Chapter 5

The Golden Age of Prosperity

Kimus was excited. Earlier today he had been complaining about the hollow, meaningless lives people were leading on Zanak. Since meeting the Doctor he had seen two of the hated Captain's guards pushed aside like unwanted food, another guard completely duped, and had helped ‘borrow' an aircar. What was going to happen next, he wondered. ‘Hey, this is marvellous - freedom at last!’

‘You're not free yet,’ said the Doctor sagely, as he piloted the aircar towards the Bridge.

‘Free to think,’ replied the young man. He looked at the huge green valley laid out below him like some rich, multi-coloured cloth. ‘It's amazing. The city looks so pretty from up here. Yes, even the mines do. You know, that's our entire life, so small and claustrophobic. We're just being stifled with meaningless riches. Why have we traded in our freedom for that?’

‘Tell me about those mines.’

‘Well, we extract all the raw material we need from them.’

‘Who goes down them - do you go down?’

Kimus shook his head. ‘No.’

‘The Mentiads?’

The young man just laughed. ‘No!’

‘No one?’

‘No, they're automated, you see, we just run the equipment.’

‘What happens when they run out?’

‘Well, the Captain announces a new golden age of prosperity. They just fill up again,’ said Kimus blithely.

‘What, just like that?’ snorted a disbelieving Doctor.

‘Yes.’ Kimus paused and realised he hadn't properly thought out how this took place. ‘Well, you don't think that's wrong, do you?’

‘Wrong? It's an economic miracle - of course it's wrong!’ was the stern reply.

The young man was rather crestfallen. ‘Oh, then, of course, the lights change.’

‘Oh?’

‘They'll be new ones tonight.’

‘What lights?’

‘You know, the lights, the ones in the sky at night, the little points of light.’

‘You mean the stars?’

The word was strange to Kimus, but so much of what the Doctor said was new and difficult to understand. ‘Seems pointless to me, but the older people seem to like it.’

‘Oh not another lot. Does no one in this galaxy take any interest in the worlds around them?’

‘What?’

‘Oh, never mind. I'll send you a planetarium one day. Wait a moment... you say that every time the stars change, that's the moment that the mines miraculously refill themselves with raw materials?’

‘Yes, that's right.’ The puzzled man pointed down at a green plateau jutting out halfway up the rapidly approaching mountainside. ‘Look, down there - I think there's some sort of entrance into the mountain.’

‘Might be the way to the Bridge,’ said the Doctor, and expertly banked the aircar onto a course for the landing area.

‘I say, you're very good at this. Do you drive these things for a living?’ asked an envious Kimus.

‘No. I save planets, mostly, but this time I think I've arrived far, far too late.’

The Doctor guided the aircar down onto the plateau and parked it neatly in hover mode. The pair got out and went over to the mountainside where a seamless door was set into a huge metal panel, only distinguished by two locks and a handle. The eager Kimus reached it first and tried the handle, more out of habit than expectation of entry.

‘Well?’ asked the Doctor.

‘It's locked. You'll never get it open, it's impossible.’

‘Ha! Impossible?’ snorted the Doctor. ‘That means it will take 73 seconds. Move over.’

‘What, you mean you can open it?’

‘Well of course I can open it! It's just a question of how.’

‘How?’

‘I haven't got the faintest idea,’ the Doctor confessed.

Kimus watched the Doctor dig in his pockets and pull out a long, rounded device like a metal writing instrument. The Doctor held it out towards the door and it made two slight singing noises. The off-worlder then leaned forward confidently and tried to open the door - without success.

‘But it's still locked,’ stated Kimus rather obviously.

‘I haven't finished yet,’ replied the Doctor through gritted teeth. Another dig through his pockets, and he held up a very bent piece of wire. ‘Bent hairpin. The more sophisticated the technology, the more vulnerable it is to primitive attack. People often overlook the obvious' He inserted the wire into the two locks and jiggled it about hopefully, then stood back and gave the door another good tug - still without success. The Doctor wandered off, scratching his head. Behind him, the door opened a moment later.

‘Doctor - that's amazing!’

The Doctor smiled broadly. ‘Shall we go?’

Inside, a short corridor led to another doorway, but beyond that a further corridor curved away from them in a seemingly infinite arc.

‘Doctor, this goes on forever!’ said an astounded Kimus.

‘Yes, it certainly looks like it,’ the Doctor agreed.

‘Come on - we'd better hurry.’ Kimus sprinted out into the infinite corridor, running full pace, but made no progress beyond the doorway's threshold. ‘Doctor, what's happening?’ he called back.

The Doctor reached into the corridor, grabbed the young man and pulled him back through the doorway. ‘Come! Kimus, I want you to do something very important for me. Go out to the aircar...’

