature. He said, "You haven't changed at all, Engin."
The old man nodded proudly. "A little bit slower and more bent perhaps," he replied. "But still the same regeneration for the last five hundred years - and that's despite invasions, revolutions and now earthquakes. Now then, what can I do for you?"
"I require a great deal of information, I'm afraid," the Doctor said. "I need everything you have on Omega and his solar engineering, the Hand of Omega, the early experiments of Rassilon, everything of that sort."
"Well, the information is extensive," said Engin, "although as you may remember much of it is written in a pseudo-mythological form, and thus rather cryptically worded. It may not tell you very much."
"It's somewhere to start."
Engin pressed a button on his control panel. "I shall assign my assistant to help you," he said. "He's so much faster than me, and he has a much better memory. I'm starting to become a bit forgetful in my old age. As a matter of fact, it's an old friend of yours."
The Doctor looked around in some surprise. He wasn't aware that he had too many friends left on Gallifrey.
A metallic shape suddenly appeared from deep within the rows of shelves. It came towards the illuminated control panels. Rhonwen's eyes widened in amazement as she perceived that it was roughly in the shape of a dog.
The creation stopped in front of the Doctor, and tilted its head up to look at him. A sort of red screen glowed where its eyes would have been. "Master," it said, in a clipped, high pitched voice.
The Doctor's face broke into a huge grin, not of amusement but of genuine pleasure. Rhonwen was astonished when he squatted down, and patted the dog-like contrivance on the head. "K9," he said. "I never thought to see you again. I suppose I should have looked you up - I have been back on Gallifrey a few times since we parted. But you know how it is. Always one crisis or other to sort out."
"Apology unnecessary, master," K9 replied, wagging his metal tail. It seemed he was just as pleased to see the Doctor.
"Well, how have you been?" the Doctor asked. "Functioning all right?"
"Affirmative, master. Wear of operation has necessitated the replacement of 2,348 components, fourteen repairs to major systems, and three complete overhauls."
"Not bad for two hundred and fifty years," the Doctor replied. "What have you been doing all this time?"
"For seventy three years," said K9, "I lived with Mistress Leela and Commander Andred, whilst assisting in the Archive section. Since the mistress's death, I have been here permanently. Absorbing data, master. The Matrix and the Gallifreyan Archives constitute the most extensive data storage system in the Galaxy."
"Well, you must have had a whale of a time." The Doctor stood up, and indicated his companion. "This is my friend, Rhonwen. Say hello, K9."
"Mistress," responded K9.
"Hello," said Rhonwen bemusedly. She turned to the Doctor. "Is it a robot dog?" she asked.
"Negative, mistress," K9 stated. "I am a mobile, self powered artificial intelligence."
"I see," said Rhonwen, who didn't understand a word of it.
"Right," the Doctor said, rubbing his hands, "I've got a lot of work for
The Citadel was isolated from the rest of the Capitol by a high wall. There were only two entrances - the main gate through which the thoroughfare led to the doors of the Council chamber, and a small passage that led through a long stone archway at the rear of the Citadel. This was a service entrance, giving access to a yard at the back of the Citadel kitchens.
The service passage was considered unimportant, and Commander Stalred had only seen fit to post two inexperienced guards there. Both men were bored with their detail. They could see little point in guarding the kitchens. It was not as if the Citadel could be in any danger.
A sudden burst of staser fire lit the passageway. The two guards crumpled to the ground. There was a flurry of movement, and four men detached themselves from the shadows under the arch. They wore the robes of technicians and administrators.
They proceeded to where the guards had fallen. Quickly they grabbed the bodies, and dragged them back beneath the archway, stuffing them into a shadowy alcove. That would serve to hide them long enough. By not guarding the rear of the Citadel adequately, Stalred had made a costly mistake.
The four attackers could not proceed further into the Citadel without coming up against tighter defences. But there was no need. They knew precisely what to do. Pandak had briefed them thoroughly.
They arranged themselves into their firing positions, hidden in the
shadows behind supporting pillars of the arch. All they had to do now was
The Doctor sat at a computer panel, absorbed in the mass of information that scrolled across the screen at a phenomenal rate. He didn't seem to have any difficulty taking it all in.
Beside the Doctor's chair, K9 had plugged himself into the computer using a probe that extended between his eyes. A ribbon of paper chattered out of K9's mouth, looking for all the world like the panting tongue of a real dog. Every so often, the Doctor reached down and tore off the strip from K9's printer, read the information displayed upon it, and threw it to the floor.
Rhonwen watched them in some dismay. Occasionally the Doctor would read something out, or Engin would come over and recite some piece of information he knew. Rhonwen couldn't understand a word of it. She was getting bored.
