The Book of Five Rings

Episode 12

At the long banqueting table, the Master sat to the left of Filostrato, Mags next to the Master, and the less ebullient Edgar Calvin on Mags' other side. The Doctor and Jo were seated directly across from them, a fortunate result of the Doctor's strategy of switching nameplates around right before the meal.

"We're going to have a dreadful row if anybody saw you," Jo whispered to him as he seated her. "This is the choice end of the table."

"Be quiet and be grateful," he said in a low voice as he sat next to her. "We were originally scheduled to be right next to some dreadful psychologist doing a statistical study on the effects of dermatological difficulties in adolescents." He beamed across the loaded table at Filostrato, the Master, Mags, and Calvin. "Ah, what good company! Will you have wine, Professor Filostrato?" he asked.

"Oh yes, Dr. Grant, please pour. I am so looking forward to hearing of your research. I was sure to look through your portfolios before dinner. I must say--very impressive. We must discuss your findings."

But just then the man on Filostrato's other side spoke to him, and Filostrato instantly turned his attention away from the Doctor. The Doctor shot a glare at the Master to tell him to re-engage the big Italian man, but the Master gave a slight shake of his head. He was normally aggressive in pursuing his plans, but even Jo could see that he was troubled and wary. Something had him on edge. Dr. Calvin spoke to him over Mags' head, and the conversation picked up on the subject of relativity. The Doctor joined in, a hearty and talkative counterpoint to the Master's curt but precise answers.

But it was all over Jo's head, and she could see that Mags' initial curiosity was rapidly wearing off. On the Master's other side, Filostrato's high voice carried through the jumble of conversation.

"Yes, yes, right to the surgeon at last." Filostrato was saying. He raised a hand to sweep back a few greased strands of his hair "Yes, I told him, just cut them both off. Whack! Whack! And there's an end to the problem. Nothing but an inconvenience and I'm better off without, I said." He nodded in satisfaction and put an entire shrimp puff into his mouth. His lips fit around it nicely.

Mags cocked an eyebrow at Jo, and Jo looked down to hide the laugh that sprang to her lips.

"Jo, behave," the Doctor whispered as an aside, and then returned to talking with Dr. Calvin. Filostrato at last exhausted the interest of the man on his other side, and he turned to the discussion of relativity.

"Ah," he said, beaming as the Master finished holding forth on the need of a limitless power supply to achieve direction forward and backward into time. "You do have the keen grasp, Dr. Masters," he said congenially. "Truly the feat is possible in the theory, but what about the real technology, eh?"

"It should be technologically possible to gain access to limitless power," the Master told him. "After all, we are surrounded by a galaxy of stars, and each of them is a source of limitless energy."

"Eh, bien!" the Italian exclaimed. "How very insightful! Yet the use of an ideal planet as a solar collector has been tried with only very limited success."

"Of course," the Doctor told him. "Even if you use an entire planet as a solar collector, your power supply would still be limited by the mass of the planet, which is almost infinitely smaller than that of a star. No, no, the solar collector idea is a cul-de-sac, Filostrato. You could gain great power, but not infinite power."

The Master inclined his head. "I quite agree with Dr. Grant," he said in his trained cockney voice. "If you could harness the power of a sun directly, you could attain time travel--and anything else you want. Unlimited rule."

The Doctor snorted, an unconscious reaction to his old rival's lust for power and rule. Dr. Calvin looked intrigued, and Filostrato turned to the Master with new respect.

"There you may err, my friend," Filostrato told him. "Technological power has no smooth liaison with civil power, with political power. The canaglia, they can destroy hundreds of year's worth of technology in a few days."

"Just look at what's left of Great Britain," Calvin agreed.

"Canaglia?" Mags asked suddenly. "The common folk, you mean?"

"Yes, my dear," Filostrato told her.

"The masses can be ruled," the Master insisted, sounding more like his old self to Jo than he had in many days. He glanced meaningfully at Filostrato. "Proper amounts of power must accompany the proper degree of authority." After a moment, Filostrato smiled.

"No, Dr. Masters," he said. "Now it is you in the cul-de-sac. We have learned that rule by terror is not effective. Mankind is a resilient animal. He become weary even of the fear of death. He begin to embrace it, to be willing to die. No, to control the world, we must not only have limitless technological power, but limitless power of another kind."

"I suppose you mean the power to kill whoever you determine should be killed," the Doctor said brusquely. "It's an old idea. And one that's never worked very well."

