The Book of Five Rings
"If the truce still stands, Doctor, then you will agree to return me to my TARDIS when we have completed our tasks," the Master said.
Bent over the console, the Doctor barely afforded his temporary ally a glance. "Yes, yes. I'll keep my word."
"I have heard that assurance before," the Master said icily.
The Doctor shot him a quick glance. "Look, would you mind keeping your attention fixed on our current difficulties? If we both get killed through carelessness, we shall neither of us go anywhere again."
Now that several hours had passed since receiving his wound, the Master was on his feet again, trim and erect, the picture of readiness.
Mags entered the control room, blinking as she came.
"How are the contacts, Mags?" the Doctor asked.
"Blamed sticky!" she exclaimed. "Do I have to wear these?"
"If you are to pass as human, we must do something about those eyes!" the Master snapped.
"Everybody knows that Mags Hardbottle is human!" she retorted.
The Doctor pretended to be concentrating on something on the console, but he shot a secret glance at his fellow timelord. For a moment the Master seemed impatient. The insistence by the young Tark female that she was the galaxy's premeir sleuth---and a human at that---was the type of transparent deception that he did not understand. But he controlled himself and suddenly became more gentle.
"Mags, you know what a dreadful mistake it would be for us to show up at the Knowledge Foundation with Mags Hardbottle among the group," The Master said. He crossed to her and stroked his beard as he surveyed her face. She kept blinking, trying to get accustomed to the contact lenses that the Doctor had given her to hide the luminescent greenness of her eyes. The Master touched her under her chin so that she looked up at him. "You've worn disguises before, Mags," he said. "In Episode 187 you disguised yourself as a Charnethan slave girl, didn't you?"
"Oh, I been a lot of things," she said. "But I never put these things in me eyes before."
Satisfied, the Doctor straightened up from the console. "There!" He turned to the Master, interrupting what might have been another tender moment between the timelord and the Tark. "I've locked you out of the main functions, but if you've got a mind to put your talents to good uses, you can have a go at creating identities for us and getting us a berth near our destination."
The Master turned from Mags and inclined his head. "Certainly, Doctor. I am eager to assist you."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow but did not comment on this assurance. "The technology of this era uses wireless communication and secured frequencies. I've already broken in on the Knowledge Foundation's secured systems and infiltrated their databases. The disruption appears to have gone unnoticed. I'll leave it to you to create what we need."
The Master strode to the console. "I shall have to secure much more than addmittance for us. We'll need clothing, transport, all the trappings of citizens. Where are they located on the earth?"
"The North American Continent. The state of Vermont in what used to be the United States. It's sort of a garden for the elite in this era. See if you can find us decent lodgings, will you? I haven't had real maple syrup in nearly a century." He turned to Mags. "Come with me, Mags. Perhaps I can give you a better fit on those contact lenses. And then I must see to Jo."
As they walked out, the Master rubbed his hands together and surveyed the console. "Right then! Infiltrating a bunch of pompous scientists. They'll never know what hit them!"
* * * *
In a darkened prison cell on earth, three men were congregated. One sat slumped on a hard wooden cot. Another, clad in a severe military uniform, stood glowering over him. The third was an incredibly incongruous figure: an enormously fat man with hair that had been greased and combed back. And he was wearing the very latest and most expensive in formal evening attire. The crisp white shirt stretched across the vast expanse of belly and chest, and the tight, white collar at his throat was closed with gold studs. His elegant black jacket had tails, and a gold watch chain hung from one pocket. He spoke clearly and pleasantly. "You see, young man, Captain Mallit here--he want to torture you until you talk, and then when he finished with you, put the high speed bullet between your eyes, dump your body somewhere off the coast--oh, I am sure you know the story," Filostrato said to the exhausted young man manacled to the wall. "Or, better to his practical mind, hold you for experimentation."
"I don't know what you're talking about," the young man said back, but it was apparent that he was repeating an assertion that he had held onto for the last several hours.
The fat Italian scientist, incongruous in the spartan room in his well taylored European suit, gestured at himself with one fleshy hand and continued as though not having heard. "But I am the scientist, you see. A man of refined sensibility and the enlightened views. Mallit's methods are brutal and inhumane, I say. And fortunately, I outrank Captain Mallit on matters such as these."
Mallit, attired in the security uniform and displeased at this remark, glowered. "All this for a slip on the database," he muttered. "I'd have got it out of him soon enough."
