Chapter 4

The Omens

Somebody was about to die on the Bridge.

Fibuli and the other technicians were lined up shoulder to shoulder in the control chamber, all quaking inwardly. The Captain prowled about them, like a hunting animal stalking its prey.

‘Gentlemen, the rogue telepath has not been destroyed - I ordered that he should be so. He's been allowed to fall into the hands of the Mentiads - I ordered that he should not be so allowed.’ The Captain emerged from behind the men so he could see the fear on their faces. ‘Failure is something I find very hard to come to terms with - right, Mr Fibuli?’

‘Oh yes, sir, very true, sir,’ stammered the reply.

The Captain strode to the com and -

...The angel blazed white...

- Staggered for a moment as the vision struck him again. He steadied his huge exoskeleton and stood still, facing away from the technicians. ‘By all the flaming moons of Heretes, not two hours since you very nearly blew up every engine in this mountain!’

‘Yes sir, b-b-but the cause was external, you said so yourself,’ replied Fibuli, turning the Captain's words back against him. ‘Something extraordinary happened to the whole fabric of the space-time continuum at that moment.’

‘Have you discovered the cause of that yet?’ the Captain demanded.

‘Not yet sir, busy working on it, sir.’

A slim female figure clad in white entered the Bridge, but to the Captain she seemed to be a flaming silhouette, full of pure fury and hunger like some deathly angel. He looked to the others but none seemed to share his perception, his sense of doubt and doom. An execution! An execution would appease her hunger for the moment. He turned back to the technicians.

‘Then you have failed to find it, Mr Fibuli. Failed, failed, failed! When someone fails me, someone dies!’ The Captain raised his android arm and the Polyphase Avitron rose with it into the air. It dived onto its prey with a metallic shriek of triumph, attacking the technician at the far end of the line from Fibuli. The man threw up an arm to protect himself, but death was delivered swiftly and mercilessly. Avitron settled lightly atop the smoking corpse and looked to its master for further orders.

The Captain fixed his deputy with a cold stare. ‘I hope you find the cause very soon, Mr Fibuli. I hope you will not fail me again.’

‘No sir, I wouldn't dream of it sir. Thank you sir.’ Fibuli stumbled away in a cold sweat, his palms wet with his own blood where the nails of his clenched fists had broken the skin.

The Polyphase Avitron flew back to its perch on the Captain's shoulder. ‘Who's a pretty Polyphase Avitron?’ cooed the Captain as he stroked it.

The female dressed in white suddenly grabbed his wrist. ‘Captain, you must watch that blood pressure,’ she said sternly.

Balaton was grieving the loss of his only grandson. ‘They have taken him from us, those evil - evil...’ He broke down into sobs, comforted by Mula.

Kimus stood by the Doctor's body, which he had laid out on the bench so recently occupied by Pralix. Who was this strange man who stood up to the Mentiads, the most feared people on Zanak? Who regarded the brutal Captain's guards as a minor annoyance? His garb was so alien in fabric and style to the young man, and the Doctor had been so ignorant of local affairs. Could he be from beyond the mountains, or somewhere even further away? And why had he come here now? Kimus pushed these musings aside as the Doctor began to regain consciousness. ‘Doctor?’

The Time Lord winced, clutching a hand to his forehead. ‘What hit me?’

‘The Mentiads did something. I don't know what I can tell you,’ replied Kimus.

‘I wasn't asking you. What hit me, K9?’

The robot dog whirred into life. ‘A gestalt-generated psycho-kinetic blast, master, on a wavelength of 338.79 micropars, with over-interference patterns reaching a peak power level of 5347.2 on the Vantalla Psychoscale.’

‘5347.2!’ exclaimed the Doctor, sitting up abruptly.

‘Affirmative, master.’

‘That's what I thought. Couldn't you have protected me?’

‘Negative, master.’

‘What's the Vantalla Psychoscale?’ asked Kimus.

‘A measurement of psychokinetic force,’ replied the Doctor.

‘Psycho-what?’

