The Shadow Makers Part Two by Joe Ford
I don’t know quite where to begin but I guess it should be from the moment I left you. I stepped from the TARDIS into a huge laboratory, like the ones back on Earth where they developed weapons technology to fight the Daleks. I tried to get some sort of reaction from the scientists, waving my hands before their faces but it was clear to me that they couldn’t see me. Events were repeating, I realised that quickly, it was like somebody winding a watch back 30 seconds and playing the same events over and over. I wondered briefly if I was the only person who realised this and if I would be living out these 30 seconds for the rest of my life.
When I did break free of the loop I was greet by a strikingly beautiful woman. Rich red hair that cascaded down her shoulders and piercing green eyes, she shook my hand warmly and had a sweet, woody aroma about her. She introduced herself as Eleanor Novik, head of the Time Travel Research Division of the planet Manalex Alpha. I had been trapped within one of their experiments. They were testing their time travel technology, observing the effects of localised temporal repetition. No doubt you would find this much more fascinating than me, Doctor. To me it just sounded like another pointless war but this time with a far more dangerous battlefield than the one I was used to. Fighting with time technology would surely have disastrous consequences for both sides and it was probably all over some obscure detail that has grown out of proportion. When I realised the TARDIS had gone, my heart felt as though it had been crushed. Was I to remain trapped on this planet, as far away in time as I was in space during my imprisonment in the Mechanoid City?
For a month or so I moped about the City, uncommunicative and sullen, a petulant child lost in a strange world. I refused to acknowledge the beauty of this world. I wish you could have seen Manalex Alpha from the viewing port on the top of the Dome at Selafan. A lush, verdant world of exotic flora and beautiful colours, a stretch of forest, disappearing into the distance. Eleanor took me to the viewing port every night as the twin suns set, and the light would spill across the surface like a brilliant burst of orange before it plunged into darkness. For some reason she thought of me as her own little project and despite my resistance she wouldn’t give up on this moody outsider. I wouldn’t admit it at the time but her efforts were working and I was enjoying our time together. She used to tease me at my stubbornness and poked me in the ribs to make me laugh. I found her company charming.
I kept thinking you would return for me but after a few months that dream started to fade. After all we have only been travelling together for a month or so and you never asked me to join you in the first place, I just sort of thrust myself upon you. I started to make friends. Eleanor introduced me to her neighbours, Nebrox and Pellan, a married couple who had met during their work together at the TTR laboratories. They were funny guys, squabbling like old women. Nebrox’s laugh sounded hilariously like an elephants trumpeting and Pellan was a fantastic cook. It was during a meal with the three of them that I realised how much I was enjoying my time in the Dome and that I had now been on this planet longer than I had been travelling in the TARDIS. Eleanor proposed that night that I should join the research programme. She had spotted my expertise from the first time we met.
I had a very minor role within the programme, as much as Eleanor trusted to ask me to move into her quarters she clearly didn’t trust me to view the capsule. In the back of my mind I was wondering if I had manipulated her. She had told me about the capsule on our first meeting and I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling that I could use it to reach you once more Doctor or even return home. I knew I could lay on the charm when I wanted and no woman can resist the Taylor Technique, as it had been known during my training back home. Keep them at arms length, make them laugh and reel them in. That’s how I got involved with Christina, the psychological evaluator back at the Academy. She gave me her stuffed panda bear before I left on the mission that eventually left me stranded on Mechanus.
