The Michaelmas Phantoms
The Search for Wells
Thomasine finished repeating her story and looked around the room. She had come to this meeting at the Doctor's request. She cast an eye over the listeners. Colin had told her that security was tighter at the particle accelerator, but Thomasine hadn't realized it was subject to military jurisdiction.
Yet the woman behind the desk was an army officer, Major McIntyre. The two men sitting to one side were plain clothes police. And even the charmingly eccentric Doctor seemed to be some kind of government scientist. He was standing by the window now, with Rhonwen.
Thomasine was glad of Colin's reassuring presence behind her chair. He at least believed her. She didn't know quite what the others would make of her story - apart from the Doctor, she was sure they would be sceptical.
The two policemen didn't look very impressed. But Major McIntyre looked straight at the Doctor. "It certainly sounds like a description of Wells," she said.
The Doctor nodded. "It is. The presence of the transfer capsule makes it certain."
"Right," said Sonia, "we'd better go and pick him up." She got to her feet.
The Doctor took a step towards her. "We don't want to rush in," he said. "I think it would be best if I went alone. He'll talk to me."
Sonia turned back to face him. "How important is it you find Wells?" she asked.
"Very," said the Doctor. "I'm still not entirely certain what he's done. I shall definitely need his help to undo the damage."
"Then I have to go with you," said Sonia. "We can't risk him getting away."
"It would frighten him more if I'm not alone," the Doctor said.
"Well, you can go in and talk to him. But I want to make sure the exits are covered. Then if he does panic, we won't let him slip out."
The Doctor nodded reluctantly. It would be best to do it his way, but there was no arguing with the military mind when it was set.
Sonia turned to Thomasine. "How many entrances are there to your library?" she asked.
Thomasine thought. "Two," she said. "The front door and the back door."
"Right," said Sonia. She turned to Inspector Keane. "I think we need your help with this."
"Is it really relevant?" Keane asked. "I came here expecting a few explanations, and I'm far from satisfied."
"Look, we need Wells. If we're to flush him out, we need to cover the building, and I haven't got the men to do that myself. Can't you try co-operating with me?"
"Well," said Keane, "I'm not convinced about all this. Do you really expect me to buy all this talk of capsules and whatever?"
The Doctor intervened. "Do you want the deaths to stop?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," said Keane.
"Then we need Wells's help."
"Is he responsible for the deaths?" Keane asked.
The Doctor paused. It was probably best not to tell the truth in this instance. Wells's indirect responsibility would probably be enough for Inspector Keane to try and arrest him. There was simply too much at stake to worry about the petty concerns of British justice.
"He can help me put a stop to them," the Doctor said.
Keane glanced briefly at Brennan, but the Constable's expression said nothing. He didn't want to get drawn into making the decision.
"All right," Keane said.
The Doctor nodded. "Well, that leaves just one thing to take care of," he said. "Major, you say that Professor Saunders is at the particle accelerator?"
"That's right," said Sonia. "He's been there all afternoon. He was still there when I left."
"Well, he can't do anything damaging until later tonight."
Colin spoke up. "You really don't trust the Professor, do you?"
The Doctor looked apologetic. "I know what some scientists can be like when they think they're on the verge of an important breakthrough. I've seen it all too often. He may not consider the danger to others. He may not even have believed me."
"I think it's best if we visit the library tonight," Sonia put in. "We've more chance of catching Wells unawares. But that means I won't be able to keep an eye on Saunders."
"Rhonwen," said the Doctor, turning to his companion, "perhaps you'd stay in the control room and check Saunders doesn't do anything foolish."
"But I want to come with you," Rhonwen said. She felt that the Doctor was leaving her out when things were starting to liven up.
"Not this time," the Doctor said. "There are more important things for you to do. That chronodyne energy distributor we found makes it imperative. Playing around with chronons is dangerous enough. But the technology is so crude, the risk is even greater than I thought. Wells was so desperate, he didn't consider the consequences of what he was doing."
The Doctor turned to Colin. "I suggest you see your friend home, and then join Rhonwen at the particle accelerator. It's vital that Saunders realizes the danger. There's more chance he'll listen to you."
Colin hesitated. He still couldn't quite cope with the Doctor's theory. "You really believe that the deaths are linked to the accelerator?"
