Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Enemy Within

The penultimate story of series 2! Good grief, where's the time gone? What this means is that next week is finale time...and the week after is Xmas Special time! So, a busy couple of weeks for me! Anyway, back to this week, and it's the return of Matt Fitton who, after working wonders with the 8th Doctor last time, has done it again!

Enjoy it, it's another corker!
The man held himself with dignity and an air of aloof superiority despite the fact of being secured to his chair with chains. His chestnut curls were trimmed to an inch above his stiff white collar, which was encircled by a black silk cravat. A short black velvet jacket, over a waistcoat of silver brocade and smart charcoal trousers completed the look.
Alistair looked at him through the one-way glass, and felt a shiver as the man turned his head to gaze in his direction and seemed to fix on him with blue-gray eyes. The prisoner smiled, his lip curling with arrogance, then moved his head in a beckoning gesture to his unseen observer.
'Do come in and chat. I'd offer you a brandy, but I seem to have mislaid the key to my drinks cabinet.' He paused, lips pursed and surveyed the room's bare walls as if for the first time. 'And my drinks cabinet.'
Alistair glanced through the file in his hands one more time, before passing it to the sentry on the door.
'I'd definitely keep a close eye on this one,' he advised the young private as he waited for the door to be unlocked.
'Yes sir, Brigadier-General Sir.' The boy saluted, and Alistair entered the cell.
The prisoner once again gave a haughty smile. 'My dear Lethbridge-Stewart. What an unexpected pleasure.'
Unperturbed, Alistair pulled up a chair and settled himself across the table from the man. It was relief to be off his feet at last.
'Who are you, and what have you done with the Doctor?' He paused for a second, looking into the prisoner's icy blue eyes. 'Hang on... you're not him, are you?'
Striding across the Cloister Room in triumph, the Master hardly noticed the two bodies lying on the stone floor among the leaves. The transference had been even more successful than he dared hope. He shook the twisted manacles from his wrists, and threw down the spiked metal crown, twisted and burnt by the final burst of energy.
He didn't even glance at the dessicated husk sinking among the ceremonial Time Lord robes.
On his way to the Control Room, he missed the fact that dead leaves were falling thicker and faster around the surrounding columns. And most essential of all, he failed to see the great stone eye, just recently shining with light and energy, begin to fade and slowly, inexorably, close.
'Thank you, Doctor,' he breathed as he felt the blood – the Gallifreyan blood – pulsing through his veins. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair as he walked. Something of a change, but perhaps he'd keep it. The clothes, on the other hand, would certainly need attention.
He reached the console room at last. Yes, the Gothic appealed – that could stay too. Amused by the Doctor's candle-lit library, he strode onto the central dais and flexed his fingers over the controls.
'Thank you.' He started to chuckle.
'You're welcome...' came a strangely familiar voice at his ear. 'But I do wonder just how long your gratitude will last...'
Instinctively the Master spun round, but there was nobody there. He began to flick switches, turn dials, and press levers. But as he did so, each control he touched seemed to flicker and cut out. The lights across the console grew dimmer with each adjustment. Growing increasingly frustrated, he hit the console with a fist and reached up to pull down the scanner screen suspended above.
<LOCKDOWN INITIATED> was all it showed.
'No!' Frantically, the Master now raced to reach every last glimmer of life on the console, and coax it to do something. Anything, apart from fade and die.
The voice came again. And this time he knew precisely where it came from.
'Ooh. You don't want to be pressing that. Or that. Did you really think it would be that easy?'
'Doctor, this is impossible. What have you done?' he shouted in rage.
The voice explained. 'My predecessor was nothing if not a planner. And you've triggered his Emergency Shutdown. You know, I'd be looking for the door control unless you want to spend the rest of your – sorry, my – lives in a cold, dark room. Though I promise I'd be the best of company.'
The Master located the lever as the last lights faded on the console. The whole room was getting darker already, and the toll of the Cloister Bell was slowing and fading to nothing.
He turned and ran for the slowly opening doors.
'I will have your machine Doctor, and I will keep this body!'
'Oh don't you worry, I'm not going anywhere,' came the Doctor's voice from the back of his mind. 'Ever.'
'So, you remember nothing about Greyhaven and the Martians? Miss Summerfield? Miss Pollard? Malebolgia?'
