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Conspiracy on Karn: A Doctor Who Story

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Conspiracy on Karn

A Doctor Who Story By

M. J. Baker

Copyright © M. J. Baker

All rights reserved

ISBN: 1530368847

ISBN-13: 978-1530368846

This is a work of fanfiction and has not been licensed or authorised by the BBC. Doctor Who and all associated brands are copyright of the BBC and their respective holders. No claim of ownership is implied by this work.

Author’s Note

Though this is fanfiction, I tried to make the story as accessible as possible to someone unfamiliar with Doctor Who. But I definitely failed. Instead, I think someone who enjoys the show and has at least a passing knowledge of its recent history will be able to enjoy it. The references to past episodes have been explained insofar as it has any bearing on the plot, so it isn’t necessary to have seen them. But if you want to get the full picture I’d recommend watching The Brain of Morbius (1976) and The Night of the Doctor (2013).

For Pippa

Chapter 1

A tide of crimson met Ohila’s eyes as she emerged from her chambers, the newest members of the Sisterhood were lined up for morning inspection outside her door. As she always did, Ohila puffed out her chest and adopted her sternest countenance before stepping towards the leftmost sister. They were all taller than Ohila, now that old age had finally been allowed to catch up with her, but it made her no less intimidating to the new recruits. She inspected the first sister, taking in her perfectly-arranged robes and hood. Zahilo was always the first in line for inspection and her dress was always immaculate. She was loyal to the sisterhood, ambitious too, but unimaginative. Her young neck and sharp chin was the only part of her face not shadowed by her hood. Without changing her expression, Ohila turned on her heel, took one step forward and turned back to inspect the next sister. She repeated this exercise for the first nine sisters in the line-up, stopping only once to straighten a sleeve on Rula. As she turned to inspect the final sister she gaped for a moment, nearly breaking her act of pompous severity. Compared to the youthful jaws she’d been inspecting, this one was practically obscene. A wrinkled, liver-spotted neck garnished with a wiry grey beard and thick moustache. Ohila sharply regained her composure and addressed the assembly.

“Acceptable, sisters, but scruffy,” she said calmly. “You chose your appearance when you came to me today. When I see you next, choose to be tidier. Dismissed.”

Zahilo as she nodded and led the procession out through the stone doors at the end of the cavern. She expected the final sister to remain, but the figure skulked out behind the others. Two young serving boys, who had stood outside during inspection and opened the great stone doors ahead of the departing sisters, began to pull them shut again. Ohila hitched up the skirt of her robes and jogged lightly to grab one by the arm.

“Derrin, could you bring some tea to the surface ceremony cave?” she said. The boy nodded, flashing the polite smile all men in the Sisterhood’s temple were trained to give their superiors – the smile that never quite met their eyes – and left.

“And two cups,” she called after him wearily.

Ohila climbed the stone stairs towards the surface of Karn, treating each step like a military operation. Closer and closer. To the moment she’d known was coming ever since she’d last seen the man at the end of the line. The warrior who was meant to end the Time War, but hadn’t. Not yet, anyway. And the sin she’d hoped would be wiped away with the Daleks was waiting for her at the top of the stairs. Ohila stepped out from behind the stone wall that obscured the steps from view, a harsh wind grazed her anguished face.

There he was.

How long must it have been for him? He’d looked young when he left Karn, centuries of pain and loss and absurdity and wanderlust trapped behind a face barely older than a child’s. Time had caught up with the Time Lord, for now he looked like a man sick of the Universe in a Universe doing its level best to wear him down. Ohila recognised the wizened neck and beige beard, but the robe had been discarded and she could now look at the rest of what she’d started. The man’s face was a wasteland of time-worn wrinkles, his skin rough and impenetrable like armour. His unkempt hair, slightly darker than his beard, clumped at the top of his head into a broad tuft. His frame drowned in a peeling leather jacket, under which Ohila could see a frayed scarf double-looped around his neck and the bandolier he’d taken from the girl he’d failed still clung to his chest. The man was holding a steaming cup of tea, apparently taken from the pot left thoughtlessly on the slab where she’d died. A second cup stood waiting for her.

“Good afternoon,” he said.

Chapter 2

“Doctor,” Ohila breathed.

“That is not my name,” the man responded simply, as though his husky voice had said those words a million times.

“Then what are you now?”

“Well, you made me a warrior. When this body was younger, I reveled in that name and the bloodshed I caused. Now…I don’t know.”

“The elixir’s effects ebb with time,” Ohila said. “You’re not what you were when you picked the-”

He cut across her sharply through clenched teeth, “Do NOT try to absolve yourself!”

Ohila said nothing, the Warrior seethed for a moment. Then, collecting himself, he cleared his throat and loosened the scarf slightly.

“Something always bugged me about the day I was born, but I’ve been busy. I didn’t really have time to reflect on it until now.”

“Why now?” said Ohila accusingly. “The war rages on. You’ve still got a duty, soldier.”

The man rolled his eyes.

“Oh please. The war will still be there when I get back, it’ll always be somewhere in the web of time. Unless something drastic happens. It is, after all, a time war. I took a holiday, am I not owed that? Do have some tea, by the way.”

“What do you mean drastic?”

The old man didn’t respond for a moment, then grinned.

“Are you sure you won’t have some tea? It’s very good, you know.”

Ohila stole a glance at the teapot still perched on the stone. It was modelled after the traditional headdress of the Reverend Mother – a stout, cylindrical pot with gold trim and two large loops on either side as handles. Identical to the one she’d seen worn by Maren, the previous Reverend Mother, before she’d sacrificed her immortality to save the Doctor on his first visit to Karn, when he’d fought Morbius, sixteen centuries ago. Definitely property of the Sisterhood but…

The Warrior seemed to read her mind.

“I’ve not put anything in it. You know, as well as I do, that subtlety has never been my strong suit. Have some.”

“I don’t need your permission. Doctor,” Ohila snapped. “I’ll have some tea when I’m good and ready.”

“Yet you requested two cups. I was talking to that chap…uh…Darren? He was wondering who the other cup was for, thought you might be asking him out to tea. Watch out for him, that boy seeks advancement.”

“No, he doesn’t. A man in servitude to the Sisterhood would never…You spoke to him?” Ohila’s icy expression melted into bare panic for a moment before thickening into a scalding rage.

GET OFF THIS PLANET, DOCTOR! LEAVE KARN! SPEAK TO NOBODY! NEVER RETURN!” she roared.

The Warrior was unmoved.

“I’m sure that tone works wonderfully on the newbies, but I’m your oldest recruit. Don’t think that-”

“Ohh so that’s what this is about! You blame me for making you into…this,” Ohila laughed contemptuously. “I didn’t make you drink that elixir, Doctor. You chose it yourself.”

“Yes, I did. But why did I need to choose it?”

Ohila said nothing.

“I went back and watched our last encounter. I hate repeats but thought I might see something that would finally settle my mind. Do you know what I saw?” he asked.

“I was there, Doctor. Unlike you, I wasn’t dying and driven half-mad with grief. If you blame me for giving you a choice when-.”

“No,” he cut across her again. “You said ‘I took the liberty of preparing this one myself’ _]the moment I told you to make me a warrior. Ready to go in a silver goblet. You brought me to Karn specifically to make me into this, but you needed me to [_choose it. I ask again. Why?”

Ohila said nothing.

Her warrior glanced at the teapot again.

“If I had poisoned that tea, I could persuade you to drink it of your own choice but why go to all that trouble?” he took three strides towards Ohila and was less than an inch away. She stood her ground. “I could knock you unconscious and pour it down your throat.”

Ohila remained impassive. The Warrior grinned again and walked past her, circling the slab as he spoke.

“I was dead. You could have revived me, dosed me with the elixir while I was unconscious and then scarpered. I would have woken up in a new body, assumed a regeneration into a persona willing to join the Time War and been none the wiser. I’d have never known I was being manipulated.”

“You’re not being manipulated, you stupid boy,” Ohila said wearily. “All the elixir does is strengthen impulses that are already there. Violence, rage, callousness. All the things you usually suppress about yourself, Doctor. Your actions are your own.”

The old man was becoming frustrated now. He began walking towards her as he spoke, cautiously at first but soon worked up into angry stomps.

“I agree. I’m not trying to pass the buck here, Ohila. I’m beyond forgiveness with or without you. All I want to know is why. Why did I have to choose it for myself? Tell me WHY?!” he spat the last word in Ohila’s face.

The old man’s fierce expression faltered at Ohila’s silence. When she saw that he had tears in his eyes, seeping through the mask of vicious rage, her hearts broke as a mother’s would at a distraught child.

The Warrior’s face was callous, but his eyes were still kind. And he’d blinked.

Without a word, the old man turned back to the slab and lightly placed his teacup on it.

“Thanks for the tea.”

And he was gone.

Ohila took a shuddering breath and reached for the teapot.

Chapter 3

Some time later, the Warrior was climbing across the craggy, amber surface of Karn back to the TARDIS. He’d taken to landing his ship far away from where he needed to be. It made no difference, since the TARDIS would always know what he’d been doing and he could sense the old girl’s pity and distress whenever he stepped, blood-soaked, through the doors. But he couldn’t look at that blue box and do the things that its true pilot – the Doctor  - would abhor.

Even though he must. He had no choice.

He knew Ohila was hiding something. Deception between two telepaths is hard but, with enough concentration, not impossible. He had no reason to lie so could rant and rave all he liked, but Ohila had kept herself guarded. Maintaining such intense control, as she had, ensures that your opponent only learns one thing for certain – you’ve got a secret. A secret you’re terrified of speaking. But what was she afraid of? Not him. After all, she is immortal.

Lost in thought, the first sign the old man had he was being followed was an arrow, crackling with electricity, whizz past his left ear from behind and hurtle in the direction of the TARDIS, itself a barely-visible blotch on the russet landscape. The Warrior looked dumbly in the direction it had gone.

A loud voice echoed around the gulley he was standing in, startling him.

HALT! THAT WAS YOUR FIRST WARNING SHOT, TIME LORD. IT WAS ALSO YOUR LAST. HALT NOW! OUR KHARUS ARROWS ARE REGENERATION-PROOF. SURRENDER!”

The Warrior put his arms up, shaking his wrists gently so that his hands were visible through the sleeves of his ill-fitting jacket to show he was unarmed. He heard the unmistakable cacophony of a six (or more) legged creature cantering up behind him and somebody dismounting with a heavy thump.

“There’s no need for all of this, you know. I was just on my way out. Speak to High Priestess Ohila, she’ll vouch for my ability to leave,” he told the figure lurking behind him.

“You will come with me to the temple. Any attempt to escape will be taken as an admission of guilt and sentence will be carried out immediately,” the figure said in a brusque female voice.

“Guilt?” the Warrior said, confused.

“High Priestess Ohila is dead,” the figure responded.

Right, the Warrior thought, now we’re getting somewhere.

Chapter 4

The trial had taken place without him, of course. The Warrior had been led back to the temple by the Sister-Soldiers and put in a cell – a bare stone alcove in what appeared to be another ceremonial cave, though this one was underground with the rest of the temple. Interlocking stalagmites and stalactites formed the cell’s bars, melting away and regrowing in an instant whenever someone came in or went out. A frightened-looking Sister had entered the cell within a Karnian hour of his arrival, carrying a large white globe in her trembling hands. She released it but, instead of falling, it floated in place. The Sister, who had not yet met the prisoner’s gaze, stole a quick glance at his face. As their eyes met, the Sister started and leapt back through the retreating bars as though his gaze had stung her. Nobody had said a word to him since he’d learnt of Ohila’s fate and he’d asked no more questions.

A moment later, something started to form within the sphere still floating in the middle of the cell. The old man sat on the floor, cross-legged, in front of the globe. Inside it, the image of yet another ceremony cave bloomed, this one filled with people – hundreds of Sisters dressed in crimson robes and a variety of ornate and perfectly pointless headdresses.

Thin men in mustard-coloured tunics were dotted around the room, standing up while most of the women were sitting on rows of stone benches that took up half the room, the other half was taken up by a grand fire in front of a long, semicircular table, at which seven Sisters – wearing the most impracticably resplendent robes and headwear of all – sat facing the others. A gentle babbling swiftly hushed as the Sister seated in the middle of the long table rose to speak.

“The trial of the Time Lord sometimes known as The Doctor will come to order. The accused is watching proceedings through a viewing globe but, as an outsider, he is not required to provide testimony or offer defence. He stands accused of infiltrating the sacred temple of our Sisterhood, robe theft and the murder of a High Priestess.”

The Warrior had seen and participated in enough trials to know when it was safe to nod off a bit, but he caught the important stuff. Ohila had been dosed with a simple poison which, ordinarily, wouldn’t have affected a Sister. The elixir, derived from the Sacred Flame that the Sisterhood worship and that they are required to take regular doses of to maintain their immortality, fortifies their metabolism against toxins. However, Ohila had been reaching the end of her service so was given permission to cease her elixir dosage and resume aging. She had succumbed to the poison instantly.