‘Yes!’ nodded Kimus eagerly.

‘Fetch the guard's gun...’

‘Right!’

‘...and stand outside on guard.’

Kimus was mightily disappointed at being stopped on the brink of facing his world's tormentor. ‘Oh, no, Doctor, I want to come with you!’

‘No, no, no, no, no. That's the most valuable thing you can do. There are so many things in here you can't understand and a linear induction corridor is one of them, hmm?’ replied the off-worlder, pointing down the apparently infinite corridor.

Kimus reluctantly nodded his agreement. The Doctor turned to a control panel by the doorway and his fingers flashed over the switches and buttons. Then he simply stepped through the doorway and began to be whizzed away, accelerating ever faster.

‘See you later!’ the Doctor called back to Kimus. ‘Fascinating,’ he said to himself. ‘I've never come across as smooth a ride as this before... or as fast.’ As the acceleration reached a dizzying pace, he jested out loud, ‘I'll never be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again!’ Abruptly, the trip was over, and he found himself standing still at the corridor's end. He stepped through another doorway into a small cubicle and the doorway slammed shut behind him.

‘Good heavens! Ahh - of course - it isn't a linear induction corridor! It must work by neutralising inertia,’ he mused out loud. He noticed two flashing triangles on the wall beside him, pointing up and down. ‘A lift?’ he touched the upwards triangle and the elevation chamber began to rise through the mountain's interior, towards the Bridge.

Back at the other end of the seemingly infinite corridor, Kimus tried his hand at the corridor's control unit - without success. He grumpily went back outside to the aircar and began his guard duty, already feeling thoroughly bored and left out of the action.

Romana was examining a metal framed cube full of charred wiring and cables, whilst seated rather cheekily in the com. Beside her, Fibuli hovered nervously while the Captain stood brooding on the opposite side of the Bridge, facing away from them.

‘Space urchin, tell me, do you know what this is?’ the Captain demanded.

Romana turned the scorched mechanism over in her hands. ‘Oh, it's a ... no. Wait a minute, it's a ... no it isn't one of those either... Well, whatever it is, it's obviously burnt out.’

‘A whining infant could tell me that. Your time is running out!’ said the Captain.

‘I'm sorry, I was never any good at antiques,’ replied a self-righteous Romana, to the chagrin of her hosts. ‘It's probably just an old macromat field integrator or something.’

Fibuli beamed in delight. ‘Captain - she does know!’

The Captain turned and -

...The angel blazed white, aflame with fury. ‘Die...’

- staggered for a moment, before pushing the vision from his mind. Why did this scene keep reoccurring, he wondered, before concentrating again on the off-worlder. ‘By the beard of the Sky Demon, the jaws of death were hot about your neck.’

Romana was rapidly growing tired of the Captain's vacuous threats, and walked straight up to the towering figure. ‘This must be part of a massive dematerialisation circuit,’ she said, holding up the integrator.

‘It's part of a system that transports us instantly through space,’ the Captain stated proudly.

Romana was, for once, almost speechless. Almost, but not quite. ‘You mean the whole mountain? You take this whole mountain with you through space? Amazing...!’

The Captain smiled to himself. The female obviously did not know all of Zanak's secrets yet - nor would she get the chance.

Romana went back to the com to study the integrator further. ‘Well, what's happened is that you've shorted out the multicorticold whizzbang...’

‘Whizzbang? What nonsense is this?’ the Captain stormed.

‘Whizzbang?’ replied Romana. ‘It's short for whittlezantricon hyperbandrigic maxivectometer. We've always called it a whizzbang because that's the noise it makes. I think this one's banged its last whizz though. You'd be lucky to get a phut out of it. Ah now, this is interesting. You've wired an ambicyclic photon bridge across the field terminals as a stabiliser. I always wanted to try that but my tutor said it would fuse, silly old goat. I'm glad to see that someone else has a little imagination ... oh, I see. It's fused.’

Fibuli and the Captain consulted privately out of Romana's hearing.

‘You think she can repair it, Mr Fibuli?’

‘Well, sir, in my opinion, it's irreparable, but it occurs to me she must have something similar aboard her own vessel.’

‘Mr Fibuli, as ever I am light years in advance of you. By the evil eye of the Sky Demon she will not be needing her vessel again, for clearly she can never be allowed to leave Zanak.’

‘Agreed, Captain!’

The Captain bellowed across the Bridge at Romana. ‘Girl! What is your diagnosis - can it be repaired?’

‘Repaired? Yes, I should think so. You'd have to ask the Doctor though,’ she replied with a sideways glance at the Captain.

‘Doctor?! Are there more intruders on this planet?’

‘Oh yes, I'm only his assistant. He's the one you should be talking to - or rather listening to, if you have the stamina,’ added Romana wryly.

