Teaser: “The Age of Prosperity”
IT SEEMED as if they had been walking for ages. From the console room they had climbed one of the two broad staircases that corkscrewed up, toward infinite heights. An open door on the first landing had taken them through a frankly magnificent library, which had taken them into a hopelessly cluttered workshop, which had taken them down a damp and humid corridor that tracked round a swimming pool. One dimly lit, twisting corridor had led to another, and another, and another. The Master never once paused, never hesitated, never wavered. He knew where he was going. Trailing her fingertips along the never-ending brass rail, Ori followed in his footsteps, marvelled at the miracle of the TARDIS, and wished that she’d been given the chance to change her shoes.
Under his arm, the Master was carrying a device that he’d retrieved from an old seaman’s chest in the console room. It was thick and round, like the lid of a barrel. It was made of a semi-translucent material and in the face of it she could see the glittering traces of an ornate internal circuitry. Most interestingly, Ori judged that it was just large enough to fit into one of the seemingly infinite roundels that adorned the walls and doors throughout the interior of the TARDIS.
“What is it?” Ori asked once it became clear to her that the Master was not about to volunteer an explanation for their errand. “That thing.”
They turned yet another corner and their march ended in a shadowy alcove. Before them was a large double door made of steel. Its edges were tinged with rust and it was adorned with familiar shapes, for mounted on the metal were a set of distinctive roundels. The Master held the disc up into the light. “When is a door not a door?” he asked rhetorically, considering the device. “Think of it as a sort of jailer’s key. The Doctor needs to ensure that she is kept at bay, for obvious reasons.”
Ori lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “He doesn’t intend to keep her here, does he? In the TARIDS? With the two of us?!”
In the shadows of the alcove, the Master adopted a bemused expression, one of his eyebrows rising slowly, almost mechanically. “Would it surprise you to know that I am here against my will? That I am quite incapable of leaving this place? Make no mistake, my dear, the TARDIS is a prison.”
Ori stared at him and wondered what to make of this. There was a solemnness in his voice, and it lent his words the ring of truth, but there was also something unreliable about the Master. From the moment she had first tumbled through the doors of the TARDIS, he’d brought a calculating attention to bear on her, and she had instantly recognized him as an opportunist.
Sensing her scepticism, the Master quickly took another tack. “You don’t have to take my word for it,” he assured her. “Ask him. He won’t deny it. The Doctor is a clever man, and oh so charming, but also selfish. And oh, how he loves to judge. If he has use for you, there’s no easy escape.”
Ori turned away as she considered this. Then the Master was at her shoulder, his voice in her ear as he urgently pressed on: “You’ve seen it already! You’ve seen it with your own eyes. I can tell. So unpredictable. So reckless. So wilful. Take care, my dear. Ask yourself: can he be trusted?”
She did not have the opportunity to respond. Turning away, the Master reached up with splayed fingers and pressed firmly on the steel door. It responded to his touch and swung open slowly, soundlessly. There was a sudden rush of wind that ruffled Ori’s violet-streaked hair and she knew at once that the TARDIS was about to get bigger still.
The floor beyond was smooth and hard, like polished stone, and it stretched out before them all-but uninterrupted. Though there was little light, Ori could just about make out the far ends of the chamber, which seemed formed from corrugated metal. From one end to the other, it must have measured three hundred meters. In the centre stood a metal tower with its own staircase reaching toward the arched, latticed ceiling more than eighty meters above. And tethered to that central tower was a behemoth that instantly elucidated the purpose for this space. It was an airship, not unlike the one that the false Cleopatra Selene had used as her chariot in the skies above the Romano-Egyptian Dominion. Its silvery skin and perforated girders glinted in the dim light as it swayed softly on its tether in the air above them.
The Doctor had his very own airship hangar! Beyond the library, past the workshop, with convenient access to the swimming pool. Ori could not imagine why the Doctor enjoyed visiting the Dionysus. He had all the comforts of a first-class starliner crammed into a space no larger than a traveller’s trunk. She choked back a snort of laughter as she turned, incredulous, to share her amusement with the Master. His attention, however, was otherwise occupied.
An arc light mounted on the central tower shone a spot of light on the polished floor below. In that spotlight sat a simple wooden chair—and on it, the renegade Time Lady known as the Rani. The regalia that she had used to disguise herself as Cleopatra Selene—Child of the Gods, Queen of the Nile, self-proclaimed Empress of Terra Nova—was wearing a bit thin, as if exposing her fraud. Gone was the Egyptian-styled crown from her black, angularly cropped hair. Her glittering gown was in tatters, and the bright makeup painted across her eyes and mouth had been smudged. Behind it all was a coldly beautiful woman, her nose narrow and her eyes shining with an unmistakable intelligence and a haughtiness that was equally impossible to hide.
She was in the midst of speaking as they entered, her regal voice echoing throughout the hangar. “…susceptible to even the most rudimentary of mind control techniques. A touch of trickery, an elementary illusion. That’s all it takes.” She sighed wearily. “It’s why they’re such easy targets. You thought that you’d trapped me on ancient Earth? You gave me all that I needed to build an empire!”
Behind her loomed the dark silhouette of the Doctor, his pale countenance sullen, cape pulled tight against his neck, hands clasped firmly behind his back. He paced as he listened to her, then paused to respond. “And the Divinity were there with you? In Rome?”
The Rani smiled and shook her head. “Come now, Doctor. I’m smarter than that.”
“They’re here, on Earth,” he snapped, frustrations bubbling to the surface. “Without them, there’d have been no Iam. There’d have been no Terra Nova!”
A finger played at the Rani’s smudged lips. “How badly do you want them?”
The Doctor turned away from the spotlight and retreated into the darkness. Slowly, he ran a hand through his slicked-back mane of raven-hued hair. An agonizing silence was his only reply.
“I’ve had plenty of time to think about the situation. To analyse the evidence at hand. But you must understand that I need reassurances. I need to know that I have a future.”
At last there came a commanding reply: “Tell me what you know.”
The Rani took a moment to consider the immensity of her most unusual prison cell, slowly turning her head as her bright eyes tracked from one end of the hangar to the other. Sighing, she seemed satisfied. “Think, Doctor. Think. You’ve seen the scriptures, the tapestries, the monuments, the cathedrals. You know Earth’s history better than anyone in all of time and space. The Divinity have made themselves a part of Earth’s religions. You cannot defeat them without risking irreparable harm to humanity’s timeline. Humanity’s religions are so embedded in their history that they all but represent fixed points.”
In a flash the Doctor had stepped back into the spotlight and was leaning over her. His face was stretched by a mad rictus, his teeth gritted in frustration. “Fixed points? Don’t talk to me about fixed points,” he hissed. “You’re saying they’re unstoppable, invincible, inevitable. That’s not very helpful.”
It was obvious, even to a mere Emahni vintner, that the Rani knew more than she was letting on. The Time Lady slumped in her chair. If she hadn’t been wearing the hair and finery of a Romano-Egyptian Empress, she would have looked like a stubborn student. “No, no, no. For once in your life, Doctor, use your brain. This is a problem like any other. It’s a matter of logic and temporal disentanglement. If the Divinity have embedded themselves in human history, you must dismantle that history at its weakest point. To end a religion you must seek out its inevitable end. The answer to your dilemma lies in the future, dear Doctor, not in the past. You must find those dark days when the scattered remnants of the pious and the reverent are gripped by hyper-violent paroxysms of devotion, their religion’s last desperate gasp for everlasting life.”
She smiled and cocked her head, those dangerously intelligent eyes looking to the Doctor. As he regained his full height, his features softened and a bright understanding dawned upon his face. It expressed a wicked and vulgar satisfaction.
Ori shut her eyes as fiery visions of the desperate, harrowing future described by the Rani writhed in her mind. She took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes once more, she found the Master was staring at her somewhat expectantly, his gloved hand still holding the door, an eyebrow raised as if to repeat the question: “Can he be trusted?”