The man just shrugged at each reference.
'You're not even pretending to be the Doctor, are you?'
'Come along, Lethbridge-Stewart. I knew you were a plodder, but surely even you can work this out.'
Alistair fixed his gaze on those piercing eyes. Something behind them was familiar, but he was sure now that it wasn't his friend in there.
He took in the black velvet, the leather gloves, and the man's bearing. The arrogance. It was the arrogance that sealed it.
That, and the report he'd just read, which detailed the destruction of one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.
'Good Lord, I suppose if the Doctor can do it again and again, there's no reason why you can't too.'
The man sat back in his chair with a triumphant smile and applauded. Slowly.
Alistair gave him a cold stare of his own.
'You'll be pleased to know we've kept your cell warm.'
The man seemed relieved. 'At least there'll be the chance of a decent cup of tea back in Blighty. The Californians are so very eager to please, but they seem incapable of letting the leaves stew for the right length of time.' His expression changed to one of seriousness.
'Yes. I am the Master, and I am more than happy to obey you.'
He grinned.
From his vantage point on the lowest strut of the south tower, the Master could see the deserted Golden Gate Bridge stretching out before him across the water toward the dusty brown Marin Headlands.
He turned to face the source of the gathering noise. Sirens and helicopter blades from the forces assembled at the edge of the city. This was more like it. After months of skulking in the underworld, he was finally getting the recognition he deserved.
It hadn't been particularly easy, to marshal the necessary resources and put his plans into action. But he had relished the opportunity to put this new body through its paces.
He brushed an invisible speck of dust from his black velvet sleeve with a leather-gloved hand.
Finding a decent tailor had been a particularly testing period.
Then there had been the other trouble. The Master concentrated intently, cleared his mind, allowed his thoughts to breathe.
The Doctor's residence in his mind had been gradually diminished, through an intense programme of self-hypnosis, meditation, and sheer force of will. He thought back to how he must have appeared in those first few weeks – wandering the streets, arguing incessantly with himself. Like a hundred other madmen on the streets of San Francisco.
Step by step, day by day, he had gained more and more ground from his old rival. Until he was finally able to set his own agenda and follow it through. After all, when it came to matters of the mind, he was the Master.
What precisely had happened to his old enemy, he wasn't entirely sure. Simply dormant, he suspected, gathering his strength for a renewed barrage. But he had formulated a plan to ensure he would be rid of the Doctor for good.
It had taken time, but he had acquired materials, facilities, and recruited assistants – both willing and not so willing. At the end of the current financial year, the San Francisco State University would be contemplating some rather unusual budgetary decisions in its Science and Engineering faculty. But the results would be seen by the world.
The Master contemplated the silver box in his hand. Once activated, it would send a signal to release the steel-devouring parasites he had developed and grown in the lab, and which were now deployed at intervals along the cables of the sunset-red suspension bridge. He had also arranged some on the north tower: he thought the collapsing effect might prove pleasing from this position.
A cherry-picker commandeered by the armed forces had pulled up below, and was slowly raising a platform toward him. He surveyed the array of armed men surrounding his tower and felt the weight of their assembled weaponry aimed at him.
It was good to be back.
'Mr Mayor, I see my transport has arrived.' The Master spoke into a microphone on his lapel. Hands-free was safest when scaling tall structures – he knew from experience.
As the rising platform drew level with his own, he raised both arms in surrender, and allowed one of the four soldiers to take the silver control unit. He could see more vehicles drawing up below: this time bearing the familiar winged insignia of UNIT.
'I see you have been as good as your word. Such obedience will not go unrewarded.'
He stood in silence with his armed companions until he was returned to earth. Then, he allowed himself a small smile as UNIT guards took over the escort duties and directed him toward a waiting trailer.
As they frisked him for weapons and prepared the manacles, the Master considered for a second, then pressed one hand to his breast pocket and activated the slimline secondary control unit he had secreted there.
It was a pity to let all that hard work go to waste.
'So you hold an entire city to ransom to get what you want. Then go ahead and destroy the bridge anyway when you do?'
'What can I say? It's been a while. I suppose I just got caught up in the moment. I'm so glad it got your attention.'
Alistair narrowed his eyes in contempt. He'd relished the time away from this room. A few hours for a wash and brush up, then more briefings while the Hercules was prepared and loaded with the… other cargo.
