Chapter 8

Think Tank

Skagra turned his attention to the sphere mounted on a small console. Romana watched on in numb silence. ‘Now my dear,’ Skagra explained, ‘you shall see that though your friend the Doctor is unfortunately deceased, his mind lives on in this sphere...’ Skagra placed one of his palms on the sphere's surface, and a holographic display screen sprang up by the panoramic window of the command deck. Romana was momentarily shocked to find herself represented on the screen.

Skagra noted her reaction. ‘Ah, you see what is uppermost in his mind. He is fond of you,’ he goaded.

Romana shot him a sour look, but said nothing.

‘But not what I am looking for,’ Skagra continued. ‘Somewhere in his mind, I am convinced he knows the code that will unravel the secrets of this book for me.’ He tapped the cover of The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, lying on the console next to the sphere. The holographic display began to show images of the book through the eyes of the Doctor. Skagra fed the information through the computer console, and the computer superimposed its diagnosis of each image on the screen.

So far, all it had come up with was one word: “INSOLUBLE”.

Romana had been watching anxiously. ‘What's so important about the book?’ she inquired.

Skagra looked surprised. ‘It is The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey,’ he replied, as if this should explain everything.

‘So?’ Romana challenged.

‘So what does a Gallifreyan Judge say when passing sentence?’ Romana shrugged, so Skagra continued. ‘I'll tell you: “We but administer. You are imprisoned not by this Court but by the power of the Law,”’ he quoted, holding up the book for effect. ‘That used to be quite literally true.’

‘You mean that book is a key...’ Romana was beginning to understand.

Skagra nodded. ‘The key with which the Time Lords used to imprison their most feared criminals. Like for instance...’ He broke off as another “INSOLUBLE” flashed up over a picture of a page of text from the book. More images, all from the Doctor's memories, flashed up on the screen, including pictures of Romana, Skagra, Chronotis, Clare, Chris, and the Porter, but each sequence of images, ended up with the same flashing legend “INSOLUBLE” imposed over an image of the book.

‘He doesn't know,’ said Skagra at last. ‘He doesn't know the code!’

‘I'm glad you realise that,’ said Romana with relief. ‘It's about time.’

Skagra stared at her, turning Romana's last phrase over in his mind. ‘Time,’ he muttered. ‘About time... Yes, I should have seen that. A Gallifreyan code would have to include the dimension of time.’ He turned back to the sphere, which was continuing to feed images on to the screen. ‘Stop!’ he commanded it. ‘Find me the Doctor's last reference to time. He watched intently as the screen played backwards through a fast-changing succession of images, rather like reversing a video recording. After a few moments, the sequence abruptly halted and began playing a segment from the Doctor's memory forwards and at the correct speed. The screen displayed Clare and a teletext printout, in a laboratory. The Doctor's voice could be heard: “Not only is this book not a book, but time is running backwards over it.” Skagra smiled triumphantly.

Romana reacted with disgust. ‘You really are snooping though the Doctor's mind. I think that's horrible!’

‘Quiet!’ Skagra snapped. ‘I think I have the answer. Come, we will try a little experiment.’ Skagra picked up the sphere and the book, and went over to the TARDIS. He stopped by the police box door, and beckoned to Romana.

Romana sighed and, realising that she had little choice but to obey Skagra, entered the TARDIS. She positioned herself on the far side of the console room and watched as Skagra placed the ancient Gallifreyan book on the console in front of him. He flipped through the pages, stopping every so often to peer at the occasional page. Romana was gratified to see that he wasn't making much progress, and whilst his attention was on the book, she began moving stealthily towards the console.

Just as the TARDIS controls came within Romana's reach, Skagra looked up and snapped the book shut. ‘Keep back!’ he warned, and the sphere rose from the console and herded her back against the wall, where it remained hovering, keeping guard over her.

Satisfied that Romana was not going to cause him any more trouble, Skagra opened the book again, starting this time at the beginning. He carefully turned the first page.

To Romana's alarm, the central column of the TARDIS console gave a slight twitch in response to Skagra's turning of the page. Skagra was so intent on deciphering the book's secrets that he hadn't noticed. He turned another page, and the column moved again. This time Skagra did notice. With mounting excitement, he turned several more pages, and as he did so, the column moved faster. ‘Exactly!’ he declared. ‘Time runs backwards over the book. So I turn the pages within the time field of this machine and the machine operates. Good. And turning the last page will take us to Shada.’ With a look of great satisfaction, Skagra slammed the book shut, and beckoned to the sphere.