Filostrato laughed and clapped his hands. "Wrong, wrong, my friend. No, the new rulers will not give death to the canaglia, but life. We shall take death away from the common man, and thus keep him under our control."

"Why that's preposterous," the Master said with a laugh and a sneer. "Even if you could do it, the planet would be over run and exhausted within two generations."

"Oh, no no, dear Doctor Masters," Filostrato told him. "You do not understand."

"End breeding first," Edgar Calvin interjected. "Make it a trade, you know. The masses would run to get a chance to live forever, wouldn't they? So let them trade their breeding ability for it."

"Sterilize humanity?" the Doctor asked.

"It is only the theory of accruing power," Filostrato said lightly. But they all saw the gleam in his dark eye. "But theoretically, yes, that would be the way. And then when we give them immortality, we will control them."

"How?" Mags asked. "If they couldn't die, they wouldn't have no fear of the ones in power."

"I said we would take away death, young lady," Filostrato told her. "I did not say we would take away dying."

"It works this way," Dr. Calvin put in. "The theory of non-terminating longevity is not that we retain youth. That's a myth. Went out with Ponce de Leon. The only way to give immortality to man is to allow for the aging process. But some scientists here and there have discovered that it may be possible to engineer human cells to spontaneously recycle when death approaches--to literally store the body's energy for re-growth."

"Lovely, is it not?" Filostrato asked. "The body becomes weak or sick or old, and then suddenly like the Phoenix, it is re-born."

The Master's jaw was set. "That's impossible," he said. But his voice was wooden.

"There have been some reports of extra-terrestrials with the ability to recycle that way," Calvin said.

"To regenerate," the Doctor added.

"Yes, precisely. That's the term."

"Imagine," Filostrato invited them. "We have the high minded idealistic youth. The freedom fighter, the ruffian. We strap him down, infuse his veins with an acidic solution, and presto! he begin to die in pain. Just as the pain is at his worst, the faithful human body releases the endorphins that block it out. The darkness comes up. By that time he is glad. His fevered and blistering brain tells him that he is escaping us. But in a few moments, he is back again, regenerated. What despair. It was the punishment given to Prometheus. To be dying but never to die. Regeneration become our means to control--the authority to with hold death."

The Master's mouth was slightly open. The Doctor was stone silent. Only Mags brazened it out. "Sounds like a load of 'orse doo to me," she said plainly. "You can't get a human body to do that."

"We need only to find a few of these mythic regenerators, conduct some tests, and we will know," Filostrato told her.

"I'm going to be sick," Jo said suddenly. Instantly the table reverted back to the courtesy of an academic dining hall. Filostrato stood and offered her his water. The Doctor was instantly up by her, helping her to her feet. Dr. Calvin stood and offered to assist her out. The Master also stood and exchanged a brief nod with the Doctor.

"It is much too hot in here," the Doctor said, helping her out. "Please go on with your meal, the rest of you."

"I shall go to the kitchen," the Master declared, all chivalry and once again composed. "I will have them send up something, Mrs. Grant. Come, Margaret, you are better at these things than I am."

"Just talk, just talk," Filostrato said lightly. "But not fit for the table, perhaps."

* * * *

"I nearly gave us away," Jo said as the Doctor pressed a damp towel to her forehead.

"Nonsense. You had a very normal reaction to a very cruel idea," the Doctor told her. "We would be less believable if we came into this place as heartless and intellectually cold as they've become."

"Did I faint?" she asked.

"Not until we were at the stairs," he told her. "Here, try some of this water."

He had brought her to their room, and she was lying on the wide canopied bed, propped on pillows, her cuffs and the laces at her throat unfastened. The cold sweat lay unevaporated between her skin and the silk of her evening gown.

She tried to take a sip of the water when he held the glass for her, but then she shook her head.

"You're trapped in your body," she told him as he set the glass aside. "You know what they'll do to you if they find out what you are. They'll kill you again and again until you really die. Until there are no more regenerations left."

"It's all right, Jo. Don't forget, my dear, this body of mine is governed by a rather well run head," he told her. "I don't intend to end up strapped down on some table so that they can evaluate what it will take to trigger a regeneration cycle."

Somebody rapped on the door.

"Come!" he called, and the Master and Mags entered. The Master had a tray.

"Errand of mercy," he said lightly. He set it down on the dresser, as far from Jo as possible. Mags closed the door. "I imagine that you're not too hungry," he said to Jo.

"No," Jo replied.

He strolled over to her, hands behind his back, ready to be condescending, she thought. But at least he wasn't angry.

