‘Not a clue,’ Chris muttered darkly, as he paced the tiny cell. As if on cue, the cube of light suddenly appeared, engulfing both Chris and K9, and disappeared with them, as it had done before.
The spinning cube deposited Chris and K9 back in the central corridor of the ship, the exact spot in fact from which they had originally been abducted.
‘Hey! We did it!’ Chris exclaimed delightedly.
K9 scanned the corridor. ‘We must find the Doctor Master,’ he insisted with evident urgency. ‘He is in danger.’
K9's obvious concern subdued Chris, and he cautiously followed the robot dog as he glided off in the direction of the bridge.
Moments later, they stood before the door on to the bridge. ‘Stand clear,’ instructed K9 importantly. ‘Preparing blaster fire.’
Chris moved to one side of the door, and spotted two buttons on the wall, marked “Open” and “Close”. He pressed the first one, and the door slid open.
‘Most satisfactory,’ said K9 glumly.
Chris shrugged apologetically, and edged into the bridge. He immediately found it more difficult to breathe, noticing that the air was very thin and cold. He could however feel fresh, warm air flooding into the room. He spotted the Doctor's recumbent form, and rushed over to assist him. ‘Doctor!’
‘Oxygen levels returning to normal.’
Chris stopped, and looked round for the source of the voice. ‘Who said that?’ he demanded.
‘I am the ship. The servant of the Lord Skagra.’
‘Where's that voice coming from?’ Chris asked K9.
‘Impossible to pinpoint source,’ the dog admitted. ‘It pervades the whole ship.’
The Doctor stirred, and began to come round.
‘The Doctor - he's all right!’ Chris declared delightedly.
‘No I'm not,’ the Time Lord corrected him, groggily getting to his feet. ‘I'm dead.’
‘I've been nearly too clever by three-quarters,’ he confessed, rubbing his head.
‘You never seem to do anything by halves,’ observed Chris with a grin.
‘I persuaded the ship I was dead and it cut off my oxygen supply.’
‘It won't take orders from an enemy of Skagra,’ the Doctor explained patiently. ‘But since it believes I am dead...’ He hesitated, and then corrected himself loudly. ‘Since I am dead, the ship had no reason not to accept my orders.’
Chris was still lost. ‘What?’
‘The logic is peculiar, but acceptable,’ K9 agreed with his master.
‘It only resumed the supply of oxygen when you came in,’ the Doctor continued. ‘You're still alive, officially.’
‘That's reassuring,’ replied Chris dryly.
‘Where's Romana?’ asked the Doctor suddenly.
Chris glanced around the room before replying. ‘I thought she was with you. Whatever took us off came back for her.’
‘Skagra!’ the Doctor exclaimed. ‘He must have her as well, now.’
‘As well as what?’
‘That book, and a copy of my mind.’
Chris was lost once more. ‘He's got what?’
‘A copy of my mind,’ repeated the Doctor. ‘In his sphere. He thinks I know the key to the book.’
There was a pause. ‘Well, what is the key?’ Chris inquired.
‘I don't know. I deliberately didn't think about it in case he did use the sphere on me. Come on, we can trace them from the TARDIS.’ The Doctor started towards the door.
‘Negative, Master,’ said K9.
The Doctor halted. ‘What do you mean?’
‘The TARDIS has gone,’ K9 explained.
‘Has what?’ he demanded indignantly.
Romana watched from the far side of the console room, eyeing Skagra warily as he piloted the TARDIS, confidently manipulating the controls whilst still touching the sphere.
‘Anyone can dematerialise a TARDIS, but you'd be a real safety hazard at the major controls. That's why they're booby-trapped,’ she informed him.
Skagra shook his head without looking up. ‘Not true,’ he stated.
‘How do you know?’ Romana challenged him.
Skagra tapped the surface of the sphere by way of a reply.
‘You know everything?’ she asked unbelievingly.
‘It's all in here,’ he assured her.
Romana began to edge towards the console, but before she could get within arm's reach of the controls, the sphere rose into the air, and drifted slowly towards her with a terrifying babble of noises. Romana backed off, and the sphere returned to the console.
