The Book of Five Rings
After she had been left alone by her captors, Jo gradually realized that the gentle throbbing of the monitoring devices did induce a sort of hypnosis. It was possible to be frightened, to sense the vast isolation of being swept out into space by kidnapers, and yet to be induced into sleep from the rhythms reverberating around her in the small, closed in room. It seemed that there was a monitor for everything--breathing, heart, liver, lungs, and small calculators that softly dinged at given intervals and seemed to signal some sort of change status in her blood.
Through all this they had not drugged her, not since the mysterious injection given to her by the hideous alien. But gradually she came to realize that the ceiling and the walls had been designed to respond ever so slightly to her own body's status, changing color and tone as she changed, as emotions decreased or increased. The flow of air in the room also had its own rhythm and pulse. The bed or table that she was on was contoured specifically for her, designed to respond to her struggles to get free with soothing counter pressures. It was rather like being held in the arms of some great, gentle creature, holding her immobile, but doing its best to assure her, feed her, clean her, and care for her. And there were moments when the work of the counter pressures or the rhythms did assure away her fears. She sank into deep and dreamless sleeps that might have last for five minutes or five hours. But the control of her environment was not total. The reality of her desperate situation often came back to her. She had been kidnapped; she was being taken some place far from the Doctor and the comparative familiarity of the earth: Pushed into the unknown, and restrained, tied down to a table.
She had been trained not to lose track of time in imprisonment, but she guiltily realized that under the influence of rhythmic colors, rhythmic pressures, rhythmic sounds, she had lost every instinct of time. She did not know if she had been bound like this for two days or two months. Eventually, it became difficult to distinguish between sleeping and waking.
And then suddenly there was an interruption. The sealed door, which had remained closed since her first visitor had bid her a mocking good-bye, was pulled open with a pneumatic hiss. Two men rushed into the small cabin and began yanking out the electrodes, needles, probes, and tubes that had connected her to the machines and to the table. They worked with quick, precise jerks of their wrists and hands, wordless and efficient. She heard herself screaming as they ripped apart this fragile security of her chamber. All illusion of security and comfort disappeared. She struggled against the restraints.
One of them whipped out a long and slender needle and expertly tapped it into the side of her neck. For a moment she was completely disoriented. They unbound her hands and legs from the table.
They grasped her by the arms and pulled her to her feet, heedless of her cries of pain as circulation returned to her legs and feet and reactivated nerves that had been dormant.
Her arms were quickly pinned behind her, re-fastened, and she was rushed into a narrow ship's walkway, pulled along, and then halted before a vast door that raised very slowly. She heard voices over an intercom system and realized that it was an airlock, and that two ships had met in space and joined each other.
She was pushed through as soon as there was room for her to get by. Two more men waited for her, clad in immaculate coveralls, their hair shaved close in military style hair cuts, their faces clean shaven. With practiced ease, they took her from her captors, rushed her through an airlock door onto their ship, and hustled her down a slightly wider and more spacious walkway. The needle was pulled from her neck and discarded.
She was pushed into a booth and sensed lights and other rays passing over her. Outside the booth, she heard what sounded like the closing of a business transaction. The words, "guaranteed description," and "Twice tested and certified" caught her ears. Papers were traded back and forth. Her previous captors left quickly, and she was pulled out and hauled along to another cabin, where she was forced down on her back onto a table, and her arms and legs locked in place with padded restraints.
"Who are you?" she cried. "Where is the Doctor?"
They walked out. The door closed behind them.
* * * *
It was worrisome that to the Doctor that he and Mags should be separated for any length of time without any type of contact. And it dismayed him that with all the gadgetry he had hauled into the TARDIS over the span of his travels, he had never bothered to include a working set of transmitters and receivers. But the young PI had business to conduct for him.
