Chapter 11

A Spanner in the Works

K9 was barely maintaining his computer support systems by the time his master arrived, so badly drained of energy was the robot dog. ‘Master...’ he said weakly.

The Doctor and Romana crouched beside the dog. ‘Come on K9, we need you,’ the Doctor urged.

‘Batteries - my - nearly -exhausted - are.’

‘Listen, K9, that's all right,’ said the Doctor encouragingly. ‘The Mentiads can still open the engine room door if you can set up a counter interference in the psychic plane. Wavelength 337.98 micropars - can you do that?’

‘Negative - master - recharge - I - imperative - it - is...’

‘That's all right, K9. You're still my best friend.’

‘Doctor...’ K9 said faintly, and his head slumped forward.

‘What? What?’

K9's next words were virtually inaudible, so the Doctor crouched by his snout to hear them. ‘Oh, K9,’ said the Doctor quietly after a pause.

‘What did he say?’ asked Romana anxiously.

‘He said there's a power cable right behind me,’ replied the Doctor, stepping to the wall by the engine room door and ripping a power cable and its connector from a bracket.

‘What are you doing Doctor?’

‘Trying to get a power supply to recharge K9.’

‘But Doctor, it takes a long time to recharge K9,’ Romana pointed out.

‘Romana,’ said the Doctor patiently as he stripped down the power cable, ‘I assume you've already taught your grandmother all you know about egg sucking or you wouldn't be standing around here with time on your hands. Quick, open his inspection hatch.’

‘Right.’ Romana opened a panel in K9's side and connected the cable to the robot dog.

‘Now, those maniacs in there are about to try and materialise Zanak around the planet Earth, and I swear that if I have to save that planet one more time I shall go stark raving mad. Plug him in.’

K9 began whirring back into life as the power surged through his systems, and his head raised.

‘K9 - can you divert any of this current into your frequency projectors?’ asked the Doctor urgently.

‘It is very difficult master. Much of my circuitry was damaged fighting the Polyphase Avitron.’

‘That horrid parrot?’ Romana shuddered. ‘Did you kill it K9?’

‘Affirmative mistress.’

The Doctor frowned. ‘Romana, billions of lives are at stake, can we chat about parrots later?’

‘Master, the voltage has dropped,’ K9 reported.

‘That means that some of the pre-demat circuitry has already been activated. K9, can you project any kind of counter-interference on that wavelength?’

‘Affirmative, master.’

‘Good boy, keep it going, K9.’

Pralix and the other Mentiads looked to each other with wonder. ‘It's clearing. The buzzing - it's clearing!’ said Pralix.

‘What? Enough to open the door?’ asked the Time Lord.

‘Brothers,’ said Pralix, and the Mentiads concentrated on the door as one. Nothing happened.

‘Doctor, we're not nearly strong enough to open it,’ said a straining Pralix.

‘More power, K9, more power,’ the Doctor told his robot companion.

‘Doctor,’ Romana said, taking him a few steps aside from the others.

‘What?’

‘Do you remember what happened when we first tried to materialise on Calufax?’ she asked. The Doctor nodded. ‘We couldn't, because Zanak was trying to materialise in the same place.’

‘That's right!’ said the Doctor, seizing her suggestion. ‘And if we couldn't materialise, then neither can Zanak. Quick - back to the TARDIS! K9, keep generating power; Pralix - read my mind. What can you see?’

‘A strip of metal, subdivided at one end with an acute angle halfway along,’ Pralix replied, puzzled.

‘Right,’ the Doctor confirmed. ‘Now whatever happens, keep concentrating on my mind. Come on, Romana, we've got a planet to save.’

‘What were you thinking of Doctor?’ Romana asked him, as the two Gallifreyans ran towards the lift.

‘A bent fork.’

‘Why should anyone want to bend a fork?’

‘I haven't the vaguest idea,’ the Doctor confessed. He stood aside to allow Romana to enter the lift, and stepped in after her.

‘Doctor, I've worked it out,’ said Romana as the lift began to descend. ‘Listen...’

‘I can't hear anything.’

‘This is important, Doctor. That nurse is really Queen Xanxia.’

‘Yes, I know.’

‘And she has the Captain in her power!’

‘Yes, I know,’ said the Doctor again.