I had been on Malanex Alpha for around eight months when I managed to get more information about the capsule from Pellan. Nebrox was working late and I pushed my friend for more information about the war over dinner. It was far more civilised than the brutality of the Earth Empire’s conflict with the Daleks, two colonies on the same planet and both with their fingers poised to attack the other. The Selafan’s had sent an Emissary into the future who had returned with the most terrifying injuries, his arm withered away like old fruit and with a tale of a missing year that the two sides were fighting over. I asked how they had managed to develop time travel technology; I had seen nothing here to suggest that sort of technical knowledge. Pellan looked nervous and looked over his shoulder before telling me, like a rabbit trapped in headlights. He never was a particularly good liar and he wasn’t going to try it on with me now. The Research facility was a con; they had never developed the technology. A time craft visited Manalex Alpha and it had been appropriated and a prisoner taken. The government were sure this was Voltrani technology from the future, a device to head back in time and weaken their defences and leave them open to invasion. That made my mind up. I had to see this ship. I had terrible images of you and Vicki languishing in some prison cell whilst the TARDIS was experimented on.
The next day I had to make sure that everything seemed normal. I shared breakfast with Eleanor and we showered together. Guilt was gnawing at my mind, I was very fond of Eleanor now but Pellan’s tale had brought back a rush of feelings about a possible escape and a reunion with you and Vicki. We took the hover bus to the facility and I manned my console in my usual monotonous routine. Reading energy displays was hardly the most thrilling job I had ever had but at least it had been a foot in the door. Checking that nobody was looking, I pressed Eleanor against the console I was working on and embraced her warmly. She slapped me away, smiling and failed to notice my hand unclipping her identification. My heart was racing, an ache building in my head, if I was caught now it was all over and I would have lost my opportunity. I excused myself, having to get this done now.
Nebrox was manning the entrance to the secure area. Damn. What had I come to, lying to my friends and loved ones? I put on my best poker face and told Nebrox that Eleanor had asked me to check on the capsule. He was a surly, ruddy man and the confusion that crossed his face told me that I had been rumbled. Suddenly he collapsed into that mad hooting laughter of his and he said it wasn’t what you knew but who and clearly I was going up in the world. I felt awful, he would probably get into terrible trouble for this but despite that I swiped Eleanor’s ID and entered the chamber. I was determined to see this through.
It was bleached blood red, just like the squadron ships I used to fly in silent running mode to avoid Dalek patrol saucers. Electric blue flickers danced over the capsule at the end of the room, a battered blue police box with minty blue windows. The TARDIS! I ran across to the ship and pressed my head against its humming exterior. I had never been so happy to see that grotty old box, Doctor. Now I needed to discover where you and Vicki were being held.
The cells weren’t hard to find despite the low lighting and my paranoia eating away at my sanity. The guard ushered me through. Clearly just having access to the secure area was enough to grant you entrance anywhere within this section. There was a woman crouched in the corner of the furthest cell, hiding her face and weeping. I wanted to rush into the cell and hug you Vicki, to let you know everything would be okay. She must have heard me coming and uncurled herself, tears streaming down her face. It wasn’t Vicki. She looked furious and asked who I was. I introduced myself and she told me her name was Tegan Jovanka.
Before I could ask her anything alarms sounded and a strobe light blinded me. The guards restrained me violently, as though they hadn’t had the chance to rough anybody up for a long time. Naturally Eleanor was furious. She struck my face and grabbed my cheek with her razor sharp nails. She thought Tegan was a Voltrani spy and that I had infiltrated the Dome to help her escape. The Time Capsule, the TARDIS, was supposedly of Voltrani design and they had captured the machine seven months ago and had been running experiments on it ever since, developing a rudimentary understanding of its practices. This poor woman had been trapped in this cell on her own for seven months. Tegan was a feisty one for sure and the sudden chance to rail against her captors brought out the fire in her. I detected a twang of an accent, the Australasian zone perhaps?
I will never forget what happened next for as long as I live. Eleanor demanded that I reveal my intentions and my allegiances to the Voltrani. I refused to be intimidated, despite the fact that my arm was being twisted from its socket. Eleanor gave me one more chance but I remained square jawed in stony silence. She removed a device from her lab coat and pointed it at Tegan. A look of horror crossed the prisoners face as a beam of light crossed the threshold of the cell and enveloped her. I watched as her skin started to peel and blister, wither and wrinkle and she shrank into an old woman before my eyes. Tegan fell to the floor, a dirty grey husk and her clothes disintegrated to dust. Watching somebody age to death was the most horrific thing I had ever seen and I prayed I would never see anything like that again.