‘I wouldn't go near it if I were you,’ Skagra advised, placing his palm back on the sphere's surface. ‘It can do far worse things to you than you can possibly do to it.’
Romana tried to ignore the threat. ‘I don't see why you want to steal an old crock like this anyway. You've got a perfectly good ship of your own.’
Skagra looked up and smiled. ‘Impressed with it, were you?’
Romana remained silent.
‘I should hope you were. I designed it. But it has certain limitations, and what the Time Lords have hidden I shall need Time Lord technology to find.’
‘You seem to know a lot about the Time Lords,’ Romana observed. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’
‘Have you heard of a man called Salyavin?’ Skagra inquired.
‘Salyavin!’ Romana exclaimed. ‘You're Salyavin?’
Skagra frowned. ‘You asked me two questions if you remember.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Quiet. I must concentrate,’ Skagra instructed, and started the rematerialisation sequence.
An enormous spaceship, large enough to carry Skagra's own craft a hundred times over, drifted through a sector of space far from any charted routes. The TARDIS materialised on the ship's command deck, a large chamber featuring an enormously wide screen, which looked out over a wide stretch of the galaxy.
The TARDIS door opened, and Skagra emerged with the sphere, followed by Romana.
Romana was instantly captivated by the view through the window. ‘Where are we?’ she inquired.
‘On my command ship,’ replied Skagra.
‘Command ship!’ echoed Romana mockingly. ‘And what do you hope to command?’
‘More than you can possibly imagine,’ Skagra assured her.
‘I have a very vivid imagination.’
‘Then I suggest you use it whilst it is still yours. It may be in for some shocks,’ Skagra said nastily.
‘Welcome back to your ship, my Lord,’ said a deep and sibilant voice.
Romana spun round, and stared up at the towering form of a creature that appeared to be composed entirely of large scale-like segments of crystallised coal.
The Doctor and Chris were coming to terms with the loss of the TARDIS.
‘So where's he gone?’ Chris wanted to know.
‘Or when,’ the Doctor added. ‘What?’
‘Time machine,’ the Doctor reminded him.
‘Oh yes,’ replied Chris doubtfully. ‘Yes. He must have taken Romana because she can operate it.’
‘So can he. He's got my mind in that sphere of his. Everything I know is at his disposal.’
‘There's one thing he doesn't know,’ Chris corrected him.
‘You're still alive.’
‘Shhh!’ warned the Doctor, furtively looking around the bridge. ‘I'm dead, remember.’
‘Doctor,’ said Chris quietly, ‘why doesn't the ship realise that?’
‘It's only programmed to obey instructions, not to think about them. Blind logic.’ The Doctor paused, and sat down on one of the couches, deep in thought. ‘Let's work out what we know,’ he suggested. ‘We know that...’ he hesitated. ‘Er, let's work out what we don't know.’
‘Right,’ Chris agreed, sitting down opposite him.
‘We don't know where Skagra has taken Romana, we don't know why he wants the book, we don't know what he's going to do...’
‘That's enough “don't knows” to win an election,’ Chris observed.
‘Hmmpphh,’ was the Doctor's only response.
‘This ship must know where he's gone,’ said Chris suddenly.
The Doctor jumped to his feet. ‘Ship! Speaking to you as a late lamented enemy of your Lord Skagra, I command you to tell me where he has gone.’
‘I do not have that information,’ the ship replied.
‘Don't know, don't know, don't know!’ exclaimed the Doctor angrily.
Romana watched nervously as Skagra set up the sphere on a console on the command deck. After a while the waiting became too much for her. ‘Why won't you tell me?’ she demanded. ‘Why won't you just say what you're trying to do?’
Skagra looked up from his work, and stared at her quietly. Then he came over and led her to the wide panoramic screen that dominated the chamber. ‘Tell me what you see,’ he told her.
‘Stars,’ replied Romana. ‘Billions of them.’
‘What are they doing?’
‘Doing?’ echoed Romana.
‘What do you mean, what are they doing? They're just there. They're...’ Romana hesitated, lost for an explanation.