The High Council – the seven women on the front table, none of whom looked a day over 25 by humanoid standards – had heard testimony from Derrin, the serving boy, who said he had taken tea to the ceremony cave and spoken to a stranger, who’d been left alone with the teapot before Ohila had arrived. The Doctor’s guilt – they had records of his regeneration on Karn, so referred to him by his old title – was undeniable.

The man sighed as the sentencing began. How many times had he been sentenced to death? He must be pushing the five hundredth by now. As the pronouncements were being made, the Doctor began formulating an escape plan involving a Roathian puzzle cube and a packet of Quavers he’d found in his jacket pocket. Until he heard the sentence.

“…exiled from Karn.”

Within three hours of being captured, the Warrior was once again making his way back to the TARDIS. Only this time in a convoy of three Sister-Soldiers riding large, six-legged insectoid creatures. One Sister led the way while the others took up the rear, two fizzling Kharus arrows trained on his back in case he tried to run. He had heard nobody on Karn speak since the trial ended, when the same soldiers who had captured him had immediately appeared at the cell, bound his hands and marched him out. The one time he had spoken – to ask if he could ride too – he’d been ignored. He made the journey on foot.

When they reached the TARDIS, one of the Sister-Soldiers approached him with a knife, presumably to cut the bindings on his wrists. Before she could get near, the man made a swift, complicated movement with his hands and the ropes fell to the ground. He smirked and gave the Sister a brash, two-handed wave. His prowess at sleight of hand was made a little less impressive when the Warrior had to fumble awkwardly in his jacket pocket for his key before fading into the blue box’s glowing innards.

The ship seemed to sigh around him as he strode across the threshold to the console. Moving from the dull, red skies of Karn to the gleaming white of the TARDIS interior’s walls stung his eyes, but he ignored it. With practised hands, he manipulated the controls and dematerialised the TARDIS.

After a few seconds, the pilot slammed down a control whose name he’d forgotten, though he’d come to refer to it as “the handbrake”. The TARDIS shuddered at being held still in the time vortex, buffeted by the past and future howling around it. An alarm sounded in the console room as one of the apocryphal thrusters failed.

“Look, old girl. We’re not leaving just yet!” the pilot said, stubbing his finger repeatedly on the button that, he was fairly sure, would restart the thruster. “Someone went to a lot of effort to kill Ohila and frame me, only to let me go anyway. Something’s going on and I need to find out what. Just hold it together while I make a tiny hop back!”

The alarm stopped and the thruster came back to life. The Warrior made an imperceptible adjustment to the vector tracker and gingerly lowered a large lever on the next panel. He didn’t want to overshoot. The TARDIS grazed the time vortex lightly before returning to normal space on the surface Karn, precisely three hours earlier and some distance on the other side of the temple from where he’d landed before. The pilot checked the ship’s location on the monitor and grinned smugly.

“Lovely job, if I do say so myself. I should have tuned up this old thing years ago,” he said, patting the console. “The Doctor would have thanked me, not to mention Socrates.”

He started back towards the temple for the third time in as many hours. The Warrior knew that, at this very moment, his earlier self was being led back to the temple to face trial.

Which meant everyone would be looking the other way.

Chapter 5

It took the Warrior longer than he’d hoped to reach the temple and find another entrance. The cave in which he’d met Ohila would be heavily guarded and the entrance he’d been frogmarched in and out through was on the other side of the temple – too far away and he would risk running into himself. He unclipped his sonic screwdriver from the bandolier across his chest and set it to work as a sonar. He clambered over amber terrain in a wide arc around the surface-level perimeter of the temple, thrusting the silver device into any nearby cave or shadowy crevice as he went. Eventually, the dull, rattling sound of the sonic changed to a high-pitched whistle as he waved it over a vertical crack in a small boulder. An opening had been found.

The Warrior puzzled at the crack for a moment, recognising some form of dimensional trickery but unable to grasp its nature. After tilting his wizened neck to an uncomfortable angle, his head snapped up and he boggled at it in disbelief. It was a perfectly ordinary boulder, no bigger than his head, with a thin fracture running up it. Except when it wasn’t. The Warrior, eyes fixed on the crack, took one long stride to the left. The rock was unchanged. He side-stepped back to his original position and continued to the right. Nothing. The Warrior continued to encircle the boulder, tilting his head as far as a humanoid neck would permit, getting closer, further away, from below, from above. Finally, he caught it. Looking down at the crack in the boulder from atop a larger rock, he spotted the crack widen ever so slightly. He moved his head back to where it had been and the crack constricted. He continued to move his head forwards and the crack dilated like a pupil. Now a round tunnel entrance gaped open in the side of the stone

“This is Time Lord technology!” he blurted out, affronted.

The crack was bigger on the inside.

Angular misdirection: a crude form of dimensional engineering that the Time Lords are so smug about having invented. The rock was exactly as it appeared – a small, cracked rock with, the sonic told him, a cavernous tunnel behind it. The Sisterhood had carved an entrance but placed it in a localised corridor dimension running parallel to the crack and pointed it in this direction. Everywhere else the entrance was invisible and intangible but from this angle, and only this angle, the Warrior could see it. Primitive by Time Lord standards but otherwise incredibly advanced.

Too advanced for Karn.

The Warrior thought for a moment. If the corridor dimension was visible here then he’d have to enter through the tunnel entrance from this angle or the crack would close again. Which meant…

“Oh, I’m getting too old for this nonsense,” he said wearily, backing up slightly to get a running start. He peered over the edge at the entrance below, which had shrunk into a crack once again. In two enormous bounds, he leapt off the edge of the rock and down directly at the crack, which remained stubbornly closed during his descent.

Geronimo!’ a delighted little voice at the back of his mind squealed.

Gallifreyans have an innate sense of time passing, whatever the rotation and orbit of the planet they’re on, so when the Warrior awoke he instantly knew he’d only been unconscious for a minute. Though he’d never actually tested his instincts when it came to time; it’s hard to keep track when you have a malfunctioning TARDIS.

He was lying on stone steps in a dank tunnel, a trickle of dull amber sunlight seeping in through a crack in the wall at the top of the stairs, a mirror image of the one he’d seen earlier. Evidently, he’d found the way in. As he sat up, a dozen torches lining the walls of the tunnel burst into life at once. The Warrior could see flickering shadows in a torch-lit corridor at the bottom of the stairs. He stood up, dusted off his jacket and paused to gather his thoughts.

His acute sense of timing also made him fairly certain that his younger self was just arriving at his cell. That would allow him a Karnian hour until the trial began, another hour for it to take place and then a little under half an hour before his younger self would reach his TARDIS and return to the starting point: space and time currently occupied by his own TARDIS. He would have until then to get his answers and leave before things started overlapping.

There were only two problems with this plan. The first was that the Warrior had no idea where to start or how to get around the temple. When he’d arrived on Karn, he’d tuned into Ohila’s thoughts telepathically so could just about gleam where she was and how to get her attention without causing any upset. But now…he could hardly ask directions when he was a wanted, albeit supposedly captured, man. There was nothing to be gained by invading the Sisterhood of Karn’s temple a second time except to settle a nagging question. Maybe Ohila was right, he did have a war to get back to after all. Perhaps one unanswered question, however irritating, isn’t worth dying over. The life of a time-traveller is fraught with things happening out of order, answers to questions you haven’t asked yet, partings before meetings, people wanting to kill you before you even found out if you deserved it. Which brought him to the second problem with his plan: the thin, sandy-haired man in a yellow tunic stampeding up the stairs towards him.

With a sparkling blue spear.

Chapter 6

Instinctively, the Warrior faked right and ducked down to his left. The stampeding man took the bait, tripped over the Warrior’s outstretched boot and went sprawling through the air. His face met the stone of the tunnel’s far wall with a sickening crunch and he landed heavily at the top of the steps. The guard’s prone form began to slide down the staircase but the Warrior hopped forward, caught him lightly by the back of his tunic and rolled him over. His eyes were closed and his face smeared with wet blood, oozing from a gash across his forehead that pooled and bubbled on his upper-lip. Still breathing then. The Warrior placed two fingers of each hand on either side of the unconscious man’s neck and felt two distinct pulses, each one bursting as the other lulled.

Still alive.

Damn!

The Warrior noticed fresh blood dripping onto the yellow tunic and became aware of a dull stinging in his right arm. He looked at it and saw a thin cut along his flesh under the split material of his jacket and shirt. Behind him, a blood-speckled spear was embedded in the wall, still crackling with an intense light. The old man sighed heavily.

“Oh, why couldn’t you have just died?!” he growled at his unconscious assailant.

The spear came out of the wall with ease and the Warrior brought the tip up to his face. It fizzed at him, warningly.

“Kharus arrows? Regeneration-proof? I’ve never heard of such a thing,” he said to the still-insensible guard. “But, then, war does that to folk. Nothing gets the psychopaths thinking of more efficient and more sadistic ways to kill people than the opportunity to use it.”

He sighed again.

“Trust me.”

The Warrior stood over the prostrate body of the weapon’s previous owner and raised it above his head with his uninjured arm, point aimed squarely at the man’s left heart.

“Sorin? SORIN! Where have you gone you stup-” a faltering voice came from behind him.

The Warrior wheeled around and aimed the spear at the stunned face that had entered the tunnel at the bottom of the stairs, belonging to a young man in an identical mustard-coloured tunic, with bulbous nose and jet-black hair.

“Derek!” the Warrior blurted out, recognising the newcomer.

“D…Derrin. How…are you…?” the boy stammered.

“Very well, thank you,” the Time Lord replied, realising that he was still aiming a spear at the serving boy who’d brought him tea earlier. He lowered it slowly and smile politely, letting the silence between them linger.

“What happened to Sorin?!” Derrin demanded, spotting the inert body.

“Oh…well, yes. He had a little accident with the stairs, you see, gave himself a bump. I was just…helping him.”

“With a spear?”

He looked for a believable explanation and found none.

“Well…look, as far as anyone knows I’m safely locked away in a cell right now. He’s only knocked out so when he comes to and says he’s seen me everyone will be on high alert and that’d be very bad for my purposes…” he trailed off.

“But you are in a cell right now. At least…I saw you. They showed me the feed of you in a cell, I had to identify you because…you killed the High Priestess.”

“Do you believe them?”

“Well,” Derrin gestured at the spear in the Warrior’s hand, “you’re not exactly making a great case for yourself right now.”

The Warrior looked down at the weapon.

“Fair point,” he replied.

“But I still don’t understand how you…oh. Time Lord. Of course, ‘The Time Lord sometimes known as The Doctor’. You’ve come back in time. But the punishment for murder is death, though they’ve never needed to enforce it…”

“And yet my future self…” the Warrior interrupted, pointing at himself, “…is very much alive. So evidently they found me innocent. Sorry for the spoiler.”

The Warrior set the spear down carefully and descended the steps towards Derrin, hands outstretched soothingly.

“Darren,” he said calmly. “They let me go but I came back. Whoever killed Ohila is still on Karn and there is something very wrong happening in the Sisterhood. I’m here to find out what but I need someone who knows the temple, who can get me around undetected. Will you help me?”

The younger man’s face hardened.

“What are you going to do with him?” he said, nodding at the still-unconscious Sorin.

The Warrior looked back and grimaced.

“I can’t risk him raising the alarm,” he said desperately.

“Spare him and I’ll help you. If we’re quick, we can get your answers before he wakes up. If we succeed, then I look like a hero. If it all goes to pot, I’ll claim you threatened me.”

“Wise strategy,” said the Warrior, impressed, “but risky to leave him alive.”

“He doesn’t deserve to die for your purposes,” said Derrin, echoing the Warrior’s words back at him bitterly.

The Warrior sized the young man up.

“Deal,” he said finally.

The tension lingered between the two men.

“So where do we start?” said Derrin finally.

“No idea,” the Warrior admitted.

The Time Lord looked down at the Kharus spear lying on the ground.

“Tell me, Derrin,” the Warrior said. “Does the temple have a laboratory?”

Chapter 7

Derrin disappeared down the corridor and returned a few seconds later with an oversized maroon robe. The Warrior threw it over his jacket and disappeared under waves of velvet. With the hood up, the robe was a figure without a body, gruff face and tell-tale beard shrouded in darkness.

“Stick your hands out…and hunch a little,” Derrin instructed.

The Warrior hesitated but obliged. The younger man took one of the Warrior’s hands and looped it through his own outstretched elbow.

“There. Now it just looks like I’m guiding one of the elders around. Nobody would dare approach an elder unbidden and…it can’t hurt my reputation either,” he added sheepishly.

