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The Xoloans, Part One
Lady Romanadvoratrelundar was drastically late for her meeting, but her aging body and cynical personality prevented any heroic efforts to get to it on time. The representatives from the Engineers Guild would have to wait. The time would do them good. After all, this was the Citadel on Gallifrey. This was where time was made when necessary.
Romana, as she was called in all but the most formal circumstances, was usually quite punctual. In her capacity as Minister for Internal Affairs she took ten to twenty meetings per day. This particular meeting was of no small import, making her tardiness perhaps more aggravating to the Engineers. There was talk of a general strike across the whole planet. If that were to happen, all work on the design of the Mark IX TARDIS would cease. If she allowed that, she would no doubt have a stern talking-to by no less than Lady President Flavia herself.
There was a time, for over a century, when Romana was the President. She had been more or less forced into the role, and never cared much for it. Every chance she got, she tried to step down, and every time she tried, some crisis pulled her back. At last, a few decades ago, she had succeeded in demoting herself. It was her fervent hope to get demoted yet further and further until she was able to return to travelling the universe.
It was not any lack of respect that made her late, it was a simple matter of being unable to escape a previous meeting. That, plus she was growing old faster than seemed possible. She knew she should just take a week off and regenerate, but, ironically, the Time Lady Romana didn’t have the time. Her work kept her on a very busy schedule, and even a few days off to recover from the physical and mental effects of regeneration would set her back too far to recover. Still, it would have to come one way or another. If she put it off too long, one organ or another would fail, causing her to regenerate on the spot. The time for this was drawing nearer every day. She had spent almost four hundred years in her second incarnation. Her third could not be that far off.
Little did she know her third incarnation was merely hours away.
She hobbled through the murky corridors of the Citadel, her progress impeded by her traditional robes. The huge backpiece extending from the neck up over the head was ceremonial, imposing, and very difficult to walk in.
Eventually, she reached her meeting room. Inside were seven representatives from the Guild, all of whom turned impatient and irritated eyes upon her.
She collapsed into a chair at the head of the table. “I do apologize for my delay. I was unavoidably detained.”
“Quite all right, Minister,” said the President of the Guild. “We’re used to the Citadel’s tardiness. Especially on contracts and scheduling.” He raised his eyebrow.
Romana rubbed her temples. Apparently, there was to be no small talk today. “Ah. Well put,” she said, “but you should be used to doing nothing for long periods of time by now, President Glathe. For instance, the work on the new dynamorphic generator for the Mark IX? How is that coming along?” It was times like this she remembered her happier days journeying with the Doctor. Sure, she faced imminent death practically every day, but at least it wasn’t boring.
“Perhaps if we had some assurances that the project would continue to be funded, we could get some work done on the dynomorph specs.”
“Perhaps,” Romana retorted, “if we had any indication that the Mark IX specs will ever be completed, we might be willing to increase funding…”
And so went the meeting. Romana firmly believed meetings served very little actual purpose. It was just something people did because people have always done them. The outcome was predictable: The Engineers would not strike yet, and the Citadel would continue to fund the project. In other words: no change.
As the meeting broke up, she was approached by a Citadel page. He had an air of urgency about him “Lady Romavor… Romadvat… Rom-“
“Romana will do,” she interjected.
The page was visibly relieved. “My Lady, the President wishes an update on the Mark IX status.”
Romana nodded. “You may tell the President that I have just finished the meeting and that there will be no strike at the moment. I shall file a more detailed report later today.”
“Ah…yes, my Lady, but you see, the President wishes to hear it from you.”
“The President wants me to attend her? Now? For this?”
“Alas, Ma’am, the President does not discuss how to govern Gallefrey with her pages.”
Romana shot the impudent page a glare. It gave her some satisfaction to see him wither a bit. “Very well,” she said. “Where is she?”
“In the High Council Chamber, Ma’am.”
Another time, another place. To be specific, Earth. To be more specific, the British countryside, 1979.