And there were tasks for him to perform--analyses of where he and Jo had been together in the TARDIS, what Jo had been exposed to in her few travels with him. He spent the greater part of the afternoon rummaging through dirty laundry that they had thrown in heaps in one of the back rooms. He had to find some recent sample of her blood. She was always bleeding--always scraping fingers or her knees or sliding down the face of a quarry or mountainside or getting chained to a bomb and then squeezing out of the manacles. And there was that one time in the TARDIS she had leaned down to tie her shoe and had plunked her nose right against the console and fallen dead over, dazed and with a bloodied nose. He should have kept a separate pile of all the handkerchiefs he was always handing her to tie up this gash or that gash or clean blood off her face.
At last he did find one of his handkerchiefs, nicely mottled with blood. This one was from the time Sgt. Benton had tried to teach her a little field judo. Ah, that was a memorable day . . . For a moment he was lost in thought as he held the handkerchief, lost in a personal time travel of his own--Benton apologizing, Mike Yates scolding, and Jo looking at him with mournful eyes and a bloody nose, holding her hand out for his handkerchief. And afterwards, conciliatory beer and tea at a pub while cold autumn rain had flacked helplessly against the windows of the pub, unable to bring the cold to them. For a sudden, stark moment, the Doctor missed the familiarity of his exile and the closeness of his companions on earth. Instantly he threw off the bit of nostalgia. Earth had been confining and restrictive.
Abruptly, he hurried back to his medical equipment: Solvent from the locker's medical supplies, a container for the handkerchief. All the medical equipment had to be hauled out and set up in a jury rigged medical lab right in the TARDIS. He was busy for hours.
But at last he had it set up, and the solvent nicely lifted the blood off the handkerchief. Dilution did not matter. His equipment could discount the inert substances and tell him what the blood contained per micro liter.
The results were predictable. As far as he could determine, Jo was as susceptible to disease and illness as the next person. The body pirates should have no prolonged interest in her. For a bleak moment he considered the possibility that it was all a false lead, that they were on the wrong trail entirely.
But then he realized the time. The afternoon was getting on. Where was Mags?
He went out the doors of the TARDIS and scanned the barren, rubbled street. The sun was nearly setting. The Doctor resolutely locked the TARDIS doors behind him and pocketed the key, ready to set out after her in search, but just then he heard her. "Oy! Major! Back inside!"
About a block away, she came pelting over the broken concrete of the street as fast as her short and slender legs could take her. Keeping his eyes on her, he quickly unlocked the door again.
Something dark, fast, and silent zipped over her shoulder and smacked into the concrete. Arms pumping desperately, she actually managed to increase her speed. He started towards her.
"Nuts, Major!" she yelled. "Back inside! Gimme room!"
It actually looked like she might make it unscathed, but just as he was ready to duck inside to make room for her to pass, one of the silent black darts found its target. She yelled and kept coming, but her steps suddenly became ridiculous and misguided. She staggered and collapsed, then tried to spring back up.
"Go," she yelled to him. "Get out of here! They're on us, old man!"
He raced forward and--with a quick jerk of his wrists and shoulders--swung her up in a fireman's carry, then darted back into the TARDIS with her. The doors closed after him. He set her down on the floor and rolled her over on her face, then pulled the dart out with a swift jerk.
"Oh!' she cried, and was still, but not unconscious. He checked her pulse, sniffed the tip of the dart, and cast it aside. He rolled her back into his arms, tore away the visor, and looked down at her.
"They done me, Major?" she asked with a gasp. Her round green eyes, larger than the eyes of any human, were standing out in fear..
He shook his head. "Temporary, Mags. Should wear off in a minute or so. They just wanted to stun you."
"I'm scared to die," she blurted, then said, "I can't work me legs."
"It's all right," he assured her. "It's going to numb you for a few minutes. It's all right."
"You ain't lyin'?" she asked with a gulp. She was losing her power of speech. In a spasm of fear, her fingers clutched at his lapel as she suddenly found herself unable to use her throat and mouth to talk.
"I want you to relax, my dear," he told her. "No, I'm telling you the truth. They were trying to capture you--Body pirates would never waste a life that they could harvest for themselves."
She swallowed, tried to speak, but couldn't move her lips correctly to articulate.
"It's all right," he said gently. "I've got you, Mags. You aren't dying. Just relax. I'm right here."