The older man said nothing and gestured Derrin to lead the way. The boy bent down and collected the dropped Kharus spear, holding it upright like a sentry. The Warrior didn’t need to wonder who he was protecting himself from. Another wise strategy.

As it turned out, the temple didn’t have a laboratory in the conventional sense. It took the Warrior a few minutes of frantic explanation before Derrin thought of somewhere even remotely similar. The vestry of “practical Pythianity” was a section of the temple where Sisters of high intelligence were housed, Derrin quoted, to “alleviate the burden on the Sacred Flame by learning to harness its power ourselves”. That sounded like a woolly way of saying ‘practical science’ to him. A religion that put its faith in the immortality-bestowing powers of a magic fire would have to stump up some results eventually. Especially when the Time Lords, practically immortal through wobbly genetic engineering, paid such close attention the Sisterhood of Karn’s progress.

In the Ancient Times, Karn was colonised by the exiled Pythia, previous ruler of Gallifrey before Rassilon deposed her, and her followers. Both discovered separate means of attaining immortality but, whereas Rassilon established a new society based around regenerative science, turning Gallifreyans into Time Lords, Pythia built a matriarchal religion for the Sacred Flame. Soon after, the colony was granted independence from Gallifrey provided that the Sisterhood supply elixir to the Time Lords for use in stabilising difficult regenerations.

It was a tenuous alliance.

They walked at a slow pace to avoid drawing attention and because, hunched over and face deep in the hood, the Warrior could only see a few feet in front of him. After their procession had ambled down a couple of long corridors, they turned a corner and the rocky ground became a bright marble floor, upon which slow, reverential footsteps could be heard passing. The Warrior’s dust-daubed boots, hidden by the hem of the robes spilling around his ankles, threatened to slip and his hold on Derrin’s arm tightened to keep balance. Admittedly, this probably helped the illusion he was a frail elder of the Sisterhood – given leave to end her servitude, cease her elixir dose and eventually shuffle off, being helped around by a serving boy.

The combination of a thick robe on top of his heavy jacket in subterranean temple corridors lit by open flames was making the Warrior uncomfortably hot. So it was a relief to him when the pair halted unexpectedly. They’d arrived or they’d been caught, either way meant shedding a layer and doing something impressive.

“Here we are, ELDER!” Derrin announced loudly, bowing low into the Warrior’s eye-line. The young man winked but was met with an exasperated look from beneath the hood. The Warrior heard an incongruous beeping followed by the sound of stone sliding against stone. Derrin took the Warrior’s hand in his arm again and led the way inside a dimly-lit room. There was another scrape of stone followed by a gentle thud.

“It’s safe now,” said Derrin.

The Warrior burst from the robe and shuddered gleefully in the cool air and near-total darkness, save row of small blue lights at the far end of the room. He bundled up the robe and used it to wipe the sweat from his face.

“There’s a…swish or something. I’ve heard the Sisters refer to it as a way to…here!”

There was a quiet click and both squinted against the sudden brightness from a cluster of fluorescent lights on the ceiling. Other than the red stone walls, almost every surface in the room was a sterile white that gave the place an intolerable glare.

TURN THAT LIGHT OFF! YOU’RE RUINING EVERYTHING!” a voice screeched.

Derrin turned around quickly, his eyes widening.

“Oh,” he said.

“Well…good afternoon,” the Warrior said, politely, to the owner of the voice.

Chapter 8

The thick darkness that surrounded Rula thinned slightly as the small blue lights flickered into life. She inspected each one proudly in the gloom, tapping the dimmest gently until it snapped to attention with its peers.

She let out an involuntary yelp as the room suddenly flared and, sensing movement near the door, strode towards two figures and roared.

TURN THAT LIGHT OFF! YOU’RE RUINING EVERYTHING!”

Then she froze, her face softened quickly as she recognised one of the people who had entered. He, however, seemed less than pleased to see her.

“Oh,” Derrin said.

“Well…good afternoon,” another voice said politely. She was suddenly aware of the other person. A short, impish man with a worn face, peeling leather coat and scraggly beard. Rula was taken aback at the sight of a male not wearing a flaxen tunic. But he couldn’t be a retired serving boy because…well, there were no retired serving boys. So who was he?

Rula opened her mouth to ask, but then caught Derrin’s eye again. He looked scared, though she didn’t understand why, so she gave him a reassuring smile.

“Hello, Derrin,” she said gently. He gaped for a moment, then spoke.

“Rula…I…Doctor! No!”

Derrin snatched at air trying to grab the short old man by the scruff of his coat, who had taken a stride towards Rula far longer than she thought possible for his stature.

“That’s not my name,” he muttered.

“Don’t harm her!” Derrin cried.

The old man peered up at Rula’s face and she, rooted to the spot with surprise or fear or both, met his eyes reluctantly. She had seen, when tending to elders in their waning decades, the effects of advanced age but never this close and unabashed in a living humanoid.

It was fascinating.

His gaze snapped to a point over Rula’s shoulder and he brushed past her. Rula caught Derrin’s eye again and mouthed who’s he? The serving boy looked bewildered.

“What are you up to here then?” the old man said as Rula turned to look at him. He was inspecting the array of lights she’d been working on when they’d arrived. When he reached out to touch them, Rula sprang over and grabbed his hand more forcefully than she’d intended.

“Sensitive,” Rula stammered. Then she sighed and let go of the man’s wizened hand.

“Well, I’m not sure it matters now. I was testing their ability to distinguish signals other than light, seemed to be working too, but then you flooded them. They’ll be too dazed to do anything for a while.”

“I’m sorry,” the old man said. “I know what it’s like to have an exciting experiment interrupted.”

“Ohhh so you’re a Pythian shaman then, from the outlands? Why are you in the temple?” said Rula, accusingly.

“Well, that’s a little complicated. But tell me about these,” he indicated the array, “what do you mean by ‘they’?”

“I…don’t think I should be telling you. I mean-”

She was interrupted by a new voice, booming as it echoed off the laboratory cave walls: female and audibly dripping with contempt.

RULA. DELIVER A VIEWING GLOBE TO THE PRISON CHAPLAINCY. CELL EIGHT-NINE. IMMEDIATELY.”

Without hesitation, the old man stomped back to the still-stunned Derrin, placed his hand on the younger man’s chest and shoved him roughly. Derrin staggered back, letting go of the spear which the man promptly grasped and swung around in a wide arc towards the serving boy. When Derrin hit the wall behind him, he found the head of a Kharus spear obscured slightly by his chin and felt its hissing point singe and scratch at his throat. His hands went out in surrender as he met the pitiless eyes of the Warrior wielding the weapon.

“Do what she said,” he told Rula calmly, eyes still fixed on Derrin. “Then return here. If you tell anyone that you’ve seen me, I’ll kill him. If you try to bring help, I’ll know immediately and I’ll be ready. Yes, I’m a shaman. I have powers and I. Am. Everywhere. Do you understand?”

Rula, who had taken a few steps towards the pair, froze on the spot. Her face was white with pure terror. She thought fast, her mind constructed the scenario, each possibly outcome and decided the safest course of action was to obey.

“Yes.”

The young Sister stepped gingerly towards a cupboard on the other side of the room, quickening her steps as she had to pass behind the old man. She opened it, produced a large white globe from within and skittered towards the door. As Rula reached past Derrin’s helpless, frozen elbow to press a button beside the door, she tried to give him another reassuring smile but failed. She considered doing something, anything, to get him free…but that would risk complicating things, introducing uncertainty. This was the plan and, if she did what he said, everything would work out. The door slid open and she stepped outside.

Once the door had slid shut, the Warrior grinned and tossed the spear aside.

“Fetch me a scronner from that tool cabinet, won’t you?” the Warrior said, walking back to the array of lights Rula had been working on.

Derrin was enraged.

“What in PYTHIA’S NAME did you do that for?!” he cried, following the Warrior.

“I had to make sure she came back and didn’t tell anyone,” he said simply.

“Then why did you let her go in the first place?!”

“Timelines. I recognised her. She brought the viewing globe to my cell before the trial. Even then I thought she was a bit jumpy, much more than any other Sister I’d seen. So I’ve sent her off with the notion that I’m some omnipotent shaman and, when she sees my other self in the cell, she’ll believe it and any idea she has of bringing a few Sister-Soldiers along with her will vanish for fear of my slicing your throat open.”

“Or she’ll just realise you’re a Time Lord, like I did, and know you’re [_not _]omnipotent.”

“How much do you know about Time Lords?”

“Only rumours. Serving boys don’t get an education in such things…or anything,” Derrin said bitterly. “The Sisters get the full story though.”

“Propaganda, you mean. Every time I pass by Karn, even on a whim, the Sisterhood panic and start expecting a Time Lord invasion. Even if she does figure out what I really am, chances are she’s been given an exaggerated idea of what Time Lords are capable of and the threat they pose.”

“Hardly exaggerated,” Derrin snorted. “Have you seen the Universe lately?”

“That’s down to the Daleks!” the Warrior said, offended.

“So you say. You could at least…apologise.”

“For the Daleks?”

“For scaring me like that!”

“Apologise?” the Warrior fixed him with a look of utter derision. “My dear chap, you should be happy! I’ve helped your back-up plan of claiming you were a hostage if this all goes wrong.”

“So you think it’s going to?”

“Not exactly, but I doubt I’ll be heralded as a hero. I rarely am. Scronner! Please!” he stressed, jabbing a creased finger at the tool cabinet. “Then go outside and guard the door until Rula gets back, we don’t want any unexpected guests. And I need to work in peace.”

Derrin handed the Warrior the scronner moodily, collected the Kharus spear and walked out, solid resentment in his eyes.

Chapter 9

Rula returned a few minutes later, alone. She and Derrin entered the room together and her mouth dropped open when she saw what had become of her machine. The neat row of lights had been torn out and scattered on the floor, their wires had been stripped, the boxes they were connected to had been prised open and their ionic circuits scooped out. The tool cabinet had been ransacked and the floor was a landscape of equipment as uneven as the surface of Karn itself. From the wreckage, the dishevelled old man poked out his head.

“Neural mainframe!” he declared.

“Come again?” said Derrin.

“What have you done?!” demanded Rula, aghast at the carnage.

The Warrior ignored her. “Neural mainframe! That’s what you’ve been working on.”

He stood up and took a step towards them. Rula backed away sharply.

“I…saw you. In the cell. How?” she stammered.

“I told you, I’m a shaman. I just wanted to remind you-” the Warrior began.

“He’s a Time Lord, Rula,” interrupted Derrin.

Rula looked at Derrin, then back at the Warrior, before retreating further.

“Don’t run. Lock the door, Derrin,” the Warrior said.

Derrin didn’t move. The Warrior rolled his eyes, snatched his sonic screwdriver out of his bandolier and flicked it at the door control. A green light on the panel switched to red and a thud could be heard behind the stone door. The Warrior knew he was starting to lose Derrin’s trust and it was caused by Rula’s involvement, so he tried a new tact. He smiled.

“Rula…uh, I may call you Rula?” he didn’t wait for a response. “We’re trying to solve High Priestess Ohila’s murder and-”

“Ohila’s dead?!” cried Rula.

“Ah,” said the old man.

The trial hadn’t begun yet, apparently.

“And you killed her? That why you’re in the cell?!”

“No! I…Rula,” the Warrior switched to a gentler tone, “I’m sorry for threatening you earlier, I needed to…it was brash and I didn’t mean to scare you. I apologise. But you’re a Sister so you must have some rudimentary telepathic abilities. You know I’m not lying when I say I didn’t kill Ohila. But whomever did is still at large. We’re trying to find out who, but we must be discreet.”

His seldom-used smile was warm. Encouraging.

“I’m a fledgling,” she said sheepishly, “been with the Sisterhood less than a year so my telepathy isn’t fully developed yet, mostly just flashes of emotion. But…it feels like you’re telling the truth…ish. But you’re a Time Lord! Is this the invasion? Has it begun?”

“Doctor, you’re bleeding!” Derrin squealed before the Warrior could respond.

The Warrior looked at the slice across his upper-arm, it was stained crimson. Evidently he’d re-opened the cut during his manic disassembly of the neural mainframe.

“It isn’t healing properly, probably because of the Kharus spearhead. Not to worry.”

“Oh, I can fix that,” said Rula.

Without waiting for a reply she walked over to a shelf and picked up a small, three-pronged device from the top. She went over to the Warrior, her fear apparently forgotten, and lightly pressed the device over the cut on his exposed arm. The space between the prongs glowed a bright orange for a few seconds and, when she pulled the device away, the skin was perfectly healed. No trace of damage, though a mole that had been bisected by the spear was not quite lined up correctly. The old man looked at the device, astonished.

“What is that?” he said, awed.