"Oh yes," said the Doctor, "but that's no longer the immediate danger. I'm surprised that Wells's equipment has held out as long as it has. I should have examined his chronon injectors more closely. Foolishly, I assumed Wells knew what he was doing. What I saw today has enabled me to get the measure of his technology, and I'm afraid I rather overestimated Doctor Wells. The equipment he's using is balanced on a knife edge. It could go wrong at any moment. And then the accelerator might overload, and we'd be faced with a temporal meltdown."
"Well, try to imagine a massive release of temporal energy, the raw energy of creation. In essence, it'll be like the Big Bang in miniature. The Leptonic Era will be recreated in the Thames Valley. All matter in the affected area will break down, and everything will be reduced to raw protomatter. Without form and void, as they used to say. Even low power test runs on the system could tip it over the edge. You've been playing with fire, and you're lucky you haven't been burnt so far."
The Doctor was certainly convincing as a blood and thunder prophet.
Colin took a deep breath. "All right," he said, "but you'd better make sure
you explain it to the Professor personally. I don't think I can put it
quite as well as you."
Wells looked at his handiwork. He wanted to feel pleased with it, but all he felt was nervous. His improvised power distributor might just be effective for one trip - one blind headlong trip to an unknown destination. Alternatively, he could be about to blow half of Oxford up. At least then there would be the consolation that he would not survive to suffer the recriminations.
It would be a long process to charge his crude zyton-7 unit up to a useful power level. This might also be his most exposed time. The power build up would distort the local time field, perhaps misplacing the odd second here and there. It would not affect anyone in the vicinity - they would simply dismiss any odd effects as tiredness, or momentary premonitions. Only those with sensitive instruments might be able to detect anything unusual.
And that meant the Silencers. Wells could not pretend that they were not looking for him. They would certainly be monitoring their detectors constantly. His only hope was that the minor distortions that might be caused would be at too low a temporal frequency to be registered.
Even so, complacency was not the order of the day. It was already very
dark outside, and he had only a limited view of the path to the front door.
He would have to be especially on his guard for the slightest hint of
anyone approaching the library. Since the power build up required only
minimal attention, he could spend most of his time looking out under the
flap of the tarpaulin for any late night visitors.
Gates suddenly sat up in his seat. The detectors in the glove compartment were registering. It was only a faint glimmer, but it was enough to pique his interest. "I have something," he said cautiously.
"Something definite?" asked Crabtree.
Gates shook his head. Whatever it had been, it had now faded. He stared deep into the heart of the instrument display. Another weak signal flickered before his eyes.
"I think," he said, "this may be worth investigating. I am detecting very low frequency temporal energy discharges, which cause minute time field distortions. They are too slight to establish their point of origin. Drive around for a while. I may be able to triangulate."
Crabtree started the engine.
Chief Inspector Keane clung on for dear life. He was amazed that the Doctor's car was capable of such speeds. It was an old yellow banger that looked like it ought to be in a museum. The Doctor clearly thought otherwise, and the fact that the car could outpace most of the sports models on the market suggested he had done a lot of work under the bonnet. Keane wouldn't have thought he was the type to mess around with cars - but he'd already seen that the Doctor was totally unpredictable.
The Doctor had wisely decided to park a few streets away from the library, so they could try and sneak up on the elusive Wells. As they rounded the corner, they saw that the road was lined with parked cars.
The Doctor didn't even slow down. If they hadn't been about official business, Keane would have given him a speeding ticket. He wondered whether the Doctor had ever been charged with speeding - more likely, no patrol car had ever been able to catch him up.
The car tore down the street, and Keane spotted a possible parking space towards the far end. It looked like it would be a tight squeeze. The Doctor swung the car casually into the gap, without slowing down at all. Keane found himself involuntarily squeezing his eyes shut and anticipating a crash.
When he opened his eyes, he found the car had come to a dead stop, and was neatly occupying the parking space with about six inches separating it from the vehicles either side. Keane didn't even bother asking the Doctor how he'd done that. Sitting beside him in the back was Constable Brennan. He looked a bit stunned as well.
Major McIntyre was hardly flustered. She must have been used to the Doctor's driving. She got out of the passenger seat and started along the street. The Doctor waited until the two policemen had got out of the car, presumably so he could check it was properly locked. The roof was already up. Keane had insisted on that before he got into the car. On a night as cold as this, he had no desire to feel the wind in his hair.
