The Book of Five Rings
The Doctor quickly realigned the TARDIS to its own horizon. They had been standing out as he had examined the trail, but now he activated the piston unit of the console. It quickly engaged.
"There we are," he said. He offered Mags a hand to her feet. "You all right, my dear?"
"Blimey!" she exclaimed. "Who's attacking us? Where'd they go?"
He shook his head. "We've jumped behind them in time. They haven't attacked us yet, as of now," he told her. "I'm putting us onto the trail of the larger space craft, and we're going to continue to follow that receding time scale I told you about, gradually moving backwards in time as we follow the trail." He tapped her wristwatch, which was now useless. "As of this moment, we are exiting the orbiting area five minutes before we arrived." He smiled.
"But who do you think them fellers were?" she asked him. "Did they follow us out from the casinos?"
"Remember, Mags, according to the time scale of anybody following us, we will not have left the casinos for nearly six hours," he reminded her. "Unless these people can follow us back through time, I don't think they could have any way of knowing we'd be onto them this soon." He returned to the console and busily readjusted controls to follow the new trail. "No, my dear, I think those were small henchmen of our quarry, stationed right here. Paid to make sure that nobody follows along after their superiors." He glanced up at her from the console. "They must have picked us up by our motion and saw us latching onto the trail of the second ship. I'm sure that when we disappeared they assumed that we were destroyed."
"Yeah, speakin' a' that," she said. The TARDIS was again makign its straining noises, and the lights were flickering. It had not really been designed to jump in and out of the vortex again and again as the Doctor was now doing. "How much can this little dinghy take before it capsizes?"
"Oh, probably the equivalent of a sun exploding," he told her cheerfully. Her mouth dropped open. He smiled in satisfaction. "We have very little to worry about while in the TARDIS," he said.
He returned his attention to the trail. "It's making sense," he said, looking at the readouts on the console. "According to the analysis, we are now following a larger, faster ship." He looked thoughtful. "Like a battle cruiser," he said. "There are traces of radiation in the trail."
"What you want to bet the Golden Group has a nice fleet of 'em?" she asked. "No matter how they're disguised."
He glanced at her again, at last giving her his full attention. "What's this about the Golden Group?" he asked. "What are you getting at?"
"We can't bust up the ring without knowin' where they get their orders from, can we?" she asked.
"Bust up the ring?" he asked back.
He looked at her, puzzled, and she returned the look, equally puzzled. Then she suddenly got it.
"Spare me!" she exclaimed. "You mean we're doin' all this to rescue your bird and leave the others go?" she asked. "What about the other poor blighters caught up by these fellers?"
"Do you mean to take on an entire, multi-planetary operation?" he asked back. "Just the two of us?"
"I mean to bust this thing," she snapped. "I am Mags Hardbottle, after all. And you're supposed to be a good guy!"
He realized that he had transgressed one of the laws of Mags' private universe, the one in which she actually was the galaxy's premier sleuth. "This is an issue for the police," he reminded her. "For whatever justice systems operate in this era and in this part of the galaxy. There's not a lot that you and I can do to stop such a well heeled operation, especially if it's being run by a conglomerate and is entrenched across solar systems. But if we get the facts on them, we can turn the information over to the proper authorities."
"Oh, you're fresh and green, an't you?" she asked with sudden scorn. "Listen old son, you haven't quite figured it out, 'ave you?" she asked.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded.
"The cops are run by the conglomerates--like the Golden Group!" she exclaimed. "Thunder and lightning! 'Ow could you miss it? Do they act like they gave a flyin' rip for what goes on at the casinos? 'As anybody ever done any real work to stop the Body Pirates?"
She started to pull out a cigarette, changed her mind, and dropped it back into her pocket. "Where do you come from, anyway? What makes you think the cops are gonna do you a better job than a PI?"
"Where I've been staying lately," he told her, "The police are the first line of investigation. Private detectives usually handle what we consider minor cases. They stay clear of the legal system."
She snorted. "Cor, I'd like to see that for once. Look here," she said. "You said you needed my help for this job, an' I'm doin' it. But after it's over, I'm cracking this case."
"My dear young lady," he said. "You don't know what you're saying. It would take a lifetime of expertise and investigation to track this thing down, gather evidence, and then find uncorrupted police to assist you."
