The Michaelmas Phantoms
Their minds touched.
The Doctor felt an overwhelming consciousness pressing into his own. He tried to shut his mind to it, but the telepathic shock was too sudden and too powerful to resist.
He felt in danger of losing his own identity. Icy tendrils probed into his mind, as if to seize it, to steal it away. The Doctor marshalled all his mental strength to form a barrier. He hoped the TARDIS telepathic circuits would be able to pull enough energy from the Eye of Harmony to sustain him.
Then it was all over. His mind was his own. He felt the tendrils of ice shatter and break as they hit the barrier. The splinters fell and ricocheted amid his ganglia, leaving impressions, thoughts and memories from another mind.
He felt cold and alone, so alone. All around was darkness, emptiness, contained by immense and insuperable forces. Time did not pass, and all moments blurred into one. An eternity was an instant. This was the total of existence. There were memories, pale effigies of what might once have existed, but they were distant now. It was difficult even to bring them to mind.
He was held by the tremendous forces. They pulled at him, stretched him, compressed him, threatened to tear him apart. It was a torment, an eternal agony. It could not be ended, not even by death. There could be no death. He had no substance, just consciousness, timeless and immortal, that would suffer forever.
The Doctor shuddered. He fought to drive out even these random fragments
of the alien's thoughts. The mental pain was too much for his mind to bear.
He felt a sudden sense of activity, a desperate seeking for some hope. It
filled his mind. But then it was gone, with an intense shock that seemed to
block out all the Doctor's own thoughts. It was as if the alien
consciousness pushed him away in frustrated anger.
Colin could not take his eyes from the Doctor, whose face contorted and twisted with the pain he seemed to be feeling. Then suddenly he was thrown from his knees, and landed awkwardly on his back with an uncomfortable crunch.
Colin hissed at Saunders. "Shut it down."
Saunders turned to the controls. He nodded silently, and started to deactivate the accelerator. Well, Colin thought, it had taken this to finally convince him.
The Doctor's body gave one final jolt, and then seemed to relax. Suddenly there was something hovering above him. It was the same vague shadowy image they had seen before. If anything, it now appeared to be more intangible, as if it was fading away.
Colin realized with horror that the shape was moving towards him. Without thinking, he jumped back and tried to hide himself behind one of the computer monitors.
He glanced across at Sonia. She nodded, indicating that he should stay as far back as possible. She sought cover behind one of the desks, and raised her revolver, trying to locate anything that might form an effective target.
The shadow was still moving. Following Colin's lead, Rhonwen ducked back out of the way. Constable Brennan managed to cram himself between two banks of instruments.
The shadow seemed to flit around the room with increasing desperation. It was clearly fading away. Surely all they had to do, thought Sonia, was keep out of its path until it fizzled out completely.
It was moving now towards Saunders, still exposed beside the accelerator controls. The Professor stood as if transfixed, too terrified to take cover as the others had.
Sonia leapt up from her hiding place, and dashed across the room. The shadow was almost touching Saunders. She gave the Professor a tremendous shove, and he stumbled back out of the way.
Sonia felt a sudden chill run through her arm. Good God, she had touched it. In that instant, she saw herself ending up like Sergeant Starling.
The dark shape had just faded out completely. Sonia found herself breathing deeply. She tried to flex her arm, just to check that it was still working. As far as she could tell, it was all right. The skin looked normal and the muscles worked properly. The thing must have run out of energy at just the right time.
She looked over at Saunders, who was picking himself up from the floor. "Are you all right?" she asked.
Saunders got to his feet. He nodded.
We were both lucky, Sonia thought. Saunders looked in really bad shape however. She guessed he must be pretty shaken up by the experience.
The others were starting to emerge from their hiding places. Rhonwen quickly darted across to where the Doctor still lay on the floor. His eyes were closed, and his face was very still. He didn't seem to be breathing.
"Doctor," Rhonwen began, kneeling beside him. She placed a hand on his arm. Even through his jacket, she could feel a deathly cold.
"I'll get the first aid box," said Colin. "Though I don't know if you can treat what happened to him." He made a move towards the door.
"Doctor," said Rhonwen, "can you hear me?"
