Monday, 23 August 2010

The Mandrasta Enigma

So this is it – the finale of series 1! At times I did wonder if it would ever happen, if events would conspire against me and either derail the whole series or at least part of it. Thankfully, that hasn't happened and so (a little bit early too!) the finale is now here. A word of warning: not all questions will be answered. The fact that there are loose threads has been done purposefully (there's another two series to fill!), so please don't be hard on the story if you feel it's lacking in answers. All will be revealed in time. There will also be a bit of a surprise in a couple of weeks time, but I can't say anymore about that yet. Watch this space for more details though!

Ok, without any further delay (except to say please go and comment/vote back on Gallifreybase when you've read it – hopefully nice things!), here is the series 1 finale:

The Mandrasta Enigma

    "This whole business of secrecy – why is it so important that I don't know who you are?" The leather chair creaked as she lay back, staring at the figure obscured on the vid-screen in front of her. "If you want the job doing, I need some kind of assurance that I'm going to get out alright. If this thing does what you've said it will, then I need to be able to take you at face value."
    Static hissed at the other end of the communicator, something that she wasn't sure was the noise her prospective employer made before the translator kicked in or the antiquated nature of the comms system they were using. She had insisted on it – untraceable. Exactly how she liked it. The voice crackled back through the white noise, "The information is in the dossier. Retrieve the object, then use the device we give you to teleport to safety. The coordinates will be pre-programmed."
    She sniffed at this suggestion. "What's to stop you teleporting me into the heart of a sun? Destroying any evidence of your involvement?"
    A gargled rasping noise – which she presumed to be laughter – came from the creature on the vid-screen. "We have no need to disguise our involvement. All will know and bow down before the might of the...."
    She clicked the remote, turning off the screen before another diatribe. "Why do they always think I want to hear their sordid little plans for universal domination?" She got up, un-holstered her weapon, checking the power source, and clicked her tongue as she did so (a habit she'd affected after the time she'd spent so far from home). "No time like the present!" She looked down at the dossier, pushing buttons on her language decoder. "Mandrasta Archive, here I come".
Barbara punched the buttons on the food machine, receiving a bar of something that purported to roast beef.
    Ian was looking at his own 'meal', wondering how the technology existed to produce food in this way. His thoughts were interrupted when he realised Barbara had spoken. "Sorry? Yes, I'm sure he'll be fine. You know what he's like, that gruff exterior. Nothing much seems to trouble the Doctor!"
    "But that's just it! Underneath all that, he is Susan's grandfather, and he does care for her a great deal."
    Ian laughed and was rewarded by a scornful look from Barbara for his trouble. He quickly leapt to his own defence. "I wasn't laughing at that, just that, well, he's still got us! Wherever the Ship lands us next we're bound to be caught up in some kind of adventure – it seems almost inevitable now! Besides, you know what the Doctor's like. He'll step through the doors, out onto an alien world, and his curiosity always overtakes him!"
    It was Barbara's turn to smile. "Yes, you're right. He's always happiest when we're up to our necks in mischief I'm certain!" She paused. "Do you think we should take him something to eat?"
    A cough alerted the pair of them to the Doctor's presence. How long has he been there?, wondered Barbara.
    The Doctor had his glasses on, as if he'd been deep in thought about something. If Barbara was more certain, she could have sworn she could seem the remnants of tears streaked down his cheeks. Not obvious, not something Ian would notice. She decided not to comment, as the Doctor didn't mention whether or not he'd heard their conversation.
    "Aha, there you are!" He said it as if a great detective suddenly finding a clue to a puzzle.
    "Did you want some food Doctor?" Ian ventured.
    It was a few seconds before the Doctor replied, lost in thought once more. "What's that Chesterton? Food? No, I'm quite alright at the moment, thank you. Now, I was going what was it..."
    Barbara ventured a helping hand. "Anything the matter Doctor?" It was a mistake, and she knew it as soon as the words left her mouth.
    The Doctor drew himself up, snapping at her. "The matter? Why should anything be the matter!" He paused, hearing himself. "I'm sorry Barbara," reaching out he patted her hand. "I'm getting short-tempered in my old age."
    "Getting short-tempered!" muttered Ian.
    "But I'm not deaf Chesterton, hmm!" At this, the Doctor chuckled, relieving the tension. Ian and Barbara did the same, feeling the air clear as they did so. They looked to each other, as if in answer to Barbara's earlier question. Things were going to be alright.
    "Well come along, come along! We can't stand here chattering all day!" The Doctor beckoned them to follow him back to the control room. "The Ship's landed!" He turned the scanner control, and a picture of a well-lit room appeared.