The hovering silver globe ushered Romana out of the TARDIS, followed by Skagra.

Outside the police box, the commander of the Krargs met them.

‘I have found the key,’ Skagra announced grandly.

‘Congratulations, my Lord,’ hissed the creature.

‘Make all preparations for the entry into Shada,’ Skagra ordered, and the Krarg lumbered away to do his master's bidding. Skagra turned to Romana. ‘And you must prepare yourself to meet one of the greatest, most powerful criminals in history. A man the Time Lords have chosen to forget.’

With dawning realisation, Romana knew whom it was that Skagra was referring to. ‘Salyavin...?’ she ventured.

‘Salyavin!’ Skagra confirmed. ‘The lynch pin to my plans.’

A newly formed Krarg heaved itself out of its generation vat and, with barely a pause to gain its bearings, lumbered out of the chamber and began making its way down the passage towards the bridge of the spacecraft.

On the bridge, the Doctor was complaining. ‘Oh come on, ship! What's taking you so long?’

‘Estimated docking time, two minutes,’ the ship replied.

At that moment, the door slid open, and the Krarg lumbered into the room. ‘Who are you?’ it hissed.

‘Doctor!’ yelled Chris in alarm, and they both jumped to their feet.

‘Ah, hello there,’ said the Doctor, putting on his most charming smile.

‘What is it?’ Chris demanded.

‘I don't know,’ the Time Lord admitted. He moved closer to one wall, looking for a way to get a clear run at the door.

‘You are intruders,’ the Krarg stated.

‘Well actually,’ the Doctor corrected him, ‘I'm dead and this is Chris.’

‘You trespass on my Lord's ship. You shall die!’ The Krarg raised his gun and began to move menacingly towards them.

‘K9!’ yelled the Doctor.

K9 extended his blaster, and gave the Krarg a high-powered blast. The Krarg stopped in his tracks, but the moment K9 shut his blaster off, the creature began to move again.

K9 resumed firing. ‘Master, I can only just hold him with blaster at maximum power,’ he reported desperately.

‘Hold on K9!’ the Doctor urged, and turned to Chris. ‘We need a power feed, any power feed.’ The Doctor crouched down beside K9 and removed his inspection panel, as Romana had done earlier.

Chris quickly located a power cable attached to the wall. Pulling one end free, he passed it to the Doctor, who attached the cable to a charging port inside K9. ‘That better?’ the Doctor inquired.

‘Affirmative Master.’ said K9. His blaster beam was now holding the Krarg at bay.

Chris studied the creature in amazement. ‘What on Earth is it?’

‘What's Earth got to do with it?’ asked the Doctor. ‘It looks like some sort of crystalline structure.’

‘Preparing to dock,’ reported the ship, apparently oblivious to the crisis on the bridge.

‘You just go ahead,’ the Doctor assured the ship. ‘Don't mind us.’

The ship rematerialised in space, and fired its thrusters. The sleek craft moved towards a wheel-shaped space station revolving in orbit around a large red sun. The ship came to rest on the landing platform, which sank into the outer ring of the station. A hatch closed over the descending craft.

‘Docking sequence now complete,’ the ship reported to the Doctor and Chris.

‘Right. Let's go and see where we are,’ said the Doctor, and began edging around the Krarg.

The creature was becoming noticeably hotter as it absorbed the energy from K9's blaster.

‘K9,’ the Doctor called.

‘Master?’

‘Keep holding him,’ the Doctor instructed.

‘Affirmative, Master.’

‘May I ask who you are?’ inquired Clare politely, as the old man wandered out of the kitchen, still wearing his nightgown, and carrying a tray of tea and crackers.

‘I am...’ The Professor frowned and began again. ‘I was...’ He tried once more. ‘I will be Professor Chronotis. Oh dear, I don't mean to sound portentous. It's just that we Gallifreyans have never managed to come up with a satisfactory form of grammar to cover these situations,’ he explained.

‘Look, I don't understand,’ confessed Clare. ‘What's happening? What situation?’

The Professor put down the tray and sat down in an armchair before replying. ‘Timelessness,’ he said at last. ‘Standing obliquely to the time fields.’