"Well, I come a lot further in two days than anybody's come before me, haven't I?" she asked. She shot him a look of disgust. "I mean, I knew the bird's a favorite of yours. All right," she told him. "I got me priorities in place. Find her. But I've took it from your act, Major, that you was one that hadn't sold out to the status quo, you know? That you went by ethics and such."
"Of course I do!" he exclaimed. "But I cannot right every wrong in the universe! I can stage a rescue from this group--maybe. I do not have the resources to overthrow them. Their own environment will have to agree to fight them--your people, other people they have victimized."
She aggressively thrust a cigarette into her mouth and struck a match with a long and fierce swipe.
"Kindly refrain from smoking in my TARDIS," he ordered, suddenly sharply annoyed with her.
"You know where you can put that," she told him. "Now you listen to me, old man, and you better get it straight. You travel in time, don't you?" She interrupted herself to take a drag. She blew the smoke right into his face.
Infuriated, he snatched the pack out of her pocket and plucked the cigarette from her mouth.
"This here's the twenty third century," she reminded him. "And they're already entrenched, and now maybe they got your number. We both know could have took the bird by accident. It might have been you they wanted all along."
He crushed the lit cigarette under foot and strode over to the small emergency hatch in the wall.
"You can't go forward in time any more, Major," she said, following right along behind him. "They're onto you, old son. They'll never let you go now. Whatever you are, or whatever you have, they want it."
He threw the pressurization switch. "We're right over the planet of the Ogrons," he said with some satisfaction. "This should be good. We'll just drop down for half a second." He flipped a few controls on the console.
"You ain't listenin', sport," she told him. "You ain't gonna find it easy to foist this off on us. It's you they want, now. Somebody wants you for his dinner. Int that what he said?"
The hatch opened, and he threw the pack inside and closed it. Sudden depressurization flushed out the hatch. He listened with satisfaction. "Oh good, it's raining cigarettes on the Ogrons," he said. He took a breath to calm himself, then turned around and said with aggravating politeness, "You were saying, my dear?"
She stepped back, suddenly also calm. She held his eye with her eye, reached into the sleeve pocket of her jacket, and produced another pack of cigarettes. With one hand she tapped one to her lips and put the pack away, this time buttoning the breast pocket of her jacket.
"I said I dint quite hear you Major," she told him. She lit the cigarette, leaned against the wall of the TARDIS, folded her arms, and then took out the cigarette and blew a smoke ring at him. "Would you mind tellin' me again 'ow you're plannin' on snatchin' back the bird and then traipsin' outta their lair, leavin' the rest a' their victims to their fate?"
Defeated for the moment, he turned away and went to the console, leaned over it, and looked at it. "Mags," he said. "I have a responsibility to Jo Grant first and foremost," he said. "I brought her into this situation, and I've got to get her out."
"I unnerstand that, Major," she said from behind him, still leaning against the wall with folded arms.
"All right," he said. "Afterward, I'll do what I can to help--as much as I think is possible." He glanced over at her. "But if the police won't help you, what chance could you have? Your best plan would be to simply expose them and make the information public."
"The Golden Group's boss man is Filip Gulden," she said. "'E's always in the news and such. If we get him, we get the gang."
The Doctor shook his head. "I'm sure he's untouchable. He's never laid a finger on anything that would indict him in this matter. Don't you know how shady corporations work?"
"There's ways and then there's ways to stop people, Major," she said. "But if I was you, I'd be keen on nicking the bloke. Ending up on somebody's serving dish ain't a dignified end for a man a' your station."
* * * *
The men in the white coveralls never spoke directly to her. Perhaps that was the worst thing of all. She might talk to them when they burst into her cell, plead with them, ask them questions, but they moved with quick efficiency and precision and never regarded her at all, only occasionally advising each other on their next steps to carry out.
They set up the now familiar monitoring devices, took blood and other fluid samples from her, ignoring her protests with their same cool efficiency, as well as her outcries of pain when they jabbed in needles or tubes. Every bodily function of hers interested them, and there was something ghastly in their eagerness to take away urine samples and feces from her collection tubes as if they were prizes. And when she cried in pain from the spinal tap, they collected up her tears with an artistic accuracy. They applied suction droppers that they swept along her tear tracks, careful to get every trace.
