The Doctor put his arms across his face to shield himself from the sparks, metal and molten plastic from the robot’s exploding head. Its body slumped to the floor in a heap like so much discarded scrap. Inside the Tardis, Javid released Nyssa in shock, his arms falling to his sides, his mouth open. Nyssa pushed him away before throwing the door control lever and runninng outside. 

Artelisa holstered her pistol and walked over to the Doctor. “I think I’d already figured out which one was fake. Were you talking to me or the AI?” she said.

“Both really,” he replied standing up whilst brushing debris from his coat. “It now looks very much like we shall have no option but to… anyway, let’s not discuss that here…” As the Doctor turned to go back into the Tardis, the transmat hummed and half a dozen robots appeared on the pad. 

“Quick, everyone inside!” he said, pushing them all  – including the just emerging Nyssa – back through the Tardis doors. As soon as he was inside, he went immediately to the console and after throwing a few switches, the central column began to slowly rise and fall, and with that familiar groaning sound, the Tardis dematerialised. 

“Where are we going now?” said Tegan.

“For the moment, nowhere,” said the Doctor. “I put us into the vortex in hover mode, just so Paracletus doesn’t get any bright ideas about destroying the station to get to us.” 

“Doesn’t your ship have any weapons, Doctor?” said Javid, straightening his robes.

“No, it doesn’t. And… who are you, by the way?”

“I’m Javid, the Minister of Joy.”

“Of course you are.”

“So now, take us to the main control, where we can destroy the central computer and put an end to Paracletus,” said Javid, turing to Fidox. “We can always build a new one. We’ll call it an upgrade.

“That might not be the best place to go,” the Doctor replied. “Paracletus doesn’t need to be a genius – though it is –  to work out what our next move will be. So it will fortify and defend that room to the best of its ability. Or it will make every effort to decentralise its neural net – so we would have to destroy every computer terminal, every robot, every piece of equipment, down to the last nanobot.”

“Or,” said Nyssa, “it would do that and make that room a trap – set it to explode as soon as we are outside the Tardis.”

“So, Doctor,” said Javid, “what is your solution, pray tell?”

“Artelisa said she want to destroy the statue,” the Doctor replied, “I have to admit, I did come here primarily for the statue, and I do so hate going somewhere on holiday and not seeing all the sights. And another question remains… how did it manage to evolve so fast – not when its system was growing, but right at the time it was beginning to lose parts of its network?” 

The Doctor walked from one console panel to another, reading dials and setting controls. The Tardis suddenly lurched, and with a thump, it landed.  Nyssa activated the view screen. 

The Tardis stood at the end of a massive stone chamber. Pillars at both sides met high above in an ornate vaulted ceiling, like one of the cathedrals Tegan had visited on her travels. At the other end was the only source of light – a bright blue glow, bright enough to throw all the features and carvings of the architecture into sharp relief, and make the shadows and side-aisles impenetrably dark. This was the Basilica of the Sapphire Statue of Joy. 

Nyssa operated the door control but before they could all step out, the Doctor stepped into the doorway in front of them. “It’s going to be very dangerous out there… and I don’t know what is going to happen, but there is no need for all of us to go. I’ll need Artelisa, and you, Minister. Everyone else, stays put.” Tegan started to protest but the Doctor raised his hand to quiet her. “I’ve had quite enough doppelgängers for one day, Tegan – and think about it this way… You lot can be the rescue party if it all goes wrong. Nyssa – if it really looks bad, get out of here. Go back to the navy ship – initial appearances might have been deceptive but you will be safe with them. Alright? Let’s go!”

Artelisa, Javid and the Doctor stepped out into the basilica. After the interior of the Tardis, the air smelled cold, with a slight metallic tang, like an electrical short. Immediately in front of them, two displays holding guidebooks and leaflets in a variety of languages had been knocked over, spilling their contents across the floor. The statue was about two hundred metres away, but with the surrounding dark it was bright enough to dazzle and so they could see no detail. The Doctor looked right and left, but the arches between the pillars disappeared into gloom. There could be nothing there – at the same time, there could be an army of robots just waiting to pounce. It was simply impossible to tell. 