    "It looks like some sort of gallery or museum." I don't suppose you've brought us home, she nearly added, but stopped herself on remembering recent events.
    Ian peered at the monitor. "Yes, I think you're right. Not one that I recognise though!"
    The Doctor was examining the readings on the console. "Atmospheric pressure appears normal, plenty of oxygen, gravity...that's interesting. Very interesting. Yes..."
    "What is it Doctor?" Ian's curiosity was piqued. "Are we going to end up floating around the place?"
    The Doctor held a finger in front of his face. "No, no nothing like that. No the gravity here is similar to that of Earth,'s been artificially created! Wonderful, quite wonderful!"
    Barbara looked to Ian and the Doctor, both men of science. "So, that must mean...that we're not on a planet." Both nodded. "So...a spaceship?" Ian was unsure, but looked to the Doctor.
    A smile lit up his face. "Yes Miss Wright! A space ship or a space station. No hostile readings..." he pressed the door controls, took up his walking cane from the chaise longue it had been propped against, and ushered his companions through the doors.
    The tour guide stopped at the transmat booth, awaiting the arrival of the last members of the party. He checked the controls, flashing a smile at the crowd already assembled behind him. "We shouldn't be a moment, ladies and gentlemen, just waiting for..."
    On the outside of the booth, a small light changed from red to green, and the automatic lock clicked open to reveal the source of the tour guide's consternation. She stepped out, blonde hair flowing gracefully to her shoulders. She was immaculately dressed in an elegant black number that reached the floor, and as she stepped down it gave the appearance that she was gliding.
    She looked down at the man in front of her, noticing his look of annoyance. She smiled at him, checked her watch and said, "I believe I'm right on time!"
    The tour guide appeared increasingly flustered, checking his own timepiece to ascertain exactly how incorrect she was. His jaw almost dropped as he noticed the time was exactly that of the guest's expected time of arrival. He looked up at her, perspiration coating his upper lip. He was no longer angry, but anxious. This woman was unnerving him, and that was no good for his professional demeanour.
    She could see precisely what effect she was having on him, so beckoned him close enough for her to whisper into his ear, "Deep breath, steady your hands...relax!"
    He did as she instructed, and found himself calming, his breathing slowing, normality returning....He mouthed a 'thank you' to her, to which she winked, and turned back to the group once more.
    "Now we are all here," he gestured to the new arrival, "let us commence the tour! Welcome to the Mandrasta Archive!"
    Ian looked to the Doctor. "Mandrasta Archive? Ring any bells with you Doctor?"
    The Doctor was busy studying a glass case, or rather the label that was attached to it. ", what's that Chesterton?"
    Barbara was equally fascinated by another exhibit, studying the manner in which it was displayed in addition to the object contained within. She however heard what Ian had said, and relayed it to the Doctor. "Mandrasta Archive I think Ian said."
    "Well, it appears to be some kind of museum, but not one that I've encountered before." He turned to look at another case. "Just look at that!"
    Ian moved to the Doctor's side, looking into the glass case. Within, stood a tall metallic figure, an axe held tightly in its grasp. "It looks like the tin man from The Wizard of Oz!" Ian remarked. " it me, or doesn't it have a face?"
    The Doctor was tapping a finger to his chin in quiet contemplation. "No, no, nothing you'd call a face. It probably has a different sensory system, micro fibre-optics and the like."
    Barbara looked to Ian mouthing 'micro fibre-optics' in a puzzled way. Ian shrugged and walked after the Doctor who'd already starting moving to the next case.
    Barbara stayed where she was, looking into space directly in front of her. Ian noticed she hadn't moved and walked over to her, trying to discern what it was that she was staring at. She was looking through what appeared to be a window, but through it was nothing but blackness. No stars as he would have expected, but never-ending darkness.
    "Well that's impossible, isn't it? No stars in the middle of space?" Barbara turned to Ian to see he was just as perplexed. "I mean, no matter where we've been in the galaxy, we've always seen stars, haven't we?"
    Ian stood thinking for a moment. His scientific mind wondered what to make of it. "Unless we're not in space. Maybe we're in some sort of chamber. Maybe the Doctor's got it wrong. It wouldn't be the first time would it?"
    Barbara smiled. "I suppose you're right." She scanned the rest of the – admittedly sizable – room. "Where is he? His scientific curiosity has got the better of him I suppose."
    Before Ian could respond, three burly looking men were approaching them, all carrying some kind of weapon. They'd both been through this scenario before and immediately put their hands up.
    The men fired at the pair of them, and the last thing either of them saw before falling into unconsciousness was the other sinking to the floor in a stupor.
