The Book of Five Rings

Episode 14

In the worst moments of terror, Jo had already discovered that there could be pockets of perfect peace. In Stangmoor prison, when she and the Doctor had been captives of the most hardened group of the prisoners, she had found her sweetest sleep there. There had been an hour's nap--between rounds so to speak--when her mind had completely let go of all its fears to satisfy her desperate need for rest.

So it was now. She was aware only of being curled up against him, protected in the crook of his arm. His presence, even to her unconscious mind, was a watching, waiting, patient presence. In unconsciousness, when her defenses and human understanding were both set aside, she very nearly understood him for what he was. Or at least, she understood him better than when she saw him and interacted with him as a human being. He gave the sweetness to her sleep, the sense of his presence with her, abiding and watching over her. It was as involuntary for him as dreaming was for her, and she had experienced it from the Master as well, a terror when he was her enemy, a brooding presence when he had rescued her from the processing plant and nursed her back to a limited sort of recovery.

Timelords could not contain their presence from the humans around them, could not be walled out from them. "We are a gregarious lot, aren't we?" the Doctor had once admitted to her. "Our personalities always spilling out all over the place." Indeed, when things were peaceful, it annoyed the Doctor that Jo would continually and unconsciously drift closer and closer to him if it were possible, so that whatever he happened to be doing, he would sooner or later find her at his elbow. He was always directing her to stand elsewhere in the lab, knowing that sooner or later she would be standing next to him again.

She opened her eyes, thinking she had heard him speak. But he was asleep, his face turned toward her, his closed eyes crinkled slightly, as though the guilt and despair still troubled him, but the rest of his face at rest.

The door slid back, and two of the security men rushed in. The Doctor woke instantly. He struggled to get to his feet, to offer her some protection. She clung to him. Three more men rushed in, guns out. These were ordinary handguns, capable of automatic weapons fire.

"Both of them, both of them now," somebody was shouting, and they were hauled up and dragged out.

"Don't let her bleed," the Doctor shouted as he was pushed out into the corridor ahead of her.

"Then tell her not to struggle," one of them said, slipping a garrote around her neck to subdue her.

"Jo, just go along with them," he said from in front of her as they pushed him along. "There's no escape by fighting now."

"No escape for you at all, old man," one of them returned, but as she and he both stopped struggling, they were hurried down a dimly lit hallway.

"It's the labs," Jo gasped, as the familiar antiseptic smell struck her senses.

"Don't struggle, Jo," he said from ahead of her. "I know it's the labs."

Another door slid back to admit them, and they were pushed into a large research area. She recognized the cams overhead and automatically shrank pack, but she was shoved forward and then the garrote jerked back to keep her from losing her balance.

"I said don't let her bleed!" the Doctor shouted.

"Not yet by any means," Doctor Filostrato said, coming around a tall, upright slab where he had been working some controls. "Bring that one over here," he said. "Use the restraints. I apologize, Doctor, but I am under the advisement of your former partner."

The security men hauled him to the upright slab and fastened him to it, his hands over his head.

"What are you going to do?" the Doctor asked.

"Largely, Doctor, that depend on you now," the heavy Italian told him. "I am not so enchanted with Masters that I insist on keeping him as an ally. We give him a little bit of freedom to pacify him. But he is locked up now, like you, down the hall. He wait on me, now."

"So you want me to betray him, do you?" the Doctor asked.

"No, to verify his work for me. You confirm his findings." Filostrato strolled over to Jo, who was held between two of the guards. "If we find he is lying to us, or fooling us, we neatly trade your places. He go into the research schedule, and you become consultant to the Knowledge Foundation. It true, we must never let you leave." He stroked Jo's cheek, let his eyes linger on her face, and then smoothed her hair with his thick fingers. She stared at him in mute defiance. "But after a while, you and your wife may find many pleasantries here," he added. "Such a lovely creature," he added. "Masters tell us to scan her blood."