And further special arrangements had been made. He glanced at the attaché case he had brought with him and placed on the table.
'You don't change, do you? Well, now you're UNIT's problem once again. I wasn't due back to the UK till April. Happened to be in the next state, and I'm quite happy to take an early flight to make sure you get there in one piece.'
'A flying companion? Marvellous. Only, please don't hog the seat-arm. And don't have your headphones on too loud. I do find that noise irritating in the extreme. Do you know, will it be chicken or beef?'
There was a knock at the door. It opened, and Alistair nodded to the young private, who stepped aside as an upright trolley, furnished with straps, buckles and padlocks was wheeled into the room.
The Master threw his head back and gave a short laugh. 'Taxi for Mr Lecter! My, my... You're really not taking any chances are you?'
Alistair stood as the accompanying soldiers manoeuvred the prisoner into the restraints.
'Where you're concerned, we've learned not to. The hard way.'
He followed the gurney and its occupant through the corridors. His joints were feeling particularly stiff today, but it didn't do to let the men see you struggle. He might have to seriously consider using that cane after all. To make matters worse, the flight stockings were starting to itch already. He wouldn't bother with the blasted things, but Doris did worry with all the long-hauls he'd been taking recently.
The prisoner made the odd jovial comment to his guards, but Alistair stayed well out of his eye-line. He felt responsible for the damnable fellow, but wanted as little to do with him as possible.
At last they reached the waiting Hercules, and the Master was wheeled up the cargo ramp. He laughed aloud again as he saw a familiar blue oblong shape lying in the otherwise deserted hold. There was the sound of marching footsteps as a column of troops began to file on board.
'You found her then? I did think about leaving a note. But it probably wouldn't have lasted. Terrible area for crime... Gangs... Muggings...' The Brigadier walked round to the front of the trolley and the Master threw him an inquisitive look. 'Shootings?'
Two of the UNIT troops took position on either side of Alistair: the young guard from earlier, and a young woman. Alistair handed his attaché case to the boy, who held it up so he could enter the combination.
'Oh yes. We're not as clueless as you think. We've pieced together some of the facts. A very confused report from a motorcycle officer. A gunshot victim picked up at the same scene, whose records mysteriously disappear. As does his body.
'Then his surgeon disappears too – a pretty young thing by all accounts.
'An ambulance driver from the same hospital – also vanished. His wife found murdered in her bed.'
One corner of the Master's mouth ticked upward. Alistair flicked open the case.
'Not to mention your face. It's been seen before. By me. As has that gunshot victim's, from the hospital closed-circuit television.
'I'm not entirely certain how it all fits together yet, but somehow I think you've switched places with the Doctor. We have you; we have his TARDIS – so I'm sure that sooner or later he'll turn up. But until he does, we'll keep you both securely under lock and key.'
'Who needs in-flight entertainment when I have you, Brigadier? I'd applaud you again, but…' The Master glanced regretfully down at his cuffed wrists.
'Don't you worry,' Alistair said as he picked something up from inside the case. He held out a syringe to the female officer. 'The only concern I'll have on this flight is whether or not you snore.'
The young medic loosened the Master's collar and pulled away the cravat.
'Don't lose that. It's bespoke.' He gave the medic a disconcerting grin again, as she pressed the needle to his neck. 'You don't seriously think knockout drops are going to work, do you?'
Alistair allowed himself a smile. 'Not your common-or-garden knockout drops, no. But this is a very special variety, prepared by Miss Elizabeth Shaw, and kept on stand-by at all international UNIT command centres. Tailored to your own physiognomy, I'm given to understand. Time Lord knockout drops. I believe a Doctor or two may have helped with the recipe.'
Alistair took some pleasure in seeing the prisoner's composure finally shaken. The Master's eyes widened, and he struggled as the syringe's contents made its way into his system. 'No, no, no, no… No!'
'Such a fuss about such a little prick…' Tutting to himself, Alistair went to take his seat for the flight.
The Master never even heard the engines fire for take-off.
He looked out across the bright white void.
He could make out a figure. For want of anything else to do, he made his way toward it.
It was the Doctor, of course. As he had been: in that ridiculous long green velvet coat, the hair unruly and chaotic. He was humming a jaunty tune.