I thought it was my turn next but instead I was shoved into the cell. When they left me I sank to my knees and tears flowed, all my frustration and anguish pouring out of me. A prisoner again. Eleanor visited every day for months and I could see the resentment grow in her eyes with each visit. They never even bothered to take the blistered skeleton away. Eleanor never knew but Nebrox would sneak in for five minutes a day and give me news from Pellan and share a joke. He was a good man. Somehow he could see that I wasn’t a threat even if Eleanor could not. I kept reaching for Hi-fi, memories of Mechanus forcing me to seek that small comfort but he was in my room in the TARDIS.
Imagine four months of nothing. Just sitting. Thinking. Scant conversation and only a rotted skeleton for company. You ‘d think after years on Mechanus I would be used to this sort of thing but the borderm consumes you.
Voices arguing up the corridor. Shadows stretching along the floor, getting closer. Nebrox and Pellan were whispering furiously, shoving at each other. I could have wept at seeing Pellan again. They had come to help me escape although Nebrox was terrified of the consequences. Things had gone too far, Pellan told me. Eleanor had worked on the time travel technology with renewed vigour after my disloyalty. She had developed the temporal acceleration device into something on a much more impressive scale and the government had decided it was time for the Voltrani to pay for their deceitful infiltration and development of the time technology. I didn’t need to be told any more. The three of us stormed from the prison and I noted the guard lying unconscious, a bloody gash gouged from his skull.
If my betrayal had cut Eleanor deeply you should have seen her face when she realised who had helped me escape confinement. This had made her mind up, the Voltrani were a true menace, turning even the most loyal of heads to their cause. Nebrox could see she was programming the device to target the Voltrani Dome. He rushed at her but she quickly produced a gun and ripped three holes in his chest. I saw a pained look strike Pellan and he rushed to his lover’s side. Eleanor threw the lever and the enormous viewing screen came to life. Scientists held their mouths as if they were about to be sick as the blinding bolt of scarlet temporal energy tore across the surface of the planet and shattered the Voltrani Dome. You could see buildings accelerating into disrepair, people looking up and pointing at the inferno in the sky and crumbling into a fine grey powder, the plants withering to mulch. The City aged to death in less time than it took Eleanor to throw the lever.
My stomach twisted with revulsion and not even bullets could have stopped me reaching my ex lover now. She looked terrified as I drew myself to my full height and grappled with her. Pellan was weeping over his husband’s dead body. A City teeming with life had decayed before my eyes. What had I done to this world?
12 months. That’s how long I had been on Malanex Alpha. 12 months to bring this planet down. I knew what I had to do. After securing Eleanor I dragged Pellan from Nebrox and instructed him. Because I knew now. I knew why the missing year had vanished. It was me. I started this war by saving the Voltrani. I wasn’t going to let these terrible events take place when we had a chance to reverse them.
Pellan used the time equipment to clutch the planet in its claws and reverse events like ripping a page from a book. It was the oddest of sensations; time reversing felt like somebody was literally inside your head rewriting your history with furious intensity. I wondered why I wasn’t whipped back in time a year and how despite knowing that things had changed and my time on Malanex Alpha had never happened, I could still remember everything. A gift of the TARDIS, I suppose. Or a curse.
The laboratory was buzzing with life again. Eleanor was working at her console, passing equations to Nebrox and on the scanner the Voltrani Dome sparkled in the mid morning suns. The year had vanished – events had gone from when I arrived to now in the blink of an eye.
A wheezing and groaning sound echoed from the next room. As I passed a scanner on the way out I could see I had a full beard and my hair was flecked with grey. An effect of the time distortion? Or had that happened whilst I had been imprisoned? There you were, and Vicki and I could have wept with joy.
The Doctor patted Steven on the shoulder and handed him a glass of water.
‘Oh my dear Steven what an ordeal you have suffered’ he remarked, sitting in the chair next to him and steepling his fingers together close to his face and tapping his lip with them.
‘What’s wrong, Doctor?’ asked Vicki, still mesmerised by the emotion with which Steven had recounted his missing year on Malanex Alpha.
‘Don’t you see my dilemma, my child? If it wasn’t my TARDIS that Steven saw powering their wretched experiments then who’s was it, hmm? And who was this Jovanka woman that Steven speaks of? A dangerous business, messing about with time. Yes, very dangerous indeed.’ He stood up again, lost in his thoughts and walked towards the central console. His hands hovered over the controls, as if he was drawing power from them.
‘You don’t mean to say we’re just going to leave this mystery unsolved?’ Vicki asked, astonished.
‘Oh Vicki my dear sometimes it is better not to know. We have Steven back and with a few weeks rest and relaxation he will be as right as rain.’
Vicki sighed. She knew better than to argue with the Doctor when hiswas mind was made up. She led Steven to the living quarters. She would look after him until he was better.
The Doctor coaxed the ship into flight and leant on the hexagonal console, his dark eyes lit up by the flashing lights. He knew he couldn’t explain the intricacies of time travel to the child but this had been a close miss if one of his later selves had been out their involved in the war of this planet. He wondered when he would visit Malanex Alpha again and if it would be in this body accompanied by this Jovanka woman.
A flicker of a smile crossed his face. What an interesting life they led.
Part one of our fiction strand, and an adventure for the First Doctor, Steven and Vicki....
The Shadow Makers
It was Steven who noticed it first. The noise was barely discernable, yet the blinking light was unmistakable. He checked and double-checked before shouting for the Doctor, not wanting the old man to dismiss him with a wave of his hand and a curt word – he was used to that.
The Doctor took his time, not hurrying but ensuring when he did arrive that he scrutinised the console for minutes, striving to ascertain that what Steven had said was indeed correct.
To Steven the time seemed to pass imperceptibly slowly, the Doctor putting on and removing his half moon spectacles what seemed like dozens of times. It was he who was getting impatient, the Doctor’s measured approach irritating him. His patience was usually so great – all that time held captive by the Mechanoids had meant that he’d needed to keep sane, and being patient was the only way to do that. His mind occupied itself, until eventually, he’d thought, rescue would come. And indeed it did, in the form of the elderly gentlemen who was now severely testing that patience.
“Well come on Doctor, is it or isn’t it?” He couldn’t wait any longer for an answer so he had to force it out of the old man.
The Doctor didn’t seem to have heard him at first – or at least he feigned deafness, another trait that was all too commonplace thought Steven. Then, the Doctor looked up at his travelling companion and nodded sagely. “You were very wise to bring this to my attention, very wise indeed. It seems to be some kind of message.”
Steven nodded. “That’s what I thought. But is it a distress signal? Or some sort of alien ‘hello’?” He paused. “Or maybe it’s some sort of advertisement? That’s the sort of thing they were talking about when I was last on Earth, before the wars.”
The Doctor waved his hands in Steven’s direction. “None of those dear boy, or unless...” He raised a finger to his lips, seeming deep in thought. “Unless of course it’s all of them, hmm...”
“All of what?” Vicki yawned as she strolled into the console room.
Steven pointed at the blinking light on the console and watched as Vicki followed his own gaze. She then looked to the Doctor, and then back to Steven who nodded as if answering a question that need not be spoken.
The Doctor turned to Vicki. “Ah my child, you’re awake. Steven and I were discussing what sort of message this light here was indicating.”
Steven rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Hardly a discussion.” The scowl he got from the Doctor showed that he’d definitely heard this time. Steven smiled pleasantly in an attempt to placate him, the Doctor hurrumphing all the while.
