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By Paul Scoones

Hushed whisperings traversed the teleporter crew as their distinguished visitor entered his destination settings, checked them twice, and then stepped onto the transmitter pad. This was indeed highly irregular, a trip into the Outer Wastes by anyone, let alone a dignitary of his importance. Undoubtedly there were those present among the crew who smelled a story with promise of reward from the Public Register Video, the Gallifreyan news service, but all refrained from such enterprising actions until they had at least performed their set tasks and sent this Time Lord on his way. After a short delay, the clearance came through on the operations console. Following standard procedure, the lateral stabilisers were checked ones more before triggering the moleculisers. A halo of almost blinding light sprang up around the figure, and in a sudden burst of radiance, his molecules dispersed along a directional beam. When the glare subsided, the Time Lord was gone.

Miles away, in the Outer Wilderness, but still within sight of the city from whence he came, the Time Lord's molecules rematerialised in a second light-flash. He felt himself over with the manner of one not used to teleporting and then looked around him, and smiled with satisfaction at the accuracy with which he had estimated the co-ordinate settings. He was standing on the side of a small mountain, a slight breeze plucking at his robes. He was old in his first body. Many of his peers had given theirs up already in favour of younger, mobile versions, but he liked this aged body of his. After a pause, he began to climb the slope, a terrain of scrub, boulders, rocky outcrops, and even the occasional spread of grass. He picked the best path through these obstacles with care, but he moved with the confident air of someone who knew the area well, although he hadn't been to this deserted place for many years. His tired old body soon began to protest, making his climbing slow and laboured, but his determination drove him onwards until he reached the base of the solitary tree growing out of the hillside.

The tree was older than he, or anyone else for that matter, could remember, and as he lowered his tired old body to the dry earth bordered by the gnarled roots, he recalled in his mind's eye, the wise old man who had been the former occupant of this very spot. He was a hermit... a monk, but also a childhood mentor. Sitting beneath the tree he had watched the great metal dome with the city complex shielded inside rise up, down there on the wild, windswept plains beyond the mountain slopes - or had he? That old hermit had kept his eyes firmly closed most of the time... closed in meditation, shut off from the outside world. Some said that he could read the future with his mind, and that was why he left for another place, because he didn't like what he'd discovered. Most cared not to ponder the implications of this, and his leaving had been hushed up in certain quarters.

The mentor's young pupil had been absent from these parts for many years prior to this pilgrimage. His concern had been with life within the city which now housed nearly all the planet's population. The vegetation had hastily grown back to hide the remains of the once-scattered, but sophisticated dwellings which had dotted the landscape once upon a time. Society had since become clean to the point of the absence of dust. It was ordered and organised by choice. The quest for knowledge had finally superceded the need to work for personal survival. One was looked after by the Capitol now. Everyone lived by codes of conduct and conformed to a rigid hierarchy by choice alone. They even had personalised codes to supplement their often overly elaborate names. The Gallifreyan sitting beneath the tree remembering his childhood mentor was guilty of just such a name. Understandably, more often than not, he was called by his code - Theta Sigma. Most called him ‘Thete’.

The last time he had been here on this spot, not long before his mentor departed, the wise old man had spoken of many things Thete regreted he had failed to comprehend. The potential good and the potential evil of the accumulated knowledge of the Time Lords stored down in the city was one of the things he had understood clearly. ‘Unused knowledge is no better than no knowledge at all, and one takes a lot less effort to come by than the other’ that was what he had said. He had also told Thete something that, through instinctive commonsense, the young pupil had never imparted to anyone else. He had spoken of a time of great complacency in Gallifreyan society coupled with the decaying of the ‘old ways’, and followed by a period of great unrest and upheaval. ‘Sooner or later, this time of turmoil will come, and when it does, you must be able to survive. You will see it coming if you watch and learn. Most observe the Universe, and yet can't tell you what's going on in their own city. So much for total knowledge, eh?’