"I should be sharply annoyed at your want of nerve," he told her. "But I was finding it a little hard to take myself." Mags joined him at the bedside, saw the water, and took it down in a few gulps. She handed it back to the Doctor with a nod of thanks as she wiped her other hand across her mouth.

"What?" the Doctor asked him in mock surprise. "Getting squeamish on us?"

"Angry more like it," the Master said with a snort. "To hear that self satisfied prig talk about laying hands on a timelord like that so that they can learn how we regenerate. It would be like painting over The Last Supper to learn to color within the lines."

"Look, let's go," Mags said quietly, urgently. "I take it all back--what I said about cracking the case. I can go back to the casinos and write up a report to transmit to the closest police force. I'll tell 'em what we got and show 'em what little proof we dug up."

"So that you could be found dead in the back of the casino one night?" the Doctor asked her. "Remember, the same conglomerate that runs this place runs your city. And in the end, the Master and I would still be their prey as well. They will soon be able to travel in time. They will find us. Specifically us. We know that now."

"Why specifically you?" Jo asked.

"The rest of the timelords could hold them off easily from Gallifrey," the Master told her. "But we are outside the walls, so to speak." He paced a few steps, stopped, and glanced at them. "No, we must fight them here and now, while we still have a few trump cards, and before they know who we are. It's obvious they know something about timelords, even if they don't know exactly what we are."

The Doctor rubbed his chin and looked thoughtful. "I agree," he said. "The Council of the Timelords is very good at preventing natural disasters in the universe, but they are not able to cope with criminal tactics. We cannot look to them for help in this. In the end, they would come back to us and ask us to mend matters for them."

The Master smiled ruefully. "Pompous oafs! How they love to moralize," he said lightly. "Do you remember--" And then he caught himself at the Doctor's broad smile as they both recollected shared memories. He abruptly turned away. "Enough of that. We must--"

He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Mags took in her breath and her eyes darted around for some weapon, but the Master quickly took her by the hand and led her to the bathroom while the Doctor went to the door.

It was Filostrato.

"Ah, Doctor Grant!" he greeted the timelord. "How is your sweet wife?"

The Doctor did not move to allow the portly Italian man to pass inside.

"Resting," he said. "I think the wine went to her head. She'll be all right."

"A young and lovely little canary, no?" Filostrato said. "Was it that talk of sterilizing that cut her to the quick? I must apologize for the unsuitable conversation. It is only political theory."

The Doctor affected a sly tone and tried to laugh it off. "Well, dear Jo's not much of one for the hard facts of life, I suppose," he said. "Always bringing in lost kittens and what have you. Still, why upset her? She's a gentle little thing. But she'll be all right."

"Good, good." Filostrato's tone became somehow more professional, with a certain genuine dignity. "I would like to consult you and Dr. Masters if I may," he said. "We have a little project going on down below. High security clearance needed, but we would like to give you passes. The knowledge you two have of power transfer would be of great help to us."

"Delighted, old boy!" the Doctor exclaimed. "Still, we don't want to go messing about with old Sol, you know," he said. "It's the only sun we've got."

"No, no. We actually have an experimental site set up across the galaxy," Filostrato told him. "We have been using the solar collector idea without much success. You will see when I show you the drawings. Perhaps you and Dr. Masters can lend your guidance."

"Delighted, delighted," The Doctor said. "As long as we're not out sterilizing people or recycling their cells, eh?" He grinned, and Filostrato broke into his shrill laughter

"No, no, that is just talk. Here are the passes," Filostrato told him. "Just come down to the hallway tomorrow morning at seven. We always have breakfast brought down to our special lab."

"Very well. I suppose that Jo and Margaret can manage without us for a morning."

"There is much up here to entertain the two beauties. Good night, Doctor. I see you in the morning."

"Good night, Professor," the Doctor said, and closed the door. He leaned against it and let out his breath.

The Master cautiously emerged from the bathroom with Mags.

"We're in," the Doctor told him.

"Now all you have to do is get out again," the Master added.

* * * *

"They've given passes to Masters and Grant," Slessor, who was back on duty, told Mallit.

"Has it been arranged about the toilet?" Mallit asked.

"Yes, there was enough cellular waste to get a match through his feces. The DNA is being decoded. But I think he's your man. Here are the preliminary reports."

"And the radiation signatures?"

Slessor nodded. "It's a match. That type of dust occurs in several thousand planets system-wide, but that type of radiation is found only where power sources use the E-2 off-gas system. There's only one planet in our records where that type of dust is imbued with that type of radiation." He looked up at Mallit. "At the plant."