‘The power to move physical objects by mental power alone. Not much is known about it, but 5347.2 on the Vantalla scale represents the power that will move a single teacup 5347.2 miles. Or 5347.2 teacups one mile. Or an entire Gallifreyan ceremonial dinner service 25.462875 miles...’

Balaton approached the Doctor, his face awash with tears. ‘Pralix has gone - the Mentiads have taken him!

The Doctor got up to comfort the old man. ‘Don't worry, don't worry, I'll find him.’

‘If he's still alive,’ Kimus chipped in gloomily.

‘Do you know where the Mentiads live?’

‘No, they just arrive in the city and then depart,’ said the young man. ‘They're all too scared to follow them.’

‘They? Who's “they”?’

‘The cowards who live here.’

‘You're not frightened?’

‘No!’ replied Kimus forcefully.

‘You just didn't get around to it, is that it?’ asked the Doctor wryly.

Kimus blushed. ‘I mean, I will follow them.’

‘So will I,’ said the Doctor, and turned to Mula questioningly.

‘And so will I!’ she resolved.

Balaton was stunned by this and went to her side in the hope of persuading the young woman away from this act of folly. ‘No, Mula, haven't we lost enough already? Pralix is gone, lost, nothing will bring him back from the Mentiads, curse their zombie souls. Don't you understand Mula, Pralix is dead!’

‘No, he won't be dead,’ the Doctor assured the old man. ‘They wanted him too badly to kill him. They needed him. I felt that in the psycho-blast, a very strong sense of need, or purpose...’

‘If he's alive we'll find him,’ vowed Mula.

‘No! You'll only lose your own life...!’ Balaton protested.

‘I must go, Grandfather.’

‘The old man's afraid he's going to have no one to pamper him in his old age,’ Kimus interjected scornfully.

Mula was shocked at his words. ‘Oh, Kimus!’

‘Respect, Kimus! Respect!’ Balaton reminded him.

‘Respect! What for?’ Kimus challenged. ‘A lifetime of taking the path of least resistance? I'd have more respect for half a pint of water. At least it wouldn't grovel as well.’

‘He doesn't mean it the way it sounds, Grandfather...’ Mula insisted.

‘Master,’ said K9, but was ignored.

‘Are we going to stand around shouting at each other all day, or are we going to work out some way of finding the Mentiads?’ the Doctor asked.

‘Master -’ K9 tried again.

‘Not now, K9, not now,’ said the Doctor, deep in thought. ‘Now, K9, can you track the Mentiads by their psycho-spore?’

‘Affirmative, master. Psycho kinetic energy on that level leaves considerable disturbance in the ether.’

‘Excellent, excellent. Right - who's coming? Kimus? Mula?’ Both nodded. ‘Balaton?’

The old man could hardly believe his ears. He could understand that young fool Kimus chasing after this unknown individual who appeared on the doorstep with trouble following him, but Mula too! It's all too much for me, thought Balaton. ‘No, I don't want any part of this madness - I don't want to hear about Mentiads, guards, madness...’ he ranted, as he stumbled off to his rest chamber for a nice lie down.

‘All right, all right,’ replied the Doctor. ‘Romana?’ He looked around for his companion. ‘Romana? Where's Romana?’

‘She has been arrested, master,’ stated K9.

‘What?’

‘She sent me to inform you.’

‘Why didn't you?’

‘I made four attempts, master, but you would not allow me to tell you, master,’ said the mobile computer, almost sulkily.

‘Who is Romana?’ asked Mula.

‘My assistant. Stupid girl, getting herself arrested. Well, I suppose we'd better go and bail her out.’

‘Bail?’ queried Kimus.

‘You don't have bail here? Oh dear, it just means two rescue attempts,’ said the Doctor after a moment's thought. ‘After all, Romana's got the Tracer, you see.’ Kimus and Mula did not see or understand, but the Time Lord carried on anyway. ‘Now - where will they have taken her?’

‘To the Bridge,’ said Mula.

‘No one ever comes back from the Bridge,’ added Kimus.

‘Except the guards,’ concluded Mula.

‘No one?’ asked the Doctor.

