8: ‘The centuries that divide me shall be undone!’

For much of the night Café La Vache had been the epitome of darkness and silence. The darkness was broken by Romana turning on her torch, carefully closing the front door behind her. She had used her sonic screwdriver to unlock the front door. As she put it back inside her coat she made a mental note to tell the Doctor about it. She had been fed up with continually borrowing his only to find it did not work properly, so she had decided to make one of her own, and as far as she was concerned it was a vast improvement on the Doctor's own.

The silence in the café was broken, literally, as Duggan smashed the window of the back door, put his arm through and unlocked it. He opened the door and came in, glass crunching underfoot as Romana wearily shook her head.

‘I thought these places were meant to be open all night,’ he complained as he made his way over to the bar and took an overturned stool from the top of the counter, placing it upright and slumping heavily onto it, his elbows up on the bar and his worn, tired face cradled in his hands.

Romana came out from behind the bar with two glasses and a bottle of wine. ‘You should go into partnership with a glazier,’ she advised as she sat down on a neighbouring. ‘You'd have a truly symbiotic working relationship.’

Duggan frowned. ‘What?’

‘I was just pointing out that you break a lot of glass,’ she explained. She couldn't get the cork out of the bottle of wine and handed it over to him.

‘You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs,’ he replied, and as if to illustrate his point, smashed the top of the bottle open on the edge of the bar and then poured wine into the two glasses. He took a swig and grimaced.

‘That's not the correct way to drink red wine. You'll make yourself sick.’ Romana looked over his handiwork as he stood the broken bottle upright in front of them. ‘If you wanted an omelette, I'd expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames, and an unconscious chef.’

‘Listen,’ objected Duggan, tiring of all the criticism he had received ever since meeting the Doctor and Romana. ‘I get results.’

‘Do you?’ Romana was almost amused. ‘The Count's got the Mona Lisa.’

‘Yeah,’ mused Duggan, ‘all seven of them.’ He sipped his wine a bit more carefully, and then looked up at Romana. ‘You know what I don't understand?’

‘I expect so.’

If Duggan picked up on this latest criticism, then he chose to ignore it. ‘There are seven potential buyers and exactly seven Mona Lisas.’

‘Yes?’

‘And yet six of them have been sitting bricked up for centuries...’

‘What, buyers?’

‘No! Mona Lisas!’ Duggan frowned. ‘How did the Count know where they were - and how to find them?’

‘It taxes the mind, doesn't it?’ Romana nodded.

‘You can say that again,’ Duggan agreed.

‘It taxes the mind, doesn't it?’ Romana repeated.

‘Couldn't you tell that was meant to be rhetorical?’ growled Duggan.

‘No, I couldn't,’ said Romana.

‘So was that,’ he grumbled, and took another sip of his wine.

Count Scarlioni came back into the laboratory holding a bulging folder under his arm. He strode over to Professor Kerensky's workbench, brushed aside a pile of notes and equipment, and laid the folder down.

‘You will now see the true end product of your labours,’ he announced grandly, and opened the folder to display sheets of circuit diagrams and instructions. ‘This is what you will now produce for me.’ He glared at the Professor. ‘Look at it!’

The Professor leafed through the top few pages of plans, examining them in some detail, and then looked up at Scarlioni. ‘But... but Count, this machine... it is precisely the reverse of what we... of what I have been working on!’

The Count nodded. ‘But you will agree that the research you have done under my guidance works equally well in either direction.’

Kerensky's expression was one of horror. ‘But it would mean increasing the very effect I was trying to eliminate!’

There was an almost murderous gleam in Scarlioni's eyes. ‘Precisely!’

‘But... but the scale of this... Count, what you are trying to do is monstrous! It's beyond imagining!’

Scarlioni nodded again. ‘But you will do it!’

‘No!’ the Professor insisted. ‘A thousand times no! Even if I wanted to, I could not!’

‘Oh?’ Scarlioni raised an eyebrow. ‘And why is that?’ he enquired.

‘Equipment on this scale...power on this scale! It would cost millions and millions! Even you, Count, could not afford such things!’

‘Excellency!’ There came a shout from the top of the stairs. It was Hermann, a large parcel under his arms. ‘Excellency!’ He came dashing down the stairs into the laboratory. He put the parcel up on Kerensky's blackboard stand and tore open the brown paper wrapping it with a shriek of triumph. ‘The Mona Lisa is no longer in the Louvre!