    "Now this exhibit here..." The tour guide had relaxed into his regular role once more, though hadn't noticed the elderly figure who'd joined his group.
    The Doctor was less concerned with the tour itself, rather the information he could glean about his surroundings from listening to the commentary. He noticed a rather striking woman, blonde hair flowing to her shoulders, glance over at him occasionally. He was sure he'd never met her before, assuring himself that while he looked old, he was – relatively speaking – a young man and his memory was as good as it had ever been.
    The party had stopped again while the guide began giving a lecture on the history of the Mandrasta Archive. The Doctor's ears pricked up, eager to establish more about his surroundings.
    "The Archive was originally located in the orbit of the planet Scalintra. Unfortunately the time disturbances in the local area required it to be relocated elsewhere and it was moved to the outskirts of the Valannti system. Then following the rather distressing...."
    The Doctor found his attention beginning to wander. He was now looking into a case in front of him, staring at something which couldn't possibly be where he saw it. He moved closer to the object, reading the display information.
    "Impossible, quite impossible!" muttered the Doctor. The woman who'd been looking at him glanced over once more, and headed in his direction.
    "Marvellous engineering," she smiled, ruby red lips revealing immaculate white teeth.
    The Doctor turned to look at her. "Yes young woman, quite so, quite so. What rather troubles me is how it got here!" He pointed a finger at the case. "This 'exhibit' belongs to me!" Before the woman could add anything further, the Doctor barged through the group, heading straight for the tour guide.
    The tour guide was completely oblivious to the commotion the Doctor was causing, instead trying to remember the facts of his script. "...and later, of course, after the Prevayan incident, the..." He had no time for anymore as the Doctor, finger waving sternly in his direction, interrupted him.
     "Young man, what have you done to my Ship?"
    The guide stared at the Doctor in disbelief, becoming as flustered as he had while waiting for the late arrival. "I'm...I'm sorry sir, I don't know what you mean. No ships are permitted, or indeed capable of docking with the Archive."
    The Doctor waved his hands in the air. "Don't be so ridiculous! My companions and I came here in my Ship, which somehow you seem to have sabotaged!"
    The assembled crowd looked on at the scene around them with great interest. The guide held out his arms in protest. "Sir, I can assure you, there has been no..."
    The Doctor pointed back to the case. "Then what do you call that, hmm? Hardly a decorative table now is it?"
    The guide tried desperately to assert some authority. "Sir, that artefact has been within the Archive for two millennia. There is no chance that it could..."
    The Doctor grasped his lapels, drawing himself up to his full height. "Now listen to me young man, I won't stand for this any longer. You are severely trying my patience, and I demand that you take me to see whoever's in charge around here." The guide stood frozen to the spot. "Right away!"
    The woman who'd earlier calmed the man stepped up and looked him straight in the eye. "I would do as he says. He can be very persistent." She paused, a serious look on her face. "And so can I."
    The guide needed no further encouragement, and attempted to usher the Doctor away from the crowd as quickly as possible. Before he could go too far the Doctor stopped and stared at a face amongst the throng of onlookers. "Miss Wright, there you are. Tell Chesterton not to go back to the Ship. These people seem to have helped themselves to it while we've been gone. I'm going to get to the bottom of this mystery." The woman nodded in agreement, then watched as the Doctor was led away.
    What the Doctor didn't see was the woman turn to the person next to her and say, "Poor man. I have no idea what he was talking about!"
    The person next to her flicked her blonde hair over her shoulder, looking at who'd just spoken.
    At that moment she knew that things were far worse than she'd thought.
    Ian coughed and attempted to rub his eyes. They felt gritty, like he'd fallen asleep in a sandpit. His hands wouldn't reach his face though, bound together as they were by some kind of restraint. He looked through the blur of his vision to see Barbara attempting to find something to break her own bonds with.
    As he blinked more rapidly, the room came into focus. It was small, a little bigger than the TARDIS appeared from the outside. On one side was a hatch that let light in, on the other a small table on which was placed a handwritten note.
    "Barbara, are you alright?" he called across.
    She was busy using the corner of the table to try to cut through the straps, and had partially succeeded. "Yes. I've nearly cut through these. Just a few more..." A triumphant exhalation of breath announced to Ian she'd succeeded, and she quickly moved to undo his bindings.
    Hands now freed, Ian rubbed at his wrists. "Do you know, something strikes me as a little odd about all this."
    "Yes, I know what you mean. A place this advanced, and they tie us up with little more than string!" Barbara moved to the table, picking up the note there. "Ian, look at this."
    Doing up his shirt cuffs, he walked over to read it. "Well that's very strange. No name or anything?"