The Doctor's eyes snapped open. "There's nothing wrong with my ears," he said reprovingly. He took a deep breath, and sat up. "Why are you all gaping at me like that?" he asked.
Sonia couldn't help smiling. How could he just sit there and act as if nothing had happened? "I thought you were a goner," she said.
"Really?" said the Doctor, getting to his feet. "Why should you have thought that?"
"Well, those phantoms have killed a number of people."
"A number of human beings, to be more precise," the Doctor replied. "I happen to have the advantage of not being one. Besides, its modus operandi has changed."
Colin came back in with the first aid box. He took one look at the Doctor, and quietly put the box down on the nearest desk. He didn't even bother to ask the obvious questions.
"What do we do now?" asked Sonia.
"I think I know the answers now," the Doctor said. "It's just a case of using them to effect a solution." He picked up his electronic trap from the floor, and stuffed it back into his pocket.
"We'll go to my office," said Sonia, "and discuss it."
"All right," the Doctor replied. "Constable Brennan, you'd better come too. I suppose this is your investigation now."
Brennan nodded. He ought to make a report to the Chief Super, but he didn't know what he was going to say. He was at least glad that Keane had no family. He was spared the ordeal of having to explain to grieving relatives how the Inspector had been killed in the line of duty.
"By the way," asked Sonia, "what happened to Keane?"
Brennan didn't reply.
"He had a compressing engagement," the Doctor said, as if that explained everything. The remark would have been offensive from anyone else, but Brennan could detect no trace of malice in the Doctor's tone or manner. He just didn't seem to be affected by the spectre of death.
The Doctor turned to Colin. "I shall need your help in the morning," he said. "There are some modifications that need to be made to the accelerator."
"Are you going to dismantle Wells's equipment?" Colin asked.
"No," said the Doctor. "Slight change of plan. I'll explain in the morning."
He gestured to the others, and went through the door. Sonia and Brennan followed him. Rhonwen smiled, and said good night, before she too disappeared.
Colin looked at Saunders. He was surprised the Professor hadn't offered any objection when the Doctor had started to talk about modifying the accelerator. Saunders looked different somehow, as if he had lost all his energy. Perhaps the events of this evening had finally convinced him of his folly, and taken all the fight out of him.
"I'll help you to clear up here," Colin said gently.
"Not necessary," Saunders replied leadenly. "You can go now. I shall do it myself."
Colin nodded. He supposed the Professor wanted to be alone for a while, to contemplate his failure. Colin certainly wasn't going to argue with him.
He said good night, and took his leave. It was not all that late. There
would still be time to call upon Thomasine. With that thought, Colin
started to feel a lot better. He could almost forget what had happened this
Gates touched Crabtree's arm. He gestured towards the building they had been watching.
The Time Lord was emerging, in company with several other people. Crabtree studied their faces carefully, but none of them was Wells. There was the man with whom they had seen the Time Lord earlier. And there were two women. They started to walk along the street.
"What shall we do?" Gates asked.
"Do you still register a temporal disturbance?" Crabtree replied.
"No. It has ceased."
"Is anyone left in the building?"
"I will retune the medical scanner to detect human life signs," Gates said. It took him just a moment. "There is one other human inside," he announced.
As they watched, a young man emerged from the building, and started to walk along the street, in the opposite direction to that taken by the Time Lord's party.
"That was not Wells either," Crabtree said.
"There are no more humans inside," Gates confirmed.
"Then the anachronaut is not here."
"But the evidence suggests otherwise," said Gates. "This is the source of the distortion."
"Only one with knowledge of temporal engineering could create such a disturbance," Crabtree mused. "If it is not Wells, then the Time Lord must be responsible. We can conclude that Wells has gone into hiding for his own safety, and that the Time Lord is working on his behalf. Earlier we discovered him beside Wells's transfer capsule. With hindsight, we can assume that he was not disabling it, but repairing it."
"I would accept that hypothesis. But why would a Time Lord assist an anachronaut?"
"I do not know," Crabtree said. "Doubtless the truth shall become clear as our investigation proceeds. If we are to find Wells, we must extract his location from the Time Lord."
"Surely he will never speak," Gates protested.
Crabtree looked along the street, to where the Time Lord and his
companions could still just be discerned. "There may be a way of ensuring
his co-operation," he said.