‘Excellent, Hermann!’ cried the Count as he joined Hermann in tearing off the remaining paper to reveal the Mona Lisa beneath it. ‘Excellent!

Professor Kerensky watched in dismay whilst Hermann continued gleefully. ‘The moment the news breaks, all seven of our buyers will be ready!’

‘And how much money will this bring us, Hermann?’

Hermann's beady little eyes shone with greed. ‘Over a thousand million dollars!’

The Count burst out laughing and turned to Kerensky. A smile of happiness was stretched across his face. Kerensky shuddered at the sight of the peeling, blistering skin. ‘Continue with your work, Professor! Enjoy it, or you will die!’

‘Ouch!’

The Doctor sat at the table in Leonardo's studio once more. Captain Tancredi was seated across the room on a leather chair that had been a gift to the painter from Thomas Chippendale and the recovered soldier was placing the Doctor's thumbs in the thumbscrews.

Tancredi frowned. ‘I haven't started yet.’

‘I know...it's just that his hands are cold.’

‘So sensitive...’ Tancredi smiled. ‘I think we're in for a little treat.’

‘All this is totally unnecessary, you know,’ the Doctor objected.

‘You make it necessary, Doctor,’ Tancredi reminded him. ‘You will not tell me the truth.’

The Doctor considered this for a moment. ‘I've changed my mind,’ he said at last. ‘If there's one thing I can't stand, it's being tortured by a man who's got cold hands. Now what was it you wanted to know?’

Tancredi smiled. ‘Excellent. Now we appear to be getting somewhere. I want to know how you travel through time.’

‘Simple!’ the Doctor replied in a patronising tone. ‘I'm a Time Lord.’

‘A Time Lord?’ Tancredi's eyes widened. ‘I thought they were the stuff of legend.’

‘According to Time Lords, Jagaroth are the stuff of legend,’ shrugged the Doctor with a smile, ‘so there you are.’

‘And the girl?’ Tancredi registered the change in the Doctor's features as concern clouded the Time Lord's face. ‘The truth, Doctor.’

‘Well...’

‘Time is running out, Doctor.’

‘What do you mean, time's running out? It's only 1505!’

Tancredi signalled to the soldier, who moved forward to tighten the thumbscrews. ‘All right!’ conceded the Doctor, before the soldier had even touched him. ‘I'll tell you. There's one thing I'd like to know, though. How do you communicate with your other splinters across time?’

I'm asking the questions!’ thundered Tancredi.

Count Scarlioni stood in the lounge of the château, staring at his reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. All over his head his skin was peeling. He looked at his hands and they too were flaking and blistering. Outside it was raining. A sound behind him made him start.

‘Why do you still worry, my dear?’ asked the Countess, crossing to him, cigarette in hand. ‘We've done it! We have the Mona Lisa! Think of the wealth that will be ours!’ She positioned herself behind him and began gently caressing his shoulders.

‘Wealth is not everything,’ he murmured.

‘Of course not,’ she agreed. ‘The achievement!’

‘Achievement?’ The Count laughed bitterly and pulled away from her touch. ‘You talk to me of achievement because I steal the Mona Lisa? How do you think a man might feel to have caused the pyramids to be built? The heavens to be mapped? Invented the first wheel? Shown the true use of fire? Brought a whole race up from nothing, to save his own race?’

The Countess frowned at her husband's words. ‘What are you talking about? No one can achieve everything.’

‘I do not ask for everything,’ he replied with an uncharacteristic self-pity. ‘I ask for but a single life, and the life of my people.’

The Countess was mystified. ‘Are you feeling all right, my dear?’

Scarlioni could no longer hear her. Once again there was a voice in his mind, reaching out to him from across time.

Scaroth... it called. Scaroth...

Sweat ran down his forehead. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘leave us.’

‘Us?’

Me, leave me!’

The voice grew in intensity, beyond Scarlioni's ability to ignore it. Scaroth!

‘Are you sure?’ the Countess asked, genuinely concerned for her husband's well being. She looked at him in horror as he turned away. There seemed to be something rippling under the skin at the back of his neck.

‘Go!’ Scarlioni pressed his hands over his ears in an ineffectual attempt to block out the voice. ‘Go! Get out!’

The Countess hurriedly complied, pulling the doors shut behind her.

As the skin of his face peeled away and the horrific thing beneath burst free, Scarlioni sobbed in agony.

It was a barren, waste of a planet.

It was large enough to contain life and yet it was far too desolate to support it. In this part of the galaxy planets like this one were not uncommon. The planets that could support life within this system were vastly outweighed by those that could not.

A yellow sun in the blood-red sky overlooked the lifeless hell. There was nothing; no plant or animal life. Just amino acids bubbling away in the dead soils, waiting for fertilisation. Sand blew across the bare landscape.

A large globe, black with silver bands around its centre, crouched on the desert sands suspended by three claw-like projections. The surface was covered with silver jagged designs and tiny rectangular lights. It was a Jagaroth spacecraft.

On the globe-shaped craft's upper hemisphere, a hexagonal view port covered the ship's tiny warp control cabin. Computer panels lined the walls and consoles encircled the chair occupied by the Jagaroth pilot, Scaroth. He surveyed the bleak landscape with weariness.

For a moment, Scaroth thought he could see something glinting across the horizon. He peered closer at the observation window. Was that a flashing light he could see?

No. Scaroth dismissed the thought immediately. He had been in the control room far too long; his eye was beginning to play tricks on him.

He ignored the unappealing world around him. It was of no interest to him whatsoever. He was one of the last of a dying race.

The last of the Jagaroth.

The last hope.

The only hope.

The Jagaroth was worn and tired as he leaned back in his chair. He watched with disinterest as utterly useless information downloaded on the screen in front of him. He barely bothered reading the display. It would only be a confirmation of what he already knew - that this ship was doomed. And if this ship was doomed, so were they.

The communicator activated, and a harsh voice filled the control room. ‘Twenty solits to warp thrust.’

Scaroth gave a grunting sound which might have been a sigh. ‘Confirmed,’ he replied with evident reluctance

There were only a handful of them alive now. Now that the war was nearing its terrible and bloody end, only a small number of Jagaroth survived from what had once been a race of millions. And it was this barren, lifeless world, galaxies away from where it had all begun, that would be the last battlefield in a war that had lasted a decade. The atmosphere aboard the craft had been one of utter despair when they had landed on this world. After ten long years in deep space the last thing they had anticipated was to return home to find their planet utterly ravaged and their race all but obliterated, innocent victims in the machinations of foolish power-hungry politicians. It was an immense weight to bear and none of them had the strength to bear it alone. When they returned to Jagara it had been with excitement at the prospect of the scientific discoveries they brought home with them. And now all their artistic and scientific achievements were nothing compared to the basic struggle for survival.

The communications channel opened again. ‘Thrust against planet surface - increase to power three.’

‘Negative!’ Scaroth grunted. He flicked a switch on his visual display unit and studied the readout. It confirmed his worst suspicions. ‘Power three is too severe!’ he objected.

‘Scaroth, it must be power three,’ persisted the disembodied voice of the engineer on his team, deep within the bowels of the craft. ‘It must be!’

Scaroth tried to reason with the voice. ‘Warp thrust from planet surface is untested! At power three it will be suicidal!’

His objections were ignored. ‘Ten solits to warp thrust.’

‘No...’ murmured Scaroth.

An alarm began bleeping rhythmically, accompanied by a flashing light. The engineer persisted. ‘The Jagaroth are in your hands. Without secondary engines we must use our main warp thrust! You know this, Scaroth. It is our only hope.’ There was a pause, and then the next words were spoken with great emphasis. ‘You are our only hope!’

But Scaroth knew that the voice was wrong. There was no hope at all. Not for him, not for his people.

‘Three solits to warp thrust.’

Scaroth grew more anxious. ‘No! What will happen if...?’

The voice was oblivious to his protests. ‘Two solits.. .one...’ Scaroth tensed, dreading the next words. ‘Full power!’

Scaroth activated the main drive. A loud grinding, humming sound filled the cabin, and the ship began to vibrate alarmingly.

No... cried a voice that seemed to come from within Scaroth's head. No, don't press it... don't press the button...

It was a choice between perishing on the barren surface, and taking their chances on the ship surviving the journey to another more favourable world. Scaroth took the gamble. Reaching forward, he depressed the lift-off button on his console.

The three sturdy legs on the lower half of the ship retracted inwards as the Jagaroth craft rose slowly into the air and hovered a few hundred metres above the ground. The silver bands around its centre vibrated and spun. The ship began to rise higher and higher into the atmosphere.

Scaroth felt the g-forces from the warp thrust tugging at his weakened body. His stomach churned, and his head felt dizzy, but he had achieved what he feared was impossible - the ship had taken off.

Then the inevitable happened - something went wrong.

Another alarm rang, this time not just in the control room but sounding throughout the whole ship. The other Jagaroth heard it, and when the realised what it meant they contacted their pilot once more.