He nodded to one of the men who stood by, and the man handed him what looked like a twentieth century radar gun.

"What shall I find, Doctor?" he asked. "Shall I do as he say? Shall I check her blood and see? Perhaps she will be too tempting for us. As I think you know, we get most of our funding from the proceeds of our little business at that plant that Dr. Masters visited recently."

"You kidnap people with various immunities and kill them for their body organs," the Doctor confirmed.

"So you are part of a spying ring," Filostrato said calmly, his eyes still on Jo. He smoothed back her hair with his free hand. "Why, Doctor? I so much like to know how--how anybody get inside that plant and get away undetected."

"Just a question of timing," the Doctor said evasively. According to real time, it was just over four days until he and Mags would arrive at the plant in search of Jo.

Filostrato glanced at him. "I let that matter pass," he said. "But I think I give in to the temptation. I like to see what Masters regard as so fascinating about the young lady's blood." He grasped Jo's hair and forced her head back, then aimed the scanner at her throat and pressed the trigger.

The Doctor could not get a look at the hand held scanner, but he saw Filostrato bend his head to read something. It looked like an LED was flashing red on the side of the device.

Filostrato let out a squeal of dismay and leaped back. Everybody in the room gave a start of surprise except for the Doctor. The Italian scientist reached forward, jerked her head back again so that she winced in pain, and took another reading. He shot his head around and stared at the Doctor.

"You knew this!" he exclaimed, releasing her and stepping back a generous stride. Several of the security men looked from Filostrato to Jo Grant with wariness.

"You may as well tell your men," the Doctor said. "She's infected with the haemmo-mora virus. I warned them not to let her bleed."

The two men holding her snatched their hands away. She suddenly realized that she was the center of their attention.

"You let him do this to you?" Filostrato asked her.

"Yes," she said.

"She wanted to be spared your tortures," the Doctor added.

"You have killed the horse to spare the cart," Filostrato retorted. "We could have made the deal, Doctor. Now what? She is dead just the same."

"But free of you," Jo told him.

"Foolish girl. I will vaporize you!" he snapped. He stepped forward. "No, I will restrain you as well. Seal you in plastic with an air tube, and watch you slowly die from haemmo-mora." His lips were pulled back in a snarl. "And he watch, too!"

"I could bear it then," she said evenly.

The sudden anger passed from Filostrato's face. 'No," he said suddenly. "Why fight true love?" He turned to the Doctor. "This give you every reason to work with us, Doctor. We make her last days bearable in exchange for your help."

"Filostrato--" the Doctor began, but just then Jo sprang into action. Everybody's eyes were on the two scientists, and their minds were on the shortest path to the exits. She covered the distance from herself to the nearest security guard and slid his gun out of its holster. Every other gun in the room came out and pointed at her, but Filostrato screamed. "No!"

The men held their fire. And she herself took no action against them, but leveled the muzzle of the gun at the base of her throat.

"Jo, no," the Doctor whispered.

"The blood is highly contagious," Filostrato squealed. "Don't shoot her."

"Jo, please don't do this," the Doctor said urgently. "There's still a chance."

"I'm going to save you, Doctor," she said resolutely. "You there, unfasten him," she ordered one of the security team who stood closest to the Doctor.

"Do it!" one of the security men hissed. "The ventilation system in here is enough to spread the virus to us if she should bleed."

The man quickly undid the straps that held the Doctor's wrists to the slab.

"Jo," he pleaded. "It won't do me any good to be freed if you're dead. Please don't do this." Released from the restraints, he stepped closer to her. "Please. We'll find another way."

"Send the guards out," she told Filostrato. But the fat Italian shook his head, unwilling to yield everything.

"Give over the gun" Filostrato told her softly. "We make a deal with him. We make your last days comfortable."

She remembered how the Doctor had warned her at Sir Reginald Style's house not to take things into her own hands. She had taken up the time box of the guerrillas and threatened to smash it, and he had told her to put it down. But she had not, and it had transported her through time.