After a march across the settlement, Romana and Monsadi reached the guards' aircar landing zone. The guard gave his captive another jab in the back with his energy weapon, pushing her towards his aircar. ‘Get in!’ The craft looked like an elongated triangle with curved edges.

‘I shall take that as an invitation,’ replied Romana haughtily. She handed Monsadi the brass telescope she'd been carrying. ‘Thank you,’ she said graciously, and climbed aboard the aircar. ‘Will you drive? I assume you know where we're going.’

Monsadi gritted his teeth at this insolence and got into the pilot's seat. Once they were airborne and heading for the black structure set into the mountain range, Romana began another of her infuriating attempts at small talk.

‘I had an aircar rather like this once - it was a present for my seventieth birthday.’

The guard grimaced behind the reinforced leather of his helmet and visor. Would this woman never cease her infernal prattling?

Romana continued, ‘Did you know if you realign the magnetic vectors and fit a polarity oscillator, you get twice the speed for half the energy? You should try it sometime. It's quite simple.’

Monsadi found himself becoming slightly hysterical at Romana's non-stop babble. He activated his communicator as he accelerated the aircar towards the Bridge. ‘Guard 3VX to Bridge. Come in, please. Please come in...’

Kimus picked up the second guard's body and put it in Pralix's rest chamber beside the other. Retribution would follow once their deaths were discovered. The young man hoped the Doctor could help him prevent that. ‘They'll be better off there, until we can dispose of them properly,’ the Doctor had told him. ‘You don't want them cluttering up your living room, do you?’

Kimus pulled the fabric curtain over the small room's archway and looked over at Mula, the woman he loved. She was talking with the mysterious outsider.

The Doctor produced a fist-sized coin of dull metal from one of his many pockets. ‘Right - heads we go after Romana first, tails we go after Pralix first, mmm?’ He tossed the coin upwards, then caught it and slapped it down on the back of his left hand.

‘Tails,’ called Mula.

‘Heads,’ countered the Doctor. He pulled away his right hand to reveal the coin face. ‘Heads it is.’

‘How can you take such a dangerous decision like that?’ fumed Mula. ‘Just leaving it to chance.’

The Doctor twirled the coin to show both sides had heads motifs. ‘Well, two kings on Aldebaran III, you see.

‘That's not fair!’ she protested.

‘Oh yes it is. If my guess is correct, Romana's in much greater danger than Pralix. Now - how do we get to this Bridge?’

‘Well I'm not going there, I'm going after Pralix.’ Mula started stomping towards the front archway. The Doctor tried to call her back but the young woman was determined to go. ‘I'll find my own way!’ she yelled as she disappeared from view.

‘It's no use once she's made up her mind,’ said Kimus. ‘I'll have to go after her myself.’

The Doctor put a restraining hand on the young man's shoulder. ‘No, no, no, you stay here.’

‘But Mula needs -’

‘I need you, she'll be all right.’ The Doctor turned to his robot companion. ‘K9.’

‘Master?’

‘I'm putting Mula in your charge. Take her to the Mentiads, but look after her. Is that clearly understood?’

‘Affirmative, master.’ The mobile computer began to leave the dwelling.

‘Off you go - and don't do anything I wouldn't do. We'll follow along later.’

‘I hate people who say things like that, don't you?’ said the Doctor, when K9 had departed.

‘Like what?’ Kimus asked.

‘“Don't do anything I wouldn't do.”’

‘Then why do you say it?’

The Doctor considered this for a moment. ‘I don't know really. Just to see what it's like. Come on.’

Soon afterwards, Kimus was nervously leading the Doctor through the settlement. The courtyards and alleys were virtually deserted, with most citizens at the Feast of Omens in the main courtyard. The young man held an energy weapon he had taken from one of the guard's bodies at Balaton's dwelling - it felt foreign and dangerous in his hands, but also powerful.

Finally the pair reached the northern edge of the settlement and Kimus pointed up high into the mountains. ‘That's the Bridge, up there,’ he said, pointing at the black structure set into the tallest peak.

‘How do we get to it?’

‘We don't,’ said Kimus with a mirthless laugh.