‘Scaroth... what is happening?’

The ship was spinning faster and faster. The stresses were beginning to tear the hull apart.

‘Help us, Scaroth! The fate of the Jagaroth is in your hands! Help us!’

But there was nothing Scaroth could do. He couldn't even move far enough to turn off the communicator that was ringing in his ears.

‘Help us, Scaroth! You are our only hope!’

Scaroth glared at the communicator. Now they knew he was right, he thought. It was cold comfort.

‘Help us, Scaroth!’

I can't! his mind screamed.

The voices continued. ‘You are our only hope!’

The alarm stopped.

‘Our only hope!’

The ship shuddered.

‘Our only hope!’

The ship exploded.

The blinding white glare filled the sky for a full minute before it died away. In that time the spacecraft blew itself into a million fragments.

The Jagaroth spacecraft was torn apart in a blaze of light and flame.

Life ended.

Radiation mixed with primordial soup. Amino acids hissed and separated. Radiation and amino acids somehow fertilised one another.

Life formed.

The last thing Scaroth heard was the sound of his people crying out in pain and then being suddenly silenced. He felt the distortion of the ship's unstable warp field as it enveloped the control chamber, tearing at his body; dragging him into the vortex of the space/time continuum...

The long war was over.

The Doctor stared at Captain Tancredi. ‘Are you all right?’

Tancredi nodded, trying to fight whatever it was that was afflicting him. He could hear a voice at the back of his mind. ‘Continue,’ he instructed, gesturing to the soldier. He swayed unsteadily. ‘The interface of the time continuum is unstable,’ he called, as if he were holding a conversation with a ghost. ‘I know that! Yes... all right... yes, tell me something useful!’ Tancredi shook his head. ‘Wait!’

The Doctor nodded. ‘Righty-oh.’

‘No... not you, continue.’

The Doctor continued what he was doing: using his teeth to unfasten the thumbscrews. The soldier was watching the distressed Captain. When he glanced back to the Time Lord, the Doctor stopped. He beckoned the soldier close and whispered, ‘Is he often like this?’

The soldier leaned closer and whispered back, ‘I'm not paid to notice.’

Tancredi was lurching around the studio, almost completely delirious. His arms flailed about wildly and he knocked over various objects in his path. The soldier watched his master in despair.

The Doctor finished his task, and suddenly leapt to his feet and dashed over to the waiting TARDIS. The soldier turned back and raised his sword with some difficulty as it now appeared to be quite heavy. He was rather startled to find that a set of thumbscrews were now fastened to the end of it. By now the Doctor was inside the TARDIS and had slammed the door behind him.

‘Captain!’ the soldier exclaimed, gesturing at the police box. If he had been paid to notice such things, he would have seen that the Captain's skin appeared to be blistering and peeling.

‘I know...’ muttered Tancredi. Sweat ran down his forehead. ‘Leave us.’

‘Us?’

Me, leave me!’

The voice was ringing in Tancredi's head. Scaroth!

Tears streamed down his face as he fell to his knees. ‘I'm coming...’ he sobbed.

The voice continued. ...We are Scaroth... I am Scaroth... me, Scaroth - me, one! The Jagaroth are linked through me!

Tancredi, in 1505, heard the voice. So did Scarlioni in 1979, and others - a Sumerian, a Phoenician, a Roman, an Egyptian, a pirate, a priest, an aristocrat... twelve guises, all scattered through the ages, all one, heard the voice. Together we will take this race of puny creatures and shape their destiny to meet our ends! Soon we shall be one! The centuries that divide me shall be undone! The centuries that divide me shall be undone!

Tancredi screamed out as one with the voice in his head. ‘The centuries that divide me shall be undone!’

As the pain receded in his head and the voices faded, the tall blue police box gave a wheezing groaning sound and dematerialised from Leonardo da Vinci's studio. Tancredi watched it leave, and through his eyes, so did his other selves.

‘So,’ murmured Count Scarlioni in 1979, as his human skin rapidly grew back into place over the green scales, ‘the Doctor is the secret...the Doctor and the girl.’

The TARDIS rematerialised in the Denise René art gallery, and the Doctor emerged looking very concerned. He had watched Tancredi's outburst on the TARDIS scanner. ‘“The centuries that divide me shall be undone” ...’ he recited. ‘I don't like the sound of that,’ he said to himself. He closed the TARDIS door behind him and hurried from the gallery.

Outside in the City of Light, a new day was dawning.

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue