The Doctor clapped his hands over his ears. The stranger backed up, shocked. Not having the advantages of fleshy paws or external ears, there was nothing he could do to blot out the noise. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you… wait – are you from a class 6 civilisation?”
The Doctor stepped in front of him, gently pushing his companions away. “Look, I’m terribly sorry. My friends and I… we’ve all had a very stressful time of it lately and… you rather…”
“That’s quite alright,” the stranger said, lowering his antennae in a sign of greeting. “I’m Redoc,” he said bowing, “I’m a doctor, if I can help…”
“I found your humans,” Paracletus said, standing up quickly. “They are in the central plaza – here.” The wall display cleared to show the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan hugging each other, and a large well-dressed male insectoid. “They’re causing quite a disturbance – it’s already affected your Joy quotient I’m afraid. I’ve put a force dome around them so none of the other visitors can see or hear what is going on. Would you like them brought here?”
“Goodness, no! We’ve no facilities for… wait, what’s that?” Jamit pointed at the bio-neural display that appeared above the Doctor’s head.
“Yes,” said Paracletus, sighing. “I didn’t want to make your day any worse. He’s a Galifreyan.”
“A Time Lord?” Jamit collapsed heavily into the chair the hologram had just vacated. “We haven’t had one of those for… sixty years?”
“Sixty-two years. There’s more I’m afraid.” Paracletus walked over to a dispenser in the wall, and came back with a squat, ornate ice-frosted glass tumbler containing a golden liquid, and pressed it into Jamit’s quivering hands.
“It’s the same one. Last time he was here… “ The display split into two, one being the live feed, another from the past. The optical feed was entirely taken up with some strange hand held device, which was suddenly withdrawn with a flick of the wrist of its user – revealing the face. The same blonde hair… but that was where the similarity ended. A young humanoid woman smiled straight out of the screen.
“…he was female. And, the female version that came here 62 years ago, was centuries older than this one.”
Jamit took a long drink, the spicy alcohol filing his nose – but the distraction only lasted seconds.
“Paradox? You’re telling me we have potential time paradox as well?”
Paracletus walked away from the screen, combing back his hair with the fingers of one hand. “That might be the worst case scenario, but look at this way. The older version of the Time Lord that came back here clearly suffered no ill effect on her first visit. And in all the records, she never mentioned at any time, even privately to her companions, that she had been here before.”
“Perhaps we simply put her back – put him back… will put him back in his capsule before he… he can do any more damage?”
“Well, I’m going to put them in custody until you decide what you want done with them. That’s up to you of course… though you might want to see what the council thinks. Be seeing you.” The hologram bowed and faded away.
Jamit sighed. “I knew today was going to be a bad day…”
“I’m… sorry, Doctor… Redoc,” said Nyssa, drying her cheeks with her hands. “I shouldn’t have reacted like that… it… you surprised us. And it’s been such a long time since I’ve met a non-humanoid being.”
“That’s quite all right,” said Redoc, bowing again and offering her a silk handkerchief that coordinated with his suit. “Please – keep it. Looking the way I do, and sometimes travelling to… if you’ll pardon me… undeveloped worlds… it’s something that I, my species, have come to expect in some ways. There are individuals on my home worlds with similar… feelings… toward mammalian species.”
A few metres away, Tegan buried her face in the Doctor’s chest.
“It’s just… horrible!” she said, her voice muffled by the Doctor’s lapel.
“I’m sorry, Tegan. It’s all my fault, “said the Doctor. “I should have realised that the other visitors to the planet might… well… be a surprise to you. We’ve been through so much already and seen so many places, it didn’t occur to me. But really, you have absolutely nothing to fear from any of the species on this planet. In many ways, Redoc over there shares more evolutionary history and DNA with you than I do. It’s really his suit you should be ruining trying to get away from me!”
