The Michaelmas Phantoms
The Scientific Adviser
Rhonwen Jones looked out of the window, over the street. There was a bustle of cars moving past, and threading between them a number of bicycles. A great many people thronged the pavements. More than a few of them, she could tell, were students. On the far side of the street she could see the façades of a couple of colleges, in a gothic style. The various styles of architecture she had seen, during the short time she had been here, differed wildly. It seemed to her as if the entire city had been thrown together quite haphazardly over the centuries. It was wonderful. It was her first visit to Oxford, although she had seen pictures back in her own time.
She turned back to the restaurant table. The remains of lunch were still before her. The Doctor was sitting opposite, reading a copy of Jude the Obscure. It looked like an early sixties edition. It was almost brand new. There were a few bread crumbs clinging to the lapels of his tweed jacket.
"I like Oxford," Rhonwen said.
The Doctor looked up, and glanced for a moment out of the window. "Yes," he said, "I've often thought of it as one of my twelve favourite cities in the Universe." Or was that being too generous? He had seen too many cities in his time to be able to rate them easily. "Paris, Rome, London. It depends a lot upon the year, of course. Then there was the Dal city on Skaro. You had to admire the architecture, even if you couldn't the inhabitants. I rather liked two of the Atlantises, but not the third. Millenius, Logopolis, Miracle City." He shook his head sadly. Wonderful places, but they all seemed connected with bad memories.
Rhonwen hoped he wasn't going to launch into a travelogue. She couldn't really comprehend the vast number of places he had visited. That was a consequence of nearly a thousand years of travelling, she supposed.
The Doctor had turned back to contemplation of Oxford. "It'll change a lot before my last visit," he said. "There was quite a fad for mock art deco architecture at that time."
"When was that?" Rhonwen asked.
"What?" murmured the Doctor absent mindedly. He hadn't been listening to her.
"Your last visit."
"Oh. 2107, if I remember rightly. I was here for a conference on faster than light propulsion systems. The human race was just starting to think about expanding into other star systems. Some of the technology had been known for years, but of course scientific development was virtually put on hold by T-Mat."
He was doing it again, expecting her to know what he was talking about. He hadn't noticed her lack of understanding. Rhonwen gave up and looked around the restaurant. It was about half full. The lunch time rush was over.
She desperately wanted to find something interesting about the other patrons, just to occupy her mind, to become a normal nosy human being once more. It was no good. After travelling with the Doctor, nothing mundane could ever be satisfying again.
"What year is this?" she asked.
The Doctor came back to the present. "1997," he said.
Thirty years after her own time, Rhonwen thought. Maybe there was a forty nine year old Rhonwen Jones around somewhere. Assuming the Doctor ever got her back home. It was the first time she had been back to late twentieth century Earth since entering the TARDIS, three months ago in the Doctor's room at the London School of Economics. Somehow it brought the reality of time travel home to her. Three months for her had been thirty years for her world.
This was also the first time that her clothes had not attracted too much unwanted attention. The people of 1997 seemed to accept the clothing of thirty years ago. Rhonwen wondered what had happened to the inconstancy of fashion. Despite her new found anonymity, however, she wished she had worn something else. A mini skirt just wasn't practical for this time of year.
The Doctor took out his watch. "I think we'd better make a start," he
said. "We're supposed to be looking at the particle accelerator this
Saunders threw his pencil down in anger. It fell amongst the litter of folders, papers, notebooks and scribbled calculations that covered every available inch of the red leather expanse of his desk. He looked again at the notes and figures in front of him, and compared them with the result now displayed on his desk top calculator. If he could only find a discrepancy, he would have something to work on. He took his latest sheet of calculations and screwed it up in his hand. He tossed it to join the many other discarded sheets that were already overflowing the waste paper basket.
He looked around his study, at the wood panelled walls, and the bookshelves. Prominently displayed was a bound and signed copy of Winser's Relativity Phenomena in Particle Acceleration. It was his most treasured possession. He still remembered the day in 1975 when he had left the Nuton Complex to take up a post at Oxford. The book was a leaving present from Professor Winser. That was the last time Saunders had seen Winser before his death.
On the other side of the room, Colin was seated before a computer, running simulation after simulation on the accelerator test data. The printer beside him was spewing out masses of figures, but they all told the same story.
Saunders went to the window, and looked out over Exeter College quad, as if seeking inspiration from the scene outside. His study was in the older part of the College. "It's no good," he said.