“Localised regenerator,” Rula seemed confused by his amazement. “Surely you have these on Gallifrey.”

“Nothing of the kind,” he replied.

“But your people practically invented regenerative science…in fact, you did.”

“As part of our genetic makeup, yes, but we’ve never successfully applied it to a device. That’s…incredible. Literally, I think!” he suddenly became lively.

“I should have spotted it the first time round but this…” he indicated the remains of what had once been the neural mainframe scattered around him, “…and this…” he snatched the regenerator device from Rula’s hand, “…and this…” he bounced forward and seized the Kharus spear from Derrin, who recoiled slightly, “…are clues!”

The Sister and the serving boy looked confused.

“Plus there was the angular misdirection being used at the tunnel entrance, a crude form of dimensional engineering,” the Warrior continued. He grinned at them as though he’d just made an excellent point.

They still looked confused. The Warrior’s face fell.

“Oh, I miss working with full telepaths. Rula, confirm my suspicions. Explain to me what a neural mainframe is and why the Sisterhood want to build one.” He sounded like a teacher, asking a question to which he already knew the answer.

“Uh…it stores and processes the neural patterns of living beings and assimilates the data into a single knowledge base supercomputer. We can store a living consciousness in the mainframe and draw upon its knowledge, wisdom and experience at any time. We can even combine the cognitive power of every mind in the mainframe to design new technology, process more information, maybe even-”

“Predict the future?” the Warrior offered.

“That’s what some of our researchers say,” she said hesitantly.

“I’m familiar with the concept,” the Warrior said drily.

“I’ve been working on building a miniature prototype based on their work,” she continued, indicating the blue lights that had been discarded by the Warrior. “I captured the neutral patterns of ten elders still alive on Karn and stored them in the machine. They were sensitive to light, I was just starting to test their responses to other stimuli when you burst in.”

“So it’s a homespun version of the Gallifreyan Matrix.”

“The what?”

“Why would the Sisterhood want to build one?” the Warrior asked.

“Why wouldn’t they want to, Doctor? Members of the Sisterhood live for millennia but we have to die eventually and all that wisdom is lost. Sisters can pass on their knowledge verbally but those are just words, easily ignored or lost or misunderstood. But if we can find a way to harness that wisdom, to put that experience to practical use, it’ll be true immortality.”

The Warrior looked at her sadly and, for the second time, Rula could see more weariness on the old man’s face that she’d seen on all ten dying elders combined.

“This is all wrong. Karn is three centuries away from peak technological development and you’ve already exceeded it. Exceeded the Time Lords themselves even,” he said, indicating the regenerator in his wizened hand.

“The Time War?” suggested Derrin. “Maybe Karn’s timeline’s been shifted and the Sisterhood were able to get further than the Time Lords predicted.”

The Warrior shook his head, “No, I’d be able to sense that. All these things are an aberration, something artificially accelerating Karn’s development.”

“Maybe Ohila knew something about it. Maybe that’s why she died!” said Derrin.

The old man looked at the young pair solemnly and unlocked the door with another wave of his screwdriver. Then he spoke, a new hardness in his voice.

“I’m going to offer you both a choice. Whatever happens to you after that is your own doing. Clear?”

Chapter 10

The rough mahogany bench jabbed into Rula’s back but a familiar breeze cradled her face lovingly through the hood of her robe. This was the first time she’d seen the surface of Karn since leaving her village to join the Sisterhood and the cool air was soothing after a year of muggy subterranean tunnels. Even the fire, derived from the Sacred Flame itself, in the centre of the immense ceremony cave was powerless against it. For older Sisters, this was likely their first time on the surface in centuries since their own arrivals or, in some cases, since they had last been in this very cave to attend the coronation of the incumbent Reverend Mother Koralo. Trials were not unheard of in the Sisterhood, but they were usually more intimate affairs dealing with rare instances of insubordination by serving boys. No trials on this scale had happened in living memory, which is saying something for a race of near-immortals, so the coronation cave had become a courtroom for the occasion and everyone in the temple had been summoned to attend.

In studying the history of the Sisterhood, Rula had been taught that Reverend Mother Maren, whom Koralo had succeeded, put an end to trying outsiders who impinged on the Sisterhood in favour of instant and thorough destruction. Her reign had kicked off a golden age for the Sisterhood, laying the foundation for all the subsequent advances in Pythian theology, technology and defence against the one race in the Universe that could threaten the Sisterhood: Time Lords. She’d managed all this despite, or perhaps to compensate for, the ebbing of the Sacred Flame and the Great Elixir Crisis that resulted. Maren was said to have restored the Sacred Flame through her sacrificing herself, as the Flame had been sabotaged by a dreaded Time Lord, Morbius, and only her intense piety and devotion could restore it.

Many remaining Sisters had lived through the Great Elixir Crisis but only one had witnessed its resolution first-hand, an elder named Ohica. Rula had selected her as an ideal candidate for the neural mainframe on the advice of Ohila, who had been tutored by Ohica as a fledgling, specifically because she’d been present at Maren’s sacrifice. Unfortunately, her spectacularly advanced age – no elder has continued to survive so long after ceasing her elixir dose as her – had clearly affected her memory. She rambled about monsters and castles and kept calling out to someone named ‘Doctor’. There was no record of any Sister with that name, and the records went back to Pythia herself, but Rula had found the word in the Common Galactic Lexicon with various meanings. The predominant two were healer and warrior, neither were needed on Karn.

Doctor?

What had Derrin called that Time Lord? The one in the cell? Whose trial she was attending? The strange man had given them both a choice – what he planned to do next would be dangerous and this was our last chance to get out of the situation before things got, as he put it, “sticky”. Derrin had immediately chosen to help, reasoning that if Ohila was killed because she knew something about the Sisterhood’s unusual acceleration, then he was better off by the side of someone that the perpetrator clearly wanted alive. The pair had then turned to Rula expectantly. They seemed to think that because she had healed the old man’s wound and could sense no ill-intent in him that she’d go along with their insane scheme. No! She wanted nothing to do with this, finding Ohila’s killer wouldn’t bring her back and it made no difference to her what plots were going on so long as she could still do her experiments and work to preserve the Sisterhood’s history and use its wisdom. She’d run from the room, thinking of telling someone that there was a Time Lord loose in the temple, to wash her hands of it and let someone else take responsibility. But she hadn’t.

Soon after, the call went out that all Sisters and serving boys were to assemble in the coronation cave, though the reason wasn’t given. One of the Sister-Soldiers who had just come off guard duty had let slip that they had a prisoner and that there was to be a trial, but she didn’t know what the charges were. Nobody had even hinted that a Sister, let alone a High Priestess, had been murdered. Rula could sense only confusion, boredom and mild irritation among the assembled Sisters. No grief at Ohila’s death. No ambition at the idea there was an opening for High Priestess. Despite every Sister being present, cramming into rows of benches, craning to see over the ornate headdresses of more senior Sisters, the High Council was still absent. She couldn’t sense Derrin or the Time Lord in the room, who were probably taking advantage of the fact everyone was above-ground to move around the temple unnoticed.

Rula was alone in her secret knowledge. The only one in the room who knew of Ohila’s death. Which meant…the murderer wasn’t here. Who was missing? The only Sister too old and frail to be moved or to endure the harsh conditions of Karn’s surface.

Ohica.

An unseen gong sounded thunderously and the assembly stood in unison. The High Council of the Sisterhood of Karn, heads bowed solemnly, filed into the cave flanked by two serving boys carrying torches also derived from the Sacred Flame. From where Rula sat, the procession seemed to pass through solid rock as the Council members stepped from tunnel to cave through the angularly-engineered door. The seven members of the High Council filed around a large, semi-circular table and sat down as the tunic-clad serving boys fed their torches to the tributary Flame in front of the table, which roared its appreciation and signaled the Sisterhood to be seated.

The members of the High Council lowered their hoods. All were former fledglings who had risen through the ranks quickly enough to earn their first elixir dose while they still appeared youthful, but each spoke with a gravity that betrayed their age. A serving boy appeared behind each member of the High Council in turn, produced a headdress – each different in appearance but identical in ostentatiousness – and lowered it gingerly onto the Sister’s head. Finally, the boy placed the stout, double-looped headdress of the Reverend Mother onto the head of Koralo, who sat in the middle of the High Council table, pale but stoic. She rose to address the cave at large.

“The trial of the Time Lord sometimes known as The Doctor will come to order.”

Oh, Rula thought, Pythia!

Chapter 11

Rula slipped through the stone door as soon as it was open wide enough and leapt into the room. The old man was still there, looking startled and pointing the sonic screwdriver at her in a way that he hoped was threatening. The Time Lord was alone, a hovering viewing globe behind him showing inside the ceremony cave that Rula had just fled. She could make out a tiny, yellow-clad figure who had taken the stand. He relaxed slightly on recognising Rula and used the screwdriver to close the door behind her.

“Shouldn’t you be at my trial? Derrin’s giving his testimony,” he said.

She strode towards him, awe-struck, and he raised his guard again.

“You’re Doctor!” she cried.

The man who was once the Doctor sighed.

“I’m not him,” he said simply.

“But…they called you Doctor.”

The Doctor,” he corrected, “and he came here long ago but never left. I went in his place.”

“I don’t understand,” said Rula.

“What does it matter?” he said brusquely.

“The Doctor…whoever he is…had something to do with the death of Reverend Mother Maren. And they think you’re the Doctor so you must have been involved too.”

“Where did you get that from? There’s no way the Sisterhood would let recorded history have Maren topping herself to save a Time Lo-”

“So you were there!” she squealed with delight at the new knowledge.

“Where did you hear that name from?” he demanded.

“One of the elders…Ohica, one of my neural mainframe participants, she was there when Maren sacrificed herself. But never mind that. This is perfect! I can use your memories to fill in the gaps in the mainframe.”

“That’s why you came back? So I could help with your experiment?!” the old man said angrily. “It may have escaped your notice,” he gestured to the globe, “but I’m a little busy here! Go away!”

He turned back to the viewing globe and crossed his arms. The silence hung between them like a curtain.

Rula didn’t leave. She wasn’t letting a living witness to history out of her sight. She had too many questions, her curiosity was winning out against her instinct to run. She suspected his would too, in spite of his temper.

“What do you mean gaps?” he asked eventually without turning around.

“Well…uh…Ohica’s mind is too atrophied and-”

“Is?” he interrupted, turning back to face her, “You mean, Ohica’s still alive?”

“Just about. She’s been off the elixir for centuries now, she should have gone long ago.”

The old man stroked his scruffy beard thoughtfully. He looked down at the lights from the neural mainframe still scattered around his feet.

“Which one is Ohica?” he asked, pointing down at them.

“I don’t know, but I can find out. Uh…shouldn’t you be watching the trial?”

“I hate repeats.”

It took the pair a few minutes to gather up the blue lights, which were actually neural nodes containing the original reading from the elders, and repair the damage to the machine. The work was speeded up with the sonic screwdriver and the Time Lord’s surprisingly precise knowledge of what he’d done to wreck it. Apparently, his dismantling of the machine had been “organised chaos”. Shortly, they had everything in place and Rula skipped to the door to turn the lights off while the old man activated the machine with the sonic. Ten blue lights flared into life across the room, but one flickered precariously.

“That one,” Rula said, unable to see the Time Lord in the dark, “the unstable one. But you won’t get a good reading from it, not with the state of Ohica’s mind.”

“Indeed,” a gravelly voice said through the gloom. “I’ll have to go straight to the source.”

Rula flicked the lights on just in time to see the old man pluck Ohica’s node from machine between his thumb and forefinger and pocket it. He turned to the young Sister.

“Will you take me to her?”

“Why?”

“Because, from what I’ve seen of the Sisterhood today, chances are Ohica’s being kept alive for some reason. I’m willing to bet whoever’s behind it also had something to do with what happened to me…to the Doctor.”

“And Ohila’s murder?”

“That too.”

Rula looked around nervously, then met the old man’s eyes again.

“I can’t. I don’t want to get mixed up in this. I’ve been gone too long already. I…” she trailed off, tears in her eyes.

“Rula,” he cooed soothingly, “if you help me, I’ll tell you everything you want to know about what happened to Maren but, if I’m right…” he produced the neural node from his pocket again and held it out, “…you’ll hear it straight from the jarnik’s mouth.”

The young fledging still looked uncertain.

“Also!” the daft old man said suddenly, patting his coat and producing a yellow foil packet from the other pocket, open at the top but folded over tightly. “I’ll give you a Quaver.”

With everyone at the trial, the Warrior got his first proper look at the inside of the deserted temple as Rula led him, free of the sweltering robe that he’d left in the lab, through grand stone corridors. The floor was paved with marble, decorated with thick ringed patterns that clearly shared a common ancestor with Old High Gallifreyan. Rock of shimmering garnet made up the walls, almost every visible inch obscured by tapestries, with the same looped motif as the floor, hung dangerously close to innumerable torches which cast the way ahead in a forbidding crimson light.

