Chapter 1

The Pirate Captain

...The angel blazed white, aflame with fury. ‘Die you fool, die!’ she screamed and brought her hands together with a sound like thunder. Thousands of sensors cried out inputs of pain, systems and sinews collapsing...

Suddenly the Captain was shouting.

‘Mr Fibuli. Mr Fibuli! By all the x-ray storms of Vega, where is that nincompoop?’ The Captain blinked and realised he was still alive. But what was that recurring vision and what did it mean?

While the Captain mused, a vexed voice filled the multi-sided chamber of metal and glass. ‘Calling Mr Fibuli, Mr Fibuli required on the Bridge immediately.’

The Captain pushed aside thoughts of the deadly angel of darkness and let loose another bellow for effect.

‘Moons of madness, why am I encumbered with incompetence?’

The subject of all this shouting entered the Bridge, striding briskly.

‘Captain, sir -’

‘Your report, Mr Fibuli...’

‘Yes sir, I have it -’

‘... Is thirty seconds late!’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘My qualities are many, Mr Fibuli...’

‘Oh, yes sir -’

‘... But an infinite capacity for patience is not among them.’ The Captain used his humanoid right hand to punch a button on the private console beside his command seat, the com. On his shoulder the robotic parrot Polyphase Avitron whirred into life and regarded the hapless Fibuli as its next potential prey.

The second-in-command bobbed about like an escape pod in an asteroid storm, thought the Captain - nervous and about to be struck down. He was tempted to end that wait immediately but good deputies were hard to find on this soulless rock. The Captain realised his mind was wandering and tried to focus on Fibuli's words.

‘I apologise most abjectly, Captain, b-but I do have good news, sir.’

‘I hope you do!’

‘Well, sir, all deposits of the minerals Voolium, Galdrium and Assetenite 455 have now been now been mined, processed and stored, sir. Good quantities of aluminas, the usual, sir, carbon isotopes, etcetera, etcetera, and the residue has been processed...’

‘In the normal way!’ bellowed the Captain to cut short the prattling of his deputy.

Fibuli paused for an uncomfortable breath then continued, proffering a glossy manifest to the Captain. ‘Here is a list of the minerals, sir.’

The Captain looked over the document with his humanoid eye. Before it could even focus on the data detailed, his other eye - an infra-red robotic sensor implanted in the metallic left side of his head - had already analysed the information, correlated it and transmitted the relevant data to his computerised brain. He responded to this input by tossing the manifest aside. ‘Hah! Baubles, baubles, dross and baubles! We must find Vasilium! We must find Madranite 1-5,’ said the Captain urgently.

‘Well, sir, we have located a new source.’

‘Excellent, excellent.’

‘That's what caused the delay, Captain. We wanted to be absolutely certain.’ The momentary relief on Fibuli's face faded as he voiced a concern. ‘It's in an unexpected sector - here, let me show you this chart...’

It was proffered and just as quickly thrown away.

‘We'll mine it. Make immediate preparations.’

‘Well, there is something rather curious, Captain,’ ventured the first officer. ‘Here is a detailed description of the sector -’

‘I said we'll mine it, Mr Fibuli.’

‘But sir -’

‘Make immediate preparations. Now! Or I'll have your bones bleached.’ The Captain's logic circuits regained control of his fiery temper and lowered the volume of his vocal output. ‘Is that clear?’

‘Aye, aye, Captain. Thank you, sir.’ Fibuli saluted ineffectually and turned to consult with the other technicians on the Bridge about the impending manoeuvre.

The Captain watched him for a moment then regarded his robotic parrot. ‘Who's a pretty Polyphase Avitron, then?’ he murmured softly to his mechanical pet. After a pause, the Captain swiveled the com round to his private console. From here he could speak to all within the huge structure of the Bridge and also to the citizens of the planet's major settlements.

The largest settlement lay in the valley below the Bridge's mountaintop perch, a jumble of low stone buildings clustered on a wide alluvial plain. Citizens gathered in courtyards to hear the latest proclamation from their unseen leader as the one-way communications system crackled into life.

‘Hear this. Now hear this. This is your Captain speaking.’ After these few stock phrases to announce his speech, the Captain began in earnest. ‘Citizens prepare yourselves. Watch for the Omens. I declare a new golden age of prosperity for all. I say again, I declare the dawning of a new golden age of prosperity - watch for the Omens.’

Most of the affluent and well-dressed citizens cheered these words. But in one courtyard stood a young man whose face had a pallor of death about it. He seemed frightened by the announcement greeted so eagerly by the others.

‘Under the benevolent leadership of your Captain, a period of unparalleled wealth and affluence will begin. The mines will once again be full of riches,’ continued the Captain. ‘Richer jewels, finer clothes, food in great abundance. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice will be yours! Watch for the Omens!’

The message ended leaving most citizens a buzz with excitement. They did not notice the young man stumbling away, head in hands. Already he could feel the first jabbing pains, the incredible constriction. He had to get home.

The young man's pain was unnoticed by those in the courtyard, but others were watching elsewhere. In a secret underground chamber, a circle of shrouded figures clothed in simple yellow robes stood silently. All in the darkened group concentrated towards the centre of the gathering. There the air was alive with a power like lightening of the mind.

One amongst them pulled back his shroud to reveal a pallid face with shrunken eyes. He looked around the circle and spoke, but his lips did not move, for his words were thoughts.

‘Watch!’

In the circle's centre the air shimmered and swirled into a vortex of colour and light. Within this maelstrom formed a vision globe made from mental energies. The image of the troubled young man in the courtyard appeared within the globe. The leader looked around the circle again and spoke through his mind.

‘Are we agreed?’

A mental murmur of assent was the reply.

‘We have found another. The darkness is growing, the time of evil has once more come. We must prepare.’

The others echoed his thought. They began mustering their might for the ordeal ahead.

Time and Space were colliding.

The two dimensions fought for control in a domain of darkness, where the sparks of their battle threw fragments of light outwards like shards of broken glass. The clash was as eternal and infinite as the combatants. The fighting place was the Vortex. Like some cosmic melting pot it could hold anything, bend it, age it or suspend it in a moment for eons.

If any entity ever gained control of this majestic whirlpool of wonders, the powers gained could create salvation or cataclysm forever. Once before - before history or memory or meaning - this had happened. It was a salvation and cataclysm and everything betwixt them, the beginning and an end.

Good and evil, black and white were created then, and guardians created to balance the duality of the cosmos. And there was a key.

It unlocked the secrets of time and space, power unimaginable to all, mortal or eternal. But the key was too dangerous to ever be whole so it was splintered into six exactly unlike segments and these were scattered across forever. There they stayed hidden, only to be reconstituted when light or darkness threatened to engulf each other again.

Now was such an occasion.

A tall, blue box was suspended in the Vortex, looking for all the eons like a police telephone box from a curious little world called Earth. But appearances are deceiving for within was bigger than without, the craft being able to transcend dimensions internally. This quite remarkable ship could sail over time and space, though with an erratic nature matching the quirks of its keeper.

The tall, roguish box was called the TARDIS, and its tall, roguish keeper was called the Doctor. The strange being was inside his craft and held in his hands a segment of the most powerful key in the cosmos.

He was trying unsuccessfully to stuff it into a boot.

The mobile computer called K9 (because of its dog-like appearance), observed the Doctor's struggle. Frustrated but now bowed, the man in the baggy tweed trousers, huge white shirt and brown knee-length greatcoat tried to inject some levity into the situation.

‘There you are K9, the first segment of the Key to Time. Job well done.’

‘Correction, master. A job well done to the extent of 0.167666...’

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.’ Levity recognition was not really part of K9's programming. The Doctor abandoned his struggle for a moment to give the crystalline segment a polish with a yellow dust cloth. ‘The others will be easy - piece of cake.’

‘Piece of cake, master?’ Puns also eluded K9's programming.

‘Hmm!’

The Doctor finally managed to jam the segment into the black boot. Now - where to store it?

‘Piece of cake,’ burbled K9. ‘Radial segment of baked confection. Coefficient of relevance to the Key to Time: zero.’

While the computerised companion was occupied with this irrelevancy, the Doctor had spotted the perfect place to conceal this segment from the most powerful key in the cosmos - an old fridge.

Actually the big white metal box had been an old fridge when it caught the eye of one of the Time Lord's earlier incarnation in a junkyard one day. It took a couple of regenerations and the help of an intelligent young Earthling called Liz Shaw to transform the cold storage unit into an incredibly sophisticated safe that would outwit even the fifty-five fingered safe-crackers of the planet Securitas.

The former fridge still looked like a fridge but as the Doctor grasped its door handle his palm print and body chemistry was analysed and identified in the time it took him to kick the object's side with a leather-booted foot. Satisfied of his identity, the fridge finally allowed access and the Doctor tossed the boot containing the segment to the rear of the cabinet before slamming the door shut.

The Doctor remembered K9's last statement and made a last cryptic comment as they left the storage room.

‘That's what I said, K9 - piece of cake!’

Romanadvoratrelundar (Romana to her enemies and Fred when she was being silly - which was not often), could not sleep.

The youthful Time Lady had only recently become a passenger on the TARDIS, after being appointed to assist the Doctor find and assemble the Key to Time. The pairing was proving explosive - where the Doctor preferred to follow gut feelings and instinct, Romanadvoratrelundar had excelled at reason, caution and quiet calculation during her training at the Time Lord academy. Never the twain should meet but the two opposites had been forced together by the White Guardian for this all-important quest across time and space.

A cold war of attrition had broken out on the TARDIS and a particular point of conflict was the ship's automatic lighting system. Although the Doctor often uttered epigrams like ‘Sleep is for tortoises’, he had programmed the lighting to follow the night and day light cycle of the planet Earth.

He claimed he had grown accustomed to this pattern while exiled to that world by the Time Lords, but his new assistant thought he persisted with the diurnal lighting simply to annoy her. It was badly at odds with the resting patterns she had developed over more than a hundred years while growing up on the Time Lords' native world of Gallifrey.

So once again Romanadvoratrelundar found herself wide-awake in the dimness of another artificial dawn in the TARDIS. Grumbling to herself, she rose from her rest bench and refreshed herself in the cleansing room adjoining her quarters.

The tall, classically beautiful woman clothed herself with tasteful care. Over white slacks and blouse she added a short-sleeved pink silk shirt belted discreetly at the waist and white calf-length leather boots. Two pink clips held her brown, shoulder-length hair back from her heart-shaped face.

After a light snack from the TARDIS food machine, Romanadvoratrelundar decided on a little light reading. Illumination had now reached daytime levels, and making her way towards the central control room, she found a well-laden bookshelf sitting incongruously in one of the corridors. On top of the stacks sat a heavy leather-bound volume with gold-edged pages - the TARDIS manual. She picked up the weighty tome and continued her journey.

Romanadvoratrelundar was absorbed in reading the manual in the multi-sided central control room when the Doctor entered. She had perched the volume on a gaudy, golden reading stand shaped like a large eagle and was just finishing a section on dematerialisation procedures. The Time Lord was clutching the dust cloth and began to give the mushroom-like console unit an imperfect polish.

‘Good morning, Romana, that looks interesting - what are you reading?’

‘Good morning, Doctor,’ she replied, gritting her teeth at his persistence in using the abbreviated version of her name she hated so much. ‘I'm just familiarising myself with the technical details of this capsule.’

‘Capsule?! What kind of a word is that? If you mean TARDIS, why don't you say ‘TARDIS'?’

‘The Type Forty capsule wasn't on the main syllabus, you see.’

‘Yes, well, I don't know what the Academy's coming to these days,’ the Doctor mumbled to himself.

‘Veteran and vintage vehicles was an optional extra. I preferred something more interesting - the life-cycle of the Gallifreyan flutterwing.’

‘Now you're being frivolous,’ scolded the Doctor mildly.

‘I wouldn't dream of it,’ smiled Romana.

The Doctor peered at the manual and frowned. ‘Where did you get that tome, anyway?’

‘From its storage cabinet, of course. Didn't you recognise it?’

‘No.’ the Doctor replied. ‘Should I?’

‘It's the technical operations manual for this... TARDIS.’

‘Oh, I shouldn't pay any attention to that, if I were you,’ the Doctor advised her, turning his attention back to the console. ‘Oh no!’

Romana looked up sharply ‘What?’

‘How paralysingly dull, boring and tedious!’ the Doctor exclaimed.

Romana noticed that he had inserted the Tracer into the TARDIS console. This wand-like device was used to locate and transmute segments of the Key to Time. When inserted into the console the Tracer linked with the ship's circuits to pinpoint the nearest segment's planetary position.

‘Our next destination?’ asked Romana cheerfully, approaching the Doctor. For her, anywhere was exciting after Gallifrey, even the wintry world of Ribos where they had just been to get the first segment.

‘Yes, Calufrax,’ announced the Doctor flatly, his usually lively face and wild eyes showing no hint of enthusiasm.

‘Calufrax?’

‘Yes, mean little planet. Still, listen - why don't you watch while I set the coordinates on this vintage veteran of mine. Maybe you'll learn something.’

‘Right!’ replied Romana, thinking the Doctor was at last beginning to take her seriously. The towering Time Lord began expertly manipulating the controls of his ship to effect a materialisation. His companion watched, frowned and finally decided to risk a comment. ‘Ahh, Doctor?’

‘Mmm?’

‘What about the synchronic feedback checking circuit?’

‘What about it?’

‘Aren't you going to set it?’

‘No, no, no, I never bother about that - complete waste of time.’

‘Oh, according to the manual, it's essential,’ countered Romana, always one for doing things by the book. By now the Doctor was sufficiently annoyed to fix her with a steely gaze.

‘Listen - do you have any idea how long I've been operating this TARDIS?’

‘523 years.’

‘Right!’ Suddenly the significance of the passing centuries caught the Doctor, like a brick with a slice of lemon wrapped around it, right between the eyes. ‘Is it really that long? My, how time flies.’

‘A common delusion among the middle aged,’ Romana observed. ‘It's known nowadays as the Mandrian Syndrome. According to Professor Halcron...’

‘Professor Halcron? Never heard of him.’

‘He happened to be the leading authority in the universe on hyper-psychological atavisms.’

‘Can he fly a TARDIS?’

‘I hardly think that's relevant.’

‘Well, I can. And just between ourselves, let me tell you I'm really rather good at it.’ The Doctor asserted, and resumed setting the controls.

‘And the multi-loop stabiliser?’ Romana suggested, a moment later.

‘The what?’

‘Multi-loop stabiliser.’ She strode over to the manual and began to quote directly from it to give her argument an extra ring of authority. ‘It says here “On any capsule it will be found impossible to effect a smooth materialisation without first activating the multi-loop stabiliser.”’

At this point, the Doctor decided to check the manual for himself. He peered over Romana's shoulder at the relevant passages. ‘Absolute rubbish,’ he said eventually, tearing the page from the manual, screwing it up and tossing it aside. ‘Now - I'll show you a really smooth materialisation without a multi-loop anything - watch this!’ The Doctor went back to the console and applied his long, bony fingers to the controls. ‘Calufrax - here we come!’

Immediately the TARDIS began to shudder and shake, as if about to tear itself apart. Romana grabbed the console for support. ‘What's happening?’

‘She won't materialise!’ was the worried reply.

Romana would have smiled in triumph at that moment, but a particularly violent shudder sent her flying across the control room.

‘Danger, master, danger,’ advised K9.

‘Of course, K9, of course,’ the Doctor replied tersely.

The TARDIS abruptly stopped lurching, causing the Doctor to knock his face against the console. He straightened up, clutching at his face.

‘Something wrong?’ asked Romana.

‘No, no, no, no,’ the Doctor mumbled, nursing a small cut to his upper lip. ‘No, nothing at all.’

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