Wells looked up at the edifice of the library. As far as he could tell, the building was now deserted. There were no lights on. The front door appeared to be firmly shut.
He knew that it was a risk to return here. The Doctor and his friends could quite simply be waiting for him inside. The Doctor would know that he was bound to return here eventually. He could not abandon his transfer capsule.
Wells hoped that by returning almost immediately, he might be able to evade capture. His pursuers might not expect him to come back so soon, and that would give him some time to work. He knew that it was a very slim chance, but it was all he had.
He used his magnopick to open the front door. There did not appear to be anyone about in the entrance hall. Wells made his way quickly over to the stairs and started to climb.
At any moment he expected an assailant to step out, either one of the UNIT people or a Silencer. When he reached the door to the closed floor of the building, and still had met no one, he began to think they must be lying in wait for him right by the transfer capsule itself.
He found the door unlocked, and went through. As he made his way along the short corridor, another fear gripped him. What if the Doctor or the Silencers had removed his transfer capsule, perhaps rolling it down the stairs?
Wells started to hurry, forgetting about the danger of an ambush ahead. He needed to ensure the capsule was all right. Opening the door, he was relieved to see the capsule still where he had left it. Its power build up seemed to have been halted. He probably had the Doctor to thank for that.
There was something different about the room though. Things were missing. Some of the old books and card files had disappeared. Wells's eyes fell upon a compressed block of matter in the centre of the floor. He knew the residue of an implosion grenade when he saw it.
So, the Silencers had been here as well, had they? He hoped they had done nothing to damage the capsule.
Examining the systems, Wells soon discovered a major problem. The entire power distributor was ruined. All the conductor paths appeared to have overloaded, as if the temporal energy had been suddenly drained into the time vortex.
He detected the hand of the Doctor. Wells supposed that this had been the quickest way of shutting the capsule down - since he had left it running, there must have been a distinct possibility of a temporal explosion. He could not really blame the Doctor for taking such action.
Still, it left quite a task ahead of him. He had exhausted his supply of
the necessary raw materials, and yet he needed to fashion a replacement
unit if he was to get away from here in the short time he had left. It
could only be described as a challenge.
The Doctor stood by the window, looking out across the city. Some of the spires were floodlit and stood out in the night like lighthouses in a storm. They served as beacons to marshal his thoughts.
He turned back to the others, hunched over cups of coffee, waiting for him to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Sonia was watching him anxiously from behind her desk. Brennan sat to one side, looking somewhat more distraught. Unlike the Major, he didn't have any specialized training in dealing with extra terrestrial threats.
Rhonwen was waiting expectantly. She had no doubts that the Doctor would know what to do. The faith of his companions was something he prized highly.
"Do you know what we're up against?" Sonia asked.
The Doctor nodded. "Yes. There is an alien entity trapped in the time vortex. It's being torn apart by the temporal forces there. Somehow it's able to draw energy from the particle accelerator, straight from the chronon stream."
"I don't know. There's a massive disturbance in the local time field. The distortion measures at least point three on the Bocca scale. I think there's a connexion, but I need more information. It's like I've got a jigsaw puzzle with a vital piece missing."
"Go on," Sonia said.
"The entity is just a disembodied consciousness, but its mental powers are tremendous. It's able to use the energy of the chronon stream to give substance to its thoughts, so that they become short lived but autonomous ectoplasmic entities - the phantoms that have been causing the deaths."
Constable Brennan spoke up. "Where's the motive? Unless it's a psychopath, it must have some reason for killing."
"Yes," replied the Doctor. "It's been feeding on human life essence. I assumed at first that it was merely a source of nutrition, but what happened tonight has convinced me otherwise."
"What do you mean?" asked Rhonwen.
"That phantom was looking for a body. The entity must be trying to free itself, by transferring itself into a human host. It needed the life essence to assimilate the very nature of a human being, to pattern itself into a human form. That way it wouldn't be rejected by the host brain."
"And what would happen to the host?" asked Brennan.
"Oh, his consciousness would be erased. His body would become a vessel for the alien intelligence."
"You came into contact with it. Why didn't it affect you?"