"So, he's been to the processing plant, has he? In and out without raising an alarm. He must be very clever." Mallit leafed through the papers. "Now," he said. "The question is, what does he want here?"

"He and the woman traveling with him must be agents--part of a team sent in to gather information on us."

"No, no. He held his own at dinner with Filostrato and Calvin and that Grant fellow. He is truly a scientist. What about his wife's samples?"

"Here's another surprise. She's a Tark. It's verified."

Mallit suppressed a laugh. "Married to a Tark female? Who disguises herself as a human?"

"Is she valuable to us?"

Mallit frowned. "Tarks are no good for processing. There's never any health problems of note in the species, and they view surgery as immoral, so you can't sell parts to them. And it's almost impossible to break them in interrogation. We can hold her and do the best we can. Maybe break him through her if we have to. He seems to be genuinely fond of her."

"Maybe she's the agent and he's working for her."

Mallit shook his head. "I've never heard of Tarks meddling with human affairs. You can pay them to stand guard or do jobs for you. But they don't want to mingle that much. Run checks on the other six when you have time: Lewis, Ransom, and Grant, but the Grant woman hardly seems fit to be an agent of any type, getting sick over mere talk at dinner, and he's all over her, isn't he, like a doting fool with a young wife!" Mallit stopped talking for a moment as he leafed through the report. "We won't move until we're ready to seize the whole team."

* * * *

Calvin called their breakfast in the underground conference chambers a working meal, and he had not been joking. Clustered around a conference table with 8 other scientists, the Doctor and the Master were quickly presented with stacks of papers, handwritten figures and formulae that had not been committed to the great Foundation's databanks. The convivial atmosphere that one found upstairs evaporated quickly down below, and the tenor of the meeting become much more similar to a quizzing.

"They are challenging us," the Master whispered to him as Filostrato hurried out to find a calculator that was not tied into the databases. "Testing us."

"Quite right, old boy. And we're playing along with them too hard," he whispered back as he raised his coffee cup to his lips.

The project leader, Dr Sarah Greely, glanced sharply at them, sensing the whisper. They could see that it was almost on her tongue to order them not to interrupt with conversation.

"Right," the Master whispered briefly. He leaned back in the conference room chair and pushed back from the table, startling all of those present by his sudden casualness.

"I say," he said in his adopted London accent. "It's all very well us giving you this free stuff, isn't it? But my brain's tired. What's it all about, anyway? We were invited down to see your work, not to answer a load of college finals." He shot a sideways glance at the Doctor. "Thought we'd finished that business years ago."

The Doctor let out a loud laugh of appreciation. "Quite right. I've had enough of this. You have enough money to invest in computers for your calculations. I suggest you do it. I came down to see some power transfer circuitry."

Several of the scientists looked guiltily aware of their lapse in courtesy, but a few of them flushed or turned white, as though angry.

Greely addressed the two of them a little coldly. "This is a classified project. Viewing it is a privilege, not a right," she said. "We must determine is you are worthy of our time." The Master stood up and patted his chest, looking for a cigarette and not finding one. "Well then," he said. "You just let us know if we qualify, won't you Miss?" he asked. "But my wife wanted to go over the grounds with me today, and I'll be deuced if I waste another minute tracing circuits and solving equations. Come Ulysses. I vote we go topside."

"I'd say that's a good idea," the Doctor told him genially. Edgar Calvin leaped to his feet.

"You're right; you're right of course," he said suddenly. "We've been rude and I apologize." He glanced at the others as Filostrato came in. "We always complain about the English as being so cold and distant, but look how we've behaved. Come on. Let's go see the power circuitry. What do you say, Filostrato?"

"By all means; by all means," the portly Italian told them. "I say all along that this grilling is not necessary. We want to consult you." He led them out, the rest of the scientists following along. The Doctor and Master conscientiously made themselves look curious but not too eager. They knew that this could only be the other end of the time tunnel that they had discovered at the processing plant, the end of their long quest.

* * * *

They were brought to an array of circuitry cabinets that took up an entire room. But one glance showed both timelords what they needed to know.

"You are not generating power at this end," the Doctor said. "This lot looks more like a receiving station."

"Quire right, Doctor Grant," Filostrato said while Greely looked at them intently through her ice blue eyes and Edgar Calvin looked thoughtful.

"Circuitry like this is practically juvenile," the Master muttered, sliding out one of the boards from a cabinet. "Obviously designed with conservation of power in mind."

"Of course," Greely said.