The Doctor was about to speak when Vicki beat him to it. “We’ve landed!” The noise around the room was eerily quiet. The TARDIS’s central column had stopped, the cacophony of sound that accompanied it also gone. The travellers looked at each other in confusion, and turned almost simultaneously at the faint noise of the scanner screen turning on.
The image that presented itself was nothing especially unusual. A couple of white coated scientists were milling about in a vast laboratory, the TARDIS not seeming to take much of their attention.
“Any ideas where we are Doctor?” Vicki was staring intently at the screen, watching the men moving around. She wasn’t sure, but something seemed a little odd about their movements.
The Doctor too was studying the image closely, scrutinising the actions of the figures. Suddenly another figure had appeared in the room, one the Doctor recognised all too well. He whirled around, and his suspicions were confirmed immediately.
“He’s gone! Just walked out of those doors, the impetuous young fellow!” The Doctor moved to the ship’s entrance himself, but as he approached, the doors seemed to shut of their own accord.
Vicki was staring at the screen now, watching Steven attempt to engage the men in conversation. “Doctor, they’re ignoring him! It’s as if he’s invisible!”
“Yes, yes that’s very interesting.” The Doctor looked back to the screen, his brief anger subsiding as he watched the two men still ignoring Steven. He saw Steven attempt to contact them, waving a hand in front of their faces, but no recognition. The two men at various times stood directly in front of the TARDIS but seemed to have no awareness of it.
Vicki squinted at the screen, the movements of the men puzzling her. “Doctor, is it me or...”
The both stood gazing at the screen for a couple of minutes, the figures moving back to the positions they’d started in. “It’s some kind of loop! Yes, the same actions repeated.” The Doctor chuckled. “How very strange my child!” Yet the realisation of what else this meant suddenly dawned on him as Steven began to repeat his own actions, moving towards the TARDIS, trying to attract the attention of the men, then starting again. And again.
The Doctor looked at Vicki, who stared at him open mouthed. “But Steven’s trapped out there! We have to help him!” She made for the door, the Doctor following as fast as he could. Yet both had barely moved when the scanner flickered off, and the ship began the elephantine trumpeting that signalled its departure.
“No, no, no!” The Doctor moved around the console with surprising speed, trying with all his might to stop the Ship from moving, but to no avail.
“Doctor, you’ve got to do something! We can’t abandon Steven there! We don’t even know where he is!”
The Doctor chose not to react, instead turning away from the console in frustration. “Infernal time distortion! That’s what it is my child.” He raised a hand. “But don’t worry we’ll get Steven back.” Under his breath and out of Vicki’s eyeshot he added, “I hope.”
Steven paced around the room, surveying the equipment that was covering the workbenches. He looked up, noticing the TARDIS had disappeared. He hadn’t heard it move, so assumed the Doctor had been doing something with the Ship. The Doctor may have been irritated by his leaving the ship, but he wouldn’t go to such extremes as taking off without him. Would he? After all he seemed to have no control over it, so there was no guarantee he’d return...he shook his head, dismissing the thought, and went back to his examination of the room.
There were no windows, but a great deal of artificial light from two hovering globes positioned equidistant from each other at each end of the room. The two men he’d seen had faces obscured by masks, the outfits there were wearing resembling radiation suits. They seemed to be talking, but Steven heard nothing of the conversation.
Suddenly, an alarm sounded, and Steven watched as one of the man ran and consulted a screen. He stood behind the figure, the other man completely oblivious as to his presence. Steven read from the screen, mouthing the words to himself as he stood back and the man seemed to pass right through him. Chronon particle leakage. Evacuate room immediately.
The two men made for a door in the far wall, Steven dashing to join them....and found himself staring at the TARDIS once more, or where it had been. He tried to talk to the men, heard the alarm, looked at the screen – and only then realised the events were repeating themselves as he made for the door once again....and was back staring at empty space once again, the alarm gone.
The process happened time and again, on each turn Steven remembering a little earlier exactly what was happening. Soon, he was aware of it from start to finish, though enable to change his actions, as though he were being forced to re-enact them against his will.
It was when he heard the unmistakable sound of the TARDIS engines that the door to the room opened, the men leaving through it, that the loop stopped. The door shut behind him, trapping him as his body began to feel heavy. His eyes closed, his legs gave way, and he found himself falling to the floor.
The chronon particles swept over him as he slept, time literally changing around him.
As he opened his eyes after what seemed like aeons, he knew immediately what had occurred.
He just didn’t know how to reverse it.
The time ship appeared before him, tearing the very air around it apart as it did so. The blue box solidified as several armed guards took up a firing stance around it, each eager to fire the first shot at the enemy.
General Munro looked at the box curiously. It wasn’t like the ones they’d seen before. It was rather fanciful for a craft of war, as if someone had designed it for more aesthetic than practical purposes. Even then, it wasn’t the most pleasing of sights, though greatly more so than the wretched devices that usually manifested themselves.
The other thing that puzzled him was how the machine had appeared in central control. The barriers usually meant that the enemy were deflected to the perimeter of the city, no matter how hard they’d tried to land close to the operations centre.
Was it possible that the ship contained an outsider? Had the Voltrani started employing mercenaries from off-world? And if so, how had the communication broken through the chrono-sphere?
He walked around the object, deep in thought. He tentatively put a hand to the surface of the box. It felt like wood, but the sensation in his fingers was like pin and needles. It didn’t hurt per se, but felt uncomfortable. Against his better judgement he put an ear to the side of the machine, a faint humming resonating against his ear drum.
This is no enemy vessel, he reasoned. This is our means to win the war!
He motioned at the men to stand down, hoping it would provoke the occupants of the craft to step outside. Moments later an elderly man and a young girl stepped out of the box, and General Munro hurried forward to greet them.
Steven opened his eyes and studied his surroundings carefully. He was in the same room, but there appeared to be thriving activity around him, people carefully conducting experiments at the workbenches. He wasn’t at all sure what the experiments concerned, but was keen to learn more, if only to get himself out of his predicament.
A hand reached down to him to helped him to his feet, which immediately surprised him. “You can see me? And feel me?” he asked the young woman who’d assisted him.
“Yes of course. Now perhaps you can explain what you were doing lying in the middle of a laboratory?” There was a faint smile as she spoke, Steven hoping he could use that to his advantage, turn on the old space pilot charm. If he could remember how! All those years in confinement didn’t help when it came to social niceties.
“Well, I’m not really sure. One moment I was in this room with two men, neither of whom could see or hear me, and then I was in this room with you.” He paused, remembered what he’d seen on the screen. “I have a feeling I’ve been displaced in time. Does your research involve chronon particles?”
At those words, several pairs of eyes turned to him and he smiled his best smile in an attempt to cover himself. The figures turned back to their work immediately, but Steven realised that it was more to do with the dismissive wave that his assistor had given rather than his own efforts.
The woman took him to one side. “How do you know about that? This research unit is top secret, high level clearance only. There’s talk of a war coming, after the accident. Are you a spy?”
Steven held up his hands in protest. “I’ve just arrived here! I’ve no idea where I am or who you are. My ship has vanished without me and I’m stranded by the looks of it.”
The woman eyed him suspiciously, though extended a hand by way of greeting. Steven took it and shook. “Professor Eleanor Novik, head of the TTR Division here. This planet is Manalex Alpha and you’re standing in the city-dome of Selafan. Any more questions?”
“Steven Taylor, and just one – TTR?”
“Time Travel Research. Though it seems you know a little about that already.” Novik looked him over, still trying to determine whether he posed any threat. If so, he knew a considerable amount, but still...
“You said there’s talk of a war. What is it this time - land, money, fuels?” Steven thought back to his last fight, trying to remember the exact cause of it, and still not entirely sure what it was. All those years trapped and he never knew the real reason why.
“You mean you don’t know?” Novik looked genuinely surprised. “Oh Mr Taylor, it’s something far more precious than land or money. It’s stolen time.”
“They don’t look very friendly. Why can’t we land somewhere nice for a chance, where people go out of their way to help us?” Vicki asked the Doctor after watching the guards assemble around the TARDIS.
“Well my dear, I’m afraid that a lot of the universe is full of closed minds. If we can open them a little, perhaps one day we shall find a society of enlightenment, hmm?” He grasped his lapels and stared at the now working scanner screen. “Look! They’re laying down their arms! What an extraordinary sight! Come, child, let us go and make our peace before they chance their minds!”
The Doctor operated the doors controls, Vicki helping him on with his cape as they made for the doors. As they stepped outside, the soldiers made no movement to raise their weapons, and a solitary figure moved to greet them.
“Welcome friend, welcome. I am General Munro of the Selafan Concordance. You craft is a time ship is it not?”
The Doctor looked to Vicki, giving her a look that conveyed the fact that he’d been impressed already. “Why yes young man, it is indeed a time ship. You have knowledge of such things?”
The General nodded. “We have knowledge of such things. Indeed we intend to win the war with our own devices. Yet, we need an edge, and we feel that your craft is unique enough to give us that edge.”
The Doctor’s face soured. “A war you say? No, I’ll have no part in it! A petty squabble over religion or land no doubt! No, that sir is where I draw the line.” The Doctor stood up to his full height, level with the General.
The General’s face softened. “Come now, traveller, you know this conflict is different! This war is of far greater importance than any feud over land rights!”
“I know nothing of the kind! What wretched place is this anyhow?” The Doctor’s ire had been inflamed by the talk of conflict. With it came death and destruction, pain and misery, and the Doctor wanted no part of it.
The General looked to his men, then to Vicki, then back to the Doctor. “You don’t know of us? You mean you weren’t sent here, to Manalex Alpha?”
At the mention of the planet’s name, Vicki’s ears pricked up. Before the Doctor could offer another indignant reply, Vicki spoke. “Did you say Manalex Alpha? The Manalex Alpha?”
The General furrowed his eyebrows. “The only one we are aware of, why?”
Vicki turned to the Doctor. “Do you mean you haven’t heard the legends of this war, Doctor, about what they are fighting for? About what happened here?”
The Doctor sighed. “No, for once I am in the dark, my child. But you know of this place?”
Vicki nodded. “My father used to talk of the war here. He said it had been going on for as long as he could remember, yet it also seemed to have always only just started.”
“Don’t talk in riddles child? Whatever do you mean?”
The General watched, equally confused, as Vicki continued. “He said they’d been fighting, fighting over something very important, but as a child it made no sense to me.” The Doctor gave her a look to encourage her to continue. “He said...he said they’d been fighting over a missing year!”
“A year? Missing? That’s ridiculous! How can time disappear?” Steven looked incredulous.
“That’s what we’re attempting to find out Mr Taylor. The current theory is that the Voltrani – the indigenous population here – have taken it, done something with it. No one can remember what happened in that year, but it’s thought that it was something vital.” Novik watched as Steven processed the information.
“Well, I’ll have to believe you because I know nothing about the place. So your research, this is all in aid of finding out what happened?”
Novik nodded. “We’ve got to find out what it was before we sustain any more damage. We’ve been building our own time craft ready for the first assault of the Voltrani. We won’t strike unless they do, but that threat is growing ever closer.”
Steven sighed. He couldn’t believe was he was about to say, but he had little choice. “I’ve fought before, and I have a limited knowledge of time travel. Since I appear to have been abandoned here, can I help in any way?”
Novik smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that. Let’s give you a scan first, and then I’ll fill you in on everything.”
So, this is what becomes of me then, thought Steven, back in the fight once more. Goodbye Doctor, I hope I can make a life here. He followed Novik out of the room with a heavy heart, but certain that his destiny was now decided for him.
“Well, well, well, that is something isn’t it? Fighting over time! Now I’ve heard it all!” The Doctor looked to the General for confirmation of Vicki’s tale, though he knew he had no reason not to believe her.
“It’s true Doctor, every word of it. And you still refuse to help us?” the General asked.
“Conflict is conflict, no matter what the cause. I cannot allow myself or Vicki to be drawn into such a brutal and barbarous undertaking. No, I stand resolute that I will not offer my help.” The Doctor almost stamped down a foot, as if marking a full stop at the end of his sentence.
“And you child? Is this your wish also?” The General turned to Vicki.
Vicki nodded. “I’ve seen enough bloodshed in my travels. I don’t want any on my conscience thank you very much!”
The General stood tall. “Very well.” He spoke into a small device on his wrist. “Commander, I am sorry to involve you, but a rogue element will not cooperate.”
“Rogue element! Do you mean me sir?” The Doctor looked affronted once more, but the General didn’t reply.
The device on the General’s wrist bleeped as if turning off, and mere moments later a door at the far end of the room opened. Through it stepped two armed guards, flanking the Commander that the General had spoken to.
The man’s face had a full beard and his hair was flecked with grey, but as Vicki looked she realised exactly who it was.
“Steven!” She rushed up to him, and hugged him, Steven dismissing the guards as she did so.
“Hello Vicki, it’s been a long time.” He smiled at her, then looked to the Doctor, striding forward with a hand outstretched. The Doctor grasped it with both of his own and shook it vigorously.
“Steven, so good to see you my boy! I see you’ve made a home for yourself here then, hmm?”
Steven shrugged. “Well what choice did I have? You left me here!”
The Doctor shook his head. “No, not at all, not at all. The Ship took off again of its own accord just after you left!” He pointed around. “Now these men here want to take command of it, for their own nefarious ends!”
A sad smile crossed Steven’s face. “I’m sorry Doctor, but this is a war. We need all the resources we can get.”
Vicki strode up to him. “How can you be so callous? That’s not the Steven I knew!”
He looked at her, and gave her a sly wink, imperceptible to anyone save her and the Doctor. “I’m sorry Vicki, but in times of war...”
She shook her head. “No, no I won’t believe it.” She ran, back into the TARDIS.
“See what you’ve done, upsetting the poor girl! This won’t do at all!” The Doctor made to leave, but Steven held onto his shoulder.
“Oh no, you’re not going in there without me.” He turned to the guards. “If I’m not out in 5 minutes, come in after me. You have my permission to shoot them if they resist.”
The Doctor was muttering as he walked, Steven giving him a little shove through the doorway.
The General looked on. The war would be won with this craft. Yes, the war would be won.
As the travellers entered the TARDIS, Vicki closed the doors behind them and looked up at Steven and smiled. The first thing she noticed was that his beard was gone, the grey vanished from his hair.
The Doctor chuckled. “Well done my boy, well done! A very clever little ploy there!”
Steven felt up to his face and noticed the changes too. “I was hoping that would happen.”
“The internal dimension of the Ship is quite different to out there. Time seems to be something of a mystery out there.”
Steven looked at him. “You don’t know the half of it! We need to get away from this place though, and quickly.”
The Doctor fiddled with controls on the console, and the ship began its far from noiseless take off procedure.
Vicki sidled up to Steven and gave him a small punch in the arm. “You nearly had me going there.”
Steven smiled at her. “Sorry about that. But I had to make sure we got out of that place. I’ve got a long story to tell you both.”
The Doctor collapsed into a chair. “Thank goodness for that! Now, do tell us this tale dear boy, and then we can forget about this whole wretched business.”
“Alright,” said Steven, “but get yourself comfortable. It’s going to be a long tale.”