The novelty of moving through the temple unrestricted wore off once the Warrior realised that they were all more or less identical. Despite their need for haste – the Warrior estimated that the trial was coming to a close, he was running out of time – Rula wouldn’t move faster than a brisk walk and she winced with every footfall. The Warrior surmised that Sisters typically move through the temple at a slow, reverential pace and the idea of moving faster, along with the noise the Warrior’s boots squeaking and slipping on the marble floor, was unnerving her. Eventually, they stopped at a blank bit of wall and the young Sister gestured silently, though quite unnecessarily, at a panel and imitating waving something. At her prompting, the Warrior produced the sonic screwdriver and used setting 63-Q, otherwise known as the lockpick, to run through every known security protocol in at least two-thirds of the Universe until it found one that caused a heavy thud behind the door and the panel light to switch from red to green. A section of the wall slid aside, revealing a doorway into a room lit dimly by a dozen candles, their flames still.

Rula stepped cautiously inside.

“Sister Ohica? May I come in? I have a visitor for you.”

No response came. Rula turned to the Warrior.

“She usually has a serving chief tending to her, guess he’s at the trial too.”

At Rula’s bidding, the Warrior stepped after her and the door slid shut behind him. The room was sparsely furnished. A single wooden chair accompanied a four-poster bed with gold trim along amber curtains that were drawn back. Inside, a sleeping creature was nestled among the blankets. Its impish face was sallow and shriveled, with a thin nose and cracked lips of a dull, faded gold. A few wisps of grey hair over the inert face rose and fell with laboured breathing. The Warrior, still holding the sonic screwdriver, changed the setting and scanned it over the slumbering woman, shaking his head as each change in the device’s pitch revealed a new ailment.

“Aren’t you doing anything to help her?” the Warrior whispered.

“Like what? The elixir is a cure-all, we don’t need medics. Ohica chose to end her service, which means no more elixir. All we can do now is make her comfortable and…”

“Let her die,” the Warrior finished her sentence distastefully. Then he said, “It cures everything?”

“By degrees,” replied Rula. “Small doses will keep you alive but won’t cure you. A proper dose will cure you temporarily, regular administering will eventually make it permanent.”

“What about death? Can it resurrect?”

“Theoretically, but it’s a grave sin to revive a Sister who has chosen to die.”

“What about Ohila? She didn’t choose to die. Why hasn’t the Sisterhood brought her back?”

“I suppose they don’t know the will of Pythia is in this situation, there hasn’t been a sudden death on Karn since Maren and even that was by choice.”

The thing in the bed stirred at Rula’s words. Two large brown eyes opened within the nest and rested on the girl’s face, regarding her with calm recognition, before moving on to the man. The Warrior saw brown irises thin and pupils dilate. Suddenly, the bed exploded in a swirl of scarlet blankets, limbs and loose burgundy robes, barely hanging on the bones of the frail creature that was now standing on the bed, finger jabbing in his direction.

“Doctor! Doctor! DOCTOR!” she wailed.

The Warrior had leapt back in surprise but Rula was unperturbed.

“Hello, Ohica,” the Warrior stammered. “Not quite, but even if I was…him, I’ve regenerated, you shouldn’t recognise me.”

“She doesn’t,” Rula answered nonchalantly, “she always says that.”

Ohica fixed her wide eyes on Rula, dropping to hands and knees and peering into the young Sister’s impassive face.

“Always says that? The Doctor always says that! The Doctor lies!” she squealed.

Rula ignored her, “See what I mean, Doctor? Atrophied. Useless. Not sure what you want you think she can tell you but here we are.”

The Warrior shot her an icy look and turned to the old woman.

“Sister Ohica?”

Ohica whirled around, still on hands and knees, and faced the Warrior.

“Can you tell me what you remember? About the Doctor? And Ohila?”

“Doctor, Doctor! Sarah and Solon! Morbius and Maren-” she stopped at her last word and shuddered. Ohica began grasping around her, finding the strewn blankets and clutching them to her.

“Ohila tried to help me. My fault…my fault…my fault…” her voice quietened and she kept repeating those two words at a murmur, no longer meeting the man’s eyes.

“Ohica. Do you want to sleep? Do you want me to help you sleep?” said the Time Lord, pulling up the wooden chair and sitting.

The creature nodded and lay down, looking at the Warrior expectantly. The old man reached out with both hands and cradled her face gently, then he placed two fingers of each hand on Ohica’s temples and each thumb along her jawline. Her watery brown eyes and his bloodshot blue eyes closed in unison. The Warrior took a deep breath.

And entered her mind.

Chapter 12

Reading someone’s mind and seeing their experiences is not like watching through a camera. The light that hits the retina, the subtle differences in air pressure that reach the eardrums, the particulates in the nostrils. Sights, sounds and smells. It’s all just raw data. Disjointed and transient. It’s the brain that fits the pieces together, filters it through subtle biases in perception, discards irrelevant detail and gives the experience meaning. And it’s that meaning that the discerning telepath, or a well-built neural mainframe, receives.

Consequently, it’s one of the most surreal experiences in the Universe. The reader is stripped of their own identity and embodies pure thought. The substance of an event is shot, fully-formed, into their mind and they must use the psychic connection to unravel it, reverse engineering the subject’s perceptions to break down meaning into experience. Even then, detail is lost. Features are exaggerated. The most banal encounter can be twisted into a lurid hellscape under certain psychological conditions. Some psychic devices, like a mind probe, can scrape the original data from the subconscious and produce an objective record, like recovering a file, but it damages the subject’s mind, often beyond repair or regeneration.

The thought was of a face, with burning crimson eyes in sunken sockets, which shot into being. The visage was shifting, blurring, changing. Sometimes it was ancient, scarred and set with a cruel sneer. Other times it was fresh, smooth and wearing a coy smirk. Occasionally, it was both. But the eyes remained constant; full of fury, void of pity.

It was everywhere. In here, that face was everything.

The young-old face whirled away like smoke on wind and was replaced with the face of Ohila, smiling benevolently. The warm, loving expression fell away, leaving pure horror on the late Sister’s face.

“The will of Pythia,” Ohila’s voice said, though the face didn’t move, “it must be.”

“No! Her will! Not her will!” came the reply in Ohica’s strangled tones.

“You’ll go when the time is right, dear teacher. Please! Have patience! I can’t!”

“You must. You MUST! POISON! LET ME DIE!” Ohica screeched.

Ohica’s cry filled the thought and Ohila’s face faded, replaced by the demonic face that had returned and subsumed the ancient Sister’s scream.

“Bylock,” the face said.

It bared sometimes-black, sometimes-white teeth and consumed the thought.

Ohila’s face was back, forming slowly, reluctantly. Her voice came again.

“I got it offworld. Bylock, like you wanted. The whole vial, in your tea, will do it. But…” she sounded like she was sobbing, “…dear teacher! Ohica! Please don’t! I won’t do it for you!”

Ohila’s face was gone again, but the young-old image did not come. Instead, the thought was filled with relief, hope, freedom. It was shattered and devoured by the evil face that returned and occupied everything again. This time, the face was topped with a regal, double-looped headdress. It spoke again.

“Stay a while, old friend.”

The face and headdress remained, but was joined by another face. A young man, messy jet-black hair and large nose. Derrin. His face smiled unconvincingly, turned away and faded as quickly as it had come. The sense of hope returned but was instantly drained, pouring as a thick purple swirl into the headdress, opening at the top to reveal a steaming brown liquid mixing with the amethyst Bylock being poured in. The face’s flickering grin widened and dissolved into the tea along with the poison, leaving only the garish teapot behind.

There was a snap.

Then there was nothing.

The Warrior regained consciousness slowly. The first thing he became aware of was a chanting, a single word echoing as though a billion voices were screaming it at once, cursing it.

“Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!”

Flames erupted all around and tore through the voices until only one remained. The fire blurred and swam and danced until solidifying into a face. A new face. Peering down at him, this one young and gentle…but angry.

“Doctor!” she said again.

The Warrior’s head shot up. He was on the floor beside Ohica’s bed, the chair on which he’d been sitting was next to him, knocked onto its side.

“I’ve got to try again, there’s more!” he croaked, moving to stand up. But Rula put out a hand and shoved him back down. The old man looked at her in surprise and noticed she had tears in her eyes.

“You evil Time Lord! They were right about your kind!” she wailed and broke down sobbing.

He put his hands out in surrender, reached forward and gently moved the distraught Rula aside. He stood up, his old head protesting at the movement, and went to the bed. He peered into the bundle of blankets once again and saw himself reflected in two doleful, brown eyes. Ohica’s wizened lips were curled into a contented smile and the strands of hair over her face lay still. Were it not for those sad eyes, she might have looked peaceful.

The Warrior drew an amber blanket over the old woman’s body as a shroud.

Chapter 13

By the time Derrin stomped back into the laboratory, the trial was over. His questioning had taken less than two minutes, but he’d been intercepted by two burly serving boys just after joining the throng of red and yellow bodies heading for the surface. His hearts leapt when they stopped him, expecting an accusation, but they just asked him to accompany them in the slightly apologetic way that serving boys address one another when performing an unpleasant task for the Sisterhood. They led him up a narrow surface tunnel to a small antechamber next to the coronation cave, which was being used as a makeshift courtroom for the occasion.

When he took the stand, he couldn’t help but feel a dizzy thrill that all eyes were on him, including those of the Reverend Mother Koralo. The first trial in living memory and he was right at the centre of it, he would be remembered, he would be known…for serving the tea that killed a High Priestess. The excitement evaporated.

Derrin was surprised to spot Sorin in the crowd, the sandy-haired serving boy that had ambushed (or perhaps been ambushed by) the Doctor. His face showed no sign of the close inspection of the tunnel wall he’d made about an hour or so earlier, but he kept fidgeting with his forehead as though expecting to find a wound. Dried blood was visible around his corners of his nose and the handle of a localised regenerator was sticking out of the front pocket of his tunic. Chances are Sorin had only just recovered and hadn’t yet made sense of what had happened, he might not even remember or think he imagined it. Certainly, he’d have trouble trying to convince anyone, who may just assume he was trying to save face having tripped over his own feet.

The image of the Doctor raising a spear over Sorin’s helpless, unconscious form gave Derrin an involuntary shudder. The serving boy had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and nearly been killed for it. But in the end he’d posed no threat to the Doctor’s plan. Derrin felt something heavy in his stomach.

“Just answer their questions honestly, Darrell,” the old man had told him, just after the call summoning everyone to the trial had gone out, as he heaved another viewing globe out of the cupboard and began twisting his silver device at it. The orb raised to chest-height of its own accord and the cloudy substance within began shifting.

“And don’t try some noble attempt to defend me,” he continued. “It’ll only make them suspicious.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Derrin.

“Get a good look at my suspects,” he replied, eyes fixed firmly on the globe.

As Derrin went to leave, he heard the old man make a throaty noise and turned back. The Time Lord was looking at him guiltily.

“I lied to you,” he admitted. “Back in the tunnel, I said they found me innocent but they didn’t. I lied so you would help me. They found me guilty but my sentence was exile from Karn. That’s why I had to come back. To find out who framed me and why they let me go…and killed Ohila.”

“Oh…why are you telling me this now?” the serving boy asked confused.

“For one thing, you’re about to find out,” he said, indicating the viewing globe as a blurry image of the ceremony cave swam inside it. “For another, I hope I’ve gained your trust enough for me to be completely honest. As I said before, things might get sticky from here and I need to know I can rely on you. There can be no secrets between us.”

He gave the Time Lord the same smile that he gave the Sisters and left without a word.

Derrin did what he was told and answered the questions honestly. He confirmed that High Priestess Ohila had asked him to bring tea and two cups to the ceremony cave immediately after morning inspection. He’d gone straight to the kitchens, prepared the tea and brought it up to the cave in which he’d met a stranger. The same stranger who he’d been called on to identify earlier and was now in the Sisterhood’s custody. He’d left him and the teapot alone in the ceremony cave before Ohila arrived. Derrin turned scarlet when Koralo asked if he had spoken to the stranger, his face almost blending into the red mass of seated Sisters behind him. In a quiet mumble, he explained that he’d told the stranger that he was disappointed to find him there. He was hoping Ohila’s last-minute request for an extra cup was a sign that she was impressed with his service and was going promote him to serving chief. It was against decorum for a serving boy to openly seek advancement, but a ridiculous impossibility that a Sister, let alone a High Priestess, would take tea with a serving boy like an equal. The High Council seemed bemused but satisfied and told him he could leave the stand. He was taken back to the antechamber and held there until the trial was over.