A shudder passed through her. She fixed her eyes-- big with fear and intense with the strangeness of this experience--on his face. But after a minute she swallowed again, and then she whispered, somewhat haltingly, "That was a bad 'un, even for me."
"You're very brave," he said.
"I can feel me hands again." But her fingers still clutched the lapel of his jacket.
"Let's try to get you up," he said, lifting her to her feet. The attempt was premature. He had to hold her up. She startled him by suddenly throwing her arms around him and clinging to him for a second. After a moment he gently patted her mat of curly hair. "All right now?" he asked.
"I told you I was scared to die," she whispered resolutely. "But you won't know it by what you see me act, I promise. I'll do what I 'ave to for you."
For a moment he did not even know what to say. At last he said, "I know you will. I'm confident of it."
She stepped back, recovered, though he could see that her legs were quivering. She swallowed and handed him a chit of paper. "I done like you asked, Major. Went and scouted out the suppliers and outfitters. Them recovered medical ships got pretty specific sizes for air tanks and fuel and such like. Here's what was bought." And then she handed him a flat, shining disk. "You might get annoyed with me, boss, but I took it on meself to get into the flight control station. I nipped the scans of the atmosphere for the day they left. I figured you can make sense out of it."
He took it with some wonder. Creeping into a flight control archive took some audacity, and stealing information like this took skill.
"Yes, I can read it. It's the monitoring reports of every ship that came in and came out of communication range of this place. It will tell us the direction they actually took when they left this place."
She nodded. He fed the disk into the TARDIS console, examined the readout, and plotted coordinates. Then he examined the piece of paper she had given him.
She gazed around the vast room. "You know, I been meanin' to ask you Major. How did you get a spaceship that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside?"
"Oh, probably a slip at the factory," he said lightly. She turned to him.
"Can you make heads or tails of that stuff? Can you get us where we need to be?"
"I think so, if I keep it rather linear and simple." He glanced from the console to her. "The TARDIS's favored way of travel is to leave time and space entirely and then re-enter at the point where I direct her. So what we have to do now is come out of time and space and go in again further up the trail, moving up at intervals, tacking along their trail."
She pulled out a cigarette as she gazed at the place.
"Mags, must you smoke?" he asked.
"I gotta smoke to think, Major."
He made no objection as he switched on the drive power.
The lights suddenly flickered. He glanced up. "Yes, she doesn't like that. Exiting and re-entering the laws of physics again and again is hard on her, but I think she'll do it."
The main console's piston began to move up and down. Mags stiffened, the cigarette hanging unlit in her mouth. "It's all right, my dear," he said.
She removed the cigarette. "We flyin'?" she asked.
"We are," he confirmed. The lights continued to flicker, and the piston unit in the center of the console moved jerkily. The sound of the straining TARDIS engines filled the room.
He glanced down at the console. "This information of their trail is a big help. I can pick up the particle trail they left behind," he said. He switched on the viewer.
She was less at ease than he in the wavering light, but she adopted an air of coolness. "I wonder how much a lead time they got on us," she said.
"I can determine that from the decay of their trail," he told her. "We're forty-eight hours past Jo's abduction now. To judge from their trail, they left with her about eighteen hours ago."
She didn't say anything, but lightly smacked her fist into her palm. Even though inexperienced with space travel, Mags had enough insight to know that an eighteen hour lag in space was catastrophic. With limitless possibilities of confusing a trail and seeking hiding places, eighteen hours would afford renegades a gold mine of opportunities to get away from pursuit.
"The most likely stop for all ships after here is Kryac Station Two, Major," she said. "Fuel is less expensive there, and so are air and water. But if these blokes are fueled up, I don't know why they'd stop over there."
"Yet it does look like they were heading to Kryac Station II," he agreed. "Well, the TARDIS has somewhat rebelled against traveling by coordinates, but I believe she's accurate in following a trail. I'm going to program it in to follow this trail until its interrupted or crossed," he said. "And we can use a declining scale of time as we follow it."
"A what?" she asked.
"Let's see, if I push it too far, we'll end up trying to follow the trail before it was made--"
"How can we do that?" she asked.
"I'm going to decline us into time five minutes for every minute that we travel," he told her. "That ought to close the gap significantly and reduce our chances of losing the trail."