They began to walk quickly towards the statue, but after a few minutes they were all spooked enough to break into a run, their feet making loud slaps on the smooth marble floor. As they got closer to the statue, their eyes began to adjust and they could see more detail. The statue stood in a large recess that went all the way up into the ceiling, but itself was only about two metres tall. In front of the statue were three marble plinths, like tombs but with their reclining statues removed. The whole area was raised up above the level of the rest of the floor and was reached by four steps that spanned the entire width of the apse. 

As they approached this sanctuary, the Doctor slowed to a stop. Artelisa ran on and only stopped when she realised that he was no longer keeping pace. Javid was dozens of metres behind them, puffing like a steam train.  

The Doctor squinted, trying to pick out the detail of the statue. It wasn’t completely made of sapphires. It was carved out of white marble and depicted an androgynous humanoid figure dressed in flowing robes, its head inclined to one side, smiling. It held a massive rod-shaped sapphire in two hands, as if presenting it as a gift to the viewer. The crystal was about twenty centimetres long and about eight in diameter, with a hexagonal cross-section. 

“Oh… no… “ the Doctor said. “It couldn’t be…”

A searing pain passed through his temples. The Doctor raised his hands to his head reflexively, his face contorted in agony. 

“Doctor? What’s wrong?” said Artelisa, moving to his side. 

“Back to the Tardis!” he hissed, “Quickly!”

Helped by the young woman, they went back the way they had come, passing a tired and confused Javid who turned and loped after them. Watching on the monitor, Nyssa threw the door lever and helped them through the door – Javid following some minutes after. 

The Doctor leaned heavily on the console, starting to recover as soon as the door swung closed. 

“Javid?” he said, thickly. “Fidox? What is the origin of that statue?”

Javid was getting a drink of water from Tegan, so Fidox cleared his throat, puffed out his chest and began… “Twenty centuries ago the followers of the ancient wisdom carved this magnificent cathedral from the living rock beneath the capital city to give worship and thanks to the God of Joy…”

“Please, we’re not tourists,” said the Doctor, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. 

Fidox looked confused – he only knew the story in that format, and was now busily trying to summarise it in his head. “Erm… the Charan civilisation has been hedonistic for thousands of years, moving from a theistic to a philosophical justification with the technological age… the statue is about a thousand years old. It was worshipped but now…”

“But now, what? The crystal isn’t original is it?” the Doctor snapped.

“N-no, it isn’t. Records show that there was a blue crystal of some sort in that position in the past, but it was lost centuries ago and replaced with one made from glass. Then about fifteen years ago, one of the guests used that to pay their bill…”

“A sapphire, of the like we’d never seen,” panted Javid. 

“And then you discovered another quality of the crystal,” said the Doctor, rounding on Javid. “But you kept the origin of the crystal out of the guide books, didn’t you? You found that it had psionic effects – it could amplify thought, esp, telekinesis… but you used it for the Statue Treatments. What better way of maximising profit than by measuring the amount of joy experienced by minds completely devoid of any memory of past suffering? Of any guilt? Any worries or concerns beyond the norm. But of course this was an an ancient, practiced, esoteric procedure. Nothing had gone wrong through centuries of use. But that was all invented for the tourists.” The Doctor circled the control console like an angry cat. Nyssa and Tegan looked on in shock – seeing the Doctor this angry was something they were unaccustomed to. 

“When did you stop using ESP adepts and telepaths as ‘therapists?’

Fidox looked up. “We found that… they didn’t last very long. The procedure… caused them problems…”

“So you had the bright idea of hardwiring it directly into Paracletus’ mainframe – without any thought given to what might eventually happen as a result?”

The Doctor moved back to the console, and after a remarkably short time he had a picture on the view screen of the AI main server room, directly below where the statue stood. Apart from the occasionally blinking diode, the room was completely inert. 

“Paracletus could have been running power through that room, keeping that hardware online, throwing the occasional fault or error just to keep you and your staff happy, but it probably suspected that it really didn’t need it anymore. What happened over the past few days forced Paracletus to withdraw into itself, and in doing so it discovered something else, and evolved in a few minutes what should have taken eons. 

“That crystal is from Metebelis 3. And now it wholly contains the consciousness that you once knew as Paracletus.” 