Once the Doctor had finished, he joined them at the end of the street, and they set off towards the library.
The building was fronted by a hedge. A gate opened onto the path up to the front door. There was a gap of a few feet between the outer walls and the buildings either side. Sonia indicated to Keane that he and Brennan should make their way round to the back door. "Just keep it covered," she said, "and stop him if he tries to get out that way."
Keane nodded, and led Brennan along the perimeter of the hedge.
Sonia pushed open the gate. "We'll go in the front door," she said.
"I think it's best if I go in alone," said the Doctor.
"Will you be able to handle Wells by yourself?" Sonia asked.
"For heaven's sake," the Doctor snapped, "stop treating this as a military operation. I only want to talk to the man. There's only likely to be trouble if you go in with all guns blazing."
He slipped past Sonia and started along the path towards the front
A sudden movement alerted Wells to danger. He focused on the figure coming along the path. In the dim glow of the street lights, he could just make out that it was the Doctor. Wells breathed a sigh of relief. The Doctor had found him and not the Silencers. Perhaps everything would be all right.
A moment later, he became aware of another movement at the gate. He was just able to discern the figure of Major McIntyre starting to follow the Doctor. Wells did not know what to make of this. He had been uncertain of the Doctor's precise involvement with UNIT. The knowledge that the Doctor displayed had led Wells to believe that he might have different priorities from the military.
But this development made it clear that the Doctor was in league with them. Even he no longer offered any hope. Wells decided he could not take the risk of trusting the Doctor further.
He scrambled to his feet, and looked around hurriedly. He could hear a sonorous humming sound filling the air. But the note was wrong. The capsule did not yet have enough power to attempt an escape.
Wells turned and ran along the passage to the door at top of the stairs. He could not afford to be captured now.
He threw open the door, and started to hurry down the stairs. He did not know whether he would be able to make it before the Doctor and Major McIntyre got inside.
He was descending from the second floor to the first when he saw the Doctor on the next flight. Wells pulled himself to a halt, grabbing the bannister to stop himself tripping and falling the rest of the way. For just a second his gaze met the Doctor's. He could not tell what the Doctor's expression meant. It seemed sincere, but he could not be sure.
It was not worth the risk. Wells turned and started to run up the stairs again. He heard the Doctor call his name, and begin sprinting after him.
On the second floor landing, Wells dashed straight to the window and flung it open. He scrambled through, and fell uncertainly onto the wooden platform of the scaffolding outside. He recovered his balance and started to run.
The Doctor arrived at the window just a little distance behind Wells. He paused, trying to decide whether to go after him. Looking back, he caught sight of Sonia behind him on the stairs. She saw instantly what had occurred, and wasted no time. She turned and started downwards again.
The Doctor wasn't sure of the wisdom of letting Sonia pursue Wells. He felt he really ought to be on hand to stop her getting carried away. He turned back to the window.
He was about to climb out, when he detected a humming sound somewhere in the background. He stopped and listened. It was coming from upstairs. The Doctor pondered his choice for an agonizing instant. The noise could only be the result of some experiment Wells had been conducting. He must have left the equipment running when he was disturbed.
The Doctor had seen enough of Wells's technology to know that he didn't
trust it to be left unattended. There was no choice. He had to leave Wells
to Sonia's tender care. Letting his mind go for an instant, he felt forces
dragging at the edges of his consciousness - perturbations in the local
time field. It was worse than he'd thought. He started to run up towards
the top floor.
Sonia heaved open the window of the first floor landing, and flung herself out onto the scaffolding outside. She saw the platform above her rattling as Wells sprinted along it. She started to follow in his wake. Being below him had its advantage. To escape he had to get down, and to do that he would have to get past her.
Suddenly the vibrations of Wells's passage above her ceased. Sonia skidded to a halt, grasping one of the scaffolding poles to keep her balance. She listened carefully. There was no sound from the platform above. Had Wells become aware of her pursuit? Perhaps he had halted to confuse her.
She suddenly became aware of a sound from ground level, a crunching sound like someone walking on gravel. She looked over the edge of the scaffolding, just in time to see Wells emerging from a skip full of rubble on the ground. A fabric chute led down from the level above into the skip, for the builders to dispose of stone debris. Wells had used it to clamber down.