"No, no, no," Filostrato said. "Beatings are never the answer. So unenlightened, Mallit." He glanced down at the manacled young man who sat on the bare floor in his chains. "It was the momentary thing for you, no? You saw that the database was infiltrated and took the plunge. You do not even know the saboteurs, do you?"
"Stop trying to reason with him, Professor," Mallit said. "He's made up his mind. He deleted the trail to cover for them."
"The noble gesture, young man," Filostrato said. "So rare to see nobility of mind these days. So, as the Capitano tell me, you see that the database has been corrupted, that a stranger is poised to rewrite our data, perhaps put himself on our security system, and you cover for him. When did you begin to turn against us? Ah, well, it matters so little. The young will always have their idealism."
"He was ready to tell--" Mallit began.
Filostrato waved away the protest. "No, no. We are not the old style nazis; even if this young foolish boy think we are, we are not. And we do not behave their way."
The young prisoner, face ashen from whatever he had endured, looked up at Filostrato in sudden hope. Filostrato beamed at him, his fat face nearly cherubic. "Yes, young man. I know how useless it is to apply the beatings, the breaking of the smaller limbs, the hot metal. For then you see, even when the person talk, you never know if it was the truth. And what if he die during the crude torture? Then you never know at all."
Filostrato clasped and unclasped his hands. "Oh no, oh no," he asserted, almost talking to himself. "As soon as I know the good Captitano is beating you, I order the halt. This is not the way at all. Too brutal, too inhumane, too uncertain."
He stepped away, glanced down at the fingernails of his left hand. "No, no," he repeated. "What we need always is the extreme torture. The tearing--not of flesh from bone--but of flesh from flesh: layer after layer after layer. Make the prisoner go out of the head in pain, and he will babble soon enough. Then we will get the truth." He glanced at the prisoner. "There must be no question of moderation, for the presence of hope is so cruel and so untrue." He smiled humorlessly. "The human technique is too unsteady in the hand. We have machines for this. It is better to use something whose nerve cannot fail, eh? For even the Capitano might be seized by some stray pity--or perhaps even respect--and kill you quickly, but that will never do. No, no, it must be the specially designed machines. See to it, Capitano."
The young prisoner nearly said something as Captain Mallit dragged him to his feet, but then he fainted and fell back into the wall. "Good," Filostrato said as Mallit hurried to catch him. "It will not take long."
"You'd better hope not," Mallit said. "Because as near as we can ascertain, the technology that sent the signal through our security walls in the system is something we have never seen before. It was mostly luck that helped us catch it."
"The machine--it never fail. Very finely tuned instrumentation."
"Couldn't we just--"
"No." Filostrato hesitated. "After all, I promise him. See to it. I go upstairs."
* * * *
Jo Grant opened her eyes, but they closed again, plunging her back into blissful darkness. China and silverware rattled as a breakfast tray was set down on the table by her bed. A warm weight settled on the mattress as somebody sat on the edge of the bed alongside her.
She felt the Doctor's hand press her forehead and smooth back her hair, and a trickle of annoyance ran through her. During her recuperation he had quickly perfected the technique of smoothing her hair against the grain and letting little strands get caught between his fingers or under his heavy silver ring so that it pulled slightly. It was his way of waking her up without seeming too forceful.
She let out an exasperated sigh and forced her eyes open. They focused on him.
"It hasn't been two hours," she protested in a whisper.
"It has indeed, my dear. Here's rice for you."
"I'm sick of rice. I wish I could have coffee."
"I'll let you have a third of a cup, after you've finished your breakfast," he promised. "Come on, now, sit up," he coaxed. "There's a good girl."
She struggled higher on the pillows and looked hopefully at the silver coffee pot on the tray. At first she had felt tremendously reassured and even somewhat honored when he had insisted on caring for her himself after her ordeal on the planet. As Jo had experienced before, out in the vastness of space the Doctor was much more attentive and mindful of her comfort than he was while exiled on earth. But being fed very small meals every two hours around the clock was quickly losing its charm.
"Your liver is recovering from trauma," he explained. "We cannot expect it to process wastes as effectively as a healthy liver and recover from the wounds it received. You must have frequent small meals."
"Where are we?" she asked.
"Earth. A couple centuries in your future. The Master is finding us suitable lodgings. We've skipped back in time. We've arrived here ten days before you were taken prisoner by those body pirates. That gives us a nice, clean slate to work with."
He handed her a bowl and spoon so that she could feed herself. She peered into it and took up the spoon. "Where did you say we are?" she asked.
"Northern New England," he confirmed. "Very mountainous. In your time, a rather sparsely inhabited place. Now it is even less inhabited, but far more cultivated. It is one of the few beautiful places left on earth."
He gave a slight start of surprise as she handed him the empty bowl. "Appetite's improved significantly," he observed, staring at the immaculate surface of the bowl.
"Can I have coffee?" she reminded him.
For answer, he took up the silver pot and poured about three fingers into an empty cup. He graciously passed it to her amd then filled a cup for himself.
"Why do we need lodgings?" she asked. "Why not just stay in the TARDIS?"
"Well, we need to do a decent survey of the times and the area. And we need to cloak ourselves in the trappings of the time and place. This is going to be a fairly sophisticated covert operation. I'm leaving most of the details up to the Master and to Mags," he told her. He drew the blanket up to her chin with his free hand. "This is what they are good at, and it keeps them out of mischief."
She stopped sipping at the reference to their longtime adversary, the Master. When he and the Doctor had realized that the powers behind the body pirates were developing time travel, and that they had specifically targetted the two timelords as victims, the two adversaries had agreed to fight the criminals together. Neither would be safe if time travel fell into the hands of such people.
But she still didn't trust the Master. She looked at the Doctor with worry and concern. "Be careful," she said. "He's so ruthless, Doctor."
"It's all right, Jo. He won't turn on me until we've got this thing completely resolved," he said. "The Master knows that if we let these people go on, he and I will both end up dead." He took a sip of the hot coffee and glanced at her over the rim of the cup. "They seem devoted to gaining both time travel--and most likely the secret of immortality."
He smoothed her hair down with his other hand, the one without the heavy ring. "But first, you must get better. Try not to worry about him. Or the Knowledge Foundation."
She let him take the cup from her. "The Master and Mags," she began.
"Don't worry about them, Jo. Mags will not betray us." He set her cup and his on the tray.
"He's already formed some bond with her," she murmured. "They were becoming fast friends in that plant."
This insight startled the Doctor, but he did not comment either way. He did not tell her what he had seen in the control room. "You would make a superb Victorian aunt," he said. "Let's get a look at your eyes today."
The room was dim, adorned with the homey, earth-like items that would comfort Jo. He pulled the bedside lamp closer as she obediently and openly looked full into his eyes. He steadied her chin with his hand.
"Good," he said, searching her eyes. "Irises going back to normal size. Blood transport and oxygenation doing very well. Just look at me and relax. That's it. Good girl." He fell silent, and after a long moment when he steadily held her eyes with his, he said, "Jo," but she didn't answer. Her eyes were fixed on his, unseeing.
"Lie back," he said, guiding her back to the pillows. "All right, Jo," he told her quietly. He carefully slid his warm hands behind her neck and gently turned her head to the side. Moving with slow and quiet deliberation, he reached into his pocket and produced a syringe. He pulled off the protective cap, tapped the cartridge to knock the serum down into place, and used his left hand to push her hair back from her neck. The light in the room was dim, but after a moment's scrutiny he selected a place in her hairline on her neck, pressed the spot with his left thumb and forefinger to numb it, and slipped the tip of the syringe just under the surface of the skin. Jo did not stir as he gave her the injection.
"You will not remember the injection, Jo," he said as he pulled the syringe out. "Only that I looked into your eyes, that you are doing well and getting better. You will sleep now, and you will not remember the processing plant in your dreams. Close your eyes." Her staring eyes closed and she instantly fell asleep.
* * * *
"What's wrong now, Sin?" Mags asked, strolling into control room with her hands full of electronic equipment.
He was looking raptly at an oscilloscope screen that he had set up on the console. The viewing screen imbedded in the wall was being used to view database information. She set the pile of gadgetry down on the floor. "Here's that load of stuff you wanted."
He did not answer her, and so she asked another question. "Still think those chaps might be on to us?" she asked him.
"I cannot account for that system blip that we both saw when I added us onto their cleared files system," he told her. "They may have locked a tracer onto our signal."
Just then the Doctor entered. Clearly relieved, the Master turned to him. "I wish you would take a look at this," he said. "I have very little liking for running any risks this early in our plan."
"Problem?" the Doctor asked.
"It is. I want to account for the transfer halt that Mags and I saw."
The Doctor glanced at the screen. "Looks all right," he said. "This is their files system?"
"Yes," the Master told him. "The Knowledge Foundation has no idea that we are looking at their systems now. They have an automatic lock out in place that would black us out or shut the database down if it detected us."
The Doctor pushed a few buttons on the console and the computer screen changed to a different listing. "There we are," he said. "Our entries, I mean. Safely in place in their records. Looks like nobody has tampered with the falsified records of who we are."
"I don't like it," the Master said. "There was a signal just after we blacked them out and downloaded to their system, but I can find no signs that they detected us."
"How long did the transfer take?" the Doctor asked. "About 8 nanoseconds," the Master told him. "I blacked out their system with a false power surge and downloaded our false records to their backup system, then issued a command for the backup system to overwrite the main files."
"How long did the overwrite take?" the Doctor asked.
"About two seconds."
The Doctor thoughtfully rubbed his chin. "Possible that somebody would have noticed the overwrite, but they wouldn't easily locate the four new IDs that you slipped into the system, would they?"
"I don't see how," the Master told him. "But it is possible that they may have some security detectors in place that I have not anticipated."
It was so rare for him to admit the possibility of error that the Doctor took a second look at him.
"You afraid they're settin' a trap for us?" Mags asked. "Waitin' for us to come in?"
"Isn't it what you would do?" the Master asked her.
"How's Jo?" Mags suddenly asked the Doctor.
"Doing well," he said. "She's progressing."
"I think I'll go have a smoke," Mags said. "Come on, Sin; take a break. Doctor?"
"No," the Doctor said. "Thank you. How about the more mundane task of getting us situated?"
"Already done," the Master told him. "I've booked us lodgings at a resort ten miles from the site of the Knowledge Foundation. I've set up credit and bank accounts for us. It will take a few days for our clothing and other goods to arrive. You had better see to moving Miss Grant. Is she well enough to stand yet?"
"Almost. Perhaps you'd better take that break," the Doctor suggested. "I'll navigate us in to the resort." He wanted the Master to move away from the console while he brought down his own security lockout system. With a faint smile, the Master bowed his head and left.
* * * *
The resort was a three-storied, rambling chalet that overlooked a broad, sparkling river far down at the foot of the mountain on which it rested. There was the formality of checking in, and then the Doctor moved the TARDIS directly into one of the suits.
Mags, continually amazed at the dimensional transcendence of the TARDIS, amused herself by walking from its vast interior into the smaller confines of the room that housed it. She did this several times, marveling that a room could actually hold something that was bigger than itself.
While the Doctor saw to moving Jo into a sunny room with broad windows, Mags and the Master explored their new residence. It was the off season, and they had the place to themselves.
Mags' torn black jumpsuit had been replaced with elegant, softer clothing from the vast wardrobes in the TARDIS. With better grooming and stylish clothing, and her luminescent green eyes subdued by the contact lenses, her own impish cuteness from the streets had been transformed. She now possessed a youthful, almost naive beauty accented by her wide eyes, cherubic mouth, and slender figure. As she and the Master left one of the resort's vast game rooms, he touched her hand and then encased it in his own. She jumped and turned to face him.
"Why are you frightened of me?" he asked her gently, gravely, his dark eyes looking at hers. "You weren't frightened of me before."
"When you was shot?" she asked. "I was scared you would die. I didn't want you to--"
"But now you are frightened of me," he said softly, stepping closer and resting his hands on her shoulders.
"Don't Sin--" she began.
"I want you to tell my why not," he said. "I invited you to rest between my hearts, Margaret. I thought you would come, but you hesitate." He looked down at her, waiting for an answer. His eyes, if anything, were softer and more kind than she had thought they could be.
"Because I can't afford to be there yet," she told him.
"This is a place that cannot be bought or sold," he said.
"It would get you killed," she insisted. "Sin, I can't love you and try to do my job at the same time. I could get you killed."
"Why?" he asked. "What does the one have to do with the other?"
"You're a timelord; you don't understand," she said. "You can do all sorts of things all at the same time--figure out the database, court me, analyze the TARDIS' interface metrics. Nothing interferes with anything else in your mind. Mags Hardbottle isn't that way. If I get distracted from the mission, I could get you--or somebody else--killed, once things get dangerous. I got to keep my head clear."
"And then?" he asked her.
"And then I'm yours" she declared, then looked up at his eyes and faltered. "If you want me, I mean."
"Don't be afraid of me," he whispered to her, drawing her closer. He pulled off his glove and used his bare hand to stroke her cheek. "All right," he whispered. "No more kisses, no more courtship, for now. But I will want you--now and always."
"Then get me out of that Knowledge Foundation place alive, Sin," she told him softly. "And I'll come with you, where ever you go in the universe."
* * * *
The third morning of their encampment at the resort dawned warm and fair. Jo, at last able to rise and get about fairly well, was pleased to see that their clothing and materials had arrived. In spite of danger behind and before, she found genuine pleasure in trying things on. Her mood, assisted by the bright sunlight and a morning spent with the latest in fashion, improved considerably. Around a table of white pine that glowed with a golden warmth in the morning light, the four invaders made their final plans. They had the balcony breakfast area to themselves.
Over the litter of crockery, coffee cups, elegant silver spoons and a creamer bowl, the Master dealt out their visas, passports, cash, credit certificates, identification papers, ID cards, driver's licenses, and--most noticeable by the offhand way he dealt them out--marriage licenses.
"Earth people don't check marriage licenses," the Doctor told him, holding up the document that verified to all the world that he was Doctor Grant--Doctor U. Grant--the happily wedded husband of Jo Grant for four years. "You fill them out once, get them authorized, and then they sit in a drawer forever."
"I cannot keep track of all the rituals of paperwork for humans," the Master said. His own certificate asserted that he and Mags---whose name was now rendered "Margaret," were still newlyweds--married less than a year.
"Ain't nobody in that fetchin' place gonna believe that you're married to me," Mags objected.
"Let them all think what they want, my dear," he told her airily. "I told Mother and Father they could just keep their house and that old inheritance. I'd gladly give it all up for you."
Jo sighed, and Mags looked exasperated. Only the Doctor seemed amused by his rival's humor.
The Master dropped the levity as he saw Mag's displeasure. "Come now, Margaret," he said. "I shall don the accent of a Londoner, and my entire history that I've invented is one of rising through the ranks of poverty. You are my third wife--a charming little ornament I picked up in my old neighborhood."
"Really, Mags," the Doctor added. "Plenty of scientists with very young wives from different walks of life. You'll see, once we get to the Knowledge Foundation." That morning he was truly resplendent in a royal blue dressing gown and a morning ascot knotted with careless precision at his throat. The Master, of course, wore black. Jo, now nearly recovered after her recuperation, was in a heavily quilted robe. She rifled through her allotted assortment of papers. "Right then, what's the pretext for going in?" she asked, reading through them.
"None needed," the Master told her. "I arranged for the Doctor and me to have invitations to visit the Knowledge Foundation as researchers. They are expecting us."
The Doctor glanced through his own stack of paperwork, looking for all the world like a conventional business executive sorting through the morning post before going to the office. "Physics," he said, reading it off of his invitation. "And Cosmology. Is that all I'm officially good at?"
"Couldn't be too obvious, could we?" the Master retorted. He addressed them all. "We know from the time tunnel we found at the processing plant that these people took the complete design from my memory while I was their prisoner. My guess is that they still don't understand it."
"Hmm, very likely," the Doctor agreed. "They can make it go but could never design their own."
"Precisely. Our best chance to get to the time tunnel on this end is to make them think we can help them understand it," the Master advised.
"Without too obviously trying to impress them," the Doctor added.
"As always, Doctor, I can rely on you to insist on subtlety."
"So now that we caved in their time tunnel entrance on the other planet, we got to do it here," Mags said."
"Technically, my dear, we have not `caved in' their operation on that planet yet," the Master reminded her. "In real time, it will not be destroyed for another seven earth days."
She shook her head. "This time travel sure can throw a person."
"The two ends of the time tunnel are directed at each other," the Doctor said. "Our best bet is to destroy the end of it here on earth before they get any indication of its destruction on the other planet. We don't want them warned."
The Master threw down his packet of identification cards and certificates and pushed away his coffee cup. "Our transportation arrived earlier this morning. Amazing what you can do through electronic services these days."
"I never broke so many laws in my life," Mags muttered. "Mail fraud, credit fraud, communications fraud."
"And we've hardly started!" the Master exclaimed, passing her a pack of Turkish cigarettes. "Cheer up, Margaret. The laborer is worthy of his hire, after all. If we're to save the earth from these pirates, then Earth will have to support our efforts."
"When I hear you quoting the Holy Bible, then I know you've been in stir too long," the Doctor said, standing up. "Let's go get packed. The Knowledge Foundation isn't more than thirty minutes away. We can be settled in by noon."
"'Ey, what about the TARDIS machine?" Mags asked suddenly.
"It will stay here," the Doctor told her. "We'll make this resort our fall-back position. We have it booked for ourselves until the end of the month."