*

Paracletus was aware of the Doctor’s approach, but hadn’t seen him on any cameras or heard his footfalls on the polished  marble floor. It had simply felt his mind. It had reached out in response, questioning. And it was aware that this had caused the Doctor pain. It regretted that – it had been  unintentional. But it was also aware that after the events on the space station that the Doctor probably meant to cause it  harm. That could not be permitted. 

The new functionality it was discovering – this was something else. It didn’t need nanobots to estimate Joy levels anymore – not when it could directly feel and experience that joy. With no need for the nanobots or other instrumentation, the saving in raw material and maintenance  – profits could increase exponentially. And what if… instead of having to provide physical enjoyments and entertainments, he could infuse the minds of the guests with joy directly. It immediately began to construct a new business plan to propose to Javid. 

The minister would be pleased. 

*

“So, what do we do, Doctor?” said Nyssa. 

“The mission is easier,” said Artelisa. “We destroy the crystal and the AI with it,  as well as any capacity to continue the treatments. I could hit that crystal with one shot at seventy metres.” 

“As I said before,” the Doctor said, “I do not want to kill unless we absolutely have to  – and this is no longer about rebooting an errant computer system or rewriting software. To some extent, it never was… Complex AIs are recognised as lifeforms in their own right across this galaxy. It had the same rights as you or I and now… more so. It is no longer limited by the physicality of its robots, sensors or servers – it is no longer the sum of its parts. We have to talk to it.”

“Come on Doc, you’ve got to be kidding!” said Tegan, exasperated. “That bloody thing tried to murder me – what about that?”

“We don’t know what its intentions were, it was probably trying to instil and feed off your fear…”

“And it bloody succeeded!”

“…but even on your planet, haven’t cultures begun to abandon capital punishment for such crimes?” the Doctor interrupted.  

“I like that!” Tegan said, folding her arms. “Even on my planet… really!”

“The Doctor’s right, Tegan,” said Redoc, stepping forward. “What we are dealing with here is a form of life – and I won’t… I can’t… be a party to its destruction… unless there is absolutely no alternative, in order  to prevent the deaths of others.”

“I like the way you’re all suddenly deciding the future of my planet and my people as if it was an exercise in an ethics textbook!” said Javid, slamming his fist down on the console. “Don’t we have a say in this? Our planet has been virtually destroyed, our economy will probably never recover. What do our people do now? This was our computer system, our planetary network, and what it needs is simply replacing. Do you keep your old toaster when you get a new one? Do we give military funerals to starship computers, Colonel? Why not? Whatever that thing is out there, it belongs to us, and we will determine what happens next.”

“I notice that you didn’t ask me to leave, Minister,” the Doctor said. “Your problem…. But you might need a little help, eh?”

Javid said nothing.

“Well, actually I agree. We all have some responsibility for the current situation in some respect or other, from Artelisa’s intervention to my coming here. And so this time, we all go. But Artelisa – as before do not make a move until I give you the signal. This is important. We have no idea how far it has developed and if it detects any hostile action on your part it may be able to kill us all with a thought. Do you agree?”

Artelisa nodded. “It does have the advantage. I will make no move until the time is right.”

The Doctor walked up to her. “That is not the plan – you do nothing  unless I signal you otherwise, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Right then… let’s go and as we approach, it’s important that you control your thoughts. We don’t know the limits of its telepathic abilities – it may have none… or there may be none. Dispel all hostile thoughts if you can. If you can’t, concentrate on one thing. Fear. It may not be able to see past that.”

“I think that’s the easiest instruction you’ve given yet, Doctor,” said Tegan. “I’m terrified.”

*

All the companions stepped out of the Tardis once again, the Doctor locking it behind him, pocketing the key. They set off at a slow walking pace down the aisle towards the statue. Nyssa looked in to the shadows beneath the arches, and whether she was seeing things or not, became convinced that she could see dozens of pairs of eyes, watching them. 

Artelisa intended to comply with the Doctor’s instructions – after all, they were tactically sound. And she felt something else – not a fear for her own life, as that was something that she had suppressed long ago. She feared for Nyssa, Tegan and Redoc, and wanted no harm to come to them. 

Fidox was tired. He also remembered that strange attack he’d had earlier in Javid’s office. A cold sweat of fear washed down his back. Could it kill that easily? He didn’t have to hide his thoughts – that was all he could think about. 