Colin looked up from his work. "Surely you can't be giving up, Professor?"
Saunders waved a hand over the mess of papers on his desk. "I've been over it time and again," he said, "but I still can't find any mistakes. All the theoretical calculations are flawless. There is no reason for the discrepancy."
"But we're crossing new frontiers," said Colin. "Can we be so sure of the behaviour of chronons? We still know practically nothing about them."
Saunders snorted dismissively. "Mathematically, they have to exist, and behave in the way we've modelled them."
Colin could think of one reason why Saunders's theories might not work in practice, but he didn't mention it. He knew that Saunders would shout him down. He looked up at the clock. "Aren't we supposed to meet Major McIntyre and her scientific expert this afternoon?" he asked.
Saunders nodded. "I think perhaps we should make our way over there."
Colin got eagerly to his feet. He thought that the UNIT scientist would be a more attentive listener to his suspicions.
"You know," said Saunders, "the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that my hypothesis is right. Our power output is being drained from outside."
Colin didn't even bother to point out his objections. "Perhaps you should discuss the possibility with the UNIT man," he suggested. If Saunders wouldn't listen to him, someone else could shoot the idea down in flames.
Saunders started to make his way towards the door. He stopped and turned back to Colin. "On my desk," he said, "there's a list of papers and theses. I've asked the Science Faculty Library to look them out for me. There might be some useful clues in them. Can you go over to the library and pick them up?"
Colin nodded. "All right. I'll see you later."
Chief Inspector Keane watched as a sheet was drawn over the body of Mike Carswell. The autopsy was completed. Doctor Jackson peeled off his surgical gloves and went to the sink in the corner to wash his hands.
Keane was impatient to know the verdict, although he could guess what it would probably be. "So what can you tell me?" he asked.
Jackson turned to face him, drying his hands on a disposable towel. He took a deep breath. He knew Keane wouldn't like the answer, but it was all he could offer. "Natural causes," he said.
Keane shook his head angrily. "Come on," he said. "People don't just drop dead."
Jackson shrugged. "People drop dead all the time," he said. "Sometimes we don't know why. Their bodies just stop working. Even fit healthy young people."
"Well," said Keane, with a policeman's stubbornness, "they don't do it on my patch. I could maybe accept the first three deaths as natural, except for the fact that they all followed a similar pattern. That's too much of a coincidence. But I certainly can't accept a couple dropping dead at the same time."
"We don't know the deaths were simultaneous," said Jackson. "I can't determine the time of death too accurately. But probably within half an hour of each other."
"But they were lying right next to each other. Which suggests there was no time after the first death for the other to run and fetch help."
"That could have been shock. If a companion of yours suddenly died, you might be too upset to do anything but cry over their body."
"And then would I croak it as well?" Keane demanded.
"Well, shock can do funny things," said Jackson. "But no, I don't think that was the cause of death. I don't know what was the cause of death. There's no sign that anything is wrong with the bodies."
Keane could not believe this. "Did you look at them?" he asked.
Jackson spread his hands apologetically. "I know, I know. Their skin was chapped and pale. Their nails were cracked and falling off. Their hair was dry and coarse. But there is no scientific evidence at all to indicate why they died. I know the results, but not the cause."
"So it has to be natural causes?"
"That's all I can tell the coroner," said Jackson. "Their bodies have simply ceased to be alive."
"But something must have caused it," said Keane. "A heart attack, a brain haemorrhage?"
"No," said Jackson. "That would be an identifiable cause. There's something else I haven't told you. After death, a number of chemical changes take place in the body. Rigor mortis sets in."
"That's caused by the lack of circulation. The glycogen breaks down into glucose, which breaks down into lactic acid. It makes the muscles become stiff. But in all these cases, it hasn't happened. It's as if, at the moment of death, every natural function was cut off. Even the chemical energy was drained away. They became just empty husks."
"And what could cause that?"
"I don't know," said Jackson. "There's nothing I know of that could cause it. None of my tests has shown up anything. Therefore I have to fall back on..."
Keane interrupted him angrily. "Natural causes," he snarled.
The Doctor switched on all of Bessie's anti-theft devices, affectionately patting the dashboard as he did so. It was so rare these days he got the chance to use the car. Sonia McIntyre had brought her up from UNIT HQ to Oxford. It was the only consolation for the liberty UNIT had taken bringing him here.