Jo stood up. THe Master looked up at her. "And do you feel up to this, Miss Grant?"
"Right enough," she said briefly. She now saw very plainly that something was going on between the Master and Mags, and she did not like it.
"There will be those deplorable evening fetes to endure," he warned her. "I'm afraid that the Knowledge Foundation prides itself on providing endless social activities for its guests."
"I'll do my best," Jo said. "A woman can always plead a headache." She walked away, after the Doctor.
"What's a fet?" Mags asked him as he stood up. She let the Master stand and draw her chair back for her.
"Oh, ballroom dancing, card games, things like that."
"Dancing?" she asked. "Fancy dancing?"
He shrugged. "Waltzing and the like." "I can't dance!" she exclaimed, standing and drawing back in dismay.
He let out his breath and took her hand to lead her out. "Mags, get along and get packed," he said. "There's nothing to dancing. We've got plenty to worry about without thinking of that--being dissected alive, for starters."
"It would be just our luck to pull off all the fancy cover gimmicks and then get nailed over something stupid like dancing," she retorted.
* * * *
In a dimly lit room at the bottom of the Knowledge Foundation, one of the six operators who monitored the database records suddenly looked up from, his screen. "I've found the match error," Operator Slessor said.
With the arrest of the last operator, the one who had covered up the infiltration of the database, the other operators had been reduced to a count-by-count investigation of the database.
Captain Mallit glanced at Slessor, and then crossed to him, watching over his shoulder as the younger man tapped up a code on the keyboard.
"You've hardly found the match error." Mallit told him. "What you've found is a section of the database that does not match the size of penultimate backup record. You'll still have to check each entry to find the false ones." He grimaced. "That could take weeks, depending on the rate of the overwriting from the main backup."
"If the overwrite program overwrote the entire system, we may never find it. The other operator," Slessor asked, then hesitated, then boldly asked it, "He is dead, isn't he?" The other five operators stopped their work and glanced over at Mallit.
"Not quite yet," Mallit said. "We're still--uh--questioning him. Why? Would you like to see him, Slessor?"
Slessor's face, pale and pasty anyway in the dim room, turned a shade paler. "I just wondered if we could get any information from him," he said.
"We're trying," Slessor snapped.
* * * *
The Knowledge Foundation did not simply appear on the horizon. One moment it was not there, and then the next it loomed over them, set up on the side of a steep wall of rock just north of the old Franconia Notch. It ran along the complete ridge, splendid in architecture. Its myriad windows reflected the sunlight back and showered it down on them in hundreds of brilliant daggers. It should have been glorious and impressive, but Jo found herself suddenly clinging to the Doctor's hand.
"It's all right," he said quietly. "We're together anyway, Jo."
But no matter what he said, she knew that death would come alone. It was the one thing that you could not go through with someone else. He put an arm across her shoulders. "We defeated them on that planet," he told her. "With nothing but a single laser gun to start with. We've got a much better advantage now."
The Master was driving, fast, steering the superb car with one gloved hand and his left knee, while his right rested lightly on the stick shift. He did not turn his indifferent gaze from the hairpin turns as he said, "We may as well face it that they'll kill all of us as much for spite as for knowledge if they catch us messing about with their time device."
Next to him, Mags spoke up. "Their spite can't be any worse than what they'll do for knowledge. I believe I'm going to say a prayer." She clamped her eyes closed for a moment. Everybody else was so surprised that they said nothing until they were rolling through the main entrance.
"I need hardly advise that in our current roles, we must be patient and polite," the Master ordered as they pulled up at a security station.
"The rest of us don't have a problem with that," the Doctor snapped, and Jo and Mags actually laughed, breaking the stressful silence.
The Master adopted the accent of a Londoner, not quite as broad as Mags' cockney. "Hello my good man," he said to the smartly uniformed guard who greeted him. "We are Doctors Masters and Grant, come with our wives to spend a fortnight or two." He passed their invitations to the guard.
The guard glanced at them briefly and smiled, then handed them back. "I'll just phone the main desk, sir, and let them know to get your rooms ready."
In spite of the size of the Knowledge Foundation and its confusing labyrinth of hallways and floors, they found themselves thirty minutes later being led to their suites.
The processing plant had been stark, military, gruesome. But the Knowledge Foundation was adorned with lush carpeting, potted ferns, elegant vases and pottery, and security men who did not wear weapons: these all seemed to point to a philanthropic endeavor.