‘Exactly,’ said Skagra. ‘Spinning uselessly through the void. And around them, billions of people spinning uselessly through their lives.’
‘Says who?’ Romana challenged him.
‘And who are you?’
‘What I am now is not important,’ admitted Skagra modestly. ‘But what I, what we all, shall be.’
‘What are you?’ Romana persisted.
‘Shhh!’ he advised her, and cupped his hands together. ‘Look,’ he invited, holding them out to her to look inside.
She looked inside, mystified. ‘What?’
‘What do you see?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ Romana replied. ‘Air.’
‘Billions of atoms spinning at random,’ Skagra informed her. ‘Expanding energy, running down, achieving nothing. Entropy. Like the stars. But what is the one thing that stands against entropy, against random decay?’ He held out one hand to her this time. ‘Life! See how the atoms are arranged here. They have meaning, purpose. And what more meaning and purpose than in here?’ he inquired, indicating his head. He regarded her perplexed expression. ‘You do not understand me. Your mind is too limited.’
Skagra began moving closer towards her, and Romana instinctively backed away, straight into a group of three of the coal-like creatures. She flinched away from their imposing bulk. ‘What are these... things?’
‘These?’ replied Skagra. ‘My Krargs. They shall be the servants of the new generation.’
‘New generation?’ repeated Romana. ‘A new race?’
‘Not a new race,’ Skagra corrected her.
‘People, new people?’
‘Not people,’ Skagra replied. ‘A new person.’
Romana was at once both baffled and horror-struck by the implications of Skagra's words. She was about to question him further when the Krarg Commander spoke.
‘Speak,’ Skagra instructed.
‘We shall shortly require new personnel.’
‘Operate the vat,’ Skagra ordered.
The Krarg inclined its massive head. ‘As my Lord commands.’ It moved off towards a small, open-sided chamber adjoining the Command Bridge.
‘You shall see this,’ Skagra informed Romana, and led her after the Krarg.
Romana saw as they approached the annexe, that it contained several bath-shaped vats full of a heavy green gas. Each vat was connected to a control console. ‘What...’ she began.
Skagra motioned her to silence. ‘Shhh...’
The Krarg Commander operated a series of controls linked to the nearest of the vats, and a wire skeleton started glowing red, suspended in the heavy, swirling vapour. As Romana watched, crystals began congealing around the wire, blackening as they cooled. More crystals formed attached to these. Very quickly, the shape of a Krarg formed.
Within the space of a minute, the newly formed Krarg was complete. It pulled itself out of the vat and stood to attention before Skagra. ‘What is your command, Master?’ it asked.
‘So,’ said Chris glumly. ‘Back to square one.’
‘That's it!’ exclaimed the Doctor triumphantly.
‘Square one!’ repeated the Doctor. ‘That's where we've got to go, if we want to find out who Skagra is and what he's up to. Once we know that, we'll know where to find him. Ship! I order you to take us to where your Lord Skagra last came from.’
‘That order does not conflict with my programmed instructions,’ the ship conceded. ‘I will activate launch procedures.’
The Doctor and Chris grinned at each other in triumph.
‘Launch procedures activated.’
Deep within the recesses of the craft, the ship's last phrase triggered a computer sequence in a small chamber containing a single bath-shaped vat exactly the same as those on the command ship.
In response to the ship's announcement that launch procedures had been activated, a wire skeleton lit up in the swirling green gas, and the first of many crystals started to congeal and adhere to the metal framework.
The shattering roar of the ship's engines disturbed the peace of the field and surrounding countryside. A grazing herd of cows bolted away across the grass. They slowed to a halt as the noise died away.
As the ship accelerated away from Earth, the ship's invisibility shields, no longer required to avoid detection, shut down and the craft's sleek lines were visible once more.
On the bridge, the Doctor and Chris were looking very pleased with themselves. ‘Now, ship,’ began the Doctor. ‘How long will the journey take?’
‘Thirty-nine astrasiderial days,’ the ship stated without hesitation.
The Doctor did a quick mental calculation. ‘What! That's nearly three months!’
‘That is at full warp drive,’ the ship informed them. ‘We have hundreds of light years to cover.’