‘She actually has control over the robot half of his body from that black box she carries.’

‘Yes, I know, I've seen her do it...’ the Doctor paused and stared at her. ‘How did you know?’

‘I just worked it out.’

‘Without seeing anything? Do you know, that's very clever of you?’

‘Why, thank you Doctor,’ said Romana, feeling enormously pleased with herself.

The Captain was standing at the dematerialisation console reverently. From here he could pilot Zanak's star-jumps across the galaxy. The controls of the demat device could deliver him from his tormentor, thought the Captain.

Behind him, Fibuli was checking the dematerialisation controls. ‘Captain, sir.’

‘What is it Mr Fibuli?’ asked Xanxia.

Fibuli looked at her anxiously, still not quite having come to terms with the shift of power. ‘Er...’

‘Speak Mr Fibuli,’ the Captain instructed him.

‘Who am I to obey sir?’

‘Who have you always obeyed?’ the Captain asked him.

‘You, Captain...’

‘No!’ the Captain thundered. ‘Every word I speak, every move I make has been monitored, checked and controlled from that devil woman's box! Why else would I not have destroyed the hell hag in the Time Dams? You have obeyed her! She is your Captain!’ he spat bitterly.

‘And Mr Fibuli, do not think of trying to destroy me now,’ Xanxia added. ‘The Time Dams are booby trapped. The slightest disturbance in the Time Fields and the whole Bridge explodes. It has never been my intention to die. It is certainly not my intention to die alone.’

‘Dematerialisation minus four minutes,’ the Captain reported.

‘Hurry!’ Xanxia urged.

Fibuli moved to check the psychic interference transmitter, a worried frown appeared on his face. ‘Captain, sir.’

‘Yes?’ replied Xanxia arrogantly.

‘The psychic interference transmitter, sir, there seems to be something counter-jamming it.’

‘What?!’ roared the Captain. Nothing must disrupt this, one of the final stages of his plan! ‘We must dematerialise in three minutes.’ He activated the communications system and addressed his guards. ‘Alert, alert. Someone is using a counter-jamming frequency projector. Find it and -'

...The angel blazed white, aflame with fury. ‘Die, you fool, die!’ she screamed and brought her hands together with a sound...

‘- Destroy it immediately,’ finished the Captain at last, clutching a hand to his head to block out the vision.

The deputy approached his Captain gingerly. ‘Captain - do you suppose any of the guards know what a counter-jamming frequency projector looks like?’

The half-man, half-robot addressed his guards again after a thoughtful pause. ‘Destroy everything!’

‘Captain! We must dematerialise instantly!’ Xanxia declared. ‘We can waste no further time!’

‘Dematerialisation in three minutes,’ reported the Captain resolutely.

‘Captain!’

Romana and the Doctor were nearing the end of the inertia neutralisation corridor when an energy bolt fired behind them.

Romana glanced back. ‘Doctor! Behind us - guards!’ A pair of guards were pursuing them along the corridor.

‘Cover your head, we're almost there,’ the Doctor told her. They ducked, and soon reached the end of the corridor. ‘Get off now,’ the Doctor said urgently, and they headed for the exit.

As Romana reached the door, she realised the Doctor had paused by the corridor control panel and was examining it. ‘Come on, Doctor!’

‘No, wait,’ he replied. ‘Wait a minute. The inertia neutraliser. You know, I think the conservation of momentum is a very important law in physics, don't you?’

‘Yes,’ Romana agreed - anything to get the Doctor moving.

‘I don't think anyone should tamper with it, do you?’ he continued, and began fiddling with switches on the inertia neutralisation controls.

‘No,’ Romana agreed.

‘No, nor do I.’

The two pursing guards found themselves accelerating as they approached the end of the corridor. Instead of the sudden drop in speed at the end, they went flying out through the doorway and slammed into the wall opposite, knocking both quite unconscious.

The Doctor looked down at the unfortunate pair. ‘Newton's revenge! Come on, Romana - no time to lose!’ he said, and ran out onto the plateau.

In moments the two Gallifreyans were airborne in another ‘borrowed' aircar and heading for the settlement.

‘Newton? Who's Newton?’ asked Romana.