"The entity had patterned itself to take over a human host," the Doctor said. "It couldn't take control of my body, because I'm not human."
Brennan did not bother to argue. After all he'd been through, he was quite prepared to take the Doctor's word for it.
"We're lucky it was me who got in its way," the Doctor continued. "It's failed to assume a human form tonight, and it won't be able to try again until it has the necessary power from the particle accelerator."
"What can we do to destroy it?" Sonia asked.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "You must try not to be so belligerent, Major," he admonished. "Why should we wish to destroy it?"
"It has killed several people," Sonia said in exasperation.
"It's fighting for its life," the Doctor replied. "I'll admit I disapprove of its methods, but there's not a lot we can do about that at the moment. The first thing to do is free it, then we can give it a good talking to."
Rhonwen could see that Sonia and Brennan were both perplexed by the Doctor's attitude. She didn't really understand herself, but she believed he knew what he was doing. She decided to come to his rescue before the others could start arguing again. "How will you free it?" she asked.
"By using the particle accelerator," the Doctor replied. "It will feed on the chronon stream, and make another attempt to transfer its consciousness. We'll let it come through and then trap it within the accelerator. Tomorrow I'll make some modifications, and turn the accelerator into a larger version of the electronic trap I built."
"And that'll be able to hold the alien, will it?" demanded Sonia.
The Doctor looked evasive. "Well, probably. Once it's contained, we can try to communicate with it and find out its purpose."
"Well, I suppose there's nothing more we can do tonight," Sonia said.
"Nothing you can do, no," replied the Doctor. "I still have one or two answers to find. I'll see you all in the morning." He started to make his way towards the door.
"Where are you going?" Rhonwen asked.
"To talk to Charles Wells. I think he's got my missing jigsaw piece."
"But we don't know where he is," Sonia protested.
"He'll be back at the library," the Doctor said. "He won't leave his transfer capsule."
Sonia stood up and picked up her revolver. "I'll come with you."
"No," said the Doctor, his tone carrying an air of absolute authority. "We tried it your way last time. I want to talk to him, and I don't want him panicked again. I'll need his help if I'm going to sort out this mess."
"Let me come," Rhonwen suggested.
The Doctor smiled. "No," he said gently. "It's best if I go alone. He might be more trusting. The rest of you ought to get some sleep. It should be a busy day tomorrow."
Without waiting for a further reply, he went out.
It was an impossible task. The transfer capsule was irreparable. Quite aside from the damage to the power distributor, much of the internal circuitry had been wrecked, presumably by the force of the implosion grenade. The outer casing may have survived, but the vibrations had been too much for the delicate instruments within.
Wells shook his head in despair. There was no way he could repair this kind of damage. Even if he had possessed the ability to improvise some replacement instruments, it was impossible to get the necessary spare parts in this time period. He was marooned in a primitive epoch.
He suddenly tensed. There had been a sound below. Wells raced from the room, and lifted the corner of the tarpaulin to survey the path to the front door. There was no one in sight. And yet he was sure he had heard the gate open. By moving fast, any visitor could have already hidden himself from view beneath the scaffolding.
Wells wondered if he was becoming paranoid. Then came another sound.
This time there was no mistake. Someone had opened the front door.
The Doctor took a cautious step into the entrance hall of the library. He looked around, but the whole place was dark and deserted. He was not surprised. Wells would be hiding on the top floor.
The Doctor moved to the stairs, and started to climb. He remembered how quickly Wells had reacted before. He did not want his quarry to escape him a second time.
"Charles?" he called softly. "Charles Wells? It's the Doctor. I'm on my own. I want to talk to you."
There was no response. The Doctor continued to climb.
When he reached the final flight of stairs, he saw the door at the top open. Wells stood silhouetted in the doorway. "What do you want?" he demanded.
"I want to help you," said the Doctor.
"Well, you're having trouble with your transfer capsule, aren't you? I can probably repair it for you. But in return you must help me."
Wells took one step towards him. "Help you in what way?" he asked.
"We'll come to that," the Doctor said. "First you have to trust me. I mean you no harm."
Wells came forward another step. The Doctor could see his face now, and could tell that he was curious.
"Who are you?" Wells asked. "You are not a Silencer."
"No," the Doctor said. "I'm a Time Lord."