‘Is that what we're doing?’

‘Oh yes,’ he assured her. ‘And very grateful I am to you for arranging it.’

‘Me?’ Clare replied, still very confused. ‘But all I did was just press a button...’

‘Yes, I know. A very ancient TARDIS this. I quite literally rescued it from the scrap heaps. Not really allowed to have one, you know. Still, just as well though, isn't it? Otherwise I'd be dead - still.’

‘Still dead?’

‘Oh yes, yes,’ the Professor chuckled. ‘I've been killed, you know. Only your timely mishandling of this machine meant that you tangled with my life streams at the critical moment...’ Professor Chronotis paused and regarded Clare over his spectacles. ‘You're not following me, are you?’

‘No,’ Clare admitted.

‘Good. Think of me as a paradox in an anomaly and get on with your tea.’

‘Oh yes,’ replied Clare, remembering the tea, and began pouring herself a cup.

‘We must find Skagra...’ Chronotis muttered.

‘What? Who?’

‘He has the book,’ the Professor told her gravely.

Finally Clare began to find herself on firm ground in the conversation. ‘Ah, the book.’

‘You know about it?’ he inquired with great interest.

‘Er, well I sort of...’

‘It is a very dangerous book and I have been very careless,’ explained the Professor. ‘It is the key to Shada.’

‘Shada?’

‘The ancient prison planet of the Time Lords,’ the Professor told her. ‘They have been induced to forget about it.’

‘Yes... I... I don't understand any of this.’

‘Then understand this. If Skagra is meddling with mind control and mind transference, he can only be going to Shada for one particular reason. And it is imperative that he be stopped.’ The Professor stood up decisively.

Clare stood up too. ‘Well yes,’ she agreed without knowing what exactly it was she was agreeing with. ‘But why? What on Earth's there?’

‘It's not a matter of what, it's a matter of who,’ Chronotis told her. ‘Now, you are a scientist, yes?’

‘Er yes,’ said Clare rather uncertainly. ‘But not at this sort of thing.’

Chronotis shrugged. ‘No matter. I will need your assistance to build some equipment.’

‘This is a recorded message. The Institute for Advanced Science Studies is under strict quarantine. Do not approach. Do not approach. Everything is under our control...’ The repeated warning message was beginning to distort as it played faintly over the station's loudspeakers. Most of the lighting within the space station had gone out, and the corridors were dirty and strewn with rubbish.

The door marked “Shuttle Craft” hissed open, and the Doctor and Chris entered the passage, treading warily in the dim light and cluttered corridor.

‘Where are we?’ asked Chris.

‘Where do you think we are?’ responded the Doctor.

‘I don't know.’

‘Neither do I.’

‘And I don't believe we've travelled hundreds of light years,’ Chris added.

‘Why not?’ the Doctor asked him.

‘“You cannot travel faster than light“,’ Chris quoted. ‘Einstein.’

‘What? Do you understand Einstein?’

‘Oh yes,’ Chris assured the Doctor confidently.

‘What? And quantum theory?’

‘Yes.’

‘And Planck?’

‘Yes.’

‘What? And Newton?’

‘Yes.’

‘What? And Schoenberg?’

‘Of course!’ declared Chris proudly.

‘You've got a lot to unlearn,’ the Doctor observed, and moved off cautiously down the passage.

‘What is this place?’ asked Chris, rapidly getting over his silent indignation.

‘Ah!’ The Doctor pointed to a sign on the wall. The sign displayed four large letters: “IASS”, and below this, three smaller ones: “ASD”

‘Institute for Advanced Science Studies,’ the Doctor explained.

Chris pointed to the smaller letters. ‘Advanced State of Decay?’ he suggested.

‘Shhh!’ warned the Doctor suddenly, listening hard.

‘What?’

‘Did you hear something?’

‘No.’

The Doctor started down another corridor. Chris followed him along the darkened, grubby passage, and then through an open doorway into a large chamber, lit by a single dim light.

‘Ah!’ exclaimed the Doctor. ‘Think Tank! Quite interesting.’

‘Quite interesting?’ echoed Chris disbelievingly, studying the array of advanced control consoles arranged around the walls. ‘This is fascinating, absolutely fascinating! Do you mean to say that all this means something to you?’