There came a day when there seemed to be some disagreement between them. Jo had already made up her mind to volley question after question at them whenever they visited her, operating on the premise that eventually they might be tired of ignoring her and answer her. She steeled herself not to be silenced by their coolness. Yet that day, even as she continually asked them questions as they stood over her, they were arguing with each other, debating about her condition. She did not understand all the terminology, though it was clearly biological--or medical. The one seemed to be asserting that her stress levels were too high, while the other talked about maintaining a pristine quality to the sample.
At last they reached consensus, and the one who had sided for stress produced a syringe. For the first time he addressed her. "At least it'll shut you up for once," he said. He pressed his hand against her forehead, turned her head away slightly and held it still, and injected the contents of the syringe into her neck. "It can't create any damage to the liver," he said to his partner. "Give it three days, and there won't be a trace left, not even on pheronomic levels. Let's get her moved before she's oriented again. That walkway might do her."
In spite of whatever threat she felt at his words, a delicious sense of peace washed up through her. She relaxed against the restraints, not quite asleep, but no longer concerned with her situation. They worked busily, disassembling the monitoring equipment.
One of them said something as the last electronic lead was cleared away. She hardly cared. She was simply glad that they had stopped hurting her. But then there was one last twinge as something was tapped into a vein in her arm. The door to the room opened, and they pushed her out on her table, down the hallway she had been brought into on her arrival, and then from there through the hatch and into a broad, wide hallway, dimly lit.
The rhythmic throbbing from her dream returned to her. There was a hush over everything, except for the quiet pulsing that she could feel as well as faintly hear. It was like hearing an old friend again--a safe and familiar sound.
"Look, it's putting her to sleep," one of them said, but his voice was far away.
"Tired of being so frightened," the other one added.
"Don't let her look, then." The words did not make sense, and she opened her eyes more from being puzzled by them than by any predilection to look where she was going. But her eyes flicked open. Same dim hallway, but now there were shelves--encased in some clear substance, under controlled lighting. She saw leads and wires and monitors at each shelf, clustered around containers placed at set intervals apart from each other. They formed little stations along the shelves, and the enclosed shelves extended down the entire length of the hallway.
She tried to focus. Each container was filled with some type of liquid solution, and in the liquid, a bulky, fleshy looking object, not too different from what she had dreamed before.
She began to wake up more, as the hideous contents of the containers began to make more sense to her. She turned her head and looked on the wall on the other side. More shelves, more containers, more monitors and support units. She gasped and struggled, felt the overwhelming effects of the drug once again pull her back into that floating sensation, sensed the rhythm around her, the soothing dimness.
Then the realization of what she was seeing, of where she was being taken, came back to her. She tried to push against the table restraints, failed, tried to scream, but what came out was hardly her voice at all--just a faint, wavering sound.
"Too late," one of them muttered. "She's seen it."
The other let out a laugh. "What's it matter? It'll all be over soon, Darling."
Darkness washed over her, but when it receded again, she realized that they had stopped. The shelves were gone. She was in a small room again, this time with equipment suspended directly overhead. Her two captors were still with her, one on either side.
The sterile white gown she had been wearing had been changed often by her captors, without comment, enjoyment, or disdain. One of them now lifted the gown and folded it back to expose her left side. He applied a cold and wet cloth to her bare skin and scrubbed the site vigorously. She began to pant with fear, unable to express it any other way.
Typical of them, her two captors spoke with each other as though she were not there.
"You'd better recalibrate the penetration pressure. Adjust it for a lower density muscle mass, too. We don't want to go right through her to the table."
"All right, and the site is sterilized."
"I do want that anesthetic tap ready. If she goes into any type of shock from the pain or the extraction, we'll lose her and could lose it all. Twelve runs, and then we'll see how the liver is for transplant. The cloning's the most important thing right now."
"I wish we had a better grasp of this. Seems like a waste. We could put her in cold storage until the technique is better."
"A little scarcity is good for the market. Thirteen sellable units would be a glut as it is. Let's go. I'll activate the room sterilizer. Are the controls ready outside?"
They walked out. Something, was it the drug she'd been given, or just the fear, was holding her immobile, even from struggling. Over all there hung a terrible sense of some impending fear.
The thin whine of a small electric motor brought out sweat on her forehead and on the exposed patch of her midsection.
Death is now, she thought, surprised and dismayed to realize that death had come to her, forgotten in a room, removed from the Doctor and everyone she loved, from every familiar comfort. Death itself, she suddenly realized, must always be a dark room with no companions.