"We're going backwards in time?" she asked.
"Yes, at a very slow rate," he told her. She came around the console and peeked over his shoulder as he worked. Instinctively, she fished into a jacket pocket for a match, produced one, and put the cigarette between her lips. Without even glancing up, he used his near hand to pluck it out of her mouth. "I'm doing the thinking now, Mags," he reminded her.
"Blimey but your a picky one," she said, taking it from him and returning it to her pocket with a rueful smile. She strolled away, leaned against the lockers, and looked thoughtful.
"Look, what happened back there?" he asked her.
"Ah, I was lucky," she said. "I was comin' back towards you and this machine, and I seen I was bein' followed by one of them apes. He swung right onto me outside of the flight control centre. I led him a merry chase a while and went back to my place--thinkin' maybe he'd leave off."
"Not much hope of that," the Doctor said.
"You just never know," she told him. "I been on cases and see someone on my tail--think' it's a repercussion you know? One time I was dead sure the chap I had my sights on for stealin' from the casino had sicced two of his pals onto me. Turned out I was wrong. They was just honest purse snatchers, latchin' on to a lady alone--which they presumed me to be."
"Did they get your money?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "I took it upon meself to show them the error of their ways," she told him. "Then got my tips from the casino for turnin' them in." She smiled. "And then I got the one I had been trackin' down. Turned out to be a very good day for me."
"And how many black eyes did you collect for all your trouble?" he asked her, glancing up a moment before returning his attention to the console.
"You can't rack up more than two at a time, Major," she reminded him. "I got my lumps that day, as I recall," she conceded. "Part of the job, innit?"
He didn't answer her, intent on plotting out the course they were following. "This course will take us to Kryac Station II," he said.
"I'd like to know what those blokes think is so important about your bird," she said.
The Doctor glanced up.
"I've checked samples of her blood," he said. "Nothing unusual."
"The big killer sickness right now is the haemmomora virus," she told him. "I mean, among mammals and quasi-mammals and such like. Any poor bloke with hemoglobin in its veins."
"Haemmomora, the blood killing disease," the Doctor said. "She is not immune to it, not as far as I could determine."
"Well, them's that's immune to it would be their prime targets," she said. "They could get rich sellin' the body parts a' just one person that's recovered from it. Most don't."
Deep in thought, she fished out the cigarette again. He stiffened. She did not notice at all. She produced the match, struck it, and lit up. Very quickly, the control room of the TARDIS filled with smoke as she took several thoughtful drags. A red warning light flashed hysterically on the console. Mags barely gave it a glance, assuming it was one more mysterious gadget in this amazing ship. He furiously punched up compensation codes in the ship's air system controls.
"What's this ship got in the way of info services?" she asked.
"It has its own vast memory banks, of course," the Doctor told her. "But it's not connected to any research services or indexes, if that's what you mean."
"That's too bad." She wandered over to the console. "The ship we're tailin'--that disk I give you has the full rec on it. Why not pull it up if you can?"
He obliged her, and nodded over to the viewing screen. She ground out the cigarette on the pristine floor of the TARDIS. Before she could light another one, he said, "Look, if you want to learn to use that viewer, come here and I'll show you." Anything to keep her hands busy so she could not smoke.
* * * *
"We're coming up on Kryac Station II," he said to Mags.
She was still ardently studying the information she had called up onto the screen, but she relinquished it back to his control so that he could view the station.
"That so-called medical ship we're following is registered to Universal Mining and Exploration," she said to him. "That's how they got away with putting forward guns onto it. Exploration ships get special licenses."
"Is that significant?" he asked. "Blast!" he exclaimed. "There's been too much traffic in here. The trail's been crossed over."
"What do you mean?" she asked him.
"I mean that we've been following a trail of ionized particles," he told her. "Well, the whole seascape here is crisscrossed with ionized particle trails from all the ships coming and going."
"Let's go in and dig up the info on foot," she said. "See where they docked. Ships have to dock at a station, right?"
"Maybe," he said absently. He was drawing with his finger on the console of the TARDIS.