    Barbara checked the other side of the paper, but found nothing. "At least we know it wasn't the museum's security that did this, but we still have no idea why."
    Ian looked at the note once again. "Well, what does it mean? 'It's nothing personal. I just needed you out of the way.' Who would write something like that?"
    "If they know the Doctor, there might be no end of possibilities. I can't think who'd want us out of the way though. The Daleks and the Voord wouldn't be that polite!"
    Ian nodded, and tried the door handle. The door swung open with no force at all. "Curiouser and curiouser. Come on Barbara, let's find out where we are."
    The Doctor was being led through what seemed like an infinite expanse of corridors. He was sure they been going around in circles, recognising the same exhibits more than once in passing. Suddenly he stopped, the guide only realising because of a lack of a second set of footsteps.
    "Young man this is quite preposterous! How long do you plan on leading me on a wild goose chase, hmm?"
    The guide stopped and turned back to the Doctor. The nervousness in his voice had now disappeared, his outward appearance now, while not completely confident, somewhat reassured compared to his earlier self.
    "Sir, the route through to the management suite is the quickest possible, I assure you."
    The Doctor stepped forward, grasping his lapels. "This is pure fiction. I don't believe you have any intention of taking me to any higher authority. I believe this is some kind of diversion, made to distract me from what's really going on here!"
    The guide smiled and turned to his left. "But we're here sir. Just through this door." He pushed open a door which the Doctor could have sworn wasn't there a moment ago. He gestured for the Doctor to enter.
    With a "Humph!" the Doctor stepped through, though the sight that greeted him filled him with dread. He turned back to the door, but it had vanished. Looking around him, eyes wide, he couldn't believe what he saw.
    "No, it's impossible!" He looked to the other side of the room to see a very familiar figure standing there. "What are you doing here?"
    The tour party had waited for a few minutes before realising they'd been abandoned. People had given up any pretence about being discreet now, loudly voicing their displeasure at the circumstances.
    While this was taking place, the blonde-haired woman took the opportunity to talk to the woman who the Doctor had assumed was Barbara. "So that man, the one who left here with the guide, you've no idea who he is? You've never seen him before?"
    The woman looked at her. "No, I don't think so. Is he someone I should know? Someone famous?" There was a definite confusion in her eyes, her thoughts a world away from the place they now stood in.
    "You are Barbara Wright, aren't you?"
    The woman smiled, as if a half-remembered memory were blossoming like a flower in her mind. "Yes. At least I was, a long time ago. But then everything changed. My world collapsed around me. Nothing recognisable in sight, no one I knew or cared for. So I had to adapt. It's amazing what you can learn when you've been away from home for as long as I have."
    The blonde woman reached out a hand of reassurance, but instead of taking it, Barbara pushed it aside and strode towards exhibit #497. "I don't know what this is, but it's what I'm here for, and it's what I'm being paid to liberate from this place."
    She quickly turned, pulling a small object from behind her back. She threw it into the otherwise occupied crowd, the gas pouring out causing them to cough and retch before falling to the floor. She knew the effect wouldn't last long, and that she must act fast.
    She paused. The blonde woman wasn't with the rest of them on the floor. She scanned the room, but there was no sign, as if she'd simply vanished. Turning back to the case, she attached another small device to the glass panel and pressed a button. The glass didn't shatter, merely reverted into sand and fell in a pile at the outside of the box.
    "Very neat! You've been doing this for a while, haven't you?" The blonde woman was standing right behind her, seemingly admiring her handiwork. "I'm guessing some kind of teleport is how you're getting it off the ship. Followed by yourself. And then whoever you're working for is going make life very uncomfortable for those of us left here."
    'Barbara' looked at the woman once more. "But how could you possibly know that?"
    The ruby red lips parted, and the woman grinned mischievously. "Spoilers!"
The corridor was in pitch darkness, Ian feeling his way cautiously along it. The smooth walls gave no indication of where they were going, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Abruptly Ian halted, his hands feeling the edges of some kind of opening.
    "I think we're in luck Barbara!" He tried to force the door outwards.
    Barbara rested against the wall. It felt as if they'd travelled for hours and miles. "I hope so. This place seems never-ending! Any idea where we might be?"
    With a sudden click, the door slid open, revealing artificial illumination. "Maybe we can find out in here!" proposed Ian and the pair of them walked through. The room was dominated by a large screen, which seemed to be the only light source in the room. Rows of chairs were situated in front of it, though all were unoccupied.
    "It's like a cinema. Smaller in size, but..." Barbara strained her eyes trying to see into the darkness.
    "I wonder what the main feature is?" asked Ian, half-jokingly.