He had told the truth. Nothing but the truth. But not the whole truth. Something that he failed to mention – because nobody has asked – is that he and the Doctor weren’t the only ones who had been near the teapot before Ohila drank it.

He’d had a visitor.

The serving boy struggled to contain himself as he prepared the tea for High Priestess Ohila. The worst thing he could do was to be inattentive at such a crucial moment in his life. He took a deep breath to calm himself and counted the seconds the leaves were stewing carefully. He reached for a pot of peranico, his own secret ingredient for his uniquely refreshing tea. No doubt one of the many things that had impressed Ohila in the week since he’d been assigned to serve her. Maybe she’d requested him specifically, so soon after the passing of Chief Worpin had left a vacancy among the serving chiefs, as a trial. Derrin shook himself and began carefully measuring out half a teaspoon of the powdered spice when he jolted, dumping a whole spoonful in the tea at once. He stopped himself from yelping in surprise and annoyance as he recognised the withered face and huge brown eyes that had appeared at his side.

Derrin had never served Ohica, her needs as the oldest person on Karn were so complex that only the chiefs and specially-trained serving boys ever did that, but he’d seen her a few times and heard the stories. The time-worn woman, so fragile her bones would shatter like her mind if she moved. She was crazy, that much was undeniable, but everyone who’d seen Ohica in person spoke of her with a gentle sympathy. Those big, sad eyes in such a weak form. Nothing sustaining her but her own stubborn body, the will to die but not the means. Derrin caught himself and activated his trained smile to cover his momentarily stunned expression.

Maybe this was a last-minute test, he’d thought, one final trial to ensure he could maintain his composed servility at a moment’s notice, during a surprise kitchen inspection. To make sure he could handle the elder Ohica on his own. He made a low bow and opened his mouth to speak.

“Boy. Fetch me some firewine. Now!” she snapped. On her deep voice rode a crisp air of authority that was probably the reason Reverend Mother Maren had selected Ohica as her personal emissary during her time in service. Derrin looked stunned again. This wasn’t the Ohica he’d heard about. That Ohica was an elfin lunatic who rambled nothing but nonsense. Not the stern, powerful figure that stood before him. After another moment of stunned silence, he snapped to attention. This was part of the test, it had to be.

“Right away, High Elder,” and he turned his back to her to find the blue bottle in a nearby cupboard. But when he turned back a few seconds later, the obscenely old woman was gone. He jogged to the door and out into the tunnel, still holding the firewine, but found it deserted.

He’d told nobody, neither the Doctor nor the Sisterhood, and he would have lied if anyone had asked. It wasn’t that he was trying to hide anything as much as protecting himself. It was impossible that Ohica could have poisoned the tea. There were no poisons on Karn and only senior members of the Sisterhood like Ohila and Koralo were allowed offworld. It was impossible that anyone within the temple could have done it, which was why no suspicion had ever fallen on him or anyone besides the Time Lord. The Sisterhood would have seen a kitchen inspection from another Sister, even a frail recluse like Ohica, as an irrelevant detail and to even bring it up would have been as good as an accusation. Such insubordination would mean demotion at best and a trial of his own at worst. The end of his chances to become a serving chief in either case, which was the closest thing to advancement a serving boy could hope for on Karn.

The lab was deserted, but the robe Derrin had taken from the entrance tunnel was still there, pooled at the foot of the Kharus spear propped up next to the door. So much for watching the trial, the viewing globe had deactivated, dropped to the ground and rolled into the corner of the room. It looked like the Doctor had spent the time playing with the neural mainframe. The devastation the old man had unleashed in the lab had been tidied. The scattered lights had been reattached, though one was missing, and ionic circuit boards had been stuffed haphazardly into the casing. Derrin was no engineer but it didn’t look like a machine that would work as it was supposed to. Yet the nine remaining lights were glowing patiently and an active display nearby showed a series of gently fluctuating blue lines, each one labelled with the name of an elder. Except one, which was a motionless red line. Labelled ‘Ohica’.

The Doctor knew.

Derrin let out a frenzied gasp and ran towards the door, seizing the Kharus spear as he passed.

Chapter 14

The pair were silent for a few minutes. Rula had righted the chair and now sat in it, hands clasped in front of her face. The Warrior still stood over the bed where Ohica’s body lay. He knew he was short on time but he had to think, to process, and plan his next move. He needed a sounding board, someone he could try and explain to and make sense of it himself. He needed a companion. Finally, Rula broke the silence.

“You said you were going to help her sleep. Did you-”

“I just meant sleep,” he said quickly, “I didn’t do this.”

Rula puffy eyes met his and regarded the old man’s face for a moment before giving him a weak smile.

“What did she show you? What did you see?”

Now it was the Warrior’s turn to consider the young girl’s face. She seemed to read his mind.

“I’ll know if you’re lying.”

The Warrior sighed and turned away from her. He didn’t want her reaction to distract him.

“She killed Ohila. I don’t think she meant to though,” he added hastily. “There’s something in her mind, some presence or entity or…maybe just a manifestation of her brain’s own degeneration, but it was preventing her from thinking straight. It may have been controlling her. Whatever the case, there’s something it doesn’t want me to see so…” he gestured at Ohica’s veiled body.

“What happened?!” Rula demanded.

“She asked Ohila to bring her poison so she could end her life. Bylock. But rather than use it on herself, she distracted Derrin and poured it into the teapot he preparing for Ohila and…me.”

That was it. That was the thing that didn’t fit.

“The tea must have been poisoned before I drank it, but it didn’t affect me,” he continued. “That’s not surprising. Bylock is pretty weak stuff. Kills anything conventionally mortal of course, but would have no effect on a Sister still taking the elixir or a Time Lord. Wouldn’t even need a regeneration, easily dealt with by a Gallifreyan liver. So why would this…thing…this mind controlling Ohica request it specifically?”

“Why would it even get Ohica to ask for poison in the first place?” Rula asked. “Not to silence Ohila…”

“No, Ohila only had to be die because I showed up, in case she let slip this big damn secret she and Ohica knew. Perhaps Ohica was fighting back, resisting the control. It couldn’t stop her asking for poison but made sure it was something that would have no effect if she tried to use it on them instead.”

“So…that would mean the one behind all this is a Sister? One still taking elixir?” Rula asked.

“Possibly, but if they’ve got mental powers strong enough to keep Ohica alive without elixir then maybe they don’t need it themselves either. That would mean the murderer is-”

Suddenly, Rula emitted a piercing shriek. The Warrior whipped around to face her in surprise. Her eyes were screwed shut and she was convulsing in the chair. Rula fell forward, hitting the floor heavily and lay sprawled and still.

“Rula! Rula? Are you alright? Can you-” the Warrior wheezed. He started to move towards her but stopped. His brain felt like it was being skewered by a long thin needle. With considerable effort, he turned and pulled back the blanket covering Ohica’s body. She was inert; the thick, matted hair over her face lay still, but her brown eyes now burned crimson.

Those eyes. The same one he’d seen in her mind.

The Warrior found himself reaching for another robe on a peg embedded in the chamber wall and throwing it over his head. It was smaller than the other, tailored for the tiny Ohica, but it covered his face at least. Unsteadily, his left foot took a heavy stride forwards and his right foot followed. With an almighty mental push, the Warrior threw off whatever had invaded his mind and was once again in control of himself.

Ok, he thought, you’ve got my attention. But I don’t play games. Where are you?

He turned back to Ohica’s body. Her eyes no longer burned red, but they glowed. He covered her with the blanket again and glanced at Rula’s unconscious form. She was breathing but he didn’t have time to check on her, the trial would be over by now and his younger self heading back to his TARDIS. The thought of apologising to her was quashed by another thought.

[_Left. Go left. Take a left. Turn left, _]the words whispered across his mind.

The Warrior bowed his head to hide his face in the robe and stepped towards the door, which opened for him. He walked out into the corridor, stretching further than he could see under the hood in both directions. He could go right, if he chose, back to the lab to find Derrin and get him to lead the way out of the temple. Leave this mess behind him and get on with fighting a different futile battle for his own group of near-immortal psychopaths.

With a grimace, the old man thought the words he was about to say before Rula had collapsed. A warning that he was onto them. And he was coming for them.

Time Lord.

The Warrior turned left.

Left, right, left, right, left, right.

The Warrior marched down corridors, turning off into new ones whenever the voice breathing across his mind told him to. He couldn’t see, so had to trust the voice was leading him the right way. Even so, his determined strides were attracting attention and he could almost sense eyes on him when he saw passing feet on the marble floor. It didn’t matter. The Warrior presumed that whoever wanted to see him and had psychically knocked Rula out would want him to move unnoticed. Maybe it was keeping occupied the minds of any Sisters he passed. It wouldn’t work on the serving boys, being non-telepaths, but he knew they weren’t in the habit of challenging a Sister, even a suspicious one.

Left

Derrin had seen Ohica while he was preparing the tea and he hadn’t said anything. Kept it a secret from the Sisterhood and from him. Did Derrin ever consider it a secret? Maybe saying something could have given the Warrior a chance to allay the suspicion on himself and investigate with the help of the Sisterhood, the Warrior thought bitterly, rather than sneaking around under a humid robe. At the very least it would have saved him time going straight to Ohica and attracting the attention of this insurgent Time Lord, whoever they turned out to be. But, then, he may not have found out about the acceleration of the Sisterhood’s development, like the neural mainframe. He could feel the marble-sized neural node in his jacket pocket, bumping against his hip as he walked. Seeing the Time Lord technology that had accelerated Karn’s development had been vital to get him this far, to learn all that he had. If Derrin had been totally honest, he might have missed it.

Right

Besides, he hadn’t been particularly honest with him either. The truth was he didn’t care who killed Ohila, except insofar as it would help him find out why the Sisterhood had made the Doctor choose to destroy himself and create the Warrior. Ohila said it was to fight the Time War, but she could have forced that on him. Why did he have to make the choice? Whoever the organ grinder was, Ohila was still the monkey. She still played a role in creating him and for that he hated her. At least he tried to.

Left

Despite himself, the sound of Ohila’s sobbing over her former teacher played on his mind, momentarily blocking out the directions still being barked at him like orders. Her willingness to help Ohica die even though it broke her hearts, the pity that he’d seen in her eyes when he’d confronted her in the cave. The Warrior, who had witnessed the Universe’s capacity for loathing, found himself incapable of hating such a creature. All he could find when he thought of her was emptiness, a hollowness that hurts more than grief. Regret.

HALT!

The guiding hand on his mind evaporated making the Warrior light-headed for a moment. He dared a glance upwards and found himself staring into a bare stone wall at the end of a deserted, dead-end corridor. The Warrior flung the robe off in frustration.

“Well, now what?!” he spat aloud, eliciting nothing but mental silence.

This was the entrance, he was sure of it. Maybe it was a test to see if he could figure a way inside. Well, if there was a Time Lord behind this then there’s only one way he or she could identify themselves unmistakably. The old man placed a withered finger on the wall and concentrated. It glowed orange for a second and a thin crack, identical to the one he’d seen earlier, fractured it instantly. He hated using regeneration energy so frivolously. It was a miniscule amount, relatively speaking, but what if all these minor withdrawals meant it ran out at a crucial moment? He occasionally had nightmares about his final regeneration emerging without eyebrows.

Like the tunnel entrance, this crack was dimensionally-engineered camouflage. The Warrior found the correct angle quickly after taking a step to his right and standing on the tips of his toes. This time, the crack dilated into a grand oak door, carved with symbols resembling the looped pattern that adorned the Sisterhood’s temple and robes. Still on his toes, the man skittered up to it, pushed the door open and stepped inside, surrendering himself to the total blackness within.

Chapter 15

The panic that had followed Derrin all the way from the lab to Ohica’s chambers burst at the sight of two prone bodies. One was a young Sister, sprawled beside the bed, her back arching and falling steadily with deep, strained breaths. The other was covered by a strewn amber blanket, but the silhouette it created was unmistakably that of the tiny elder Ohica, still as the tomb.

The serving boy dropped the spear he’d been carrying, went over to Rula and rolled her over. She coughed wetly and her breathing became easier. After a few seconds, her eyes fluttered like mayfly wings and, on recognising Derrin, she gave him a smile that slid off her brown-gold face as memory set in. She looked at him with a mixture of horror and confusion but said nothing.

Neither spoke as Derrin helped Rula into the chair beside the bed and crouched beside her, but after a moment neither could hold themselves back.

“Where is he?” they said in unison. Derrin with fury, Rula with concern.

The Sister waited patiently for Derrin to calm down, welcoming the chance to clear her head, before recounting what had happened and what they’d discovered. Derrin shuddered when he learnt that Ohica had poisoned the tea when she’d distracted him in the kitchens.

“So he killed her for it. For killing Ohila.” he said, glancing at Ohica’s body.