Haverfield Manor loomed over the countryside the way only 16th century mansions could. The grounds that surrounded the estate were groomed to a point, then left feral for local shepherds to feed their flocks. It was an arrangement as old as the monarchy. If one wanted to view the mansion in all its glory, the best place was a knoll known only as “Potter’s”
Three figures stood atop the knoll. One was viewing the mansion through binoculars at that very moment. While all three were dressed like ordinary tourists, a closer inspection, especially of their eyes, would tell a very different story.
“Excellent vantage point, Mr. Smith,” said the one with the binoculars. His speech was well enunciated, but as emotionless as it was flat.
“Thank you, Mr. Jones,” said Mr. Smith in an equally unnerving voice.
Mr. Jones let the binoculars rest on their strap and turned to the other member of his cadre. “Mr. Johnson, you have the device?”
Mr. Johnson hoisted a large case to chest level. “Of course, Mr. Jones. Shall I set it up?” It would have been no surprise to any listener that Mr. Johnson, too, had a lifeless voice.
“Not yet, Mr. Johnson. Mr. Smith has some work to do, first.” He turned to Mr. Smith. “Don’t you.”
“Yes, Mr. Jones, I do indeed.” Said Mr. Smith. Then, he vanished altogether.
Unaware of the unusual group
watching his home, Lord Robert finished his glass of port and stood from his
reading chair. He was rather young, as Lords go. The local papers had mourned
the passing of his father with genuine sorrow. The elder Lord Robert had been
well loved in the community. Upon his death, his son returned to
He strolled across the room, mentally planning the finer details of the fundraiser he was going to host next week. So many details to attend to, but it was for a good cause. He wished the youth club committee would just let him donate the money to them outright, but he could see their point. It was not just a matter of raising money to build the gymnasium, it was also to increase awareness.
“Hmm…” he muttered to himself. “Should it be an indoor or outdoor event? Will it rain, I wonder?” he seemed to be caught in deep concentration for a moment, grappling with an idea. Then, he shook his head. Whatever he had been thinking, he decided against it.
A gentle knock preceded the study door opening. “Lord Robert?”
Lord Robert smiled broadly “Ah, Dwight! Do come in!”
Dwight entered, carrying a tray. “Your scone, sir. Where shall I put it?”
“Oh, anywhere will do, Dwight.”
Dwight’s father had served the elder Lord Robert all of Dwight’s life. As a child, Dwight had worked in the kitchen. As he grew older, and his father grew weaker with age, Dwight took on more and more of the his father’s responsibilities. When the old Lord died, and the young Lord Robert was to take over, Dwight’s father retired, knowing that he could never keep up with such a young man. Thus, Dwight inherited the role as head servant.
This was often the case in the noble class. One family inherited a Lordship every generation while another inherited the butlership. Usually, the children grew up together and had a strong friendship before they took on their respective roles. This was not the case with Lord Robert and Dwight. Robert had been born abroad and lived out of the country with his mother most of his life. Dwight met the younger Lord Robert for the first time at the funeral.
Still, the two got along famously from the start. And a twenty year friendship had ensued.
“Will there be anything else, Sir?” said Dwight.
“Dwight, how many times have I told you? There’s no need to be so formal if nobody’s watching.”
“Well, Sir, it’s a matter of respect.”
“Bah! Treat me as you would anyone else.”
“Very good, Sir. Then may I say next time get your own damn scone?”
“Er…perhaps a bit less like everyone else.”
They both chuckled.
Lord Robert pat Dwight on the back. “Do we have enough staff for the youth club benefit?”
“I’ve seen to that,” said Dwight.
“Excellent. It’s a marvelous day. Would you fancy a hunt?”
“No, Sir, the urge to shoot you would be overwhelming.”
“Come, then. Perhaps you’ll miss me and hit dinner.”
“Very good, Sir.”
At least the Council Chamber was near by. Everywhere in the Citadel was near by. The Citadel was the center of government for Gallifrey, and therefore, the center of government for time itself. While imposing in its function, it was build before the days of Rassilon, when the government was more feudal and therefore smaller.
Romana walked in and bowed to the President. The room was fairly empty. Two ceremonial guards stood at attention at the entrance, and Lady President Flavia was seated at the table with another Time Lord. “Romana. Please, have a seat. You know Chancellor Tralun, I believe?”