Wells flinched visibly. The Doctor had expected some sort of hostile reaction. But he could see he also had Wells's attention.
"Why should you want to help me?" Wells asked. "Surely you would wish to hand me over to the Silencers?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I'm prepared to overlook any unlicensed time travel on your part, as long as you help me to rectify any damage you've done in this period."
"I have always been careful," Wells insisted. "It is not my desire to create a temporal paradox."
"I'm glad to hear it," the Doctor smiled. "Will you let me come up and talk?"
Wells considered for a moment, and then nodded. The Doctor climbed the last flight of stairs, and followed him to the room with the transfer capsule.
Wells pointed to the block of condensed matter on the floor. "Who was that?" he asked.
"A policeman," the Doctor said. "He was with me earlier."
"The Silencers killed him?"
"Yes. They left a grenade. I imagine they were trying to kill me, after they discovered my identity."
Wells nodded. All Silencers were instilled with a morbid fear of Time Lords.
The Doctor looked inside the transfer capsule. "Faulty wiring?" he suggested flippantly.
"It is beyond repair," Wells told him.
"Not quite," said the Doctor. "I could repair it for you. At least temporarily. It would get you to somewhen more technologically advanced."
"But you want something in return?" Wells asked.
"The particle accelerator," the Doctor replied. "Your chronon injectors are incredibly dangerous, not to mention anachronistic. Why did you give Saunders that technology?"
"It was a matter of necessity. My capsule had malfunctioned. I did not think it was safe to attempt departure."
"You tried earlier this evening," the Doctor pointed out.
"I had become more desperate," said Wells. "I felt the Silencers closing in. Even my previous actions bore the mark of desperation."
"The purpose of the chronon injectors was not to realize Saunders's theories. He may have been almost correct, but I would never give him access to such advanced technology. I joined the accelerator project for the sole purpose of acquiring help in repairing my capsule."
"Saunders would have no idea where to even begin," the Doctor protested.
"Of course not," said Wells. "I used the capsule's computer scanner to locate the best available technology, which would give me something to work with. That led me to the accelerator project. I used the onboard matter synthesizer to create money and documents and so forth, to get myself accepted by the University. Once I had investigated the particle accelerator, I knew that it provided me with the perfect opportunity."
The Doctor understood. He said, "You ripped the chronon injectors out of your capsule and wired them into the accelerator, using Saunders's power source to operate them. And you fired a stream of chronons directly into the time vortex."
Wells nodded. "They travelled in a temporal arc, re-entering the accelerator torus at the same space/time point they left it. Saunders would have been suspicious if he did not record the presence of the particles within. The intention was to create a temporal disturbance, that might attract the attention of another time traveller. Someone who might have the expertise to effect a repair. Evidently it attracted you."
"Like sending up a flare," the Doctor said. "It could also have attracted the Silencers."
"That was the desperation," Wells replied.
The Doctor took a deep breath. "Your technology is very crude. It may suffice to push a small capsule through time. But when coupled with the antediluvian equipment Saunders is using, there is a tremendous risk of a temporal meltdown."
"I am aware of the danger, Doctor. For that reason I built a cut out into the chronon injectors that would cause the chronon stream to tail off after a certain point. That is the reason for the power drain that has so perturbed Professor Saunders."
The Doctor shook his head. "The technical deficiencies not withstanding, you could have caused a disaster. This century isn't ready for chronon technology. The human race isn't advanced enough to handle it. What if Saunders had understood your equipment and made the discovery now, in this primitive era?"
"I do not think Saunders is that astute," Wells replied quietly.
"You couldn't be sure of that," the Doctor snapped angrily. "If Saunders had understood, it would have caused a massive alteration of the timeline. So cataclysmic that the whole fabric of the continuum might have disintegrated around us."
"You are exaggerating, surely?"
"Am I?" the Doctor said. "Now you know why the Time Lords get annoyed about unauthorized time travellers." He closed his eyes, and told himself to calm down.
When he spoke again, it was in a much gentler tone. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe a temporal collapse would have occurred. Time is very careful to preserve its integrity. If something isn't supposed to happen yet, it will be prevented. The accelerator technology could be faultless, and it would still blow up. Time will not allow such a drastic alteration to its structure. Rather than let advanced knowledge get out too early, it would carry out a sort of damage limitation exercise - destroy the accelerator and anyone who knows anything about it. That's what we have to prevent."