She looked at the Doctor now, uncertain. His face was a deathly pale, more pale than when she had seized the time box.

"Please don't kill yourself," he whispered.

One of the men made a move as though to grab the gun from her. She leaped back. They were foolishly closing in. Filostrato screamed at them to stop, but with their quarry so close they leaped on her. She made to pull the trigger, found that she simply could not do it, and as they grabbed for the gun, she jerked it lower and to her left, following the sweep of their arms as they tried to pull it away from her.

The Doctor gave a terrible yell, and she pulled the trigger.

* * * *

Wearing her torn blouse backwards to cover her inner hands, Mags was coming down the hallway, watching and listening. She had checked several doors, and there was no sign of anybody. Suddenly, almost under her nose, a doorway slid open and a stream of security men piled out and raced up the hall.

"Get the two who were hit!" Filostrato's voice screamed, and a moment later he bounded into the hall. One of the men turned at the command and fired two shots back into the room. The horrible scream of men caught in gunfire made her flatten uselessly against the wall, but everybody raced past her as though she were not there.

Heart pounding, she sidled up to the door, used the pass card, and peered into the room as the door slid back. She cautiously entered.

Two dying security guards lay on the floor, almost at the door, their throats shot open. Both of them had flecks of blood on their hands and arms. She glanced across the dim lab and saw the Doctor kneeling on the floor by Jo's body.

"Thunderation," she muttered, and raced to his side. But even before she reached him, she heard the welcome sound of Jo Grant moaning.

"Mags!" the Doctor exclaimed, relieved.

"How bad is she hit?" Mags asked, kneeling by Jo.

"Not bad, a graze across her side as she struggled with the guards. It hit one of them in the leg. His mates killed him."

Jo looked up as the Doctor slipped his handkerchief up under her shirt on her left side. "Get out," she said to Mags. "I'll infect you. You'll die of the virus, too."

Mags glanced up at the Doctor. He shook his head slightly.

"It cut a furrow through the skin, but it's not serious. Find me something to tie over the wound," he said. "And bring me their guns--those two."

Mags nodded and retrieved the weapons, then went on a search of the room.

"You can't save me," Jo said. "I'll infect people on earth. I'll always be a carrier."

"You don't have the virus," he told her. "Jo, you don't have the virus. Mags, can't you find anything?"

"Electrical cords," she said. "That's all. Cotton rolling, too."

"Bring it all over. We've got to pack the wound. Then take one of the guns and cover the doorway."

He took the materials from Mags and packed the wound. Then he used the electrical cord to bind the padding in place. He looked down at Jo to see her eyes fixed on him.

"Listen to me," he said, bending close to her. "You don't have the virus, Jo. You don't have it." He helped her up and set her on her feet. She winced in pain but stayed standing and then nodded. He gathered up the gun and put it in his pocket.

"We've got to get out of here while there's time," the Doctor said. "I'm willing to bet that my security access to the time tunnel area has not been cleared from the database yet. Come on." He strode to the door with Jo. "What about Mr. Sin?" Mags asked.

"He betrayed us, Mags," the Doctor said. Then he got a look at her. "What did he do to you?" He saw the bruise on her face and lifted his hand, but she jerked her head back.

"Nuthin' worth describin'." She glanced from him to Jo. "Go on, then," she told them. "You get to the time tunnel. I'll see if I can't find him."

"Mags, he betrayed us!" the Doctor exclaimed.

"I'm not askin' you to help me," she retorted. Her accent suddenly became thickly that of Mags Harbottle, the detective. "You've got the bird, and she's alive. Get 'er outta here, now. But I'm choosin' to find 'im."

The Doctor looked down at Jo. Her face was white and peaked, eyes big and hollow from pain and shock. But her glance was resolute. "We can't leave her," she whispered.

"They said he's imprisoned somewhere along this hall," the Doctor told Mags. Then he stopped. She had backed away and was coolly covering him with the weapon she had retrieved. "I guess the contract has come to an end, Major," she said. "Take the bird and go. That Fatastrato won't wait long before he comes with reinforcements. I can force Sinn to do what I want. We'll be right behind you."