Tegan looked up at his face, and then at the damp smudge on the Doctor’s coat. But before she could say anything, a figure materialised next to them. A man, wearing a scarlet uniform, cuirass and helmet, and a long white cape. Some sort of pistol hung from a belt at his right hip.
“My lord, if you and your companions will come this way…” he said to the Doctor.
“Who’s that?” said Tegan, standing back and pointing.
“That is a Chancellery Guard, or at least the approximation of one. You are…”
“I am a manifestation of Paracletus, the intelligence that runs this planet. Really, you must come with me.”
“Intelligence?” said Nyssa, stepping forward.
“You mean, like a computer?” said Tegan, momentarily forgetting the seven-foot insect immediately behind her.
The Doctor winced, and shook his head.
“Young lady, I am so far removed from what you understand to be a computer that… well, if I was to visit your home planet, I would probably be worshipped as a deity.”
“I see humility obviously didn’t feature highly in your personality program,” said Nyssa.
“There is plenty of time to discuss your… attitudes, and I am at your disposal of course, as with any other guest. But we only have just over 16 minutes to get to the admin tower over there.”
“And why would that be?” said the Doctor, putting his hands in his pockets and shifting his weight onto the balls of his feet.
“I’ve had to surround you with a level nine force dome, to prevent you from further upsetting the other visitors. Unfortunately it only has the air within that was captured when I activated the dome. If you don’t reach the building in that time, you will pass out from hypoxia. The only one standing will be Doctor Redoc, and he can’t carry all of you.”
Tegan suddenly remembered and turned to look at Redoc, who shrugged his primary shoulders and cocked his head to one side, in a gesture he’d learned from a medical text entitled Bedside Manner for Humanoids.
The woman sat at a smoothie stall, trying another of the 1001 flavours advertised – at least the ones not fatal to her species. The insectoid had gone to talk to a bunch of humans – and then they had suddenly all disappeared – and almost simultaneously all the concession stalls in the immediate area had started to advertise that the next purchase would be free of charge.
Obviously they had been taken into custody. But why had they all been arrested? Did Paracletus already know of her plans? She would have to find out…
Just then her train of thought was disturbed as a pseudopod female at the next table chided her unruly offspring by spraying them with formaldehyde from a facial gland.
As the Doctor and the others approached the glass tower, a section of wall disappeared – and then reappeared behind as they entered. There was sudden rush of cool fresh air, as the force dome around them noiselessly deactivated. They were in a vast, fashionably furnished lobby area, the furniture obviously designed for a range of body types. The guard showed them to an area where chairs, sofas and other furnishings surrounded a low table that seemed to be a raised part of the white, plastic-like floor, and asked them to wait.
The Doctor and his companions sat on a wide, bright red sofa, whilst Redoc leaned on a similarly upholstered six-foot high shelf. “My species – we don’t… sit.” he explained.
Tegan still couldn’t make up her mind whether to hide her eyes or stare at Redoc. He was the stuff of her rabid childhood nightmares, but at the same time he was so immaculately dressed, and his eyes and visible carapace shone even in this diffuse light with the most amazing metallic blue and green colours.
The Doctor stood up – though he wouldn’t admit it, Redoc standing like that made him nervous, and he couldn’t sit still under these circumstances. “I’m sorry you got dragged into all this, Doctor,” he said.
“Never mind,” said Redoc, “I could use some excitement amongst all the luxury. Please, call me Redoc…”
“Ah, yes. Well, I’m the Doctor, and these are my companions, Nyssa and Tegan.”
Redoc bowed again. “Doctor…? Ah – you’re… you’re their carer, I take it?”
The Doctor sighed and looked at the ground.
Tegan stared at Redoc, and drawing a deep breath, stood up…
“A Time Lord!” said Fidox, collapsing back into his council chair. The council members stared at Jamit standing behind the speaker’s podium, as he wiped sweat away from his brow.
“We have very strict regulations against time travel!” another council member shouted, baring his fangs. “We should deport them immediately!”