The Doctor and Rhonwen got out of the car and walked across the car park to the steps of the Nuclear Physics building, where Sonia was waiting for them. "Let's get this over with," said the Doctor.
Sonia frowned, as she led them into the building. "You don't seem in the best of moods, Doctor," she said.
"One of the biggest regrets of my life is having allowed Brigadier Bambera to talk me into leaving UNIT a psionic signal beam to recall the TARDIS to Earth. Where is Winifred, by the way?"
"She's in Geneva," Sonia explained.
"Just like Lethbridge-Stewart. They think I'll come at their beck and call, but don't wait around to explain it to me personally."
"It is an important conference of UNIT's national commanders."
"It always is. I told Winifred that beam was only to be used in cases of extreme emergency."
"This is an emergency."
"I think," said the Doctor, "my definition of emergency differs somewhat from that of the Earth authorities."
They had descended the stairs to the basement, and walked along a short corridor to a metal door. "We're here," Sonia said. She took out an electronic pass card, which she slid into the lock. The door opened on electric hinges, and they went through. "I'll get you two issued with key cards," Sonia said.
In the ante-chamber, Sergeant Starling looked up from the book he was reading. Seeing who the newcomers were, he snapped to attention.
"At ease," said Sonia. "Is anyone here?"
"Just Doctor Wells, sir," Starling replied.
Charles Wells adjusted the power output lines to the particle accelerator. He had at least to make a pretence of checking over the apparatus. He wanted to keep Saunders in the dark for the time being.
He heard the door from the control room opening. From where he was working, on the far side of the accelerator, he could not see who had entered, but he could hear their voices.
The first was Major McIntyre. "Well, this is it," she said. "I'm afraid you'll need to get one of the experts to give you the guided tour."
"Oh, I think I can find my own way around." That was a new voice, a man. "I have some little experience of particle acceleration," he said.
Wells heard footsteps coming closer. He estimated that the newcomer must be examining the instrument displays on the chronon injectors. "This is fascinating," the man said.
"What's that?" asked a third voice. This was another woman. She sounded younger than Major McIntyre, and had a regional accent which Wells could not place.
"This would seem to be a device for separating chronons from other sub atomic particles," said the man, "and injecting them into the magnetic field of the accelerator. It's a remarkably sophisticated piece of equipment."
Wells decided it was time to put in an appearance, before the stranger examined the injectors too closely. He walked around the outside of the torus and approached the group.
The man was busy checking over the instrument panel, squinting through a jeweller's eyeglass. He was in his mid forties, with light brown hair that was quite long, falling over his collar. He wore a slightly threadbare tweed suit, with leather patches on the elbows.
"May I assist you?" Wells asked.
The stranger turned to face him, raising an eyebrow so the jeweller's glass fell out. He caught it neatly in his hand.
Sonia said, "This is Doctor Charles Wells, one of the research team."
The Doctor was about to extend his hand - but stopped as he recognized the newcomer. He was careful to make no obvious reaction. There was no way Charles Wells would recognize him after several changes of appearance, and he didn't need to give away his advantage just yet. Seeing Wells here started a train of suspicions in the Doctor's mind. There was a mystery here. He was starting to feel that his visit to Oxford might be worthwhile after all.
Charles Wells looked at the Doctor carefully. He clearly knew more than someone of his era ought. Seeing the man's mode of dress gave Wells cause to relax however. No Silencer would ever dress as conspicuously as that.
The Doctor said, "I was just admiring this equipment. It really is most extraordinary. Perhaps you can tell me some more about it?"
Wells hesitated. The last thing he wanted to do was explain the chronon injectors.
Another voice spoke from behind the Doctor. "I would be delighted."
Everyone turned to face the latest arrival. "I'm Bernard Saunders," he said. "You must be the scientific adviser."
"This is Doctor John Smith," Sonia put in.
Saunders came forward to shake the Doctor's hand. "How do you do? I've been looking forward to meeting you."
"You have?" asked the Doctor.
"Why, yes. I'm sure you'll make a pleasant change from your military colleagues. Marching all over me and ordering me about. I want someone I can constructively discuss science with, not security."
"I shall try to be obliging," said the Doctor. He indicated his companion. "This is Miss Rhonwen Jones, my assistant."