Floating in front of the Doctor was a battered navy blue suitcase with the lid hanging open. He was folding a garishly coloured patchwork quilt into a more manageable size. Wait – he glimpsed a lapel... It wasn't a quilt at all.
'I was wondering when you might turn up,' the Doctor addressed him without looking up.
The multi-coloured coat had gone. Into the suitcase. Now, the Doctor was weighing a black furred Astrakhan hat in one hand, and a broad-brimmed floppy felt one in the other. He dropped the Astrakhan into the case and took a rolled-up cream Panama hat from under his other arm. He unfurled it and looked up.
'You can never have too many hats.' The Doctor looked into the middle distance and furrowed his brow in concentration. 'Or is it heads? Too many heads? I always get them confused.' He dropped the two hats into the case and faced his visitor.
'So, how've you been?'
'You are still here after all, Doctor. Or am I just dreaming you?'
'Oh, I'm as real as you want me to be. You're the Master here, after all.'
The Doctor was now lowering a black umbrella into his luggage, holding it by its curved red handle. Despite being far too long to fit, the umbrella disappeared into the case.
'I will be rid of you soon enough Doctor. I have plans.'
'Ah yes, you and your plans. You always have plans. Ridiculous and convoluted plans, but always endearingly predictable.'
The Master narrowed his eyes. 'Tell me, if I am so predictable, what is my next move?'
'Well that's just too easy,' the Doctor smiled, pointing a wooden recorder at him. 'You're giving yourself away, Master, or should I say, Professor… Keller.'
The Master looked down. In front of him had appeared a black dome, fixed onto a short opaque column. It sat on top of a flat base equipped with dials and meters. He looked down at himself, seeing an immaculately cut charcoal Saville Row suit, and in his left hand, a large and opulent smoking cigar. He touched his silver-grey tie, then his own face: he felt bristles on his chin, a moustache, a Roman nose, and a high, distinguished brow. He looked at his reflection in the highly-polished surface of the machine.
He was himself. He chuckled malevolently.
'Always good to see a familiar face, Doctor. And how fitting that you should be aware of the engine of your own destruction. The Keller machine was built to manipulate and contain the mind. I spent some time in Switzerland working on several prototypes, which your UNIT friends saw fit to seize. They will yet prove useful.'
The Doctor was ignoring him, and humming the tune again, adding the words of the chorus as he folded an extravagantly frilled shirt into the case.
'Off she went with a trumpety-trump. Trump. Trump.' He looked up again. 'Trump. I'm sorry, were you saying something?'
'I'm glad to see that you are preparing for departure, Doctor. But what does one pack for oblivion?'
The Doctor looked at the floating blue case as if seeing it for the first time. 'Oh, this old thing? It's not for me. No, no, no, not for me at all.' He grinned at the Master and promptly vanished.
The Master frowned, strode over to the case and looked inside. There was no sign of the Doctor's rag-bag of clothing and accoutrements. Inside was just black: folded black velvet, with a pair of neatly folded black leather gloves resting on top, beside a pair of large black sunglasses.
He picked up the glasses, looked at his reflection once again.
And saw the Doctor's face staring back.
The Master awoke with a start. He flexed his arms. Free once more.
A blank white ceiling filled his vision. He blinked twice, then sat up and took in his surroundings.
As good as his word, the Brigadier had brought him back to England. He recognised the place as one of the UNIT holding facilities in the shires. He had passed through a few of them on several previous occasions en route to more secure accommodation. It looked like the security here had been upgraded considerably since his last visit. Beyond the bars he could now see a further transparent barrier: glass or plastic of some sort, with a key-card entry system.
His sparsely furnished cell contained a bunk, a sink, a bucket, and not much else. It was around ten feet square, painted white – quite recently if his nostrils were not mistaken.
Reminded of his confrontation – or was it hallucination? – the Master ran his fingers over his face once again. Yes, the Doctor's stolen features were still his. There seemed to be no ill effect from the tranquilising drug, but his wrists were sore where the straps had chafed. Lethbridge-Stewart would be made to pay for that indignity.
He turned his thoughts to more important matters. The Master concentrated. Closed his eyes. Found the still point.
'Come out Doctor, where are you?'
'I know you're there somewhere…' He thought he sensed a presence – but catching him was like holding onto a dream on waking.