He was hauling himself out of the skip in a cloud of dust, and already starting to make a run for it. Sonia cursed, and looked down at the ground. It could only be about fifteen feet. There was a flower bed beneath her. She could only hope the ground was soft. Time to put her parachute training into practice.
She leapt to the ground, rolled neatly, and came up on her feet. Her service revolver found its way easily into her hand. She caught sight of Keane and Brennan coming towards her, obviously drawn by the sound of the chase across the scaffolding.
She didn't have time to say anything. Wells was already through the gate
and starting off along the street. For a fat man, he had quite a turn of
speed. Sonia set off in pursuit, the two policemen just behind her.
Saunders looked over his computer terminal at Rhonwen. She was sitting in Colin's usual position. He didn't know why she was here. Despite her description as the Doctor's assistant, she seemed to have only a minimal knowledge of science. In the Doctor's absence, she was no use to Saunders. She couldn't help with his work.
Saunders adjusted some controls, and listened to the hum of power coming from the accelerator room. Sometimes that told him more than the accurate figures on his computer screen.
"What are you doing, Professor?" Rhonwen asked.
"Oh, just testing the electromagnets," Saunders replied. He resented Rhonwen's intrusive presence. No matter what he did, she questioned him about it.
Saunders began to suspect that the Doctor had told her to harass him. After all, the Doctor had forbidden him to run the accelerator - as if he had the authority to give such an order. Now he was off chasing his ghost, and couldn't be there to personally enforce it, he had left the girl to do it instead.
Saunders wasn't going to let her intimidate him. He didn't believe what the Doctor had said anyway. Maybe there was some unusual explanation for the deaths, but it could have nothing to do with his project.
He was getting fed up with the whole UNIT investigation. All they had done was badger him. Even the Doctor, who had seemed the voice of reason amongst them, had taken sides against him.
Well, he wasn't going to stand for it. It was his project and he would run it as he saw fit. With this decisive thought, Saunders began to make preparations for a full test run. It would be hard work to handle all the systems on his own, but he refused to be defeated. He got up and crossed to Wells's console, to activate the chronon injectors.
Rhonwen watched him about his work. She didn't understand what he was doing, but he seemed rather more active than he needed to be to conduct a routine test. "Professor," she began, "the Doctor wants you to wait until he gets back."
"Yes," said Saunders. "When I want the Doctor's advice, I'll ask for it."
Rhonwen wasn't sure what to say to change his mind. The Doctor's talk of temporal meltdown probably wouldn't cut much ice with Saunders. But she couldn't sit here and watch him unwittingly plunge himself and everyone else into danger.
Saunders looked up as the door opened. "Ah Colin," he said. "Thank goodness you're here at last. Would you take your position, please?"
Colin came slowly into the room. The hum of power from the accelerator told him what he needed to know. A quick glance exchanged with Rhonwen confirmed his suspicions. "What do you think you're doing?" he asked.
"I'm running the accelerator," Saunders said, apparently failing to notice the disrespectful way Colin had spoken to him.
"But didn't you hear what the Doctor said?" snapped Colin.
"I don't really think much of the Doctor's opinions," said Saunders. "Now, are you going to help me?"
Colin thought for a moment. It was a difficult decision. Finally he said, "The Doctor will be here soon. Let's discuss it with him before we do anything rash."
Saunders snorted. "Well, you're welcome to wait for him. But do it in the corridor. If you're not prepared to help me, the two of you can get out."
Colin looked hopelessly at Rhonwen. He didn't know what else he could
The Doctor followed the humming sound to its source. As he had expected, it was Wells's transfer capsule. The white sphere was literally throbbing with life.
He approached it cautiously. He wasn't overly familiar with the technology, but he was certain it shouldn't be behaving in this manner. He started to examine it more closely.
After just a few moments, it became apparent what had happened. Wells had jury rigged the systems in the most dangerous manner imaginable. The Doctor began to suspect that Wells really didn't know too clearly how his capsule worked.
An increase in the pitch and volume of the humming galvanized the Doctor into action. As far as he could make it out, Wells's intention had been to rip a hole in the fabric of the continuum and propel his capsule through it, his usual drive units being non-operational. The way Wells had gone about it, the Doctor wasn't so sure that the rip would close up again. It looked like he had got here just in time to avert disaster.