She looked around, but there wasn't much of interest to see. If it had been a conventional library, she might have browsed through some books. But she didn't even know how to read one of the metal canisters.
She came to a decision. "I think I'll go for a walk," she announced. "After all, I might not get another chance to see an alien planet."
The Doctor did not look up from the computer screen. "All right," he replied, "but be careful."
"Why?" asked Rhonwen. "What's going to happen?"
"Nothing, I hope," said the Doctor. "But whoever's trying to kill me may try again. There could be another attack by that energy sphere. As if I didn't have enough to worry about."
Rhonwen nodded. She didn't fancy bumping into the sphere again. She was about to say something further, when she realized the Doctor had already dismissed her from his mind, turning his attention back to the computer. Rhonwen turned, and made her way back towards the lift.
The Doctor soon forgot all about her. He was engrossed in the files on the early history of the Time Lords. He looked up suddenly. "There's something missing, isn't there?" he asked of no one in particular.
"Master?" queried K9.
Engin hobbled over to the Doctor's computer and took the next seat. "Whatever do you mean, Doctor?"
"Well, one legend tells us that Omega created the power of the Time Lords by blowing up a star. And another tells us that the foundations of our society were laid when Rassilon captured a black hole within the Eye of Harmony. They can't both be true."
Engin frowned. "There are a number of theories to account for the discrepancy," he said. "They have been accorded varying degrees of credulity over the centuries."
"What's the current theory?" the Doctor asked.
"Well, it is thought by some that Omega's achievement created an initial source of power. Enough for the time travel experiments to be perfected."
The Doctor nodded. "The Hand of Omega would be able to convert the supernova forces into a stockpile of temporal energy."
"Yes," said Engin. "That would have fuelled small time travel capsules and ships, and also provided the means for the Time Scoop. But this source of temporal energy would be finite."
"So, once the power source had been lost, another needed to be found?"
"Exactly. And that was Rassilon's achievement."
"The Eye of Harmony is a stable and infinite source of energy," said the Doctor. "It could have powered the old jumpships indefinitely."
"It also provides the energy for the genetic conversion that makes us Time Lords," Engin added. "The Rassilon Imprimature is encoded into our DNA structure. We thus acquire the power of bodily regeneration, and the ability to resist the time winds."
The Doctor slumped onto the computer panel, supporting his chin with his hand. "It still doesn't add up," he muttered. "Omega's achievement wasn't lasting, and yet it's his name we remember. All that was left of Rassilon was a shadowy name in the histories, and a few artifacts."
"And the Eye of Harmony," said Engin.
"No, we took the power for granted, but we didn't know where it came from. It was less than three hundred years ago that we even discovered the Eye was physically located beneath the Panopticon."
Engin nodded, remembering the incident well. "Since then, we have done a lot of historical research into the true Rassilon. We know more than we did. But much remains a mystery."
"Why?" asked the Doctor rhetorically. He got to his feet, stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, and started to pace up and down. "Rassilon deliberately suppressed a lot of the history of the time when he came to power. We don't know what information was contained in the Black Scrolls. He allowed his own name to slip into the murky depths of legend, and Omega's less significant contribution took on greater prominence. Why?"
"Perhaps there was much that Rassilon felt he needed to hide," suggested Engin. "The Death Zone and the Time Scoop and so forth."
"Yes," said the Doctor. He felt something twisted around his fingers, and slowly withdrew his hand from his jacket pocket. He held the strip of paper that Cho Je had given him. The Doctor stared at the mathematical formula. A message from his previous self.
Struck by a sudden inspiration, he showed the paper to Engin. "I don't suppose this means anything to you?"
The old archivist blinked. "It's the address of a panatropic register in the Matrix," he said.
"Are you sure?" asked the Doctor, surprised.
"Of course. I ought to know the Matrix by now."
"Can you call it up?"
Engin turned his attention to the computer panel, and activated a few controls. Watching the computer screen, he frowned, and tried another combination of switches. "It isn't a data record," he said.
The Doctor approached him, and looked over his shoulder. The screen showed a strange undulating pattern of criss cross lines, a torus shape that appeared to turn itself continually inside out. "What is it?" the Doctor asked.
"Some kind of mindscape," Engin replied. "A self perpetuating, self contained domain of panatropic data."
"An illusory world created inside Matrix infospace?"
"Yes, similar to that established by the Master and Chancellor Goth. I'm afraid we can't read it from outside."
"Well," said the Doctor, "there's only one answer. The same as before. I'll have to go in there."
"It could be immensely dangerous, Doctor," Engin said. "You almost died last time."
"I don't see that I have a choice," the Doctor replied. "That mindscape is a message from my previous self. I have to know what it says."