"Luxurious, isn't it?" Jo asked the Doctor as the porters exited and closed the doors.
"And tasteful," the Doctor added, glancing in at the bathroom. He returned to the main room. "Nice to see good taste in American decor. Sort of like finding hen's teeth."
"We'd better find the Master and Mags," she said. "I think they're lodged up the hall."
"Doctor Masters," he corrected her. "All right. The porter mentioned a lounge on the main floor."
Over drinks in the day lounge downstairs, they held a quiet meeting. They had the large room to themselves--the other guests being engaged. Jo was amazed that between them, the Master and Mags had already mapped out where the evening reception rooms were, the dining room, and one probable entry point to the secured areas.
"The most senior physicists are roomed in a cluster," the Master said in a quiet voice. "Separate from their spouses--"
"How did you find that out?" the Doctor asked.
"I asked the porter," Mags told him.
"She was playing my ambitious wife," the Master said with a fond smile at Mags.
"I wangled him a seat tonight by Professor Filo--Filo--" she began.
"Filostrato," the Master said for her. "One of their top people. The porter said he would arrange for us to be seated by Filostrato at dinner. You two will have to fend for yourselves, I'm afraid."
"So the top scientists are roomed separate from their spouses," Jo reminded him.
"Ah, yes. Not that Filostrato has a spouse," he added. "There's a locked linen closet in a corner of the hallway by their rooms. You can see faint tracking in the carpet from daily wear. They all seem to be visiting that closet every day."
"You think it's an elevator," the Doctor said.
"I do," he agreed. "But forcing an entry into it would be disastrous."
"I quite agree," the Doctor said. "I'm sure they've got it rigged with every security device imaginable. We've got to get invited down."
They were interrupted by the entrance of two men. One was a middle-aged man who looked similar in age and bearing to the Doctor. The other reminded Jo of Shakespeare's description of Falstaff--that "great hill of flesh." And in spite of enormous height and girth, he walked with a mincing, short step that made him look like he was continually hesitating to move forward. His black hair was heavily slicked back with some expensive oil that gave notice of his arrival several yards in advance. His whole billowing body of flesh swayed with his hesitant, jerky, mincing gait.
Mags burst into a grin of delight at such a figure, but the Master frowned at her, and she became as grave as a church warden under his glance. Jo herself did not know whether to be horrified or amused at such a figure, but his high pitched cry of delight at seeing them startled her.
"Ah, bon journo!" he exclaimed, in a nearly falsetto voice. "New members! New members! Who are the scientists and who are the spouses, eh?"
"Jimmy, two scotches please!" his middle-aged companion shouted, looking around the lounge.
"No, no, no!" the high voiced man exclaimed. "White wine for me, white wine. The hardy spirits, they make me dizzy as a young girl."
Mags shot a second look at Jo. The Master frowned again. Introductions were made. The heavy, mincing man was Dr. Filostrato himself, introduced vaguely as head of the relativity research team. His associate was Dr. Edgar Calvin, mathematician turned engineer, he told them.
All four of the visitors knew their roles to play. The Doctor and Master, both charming company when they chose to be, turned on all their charm, and soon had the two newcomers drawn into conversation. Jo and Mags, their own amusement forgotten in the earnestness of catching every dropped comment that might lead somewhere, smiled and chatted with the scientists as well.
* * * *
"Security has admitted the eight new members today," Slessor said to Mallit. "Lewis, Ransom, Masters, and Grant parties. Do you want international background checks on them run?"
"No, it would be a waste of time," Mallit said. "If any of them are the infiltrators, they're too smart for a slip there. I'm going down to the security node to oversee surveillance of them. Start a separate database for each of them. We may be able to accumulate enough information to show a match somewhere on who they are and what they want."
"We can do a link directly from here to security surveillance, Captain."
"Slessor, do your job. I know what we're capable of." He stalked out of the room, down the polished and brilliantly lighted corridor of the record retention area, past statistical tracking, through a checkpoint, and then into the security offices. As chief administrator for Operations of the Knowledge Foundation, he had access to every office at any time. Everything except the relativity project. He must protect it, but he could not enter it.
* * * *
"Oh, I thought that would never end," Mags groaned as she and her sham husband pulled their luggage open in a frantic scurry to find things to wear for the formal dinner. They were back in their room, with thirty minutes left before the gong.
"Left fork?" the Master asked her.
"Salad," she replied.