Saunders swept a quick eye over the young woman. She was slim and dark, with deep brown eyes. She was wearing a very short skirt, which Saunders thought rather inappropriate for a scientist. It reminded him of the undergraduates in his day.
"Perhaps you'd like to come into the control room," he said. "I'm sure I
can explain everything we're trying to achieve here."
Colin pushed open the gate, which creaked on its rusty hinges. He walked along the garden path to the old five storeyed house that served as the Science Faculty Library. He passed under the scaffolding, which now covered the whole of this face of the house and much of the two adjacent sides. Looking up to the top floor, he saw that it was covered over with large sheets of tarpaulin.
He went through the open front door, and passed through the entrance hall to the room on the right hand side, where the librarian's desk was to be found, tucked away in a small alcove. The office was a shambles. There were books and papers lying around in seemingly random piles on the floor. Thomasine was at the desk, checking something on her computer screen. She hadn't seen him come in.
Colin leant over the desk, and said, "I don't suppose you can help me?"
Thomasine started, and looked round. "Oh, it's you," she said. "I didn't hear you come in."
"I was trying to surprise you," Colin said.
Thomasine laughed. "Well, I am surprised. It's been a long time since you've been in here. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten how to read."
"Perhaps I have," said Colin. "I'm not here for myself. I've come to collect some papers for Professor Saunders."
Thomasine frowned. "Have they been specially requested?" she asked.
"Well, the Professor sent me over to collect them, so I assumed he'd rung up or something."
"He might have done. I don't remember. I've been so busy I can't even remember my own name. Look, bear with me, Colin. They must be around somewhere. It's absolute pandemonium here at the moment."
Colin looked around at the mess. "What's going on?"
Thomasine looked exasperated. "Don't you ever listen to anything I say?"
"I'm sorry," said Colin guiltily. "I always seem to switch off when you start talking shop."
"I don't blame you," Thomasine smiled. "The storage of books can't be the most fascinating topic of conversation in the world." She took a deep breath, and cast her eyes heavenward. "Apparently, there's structural damage to the top floor. It's costing a fortune to put right. We've had to move a lot of the books down from there, and as you can see we haven't got room for everything down here. If I so much as put something down for a minute, it could take me days to find it again."
"I've seen the scaffolding," said Colin, "but I haven't seen much work going on."
"No," said Thomasine. "The builders came to put the scaffolding up, but they aren't allowed to do any actual work until the end of term. In case they disturb anyone trying to study. It's only us librarians who suffer any disruptions."
She started to root around on her desk for any notes about Professor Saunders's request. "I'm sorry, Colin," she said. "This might take some time. Do you want to come back later?"
Colin glanced at his watch. He didn't think that Saunders would need him
for a while. "No, I'll wait," he said. "I don't seem to have too many
chances to enjoy your company these days."
The Doctor was immersed in ream after ream of notes and calculations, illustrating Saunders's rather enthusiastic explanation of his theories. He didn't seem to have much trouble taking it in, thought Rhonwen. It was probably child's play to him. It was all going way over her head.
"You see," said Saunders, "much of my work started as a development of Winser's experiments in the early seventies. You're aware of Winser's work?"
"Vaguely," the Doctor muttered.
"I was actually with him at the Nuton Complex for a while," said Saunders. "He was a great inspiration to me. When I heard he was dead, it was the saddest moment of my life."
The Doctor thought it diplomatic not to mention his own involvement in Winser's demise. If he hadn't attempted to break down the Axonite in the Nuton Complex particle accelerator, Winser might still be alive today. Another death on his conscience.
Saunders soon recovered from his moment of mourning. "Anyway, Winser was concerned with trying to achieve a form of time travel, by accelerating normal sub atomic particles beyond the speed of light, so they'd be moving in the fourth dimension."
"Yes," said the Doctor, "but he never managed to get the particle velocity all the way up to c. It's what became known as the Winser Limit."
"Well, for what it's worth, I think Winser was wasting his time with normal particles anyway. My own line of research led me towards postulating the existence of a previously unknown particle. You see, in much of Winser's work, there were always tiny discrepancies in the experimental data, usually in the measurement of time. These were within acceptable limits, and were put down as recording errors."
"But you thought differently?" the Doctor prompted.
"What, I asked myself, if I was seeing the effects of an unknown particle, that was affecting the perception of time within the magnetic field of the accelerator? Thus I came up with the idea of a discrete particle of time. We call them chronons. I used the experimental data, and modelled how such a particle would behave. I believed that it would be possible to accelerate the chronon, because of its unique nature, to the Winser Limit and beyond."
"And then what?"
"Then," said Saunders, "the particle would break down and release the energy within. Since time is the binding force of the Universe, all energy since the beginning is locked in time. Thus to split the chronon would be to release the energy of creation itself. If that could be converted into electricity, it would solve the energy crisis."
"It's fine as a theory," said the Doctor, "but there must have been practical difficulties. How could you manage to isolate the chronon?"
"I must admit," said Saunders, "that was a problem I had no way of solving. I drew up a design for the particle accelerator, but I had no way of introducing chronons into it."
"What did you do?"
"That was when Charles contacted me," said Saunders. "He had been working on a similar project at a university overseas."
"Where was that?"
Saunders thought for a moment. "I can't remember exactly," he said. "Anyway, Charles had concentrated upon trying to isolate the chronon, and he had come up with a device that could filter them from other sub atomic particles. He suggested that we pool our resources, and it was relatively easy to work his device into the design for the accelerator. After that, we were ready to go."
The Doctor looked across at Charles Wells, who was busy fiddling with his computer terminal. He didn't appear to be paying much attention to their conversation, although he must certainly be able to hear them.
"How does the filter work?" asked the Doctor.
"I'm not entirely sure," Saunders admitted. "Charles did try to explain it to me, but I don't really think I followed him. It doesn't really matter. We each have our separate areas of expertise. I don't think Charles had ever considered chronon acceleration as a source of energy, for instance. But his invention was all I needed to realize the project."
Blinded by the promise of success, thought the Doctor. Saunders couldn't have been too difficult to persuade.
"If you're interested," Saunders went on, "I'm sure Charles can explain the principles of his device to you."
"Yes, I'll get him to show me later," the Doctor said. He cast another glance over at Wells, but again the scientist seemed to be paying the conversation no heed.
The Doctor turned back to Saunders. "How do you suggest we proceed?"
"Well, I thought we'd give the accelerator another test run this
evening. Then you can see for yourself what's wrong with it."
Colin browsed idly through a shelf of books on metallurgy. He had been waiting for some time whilst Thomasine pottered about looking for the papers on Professor Saunders's list. She had also had to contend with a continuous stream of undergraduates, desperately seeking some book or other. Colin had never really appreciated before just how hard she worked, particularly now with the rest of the staff off sick. It was no wonder she got headaches.
He looked up as Thomasine entered, carrying a stack of books and papers in her arms. "I think these are the ones you were after," she said.
She handed the pile to Colin. "Thanks, sweetheart," he said. He started to rummage through the assortment, comparing the titles against the list Saunders had given him.
"You'll have to sign for them," Thomasine said. She went back behind her desk, and started to look for the appropriate docket.
Colin placed the stack of papers down on a spare corner of the desk, and again checked through the title pages. "I think there's one missing," he said. He referred to his list. "There was supposed to be something called Distorted perception of time measurements in high velocity particle experiments."
"Isn't it there?" asked Thomasine. "The Professor might be unlucky. Someone could have it out. It sounds like a popular bestseller. Who's the author?"
"Doctor M.T. Leckford," Colin read.
"Leckford," Thomasine murmured to herself. She started to call up the loan records on her computer. "Leckford. No, it's still in." Her face fell. "Ah, that explains it. It's up in the reserve collection."
"Is that bad?" Colin asked.
"On the top floor," said Thomasine. "The stuff we didn't bring down. The stuff we thought no one would want out before the sun went nova."
Colin grinned apologetically. "Sorry. The Professor seems to have developed a unique choice of reading material just lately."
Thomasine sighed. "It's a complete shambles up there. It could take me ages to find it."
"I don't mind waiting," Colin said.
"I can't get it now," Thomasine said. "I'm run off my feet as it is."
As if to reinforce this point, the door opened and three undergraduates entered. They advanced purposefully on Thomasine's desk, brandishing their course reading lists menacingly.
"I won't have a chance to look it out until after I close up tonight," said Thomasine. "The Professor will have to wait until tomorrow."
Colin was about to protest, but thought better of it. Besides, Thomasine had already turned her full attention to the three newcomers.
"All right," Colin said. "I'll see you later." Thomasine was too busy to answer. Colin picked up the papers and headed for the door. He didn't think that Thomasine had even noticed his departure.