    As if in response, the screen darkened briefly, then began to show something. The pair of them sat. Barbara looked to Ian, who shrugged as if to say that he had about as much idea as she did why this had suddenly started.
    A title card announced, "A History of the Mandrasta Archive", followed by what they assumed was the exterior of the craft itself. It looked strange, almost as if they'd seen the design somewhere before, but neither of them could place it.
    A voiceover began. "The Mandrasta Archive, one of the finest collections of artefacts on this side of the galaxy, appeared around the planet Scalintra generations ago. No one is entirely sure of its origin, but speculation has been rife that the craft was abandoned due to some unspecified event."
    "Sounds like the Marie Celeste in space!" commented Barbara.
    "Shh. Eat your popcorn!" joked Ian and received a light punch to the arm for his trouble.
    The voice continued. "However continued time disturbances around the planet caused it to be relocated to the Valannti system, where it remained for over 250 years until the entire solar system was destroyed." Throughout, the images showed the various planets near which the Archive had been located, Ian and Barbara giving appreciative nods and noises as each one appeared. "After this, the Archive briefly stayed in orbit around the planet Prevaya, but again time anomalies and various other factors forced the Curators to relocate once more."
    The screen changed once again, showing an image of a blazing sun. The image changed gradually, and Ian realised that they were witnessing the death of the star. Ian had no idea how they were witnessing it, but he could see the star collapsing.
    "No one knows quite how it happened..." the voiceover continued, but Ian's realisation as he turned to Barbara seemed far more important.
    "Do you know what this means Barbara?" Ian turned to his companion in disbelief.
    "...but the Mandrasta Archive was finally relocated..." the voiceover continued.
    "What is it Ian? My grasp of astronomy was always a little sketchy."
    " the heart of the star Gryphl, which had by now become..."
    "The star collapsed. The Mandrasta Archive is inside the star! We're in the middle of..."
    Both Ian and the voiceover reached the same point as one. "...a black hole."
    The Doctor stared intently at the other figure in the room, sizing them up before approaching. "Yes, I thought as much. You know, it's like..."
    The other figure opened his mouth to speak, stepping out of the shadow completely for the first time since the Doctor had entered. "...looking in a mirror. Quite, quite."
    The Doctor and the Doctor stood facing each other, saying nothing for a moment, before realising that there was a far more practical course of action. "Something's gone very wrong here, very wrong. You've crossed over your own timeline!"
    The other Doctor coughed. "Actually, we've crossed over our timeline. That is, well, it's all rather difficult to explain."
    Both Doctors knew what to do immediately. Closing their eyes, fingers resting lightly on their temples, two minds became one from the moment the word "Contact" was spoken.
    The connection was over in seconds, the pair acknowledging each other immediately it had ended. The Doctor tapped his chin thoughtfully. "So what about Ian and Barbara? There was no memory of them, none at all."
    Realisation suddenly hit the other Doctor like a slap around the face. "Susan! She's still on the Earth!"
    The Doctor waved a hand to silence his double. "Yes, yes. I know that. She'll be more at home in the 22nd century I'm sure..." he mused wistfully.
    "22nd century? What ever are you talking about man? Susan is still in the 20th, the 1960s!" The other Doctor looked at the Doctor with a stern look, defying him to contradict him once again.
    The Doctor clapped his hands together and emitted a small chuckle. "That's it! Our timelines – they've gone in different directions!"
    A smile crept onto the other Doctor's face. "Of course! Yes, it's quite clear. From your memories I could see you left the Earth with those two schoolteachers, but I've never met them! The ship started reacting strangely to the local environment, so I was forced to take off!" He paused, a moment of solemnity crossing into the momentary happiness at his epiphany. "Poor Susan, trapped on a primitive world..."
    The Doctor shook him from his thoughts. "She will be alright, quite alright. What concerns me more is why two versions of our timeline have converged."
    "Well isn't it obvious?" asked the other Doctor. "The black hole we're in the centre of has obviously got something to do with that!"
    The Doctor sighed. "Yes, we know the how, but not the why!"
    At that moment, the light in the room went out momentarily, blinking back on just as quickly. The room was different.
    The Doctor recognised it immediately. It was the room that the Ship had landed in.
    And there, in the corner, was the unmistakeable shape of the TARDIS.
    River Song stood there watching 'Barbara' at work as she attached two more small pieces of technology to the exhibit. "Very nice touch, but it's not going to work."
    'Barbara' rounded on River, pulling out the weapon she'd been concealing. "I don't know how you know any of this, unless I've been undermined and they've got someone else in because they don't think I'm capable, but I will use this if I have to."
