The Book of Five Rings
"Uh-oh." The Doctor glanced from the console to the doors.
"What is it?" Mags asked.
He glanced at the console again. "I don't know if all that jumping in and out of space and time did it, or if something here is doing it, but the TARDIS controls are dead." He pushed several more buttons and glanced at the view screen. It remained blank. "Something is blocking her operation."
"You mean you can't open the doors?" Mags asked.
"Oh, certainly I can. We'll just have to do it mechanically."
He left the console and rummaged in one of the lockers for the hand-sized ratchet and crank that would open the doors. Then he glanced up. "Well, the lights are still working, anyway. It's not a complete power drain, but something on this planet has got hold of us and likely will not easily let us go."
"Maybe that bloke that wants you for his supper," she said suddenly.
He glanced at her sharply. But all he said was, "Maybe so. Come on. Help me get the doors open."
* * * *
"Looks like a great rock quarry!" Mags exclaimed, stepping out after him onto the wide and barren landscape.
He glanced at a pocket Geiger counter in his hand. "The superstructure is over that way," he said, nodding to the northeast. "About two miles."
"What do you think?" she asked him. "Safe to just walk in all open like?"
"We don't have much choice," he said. "I could have put us inside the superstructure, but I wasn't sure that was very wise. Let's go take a look and see what our odds are of getting in some way to try to find her."
"Say, Major, you wouldn't happen to have any weapons, would you?" She patted one of her pockets to double-check for her knife, and fell into step with him over the craggy surface of the terrain.
He glanced down at her and arched an eyebrow. "I believe I have a crossbow that I once borrowed on a hunt with Henry VI," he said. "Or was that Pope Clement?"
She was wearing the classic Mags Hardbottle visor for outdoor work, but he could see that she was frowning at him in exasperation. But she voiced no complaint. "Let's keep watch over each other's shoulders," she advised.
He nodded. "Best way to keep an eye out, I suppose," he said.
* * * *
As the shout went up, Jo broke into a run. Normally she could move pretty quickly, but her days of inactivity, her stupor, and the pain from the canula work slowed her considerably.
In the dimness, the hallway had seemed straight, with no turn offs, but as she ran along, she passed a sign on the wall that she snatched a glance at. It was painted yellow and said "B Maintenance Tunnel turn right." Without thinking, she turned into the next hallway, as though instructed.
The footsteps behind her were catching up. In the white gown, she was showing up like a light bulb in the dark. The pain in her side worsened rapidly.
She passed another sign that read, "Craft Hitches and Maintenance Dollies" and raced into the doorway that adjoined it.
For a moment she thought she had trapped herself. It looked like she had run into a great hangar of some type, as dimly lit as the hallways had been. She checked the door and realized it could be bolted on her side. Quickly, she closed the pneumatic door and slid the bolt home on it, effectively stalling her pursuit, at least briefly.
She quickly raced along the walls, scanning with her fingers, groping for another doorway out, a hallway, even just a light switch so that she could see better.
Her foot bashed against something, and she tripped and fell face-down onto the floor. The fall knocked a loud groan from her, and for a moment fire seemed to race across her side and stomach, and then a wave of nausea. The door was being pounded with something heavy.
She ran her fingers along the floor to find what she had tripped over and discovered a metal handle. She had fallen over some type of hatch.
The thought of lifting something from the ground was daunting to her. She hadn't much strength and was in pain. To her relief, the hatch was motorized, and came up as soon as she lifted it. Whatever waited down there could not be worse than what would happen to her if she were caught. Without taking up the precious time to look, she swung her legs over the edge of the entry hole, felt no ladder, and quickly pushed herself off the edge before she could think about it.
The drop was a short one. In fact, when she straightened, her eyes could just peep out of the hole at floor level with the room.
She used her right arm to reach over and pull the hatch closed. As it snicked shut with a motorized click of contacts meeting, she thought she would be in complete darkness. But she was not. Dim light ahead of her shone like a small beacon.
But the flooring of the tunnel, which was curved, was also slippery and slick. She fell several times and realized that she was getting covered in some type of sludge or slurry. She was in some sort of drainage ditch for large machinery, where spent oils and fuels were drained off.