"It's significant because Universal Mining and Exploration is owned and operated by the Golden Group," she told him.
"What's significant?" he asked her.
"That the ship with your friend is owned by Universal," she reminded him.
Once again not paying attention to her, he finished his tracing on the TARDIS console.
"Why would a ship just out from port and all fueled up have to dock at the space station?" he asked. "These fellows aren't colonizers, and they aren't vacationers or tourists or explorers. They've got somewhere to go and need to get there. Yet they come into the orbiting zone around a space station."
Patiently, she fished out a cigarette, and he did not notice until she'd lit it. "Why do people come in to space stations?" she asked back. "Fuel? Food? Provisions?"
"They already have all of those," he said.
"So what else could they get here?" she asked. Then she answered herself. "How about information? Suppose they have contacts here."
"Not information," the Doctor said. "Anyway, not necessarily."
"What then?" she asked.
"Contacts--a switch off," he said. "What better place to transfer their goods than here, where there's all kinds of traffic and business going on?"
He glanced down at the console where he had traced his invisible design. "I plotted the trajectory of their flight path into the orbiting zone. Let's follow that trajectory and see where it leads us. My guess is that they never docked at all."
He set the controls. "What were you saying about the Universal Mining and Exploration Company?" he asked.
"They're owned by the Golden Group," she said. "It's a holding company that also owns the casino where I been workin'."
"Well, at least it gives us an idea of what may be in on the business end of this piracy ring," he said. "Here we are--yes, there is a trail that I'm picking up, headed back into open space. No wait--"
"What's wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head. "It runs dead into another trail--would have been a larger ship with a much more powerful wave motion detector on it, to judge by the ionization swath it made. And then our trail is doubling back, riding back on itself."
"Battle in space?" she guessed.
"No, there would be debris and radiation," he said. "I think it was a meeting in space. A transfer of cargo, perhaps." He looked thoughtful. "I think they transferred Jo to the second ship."
"You better be pretty darn sure, mate," she said. "Before we go traipsing off after a ship we ain't never seen nor got no record of."
"I'm not sure at all," he confessed. He punched up some controls. The lights had been wavering and the engines of the TARDIS giving off more sounds of stress than usual, but suddenly the lights steadied and the sound diminished. "We're going to have to hang right here in space until we think this through. We've got to follow one trail or the other, and we've got to have a reason for which ever choice we make."
"All right," Mags said. "This happens to me when I'm on a case. I get so close to one thing, I forget the rest."
"What?" he asked.
"Look, let's remember the whole picture. That Master fellow. He got snatched, remember?"
"Yes," the Doctor said.
"He told me he had engine trouble. So he sortta crash landed at the casinos. Then your bird shows up just a few hours later. You and him know each other, and she and him know each other, and eventually, all of you pass through the casinos within a day of each other." She pulled out a cigarette and lit it, her eyes thoughtful. "Cor, this 'as all the makin's of a good Mags Hardbottle story!"
He switched on the air filters again as the room filled up with smoke. "But we know that Jo was taken by crude body pirates, and the Master was taken by sophisticated Tark mercenaries."
"Mercenaries work for rich masters," she told him. "And body pirates may be crude, but they sure are rich."
She strode up to him, the cigarette hanging between her lips. "You went toe to toe with a Tark at Dip Jhap, and here I was, takin' you for an old geezer. You're pretty healthy, aren't you?"
"Yes," he said.
"Immune to haemmomora?"
"Immune to nearly everything."
"Him too? The Master?"
She paced away. "I'm seein' relationships here. You say the bird was snatched outta here by accident. Maybe it was all a big mistake, Major. Maybe it was you they was after."
"Somebody wants me for supper," he said without thinking.
"Huh?" she turned and looked at him.
"After the game of Dip Jhap," he told her. "Somebody told me that if I got through to the fifth ring, he would dine on me."
The TARDIS suddenly lurched over. Mags went flying into the wall. The Doctor, more practiced with the hazards of space travel, caught the console and hung on. Mags rolled onto the pitching floor and was nearly thrown back up into the view screen.
"We're being fired on!" the Doctor exclaimed.
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