    The smile left River's face, a look of seriousness descending. "I know you won't, Barbara Wright. You may have experienced so much since you left Earth, but you're not so changed. You're not a murderer."
    'Barbara' held up the weapon in one hand and pressed a button on the comms device she now held in the other. "It's ready. Teleport me out and I'll give you the codes to activate it." She looked at River slyly. "Always pays to look after yourself first." She fired the weapon, River falling to the floor. "And you're right, I'm not a murderer," she said to the other woman's unconscious form, "but you're going to wake up with one hell of a headache."
    A click at the other end of the communicator let 'Barbara' know that her instruction had been received. Yet she didn't move. She turned to the exhibit and watched as it begin to fade out of reality. "They've hacked the codes! I knew this would happen!" She raised her weapon, flicking a switch on the side. She fired two shots, just enough to damage the transporter nodules she'd attached to the machinery. Immediately, the flickering stopped, the console solidifying once more.
    The comms unit crackled again, 'Barbara' just able to make out a garbled message about 'betrayal' and that 'detonation would commence in fifteen minutes.'
    She sighed, looking at the prone figure on the floor. "Oh alright!" she said aloud, as her conscience told her what she knew she would always do anyway. She grabbed River under her arms and began lugging her in search of a way out of the Archive.
    The tour party were beginning to wake up, getting to their feet unsteadily. 'Barbara' remembered the teleport, but again her better judgment – and going against her 'look after number one' rule – took over and she shouted, "Teleport out of here. You've got 15 minutes before this place is completely destroyed."
    Word spread fast throughout the crowd as they rushed to the teleport booths, one hitting an emergency alarm button to let anyone else in the station know that something was gravely wrong.
    I'm really not cut out for this, thought 'Barbara', realising that her only hope of escape might now be cut off completely.
    Barbara looked to Ian, concern evident on her face. "Well what does it mean Ian?"
    Ian rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well whoever's built this place has obviously managed to stabilise it here. So, as long as nothing disrupts our surroundings..."
    At that moment the alarm sounded, cutting through any conversation the pair might have had.
    "I think you spoke too soon! We've got to get back to the TARDIS!"
    Both of them ran to the door in panic. "We're going to need a bit of luck of on our side. We still don't know who put us here, or why," rationalised Ian. "We've got to find the Doctor, and the Ship, and we've no idea what that alarm means!"
    "I don't suppose it could be a false alarm or some kind of drill?" Barbara put forward, more in hope than in the belief that it might be true.
    "Who knows? Let's just hope we can get this door open in time!"
    Finding the edges where the door had been, Ian managed to prise it open, though outside the corridor looked very different. For starters, it was illuminated and looked far more in keeping with the parts of the Archive they'd been in before they'd been knocked out and tied up.
    Both of them stepped outside the room and began walking down the corridor, past exhibits they thought they'd already seen. Upon reaching the end, they stepped through an archway, into a room with a large vaulted ceiling, ornately decorated with an intricate pattern of swirls and circles.
    They shifted their eyes back to the room itself, Barbara squinting to make something out in the distance.
    "Is that..? Yes, I think it is! Oh Ian, look!" She pointed directly ahead, and there, in all its blue splendour, was the TARDIS. Barbara made to walk towards it, but Ian held out a restraining hand. "What's the matter Ian? We need to get back there as quickly as possible!"
    "I think we need to exercise a little caution. Look what happened to us earlier. Whoever did that could be waiting in an alcove to do it again! Or..."
    Barbara looked up, a faint smile forming on her face. "....we could make a dash for it!"
    Together they silently counted down from five, then ran to the other side of the room.
    Before they got there, Barbara stopped, unable to comprehend what she was seeing.
    There, mere feet away, was her exact double.
    "Well now, there's a turn up for the books! My Ship!" The Doctor allowed himself another little chuckle and began to head towards the TARDIS.
    The other Doctor set off towards the craft too. "I think you will find that is my ship sir, and it is I who shall be taking it away from this place."
    The two men were walking faster, trying to outrun the other and be the first to reach the door. As they approached, both men removed the key from their pocket, holding it out as if they could win by the proverbial nose.
    Yet the Doctor could not move any further, held back by an unseen force. The other Doctor placed his key in the lock, opening the door. "Your ship must be around here somewhere, and I would take you with me, only you seem to be stuck there and I must get back to Susan, poor child."
    The Doctor reached out a hand. "Wait, wait! You're mistaken – this is the exact spot I landed in! That's my Ship!" His words were in vain, the doors closing and the TARDIS dematerialising before his very eyes.    