‘Well, yes, it's all terribly simple. You see, we're...’ The Doctor broke off his explanation, and stared into the shadows.

Chris gasped as five old men with long beards and straggly hair emerged out of the gloom. The decrepit elderly men staggered towards the Doctor and Chris, surrounding them and pawing their clothing in a wretched, brainless manner, making senseless bestial noises.

Chris shrunk back from their touch. ‘Who are they? What are they?’ he asked.

The Doctor was observing them closely. ‘Victims of Skagra's brain drain, I should think,’ he said softly, and gently took hold of one of them. The Doctor examined the face and eyes of the old man. ‘Their intellectual powers have been stolen, but their memory patterns might remain...’ he paused, deep in thought. ‘Yes! Might remain!’

‘But if only they could tell us what happened to them,’ mused Chris.

‘Yes,’ replied the Doctor, not really listening. ‘What?’

‘If only they could tell us what happened to them,’ Chris repeated.

‘Bristol!’ exclaimed the Doctor excitedly.

‘Yes?’

‘Bristol - I'd like you to do something for me.’

‘Certainly,’ replied Chris without hesitation.

‘It won't be pleasant,’ warned the Doctor.

‘Oh...’ said Chris dubiously.

Back on the bridge of the ship, the Krarg was glowing dangerously hot under K9's unrelenting blaster fire.

‘Master!’ called K9. ‘The creature is absorbing impossible amounts of energy! Master?’ But there was no reply to K9's desperate plea for help. The robot dog was alone with the Krarg.

The old men had retreated into the shadowy corners of the room, with the exception of the one whom the Doctor had examined. The Doctor led this man over to the hexagonal cone, and settled him on one of the seats. ‘Gently, there we are,’ said the Doctor soothingly. He then turned to Chris, who was seated in an adjacent seat on the cone. ‘Bristol!’

‘Yes?’ Chris nervously replied.

‘I'm going to allow this man access to your intelligence reserves.’

‘Oh,’ said Chris doubtfully.

‘It's all right!’ the Doctor assured him. ‘It's only temporary. It might just allow him to function.’

Chris watched as the Doctor crossed to one of the wall control panels and activated the still functional circuits. ‘I just hope you know what you're doing.’

‘So do I!’ admitted the Doctor. ‘So do I. Now take a deep breath...’ He moved to the cone and flicked a few switches at its base. Nothing happened. He returned to the wall controls and made a few adjustments, then tried again.

‘Now!’ he announced, and pressed a button.

Immediately, Chris convulsed and passed out. The Doctor moved over to the man next to Chris, and listened for a heartbeat. The old man's long-nailed claw-like hands began reaching for the Doctor's head. The Time Lord pulled away at his touch.

The man opened his mouth, and whispered one word, his voice full of revulsion and hatred. ‘Skagra!’

The Krarg was becoming resistant to K9's augmented blaster fire. The creature was beginning to move about and becoming redder and hotter all the time.

‘Master,’ K9 called again. ‘This creature is not only absorbing energy, it is growing stronger. Hurry Master!’ K9 edged towards the exit, still firing at the creature, but rapidly losing the battle against his overheating opponent.

‘Who are you?’ croaked the old man.

‘The Doctor.’

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Oh, just breezed in,’ replied the Doctor. ‘Now, what have you been up to, hmm? Who are you all? Skagra's accomplices?’

‘No!’ he stated emphatically. ‘My name is Caldera.’

‘What?’ the Doctor looked surprised. ‘Not Doctor A. St. John D. Caldera?’

‘The same,’ the old man confirmed. ‘You know my name?’

‘The neurologist?’

‘Yes.’

‘It's a pleasure to meet you, sir,’ said the Doctor graciously, shaking the man's crooked hand. ‘One of the great intellects of your generation.’

‘So are we all,’ Caldera observed.

‘What?’

Caldera raised a hand and began pointing out his fellows, cowering in the shadows. The Doctor went to each one and examined them briefly in turn as Caldera identified them. ‘There's A.S.T. Thira the psychologist, Professor G.V. Santori the parametricist, Doctor L.D. Ia the biologist; and Professor R.F. Akrotiri...’

‘Some of the greatest intellects in the Universe,’ said the Doctor, somewhat awed by this revelation.

‘... And Doctor Skagra,’ added Caldera bitterly.