The words were as clear in Thete's mind now as when had first heard them all those years ago. ‘You must recognise the signs and act accordingly. Follow in my footsteps and I can assure your safety’. That last phrase was troubling him the most. His mentor had never given him such advice before, and certainly not since. Age had made Thete wise; he now understood better than ever before what it was that his teacher had been telling him. Those displaced words of advice from his long-past days as a student had gradually taken on an uncomfortable truth. Reality was catching up with the old hermit's prophesy.

Gallifrey had become stagnant. Nothing like the exciting years of his childhood. Then life must have been lonely for that ancient old man who sat under a tree behind his house day after day, month after month, year after year under his tree, cross-legged, half way up the mountain behind the house where Thete used to live. Then things had been happening, the culmination of years of work in the erection of a great dome to house their civilisation. It was true that Gallifrey had boasted great cities prior to the building of the dome, but this was their crowning achievement. Everyone under one roof, secure and protected in a totally controlled environment, safe in the knowledge of the added protection of the recently-perfected transduction barrier. The Time Lords had always pursued knowledge, but it was in Thete's generation that they shook off the last threads in the wholehearted and single-minded pursuit of it.

Thete wasn't entirely sure why he had felt the strong compulsion to return to this spot after all these years, but he did know that for the first time since the old hermit departed, he badly needed his advice. If his mentor had been right - and he had been so far - then Gallifrey was soon to experience something that Thete knew he couldn't be a part of. He had always had a strong instinct for survival - his formal teacher, Cardinal Borusa of the Academy of Prydonians had pointed that out on more than one occasion. But it was not only his survival, but that of others that mattered to Thete; it was this quality that had induced him to rescue a member of the High Council from certain destruction in a malfunctioning time ellipse vortex. It had brought him an excellent reputation in lime Lord circles, a rejuvenation of his body awarded by the High Council saving him from a first regeneration brought on by the extreme age of his body, and the promise of a place on the Council and the training leading up to it. Thete was now one of those Councillors; in fact he was strongly tipped to succeed the President when he was due to retire in twenty or so years.

But such elevation in status had not clouded his mind to the learnings of his childhood. The words of his mentor were etched on his mind. Down there, in the city, he knew for a fact that a relatively small but determined group were secretly opposed to the staid existence of the Gallifreyan Time Lord. Open rebellion was a certainty, it was just a matter of when. Thete had no guilt on this matter; he had tried in vain to make his worst fears known to the usually understanding higher members of the Council, but none would listen. They were so complacent after over eight hundred years of peaceful studious learnings and quiet everyday surroundings that such a concept was incomprehensible. They saw rebellions on other worlds all the time, sometimes successful, sometimes not, sometimes with bloodshed, sometimes not, but they could not even imagine it applied to their own world. Thete had no idea why he was so aware of this approaching danger whilst they remained so unaware. But he did know what he had to do now. Returning to this spot had somehow reassured him that the mentor wasn't some childhood fantasy, elaborate though it may have been.

Thete struggled to his feet, and started to descend the slope, back the way he had come. There was much to be done if he was to follow in his mentor's footsteps and leaven Gallifrey before it was too late - if it wasn't already. A momentary feeling of coldness fell on him like a blanket and he rapidly quickened his pace. It was if just for a moment, he had been able to see what lay within the walls of the city, what was going on in there at that very moment, what lay ahead for Gallifrey, and also for Thete.

He thought fast as he hurried across the rugged ground. The key to it all was in obtaining a time ship, and he was scheduled to inspect the maintenance bays for the older TARDIS craft - there was his chance. His qualifications would be more than sufficient to enable him to pilot one of the time ships - he did have a Doctorate, after all. A top-ranking degree was what he had, and he was well known as ‘the Doctor’ because of it. Not many Time Lords had done what he was about to do, but it was without a doubt the first stepping stone to many things to come...

This item appeared in TSV 1 (July 1987).

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