Fidox stormed into Javit’s office without even waiting to be bidden to enter. Javit stood up from his desk, clearing his screen with a swipe of his hand.
“Fidox? Whatever is the matter, by Nido?”
“Haven’t you heard? Seen the screencasts?” the old man said, going straight to the drinks dispenser. “Half the city is in uproar! It’s complete anarchy!”
“What are you talking about?” said Javit, coming around the desk and directing the old man to a chair.
“There are fights all over the city. Property destruction. Robots attacked. It’s unbelievable! And why isn’t Paracletus doing anything about it? He’s nowhere to be seen, and the security robots are taking too long to respond. What is going on? Who is doing this?”
“I am,” said Paracletus, walking in from the balcony. He was in the guise of the young businessman again, though this time he was in evening attire, and holding a cocktail. The two men looked at the hologram in shock.
“Fidox doesn’t know about the nanobots dying off. So I’m telling you now. The nanobots are dying off. And I now know who did it. This woman,” he said, as The Woman appeared on the screen. Her name is Artelisa, a Centauran human. She came here two standard years ago and had a bad reaction to the Statue Procedure. Now she’s back – I still don’t quite know how she’s done it… but she’s probably motivated by some kind of revenge.”
“A… a terrorist… here, on Chara… by Ditan’s Beard!” the old man spluttered. “Is she in custody?”
“No,” the hologram said, sucking some of the brightly coloured cocktail through a straw. “She was with the Time Lord… and before you jump to any conclusions, he certainly wasn’t working with her. If anything, it was more like he was her prisoner.”
“How do you know that?” said Fidox.
“It was the way she evaded capture. She used a dimension door. Galifreyans don’t react well to that technology apparently. It tends to kill them. And I believe that the Doctor was sincere in his attempt to help us.”
“You still haven’t explained the civil unrest…” said Javid, folding his arms.
“The strangest thing,” said the hologram, his drink magically refilling. “With less nanobots the data I collected was much less nuanced, more imprecise. And by chance, during the arrest of a wonderfully violent guest, I discovered a new way of stimulating our customers and maintaining our income – or even increasing it!” Paracletus looked at them both, expectantly, like a pet cat that had just dropped a dead rodent at it’s mistress’ feet. The two men looked at each other and shrugged.
“ Conflict! Combat! Anger and hatred! All these things create such intense responses my meters were practically maxing out. So I started fights – that became riots! And the money is rolling in! The guests are happy, we are rich, and I’m currently designing an entirely new range of nanobots that aren’t prone to this blasted contagion. These bots don’t decay or dissolve. They propagate, and remain in the visitors’ bodies even after they’ve left orbit.”
“We… you…you can’t do that!” gasped Javit, supporting himself by leaning heavily on the back of a chair. “That is against our contractual agreements. The bots must deactivate and be destroyed when the guests leave. We can’t…”
“You are so short sighted,” the hologram sighed, theatrically. “Did you know that amongst the 49 species currently represented by our visitors, no less that 14 had internecine or interplanetary wars with each other in the last 150 standard years? Think about it. If we could take advantage of that, perhaps with the odd skirmish or two, think of the financial rewards…”
“You’re … insane!” Fidox said, struggling to his feet. “We’ll take you offline… until this problem can be sorted out…AAACH!” the old man clutched at his heart and fell heavily back into his seat. Javit immediately went to his aid. But as Javit desperately began top loosen the collar of the old man’s robes, Fidox put his clammy hands over both of Javit’s to stop him, and panting, shook his head, signalling he was all right.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine!” Paracletus laughed musically. “The bots momentarily got backed up in an artery, nothing to worry about. Can’t for the live of me think how that happened… Lucky I was here, eh?”
Javit turned to look at the hologram again, a sudden shock of pure fear shooting down his back. Fidox squeezed Javit’s hand again, mouthing be careful.
Javit nodded, stepping away from the old man, straightening the creases in his robes, trying to recompose himself.