The half-man, half-robot strode over to the two guards stationed within the Bridge. ‘All guards on alert. There is an intruder on the planet, his name is the Doctor, I repeat, the Doctor. He must be found and brought to the Bridge instantly.’

The two guards ran to the entranceway and activated its opening mechanism. ‘We must find the Doctor!’ the senior guard stated.

But while they were waiting for the door to rise far enough for them to exit, the Doctor crawled under the door and stood up, beaming at them. Romana watched delightedly as he immediately went to Mr Fibuli and began shaking his hand vigorously in a gesture of welcome.

‘Hello, hello.’ The Doctor draped a friendly arm around the hapless deputy's shoulders and led him for a few paces, chattering away happily. ‘I'm the Doctor, delighted to meet you, heard so much about what a splendid chap you are.’ The new arrival caught sight of his companion across the room. ‘I see, I see you've met my assistant Romana, getting on like a house on fire, are you? She's a lovely girl. What a splendid place you've got here,’ the Doctor said, taking in the surroundings at a glance. ‘Are you having a spot of bother?’

All this was said in a whirlwind, and it took the Captain a moment to regain his self-control and spit out a command to his guards, ‘Seize him!’

The Doctor seemed unimpressed by the welcome. ‘Such hospitality - I'm underwhelmed.’

The Captain strode up to the off-worlder and scrutinised him closely. ‘Doctor, beware, your manner appeals only to the homicidal side of my nature.’

‘My manners are impeccable,’ replied the Time Lord insolently. ‘Oh, well I shall have to watch it then. Don't want to end up dead before I've had a chance to place my full services at your disposal.’ He caught sight of the Captain's Polyphase Avitron. ‘I say, what a magnificent parrot. I've always been fond of parrots, haven't I Romana? And so clever to have a mechanical one. Saves all that nasty clearing up.’

‘Apart from the bodies,’ the Captain added meaningfully.

‘Well, yes, quite... I beg your pardon?’

‘My Polyphase Avitron carries death in its eyes. If you would avoid its lethal gaze, perhaps you would enlighten me as to these services you speak of.’

‘I'd be very glad to. We, that is Romana and I, are patrolmen for the Astromobile Association, and our job is to hop around the Universe doing on the spot repairs for stranded spacecraft. We happened to notice a disturbance in this area of space and just popped along to see if we could be of any assistance. Our rates are very reasonable, particularly if you carry a Galactibank Credit Card.’

‘Doctor, how would it be if in return for your assistance I offered to spare your miserable life?’ the Captain suggested coldly.

‘More than generous,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘May I inspect the damage?’

Romana stepped between the two in an effort to distract the Doctor from further antagonising his newfound foe. ‘Ah, Doctor? I think this is the root of the trouble.’

He gave the device she was holding a cursory glance. ‘A macromat field integrator - has the whizz-bang gone wrong?’

‘Yes, and the ambicyclic photon bridge.’

‘And the ambicyclic photon bridge?’ The Doctor, still gripped by two guards, turned to the Captain. ‘Do you mind if I examine this, locust?’

The Captain's systems nearly overloaded with rage. ‘Locust? Arrgh!’

A timely intervention by Fibuli prevented the Doctor's immediate execution. ‘Sir! Captain!’

The Captain calmed himself sufficiently to speak again. ‘Release him! Take them to the engine room. If they make one mistake - kill them!’

The Doctor gave the Captain a mocking salute as he exited the Bridge. Romana was about to follow him out when she paused. ‘Oh, Mr Fibuli?’

‘Mmm?’ replied Fibuli.

Romana casually threw Fibuli the integrator. ‘Catch!’

Mula was beginning to regret her quick temper. She had been able to follow the Mentiads out of the settlement but was lost soon afterwards so she had turned round to go back to her grandfather's dwelling. A metallic voice stopped her taking a further step.

‘I will be your guide.’

The young woman looked around and saw the metal creature K9 approaching. ‘What?’ she asked.

‘I can locate the Mentiads for you. My circuits can trace them by their psychic energy. My master, the Doctor, commanded me to take you to the Mentiads, but ensure no harm befalls you. Master and Kimus will reunite with you later.’

Mula thought for a moment and then realised she had little other choice. Still she wondered where the others had gone, and asked K9 about this.

‘Their words indicated an attempt to gain access to the Bridge.’

‘But that's madness!’ she protested.

‘My master's actions rarely seem logical, but are consistently successful in the final analysis. I am now departing for the Mentiads' dwelling chamber - you may follow if you wish.’ The mobile computer whirred into life and trundled away towards the eastern end of the mountain range.

Mula watched for a moment and finally, reluctantly, followed.

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