The power build up was tremendous now. He didn't think Wells would have let it go on so long if he hadn't been disturbed. The Doctor tried to shut the system down.
Nothing happened. The power distributor had overloaded. The Doctor realized with horror that Wells had been using electrolysed zyton-7 residue to create makeshift conductor paths. And he'd thought chronodyne was unstable.
All the power conductors were locked open. He couldn't shut it down. If the power built up any more, the capsule would explode and pour raw temporal energy across the city.
There was only one thing for it. With trepidation, the Doctor took the TARDIS key from around his neck. With luck, the temporal energy would drain out through the trimonic lattices and dissipate into the vortex. If it failed, the key would melt and he would be locked out of the TARDIS. He couldn't use the old trick of refracting the sun's rays to get back inside, not since he had lost his jewelled ring. But as he would probably be killed in the temporal explosion, it hardly made a lot of difference.
He jammed the key into the power distributor, and held it down across
all the conductor paths. There was a flash of light, and a huge shock
coursed through his arm, flinging him bodily to the floor.
Gates suddenly looked up from his instruments.
"What is it?" Crabtree asked.
"There has just been a massive burst of temporal energy," said Gates. "It seems to come from the same source as the triangulation readings I have been taking. I now have a definite position."
"Give me the directions," said Crabtree.
The Doctor picked himself up from the floor. He was a little dazed, but otherwise unharmed. The first thing he noticed was that the hum of power from the transfer capsule had ceased completely. That was odd. He would have expected it to fade away gradually.
He felt something strange about his environment, and realized what had happened. He had taken the brunt of the released temporal energy. It had blown him a few minutes into the future, when the shut down of the capsule was already complete.
What a relief his whole body had taken the energy. It could so easily have been confined to his arm. He didn't think he'd get on too well with an arm stuck five minutes ahead of the rest of him.
Now for the important part. He held up the TARDIS key to scrutinize it
in the poor light. Mercifully, it was intact. The Doctor slipped it back
round his neck, and returned his attention to the transfer capsule.
Crabtree stopped the Wolseley outside a tall building. He looked up at it. A framework of metal poles and wooden boards surrounded the structure.
"This is it," Gates said.
"Very well," said Crabtree.
They got out of the car, and started towards the building. They had to pass through a gate, which had been left swinging open, and proceed along a path to the main door.
Crabtree tried the door, and found to his surprise that it was not locked. They went inside, and stood in the entrance hall.
Gates swung his hand held detector around. He looked up and shook his head. "It has gone now," he said.
"Are you sure this is the correct place?" asked Crabtree.
Gates nodded. Crabtree looked around, peering through the doors either side of the entrance hall. All the rooms he saw seemed to contain shelving lined with books. The building was a museum of antique data storage systems, he decided.
"There is nothing here," he said.
"The location co-ordinates are not quite right," said Gates. "I think we need more height."
Crabtree gestured towards the staircase. "An upper storey," he suggested.
They went to the staircase and started to climb. At each level, Gates checked the co-ordinates. Each time, they needed to go higher still.
Finally, they reached the top of the stairs. At last they seemed to be at the correct level. They passed through a door, and into a corridor, the wall of which had been partially dismantled, and covered with a piece of fabric to keep out the elements. At the end of the passage was another door.
Crabtree motioned Gates to be silent, and they cautiously made their way to the end of the corridor. Outside the door, he reached into his pocket and took out a stun field projector. It would be enough to incapacitate their prey.
Crabtree allowed himself a brief moment of reflexion. At last, after so many setbacks, they had successfully completed their mission.
He nodded his readiness to Gates, and then turned to fling open the door. He took in the scene within in an instant. A transfer capsule stood against the far wall, partially dismantled, which confirmed Gates's theory.
A man was bending over the capsule, examining its spilled innards. At their entrance he spun round to face them. Crabtree did not give him time to react. He activated the field projector, and the man was surrounded by a pulsing blue glow. Illuminated by the shimmering light, they saw that he was dressed in a simple tweed suit, and had rather long brown hair.
The Doctor's body twisted and contorted in the stun field, and then slumped heavily to the floor.