‘Skagra!’ exclaimed the Doctor, returning to Caldera's side.

‘A geneticist and astro-engineer...’

‘What?’

‘... And cyberneticist and neuro-structuralist, and moral theorologist...’ Caldera continued.

‘Yes, and too clever by at least seven-eighths,’ the Doctor concluded. ‘But who is he? Where does he come from?’

‘We don't know,’ admitted Caldera.

‘What?’

‘But he was very impressive,’ Caldera added defensively. ‘He offered very handsome fees, so we agreed.’

‘To do what?’ the Doctor inquired.

‘Don't you see? The Think Tank was his idea. He set it up!’

‘He did?’ The Doctor was amazed. ‘To do what?’

‘The pooling of intellectual resources by electronic mind transference.’

‘What?’

‘He conceived the project on a grand scale - but just how grand we didn't realise - not at first - not until after we had built the sphere, and by then it was too late.’

‘Why? What happened?’ the Doctor asked.

‘He stole our minds!’

‘Grand scale,’ prompted the Doctor. ‘What do you mean?’

‘He stole our brains!’ moaned Caldera again, becoming very agitated.

‘Easy, easy,’ the Doctor said placatingly.

‘No!’ gasped Caldera, writhing about in the chair.

Chris was beginning to stir. ‘Easy... Shhh,’ the Doctor said encouragingly, and Caldera subsided.

‘The whole of humanity...’ the old man whispered.

‘What? The whole of humanity?’

‘The whole,’ confirmed Caldera, ‘but he needed...’

‘Needed?’ whispered the Doctor, leaning close. ‘What did he need?’

‘One mind...’

‘Whose mind?’

‘One unique mind...’

‘What mind?’ the Doctor persisted.

‘A man called...’

‘What was he called?’

‘... A man called...’ Caldera was clearly losing concentration.

‘What was he called?’ asked the Doctor again.

Caldera's face creased in a final effort, and he spat out the name. ‘Salyavin!’

The Doctor's eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open in sheer astonishment. ‘Salyavin!’ he exclaimed.

Caldera slumped forward in his chair, unconscious.

K9 disengaged from the power cable and ceased firing on the Krarg. Spinning around, the robot dog beat a hasty retreat along the passageway towards the ship's exit. The Krarg, glowing red hot, lumbered after him.

The Doctor leaned over Chris, checking his life signs. ‘Bristol?’ he called softly.

Chris's eyes fluttered open, and he gasped.

‘Bristol, are you all right?’ the Doctor asked him.

Chris considered this for a moment, and then declared brightly, ‘I feel marvellous!’

‘Good, good,’ replied the Doctor. ‘It'll pass - you're fit. Unlike those poor creatures.’ He indicated the elderly men.

‘What did you find out?’ asked Chris.

‘Not much,’ the Doctor admitted. ‘Not enough to find Skagra. Just enough to frighten me out of my wits.’

‘Unfortunate phrase,’ Chris observed, but before he could question the Doctor further, K9 burst into the room.

‘Master! Danger!’

‘K9!’ said the Doctor severely. ‘Why aren't you back at the...’ He broke off as the flaming form of the Krarg appeared in the entranceway, its footsteps leaving a smoking trail in the corridor.

The temperature immediately began to climb rapidly in the chamber, and the four conscious old men cowered away against the far wall.

‘K9! Try and keep it back!’ instructed the Doctor.

‘Power supplies at danger level,’ replied the automaton.

‘So are his!’ the Doctor countered. ‘Try!’

‘Doctor!’ called Chris, drawing the Time Lord's attention to the stricken scientists.

The Doctor moved across the room towards the scientists, but the heat from the Krarg, which had now advanced into the room, forced him back. He made for Caldera, still slumped at the cone, but the Krarg blundered into his path.

‘Doctor! Look out!’ shouted Chris.

The Doctor made for the console to shut down the power, but the Krarg raised an arm to swat the Time Lord. He ducked, and dashed back to join Chris.

The flailing arms of the Krarg were striking pieces of equipment, causing immense sparking from energy discharges. A red mist was beginning to fill the chamber, and the Krarg turned and slowly approached the Doctor and Chris, who were backed up against one wall. They could feel the intolerable heat increasing as the creature drew closer.

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Author's Notes for this chapter