“YOU CAN’T be serious.”
Ori stared at the Rani, who stared back with blazing, arrogant eyes. Though the ginger hair that framed her narrow face was a tangle and her lips bore a gamesome smile, there could be no doubt that the renegade Time Lady was, indeed, serious. Her fingers played coyly at the edge of the central console. The genie had been released from her bottle, and it wasn’t going to be easy to put her back in.
“Doctor!” Ori protested, a pained expression coming upon her ornately patterned face. “This is the mad woman whose poisoned Earth’s history. Yes? She poisoned history! The Romano-Egyptian Dominion? She enslaved an entire population just to get her hands on a console like that—” She reached over the brass rail and jabbed a finger at the six-sided structure at the centre of the control room. Its screens and dials were pulsing softly with muted colours, unresponsive to the power struggle that was unfolding around it. “Are you going to stand there and tell me that you’re seriously thinking of giving her the keys to your time machine?”
BENEATH THE sign for Baker Street, the street vendor was busy ladling out her modest fare from a battered tin pot perched over a crackling fire. A bevy of weary men, women, and children crowded around her, haggling. Some were handing over coins for portions food, others simply wanted to edge their way nearer the fire. In spite of the lively crowd, Ori never once lost sight of the Doctor.
More than a head taller than everyone else and crisply defined against the flickering light from the fire, the alien traveller had never looked more at home. He was buttoned up in his usual ensemble: heavy greatcoat, quilted cape, and a jaunty ribbon tie. On this occasion he had also donned a most formidable top hat. His face was as ashen as the snow falling all around him and his grey-streaked mane was as dark as the cloud-streaked night sky above. Shivering and pulling her cloak tight, Ori watched him joke and laugh with the people. She was miserably cold, but she couldn’t help but smile at the scene.
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.
THE DALEK fired.
Ori heard the shot rather than saw it. Her eyes were locked on the open doors of the Doctor’s escape pod, their one hope of survival. As the seething energy shot through the venting atmosphere of the cargo bay, the vintner threw herself through the battered blue doors—and landed face first with a blow that abruptly knocked the wind from her.
For a moment, as Ori gasped for breath, she could hear only the deafening rush of the venting atmosphere. Then she heard the clack of the doors being shut behind her and all was quiet. In that instant, she somehow knew—she felt, deep in her being—that she was safe. The air was different here. The cargo bay of the Dionysus had been cold and stale. The atmosphere in the escape pod was warm and comforting, like a familiar old pub. For a moment, she even thought she’d caught a whiff of tobacco smoke, though she dismissed this as ridiculous.
ORI BREATHED in deeply. On the gentle breeze, she recognized the delicate fragrance of three distinct varieties of grapes. She let out a small sigh, knowing that in this part of the vineyard, she should be able to detect the kasis fruit as well. She closed her eyes and inhaled again, shutting out the bright afternoon. And then it was there—on the edge of her senses—slightly sour and wholly delicious.
Relief washing over her, she opened her eyes again and smiled. Sometimes she worried that this artificial environment would start dulling her senses, but the sunshine and the wind that felt so real to the tourists aboard the Dionysus could never trick her acute perception. Reaching out to the closest vine, she bent down and rubbed the leaves between her fingers and inspected the fruit closely. She glanced down the row of vines to her left and to her right, then buried her face in the bunch of grapes and inhaled.
THE AFRICAN savannah thundered with the combined sound of hooves and military boots. An unlikely foursome kicked up huge swathes of dust in their wake as their sanctuary, a trusty blue box, began to grow from a mere speck on the horizon to resemble the unmistakable form of the TARDIS. Even as it grew closer, however, their pursuers edged ever nearer.
For all her adventures both in and out of the TARDIS, Marilyn was exhilarated at an opportunity to race on her home planet once again, her muscles rippling and her mane flowing resplendently in the warm breeze. The Doctor looked to be enjoying himself, too, grinning from ear to ear as he roared on encouragement to his trusty steed from the saddle. Rather less comfortable was Riddell, an accomplished horse rider himself but here looking and feeling altogether out of sorts, perched behind the Doctor and holding onto his midriff as if for dear life. Keeping pace alongside them, Flo demonstrated how his UNIT training had kept him in the peak of condition, his mighty Judoon legs powering through the wilderness.
THEIR FEET thudded onto the frozen tundra as the Doctor and Riddell jumped from the motionless train, breaking the silence of the night. It was pitch black save for the faint glow of lights from within the carriage, moon and starlight gazing down from the clear sky, and the light afforded by a gas lamp that Riddell was carrying in one hand.
The Doctor, casting a striking figure in a light tan trenchcoat as protection from the chill air, stepped out into the darkness beyond the glow from the train, then immediately gazed up to take in the night sky. “Earth, then,” he proclaimed. “Northern hemisphere, Anthropocene Age.” His nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath of the crisp night air, adding, “Post-industrial. Twenty-first century, I’d say.”