‘Hundreds of light years? In three months?’ exclaimed Chris, flabbergasted. ‘That's an incredible speed!’
‘Yes,’ agreed the Doctor. ‘But not nearly fast enough. Ship, can you alter your own circuitry?’
‘Yes, I can do that,’ the ship confirmed.
‘Right, then stop,’ the Doctor ordered.
‘Repeat, please,’ the ship requested.
‘I said stop. Halt.’
The ship obediently cut its engines, and applied reverse thrusters, rapidly reducing the craft's speed. Within moments they were stationary in deep space.
‘What are you doing?’ Chris wanted to know.
‘I'm going to introduce this ship to a few new concepts,’ the Doctor explained. ‘Now ship, listen very carefully. Reverse the polarity on your main warp feeds. Right?’
‘Accomplished,’ the ship reported after a short pause.
‘Regrade your deoscillation digretic synthesisers by ten points.’
‘I cannot do that,’ the ship objected calmly. ‘The drive will explode.’
‘Nonsense,’ insisted the Doctor. ‘It will be perfectly...’ he paused. ‘Did I say ten points? Minus ten points!’ he corrected himself.
‘Phew, that would have been nasty,’ the Time Lord confessed, wiping his brow. ‘Now, realign your maxivectometer on drags so they cross connect with your radia-bicentric anodes.’
‘Good, now this is the difficult bit...’ The Doctor paused, his eyes closed as he mentally visualised the correct sequence. ‘Now switch your conceptual geometer from analogue to digital mode and keep triggering feedback responses till you get a reading of 75 dash 839.’
‘Accomplished,’ the ship replied.
‘Now,’ concluded the Doctor, opening his eyes, ‘let's see if that works. All right ship, activate all re-aligned drive circuits.’
The bridge was filled with the rising humming sound as the ship powered up its engines. ‘Something very strange is happening,’ the ship observed.
‘Don't worry, keep going!’ the Doctor assured the ship confidently, and a loud trumpeting sound very like the TARDIS dematerialisation noise suddenly replaced the rising hum from the engines. ‘Bingo!’ exclaimed the Doctor delightedly, as the sound died away.
‘What have you done?’ asked Chris.
‘I've constructed a primitive dimensional stabiliser by remote control. The journey will now take a couple of minutes to anywhere,’ the Doctor explained, looking very pleased with himself. ‘Pretty clever, don't you think, ship?’
‘For a dead man, Doctor, you are extremely ingenious,’ observed the ship.
‘Yes, well let's not harp on that aspect, shall we?’ the Doctor suggested uneasily, and reclined on one of the couches. He grinned at Chris. ‘Well, wherever it is, we're going there.’
‘Whilst Skagra is presumably going in the opposite direction,’ replied Chris gloomily.
‘I know. Worrying, isn't it? It's the only thing we can do though.’
‘Have you any idea what he's after?’
‘Something's niggling at the back of my mind,’ the Doctor confessed.
‘I don't know,’ the Time Lord admitted. ‘Whatever it is we've got to stop him. Mind control is the most horrible thing. Any physical threat you can fight, but once someone has control of your mind you've lost everything...’ The Doctor hesitated. ‘That rings a bell. I should know the answer!’
‘It would help if we knew who “Shada” was,’ Chris added.
‘Who... or what,’ the Doctor added.
Clare Keightley awoke to find herself lying face-down on a dusty old red carpet. Shaking her head to clear it, she rose on her elbows, and promptly bashed her head against the underside of the tea table, rattling the cups and saucers. Staggering to her feet, she collapsed into a chair.
She had had hardly enough time to recover her wits when a figure dressed in an ancient nightgown and nightcap appeared beside her. Clare gasped.
‘What have you done with my machine?’ demanded the almost sepulchral apparition. Clare was lost for words, and simply stared at the pale-faced, white-bearded old man as he moved over to the control panel that she had exposed earlier. The old man fished out his spectacles and began to examine the console. After a few moments he grunted, and turned back to her with a welcoming smile.
‘Tea?’ inquired the newly resurrected Professor Chronotis.