“Now…. see here…we can’t bill races for… for re-starting their wars! Our business model is based on delivering joy, measuring that accurately and charging accordingly. Not death and destruction…”
“You misunderstand me!” the hologram said, smiling. “I’m talking about a much more complex business model. Of course we can’t charge them for joy we haven’t delivered! But we can offer a safe and neutral battle ground where these conflicts can be worked out, controlled, and brought once more to a peaceful solution. Or we can offer harmless re-enactments of famous battles, after which all the combatants can leave the field together for a few drinks! Off-world, we monitor the same people using our new nano-bots, for a small fee of course, and offer this as marketing data to private corporations or to governments. We could have franchises across the known galaxy! Weren’t you only debating last month how to best develop our less hospitable parts of the planet? We could turn these into immense battlegrounds, hired out to the highest bidder! We wouldn’t be starting wars – we would be ending them… forever!”
Paracletus began to run profit projections across the screen on the wall. Javit cleared his throat. “This has all come as quite a shock, you know. We’ll have to discuss this, quietly and in a reasoned manner, with the council. To ensure that there are not further… misunderstandings.”
“Naturally!” Paracletus said. “But they must acquiesce, of course. Our business model can’t survive as it stands. We need the new nanobots to be in full production before I die… before they all die off! If that happens then we will be supplying joy with no way of billing the customers, and we would have to close all our facilities. Inside half a year we could be in full production and ready to roll out our new services! Anyway gentlemen, there are all the projections – which I’ve had independently audited of course. I’ve taken the liberty of summoning all the council members to a special session this afternoon to ratify the plan.
“Anyway – lots to do! I’ll leave you to prepare your endorsement speeches.” With a theatrical wave, the hologram turned and disappeared.
“So… our speeches…” Fidox said, his eyes glancing back and forth. “We must be careful what we say, to the council…”
“Yes, I understand,” said Javit, looking at the display on the screen. “I do hope that the Time Lord was not injured. If we could contact him… he may be able to help us… with what we have to do.”
“I’ll make arrangements for his capsule to be found and brought to the city,” said Javit, sitting behind his desk. “We have just one hope now.”
Nyssa sat up slowly, rubbing her temples, trying to focus her eyes. Her head was spinning, and though she knew she was sitting perfectly still, her eyes were tracking as if she was actually moving. She closed and opened them again several times, trying to focus on her right index finger, which she held in front of her face, until the feeling eventually subsided.
She looked around – she was sitting on the floor in the somewhat cramped living area of a space ship. It was dimly lit by LEDs in the ceiling and floor. On the one bunk opposite her was the Doctor, curled up on his side in a foetal position, rocking and moaning. Tegan was on the floor next to her, just starting to regain consciousness too, but otherwise looking none the worse for wear. Nyssa got up to have a look at the Doctor and fell sideways into a bulkhead – she’d stood up too quickly, and aside from that, artificial gravity always made her slightly queasy at first.
A hatch above her head unlocked with a clunking sound, and then slowly hissed back. Redoc’s massive head appeared. “Ah Nyssa! Glad to see you’re awake! You have some medical skill. Don’t you? I need your help with the Doctor. Our host has a basic medikit, but the instruments are made for human fingers, I’m afraid.” He withdrew his head and lowered down a large canvas shoulder bag for Nyssa to take, and then he climbed down the ladder, unavoidably making the cabin even more cramped.
Nyssa started to get the diagnostic scanner and other equipment out of the bag, some of which were old fashioned, one new, but were all familiar to her in their operation and purpose. “What’s wrong with him?” she asked.
Redoc bent over the Doctor, his antennae moving rapidly this way and that. “The method of transportation we used doesn’t sit well with his species. I need to see if I can stabilise him – and it does seem that his condition is worsening.”
Tegan sat up slowly, putting her head in her hands.
“What the bloody hell was that?” she said, groggily.
“It was a dimension door, apparently,” said Redoc, looking at the readout on the scanner Nyssa showed to him. “I’m no engineer, but apparently it transports people from one place to another through a fixed passageway in spacetime. It’s not… use that one Nyssa – I need to check his… that’s it, thank you… sorry, Tegan; it’s not medically advisable for any being. And least of all for the Doctor’s species. I’m afraid there’s very little I can do for him here. We need to get him to a proper medical facility.”
“How bad is it, Redoc?” said Nyssa, checking the readings herself.
“To be perfectly frank, if we don’t get him to a properly-equipped hospital in the next couple of hours… the Doctor will die.”
On the planet’s surface, a piloted cargo lifter lowered itself into position using its vertical jets, directly above a battered old blue box. A mechanical arm lowered, closed its grab on the box and retracted, before once again powering to cruising height and flying back to the city.