‘One of those, is it? How do the guards get there?’

‘Well, in their aircars.’

‘Aircars?’

Kimus pointed out one of the craft nearby. ‘There's one over there.’ A guard sat dozing in the pilot's seat.

‘Well, we'll borrow it,’ decided the Doctor.

‘Borrow it!’ spluttered the young man. ‘But it's the Captain's!’

‘Well, I don't mind going first class, do you?’ replied the Time Lord with a wicked grin. ‘Come on!’ He pulled the depleted bag of jelly babies from his pocket and laid out a trail of them leading from the nose of the aircar across the courtyard and around some pillars. The Doctor then retreated behind the pillar closest to the aircar and tossed the bag with its remaining contents on to the front of the craft, waking the guard.

While Kimus and the Doctor watched from the safety of cover, the guard got out of the aircar and followed the trail of mysterious objects across the courtyard. The pair climbed into the aircar while the guard was still distracted by his sweet stalking. He heard the sound of an aircar powering up, and turned to see his own assigned craft disappearing into the air with two civilians steering it.

‘Bye, bye,’ called the Doctor happily, waving to the stunned soldier.

The guard waved an automatic reply, and then realised his predicament. He swallowed heavily.

‘You know that actually makes me feel guilty?’ the Doctor confessed to Kimus. ‘Poor fellow, he shouldn't be out on the streets by himself.’

‘What was that you threw? Some deadly weapon?’

‘No, just a packet of jelly babies. Don't worry, I've got plenty more. Would you like one?’

The white silhouette stood over the Captain, paralysing his will.

...The angel blazed white, aflame with...

Mr Fibuli's approach broke the vision.

‘Er, Captain... Captain, sir...’

The Captain found the strength to speak restored. ‘Speak.’

‘Bad news, sir,’ ventured the deputy from a safe distance.

‘By the horns of the prophet Balag! Speak!’ The Captain became enraged but the angel silenced him again with a touch of her talons.

‘Sir, we have not yet discovered what caused our accident, but we think it may have been an unidentified materialisation within our own field. That would be consistent with the evidence, even just a meteorite slipping out of hyperspace at that moment could have caused it - but the point is, sir, that we have discovered more damage. The macromat field integrator has burnt out, sir. It's one of the four components we can't replace ourselves, sir.’ Fibuli paused, careful to avoid enraging the Captain more than was unavoidable. ‘Well, we are faced with two alternatives, Captain...’ A new thought occurred to the deputy. ‘Three alternatives. We could try to find a new macromat field integrator, though I can't envisage how we would do that. Alternatively, there is a very rare mineral, PJX 1-8, which would conceivably do the same job as the integrator... if we could find any. Either way, sir, in our current condition we could only possibly make one more jump, and that would be risky... in the extreme.’

The Captain felt his strength returning as the angel stepped back, allowing him to speak. ‘And the third alternative, Mr Fibuli?’

‘Is for Zanak to, er, settle where it is, sir.’

Suddenly the angel blazed brighter than any supernova to the Captain's unbalanced perceptions, and pain lanced through every atom of his being. He lashed out viciously, slamming his android arm down onto the private console at his side. ‘No, by the Sky Demon, I say no!’ Screens on the console shattered, debris of metal and circuitry flying everywhere.

At this moment, Romana arrived. Everyone on the Bridge stared at her. She stood quite still and brushed herself down in mock protest at being pushed into the room by two brusque guards. Then Romana raised her eyes to take in the surroundings.

The chamber was roughly cylindrical but seemed to be made up of many tall panels of circuitry controls and display units. Romana noted six technicians tending to these feverishly, as if working under great stress or pressure. A raised triangular dais dominated the Bridge and on a huge chair of metal and wiring sat a half-man, half-robot figure. It was flanked by two slight figures, one a harassed-looking man of middling years nervously fiddling with his glasses, the other a young woman in medical garb who held herself with a mocking, almost regal confidence. What a curious trio, thought Romana, then realised the seated giant was addressing her.

‘Speak girl! Who are you that you dare to intrude upon my ship?’