His old enemy was obviously not going to be summoned on demand: but soon that would not matter. He would be forcibly ejected from wherever he was hiding.
The Master looked around the cell once more. There was a camera in the top corner above the bunk, protected by a perspex screen.
He stood and rattled the cell's bars.
'I'm afraid I've been taken ill. Would you like to open my cell to check on me?' he called down the empty corridor.
Beyond the bars and the glass wall that enclosed them – bulletproof, he assumed – two armed UNIT soldiers jogged into view.
He could see a third and a fourth taking position at either end of the corridor. Each of them had a key-card dangling from their belt.
'I'm so sorry. I thought I requested a room with a view,' he smiled apologetically at the two men. They waited for a moment, then shrugged to each other, turned, and walked away.
The Master sat on his bunk, removed his jacket and attended to a loose thread in the cuff of his shirt.
Everything was proceeding according to plan.
The Master chose not to dream. He had far too much self-control for that.
But at moments of rest, instances of reflection, there was… something.
A drumbeat.
No, not a drum. It was more than that…more than a rhythm.
A tune.
Dum-de-dum, diddy-dum diddy-dum. Dum. Dum. Dum.
In his meditation it vaguely annoyed him, but no more than that.
And when he was awake, it was dismissed, and he continued with his work.
Four days later, the Master removed the last of the latex disguise from his face. He discarded the light blue engineer coveralls, and retrieved his favoured velvet jacket from his holdall. He shrugged it on and looked around.
The Black Archive. Its contents were his for the taking.
But there was only one thing he was interested in. He pulled the stolen PDA from the holdall and consulted the schematic. He needed to be three levels down.
Quickly, he found the elevator, reached the right floor, then searched the stacks with a pen-torch.
At last, he found the crate marked K-S-9906753. Taking the crowbar from his holdall, he made short work of the container. Inside were smaller metal boxes, holding some of the by-products of his experiments in Switzerland. And one more vessel: a foot-long black, translucent tube. It clicked smoothly open at his touch to reveal a shifting black plasma which coated the inside of the capsule. The Keller capsule.
He worked quickly, using the circuitry from his hold-all to rig a temporary control panel for the capsule. He fed the dormant cloned cells from the other metal containers into the main capsule. They were rudimentary copies of the original alien parasite, but they should suffice. Of course, most of the Keller technology was reliant on the power of the mind, so it was just as well that he was the Master of such things.
He concentrated on the capsule: he saw the void within, ready for its new occupant. He sought through the furthest reaches of his mind, visualising the Doctor. Seeing him fall, watching him slip down, down, down the elephant's trunk.
No, that wasn't right. He checked the control circuitry.
Perhaps instead, he should connect the elephant to the elephant. The Master shook his elephant to try to clear it. Shook his… head.
He looked up and straight at a mirror image of himself. No, not himself.
The Doctor.
'Time to say goodbye to the circus, Master.'
'What are you doing… to… me? Doctor…'
'No. Not doing… Done. Past tense. I've just been telling you what you wanted to hear. You are the Master of my mind, that sort of thing.'
'What have you done… to my mind?'
The Doctor took on an admonishing tone, as if scolding a small child. 'Again, no. Not yours. Mine. You've been an unwelcome guest. One who's stayed too long and drunk all the milk. Finished the bread and not been to the shops. Left the stereo on full blast and hasn't turned out the lights… You get the idea.'
'But I subdued you. I reduced you to a whisper in your own consciousness.'
'But a whisper was all I needed. To keep you busy. And plant little suggestions of my own. Get captured by UNIT. Break into to the Black Archive. Find the Keller experiments. I knew you'd find a way.'
'You mean, this, the Keller capsule-
'-was my idea.' The Doctor paused for a response. Receiving none, he continued, 'You're welcome.'
The Master had no words left. The Doctor's smirking face made a mockery of all his planning, all he thought he had achieved to get to this point. All part of the Doctor's trickery.
The Doctor loomed above him, growing larger by the second. Laughing.
'Please, Brer Fox, whatever you do, don't throw me into the briar patch! You should really extend your reading material beyond Sun Tzu, you know.' The laughter stopped abruptly as he ran his hands through his shortened locks. 'And what have you done to my hair?'
No, the Doctor wasn't growing. The Master was shrinking. He felt himself slipping, falling back. Back. Into the capsule.