Romana gratefully took her seat. Her joints were beginning to bother her from all the walking. “Of course. A pleasure as always, Chancellor.”
“You’re looking well, Romana,” said the Chancellor.
“Nonsense. I’m old and I look it,” said Romana. “I’d regenerate, but I haven’t the time.”
“Certainly we can arrange the time for you if need be,” said Flavia.
Romana shook her head. “No need. I’ll get around to it eventually.” She leaned back in her chair. “So, you summoned me?”
“I did,” Flavia responded.
“I am at the Lady President’s command,” said Romana, with a little more flair that was necessary.
“Ah, such panache,” said Flavia. “I wonder if your next incarnation will have such…personality.”
“I should hope so. Anyway, what can I do for you?”
“Well,” Flavia wove her fingers on the table, “I know you’ve headed off the strike for a while. I was wondering for how long?”
“I can’t say,” said Romana, “They know the Mark IX is the most important project there is, so they’re jerking us around with it.”
“Naturally,” said Flavia. “In short, how much will it cost us to shut them up?”
Romana raised an eyebrow. “You’re giving in?”
“I may do. We need the Mark IX. While I don’t like being held hostage by the Engineer’s Guild, I can’t think of anything short of canceling Mark IX to put them in their place.”
Romana shrugged. She was glad these decisions were not hers to make anymore. “Very well. They want a 20% funding increase. I believe I can get them down to 10%.”
Flavia pursed her lips. “Still rather expensive. Chancellor, what do you think?”
Romana had suspected Flavia would give in. As soon as she saw her sitting with the Chancellor, her suspicions were confirmed. The primary duty of the Chancellor was keeper of the Treasury.
“Well, Lady President,” the Chancellor began. “It would be a tremendous expense. The budget for the Mark IX is already horribly overextended. To add another 10 percent would certainly mean canceling some other public works.”
“Well, we knew TARDISes were expensive to design when we started. I intend to advise the council to appropriate the funding. That is,” she looked to Romana, “Once the Minister of the Interior bargains them down to ten percent.”
Romana nodded, standing. “Well, if there’s nothing else, then?”
Flavia and the Chancellor stood as well.
Romana’s ears perked up. Flavia was just finishing saying “Thank you for your time.” The Chancellor was extending his hand for a parting handshake.
Romana started to turn toward the noise. The Chancellor noticed it for the first time.
The guards at the door looked to a spot of wall and began to draw their weapons.
Romana saw what the guards saw. One of the ornate panels inlaid into the wall had opened to reveal the barrel of some sort of weapon. It was set in to the wall and being remotely controlled from elsewhere.
ZzzZZZZZZZZ the barrel started to glow. It was pointed at Flavia. The guards were running to intervene but would not get there in time.
Without thinking, Romana summoned all her strength and shoved Flavia, putting herself in the way.
The weapon fired. The plasma cut through Romana’s chest cavity, back to front, like a bullet through butter, clipped Flavia in the arm, and continued through the opposite wall.
Romana fell to the floor. She felt numb all over. Her vision blurred and she began to black out. She danced dangerously on the edge of consciousness. She heard the guards open fire on the weapon, and the crack as it blew up. She heard voices.
“…Romana’s been hit…”
“…Forget my arm! See to Romana!…”
“…Even the Sonic Screwdriver won’t get me out of this one!…”
It was like being in a dream. She knew there was a situation of some kind brewing, and that she was in some way involved, but she just couldn’t see any reason to get excited over it. She felt herself being moved.
“…she’s badly injured…”
“…will she regenerate?…”
“…I can’t say. I think it got one of her hearts. Maybe both…”
“…call a doctor….”
“Yes…” Romana mumbled. “The Doctor will know what to do…”
“…That proves she’s got at least one still working. She wouldn’t be talking otherwise…”
“…Romana! Fetch me the manual on the number 4 panel, would you?…”
“…her face! It’s starting…”
“…Don’t move her! Don’t touch her until she’s done regenerating. You could kill her if you try to move her when she’s…like that…”
Is someone regenerating? Romana thought to herself. I wonder if it’s someone I know…
The world got farther away. She was 10 years old again, skinning her knee on the playground. She was repairing K-9. The Cybermen had her tied to a chair. She could see her Professor of Temporal Mechanics, scrawling on a blackboard. He turned around and his face was the Doctor’s and the midterm is next week and the giant squid IS the fifth part of the key and K-9 senses danger and to cure for Cybermen is gold and she used to have black hair then blond then gray then she lost her hat and the quartermaster wanted a word but the dormitory was closed and she graduated with honors but the Type 40 has a manual on how to defeat Vampires because Adric stowed away and the President wants a word because the Time Sensitives need her help to escape slavery because they are the slave-owners and the Doctor’s scarf is getting more and more tattered every day…
Then the world went black.
Unlike Romana, rabbits do not possess the ability to regenerate; when they’re shot, they die and stay dead.
Lord Robert picked up the dead animal and examined it. “Excellent shot, Dwight. We shall dine on rabbit tonight.”
Dwight shrugged. “Lord Robert, we do have a meat freezer full of all the finest-“
“Bah! What good is food if you don’t get it yourself?”
“But I shot that one, Sir.”
“Yes…well…get it yourself or have someone get it for you…er…” Robert knew what was coming next.
“Then I can fetch it from the store.”
“Yes, yes, I know, I know.”
Dwight surveyed the clearing. It was beginning to get dark. “Fancy going back, Sir? It’s starting to get a bit toward twilight, and the bugs will be coming on in force, soon.”
“Excuse me,” said a flat, unfamiliar voice at Dwight’s ear.
Dwight and Robert spun to face their sudden guest.
“By God! Where did you come from?”
Mr. Smith shrugged. “I walked, of course.” He adjusted his sunglasses. “Could you tell me the way to the main road?”
Dwight looked at Mr. Smith suspiciously while Robert said “Yes, yes, of course. Just head up that way. You can’t miss it.”
“You know,” Dwight interjected, “These are the estates of Lord Robert. Poaching will not be tolerated.”
Mr. Smith turned his hands up in an expansive shrug. “If I were poaching, would I not have a gun?”
It seemed reasonable, but that voice was altogether eerie. It was the kind of voice that could say “I like puppies” and make it sound sinister.
Mr. Smith awaited no reply from Dwight. He turned to Robert and said “Thank you, Lord Robert,” extending his hand.
Robert grasped the hand to shake it and grunted, pulling it back. Dwight tensed, ready for action.
“Sorry,” said Mr. Smith. “Bit of static, that.” Without another word, he turned toward the direction Lord Robert indicated and began to walk. His gait was uneven somehow. As if he had stiff joints or a backache.
“What an odd fellow,” commented Robert.
“How did he know you were Lord Robert?”
“Saw my picture in the paper, probably.”
“Why was he wearing shades? It’s beginning to get dark.”
“Forgot he had them on, I expect.”
“How did he build up a static charge in the middle of a wet field on a humid day?”
“Well…any number of reasons…er…”
Dwight waited patiently.
Lord Robert thought it best to change the subject. “Well, he’s on his way, and we have dinner to prepare.”
“’We’ have dinner to prepare? So, you’ll be helping out Cook tonight?”
“If you like.”
“God, you’re just like your father.”
The process of regeneration takes only a few uncomfortable seconds, but the aftereffects can last for hours. In cases of extreme injury, where the body is forced to go into overdrive to repair wounded or missing organs, the side effects can be quite severe.
Romana had changed. She was no longer the elder stateswoman she had been. Her new body was young, fit, and unconscious. Where once she had tangled wisps of gray hair, she now had a long and lustrous mane of reddish-brown. Her placid face had lost all its wrinkles and changed its bone structure. Her sagging and withered body firmed up to a hearty sample of feminine form. This was visible even through the bloodied robes she still wore.
“Lady President, please,” begged a doctor.
The Hugh Council room was alive with activity. At the doors, now, were at least ten uniformed guards, keeping all but authorized personnel out. Inside, three different doctors swarmed about, two inspecting Romana, one pestering President Flavia.
Flavia hunched over Romana’s prone form, holding her own wounded arm. “Patience, doctor. My arm will be just as wounded when Romana is taken care of.”
The Chancellor was with several investigators at the now defunct weapon, inspecting it. “We can assume,” he said to one of the officers, “that is was operated by a would be assassin of the President. To fire at the right time, the assassin must have had some method of viewing the room to know when the Lady President would be in the right position. I think we should scour the room for bugs and cameras. Perhaps we can get more information that way.”
“Lord Chancellor,” one of the officers said. “We appreciate your input, but we can handle this.”
“Yes, yes, of course. I’m sorry. The whole thing has me somewhat shook up.”
“Romana?” Said Flavia. “Romana? Are you at all there?”
Romana’s eyes suddenly opened wide and she sat up instantly. “What!? Cheesecake at this hour! You’re mad!” Then, she lapsed back in to unconsciousness, being caught as she fell back by the two doctors.
Before they could lay her back down, she popped up again. “Schroedinger? You must be kidding?” She collapsed again.
Flavia pat her hand. “Yes, it’s always hard if it catches you off guard.” She addressed the doctors, “Once you’ve assured her health, lock her in a comfortable room until she is no longer a danger to herself. Who knows what she might do in this state.”
“Yes, Lady President.” Romana’s doctors lifted her on to a stretcher.
“And now, you may see to my arm,” she said to the remaining doctor.
“Thank you, Lady President.”
Romana awoke in a white bed in a small white room. A white desk graced the opposite corner, near a white door with a tiny window. She looked left. She looked right. Then, just to be sure, she looked left again. She couldn’t remember if she had checked to her right, yet, so she did.
She threw the covers off herself and was amazed at how easy it was. Usually, when she awoke, it was a long and painful process just to get out of bed. This time, however, she just bounced right up.
“Odd.” She said quickly to no one in particular, while darting her eyes around the room. She looked down at herself. She was wearing white pajamas. The body that was apparently attached to her was all wrong. Actually, it was all right, which made it wrong. What had happened to her bony legs? Her vericose veins? Her sagging breasts? This wasn’t her body! It was someone else’s!
Then, it all came rushing back. The President, the gun barrel, the pain.
She clapped her hands. “Regeneration! Yes, that’s it!” she bounced from one foot to the other, as if she were preparing for a race. “Nice new muscles!” She began pacing the room at a furious rate. “So, I’ve regenerated, and someone’s trying to kill the Lady President, What was that!?” She spun to look at the desk. There had been no noise, but that did not matter.
She peered at the desk, and after confirming that it was not on the attack, she rushed to the door. The handle would not turn. She tried frantically to open it, to no avail.
“Locked! Bugger!” She panted.
A man’s face appeared in the window. “Lady Romana?”
She yelped and jumped back. “Who are you!” she ranted accusingly.
“Sergeant Yavil, Ma’am. Here to see to it you don’t hurt y’self.”
“I demand to be released immediately, if not sooner!”
“Sorry, Ma’am. The order comes from the Lady President herself. You’re not quite all there, see? You’ve just regenerated.”
“Fetch me a mirror,” Romana demanded.
The sudden topic change caught Yavil off guard. “A mirror? Yes, of course, a mirror. You haven’t had a chance to see yourself, yet. Quite appealing if I may say so. I’ll have one sent up straight away.”
“And release me!”
“Understood.” She paced wildly again. Her pacing was not the simple liner oscillation most edgy people perform. It was the precessing star-like pattern reserved for those who had gone mad. She began mumbling to herself.
Yavil shrugged and resumed his post to the side of the door. She’ll be right as rain in a jiffy. No problem. He double-checked the lock on the door. No problem.
“I’m a prisoner. I’m a prisoner here!” Romana mumbled to herself. “What did I do? I’ve done something, or at least they think I have.” She stopped pacing and sharply inhaled. “They think I set up that gun! That must be it!” The conclusion was as clear as day to the post-regenerative paranoid mind that was Romana’s. “They’re going to kill me! Guard!”
Yavil’s friendly face appeared in the window again. “Yes, M’Lady?”
“I shall require a video communicator!”
“A video communicator?”
“Yes!” she bit her lip briefly. “Yes, indeed! I have work to do, you know. I am the Minister of the Interior, am I not?”
“Well, yes, Ma’am, you are but-“
“Thank you. I had suspected I was. Now I know for sure. Anyway, I shall need a video communicator console as soon as possible.” She fidgeted and wrapped her arms around herself. She swayed some, all the while keeping her eyes locked on Yavil.
“With all due respect, Ma’am, are you sure you feel up to it? I mean, well, you’re not in the best form.”
“Nonsense, my form is brand new. Shouldn’t have any problems at all.”
“Yes, well, I mean it’s the work you do, you see? There’s a certain diplomatic edge to it and in your current state-“
“Just fetch me a bloody video communicator, will you?”
“Very well, Ma’am. I’ll have it sent up with the mirror.”
“Excellent!” Romana continued her fevered pacing, the depths of her twisted mind formulating an idea.
The trio of unusual tourists returned to Potter’s Knoll in the middle of the night. The only light came from the stars and from the manor. Despite the darkness each word shades.
Mr. Jones peered at the manor. “Mr. Smith. I presume you have completed your task?”
“I have, Mr. Jones,” Mr. Smith deadpanned back.
“Mr. Johnson. I presume the equipment is ready?”
“It is, Mr. Jones,” replied Mr. Johnson.
“Where is he now, Mr. Smith?”
Mr. Smith concentrated. “He is in his bedroom, Mr. Jones. Asleep.”
“Very well. At dawn, he shall come out for his morning constitutional. At that point, we shall strike.”
“As you command, Mr. Jones,” both of the others said in unison.
Romana held her knees to her chest, huddled in the corner of the room as Yavil wheeled in the video communicator. She peered at him suspiciously.
“Here you are, Ma’am. One video-com and one mirror,” he tapped the mirror he had laid on the console, “as requested.”
“Admit it!” Romana growled. “You’re going to kill me.”
“No, Ma’am,” he said pleasantly. “Those are not my instructions.”
“So it’s to be someone else, then?”
“Nobody has been instructed to kill you, Ma’am,” said Yavil, explaining as he would to a child. “If anything, you should expect awards and a probable promotion. You did save the life of the Lady President. Don’t you remember?”
“I don’t believe you. Get out!”
“But Lady Romana, you did save the President!”
“I know that, villain! I don’t believe you have no intention of killing me.”
He was beginning to. “Why would I-“
“Fine.” He stormed out of the room, closing and locking the door.
Romana peered at the video communicator.
“A trap?” she wondered aloud. “Perhaps a bomb set to go off when I activate it? No, no,” she shook her head vigorously “If they wanted to kill me now, they would have that guard do it. He’s just itching to, I can tell.”
She stood and crossed to the video communicator. Turning it on timidly, she awaited anything unusual. It merely activated and waited for her to enter a number to call.
She nodded and caught a glimpse of the mirror. Abandoning her pervious line of thought, she grabbed it and saw her new self for the first time. She could scarcely believe it was her. It was like looking at a picture of someone else.
The only other time she had regenerated, she did so voluntarily. She was able to change her form several times before settling on one she liked. Specifically, she emulated the body of a princess she had met. This time, the form came from…where? Nowhere. There was no conscious thought attached to it when regeneration was caused by injury. The new form comes straight from the subconscious in that case. She turned her face left and right and watched it in the mirror. All and all, it was an attractive body. No obvious flaws.
She threw the mirror across the room with an angry grunt. It shattered against the wall. “No time for petty vanity now!” She scolded herself. “There’s work to be done!”
She ran to the door and glanced obliquely through the window. Yavil stood guard, but was facing away from the door.
She ran back to the video communicator, knelt, and opened a maintenance panel. For the next several minutes, she fiddled with the innards, but finally reached a task she could not perform without tools. She jumped to her feet and spun wildly, like an animal in a cage.
Bed: Plastic frame, cloth mattress and covers. No good.
Desk: Plastic again. No detachable parts. No good.
Video Console: Nothing useable as a screwdriver without destroying it.
Mirror: Broken. No good-
“Wait!” She said, rushing over to the shattered remains of the mirror. She selected a suitable shard and returned to the communicator. She reached in and continued her work.
It took her another twenty minutes to make the necessary modifications, and she cut her fingers in several places on the mirror shard, but she was confident she had done it right.
She clapped and rubbed her hands, “Now, then!” She turned the communicator on and entered the appropriate frequency.
Thousands of miles away, on the far side of Gallifrey, were the high security storage facilities. Almost everything of a sensitive nature that needed to be stored by the Time Lords was stored in special transcendental lockers; basically TARDISes without engines. The technology of having something bigger on the inside than on the outside was useful in many ways. They could only be opened with the appropriate molecular-bonded key, and the keys were kept quite safe.
Some things, however, owing to their very nature, could not be stored in transcendental lockers.
TARDISes, for instance.
A TARDIS was transcendental itself, and putting a transcendental object inside another transcendental object leads to an infinite regression that is dangerous and nearly guaranteed to destroy both.
So, TARDISes were stored in a special, mundane, three dimensional warehouses when not in use. Two workers strolled down an aisle of TARDISes, performing the daily count.
Each TARDIS was like a used car. It had been used in the past, but retired. Some for upgrades. Others because of technical difficulties. Others still because their owner died or retired. Each one had been inspected, repaired where necessary, and made nearly good as new. Each one had had their chameleon circuit reset. So the TARDISes were rows and rows of identical white featureless boxes. Each was exactly 2 meters tall, 1 meter wide, and 1 meter deep. Each had a door on the front face.
One of the workers had a clipboard, and read “Number 239483.”
The other said “Check.”
Inside one of the TARDISes they had just checked, the dark, unused console room came to life. System after system initialized as more and more lights came on at the hexagonal console. The time rotor, gracing the center of the console, remained dark and motionless.
One of the screens on the console came to life, outputting the text “TARDIS, Type 40, Mark 1. Initiating self-check. Power: OK. Interior lighting: OK. Instrumentation: OK. Time Engine: OK. Dynamorphic Generator: OK. Dimensional Stabilizer: OK. Chameleon Circuit: OK.” The list continued as system after system was checked.
Romana read that same data on her video communicator. She smiled to herself. It was a bit of an accomplishment, and she allowed herself a brief moment of pride. All TARDISes can be operated remotely. That way, the Time Lords could recall anyone they pleased without hassle.
But only the old Type 40s had a tiny security flaw in the remote access software that allowed Romana to hack in. She was one the foremost experts on Gallefrey on vintage TARDISes. Her time with the Doctor helped a lot in that respect.
She pressed a few more buttons on the communicator.
Inside the now active TARDIS, the view-screen cover slid up revealing what was going on outside. Romana had the video signal piped to her communicator and watched the workers walking down the aisle. She waited and watched as they finished that row. There was really no need to wait. What could they do once the TARDIS started to dematerialize? Grab it? But Romana was still not thinking clearly. Certain parts of her mind were surfacing as needed. Her technical abilities, for one. Also, her knowledge of TARDISes and how to operate them. Whatever knowledge she had that her paranoia decided she needed, she was allowed to remember.
She typed a few more keys, and an image of the console appeared on the screen. As she entered instructions, she watched the console to make sure the settings were correct.
“Nothing left but this!” She smiled, pressing the execute button.
The moment, the very fraction of a second, that the TARDIS began to dematerialize, alarms began to blare and lights began to flash all over the warehouse. The grinding sound of the dematerialization was drowned out by the cacophony. Armed guards swarmed through the aisles and found the gap where the missing TARDIS had been.
One of them spoke into his wrist communicator. “One missing! Track it!”
“Already on it!” Came the response.
Romana coiled like a spring, ready to leap. She held her hand over a button on the communicator. She knew she wouldn’t have much time.
The white featureless TARDIS began to materialize in the room. It fit in well with the décor. There was no way to make a Type 40 TARDIS materialize quietly. First came the chirping sound, then came the harsh grinding sound of the stabilizer.
Yavil shuddered outside the door and looked madly through the window. The TARDIS was materializing. It would be done, soon. He tried to open the door only to discover Romana had barricaded it with the desk and bed. He threw himself bodily against the door and the barricade began to shift.
Romana ignored him and waited for the TARDIS to finish. It did, heralding it’s finish with an echoing thump as the stabilizer shut down.
Without wasting a second, Romana pressed the key, ordering the TARDIS to open its doors, and rushed in. At that same moment, Yavil broke through the barricade. He ran for the TARDIS.
Romana, inside the control room, half ran, half tripped to the console and grabbed the door control with both hands. The door slammed in Yavil’s face.
“Blast!” he said. “Lady Romana! You’re in no danger! I assure you! But if you try to pilot a TARDIS in your condition, anything can happen! Please! For your own sake! Don’t try!”
Romana heard and saw him on the still open view screen. “Enough of your lies! She yelled, forgetting that he could not hear her. She slammed her fist on the view screen control, shutting it down.
Madly, she ran around the console preparing for take off. She did not need to set coordinates. She just needed to dematerialize. She could pick a landing point in flight.
She was sufficiently sure she would not pilot herself through a star, so she dematerialized.
Yavil stood back as the TARDIS disappeared.
The time rotor came alight and began oscillating up and down. Romana breathed a sigh of relief.
“Right! First thing’s first!” She dropped to her knees and opened an access panel at the base of the console. She pulled out several boards and threw them casually across the room. “Well, that does it for the remote override.”
Meanwhile, at the TARDIS warehouse.
“Bring it back, man!” yelled the commander of the guard.
“I’m trying, sir, it’s just not working!” confessed the technician.
“Damn! Track it.”
“We did. It went to the Citadel.”
“From there it went off again. We’re tracking it, but there doesn’t seem to be any course.”
Romana stood and pushed her hair out of her face. “They’ll be tracking me, naturally. This should throw them a bit.” She furiously entered a program into the TARDIS computer, instructing it to randomly pick time-streams and follow them for a random amount of time, then to jump to another, and another, and so on, until 1000 jumps were made.
“For all their foibles, these Type 40 Mark Ones have excellent direct control.” She mumbled. “Not many pesky safety systems to interfere.” Even in her traumatized state, she knew what she was doing was highly dangerous. But she had confidence in her TARDIS operation skills. At least she was fairly sure she had confidence.
“Aah! The damn thing is all over the timelines! I’m losing it.” Said the Tech. “By Rassilon! What lunatic is piloting that thing?”
“Have you still got it!?” The commander pressed.
“No, Sir. I’ve lost it. But I don’t think it matters much.”
“Whoever stole it obviously doesn’t know how to use it. It has to have been destroyed by now, judging by the way it was flitting about the timelines.”
“Doesn’t know how to use it, eh?” The Commander said, a satirical look in his eye. “Well, our thief is a rare specimen indeed, Technician. He knows how to steal a TARDIS, and he knows how to disable the remote callback functions in seconds. But he doesn’t know how to pilot one. Is it possible your theory is not only flawed, but in fact utter bollix!?”
The technician sunk into his chair.
Romana could at last relax for a moment. It would take hours for the TARDIS to finish hopping from timeline to timeline. At some point, she would need to pick a destination. At the moment, it was not a necessity.
For the first time, she looked around the console room. It was empty, naturally. The whole TARDIS would be devoid of furniture.
“I won’t even have a bed to sleep in until I pick one up. Wait! Of course. The medical bay will have beds. Standard equipment. I can sleep in there, then. Ah. Relaxation at last.”
She started to grow dizzy. Like a shot, she checked the instrument panel. No indication of trouble. She rubbed her head. “I need a rest. Wait! No!” She was starting to gain her senses, briefly. “The excitement! That’s what was keeping me going! Now that it’s over I’m going to pass out again!” She could already feel herself starting to swoon.
She fell to the floor. With immense effort, she managed to pull herself to her knees with the aid of the console. “Have to set a course…can’t let it idle…” She knew that once the program ran its 1000 timeline leaps, she had better have some coordinates set or the TARDIS would come to rest in whatever stream it was in. That could be the middle of a nova, the end of the universe, or worse. The program would take hours to complete, but there was no telling how long Romana would stay out once she lost her tenuous grip on consciousness.
“Have to set coordinates…before I pass out.”
Sluggishly, without ever managing to stand, she brought the navigational computer on line. It wasn’t much help. The screen read “Navigational data not installed.”
“Blast.” She murmured. Her vision became blurry and she sank to the floor.