“Well, actually, Councillor Magarth, Paracletus informed me that they haven’t travelled in time to come here. The females are both contemporaneous to our current timeline and universe. They have only traveled in space. Though of course, they have recently travelled in time… and the Time Lord has also recently visited another quantum reality…”
The council disintegrated into uproar. Seat cushions, display screens, items of clothing, skin, fur and feathers flew across the council chamber in all directions.
Then, in the centre of the circular chamber, a blue light appeared. It pulsed, and then began to chime softly and then more loudly, like an enormous meditation bell. The council members re-took their seats and perches, and quiet reigned once more. After a few seconds of peace, the light resolved into an enormous face – each member seeing a face of a young and aesthetically pleasing member of their own species. Jamit saw the face of a beautiful young woman with long white hair – Fidox saw the face of a young man.
“Councillors!” said Paracletus. “Yes, we have a Galifreyan and there is also the possibility of a time paradox but… please! We know from his future visit that he came to no harm here, and so neither did we. We have nothing to fear from this visitor or his friends. Unfortunately, it appears that they have come from primitive and perhaps xenophobic cultures which has had an unfortunate effect on our Joy yields today. But they will soon acclimatise. We should show them every hospitality, and encourage them to leave once their needs have been met… and we have relieved them of a suitably large amount of currency!”
The council members nodded and murmured their assent. Fidox struck the Bell of the Council with a small hammer, and the session was closed. As Jamit stood down from the speaker’s podium, the young man in business robes appeared at his side again, and took him aside into an alcove.
“We have assuaged the fears of the council but I did not tell them everything,” said Paracletus. “No, my friend, do not look so alarmed, I truly believe that the Time Lord and his companions pose no threat to us, and no damage to our economy that we cannot otherwise fix. There is something else that I have detected, and that does however concern me…”
Redoc stood motionless in a dark corner of the reception area behind a tall potted plant. Tegan paced back and forth, whilst an exasperated Nyssa tagged behind her, trying to get her to understand and calm down. The Doctor meanwhile had found a blank display screen, and was trying to figure out how the thing could possibly work without instrumentality.
The chancellery guard appeared again and walked up to the Doctor.
“Please, don’t break that. Can we talk, Doctor?” the guard said, pointing to the opposite end of the lobby. The Doctor nodded, and they walked together until it seemed that the guard was sufficiently reassured that they were out of earshot of the others.
“You haven’t been here before, Doctor. We don’t get many of your race, in fact it’s been some decades. Do you know how our systems operate? There is a reason why we ask all our visitors to pass through one of our welcome centres before coming to the planet.”
“I don’t know much about it, I must confess,” said the Doctor, a quizzical look passing over his face.
The guard motioned towards a human-sized couch, and they both sat down, the guard removing his helmet and placing it on the small table in front of them. He ran his hands through his hair and shook it out, to try and restore the shape after wearing the helmet. The Doctor could see where some of the guard’s hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. But of course the guard was only a hologram, and yet he looked and behaved perfectly real.
“We measure the satisfaction of all our visitors, in what we call our Joy Quotient. We measure all the bio-neural factors that would indicate joy for all the sentient species that visit us. In order to do this effectively, we have to capture and monitor all that data. Has it occurred to you the kind of power that would be required if we were to run active sensors – not to mention the possible damage to health from that level of radiation?”
“Well… now you mention it…”
“We use nanobots. We seed the air with nanobots, and also some of the food. The visitors ingest them and so we monitor them 20 hours a day, every day. We know their every response, where they go, what they do. As we can track them we also have visual and audio feeds to capture everything they vocalise and what ever leisure activities they perform. And of course, so that we don’t infringe any of their individual sentient rights, we get their explicit permission to collect and use the data before they get anywhere near a functioning nanobot.”
“Ah,” said the Doctor. “I think I know where this is headed…”
“Yes,” the guard said, sitting back and crossing one leg across his knee. “You and your companions have now been exposed, but we never had your permission, so… that creates a difficult legal position for us. Your young companions, especially given the nature of their home worlds, might not take so kindly to this kind of… what they might term as… surveillance. No matter if the intention is purely and wholly benign.”
“I see your predicament…”
“Precisely. And so we would like to ask your help in explaining this to them, given they trust you implicitly.”
“Yes…” the Doctor said, trying to remember all the times he had kept things from Tegan and Nyssa thus far – the most recent one of course being the real reason he had brought them here…
“Good!” the guard said, sitting forward and clapping the Doctor on the knee. “There is another matter that we were wondering if… we could impose on you again to help us understand…”
“Well, I’m always happy to help, if I can…”
“Excellent! Well, it seems that all the nanobots in this room are dying, and we can’t really let any of you out until we know why.”
“Ah…” the Doctor said, “that would seem to be a bit of a problem… and might have certain deleterious effects on our personal joy quotients…”
The young woman looked at her wrist phone. It had been almost an hour and they still hadn’t come out. She was also aware that she couldn’t stay here any longer – she didn’t want a friendly hologram to appear and offer her recommendations to the next exciting attraction. She got up and headed for the central fountain. Whenever possible she would stop, offer help, engage in small talk, just so that she never walked more than a few paces on her own – she was always part of a group. When she reached the low wall that surrounded the fountain, she immediately joined a humanoid family, recognising that they were from Kokeshi 4 and greeting them in the culturally appropriate style. Surprised to find a human so well-informed, they happily welcomed her into their group… and from here she still had the front of the admin building in her line of sight.
“Do you think that it is some kind of biological contagion?” the Doctor said to the guard.
“We have encountered biological resistance before in the last couple of centuries but they have all been eradicated. We have developed a series of nanobots specifically to find and eradicate those factors whilst posing no harm to their hosts. This may be something similar – some sort of synthetic virus, or actual nanobots that have been engineered for this specific purpose.”
“So that someone could remain practically invisible to your systems?”
“Well, yes,” the guard said, putting his helmet back on. “Obviously we have to consider why someone would want to do that.”
“Perhaps they just don’t like being spied on?” they Doctor said with a shrug.
“But, Doctor,” the hologram said, standing up and straightening his ivory-coloured cape, “if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from being monitored, in fact quite the opposite. How can we possibly cater for their needs if we don’t know how satisfied they are? And the other problem we have is that we don’t have any beings unaccounted for. We detected you here before you encountered any nanobots, which showed up as an error in our system. But now we don’t have any more bodies than we can monitor. So how can they be hiding?”
“I see,” said the Doctor, struggling to his feet from the low sofa. “So, do you suspect us?”
The guard laughed. “Of course not, Doctor! The way you arrived would be far too stupid for a possible insurgent or terrorist to take… no offence of course…”
“None taken,” the Doctor replied, putting his hands in his pockets.
“But it is a strange coincidence is it not that this new puzzle should occur now, and only here in your presence?”
“We do seem to fall foul of more than our fair share of coincidences…” the Doctor sighed.
Nyssa walked up behind Redoc, and said his name. The insectoid stayed completely still, even his antenna didn’t move.
“Redoc, please. I’ve explained to Tegan, she’s sorry… really. Please come back and join us. It was just a silly misunderstanding – just like when we first saw you, and were afraid of you, when all you wanted to do was to help us. Please, Redoc?”
Redoc slowly turned on the spot even though he could see Nyssa, and Tegan still pacing up and down behind her, perfectly well from where he was.
“Very well, Nyssa. And it is me that should apologise. I can hardly complain about you being from under-developed worlds when I behave like this,” he said, gesturing to the corner and the potted plant. “What an evolutionary throwback I am!”
Redoc expected some reaction to his joke, what the humans called laughter, but Nyssa’s expression didn’t change. Shrugging again, he stepped out of the corner, and walked over with Nyssa to where Tegan now stood.
“Now,” said Nyssa, “you both acknowledge that you acted… you could have behaved better towards each other and there was a misunderstanding on both sides. We’re all friends here aren’t we? Aren’t we Tegan?”
“Yes,” said Tegan, looking at the floor.
“Yes. Friends,” said Redoc, nodding again and bowing.
“Good,” said Nyssa. “Now after all that, I’m starving. I hope the Doctor is arranging some food for us.”
They all looked over to where the Doctor was still talking to the guard.
The young woman waved goodbye to the Kokeshan family and considered her next move. She could try and place a camera in the piazza, but it would only be detected and cleaned up by the service robots. She didn’t even know where the young human male was staying, and she could hardly ask at an info station, as they would at the same time try to identify her – which she couldn’t allow. Just then, an insectoid couple walked past, chatting. Perhaps they were acquaintances or would know something about the one in the building? She skipped quickly from one group of people to the next to catch up and ask them what delicious morsels they were ingesting…
Jamit stepped out onto his balcony once more, this time with a chilled glass of his favourite golden liquor. The sky was darkening as the suns set on the other side of the building. Already the lights of the city were twinkling, throwing up new colours and highlights not previously exposed by the suns’ light. He sighed deeply. What had started as such a good day had now turned into some kind of nightmare – and a possible threat to the entire business model of the planet. Although the planet’s constitution required that they be welcoming to all species, especially those who could tolerate an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere (though they did have sectors with different specific environments to cater for as many needs as possible) he did consider whether it would be constitutional to outlaw all time-travelling species, especially the Galifreyans.
Javit went to put his glass down on the balcony rail – but missed, the glass tumbling over the edge and disappearing from view.
“Paracletus! Paracletus?” he said, looking around. The hologram might not be able to stop the glass as it fell, but he could cordon off the area below and send a service robot to clean up the mess.
But he didn’t appear.
Now that was odd.
The young woman walked along a darkened corridor to a particular door. This was the insectoid’s accommodation, strangely in a human district. But as the very kind young couple had explained over an early dinner at a very good xeno-diner (our treat, we insist!), the doctor was keen to improve his skills where human patients were concerned (“…especially females…” the insectoid male had said with what the woman would interpret as being the insect version of a leer and a wink). And she hadn’t let on that she herself had been treated to his attentions…
As she approached the door, she pulled her oversized hood up and over her face. The monitor cameras immediately lost track of her without registering any anomaly. Using a DNA parser glove, she opened the door by touching the handle and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. As she wasn’t detected, the lights didn’t trigger, so she switched these on manually using the override on the wall. The apartment was designed for humans all right, but it did have a high ceiling, and some of the furniture had been swapped out for some that accommodated for a clearly non-human body. The sitting room, bedroom, kitchenette and a small study were all fastidiously tidy and clean, not something that she’d expected from previous contact with his species. She quickly went from room to room, looking for portable data devices, recording chips, anything that she could either copy right now or take with her to access off-line. But she found nothing. It seemed like the doctor had accessed whatever he wanted to access using the Paracletus network exclusively. She went through his clothes and personal effects, hoping that perhaps some souvenir might give her a clue, but again she came up empty.
She looked out of the balcony windows at the towers opposite. Some reflected the sunset, others had already begun their daily evening light shows. As she stood there looking at the view, she had a sudden flash of memory. The apartment she had been in when it happened was very much like this one. Was it this very apartment? That would be too much of a coincidence. So many of the facilities here were built to a single plan. She had stayed in an executive level apartment like this one, nothing more.
She looked from the view to her gloved hands. When she looked up again, she didn’t see the view, but her reflection in the window glass. Her mind went back to the day after the Treatment. The way she felt then was the way she felt now. She didn’t recognise the reflection with any familiarity. Intellectually she knew that it was her own image, but all she felt was… nothing. Empty. As if she had been entirely drained of all emotion. In taking away her pain, they had also taken her personality.
She cast her mind back to remember the final event that had brought her here to be treated in the first place. What was the woman’s name? The name of the village? Even that was faded.
True, the standard therapies hadn’t worked but there were others, and they hadn’t allowed enough time for any particular therapy to work. The quick fix was what they wanted. They needed her. And why not kill two corvidians with one stone, as an old saying went. After the Treatment, they thought she could stay on for R&R, an ideal setting.
But it hadn’t turned out like that.
She suddenly realised that she’d been standing in the apartment far too long. Entering unseen or not, if she didn’t get out now a standard security sweep would pick her up. She went back towards the doorway and – after remembering to manually deactivate the lights, slipped out into the darkened corridor.
The chancellery guard turned away and disappeared – no flash of light, no fading out, no shimmering effect – one moment he was there, the next gone. The Doctor realised that the others were all looking at him. This wasn’t going to be an easy sell. He walked over, but before he got within 5 metres he could already hear Tegan. “I hope he’s gone to get us some food, Doc! We’re starvin’!”
“Well, I did mention the possibility of some refreshment and it… he said that some would be on the way. I’m afraid we might be here for some time – you included, Redoc.”
“But Doctor, you did explain the circumstances…” Redoc said with a shrug.
“I did, but the situation is… complicated. I suggest you sit down – or lean in your case, perhaps. All right? The planet and the city of Chara measure their effectiveness, and bill their visitors and suppliers, on the basis of how much joy the customers experience whilst they are here. Now how can they measure that joy – for any number of different species – accurately enough to monetise?”
“By using biometric and bioneural data,” said Nyssa, as if she was answering a question in class.
“Quite right. But this is notoriously difficult to measure, unless you do it… from the inside.”
Tegan looked up. “What do you mean?”
“The entire planet, the air, the food, is seeded with microscopic robots, called nanobots, which enter the systems of all the visitors to measure and transmit this data to the central computer. In addition, all the visitors, everywhere, are tracked and observed to make sure that their joy is maximised.”
Tegan glanced over at a certain door in the wall. “You mean… we’re being tracked and watched everywhere?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so. They inform all the visitors of this on arrival,” the Doctor pointed at Redoc who nodded his massive head, “but of course we didn’t arrive in the conventional way.”
Tegan stood up, scanning the tops of the walls for cameras, and then looking down at her body. “You mean I’ve got these little robots crawling around inside me?”
“Not crawling, Tegan,” said Nyssa, taking Tegan’s hand. They are tiny; tinier than the smallest grain of sand, thousands could ride on one blood cell. You’d never know they are there. They are completely harmless.”
“But… watching us all the time, with no privacy? That’s disgusting!” said Tegan, looking at the Doctor again.
“It’s a trade-off,” said Redoc. “Some cultures object categorically to this kind of thing, and not many of those people come here. But look at my people. We have an inbuilt, genetic aversion to being observed – you saw how we react when confronted. But here… it’s perfectly safe. There is no crime, no danger of any sort, and the system is designed purely for one thing – to make sure that you spend every minute on the planet as happy as possible.”
“Well I’m not very bloody happy now!” said Tegan, throwing herself down on the sofa next to Nyssa. “It’s not looking after our enjoyment!”
“Well Tegan, I’m not so sure about that,” said Redoc. “I don’t know much about Galifreyan physiology but from what I’m seeing, I think the Doctor is having a good time! Respiration up, pupils dilated, agitated movements associated with adrenal response, increased blood pressure… There’s something you haven’t told us yet, isn’t there, Doctor?”
“Well, yes,” said the Doctor with a half smile. Redoc was right, though it wasn’t something that he wanted to telegraph to his companions, especially after being incarcerated and hearing such unwelcome news.
“It does seem like we have happened upon something of a mystery…”