'No… Please, Doctor. Have pity…'
'Pity, you say?' The Doctor's face hardened, eyes narrowed and a steely tone entered his voice. 'One word, Master – Grace. As soon as you'd used her to open the Eye, you killed her. I made sure she was the last. I couldn't stop you from doing most things, but at least nobody died by these hands.
'You want dominion over creation, yet all you do is destroy. Well, that ends. Now.'
The Master felt as if the ground had been pulled from beneath him, and his only sensation was one of falling. An everlasting drop, never knowing when the final jolt might come. In a last desperate bid to assert his existence he used all the energy of his failing mind to call out to his foe.
'I… Am… The … Master… And … You… Will…'
'Oh, do shut up.' The Doctor snapped closed the lid of the Keller capsule. Then blinked as the lights across the whole floor flickered into life.
Alistair made his way down from the gantry surrounding the archive crates. He was alone: he'd refused an accompanying bodyguard, though troops were stationed outside. He'd brought his stick though – just in case.
'Is it… you, Doctor?'
The Doctor raced over to meet the old soldier at the foot of the stairs and gave him an enormous hug.
Shrugging off his attentions, Alistair pointed his walking stick at the shining black pod on the floor.
'He's in there, is he?'
'What's left of him. The Keller capsule contains the consciousness: it has an affinity for negative thoughts, so he's like catnip for it.'
The shifting plasma inside the pod swirled madly. For a second Alistair could have sworn he saw a face – a demonic, furious face.
'Well done, Alistair.'
'I can't take all the credit. You basically told me what I needed to do on the flight over. Let him escape and gain access to the Black Archive. But don't make it too easy. Or obvious. You were remarkably talkative for a man who'd been rendered unconscious.'
'Sorry, I had to rush. I didn't know how long the sedative would give me. But you trusted me - it could easily have been a ruse.'
'Well, you did keep breaking into a rather rousing rendition of Nellie the Elephant. Somehow, I can't see that being in his repertoire. Oh, and you asked after Doris, too. Something else I can't imagine him doing.'
'Oh yes. Nellie's been a great help. You see, I could build my own little enclave inside his consciousness through repetition – a chant, a song, any old nonsense, just to create a barrier and stay under his radar. I haven't been this me for very long, you see. I needed some time to regroup – to find myself, if you like. Although, when there are eight of you, it's hard to get lost.
'Eight now is it? And they all live in there? Inside your head?' Alistair peered at the sincere, earnest face with its frame of dark curls.
'After a fashion. And believe me, there are some very strange fashions… By the way,' the Doctor stretched his fingers in front of his face to mime a prominent proboscis, 'He sends his regards.'
He was now searching the pockets of the unfamiliar jacket, then felt at his collar and finally produced a silver key on a chain around his neck. 'The TARDIS?' he asked.
'It's right outside, Doctor.'
The Doctor scooped the Keller capsule under one arm, and placing his other over Alistair's shoulder, he swept him back toward the elevators.
'Now, if I haven't already exhausted your generosity, Alistair, I just need to ask one last favour…'
'I'm alive!' cried the victorious Master as the unfettered life-force pulsed through the ravaged cadaver he inhabited.
All but vanquished, the Doctor himself felt the last vestiges of energy being drained from his body. The Eye of Harmony was acting as a conduit for the elemental forces, channelled through the filter of the Time Vortex. He had never been so close to nothingness.
'This… can't be… how it ends!' he cried in despair.
Then he saw his chance. As his living energy was drained, there was a void in his being, which – if he concentrated on the Eye, on his TARDIS's Eye – he could use in a last ditch bid for survival. His was the Gallifreyan body, the natural home of these forces: his opponent's was barely more than an animated corpse – and a human one at that.
He extended his final, summoning thoughts toward the Eye, and through it to his enemy's body, replete with the living energy of two Time Lords. With all the strength he had left, he held open the channel. The emptiness in his own being acted as a vacuum, pulling back the whole: Doctor and Master together in one mind and body.
His mind and body.
Exhausted by the effort of will, the Doctor's essence retreated and hid. Trapped within the confines of his own mind, virtually powerless, he felt the burning as the energies of the Vortex suffused his body, melting and twisting the metal that held him. At the same time, he could feel the Master's control growing, bolstered by the power of the Vortex and sheer will to survive.