Crouching to avoid bashing her head on the low curved roof, she slipped and slid her way towards the light, which proved to be the light of day outside the horrible plant. She took a deep breath and plunged out, covered with sludge. The gown stuck to her and flapped around her like a wet fin.
She poked her head out and saw that she was on the outside of a fence. It was then that the dream she'd had came back to her with all its vividness: "Find a great golden bee; look beyond its hitches, ditches, and switches, and there you will find me." She recalled the series of signs she had followed: the yellow marker for the B hallway, the room for craft hitches, the drainage ditch. She came out into the open more and looked around wildly.
She was looking for some type of electrical switches, perhaps even track switching, but what she saw was more plain and ordinary, and yet also more alarming in its import. A sheaf of scrub branches lay in a loosely bound bundle, lodged into some overturned boulders. They pointed towards a graduated series of short ridges.
Some intelligent hand had laid the switches that way, marking them out like an arrow to be followed. For a moment she realized that the directions given to her had not been the product of a dream. Somebody had planted them into her mind.
Shouts above ground told her that she could not afford to stop and consider her options. They knew where she was heading, and if she could read the switches as a sign, so could they. She raced across the open ground, the wet and dirty gown flapping around her.
Raised voices told her that she had been seen. Her back felt horribly exposed as she ran, and her spine tingled with the anticipation of a bullet or other weapon fire.
Instead, a sudden high pitched keening sound seemed to suddenly drive out all her equilibrium. she fell forward onto the uneven ground, dazed. But she sensed that whatever it was had not hit her directly. In another instant the resolution and strength of fear brought her up on her feet. She scaled the first low ridge, aware of short, electronic sounds like whistles bouncing off the ridge walls.
she slid down the gully on the other side and had to stop to allow the terrible pain in her side subside enough to let her move. Before she thought she could go on, her body suddenly sprang forward, and she was scaling the next low ridge. The ground was simply pulled up into low pleats like accordion folds, and she had no idea how many ridges there were.
The first ridge was giving her good cover. The pinging and whistling echoes were not as numerous. But as she came over the second ridge, the first wave of the pursuit came over the first ridge behind her and sent off a volley of weapons fire.
The shots came too late, but she realized that all they had to do was have half their men wait on top of the first ridge, and they could fire at her as she came up on high ground again. She started halfway up the third ridge, then traversed along it, seeking distance.
The ridge had a notch gashed through it, affording her a pass into the next pleat of ground without being exposed on high ground. she scrambled through the notch.
By now she was thoroughly exhausted. They were catching up to her easily, in spite of her quick decisions and opportunities to get away.
"Make sure she's not cut," she heard one of them say from the ridge behind her. "You three fan out that way and come down in front of her in you have to."
A fleeting hope of suicide before being recaptured was dashed by the realization that there was no place high enough for a fatal jump. Desperate, she rushed up the fourth ridge, felt her feet slip on the loose rock surface, fell to hands and knees, and heard the directive behind her: "Don't shoot. She'll collapse in a minute."
On hands and knees she struggled up the ridge, realizing that they were closing in. All of a sudden, like some defiant spirit of the rocks, a black figure stood erect above her on the top of the ridge, a weapon in his hand. The host of men after her set up warning shouts at sight of him.
She recognized him. It really was the Master. Her heart sunk at sight of him, yet he made no move to capture her. He held the laser gun poised to fire. He looked down at her.
"Shoot!" she called to him. "Please! Shoot!"
"Certainly," he said. He raised the gun towards her and fired.
* * * *
"I'm sure that I am going to regret this, yet it was almost worth it, just to see how surprised you were," the Master's voice was saying as she came around again. She opened her eyes.
She had a dim memory of the laser gun cutting a burning swath through her pursuers, of their stun guns not effecting him in the least. But one stun blast must have found its target on her, for she had no memory of what had happened after he had fired across her back at her closest pursuers, nor of how he had carried her here.
She lifted her head, suddenly alarmed as she recalled being pursued.
"Patience," he cautioned her, raising his hand. "You are in my hiding place." In spite of the skirmish he had just won single-handedly, his black hair was smoothly combed back, and his beard and mustache neatly groomed. He seemed unruffled and unperturbed.
Her eyes quickly shot around at her surroundings. Instinctively, she lifted a hand in alarm, then realized that she was not restrained. There was no one else with them.
He had brought her to a shallow recess against a wall of rock. It was almost a cave, and he had improved upon it with some type of tarpaulin that he had extended from the curving wall of rock to the ground, using scrub branches and struts of metal as supports. It was almost like being in an igloo. It was small and dark, illuminated by a single candle.
"No," he said to her. "You are not bound. You are here as my guest, and my patient, until we can get that hole in your liver to heal." Almost tentatively, he pressed his hand against her shoulder and pushed her back. "If you want to recover quickly, you'll do as I say. Now lie back."
He was, Jo knew, one of the greatest criminals of the galaxy. The thought of him leading these medical murderers was terrifying. But she knew that she was in no shape to fight or get away, and so she yielded to the pressure on her shoulder and lay back. He seemed to read her thoughts.
"I am not in collusion with your former captors, Miss Grant," he said severely. "I wish to rule the galaxy, not rearrange all of the parts of its inhabitants. Stripping the flesh from a person's body organs one cubic centimeter at a time is not my mode of operation."
His contempt for them seemed genuine, and his words confirmed to her what she had concluded about the canula.
She gazed around at the small structure.
"We are hidden fairly well from our former captors," he told her.
She looked down and saw that her clothing had been changed, that she was, in fact, clean and wrapped in some type of lightweight blanket.
The bed that she was on had been made from a mattress, one very similar to that on which she had lain in her prison. He reached back in the dimness and pulled out another blanket.
"For some reason, you humans find great comfort in being covered," he observed, shaking it out. He spread it over her. "There, be comforted if you can, and try not to tremble like a frightened rabbit."
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
He hesitated, seemed to calculate what he could get by with, then said, "Same as you, I expect: trying to effect an escape."
He walked away and returned with a bottle of water. He unscrewed the cap, leaned over her, and slid his arm behind her head. "All right, let's take this slowly, but I think you may need some water and electrolytes."
She was far too thirsty to even be suspicious. She drank well from the bottle.
"Good," he observed when she had finished drinking. He set the bottle aside. "You do seem to have every instinct to survive." He turned to her, stood up, and put his hands behind his back, a familiar pose of his when he was about to be sarcastic or condescending. "I'm sure that in this interval the Doctor would say something very tender and reassuring, Miss Grant," he said, looking down at her. "no doubt tell you one of his deplorable little anecdotes to amuse you." He rolled his eyes, and his face lengthened in disgust. "I have no intention of paying out assurances to you that you would not believe anyway."
The water had made her feel her weariness, and the lessening of the pain in her side was making her sleepy. "You'll do whatever you're going to do," she said. "I know I can't stop you."
He went to one knee and leaned over her again. "I need you to help me get off this planet," he said to her. "Right now I plan to help you recover from your ordeal. We must ally ourselves for our common good."
"But how did you get here?" she asked. "Why can't you just leave?"
"Suffice it for me to say that I cannot," he told her. "no more than you and the Doctor can. Were you and he not brought here to this miserable heap as I was? What did they capture him with? Have they killed him?"
"They kidnapped me from earth," she said. "The Doctor--" She stopped.
His eyebrows went up. "He doesn't know where you are?" he asked. She didn't answer. The Master answered himself. "He doesn't know where you are!" he exclaimed. He stared into her eyes for a moment, and then was satisfied.
She expected him to make capital of this bit of information, to remind her that now she was without help, but he did not gloat. "It's the better for him," he told her after a pause. "If he came after you, here, then he would be trapped too. And they would certainly put all of that medical technology to bear on him, as they planned to do to me."
"How did they get you here?" she asked. "Did they take your TARDIS?"
This question displeased him. "Enough, Miss Grant," he said firmly. "For the moment you desperately need rest. The liver is a remarkable organ and can regenerate itself. I have helped it along as best as I can with medicines and equipment I have patched together from what I've stolen from out captors. You should feel markedly better in the next twenty four hours. But any damage to any internal organ is serious in a body as ill adapted to surviving as the human body. You must rest and do as I say."
He rose and started to walk away, then turned back, grimaced, and knelt by her on one knee again. He rested his hand on her forehead, as he had done in her dream, his thumb pressing with an even pressure on the small notch between her eyebrows.
"If you must be afraid of me," he said quietly, "isn't the fear you do know better than the one you don't know? If you choose to think of yourself as my prisoner, isn't it still much better than being their prisoner?"
She looked at him, remembered the dream, wondered how he had done it--entered her dream and given her directions to get away. In the confusion of her dream she had actually been glad to see him.
He smiled as he saw her relaxing. "Just sleep," he said. "You will not believe my guarantees, but you can believe that for the moment you are safe. I do not like living off the land, but I am very good at it. The outside of this place blends in with the environment. We are undetected."
She sensed the shifting pressure in his thumb as he let it rock slightly across the pressure point. He was, of course, a master of acupuncture meridians and physiological responses. She was silent for a long time, looking up at him, letting the rotating pressure between her eyes soothe her. She certainly felt no affection for him, but at last she whispered, "Thank you for getting me away from them."
He did not answer, but neither did he rebut her gratitude. After a moment, she fell asleep.
* * * *
"Don't seem like much," Mags observed in a whisper as she and the Doctor looked across a wide stretch of craggy landscape to a long, low structure.
"There's a vast underground network of buildings down there, Mags," he told her. "That's just an entry point."
"Probably be just a bit too risky to go walking in the front doors," she said.
"Yes, it would. We can circle around and look for other entry ways. I'm going to bet that they don't have much experience with intruders, here," he said.
"Yeah, well, I gotta admit, it ain't the first place I'd think a' visitin'," she agreed. "Look, what about sewer ways and stuff like that? It's nasty, but our best chance."
He nodded. "Let's take a look. Keep your head down."
* * * *
"Give me your hand, Mags," he said, leaning down and offering her his hand for help.
She actually had been far better than he at scrambling over the uneven, rocky surfaces and climbing the ridges. Small and nimble, she seemed able to scramble rather than climb the steep places.
But she was exhausted. Her hard life in the casinos had not conditioned her well for climbing, and her chain smoking had not suited her for long distance trekking. She nodded at his command and thrust her skinny and strong hand up for him to grasp. He pulled her up alongside him.
"Ain't this the long way 'round, Major?" she asked. "We lost sight of the place ages ago."
"Not at all," he told her. "It's right over there. We can't skirt the perimeter too closely. They may have motion detectors set up. We need to keep ground cover between us and them as much as possible."
"It's comin' night," she said. "Will we try to go in with the dark?"
"I don't know," he said. "Could be an advantage, but if we were pursued, it would definitely be their advantage on this terrain." He paused to consider. "Still, how long do we dare wait? They won't keep Jo alive forever."
"Wonder why they took her alive at all," Mags said.
"I think I've figured that out," he told her.
"To bring me in." But he looked doubtful. "And yet--it could have been done more easily than this; in more sure of a fashion." He glanced down at her. "It's almost like I'm being tested. Put through my paces." He glanced around. "What is the fifth ring?"
She was puzzled. "I dunno Major. At least we can hope she's alive," she said. "With all our jumping around on that declining time scale of yours, how long do you suppose she's been locked up in that place over there?"
"Not more than ten or twelve hours," he said. He looked up at the darkening sky. Under an opaque cloud cover, there was no sign of sun, only a glowing lightness that was now dimming.
"Night's here," he said. "I guess it's a cold camp for us out here. Shouldn't be too bad with that cloud cover to hold the heat in."
She nodded. "I guess early morning is the best time to get in," she agreed. "When folks are just rousting out and want breakfast and a shower more than thinking about visitors."
"Let's find a level niche somewhere," he said.
* * * *
"Here is food," the Master said, setting down an open, waxy parcel near the mattress. "It isn't very solid. Don't think you're ready to deal with Beef Wellington yet."
She did not respond to his joke. He checked her pulse in that odd way of his, holding three fingers along the pulse line, pressing first with one, then the other, then the third, then all three, then waiting.
"Fear getting the best of you?" he asked. "The liver pulse is improved only slightly. Are you experiencing black moods?"
She glanced at him, surprised. "Ah," he told her. "Your own race of Chinese declare that the liver governs the emotions. Damage the liver, and you damage the psyche!"
"Oh that's nonsense," she couldn't help but declare. He surprised her by moving over her and then carefully lifting her in his arms. She was startled, but he was gentle. He lifted her, moved behind her, and then settled her against himself, holding her in a reclining position with his left arm free. He lifted a spoon from the parcel and then used it to stir the contents a bit.
"No, it's true," he said. "You probably have experienced rather grim, surrealistic dreams, too, I imagine."
"Yes," she said. "But I thought you did that."
"Oh, the code?" he asked. "Yes, I did do that, while you were dreaming. Imagine my surprise to see them bringing in a live one, Miss Grant. And then my astonishment at finding an old friend. I thought I would be able to implant a suggestion in your mind to help you escape."
"Not that you were going to stick around to actually help," she said, not able to resist the jab.
"No, not at all," he said. "With two of us captured, what chance would either of us have. But I did get that canula out of you."
"Thank you," she said instantly.
"All right, I'm going to feed you," he said. "I've mashed it up to a soft consistency. But you'll need to eat slowly."
And then he fed her and helped her to swallow the food he had brought. It was simply stolen rations from the plant, mostly bread and vegetable pulp which he had mixed with water.
She had felt hungry at first, but after a few swallows her side began to hurt, and the smell of the food began to make her sick. She nearly gagged, and he stopped.
"Get your breath," he said in her ear, and he put his hand across her forehead, steadying her. He was on one knee, behind her, with her resting against his other leg and his arm. It was the most efficient way to feed her, but the closeness to him was almost unbearable, and yet his gentleness completely disarmed her.
"This is all your fault, you know," he told her, using his free hand to pour the bottled water into a cup for her. "Try this," he said, and held the water to her lips. She drank as much as she could, and the water eased the nausea. "If you would learn to keep your distance from your superiors, then you most likely would never have been kidnapped at all."
"Yes, but then they would have him," she retorted.
"And he and I would probably be planning our way out of this," he countered.
"Or you would be selling him out to get your own freedom," she said.
He abruptly smiled down at her, and she felt a chill of fear go through her. But he was still feeling generous. "Now I know you're feeling better," he said. "Here, try some more of this. Food is better for you than any more injections."
It embarrassed her when he held the spoon out to her again, feeding her, but she opened her mouth and took it. She tried to swallow and nearly gagged. "I can't," she said, after she forced it down. "I don't think I can eat."
"Oh, please don't make me coax you," he said dryly. "If you recover and tell the Doctor, I shall never live it down."
She had to laugh at him in spite of her discomfort. "All right, one more," she said. It was a relief to hear his humor, no matter how sarcastic it was. And she pushed away the thoughts of what he was hiding behind his mask of good will towards her. For the moment, she was deeply, darkly depressed, still in pain, and afraid. She did need him to feed her and care for her, and he was doing it.
She took about two more spoonfuls and then shook her head. "It feels like it's about to come up, honest," she said.
Defeated, he set the spoon aside. He shifted his position behind her, took her in his arms, and gently lowered her back to the mattress. "I thought you would recover faster," he said. "I had hoped to get back into the plant in another eighteen hours, and I need you to go with me." He drew the blanket up.
She was startled. "Go back into the plant?" she asked, horrified. She stared up at him in horror.
"Of course," he told her. "We have to get in there and to find a way out of here."
"No!" she exclaimed.
His charm vanished. "No?" he asked. "No to me?"
"I won't go back in there," she said.
"Let me remind you, Miss Grant," he said, suddenly staccato-tone, "the only reason I got you out of that plant was so that we could both escape."
"No," she said again.
He stood up and stared down at her, commanding. "You will go back in there!" he exclaimed. But as she did not answer, he looked suddenly helpless; then he asked, "Do you fear that I will strand you there? I give you my word of honor, I will not."
"I won't go back in there," she said.
He hesitated, then drew out the familiar laser gun.
"I didn't want to do this," he told her. "I would prefer a willing ally to a slave in a matter of such delicacy. But you leave me no choice. You will go with me into that plant, or I will kill you now, as you lie here." He pointed the gun at her as she lay on the mattress.
"I am the Master, and you will obey me," he told her. "Or you will die here and now."
Her eyes were big, and she gasped a little. The pain in her side increased as she experienced the stress of having the gun pointed at her. But she made her decision. "I will not," she said evenly, though her voice trembled slightly. "It's better this than the other way. I will not go back in." She closed her eyes in anticipation of the laser blast.
Episode Eight is now online!
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