Wells was astounded. He was an observer of other time periods. It was not his place to interfere. He knew the dangers of altering history. And yet he would never have believed he could cause a catastrophe such as the Doctor was prophesying. Feeling more than a little guilty, he asked, "Do you truly believe my actions have brought us to the brink of this disaster?"
The Doctor smiled. "No," he replied. "I agree with you. I don't think Saunders will grasp an understanding of your apparatus. But I felt you needed an object lesson in responsibility."
Wells nodded. "I hope I am suitably contrite," he said. "Now will you help me repair the transfer capsule?"
"Later," said the Doctor. "First I need your help."
Wells sighed. He supposed he had better co-operate. He had much to fear from the Doctor, and the help he could apparently offer was the only thing he had to bargain with. "Tell me what you want," he said.
The Doctor briefly explained his findings. He concluded, "You have unwittingly provided this entity with a power source. It's been feeding on the chronon stream you beamed into the vortex, drawing off all the energy. That's the reason for the power loss."
"I never realized," said Wells. "I assumed it was my cut out device operating."
The Doctor scratched his nose. "No," he said slowly. "I don't think your cut out works properly - if at all. When I trapped the psychic phantom, the power started to build up according to Saunders's predictions."
Wells shook his head disbelievingly. "I arranged the second injector to build up a stream of chronons in its power coils, with a negative temporal charge. This would be activated at a certain power level, and react with the positive chronons to cancel them out. It is not my area of expertise, I admit, but I thought it would work."
"You're forgetting one thing," said the Doctor. "The Findecker parity principle. When you have chronons with different charges, they're spinning in different directions. Chronons prefer to spin in the same direction, so one set of particles would have reversed their charges to be like the others. In a magnetic field, the effect is much faster."
"I have been a fool," Wells said.
"Well, Findecker's work became largely discredited because of his obsession with double nexus particles. Such a shame really, because the man definitely knew his chronons."
"So, Doctor, what can we do about the alien entity?"
The Doctor rubbed his hands together enthusiastically. "Well," he began, "we feed it with chronons from the accelerator, giving it the power to try and cross over into this world. But beforehand, we will have wired the directional systems of your transfer capsule into the chronon injector controls, so that we can control the disturbance within the vortex. Effectively, we'll be forming a temporal funnel, down which the alien must travel, which will lead it into the accelerator itself. Then we'll use the power of the chronon stream to create a temporal interference pattern and keep the thing contained."
Wells nodded. This was totally outside of his own engineering knowledge, but he let the Doctor believe he understood fully. There were some important points however. "Will it damage my equipment?" he asked.
"I don't think so," the Doctor replied. "If it does, I'll mend it for you. I'll need to make some major repairs anyway, if I'm to get the systems working enough to put my plan into operation."
"Why can you not use your own time vessel?" Wells asked. "Surely that is more sophisticated than my crude transfer capsule?" His tone was sarcastic. The Doctor's criticisms earlier had hurt his feelings.
"Your equipment will integrate more readily," the Doctor explained. "The TARDIS operates in a completely different way - the transfer of artron energy rather than chronon injection."
"I see," said Wells.
"Will you help me?" asked the Doctor.
Wells walked over to the transfer capsule, and placed a hand upon its casing. He looked down at the mass of damaged circuitry. The Doctor's offer to repair the capsule was most tempting. It was certainly the only way he was going to get out of this time period. But still he could not be sure whether the Doctor was telling the truth. It was more likely that a Time Lord would side with the Silencers.
"Can I trust you?" Wells asked.
"Can you afford not to?" countered the Doctor. "What is your answer?"
Wells shook his head in confusion. "I do not know," he said. "I need to think."
"There's no time."
"Please, Doctor, leave me now. I shall seek you out if my answer is favourable."
The Doctor considered arguing further, but he could see little point in that. He nodded, and made his way back to the stairs. He hoped that Wells would make the right decision, and make it soon. If not, it would have to be made for him. The situation was too desperate to allow him the luxury of hesitation.