Then, he felt nothing.
'Now what?' he wondered.
He suddenly seemed to find himself in an empty white void.
No, not empty.
There, in the distance, he could see figures moving slowly toward him.
Seven of them.
Of course, it had burned his eyes like billy-o, but Alistair hadn't protested. Odd thing was, right after looking into that shaft of light, Alistair could swear that his joints felt a little less stiff. And he was getting the feeling back in his left shoulder. Suddenly the great stone ball in the middle of the – Cloister Room, was it? – had started to shake. It seemed to split, and gradually opened – like some sort of immense eye.
The Doctor had stood over it, watching in silence. Then he'd dropped the black Keller capsule into the swirling energies within. With a glance toward one of the archways, he had turned and walked back toward the Control Room.
Alistair had followed his glance and started in shock at what was there.
Now back in the Control Room himself, he was wondering if he'd imagined the sight. Actually, now he concentrated, wasn't his vision a little better too? Alistair blinked and took in the Gothic arches and elaborate columns around the TARDIS central dais.
'I see you've redecorated. A bit ostentatious isn't it?'
The Doctor's face was set in concentration as he watched the TARDIS controls flicker back into life. 'My predecessor: he got rather melodramatic in his old age. I have to say, I rather like it.'
'Erm, Doctor. I couldn't help noticing, but there appeared to be a couple of bodies back there…'
The Doctor frowned in silence. Then looked up at the scanner: he pulled the screen down on its extended arm. 'Temporal Orbit? What's a Temporal Orbit?' He looked into the middle distance for a moment, the suddenly slapped his own forehead. The Doctor's face lit up as he practically danced around the console. 'You sentimental old thing…'
Before Alistair could ask who on earth he thought he was talking to, the Doctor was racing back toward the Cloister Room where two of the luckiest humans on the planet were waking.
From death.
The boy would be an administrative nightmare. Chang Lee was wanted in his own country in connection with a number of criminal activities, but the Doctor had been most insistent. He shouldn't be allowed to return to the US until January 2001 at the earliest. Discipline was what he needed, and so Brimmicombe-Wood could take him under his wing. Alistair was sure he'd be fine with him.
The surgeon – who had proved just as feisty as Alistair had come to expect from any female acquaintance of the Doctor – still seemed undecided. He had offered her a flight home, but Dr Holloway seemed rather taken with the Doctor's company.
She was in the TARDIS now, as Alistair said goodbye to his old friend outside in the UNIT grounds.
The Doctor seemed to be in two minds about something. He started a tentative query. 'Those things you were telling me – him – about… Martians?'
'Oh the Ice Warriors at British-'
Suddenly the Doctor clamped his hands over his ears. 'Shh-shh-shh! I mustn't know. Not yet. I've only just become me. Can't wait to see what I get up to.'
'Well, I'm sure you'll be fine. Do take care of the young lady won't you?'
There was a glint in the Doctor's eye that took Alistair by surprise. 'Don't I always, Brigadier?'
'Just… look after yourselves.' He began to walk away from the TARDIS. 'Oh, and Doctor,' Alistair called. 'If you're going to San Francisco…'
'Be sure to wear some flowers in my hair?' the Doctor flashed a grin. 'Sorry Alistair, go on?'
'They may need some help with a rather large bridge-building project.'
'Ah yes. Sorry about that. I had some control over what he did, but not necessarily how he did it.' He rubbed his chin as if considering several possibilities. 'But my destination is rather dependent on my passenger,' he glanced through the open TARDIS door, then stepped toward his old friend. 'Thank you, Alistair…' The Doctor took his hand in both of his and shook it warmly.
'Always a pleasure, Doctor.'
'I'm so glad I'll be seeing you again, though mum's the word, eh?' With a conspiratorial wink and a smile, the Doctor disappeared through the door. Alistair could hear the two of them gabbing away inside.
'So, Grace? Straight home? Or perhaps you'd like a little detour first? The moons of Rigel Beta are rather spectacular at this time of year…'
'And what time of year is it?'
'Any time you like. This is a time machine after all. Now, where was I…?'
The door closed, and the TARDIS lantern began to flash as the engines started their rumble.
Alistair's lips settled into a wry smile. He shook his head as the familiar blue box faded from view.
Some things never changed.

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