‘Old Isaac? Friend of mine on Earth - discovered gravity. Well, I say he discovered gravity, I had to give him a bit of a prod.’

‘What did you do?’

‘Climbed up a tree.’

‘And?’

‘Dropped an apple on his head.’

‘Ahh - and so he discovered gravity...’

‘No, no - he told me to clear off out of his tree. I explained it to him afterwards at dinner,’ said a chuckling Doctor.

Romana looked down at the clusters of building passing below them. ‘Parts of the settlement are burning, Doctor.’

‘Yes - maybe the rebellion is more widespread than Xanxia knows.’

Romana pointed out a familiar blue box in one of the courtyards. ‘There's the TARDIS, Doctor.’

‘Right, going in to land.’ The Doctor banked the aircar around and they began to descend.

‘Doctor! The time! We'll never make it!’ Romana said urgently.

‘Never say that if you're a Time Lord,’ the Doctor advised her.

‘Never say what?’

‘Never.’

‘Never what?’

‘What?’

‘Never what?’

‘Never mind.’

‘Never mind what?’

‘What?’

‘Oh, never mind,’ Romana sighed.

‘We'll do it somehow,’ the Doctor assured her.

‘We can't.’

‘Never say that to a Time Lord.’

‘Oh, you're impossible.’

‘No, just very, very improbable,’ the Doctor grinned, as the aircar finally landed.

Outside the engine room, Pralix and the other Mentiads were still concentrating their energies on the Doctor's thoughts. The metal construction of the Bridge and the great distance involved was causing them considerable strain. A trickle of sweat ran down Pralix's face as Kimus ran up to the group.

‘Pralix, Pralix, what's happening? Where's the Doctor?’

‘We're concentrating on the Doctor's mind - do not disturb us,’ replied the young Mentiad through gritted teeth, ‘We are still too weak to move the door.’

Kimus turned to K9. ‘K9?’

‘Counter-jamming field increasing - slowly,’ the robot dog stated.

‘Good, good,’ said Kimus. ‘I'd better get back to Mula.’ As he ran back to the elevation chamber, Kimus realised he had not told the woman he loved about the brutal death of her grandfather. I can't delay any longer, he thought, and stood in the elevation chamber, slowly rising, burdened down with the grief he must inflict upon her.

The Doctor strode through the TARDIS doors into the central control room and immediately began manipulating the console. ‘This is the most dangerous manoeuvre the TARDIS has ever attempted,’ he told Romana as she came in, closing the doors behind her. ‘Now, don't take it personally, old girl, just try and survive. Earth coordinates, Romana?’

‘58044684884.’

‘Good. Multi-loop stabiliser, synchronic feedback.’

His companion could not help suppressing a smile as the seldom-used controls were activated.

‘Doctor, if we're going to try and materialise in exactly the same point in time and space, how do we know when to do it? It only happened as a fluke the first time.’

‘That's a good point. Now listen, Zanak could start to dematerialise at any moment, we've got to be spot-on. You watch the warp oscilloscope and gravity dilation readings. They'll both peak when Zanak goes into demat and remat mode. And brace yourself,’ he added for good measure.

Romana went to the warp oscilloscope and gravity dilation meters as the TARDIS central column began to rise and fall, ready for full dematerialisation.

Fibuli and the Captain were both standing at the demat device, watched by an impatient Xanxia. ‘How soon, Captain, how soon? This waiting is intolerable - we must jump. We must jump!’

The Captain turned to his tormentor. ‘We are now ready.’

‘Then jump! Jump instantly!’

He turned back to the console. ‘Planet Terra, star system Sol, galactic coordinates 58044684884. Surround jump commences in five seconds. Four, three two...’

A touch of the demat switch and Zanak was screaming through space towards its new prey - Earth!

At exactly that moment, Romana saw the two crucial meters peak. ‘Now, Doctor, dematerialise now!’

The Doctor sent his craft hurtling off into the vortex.

‘Doing well so far, Doctor,’ said Romana, and got a withering look for her efforts.

The TARDIS takeoff did not go unnoticed on the Bridge. Fibuli saw one of the instrument panels flare strangely. ‘Captain, sir - there was a slight disturbance on the warp oscilloscope during dematerialisation.’

‘Monitor it,’ the Captain replied. ‘Prepare for rematerialisation surrounding Terra in five seconds!’

‘Rematerialisation commence - now!’ echoed Romana. Then chaos struck the TARDIS.

The Bridge was wracked with distortions that threatened to tear it asunder. Walls wavering and curving so much it seemed they would all explode inwards. The people inside felt as if the invisible hands of giants were tearing at their skin and bones, trying to pull them apart.

‘Mr Fibuli! It's happening again!’ bellowed the Captain.

‘What is it?’ cried out Xanxia.

‘It must be the Doctor's vessel, Captain, trying to materialise in the same space as us,’ surmised Fibuli correctly. ‘Every circuit's jamming!’

The TARDIS, too, was being torn apart by the spatial distortion.

‘There's no way we can survive this!’ called out Romana above the terrible noise. ‘We'll have to back off!’

‘We can't!’ the Doctor insisted. ‘The moment we back off, the Earth dies!’

‘It's getting worse!’

‘It'll go on getting worse until one of us explodes, or the Mentiads raise that door,’ replied the Doctor.

He stepped away from the central console - like a person resigned to his fate, thought Romana. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked.

‘I'm opening a communications channel.’ The Doctor spoke verbally as well as telepathically, in an effort to increase his range. ‘Pralix - Pralix, can you hear me?’

Outside the engine room, the newly emerged leader of the Mentiads responded to the faint message, hampered by the terrible vibrations all around them. Pralix turned to the others. ‘Brothers, the Doctor is trying to reach us - we must concentrate together - it is far too faint for me to hear.’

The Doctor reached a decision. ‘Romana, switch off the TARDIS force field.’

Romana was stunned. ‘What?! But that's madness. It's the only protection we've got!’

‘I know - but that protection is stopping me from communicating with the Mentiads - just do it,’ replied the Doctor tersely.

Romana reached out a hand to the force field controls. ‘It's been nice knowing you, Doctor.’

‘And you.’

Romana switched off the force field and the spatial distortion became a dozen times worse. Explosions ripped across the central console unit and she knew something was going to give any moment - almost certainly them...

The deterioration was also felt on the Bridge.

‘Captain, it's getting worse - we must back off!’ cried out Fibuli.

‘More power, Captain, more power!’ screamed Xanxia.

The Captain just stood at the demat device silently while everything fell about him, and pushed the planet's spatial engines far beyond their limits. Metal and technicians cried out as the distortions became unbearable.

Romana watched helplessly as the Doctor projected, with the aid of the TARDIS telepathic circuits, a visible astral image of Pralix and the other Mentiads onto the scanner screen.

‘Doctor, are you there?’ said Pralix. ‘What's happening?’

‘Pralix, do you have the strength to raise the door yet?’ the Doctor asked.

‘No, Doctor - our minds are so weak we couldn't lift anything bigger than a spanner.’

‘A spanner?’ The words seemed to spark something within the Time Lord. ‘A spanner! That's it - a spanner in the works! Pralix, forget the door - can you project your minds beyond it?’

Romana felt the shuddering get worse, though that hardly seemed possible now. A look at the console displays between shudders proved her right. ‘Doctor, the TARDIS is about to explode - it's going to explode!’

He did not react, but on the scanner a new image formed, of the engine room's interior. In the centre of the room a discarded spanner lay incongruously on the floor.

‘There - on the floor,’ directed the Doctor. The spanner slowly rose from the floor and hovered in the air. ‘Now, follow my movements. Macrovectoid particle analyser, omnimodular thermocron there! Megaphoton discharge link!’ As he spoke, the spanner hovered over each of the machines in the engine room.

‘What do we do?’ Pralix asked.

‘Hit it!’ the Doctor told him.

The spanner flew violently down at the chosen target, which exploded outwards. Nearby machinery blew up in an ever-expanding chain reaction across the engine room, and the mechanical carnage spread through the whole structure.

On the Bridge, there was a moment of total silence and peace - then the impact hit. One after another, the towering panels of circuitry exploded outwards like a string of fireworks. Metal debris, wiring, sparks and fire flew around the room, shrapnel imbedding itself cruelly into unprotected bodies.

When the explosions finally stopped, the only sounds were of people and machinery calling out together their own individual cries of pain.

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