"Main course--look, it's the dancing that's going to get me!" she exclaimed. She succeeded in wrestling an electric blue gown adorned with an ornately folded ribbon at the low neck. "Cor, I hope that ribbon's big enough to cover it all," she muttered. "Turn your back, Sin."
He turned as he struggled into his stiff white shirt. Mags pulled off everything that had to go off, dug out a full slip, and struggled her way into the evening gown.
"Okay, you can look," she said, hurrying into the bathroom to see for herself. "What shoes go with this, Sin? Is black okay?"
"Permissible but not stylish," he called after her while he donned the rest of his evening wear.
* * * *
"The female Masters is not a remarkable creature except for the amount of tar in her lungs and acidic content of her stomach," the Security analyst told Mallit as they watched the silhoutted image of Mags, bursting with iridescent colors, as she glanced at herself in the bathroom mirror. "The chemical scanner housed behind the mirror shows she was born on another planet, that she is a heavy smoker, that her potassium and sodium exchange is high and rather well developed, but her oxygen exchange rate is limited. However, there is an anomaly," he said.
"What is it?"
"She's picked up particles of highly radioactive material. Material not found on earth."
"Get the readings analyzed," Mallit ordered. "Find the possible points of origin of the material."
* * * *
"There ain't no way I'm going to convince anybody in there that I can waltz or--"
She came hurrying out of the bathroom and nearly collided with him, suddenly resplendent in his white shirt, black tie, and tails. He fixed her eye with his--that sudden, overpowering glare that had reduced many a human before her to silence.
He was impatient. "Come here." And he pulled her, unresisting, into his arms. "I will hold your hand in mine, here, and you put this arm around me," he said to her, adjusting her hand and arm. "You hear the music Mags. Look at me and hear the music."
"Yes," she said.
"Look at my eyes. And forget the rest." He pulled her across the room in a sweep that would have done them credit on any dance floor. She came with him, naturally and easily, held in fascination by his eye, but not overpowered. He danced with her around the huge bed in the center of the room, around the jumble of luggage and tangle of spilled clothes. His stern gaze softened. His expression became much more tender and quiet as he looked down at her. His eyes ran over her face, across her eyes. She began to tremble.
"All right." He stopped. "And that is how you dance. I must finish getting ready." He hurried to the bathroom to comb his beard, leaving her speechless and breathless in the middle of the room.
* * * *
As the Master leaned toward the mirror to fasten his tie, the two observers unconsciously leaned closer to the multi-color scan of him on their screen. "This one's an odd character," the analyst told Mallit as they viewed the graphic silhouette of the Master. "His chemical readings are inconsistent with what a human system can tolerate. The heat signatures are incorrect. Looks like--looks like his blood's all wrong."
"Do a full body scan," Mallit said. "Is he an alien?"
"Doesn't make sense. He seems humanoid, anyway, but--" the analyst tapped up a new sequence on the keyboard. "Body organs not quite the same. He's got two hearts--"
"Two hearts!" Mallit exclaimed. "That can't be human! Check his other signs!"
"There are stark anomalies. Do you know the species, sir?"
"No. But I know somebody who does. Get a DNA sample from him. I'll have to pass it up the line. It may be a few days before we get a reply." He looked thoughtful. "I think the Golden Group may have a very special interest in this Masters fellow."
"If he is a worthwhile asset to us, sir, should we send him to the processing facility?"
"Don't be an idiot. This may be a special case. The man at the top will want to know about this first, and privately." He suddenly glared at his young subordinate. "And not a word to Filostrato! Or I'll cut your heart out. Send the messsage on the Security Direct Line to the Central Office of the Golden Group."
The younger man, face pale, nodded. "Do you think Masters is the one who infiltrated the database?" the analyst asked. "That he's come to blow the whistle on us?"
Mallit grinned without mirth. "How amusing. But it may be just his bad luck that's brought him him here. We'll investigate further before we take him. Keep up your surveillance. Notify me if he asks for his car. He must not leave." He hesitated. "You're sure the female Masters is not one of his species?"
"I checked the heart. It's slightly slow, but she definitely has just one heart. I can run further checks on her to determine if she's human or not."
Mallit shook his head. "No, she's human. Only humans smoke tobacco. Ogrons and a few other species eat it, but humans are the only creatures I know of who like to toxify their lungs with it. And the stupid girl probably thinks her husband is human. What kind of game is he playing, I wonder?"
He straightened. "Check him for the radiation signature, though. If those two have been meddling where they aren't welcome, we'll deal with both of them."
Episode Twelve is now online!
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