"You can't conserve it if you need to use it," he snapped. "You'd lose so much potential in the storage--oh, never mind. It's a waste. You could never achieve time travel with this design. The best you could hope for--" he stopped.

"Yes," Filostrato urged him. "What?"

"Is that what you're doing?" he asked, trying to sound a little unsure. "Creating a single jump through space?"

Filostrato laughed and clapped his fat hands while the other scientists looked concerned that the Master should have guessed their project so quickly. The Doctor shot him a warning glance. It was no good coming up with the truth so quickly.

"Surely," the Doctor added. "You're still experimenting. You could not have succeeded yet."

"No, of course not," Filostrato lied. "But we want you to help us. To join us."

* * * *

"The DNA profile has come up for Masters," Mallit said, striding into the security room. "Two hearts, different blood system, and an amazing permeability in the membrane of the neurons."

The analyst glanced up at him.

"It would almost appear that Masters has a nervous system that releases sodium through the cell walls upon death."

"Is that important?"

"It's too early to say, but he's what we've been looking for. We can't make sense out of everything in his DNA mapping, but it's possible that upon death, Masters would experience a new burst of energy and electrical activity. It could be some sort of trigger for his entire metabolism."

"Was he the one who infiltrated the database as well?" the analyst asked.

Mallit nodded. "Yes, but not the only one. We know that four new entries were written onto the system, so in addition to Masters and his wife, there are two other agents. Start surveillance checks on the Lewis, Ransom, and Grant parties. I want everything checked, histories, records, chemical scans, radiation, DNA--everything. What about the radiation on his wife, Margaret?"

"It puts her right at the site of the processing plant within the last two weeks," the analyst said. "It's an extremely specific match. We can say positively that she has visited the site very recently." He glanced at Mallit. "I don't know how that could be. They have not detected any intruders."

"She's got to die just the same. That's the rule. No matter. Her number was up anyway. Get a detail ready. As soon as we find the link to the two unknown agents, we'll bring them down. I'll lead it."

* * * *

"This is going like clockwork," the Master whispered to the Doctor. "I've got Greely and Calvin both implementing the gate circuitry." He had his jeweler's glass in his eye and returned to the circuit design he was inspecting. "Are you sure they don't suspect?" the Doctor asked. He drew a stool up to the open cabinet of circuitry and started to sketch out a design on a notepad.

"Not at all," the Master assured him. "After all, the power gate is a valid construction. It will allow the power to transfer right through the time tunnel from the planet to here, making their two way travel from here to there much more safe and efficient. And I'm sure you know the rest," he added.

"Yes, of course," the Doctor said. "If the power gate should open at the right time, then when the time tunnel back at the planet blows up, it will treat all the space between here and there as no space at all, and this end will blow up as well. What about the timer?"

"It's what I'm working on right now. I have the exact time of the explosion written down and the calculations are made. Just double check them for me, will you?"

The Doctor glanced at the chit of paper and nodded. "Well, I plan to rig an alarm for it," the Doctor said.

The Master's jeweler's glass dropped out of his eye as he stared at his partner in espionage. "Are you mad?"

At their hastily arranged workstation across the room, Greely and Calvin glanced over at them, puzzled by the Master's tone of voice. The two timelord's dropped their voices.

"Look,. I don't like these people, but they are not necessarily murderers," the Doctor insisted.

"They are all our enemies," the Maser told him. "You know what the stakes are, Doctor, and they set them that high, not us. Our lives, the lives of Miss Grant and Margaret, the future of humankind, the stability of Gallifrey itself."

"It doesn't matter. I'm not going to wipe them out in a flash. I'll rig a thirty second alarm. It will give them a chance to clear out before the thing blows up." He looked down at his sketch. "They deserve at least a chance," he said.

"You are a fool, Doctor," the Master said bitterly. He returned to his work without another word.

* * * *

"You all right this morning, Jo?" Mags asked, opening the door at Jo's call to come in.

"Yes, fine," Jo said to her. "Have coffee, Mags?"

"No, look here, while those two are running around with Filostrato and company, what say we try to meet up with the other spouses?" Mags asked. "Especially the ones who can't room with their partners. We might dig up some dissatisfied husbands or wives willin' to talk about things, you know?"

"That's a good plan," Jo said. Somebody knocked. "Oh., that will be the room service. Will you open it, Mags?"

Mags pulled the door open, and suddenly the room filled with uniformed men, armed with automatic handguns. A taller, older man pushed Mags into the wall, a heavy bladed knife at her throat. "Don't make a sound," he ordered. "Two of you get the other one and let's go."

Episode Thirteen is now online!
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