Tegan climbed unsteadily up the ladder into the ship’s cockpit. There was one, enormous pilot’s chair, surrounded by displays, controls and dials. Directly in front of that was the cockpit window. The view made Tegan’s head spin again and she caught her breath, as the verbal tirade she had just mentally prepared also dissolved.
Below – or in front – of the ship, the turquoise-green planet turned, oceans giving way to forests, and then to snow-capped mountain ranges. Occasionally distant navigational lights from passing ships and satellites were also visible. And beyond the curved edge of the planet, was inky blackness. She had a momentary flash of memory of the first time she’d entered the cockpit of a 747 in flight at night.
“Hey… hey there,” Tegan said, stepping forward, supporting herself using the low ceiling, being careful not to touch anything that looked like a control. She refused to use The Woman as a name, it seemed ridiculous to her, and also in some way mildly offensive.
“What do you want, Tegan?” The Woman said, flatly. “I’m very busy.”
“The Doc… the Doctor’s really crook… Redoc says we need to get him to a hospital, right now, or he’ll die.”
“That’s a shame,” she replied. “He might have been able to help me.”
“What… What do you mean?” said Tegan, squeezing in at one side of the chair.
“We can’t go back to the surface now they’ve seen me. I’m just hoping that the nano virus I planted will do enough damage as it is. I’ve been trying to monitor what is happening down there but… there is a lot of strange comms traffic. Anyway, the jump engines will be ready in the next ten minutes. There’s a colony in the next sector I can drop you off at – unfortunately it’s two days away.”
“What! You can’t do that! You have to land! You can go where the hell you like after that!”
The Woman turned her head to look up at Tegan. “This is a Mark 5 space tug. It can’t land. We’d need a shuttle or transmat to get to the surface. For that we’d have to dock at one of the planet’s orbital stations, and for the reasons I’ve outlined, we can’t do that. Despite what the Doctor intended to do to you, I can see that you are upset by the prospect of his death, and so if you like you can put him in the lifeboat and launch it. There is a chance that someone might find him. That is all I can offer you.”
“Why can’t we go with him?” said Tegan, fighting back tears.
“This is a one-person ship. One chair, one bunk, a one-person escape pod. That’s all I can do. Now I’m going to jump the ship in 8 minutes, so if you’re going to put the Doctor in the pod, you’d better get on with it.”
“You can’t!…” Tegan protested, but was just ignored, as The Woman went back to her controls. Tegan went back to the hatch, and down to the cabin below. The Doctor was more restless and agitated, mumbling something. Nyssa took his one his hands and bent over his face. “What is it Doctor? What are you trying to say?” Redoc prepared a hypospray, and applied it to the Doctor’s neck with a hiss. After a few seconds, the Doctor quietened down.
“How is he, Redoc?” asked Tegan, hopefully.
“He’s worse. This sedative will make him more comfortable but I can’t do anything for him. Did you hear what he was saying, Nyssa?”
“Nyssa looked up, still holding the Doctor’s hand. “I think he said Tardis. He wants to go back to the Tardis. Will she land?”
Tegan shook her head. “No, we can’t. This ship can’t fly in the atmosphere, and she won’t take us to the space station. She said we can put him in the lifeboat and launch it, but that’s it.”
“That’s… inhuman!” said Redoc, incapable of seeing the irony in the way the Tardis crew heard what he’d just said.
“She’s going to leave orbit in the next few minutes…” said Tegan.
“We have to stop her!” Nyssa got up and climbed the ladder, followed by Tegan, whilst the doctor remained with his patient.
“Did you put him in the escape pod?” The Woman said, hearing them come through the hatch.
“No, we didn’t,” declared Nyssa. “You mustn’t leave orbit. You must take him to the orbital station.”
“We are leaving orbit… in just over a minute’s time. And there’s nothing you can do to stop… me…”
An alarm sounded in the cockpit and the whole ship shook violently. Suddenly the view of the planet through the cockpit window completely disappeared, blocked by an enormous spaceship. Even to Tegan’s inexperienced eye, the ship was obviously military, bristling with weapons.
Simultaneously, text scrolled across the HUD and the ship’s radio crackled to life. “UNIDENTIFIED TYPE 5 TUG, THIS IS THE IMPERIAL CENTAURI CRUISER SWIFT VENGEANCE. DEACTIVATE YOUR HYPER DRIVE IMMEDIATELY OR WE WILL OPEN FIRE. THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING.”