From the equipment above, a motorized housing lowered on retractable stems. She caught a glimpse of the face of it--an array of thin metal straws, each cut to a point. One of them seemed to telescope out by itself, and she recognized it as a cannula, normally used for collecting tissue samples. The motorized housing tilted and then the stems lowered it out of the range of her vision. It picked up a slightly deeper tone from reflecting off of her own body. It pierced her midsection. The scream that would not come before came now, loud and inarticulate, and was then cut off into her quiet sobbing of pain as the cannula continued to work into her.
* * * *
In the TARDIS, The Doctor quickly skimmed his hands across the tracking controls. He brought the great piston unit to a stop.
"This is where they landed," the Doctor said. "Certainly was a far flung journey."
"Where are we?" Mags asked.
"I don't know the name. We're about as far as we can get from the Earth in charted territory," he said. "This system has got several habitable planets, and we're on one of them. Here we are. We've landed. Just let me check the conditions."
"We just poke our noses out and see if they get shot off?" she asked.
"I'm far too attached to my nose to risk that," he said. "No, we can take a look through the view screen. I think I picked up some electrical emanations from an underground city nearby."
He stayed bent over the controls.
"Well?" she asked at last.
"It's not working right," he told her. "I think all the stress I put the old girl through was too much for the electrical system. Come on. Let's take a look. Watch your nose, all right?"
Jo had an uncle once, who had died of cancer. He had talked about unremitting pain. The doctors and nurses had talked about unremitting pain. Now she herself understood it. She lay in a timeless state, transfixed by the cannula, unable to move, unable to resist, unable to even scream after the first few minutes.
The oddest thing was to sleep during such pain and horror. But she did sleep--short intervals that were frequent and filled with dreams, until some particular stab of the pain woke her.
At one point she heard their voices again, but she was beyond questions, beyond even opening her eyes. One of them said, "Too much stress. We've gone in too deeply. She won't last the next six."
"What do we do?" the other asked.
"Leave her a bit--no, none of the drug. It slows down the metabolism, and she needs to heal quickly. Lift the cannula two centimeters. But don't remove it. It would just be asking for sepsis to try to reinsert it."
She felt them retract it slightly--another agonizing pain that made her faint, and then she was alone in the blackness.
She had strange dreams--dreams that replayed the most vivid of memories, so vivid that it stunned her to wake up from them, stunned her to believe she was only dreaming. She saw the Doctor and the Brigadier jousting each other with words over coffee on a sunlit morning in the Brigadier's office, with the sunlight pouring over them both through the long and narrow window, turning the Doctor's sheaf of white hair into a sort of halo. Mike Yates entered, saw her, instantly brightened, and came over to say good morning.
She saw the chit of paper where they kept their tallies for chess and checkers victories. It was hung crazily, taped lopsidedly to a metal equipment locker in the Doctor's lab and work room.
But then there were dreams too, that simply made no sense. There had been a day when the Brigadier had spoken in an offhand way about the Doctor--elaborately off handed, recounting all that he knew of timelords.
"They don't fall in love," he had said airily. "Can you fancy it? All that long life, and never taking a mate. Going it alone the whole way through. What a fate." He had looked thoughtful, then tapped his crop into his palm. "Well, I suppose it takes all kinds to make a universe. Good morning, Miss Grant." And he had walked out of the lab.
She hadn't been fooled at all. There was no way that Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart would talk about love to her unless he were imparting a specific message--telling her the Doctor was out of bounds. Her first response had been a sort of indignation that he would imagine she needed such a caution. But later, in the work room, as she was making tea for herself and the Doctor, he had called, "Heads up, Jo!' And tossed her a muffin he had brought back for her from the cafeteria tray. She'd over extended to catch the high throw, and clattered into the stools by the workbench, and he had caught her and righted her. In that one moment--a pang of sorrow, a sense of loss. But then the pang turned into a true pain, and there was a cannula boring right through her, starting at her liver and working outward, it's point bursting through her skin and shirt. The Doctor looked on in concerned but helpless horror.
"Jo!" he cried. "Jo! You know I can't help you in this! I'm not like humans! Jo! I can't help you!"
The pain and the confused dream thrust her back to her own grim reality. After another session of waking pain, she fell back into the confused dreams. She dreamed she was in the room where she was now imprisoned, and the door opened, but instead of her two captors, it was the Doctor.