“What? No!” she said earnestly. “The mind controlling her killed Ohica.”

“That’s what he said, right?”

“Yes…I would have been able to tell if he’d been lying.”

“Would you? You said yourself that your telepathy is underdeveloped.”

“You forget yourself, serving boy,” she snapped.

Derrin’s shoulders went back automatically, but he faltered at the sight of the kind girl’s face. He was accustomed to deferring to Sisters who looked younger than him, but it was harder when he knew this girl, though tall and imposing, actually was younger. Especially since Rula didn’t seem any more convinced by her pulling rank than he did.

“Besides,” she said primly, “it knocked me out, I felt it.”

“How do you know that wasn’t him as well?”

Rula didn’t respond. Derrin stood up and turned to her.

“We have to find him,” he said calmly.

“Why? And, while we’re at it, how did you find me?”

“I got back to the lab and he was missing. He tried to rebuild that neural…machine thing, looked like he made a right hash of it too…”

“I did that.”

“Oh,” Derrin coughed, “it’s working wonderfully. But I noticed that Ohica’s…brainwaves? That little light thing? It was missing.”

“The neural node. I think he’s still carrying it. But, again, why do we need to find him?”

“Because…” Derrin faltered.

“Ohica was old,” Rula continued, “everyone’s been expecting her to die for years. We’ve got nothing keeping us involved. We simply tell the Reverend Mother that we came to visit her after the trial, maybe to tell her that her old pupil was dead, and found that she’d passed away too. Then…I don’t know. We get on with things. The Doctor can do what he wants.”

“Why did you help in the first place if you’re going to walk away now?”

“I wanted to find out what happened to Maren, you know about the Elixir Crisis right?”

“Some of it…what’s that got to do with anything?”

“Ohica was the last living person who could’ve told me what happened and now she’s dead. It’s nothing to do with me now. Nor you. The Doctor can’t threaten you anymore.”

“I have to stop him!”

“Why?”

“Because!” Derrin exploded. He took a deep breath.

“Because…I helped him. I let a Time Lord loose in the temple. He told me he wanted to find Ohila’s killer but I didn’t think he’d…” Derrin looked over at Ohica again.

“He didn’t, I told you-”

“In any case, he’s only gotten this far because of me. Anyone who dies now is my responsibility,” Derrin swallowed a lump in his throat.

The two were silent for a moment.

“Rula, please,” Derrin pleaded, “Is there anything I can do to find him? You don’t have to get involved just please do this for me.”

Rula’s softened at the sight of the young serving boy’s face. She thought for a second, hoping that she wouldn’t be able to think of anything and let Derrin be justified in walking away with her. To her dismay, she had an idea.

“The neural node,” she said with a sigh. “It gives off a brainwave signal. If the Doctor’s still carrying it, we can track him telepathically. Except we’d need a sample of the original neural pattern so we’d know what we were looking for.”

The pair looked at Ohica’s veiled body.

“I take it…” Derrin trailed off.

“No brain activity,” Rula confirmed.

“We could get some elixir, bring her back.”

Rula gaped at him, horrified.

“NO!” she cried, standing up. “We never resurrect a Sister who has passed!”

“Why not?!”

“It’s too complicated, we don’t know the elixir’s effects after brain death.”

“Well, it’s not like we can make Ohica’s brain worse!”

Rula glowered at him.

“Ohica had been suffering, she asked Ohila to help her die. Do you really want to force her to go on living just to settle your conscience?” she snapped.

“Ok, maybe not a full dose, just a drop?” Derrin suggested. “Not enough to resurrect, just to give her brain a spark, something you can latch onto to track the node.”

“Me?”

“I’m not a telepath.”

“And I’m not skilled enough, we need a more senior Sister with stronger telepathy.”

“Rula! We can’t tell anyone!”

“I can’t!”

“Just try! Please!”

Rula slumped in defeat and reached into her robes. She produced a small vial containing a silver liquid and held it out to the serving boy.

“This is my dose for the day. I’ve been too busy to take it. A drop should give her a few seconds of life, enough time for me to read her mind and get something we can use to isolate the neural node. Only a small drop, though, I want to make sure she doesn’t suffer,” she said warningly.

Derrin took the vial and stepped over to Ohica’s body. He steeled himself and threw back the blanket, gasping sharply when he caught her vacant gaze. Rula went over to the elder, placed the fingertips of one hand on Ohica’s forehead and concentrated. Derrin opened Ohica’s lips, breaking the peaceful smile she’d been wearing since her death, and uncorked the vial. With trembling hands, he held it open over Ohica’s face and let a miniscule drop shiver out and fall into her gaping mouth.

Instantly, Rula was overwhelmed with a sharp headache as a flood of foreign thoughts rushed in. Her free hand shot to her wrist to hold it in place as the muscles spasmed, reflexively trying to release her grip as though she’d seized something hot. After a long moment, Rula sensed, rather than felt, a soft hand on her own and the pain subsided. She felt a mind whispering into hers, gently.

Thank you, child, _]it said. [_I go to my rest willingly; but there is one Sister who did not, while another denies her own. Save them both, child! Save Ohila! Save the Sisterhood!

The presence faded and the connection was broken. Rula opened her eyes and saw Derrin looking worried, still holding the elixir vial. Ohica’s eyes were closed now and her contented smile had returned. Ohica’s final thought resonated through Rula’s mind.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Derrin smiled approvingly, covered Ohica’s body once more and collected the Kharus spear.

Chapter 16

The darkness around the Warrior was impenetrable, even the dim torchlight of the caves and temple corridors had not prepared him for such thick blackness. The Warrior raised his arms, prepared to fend off a blind attack.

Suddenly, an enormous sphere of flame erupted above him. A face began to take shape within the blaze and two ruby eyes shot through the light. The flames subsided, leaving only a gigantic, disembodied head among the embers. Staring down at him, the young-old face he’d felt in Ohica’s mind bore into him with cruel red eyes. Several smaller fireballs burst into life around the edges of the room, roaring with thunderous applause to their maker.

“Yes, yes!” the Warrior called out, exasperated, “I’ve already seen your damn Halloween mask. Show your [_real _]face, coward!”

Its sardonic smirk curled up its cheek until the face was split apart and burst into smoke. An acrid smell, like newly-extinguished candles, hit the Warrior’s nostrils as he watched the smog swirl around in front of him, coalescing into a humanoid figure slightly taller than himself. Where eyes should be, two red orbs glinted menacingly through the smoke, which dissipated to reveal the same face atop a slim body clad in a scarlet cloak. Now the Warrior could see that the creature’s whole body was shifting like its face. Exposed skin smoothing over and wrinkling in an instant. Soft hands withering into gnarled claws and back again with an audible crunch of bone. Every limb, every joint, every cell seemed to writhe beneath the robes as they rushed through the cycle of degeneration and regeneration. The creature’s face blurred between a sallow-skinned hag and golden-skinned girl. Each image only visible for a moment before it changed again, crimson eyes unmoved by the tides of youth and age constantly washing over it.

Two more fireballs struck up on either side of the creature, illuminating a basalt throne behind it that could have been a natural rock formation were it not for the countless jewels covering every inch. The weak light from the half-dozen hovering stars glinted off them, making the throne seem to dance in searing white fire. The creature moved a hand inside the pocket of its robe and from it produced a perfectly ordinary cigarette. The thing leaned forward to light it on the nearest fireball. It fixed its glowing red eyes on the Warrior expectantly and took a drag on its cigarette.

“Uh…well,” the Warrior spluttered. “Good afternoon.”

The creature spread its arms sarcastically, cigarette clenched between its teeth.

“Ta-da!” it croaked.

The Warrior looked at the thing dumbly. It sighed and flopped down onto the throne, taking another drag of the cigarette with obvious relish.

“Those things will kill you, you know,” the Warrior called uncertainly.

“Oh, for Pythia’s sake! Are we really going to do the pointless bantering before a dramatic reveal thing?”

“Well, I am a bit short on time. Do you mind if we skip ahead a little?” the Warrior asked politely.

“It’s me. Maren. We met when-”

“I remember,” the Warrior interrupted. “That time with Morbius and Solon. I thought you were dead.”

“I thought so too. Turns out that throwing yourself into an immortality-granting fire is a rather counterproductive way of committing suicide.”

Maren took another drag of her cigarette.

“So you’re immortal? I mean…immortal-er?”

“The Sacred Flame embedded its properties into every cell of my body, the will of Pythia, I suppose,” she grinned cynically. “But my Karnian physiology is rejecting it so my bodies ages quickly, whilst the Flame’s power rejuvenates it at almost the same rate. Sound familiar?”

“So rather than taking elixir, you’ve learnt to regenerate?!” the Warrior said, appalled.

“Is it so surprising? After all, the Time Lords use the elixir we provide them to stabilise difficult regenerations. The processes are different, but compatible. I’m a living embodiment of that. Part-Karnian, part-Gallifreyan. My blood boils with elixir and regeneration energy combined.”

“So why hide yourself away like this?”

“Anti-Time Lord sentiment. Which, ironically, I helped to whip up”, she chucked, chewing the end of her cigarette ruminatively. “The Sisterhood would never accept me like this and I’d become a martyr for my sacrifice by then anyway. I figured better to have that as my legacy than being the Reverend Mother who’d nearly allowed the elixir to dry up and then been executed for Time Lord sorcery. I can run things from the shadows just as easily.”

“So the Sisterhood’s advances, regenerative technology and weaponry, dimensional engineering, trying to copy the Time Lord’s Matrix, that was all down to you?”

Maren nodded.

“But why?” the Warrior continued.

“To defend ourselves. There is a war on, you know.”

“The Time War?”

“The very same.”

“But you’re immortal! What harm can the Daleks do to you?”

“Plenty, if the Sacred Flame is stolen by our real enemy.”

“Your real enemy? Oh…tell me you don’t mean the Time Lords,” the Warrior sighed.

“Of course!”

“Have you met the Daleks?!”

“Yes, and so have the Time Lords!” she thundered, “Yet they’re still willing to wage a pointless war with them and are getting more desperate to win with each passing eon. Thousands of battlefield regenerations every day. The alliance between Karn and Gallifrey has never been an easy one, Doctor. How long will it be before the Time Lords get sick of limited regenerations and importing elixir from us? They’ll invade Karn and take the Sacred Flame for themselves. It’s inevitable.”

“No, it’s not! A Time Lord would never willingly become immortal. Rassilon taught-”

“Pfft, Rassilon?” she snorted. “He’s just a Time Lord with a silly glove. He’s scared of death too.”

“Says the immortal who faked hers.”

“Just wait, Doctor. How long do you think it’ll be before the Time Lords decides to wake him up? Maybe they already have, and he’s been working behind the scenes like I have.”

The Warrior ran a hand through his unkempt grey hair.

“So you’re scared of a Time Lord invasion. That’s ridiculous but you’re a paranoid maniac, I get it. You’re not doing yourself any favours though, accelerating time itself to gain these new toys. The Time Lords are going to notice eventually. You’ve practically painted a target on your forehead!”

“I know, which is why I elevated Karn’s scientific development even further. To create the best possible weapon against the Time Lords.”

“Which is?”

“You.”

Chapter 17

Rula’s eyes were shut, but she made confident turns into corridors with Derrin following behind. She’d had no trouble identifying Ohica’s brainwaves among the mental background noise in the temple and was now practically marching towards it. Derrin noticed her anger at resurrecting Ohica had disappeared after making the connection and she was using her powers confidently, purposefully. He hoped that her resolve would hold out even when they found the Doctor. He didn’t want her to be in danger, but he also didn’t want to face him alone.

“Derrin,” Rula said eventually.

He peered around her and spotted it. A puddle of discarded robe at the foot of a tunnel wall down which ran a thin crack that both recognised as the sign of a door hidden through angular misdirection. The Sisterhood had decided to make every crack on the secret temple entrances identical so they’d be easier to find, or risk having Sisters and serving boys running headlong into every fractured rock for miles. They approached it carefully.

“I’ve never seen a hidden entrance [_inside _]the temple,” said Derrin.

“Me neither,” said Rula.

They both began moving haphazardly around the area, trying to find the right angle to see what was hidden behind the crack. After a minute, Rula found it and gestured Derrin over to her.

“Stand on your tiptoes,” she ordered.

Derrin elevated himself so that his height matched Rula’s and he saw it too. The crack widened to reveal an oak door scrawled with Pythian script. Still on his toes, he turned to the Sister.

“He’s in there?”

“Definitely, I can sense Ohica’s neural node.”

“Thank you,” he smiled. “I don’t blame you for wanting to walk away. Honestly, I’m terrified. But the Doctor gave us both the choice and I signed up for this, you didn’t. Whatever happens next, don’t get involved. Keep yourself safe.”

He tiptoed up the door, pushed it open and held the Kharus spear ready. Then he was gone.

Safe.

Ohica’s dying words resurged in Rula’s mind.

Save the Sisterhood!

Rula had always believed that wisdom simply a collection of lessons that could be passed down. She thought that recording the brainwaves of the elders, pooling their knowledge and cataloguing their experiences could produce the irrefutable tenants of true wisdom. But that brief moment when her and Ohica’s minds were connected had imparted more insight than she could ever have gleaned from a neural mainframe. She knew now that real wisdom should not be received. It cannot be taught, only learnt. It comes from experience, taking risks and being willing to make mistakes. And, if Rula wanted to be wise, this might be the biggest mistake she could possibly make.

She strode up to the oak doors and followed after Derrin.

Chapter 18

“That makes even less sense!” the Warrior snorted. “If you wanted the Doctor to fight against the Time Lords for you, why bother with the elixir at all? Why not just control his mind like you did with Ohica?”

“Her mind had degenerated so much that her psychic defenses were weaker, that was the only reason I could control her,” Maren sniffed. “You saw. I tried to take control of you and you broke free easily.”

“But if you fear the Time Lords, why create a warrior to fight for them?”

“Because you hate the Time Lords! Almost as much as you hate the Daleks.”

“They’re my people!”

“Who you spent eight lifetimes running away from and refused to defend in a war, no matter who else suffered. A war that the Time Lords always knew was coming.”

“But that’s just it! What good is another soldier for a time war? The war touches every moment in the cosmos, the Universe has never been and will never be at peace-”

“Unless something drastic happens,” Maren grinned as she echoed the words he’d said to Ohila in the ceremony cave back at him. The Warrior was silent.

“How many times has it occurred to you?” she asked, standing up. “And how many of those times have you been able to admit it to yourself?”

“What do you mean?”

“You weren’t created to fight the Time War. You were created to END the Time War! To destroy Gallifrey, wipe it from time! Save the Sisterhood from the Time Lord menace and, as a bonus, undo the eternal war they’d forced the Universe into,” Maren screeched.

The Warrior was stunned for a long time, then he laughed throatily.

“You wanted me to destroy Gallifrey?! Well, I’m sorry I turned out to be such a disappointment.”

“You defied my expectations, certainly,” Maren nodded. “I was hoping you’d go back to Gallifrey and blow it up immediately, I didn’t expect you’d fight for them. But that was down to Ohila. If she’d known what your true purpose was she might have made the Warrior elixir much stronger than she did.”

“She didn’t know? I thought she was hiding something…”

“She was, she’d given Ohica the means to kill herself. But that was just a coincidence, nothing to do with you.”

“Then why have Ohila killed?”

“Because you made her doubt, I sensed it. Through Ohica, I’d seeded the idea of creating you in Ohila’s mind. There was a risk that she’d find out the truth and expose me. Plus, I had to get rid of the poison and keep Ohica around as my puppet. Fortunately, I could easily pin the murder on you, once the trial had put everyone’s mind to rest.”

“But you let me go free.”

“Because your duty is not yet done, soldier,” she said sarcastically. “You still have a Time War to end.”

“You still think I’m going to do it, now that I know I’m being manipulated? You really aren’t very bright, are you? The torches are burning but no-one’s home!” he taunted.

“Why do you think I brought you here, Doctor, if I’m going to tell you all this?”

“I thought we were doing the ‘villain reveals their plan before killing me’ thing?”

Maren laughed incredulously.

“No, dear. I thought I’d seen the last of you after the trial but, since you came back and were starting to figure it out, I knew there was no way I’d get rid of you until your mind was settled. So here’s the truth and you can back to the war now. It serves my interests, admittedly, but with or without the elixir you know it’s the only way to end the Time War and fix the damage it’s done.”

She sat down again, smirking confidently.

“Gallifrey will fall. At your hand.”

Before the old man had time to respond, a yellow blur shot between them and the Warrior found himself at the business end of a crackling blue spear, spitting at his nose. The Warrior’s gaze shot up from the weapon and he was eye-to-eye with Derrin, teeth bared, frothing with rage.

“You. Will. Not. Hurt. Anyone. Else,” Derrin snarled.

“Sister, are you alright? This man is a Time Lord, you’re in danger!” he called to Maren.

Though Maren was hidden behind the young serving boy, the Warrior could hear her snickering excitedly.

“Oh, yes dear. I’m fine,” came her voice. “The Time Lord was just leaving.”

“You don’t understand, Sister. He killed High Priestess Ohila and the elder Ohica.”

Maren gasped theatrically.

“Did he? Oh yes, now I recognise him. Wasn’t he exiled? You better show him out.”

Derrin’s hitherto determined face faltered, clearly he’d only planned as far as track the Warrior down and confront him. The two stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, the Kharus spear quaking dangerously close to the older man’s face as both decided what to do next.

“Derrin! No!” came a voice from behind. The Warrior saw a fleeting burst of crimson light behind Derrin and the owner of the voice choked with a painful gulp. There was a heavy thump and a bundle of red robes flopped into the periphery of the Warrior’s vision, shuddered and then lay still. Derrin’s eyes widened in horror at the motionless body, but held the spear aloft.

“Oh, you STUPID BOY!” the Warrior thundered.

The Warrior seized the handle of the Kharus weapon, just below the spearhead. He gave the handle a sharp twist and it slipped from Derrin’s grasp. The older man brought his other hand up with the spear and swung the handle down in a fierce arc, lashing the boy across the shins and taking out his legs. Derrin toppled face-first onto the stone floor and groaned in pain. With one fluid movement, the Warrior had flipped the spear around and advanced in tremendous, space-consuming bounds towards the shifting, young-old face of Maren. His creator.

The spear stopped less than an inch from the ancient creature, but Maren hadn’t moved except to grow a satisfied grin. The Warrior longed to plunge the blade into her neck, little caring if she could survive it or not. Under his own power, it would have already been done. But his progress was being rebuffed by something intangible; gentle but firm. Maren’s eyes were a cold garnet, not the scorching crimson that usually accompanied her mind powers, and were begging him to strike her down. To prove what the monster she’d created was capable of.

He could feel the mind that was holding him back. Though it spoke with no voice, the Warrior recognised it instantly as Rula. She’d regained consciousness and was somehow, with a psychic deftness well beyond her years, halting him.

I know what she did to you, I can see it in your mind. You were a good man once, it said.

“I tried to help the Universe. I never wanted to destroy, she made me!” he screamed aloud.

No, you made you. She may have turned you into the Warrior but you’re the one who lived up to that name. The circumstances of your birth don’t absolve your actions in life. Actions like this.

He could tell she meant killing defenceless Maren in anger. His Time Lord telepathic abilities were impervious to Karnian control, Rula’s were shielded by her new-found mental prowess and Derrin’s mind, being non-telepathic, was like solid concrete to them – impenetrable but you could read what was carved on it. Maren made no effort to run, but nor could she stop him.

Maren craned her neck at him tauntingly.

The Warrior roared in anger. Straining uselessly against the soft, thick resistance playing on his every muscle. He looked into Maren’s piercing red eyes.

“Do it!” she snarled gleefully.

She wanted…wants you to destroy your home. Maren thinks you’ve got no choice, Rula’s voice continued. But she’s wrong. You can choose to kill her and prove yourself the Warrior she wants you to be. Or you can spare her, show her that you always find another way, and be the _]Doctor [_again. But whatever you choose will be down to you alone. You’ll have nobody else to blame.

The Warrior swayed slightly as he felt the pressure on his body lift.

Everything was still for a second and an eternity.

The Warrior’s choice.

The Doctor’s choice.

His choice.

The man who was once the Doctor thrust the spear forward and submerged it in Maren’s neck. Her entire body went rigid and coursed with the same blue electricity that issued from the spearhead, which had turned a dull grey. Maren fixed her gaze on the Warrior and split her withering face with a smug grin that crumbled her head to dust. The spear fell from her disintegrating neck and clattered to the ground. With her ability to regenerate inhibited by the Kharus spear, the ancient Reverend Mother of the Sisterhood of Karn had decayed to nothing – just a heap of dust and scarlet robes. The cigarette, which had dropped from Maren’s hand, landed beside her throne, still burning.

A sob issued from the recovering Rula and a pained whimper from Derrin. The old man went to the Sister and offered her his hand, which she brushed away before standing bolt upright defiantly and straightening her robes.

“Your time’s almost up, Warrior,” Rula stated sourly.

She was right. The trial had ended ages ago, his younger self would be almost be reaching his TARDIS by now. He couldn’t stay here any longer.

“Go,” she ordered.

Chapter 19

The planet Karn had looped around three of its nearest suns before the man who’d once been the Doctor next set foot on it. A hot breeze swept between amber stones and blew dust into the ceremony cave, which scratched at the face of the old woman sitting on a slab, drinking tea from a plain brown cup. Her eyes were turned spaceward and she thought she could hear the hysteric screeches of the Daleks as each distant emerald flash meant another planet fallen to them. She heard the approaching footsteps and called out.

“Hello, old friend.”

“Good afternoon,” a husky male voice replied.

“How goes the day?”

“Very funny,” the voice said humorlessly.

Ohila tore her eyes away from the cosmos-scarring battle above their heads and inspected the old man who’d appeared in the cave. He was the same as she’d seen him last time, though the sleeve of his jacket and the shirt beneath was torn, exposing pallid flesh. He was also failing to disguise his heavy panting and glistening brow to which knots of disheveled hair clung. He lowered himself creakily onto the slab beside Ohila and poured steaming brown liquid into an identical cup from the double-looped, red and gold teapot.

“Not poisoned, I take it but…do I detect…peranico?” the old man asked, sniffing the cup’s contents.

Ohila nodded.

“So you still trust Derrin to make your tea then.”

“I request him specifically. It helps his reputation. With all that happened, nobody was sure whether to punish him or praise him. I think they settled for ignoring him.”

“What about you?”

“Rula,” Ohila said proudly. “She convinced Reverend Mother Koralo to have me brought back, said it would never be the will of Pythia for us to abandon a murdered Sister.”

“And Ohica?”

“In all the confusion, everyone assumed she died naturally. We decided that was best, let her finally be at peace after all this time.”

“Maren?”

“I don’t know how or if we could have administered elixir to what was left of her. The High Council spent a long time just trying to decide if they believed Rula’s story at all. I think they did, but after a while they just decided to let it go.”

The man considered this for a moment.

“Maybe I should talk to them, emphasise the urgency. They’ll need to be prepared for when the Time Lords discover all that meddling with time Maren did and-”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. Rula sorted it. She abandoned her work on the neural mainframe straight away and went into politics instead. Rula’s working to end the Sisterhood’s isolation and start diplomatic relations with Gallifrey. Now we’re supplying the Time Lords with unlimited elixir and sharing our regenerator technology with them. So I suspect that when the Time Lords spot the temporal discrepancy they’ll overlook it. And, at Rula’s suggestion, Koralo asked me to resume my service, which made sense since my recovery requires elixir dosing anyway, and become Karn’s first ambassador to Gallifrey. Her views are divisive at times, especially among the older Sisters, but nobody doubts Rula will make the High Council very soon. Personally, I think she’s on track to become Reverend Mother eventually. Her platform is one of learning from the Universe, not hiding from it, and doing what’s best for the future…assuming…”

A thunderclap interrupted her and made them both look up again. A thick barrage of green bolts were being pawed at uselessly by a sparse cluster of white lights.

“They’re getting closer,” Ohila said.

“I know,” he muttered.

“They’ll reach Kasterborous before long.”

“Correct.”

“And then Gallifrey.”

“Mmm.”

“Then what will you do?”

“Something drastic, I suppose,” he said casually.

The old man reached into his pocket and produced a blue, marble-sized orb in his wrinkled hand. He held it out to Ohila, who plucked it from his palm and inspected it. She smiled fondly at the neural node, a memento of her old teacher now at rest. He got up to leave.

“Wait,” said Ohila.

The Time Lord turned to her.

“Do you think Maren was right?” she asked.

“It’s the only way to end the Time War and undo all its damage in one fell swoop. Still, I’ll keep on fighting for a little while longer, see how long my optimism holds out.” he grinned cynically.

“They were wrong. Both of them. Maren and Rula. Just because you didn’t spare Maren doesn’t mean you’ve lived up to what she made you. Maren might have thought it was the only way but she didn’t know you. You [_still _]have a choice. You always find a way, Doctor,” she smiled.

They looked at each other for a double-heartbeat.

“I am not the Doctor.”

He was gone. So was Ohila’s smile.

The End.


Conspiracy on Karn: A Doctor Who Story

  • ISBN: 9781370727087
  • Author: M. J. Baker
  • Published: 2017-02-17 21:05:15
  • Words: 20604
Conspiracy on Karn: A Doctor Who Story Conspiracy on Karn: A Doctor Who Story