    As soon as it was gone, the Doctor found he could move once more, and shook a hand at the ceiling. "I don't know who you are, but when I find out there will be a great deal to say! None of it pleasant!"
    The Doctor strode towards an archway at the far end of the room, just able to discern two figures at the far end. They seemed unable to see him, instead too busy concentrating on another person who seemed to be pulling along the blonde woman he'd seen earlier.
    "Most peculiar," he commented, and hurried through the archway.
    'Barbara' looked up from dragging River across the floor to see her reflection. Though the reflection came not from a mirrored surface, but the face of another person. Another person stood next to someone she knew once. Ian! Ian Chesterton from Coal Hill School.
    She dropped River to the floor rather unceremoniously and stared at Barbara intently. The same look was directed back at her, neither woman quite sure what was happening.
    'Barbara' spoke first. "I'm not sure I really understand what's going on. You are Barbara Wright aren't you?"
    "Yes," answered Barbara. "And so are you it would seem. But what are you doing here? Where's the Doctor?"
    Unnoticed by either of them, River had got to her feet. "A very good question." She smiled at Ian who was somewhat taken aback by the attention.
    'Barbara' reached around for her weapon, but sleight of hand meant River had already taken it, holding it up in defiance. "I wasn't going to let you knock me out again!" She looked to Ian and Barbara. "While we're on the subject, apologies for earlier on. They didn't hurt you, did they?"
    Ian looked incensed. "So that was your doing? What was the meaning of that? We're no threat to you I'm sure."
    River could see that Ian was in no mood to be fobbed off, but equally there was little time to explain. "I know I have no business asking you to do this, but trust me. There was a very valid reason." She paused. "I know the Doctor."
    "And yet I, young lady, have no idea who you are! None at all!" The Doctor took in the scene around him, his mind trying to piece it all together.
    "Doctor!" chorused Ian and Barbara.
    The Doctor shook Ian's hand and patted Barbara affectionately on the shoulder. "What have the pair of you been getting up to, eh?"
    It was Barbara who answered. "After you left we got knocked out – apparently due to her," she pointed to River, "involvement. We found out that we're in..."
    "...a black hole. Yes Miss Wright. That alarm is of great concern though, as are both of these individuals."
    'Barbara' looked to the Doctor. "So you're the one whose name's been mentioned."
    "Yes! And that over yonder is my ship!"
    'Barbara's eyes widened. "Your ship? Well then you can get us out of here. The teleport pods are overloaded!"
    Before the Doctor could say anything more, River spoke up. "Actually, it's not his. Well, it is and it isn't. And I'm sorry I've got to do this, I really am." She raised the weapon that they'd all forgotten about and fired in the direction of the Doctor, Ian and Barbara.
    All three fell to the floor, Ian just managing to utter, "Not aga..." as he slid into unconsciousness once more.
    The Archive was almost empty, the last of the tourists having teleported away; any staff were long gone.
    All that remained were three prone bodies lying on the floor of the main exhibition hall, as the blue box shell of the TARDIS began to dematerialise.
    "This ship, it's extraordinary!" 'Barbara' was still taking in the new environment in which she now found herself. "It's not yours though is it? You're stealing it!"
    River moved around the console, flicking switches. "It's the Doctor's. Just not the Doctor that we left on the Archive. It's from his future. Way into his future." She paused. "But yes, I did 'liberate' it from him, but it's for his own good."
    'Barbara' sat down. "How can stealing someone's transport be good? You've stranded him, left him to his death!"
    Another press of a button. "No, I'd never do that. He'll find a way out, he's very good at that." She smiled, her look then taking on a more serious tone. "Everything that just happened was wrong."
    "You're telling me! I was supposed to be teleported out and receive a rather handsome fee for delivering that exhibit to my employers." She could see River was about to ask the question, so quickly answered it. "No, I don't know who they were. They preferred to remain hidden."
    "Ok, so that's something else I don't know." River sighed. "I need your help. It wasn't part of my plan to involve you, but now you're here..."
    'Barbara' sat back in her chair. "Why should I help you? What's in it for me?"
    River hesitated, then after a few seconds said, "Existence."
    Alarm still sounding, Ian helped Barbara and the Doctor to their feet. The Doctor was dusting himself down, Barbara rubbing at a sore spot on her shoulder.
    "So Doctor, any ideas what the alarm is for?" Ian looked hopefully at the older man.
    "I wish I did Chesterton. As it is I don't know how long we've got left or..." The Doctor looked to the now empty space where the TARDIS had stood moments before. "Unbelievable! That's the second time that's happened! Second, in one day!"
    Barbara looked confused. "Another TARDIS?"