‘Interesting,’ Romana observed. ‘You call this mountain your ship. Bit cumbersome isn't it?’

‘Your name girl...’ demanded the Captain.

‘Romana. Romanadvoratrelundar. Tell me, have you had an accident?’

‘Silence,’ the Captain ordered, but Romana was not so easily shut up.

‘I only ask because whoever patched you up obviously didn't know much about the new developments in cyboneutraulics. Do you get a squeak when you move your arm like this?’ She raised her arm to demonstrate.

‘Silence,’ the Captain insisted. ‘Or the silence of death descends on you in the winking of an eye.’

In response, the red eye of the Polyphase Avitron lit up brightly.

‘Now,’ the Captain continued, ‘how have you come to this place?’

Romana had noted the Doctor favoured a policy of brazen honesty and decided to give it a try. ‘By TARDIS. I'm a Time Lord you see, or at least I will be soon. I've still got a couple of qualifying exams to take, and all the dinners to eat as well, which is terribly dull but...’

‘By the mealy-mouthed Prophet of Agranjagzak, speak plainly. Obliteration is at hand!’ The Captain raised his android arm threateningly.

‘See. It does squeak, doesn't it?’ Romana pointed out. ‘Now, the new frictionless bearings...’

‘I will not ask you again!’ the Captain thundered. ‘What is your function?’

‘Well, as a Time Lord, I can travel about in space and of course -'

The Captain cut her off dismissively. ‘Bah! Common space urchin - you shall die.’

‘- and, of course, time,’ concluded Romana superciliously. ‘Hence - Time Lord.’

The Captain stood and took a few steps towards this upstart. ‘Time travel?! You expect me to believe such nonsense?’

‘Yes, it is a difficult concept, isn't it?’ Romana decided her host was clearly unbalanced, suffering from sufficient psychiatric illnesses to keep the medical dictionary writers of the planet T'salpo T'sale busy for several years.

The Captain decided he'd had enough of this off-worlder. ‘Insolent breath of idle fantasy - death comes now!’

‘Captain sir,’ Fibuli interjected bravely, ‘if what she says is true, perhaps she will have knowledge that can help us....’

‘True? What can a puny slip of a girl know of such matters?’

‘That's what my tutor used to say,’ Romana observed. ‘He didn't enjoy giving me a triple first at all.’

‘She is a trespassing urchin, kill!’ The Captain raised his android arm to send Avitron off for another execution but then the white-garbed woman behind him spoke.

‘Captain, Captain. The excitement of more than one execution in a day is bad for your blood pressure. Perhaps you should postpone it till tomorrow.’

The Captain was in a quandary - could the angel be putting off another delivery of death? ‘Postpone?’

‘Yes,’ said the slim woman, to Romana's relief. ‘I think her story sounds quite interesting, even if it is idle fantasy.’

Romana thought the Nurse obviously believed it was more than idle fantasy. But what hold could this inconspicuous woman have over the lumbering Captain, she wondered.

‘Captain...’ Fibuli began.

‘Yes, Mr Fibuli, I am light years ahead of you,’ the Captain replied, and turned to Romana. ‘Space urchin, sit down. We have much to discuss.’

‘I'm not going to be put to death, after all?’ asked Romana.

‘Your reprieve is conditional on the truth of your story.’

‘Oh good, I'd hate to be the cause of increasing your blood pressure, one of those joints might blow at any moment,’ said Romana. She felt a chill run through her bones as the Nurse approached her, speaking in crisp, precise tones.

‘Why don't you ask her how this machine she mentions travels?’ the woman in white said, passing the off-worlder.

The Captain responded to his tormentor with a single word, almost spat out across the room at Romana. ‘Speak!’

‘Well roughly speaking - and putting it terribly simply - it dematerialises in one location, passes through a space-time vortex and then rematerialises again in a new location.’ Romana spoke as if addressing a remedial class back at the Academy, but the Captain, his deputy and the Nurse seemed to hang on every word.

The woman in white looked at the Captain. ‘I think that sounds terribly interesting - don't you?’ she said mockingly.

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