"Mags--" he began.

She fired a blast past his ear. Then she swung the gun to point right between his eyes. "I'd rather not kill you, but I won't let these blokes do you. Get goin'."

"All right," he said. "But you've got to find him before they come back with poison gas!" he told her. "They'll try to kill the supposed virus and us in a chemical sweep. We haven't much time."

"Right." she put an unlit cigarette in her mouth with her free hand, swiped her card over the door sensor to open it, and nodded for them to leave ahead of her. The Doctor checked the hall. Keeping one arm under Jo's arm and his other arm around her, the Doctor hurried her to the lift.

Then Mags hurried out. She frantically checked the rooms. She ducked into another lab, and then she saw him. "Ah, Sin!" she exclaimed.

Restrained to an upright table as the Doctor had been, the Master was a picture of bitter contempt and unvented frustration. Unlike the Doctor, his mouth had been muzzled closed with a steel and rubber muzzle that prevented him from opening his jaws.

Mags checked the room, a smaller version of the lab where she had found the Doctor and Jo, and quickly crossed to him, shoving her gun into her belt.

"Well, you are a fine sight," she told him, surveying him with good natured contempt. "Had a bit of a hold up on your way to your kingdom, old son?"

She casually reached over and undid the muzzle. Then she pulled it away. "Is that better?" she asked him.

"What's happened? I heard shots. Are you going to release me?" he asked.

Her voice lost its good natured humor and became as hard as stone. "There's a lot you don't know, Mr. Sin." She drew the gun from her belt and leveled it at him, the muzzle only inches from his face. "And one of those things is a favorite sayin' we had in the casinos about Tarks. A Tark can disgrace a Tark, but there ain't nobody else that ever better disgrace a Tark."

Just then a door closer to her slid open. Mags didn't hesitate but turned and fired twice, and one of the security men fell to the floor. The door behind her opened, and she turned and fired again, far more agile and accurate than a human could have been. The blast flung the second intruder out into the hall, and the door closed. She returned the gun to the Master's head. "It's that easy, ain't it, even for a swaggering' little cock-a-whoop of a timelord. I'll tell you why we had that sayin' at the casinos. We all learned to leave the Tarks alone. They might have their outcasts, but nobody else better mess with a Tark outcast. Because any Tark is a dangerous Tark. And every Tark takes revenge." "All right. I take your point," he said. "But why not just leave me to Filostrato?"

"Cause I don't want these blokes turnin' out any more versions of you. One of you has been plague enough. So I gotta free you or kill you."

He only looked at her. She suddenly smiled. "And fortunately, Mags Hardbottle ain't a Tark and don't care much about disgrace." She shoved the gun into her belt and hastily undid the straps binding his hands above his head. * * * *

"This is it. I rigged an alarm earlier to clear the building for the final blast," the Doctor said as he pulled and guided Jo into one of the narrow rooms of circuit boards.

"This is the time tunnel?" she asked.

"This is part of the logic array of the power system." The room was nothing but a series of cabinets. He opened one, pulled out a circuit board and hastily searched his pockets. He extracted a bit of wire and laid it across the board. A sudden blaring alarm filled the room and that section of the building.

"Blast alert," he said. "It fails on. Let's go!" He slid the board back into place and then quickly led her out.

White coated researchers and technicians were racing up the halls to get away as the blaring alarm drowned out every other noise. The Doctor pulled Jo back into a doorway until everybody was past. Then he guided her into the heart of the time tunnel.

She had seen almost the identical apparatus at the heart of the processing plant. It didn't look like an actual tunnel. In fact, it looked like a small booth that was open on side so that a person could walk into it. When the time barrier was overcome, the wall opposite the opening suddenly disappeared into blackness, and a person simply stepped through, walking across a wrinkle or fold in space.