    The Doctor waved her away. "Yes, yes, but it's a very long story Miss Wright. At this precise moment we need to concern ourselves with how we're going to get away from this place!"
    "And they stole the TARDIS because the teleport pods are overloaded! Would there be any other ships here Doctor?" There was hope once again in Ian's tone, but even he didn't really believe it to be possible.
    The Doctor thought for a moment, tapping his finger against his lips. He turned away momentarily, then back, raising a hand in the air. "Of course! I've got it! Though we must move quickly. Ian, Barbara, follow me – we may just get out of this!"
    Far faster than they both thought possible, the Doctor moved out of the room, Ian and Barbara forced to double their pace to catch him.
    "I hope he really does know what he's doing," said Barbara as they followed him.   
    "There's only one way to find out!" Ian added in response, and both began jogging after the Doctor.
    "The black hole. It seems to be the centre of a lot of strands. Timelines, from different realities, all seem to be coming together right there." River began her explanation, 'Barbara' thinking it best to just sit back and listen. "You, for example. You're from a different timeline to the one I know. An alternate version. Somehow something caused you to end up at the Archive, but I don't know what yet."
    "So," 'Barbara' began, "the other version of me, the one we saw, travels with this 'Doctor'?"
    "Precisely. Only somehow you coincided at the same place and time. It's all connected to the Doctor." River pointed to a small screen near the central console. "I've been tracking back through the Doctor's timeline, looking for fluctuations. There've only been a few blips here and there so far, time jumping back on occasion – sometimes big jumps, sometimes small. The thing is, the Archive is the furthest back I've been, and it seems to be the source of it all." She looked directly at 'Barbara'. "But I have a horrible feeling that things are about to get a lot worse."
    "And you need my help. I don't know why you'd bring me along after I stunned you though."
    River turned on the scanner screen. "At the moment, I need all the help I can get."   
    "Come on Ian, the Doctor's leaving us behind!" Barbara was panting for breath, but still hurrying after the Doctor with as much speed as she could.
    Ian waved her on, trying his best to catch up. The corridors seemed as never-ending as the ones they'd been in before. He closed his eyes, pushing his body for another burst of speed.
    As he opened his eyes he had to stop quickly to avoid colliding with the stationary forms of Barbara and the Doctor. They'd halted outside a door, the like of which Ian was sure he'd seen before.
    "Ah Chesterton, there you are."
    Ian paused to regain his breath, then spoke. "So, this door has some kind of significance? I'm sure I recognise it, but I'm not sure where from."
    Barbara nodded in agreement. "Yes, I've had that feeling quite a lot recently."
    The Doctor was examining the handle, offering only a "Hmmm" in response. Suddenly he turned to the pair of them. "Well of course! Indeed, there's something very familiar about it. I have a feeling the answer lies beyond this door."
    Ian looked incredulous. "Is it really the time for investigating mysteries Doctor? We need to be away from this place, and fast if that alarm's anything to go by."
    The Doctor took a hand of both Ian and Barbara's in his own and looked at them with a severe expression. "Now listen, the pair of you. You trust me, do you not?" Both nodded their assent. "Good, good. Well the thing is there are an awful lot of answered questions that I'd like to get to the bottom of, and I have a very good feeling that through that door lie not only the answers but a way out of our predicament. As long as I have your trust we shall make it through this, I promise you."
    Barbara looked to Ian, and then to the Doctor. "Alright Doctor. Ian?"
    Ian shook the Doctor's hand. "Alright Barbara, Doctor."
    The Doctor nodded, opened the door, and the three of them stepped through it.
    A sudden alarm began shrieking, River completely unaware as to the cause. She moved frantically around the console, trying to ascertain the cause.
    'Barbara' meanwhile kept her gaze fixed on the scanner screen. The outside showed the blackness of space, the image of a black hole directly ahead of them. The warning light barriers placed near the hole were beginning to flicker. "The technology used to keep those in place must be the same as that which keeps the Archive stable," commented 'Barbara'.
    River looked up at the screen, unable to find what she was looking for anywhere on the control panels. "Yes it is. But they shouldn't be flickering like that."
    More and more of them were going out, a force causing their disruption as if they were blinking out of the universe itself.
    It was then that River realised what was happening.
    "No, we've got to move. I'm on the wrong side of it, in the wrong timeline."
    'Barbara' spoke. "I don't know much about astronomy, but I'd say that it looks as if that black hole is..."
    "Disappearing. The link between two universes." She stopped, both her and 'Barbara' staring at each other as they realised what else it meant. "And the Doctor's at the heart of it."
    They stared in horror. All the warning lights had gone out. Where the black hole had been, only starlight remained.
    The Archive was no more.   

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