He leaned over her. "Oh, Jo, I'm so sorry," he said. "I'll help you. It's all right." He ran his eyes along her, then walked alongside her body, searching, until he saw where her gown had been pulled back to reveal her left side. "This is not difficult. Just a moment. It may hurt." He lowered his head over her left side, and she felt afraid, wanted to protest, but could not. She heard a sharp yelp of pain abruptly cut off, and when he lifted his head, he was not the Doctor any more, but the Maste r. He had a jet black rat in his teeth, dead from a broken neck where he had bitten it. She took in her breath in fear.
The Master, the supreme rival of the Doctor, the other renegade time lord, the one who had plotted her own death so many times, gazed at her with the same indifferent curiosity that a cat would show. He suddenly flicked his head, and flung the creature away. "That should do it. I hope it didn't startle you. The best way to kill a rat is to break its neck."
He leaned over her, but there was no mockery in his eyes, no satisfaction in seeing her suffering. There was no pity either, only his burning intensity. "It was gnawing at your insides," he said. "And now I've removed it."
He pressed his gloved hand on her forehead, and even though it was a dream, the glove felt incredibly real. She was terrified of the Master. He had killed people as it suited him, especially the weak, the helpless, those in need. To him, all humans were just primitives. And yet, at that moment, when he pressed his gloved hand on her forehead, his thumb resting firmly in the notch between her eyes, pressing with a reassuring pressure, she was not afraid. She was glad.
He lowered his face over hers again. His eyes filled her with stillness. For a moment, the pain seemed far away.
"It is not my will that you should die," he said slowly, looking into her eyes. "You must live. If you can find a great golden bee, look beyond its hitches, ditches, and switches, and there you will find me."
"Good-bye," she said to him. "I'm sorry now that we were never friends." She couldn't remember why she had hated and feared him so much. At least when he had meant to kill her it was always going to be quick. There had been a sort of ethic to his immorality.
"Find the golden bee," he said. "Look for hitches, ditches, and switches, and then find me."
He straightened up, raised a hand in a gesture of farewell, and walked out into the dim hallway and its ghastly array of body organs lined up for dispensing. He turned right.
She woke up with a slight jump, and realized that she could move much more than she had been able to before.
In the dimness, her eyes caught sight of the cannula, and she realized that it had been removed from her.
The sounds of the equipment were still present--heart rate, other pulses, blood counts. But as she let her eyes rove the room, she saw that she was not connected to the machines any more. Yet they were running as though she were still connected to them.
Hesitantly, she moved her arms. They were not restricted at all. she opened and closed her hands. She lifted her head. The leads from the machines were turned back on themselves somehow, everything re-wired. She wondered for a moment, if a monitoring machine had to have its own rate that served as its regulator, a clock pulse. If so, then someone could trick a machine by setting it to read its own clock. She remembered the Doctor explaining digital logic to her and talking about how electronic sensors always had a chip that served as a clock. She had not understood it very well, then, but now the analogy suddenly seemed very clear.
She quickly glanced over at the floor. There was no rat. It had only been a dream. And yet, here she was, free.
Hesitantly, she moved her feet, then her legs This was much more painful. She had a deep pain that run from her left side across her stomach. It felt as though something inside were enlarged, hot, burning and tearing.
With a determination that surprised even her, she slowly sat up. The room swam. She took a deep breath, but that hurt her side, too, and so she took several shorter ones, then set her feet on the floor.
It did hurt to stand, yet comparatively speaking, her injuries were minor. The cannula diameter was much more slender than a hypodermic needle .. What had been so draining was its continual working, the pain and her own panic and fear, she realized. And the hypnotizing effects that had been designed into her cell. Yet just standing up had reduced them, at least for the moment.
She willed herself to walk. She had no idea how long she had been held immobile, and her limbs responded stiffly. The wisest thing would have been to warm them up a little, but there was every danger of her captors coming back.
She wondered how to get the door open, but as she approached it, it slid open for her. Escape from this place was so unlikely that there seemed to be few precautions taken against it. But then she realized-- from what she had seen--that most people arrived here dead. Or their body organs arrived.
For some reason, she had been brought in whole and alive. She ventured into the great, dim, warm hallway and looked around. There was nobody about. She turned to the right and softly crept down the hall, barefooted, clad only in the white gown, the front of it marred by a slight dribble of blood where the cannula had gone in on her left side.
From far down the hall behind her, she heard a loud gasp and then a shout. "She's out! Get her!"
Episode Seven is now online!
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