Teaser: “The Origin of Evil”
WITH THE Master’s head split into two perfectly symmetrical halves, Selene found it difficult to imagine that he had ever posed much of a threat. Grabbing for the tuft of a grey beard at his chin she lifted both halves of the polysulfone skull and gazed into his lifeless glass eyes. Propped up on a chair in the control room, lit by a shaft of bright sunlight shining through the open doors of the police box, he was little more than another of the TARDIS’s technological oddities. Still, when the Doctor spoke of him it was always through gritted teeth, and there was always trepidation in his voice. Selene laughed and let the cracked crown fall once more, taking up a pneuma-spanner from her tool belt.
Sometimes, the Doctor was too cautious. It wasn’t that he thought she was some stupid girl. Quite the opposite, in fact. Though he was unlikely to admit it, they both knew that she had only been allowed to board the TARDIS because of her unique understanding of recondite engineering. The Doctor needed the Master—for reasons he was content kept to himself—and it was just possible that she was the only one who could restore life to the mechanical man. No, the Doctor knew that she was smart enough, and strong enough, but behind his manic exterior there was a fear that he held more closely than any of his secret plans.
Selene turned into the warm sunlight as a gentle breeze blew past her. Beyond the control room, across the threshold of the dimensional doors, was the village of Hartlewick. It was summertime in Cambridgeshire, and across the verdant lawn of Cheltenwick House she could just make out the sombre, lanky figure of the Doctor. He was sitting with old Lord Denby, enjoying another sidecar or gin rickey. As she watched him wave his arms in dizzying circles, pale face basking in the afternoon sun, she knew he was caught up in the telling of another of his outrageous stories.
The Doctor was quite taken with Hartlewick, that much was clear. He had settled in at Cheltenwick House with surprising quickness after the Demon Servants of An-Amon had been vanquished. It was good that he had decided to indulge in a bit of a holiday. Perhaps he would, at long last, unwind a little. Perhaps he’d let go. Perhaps he’d regain some sense of control, some sense of himself.
Selene returned her attention to the broken body at her side. At the very least, the Doctor’s desire to stay put had given her the chance to spend some time tinkering with this cybernetic puzzle of his. While he was enjoying slices of cheese and fruit upon the lawn, Selene could get her hands dirty.
There was a parallel there, Selene mused, given that she had recently switched her focus to the central processor inside the android’s head. Yes, it was like cutting open an apple. The terullian circuit pathways and coiled microleads were akin to the glittering trail of some mechanical worm, each artificial neuron representing another thread of artificial intelligence. Following each one to test its integrity might well take her a lifetime, but she enjoyed a challenge. Selene jabbed at the silica substrata of the central cylinder with her spanner and frowned. Of course, the core of the Master’s mind was nothing like the core in a piece of fruit. There were shielded theta wave intakes, for starters, and…
Tightening her grip on the pneuma-spanner, Selene froze. That was it. Could that be it? The core of the Master’s mind, the crux of his elusive consciousness, was facilitated by a superabundant influx of psychotrack energies. If the intakes were not perfectly aligned, there wouldn’t be so much as a spark of life in the android’s body. Given the construction of the brain, misalignment was all-but impossible, but if it had occurred, and if it could be corrected…
Selene cocked her head and stared into the eyes of the Master. And she smiled, for she knew that he would soon be staring back.
Overjoyed, she let loose a squeal of delight but quickly slapped a hand over her mouth as the nearby console unexpectedly came to life. The control room was filled with the insistent ringing of tinny bells—the sound of an old-fashioned alarm clock. Moving to the control panel, she could see that several dials and registers were frantically buzzing. One interface had begun to spit out a strip of incomprehensible tickertape. She reached to tear off the paper but thought better of it. Stepping around the body of the Master, she went to the open door and shouted: “Doctor! Doctor!”
Across the lawn, the Doctor put down his collins glass and threw up his arms in exasperation. Reluctantly, he climbed out of his garden chair, methodically picked up his discarded jacket—then his greatcoat, then his cape—and began to make his way across the grass to the TARDIS.
“What’s all this fuss? Can’t the universe get on for an hour without me?” he scolded as soon as he was within earshot, brushing a flower fly from his white shirt. “Devitt makes the most refreshing Colony Cocktail, and I was just telling Lord Denby about our ill-fated expedition to the neon swamps of Quagreeg. Imperialistic nitwit thinks I’m talking about someplace in Burma, of course, but the spirit of the—”
“Something is wrong with the TARDIS,” Selene interrupted.
All humour left the Doctor’s face. Dashing inside, he carelessly threw his pile of clothing atop the lifeless form of the Master, his cape falling over the cleaved skull as if it were a coat rack, before moving to the console. “Well, well, well,” he said after a moment, alarm bells still ringing. “I wondered how they would respond if we stayed put.”
“It’s some sort of proximity alert, isn’t it?”
The Doctor looked up at her with cold blue eyes. “It’s a proximity alert alright,” he said gravely. “We’ve been passed by another TARDIS following our time track in reverse.”
“Another TARDIS?” she cried out in disbelief. “Seriously? What are the odds that, in all of time and space, we’d bump into another TARDIS?”
“In 1923? In Hartlewick? On Lord Denby’s lawn?!” The Doctor laughed madly at the absurdity of it, then stopped abruptly as he reached out to ram home a lever. The deck plates began to vibrate. “I’m tired of playing games with the Time Lords. It’s time they knew what it feels like to be chased. Brace yourself. We’re going to follow them. Not through space, but through time. It’s toodle-oo to Cheltenwick House, Selene! The TARDIS is going to remain fixed at precisely the same point on the lawn, but we’re about to lose eighteen hundred years.”
Eyes wide, Selene took a step closer to the console. With a swat of the hand the Doctor shooed her away. “Secure the Master,” the Doctor warned. “There’s no telling what will happen next.”