He moved towards the couch at the far end of the Matrix monitoring computer. Here, dying Time Lords were placed so that their brains could be scanned, and the sum total of their knowledge and experience recorded for posterity in the Matrix.
The Doctor lay upon the couch, and Engin attached the neural connectors to his forehead. The Doctor tried to prepare his mind for the shock of union with the Matrix. "You'd better monitor my artron energy levels constantly," he said. "If there's any sign of danger, try to extract me."
"I'll do my best, Doctor," replied Engin. He went back to the computer controls.
The Doctor closed his eyes and regulated his breathing. Engin pressed
the controls, and the Doctor's body convulsed on the couch. His regular
heart stopped. His standby circulatory system kicked in. Then his mind was
awash with neural energy and falling like a stone into the depths of the
The President absent mindedly twisted the Rod of Rassilon in her hands. She waited impatiently as Chancellor Cabulas recounted the latest news of the disaster. There had been another earthquake in the Southern hemisphere, its epicentre in the Qualzak mountains. Fortunately, it was a remote region and there were few casualties.
"And just what are we doing about it?" Cardinal Zelara asked.
The meeting was informal, the councillors standing in a high observation gallery of the Citadel. The Council chamber below them still awaited the arrival of a replacement conference table.
Through the gallery windows, they could look out across the Capitol. The effects of yesterday's earthquake were all too plain to see.
"The Doctor is even now checking the Archives," said Cabulas. "He hopes to find some solution there."
Zelara laughed contemptuously. "I see. The planet is disintegrating around us, and the Doctor has decided to catch up on his reading. Where is our beloved saviour now?"
"The Doctor's theories have provided the only hint of a solution so far," Cabulas replied angrily. "I know your Chapter has no reason to like him, Zelara, but at the moment he's all we've got."
"Gentlemen, please," said the President soothingly. "I feel these internecine disputes will achieve nothing. I suggest we adjourn the Council until we can think of something constructive to say."
Before Zelara could think of a suitable riposte, a sudden flash lit up the windows, accompanied by the unmistakeable sound of staser fire and a scream of pain. The councillors all turned to the windows, craning their necks to see what was happening.
A group of men stood on the approach to the Council chamber, wielding staser pistols and rifles. There were at least thirty of them, dressed mainly in the robes of engineers and clerks. They had managed to make the most of the limited cover and establish themselves in good firing positions. They had taken the Chancellery Guard by surprise, and a number of red uniformed bodies lay sprawled over the pavement.
"What is going on?" said Cardinal Lodar.
Castellan Rodan was already in action, running for the stairs that led down to ground level. "Stay here, all of you," she snapped.
The President made a move to follow her. "Surely we ought to-"
"Stay here, Madam," Rodan interrupted her. "Until I know whether it's safe for you."
Rodan started to sprint down the stairs, pulling out the staser pistol from within her robes. Reaching the ground floor, she ran into the Council chamber. The doors had been replaced since last night, but now they were damaged again by several staser hits. Stalred and his surviving men were using the door frame for cover, trying to hold off the advance of the attackers.
Rodan dodged staser bolts, and rolled unceremoniously across the floor to take up position beside the Commander. Her skull cap came off, and she left it on the floor in the middle of the chamber.
"What's happening, Commander?" Rodan asked.
"We're under attack, Castellan," said Stalred, rather unnecessarily. "They took us by surprise."
"How can you be so lax around the Council chamber itself? Especially with the President inside?"
"Forgive me," replied Stalred, "but one does not expect attacks upon the Citadel, especially not by public servants. Had a crowd of Shobogans burst in, I might have been more concerned."
As they spoke, a staser bolt found its mark, and one of Stalred's men was thrown back from the door into the Council chamber.
"We can't hold them here much longer," Stalred added.
"Are they Pandak's men?" asked Rodan.
"I'd take bets on it."
"We need to get the Council to safety," said Rodan. "Have you called for reinforcements?"
"Of course," said Stalred. "The ceremonial duty guard are on their way from the Panopticon. I have ordered them to make a two pronged attack. One group will take them from behind, the other from the side. That should occupy our attackers long enough."
"Very well," replied Rodan. "The only good escape route is the service access passage at the rear of the Citadel. I shall organize the councillors. We will need an escort."
"When the reinforcements arrive, I shall take advantage of the diversion to pull most of my men here back into the chamber. We will meet you on the stairs."
Rodan nodded. She turned, and dived across the floor of the Council chamber. As she crossed the field of fire through the open door, a barrage of staser bolts bounced around her. She managed to loose off a couple of shots of her own, before she found her feet on the far side of the door, and started to run back towards the stairs.