"You first Jo." The Doctor quickly studied the controls. "How odd. This is set for someplace else. Not the processing facility. Filostrato has been receiving visitors from elsewhere." He adjusted the controls and then looked down at her. "How is it?" Blood was starting to appear on her clothing, a small stain. But she seemed able to stand unassisted.

"Why don't I have the virus?" she asked.

Guilt and remorse flickered across his eyes, and he quickly framed her face in his hands. "I'll explain it to you as soon as I can. There's no time now. I've set the coordinates for the TARDIS. You go first, and I'll be right behind you." He hesitated. "Please forgive me," he said. "I did lie to you. I fooled you. And I am sorry. But now you must go."

She looked at the booth and then turned back to him, not wanting to go into it alone. "Jo, the security guards will be here at any moment," he told her. "Trust me. You did this before, at the planet, and it brought you right to the TARDIS."

She hesitated only briefly and then nodded. "All right."

He helped her to the booth and then went to the control panel. "Right. It's set. I'll be right behind you."

He engaged the controls, and Jo stepped through as the time tunnel opened. The wall came up again, and the Doctor was about to set the timer, when he saw that the reading had automatically re-set upon activation.

"Jo!" he exclaimed. "Jo!" He looked down at the unfamiliar coordinates. "The destination is hardwired!" Quickly, he knelt down and tore away the panel covering. Feverishly, he plunged his hands into the heart of the machine to find the command circuits.

* * * *

Jo glanced around at her new environment. It was not the TARDIS, and it was not the resort where they had parked the TARDIS. She was, in fact, on a dry, flat, sandy plain, rather like pictures she had seen of American deserts. It was not entirely unlike the terrain where the casinos sat, but the sand did not have the reflective quality of the mica that was present there. And the sky was clear, and very blue. Indeed, though the landscape looked hot and arid, the breeze was cool and the air fresh, as though nobody had lived in this place for a long time.

She turned and saw a low, stone building nearby. Cautiously, she stepped closer and saw that it was a wide, circular building, with openings for windows and doors, but no glass and no wood. It seemed like an ancient place, disused for centuries.

She passed into a gaping, rectangular doorway, walked silently down a short, dark corridor, and came into the interior of the stone building, which was an open courtyard. Bits of broken stone chairs, tables, and daises dotted the courtyard.

Holding her side to keep pressure over her wound, Jo slowly ventured further in. Something that she had taken to be a broken stone column suddenly shifted and moved, a billowing motion that brought back a sharp memory of the creature that had spoken to her in the pirate ship.

But this person was tall, far taller than she, taller even than the Doctor, and yet he moved with that recognizable fluid motion. He approached her easily, and as he did not seem hostile, she did not flee.

"So we meet again," he told her. "I congratulate you on having a brilliant friend. He has surpassed my expectations."

"Who are you?" she asked.

"I am Ecthroi. This form is more suitable to me here on this planet."

"Ecthroi?" she asked.

"We met during your unhappy transfer to the processing plant. I gave you the injection that made you immune to the haemmo-mora virus. And thus the story of this lovely chase began."

"You and he are the same person?" she asked.

He really had no proper face, though the longer Jo looked up at him, the more she saw of the outline of what could be construed as eyes. He inclined his head towards her in imitation of a bow or nod. "I am he. And now you have passed into the fifth ring. The Doctor has sent you and shall surely join you soon. And then I shall dine on him. He has proved himself and has whetted my appetite with his cunning and skill. Few creatures come to my table, and he will be the noblest repast of all."

Jo suddenly moved to get away. A sharp, stinging whip wrapped around her throat and effortlessly pulled her closer to the tall, slender, billowing creature. The whip-like appendage, she realized, was part of him, perhaps an arm as an octopus would have, or perhaps a tongue such as a frog would use.

He dragged her in, right against himself. "No, no, Jo. I need you to bring him to my table. Ecthroi dines on the living and not the dead, and so the Doctor must put himself under my power. For that, I need you."

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