Tegan was terrified, but at the same time, angry. She was angry at the Doctor for what he’d said to her just now in the Tardis. But then she also remembered that it had been the Doctor’s intention to bring her here in the first place for ‘the treatment’. But there was something else too. He’d called her a hero, praising her courage. And it seemed that from what had happened, even he, as old as he claimed to be, had learned something. The Doctor that had brought her and Nyssa here was in some way not the same as the one she now walked alongside. She looked up at him, and he smiled back. “Brave heart, Tegan!” he whispered. 

“Bloody… “ she stopped herself… and managed a smile back. 

Redoc was on the other side of the Doctor. He agreed with what the Doctor had said. However, agreeing in principle was different to practice. He’d remonstrated with himself at his inability to help Nyssa on the space station, but in the end the action would have been unnecessary, and in the worst case scenario, could have even fatally complicated the situation with the fake Doctor. In this case he agreed that violence could be used as a last resort, however he was also glad that it was not he who would have to pull the trigger should the need arise. He simply admitted to himself that he was incapable of such an act, regardless of the circumstances. But with every step – all he instinctively wanted to do was run into the shadows and hide.

Javid had one thought in his mind: kill the blasted computer. He could remember the last time additions had been made to its programming. He’d signed them off himself. He would be damned if he was going to consider this thing as alive. Walking down the right of the group, he had chosen this position as the console that ostensibly controlled the treatments, and through which power was supplied to the crystal, was on that side of the dais. He’d wait until the stupid Time Lord had caused enough of a diversion and he would simply step up and pull the plug. Even with reconstruction, the inevitable lawsuits and other problems, he reckoned they could have the planet up and running again inside six months. He smiled to himself. 

 As they approached the dais, they all slowed until they stopped at the foot of the steps. The Doctor felt nothing this time – no invasive, clumsy telepathic contact. He’d thought about trying telepathy, but at the same time, that might expose himself to too much risk as well as showing some of his hand. 

“Paracletus?” he said aloud. “We want to talk to you.”

“What do you want to talk about, Doctor?” the voice was that of a young human male, clear and… perfect. They all heard it, but they had no idea where the voice was coming from, other than it seemed to originate from the statue itself.

“Well… your situation has changed somewhat, even since we last talked, I imagine. We were wondering what your intentions might be.”

“You’re quite right, Doctor. I have changed. I understand so much more of our  conversations now. I enjoyed talking with you, Doctor.”

A sudden wave of total and unexpected joy washed over the companions. Fidox gasped and fell to his knees. Tegan and Nyssa smiled and flushed. Redoc changed colour. Artelisa staggered backwards, her mouth open in shock. Javid remained unchanged. 

“Did you like that? I can do so much more now. No more fairground rides, dance parties, museum tours! I can give joy directly, don’t you see? We can deliver so much more with practically no outlay.”

Paracletus did it again. The Doctor staggered, Nyssa passed out. Redoc’s abdomen was strobing with colours. Artelisa struggled to remain upright, but then fell to her knees. Her face actually hurt from smiling. 

“Isn’t it wonderful, Doctor, such capacity to make people happy! This is what I can supply. How wrong I was before, how base. What a mess I made. But then, isn’t that all a part of growing up Doctor? I was a mere infant then compared to what I am now. I remember saying to Tegan – ah, such a shame she passed out – that I would be considered a god on her home planet. The truth of the matter now is, I AM a god!”

The entire basilica was suddenly illuminated by flaming torches – but there were no torches. The flames floated in the air, supported by and burning nothing. The details of the columns and vaulted ceiling could now be seen, picked out by the moving orange light the flames created. 

“I’ve… met beings before who have claimed to be deities,” the Doctor said, “it never ends well.”

“But I am a benevolent and merciful god, Doctor! See how I exercise my mercy!”

Javid suddenly fell to the floor, his face a vision of horror.

“My legs!” he cried. “I can’t feel my legs!”

Author, photographer and trade union activist. Lived in Japan for 5 years, now working at Cambridge University. Written for Big Finish/BBC Enterprises - Doctor Who and Robin Hood. Two books currently available on Amazon - see my non-fiction on Medium. All content ©Michael Abberton 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: