Galen ducked into the side corridor just barely in time. The Sontaran blaster bolt sizzled past his head with less than an inch to spare.
"They've got us pinned down", Althain said curtly. His voice was level, but there was repressed panic in his eyes. In the century and a half that he'd been alive, nothing like this had ever happened to him.
Not that Galen himself had ever been shot at by invading aliens. But he'd been sneaking away from the Citadel all the time he'd been in the Academy, associating with the Outsiders, learning survival and self-reliance. Unlike Althain, physical danger wasn't a new thing for him. Gallifrey's old, tired ecosystem had a limited number of niches for predators the few that managed to survive, and thrive, in the wastelands were by definition the most deadly breeds. His finger traced the long, thin scar on the top of his left arm, left by the venom-tipped claws of one of the lithe, swift desert cats. He'd faced that beast armed with nothing but a short sword.
Here, such primitive weapons would be of little use to him. Fortunately, whatever his delinquency, Galen's skills weren't limited to using a sword or bow. Not by a very long way.
He lifted his wrist communicator and keyed the encrypted channel. Under normal circumstances, he'd never take a risk like this, but the Chancellery Guard had bigger problems right now than tracking down unauthorised transmissions. He just had to hope that his workroom had been left intact. It seemed a safe enough bet; Kelner was a politician, not a scientist or a security specialist. Galen had been on his list of "minor delinquents associating with known troublemakers", as the arrest warrant had termed it, but Galen's work hadn't even been mentioned.
He sighed in relief as a confirmation came up on the little circular screen; the robots were still intact and online. Rapidly, he tapped in a short series of coded commands, conscious as he did so of the heavy footfalls advancing down the corridor towards him. Sontarans originated on a heavy-gravity world, he recalled; their mass belied their short stature.
Galen, we have to run. Althain's voice echoed in his mind. Althain's natural telepathic abilities were the strongest in their graduating class at the Academy, but he rarely used them. Why was he so worried about being overheard, Galen wondered. The Sontarans had seen them dive into this corridor; the invaders knew they were there.
From further up the main corridor, there was a faint hum as the workroom door slid open. The footfalls paused as the Sontarans shifted position in response. Then, with no further warning, there was a rhythmic thudding as heavy photon pulse canons started firing. Sontaran blaster wands whined hysterically in response and there was an explosion and a crash of something heavy and metallic hitting the ground, but the thudding continued, albeit at a slightly slower pace.
"What's happening?", Althain hissed out loud, Galen raised a hand for silence, watching the status updates flowing across the screen of his wrist communicator. One by one, the Sontaran life signs were winking out.
Finally, there was silence. Galen gestured grimly, leading Althain out of the side corridor into a scene of total carnage. The Sontarans were mostly vaporized, mere greasy scorch marks on the walls and floor. At the end of the corridor, beside the open workroom door, two vaguely anthropomorphic robots lay smashed and burned, their electronic innards sparkling. Two more stood sentinel over the door. Their spherical heads turned as the two students approached, and they chattered to themselves electronically. It sounded eerily like giggling.
"What are those things?". Althain was staring fixedly at the two surviving robots, probably, Galen thought, to avoid looking at anything else in the corridor. He supposed he couldn't blame Althain; his fellow graduate had never faced anything involving physical violence before.
"They're called Quarks. Created as general-purpose footsoldiers by Lord Varanshael's pet study, a second-rate warrior race who call themselves the Dominators. Varanshael's been documenting their empire - such as it is - for about five decades now. He brought these Quarks back as exhibits for the Panoptican Museum, after they were thrown out as scrap. I was supposed to be fixing them up for him, but when the Vardans invaded I thought they'd make useful weapons, so I reprogrammed them to operate on remote command from my communicator"
"That doesn't explain why their guns still work! Whatever happened to all weapons in the Capitol being illegal?"
"Take it up with Varenshael. The old fool didn't want incomplete exhibits in display, I suppose, so he conveniently forgot to mention to the Chancellery Guard that he'd left the canons intact. You know what the pompous old bore's like the only rules he cares about are his own". Galen gestured impatiently. "Come on, get inside. Those", he nodded to the remains of the Sontaran troopers, "are bound to be missed sooner or later. Probably sooner. We have to finish here before more of them arrive"
Hastily, Althain followed Galen into the workroom. His eyes widened as Galen thumbed the door control. "You're leaving those Quark things out there? They're our only defence!"
"They might be able to hold the Sontarans off for a little while, buy us some time"
"To do what?"
Galen headed up a broad set of steps towards a raised circular platform about thirty feet above the floor. The workshop was divided into multiple tiers, with differently sized disc-shaped platforms on varying levels holding a vast array of equipment and paraphernalia. The disc that Galen wanted was on the highest level, and contained nothing but a comfortable chair and a semi-circular array of consoles. Impatiently, he tapped the controls, bringing the displays to life. "Hopefully, turn the tables. Question who has the most to lose from the Sontarans taking control of Gallifrey apart from us, of course?"
"The Rutan Host, obviously, but how does that help us?"
Galen gave a grunt of satisfaction. Above the horseshoe ring of consoles, holographic screens materialized, showing graphics of the Sontaran fleet hovering above Gallifrey.
"If the Rutans knew that fleet were here, they'd throw everything they have at it. The Sontarans wouldn't have any choice but to withdraw if they wanted to survive. That'd cut the ones that are already here off from their reinforcements, and we might stand a chance of dealing with them".
"You want to bring more alien invaders in with the planetary force field open?"
Galen gave a cry of triumph. "Except that it isn't! Look, the hole's closed up again. We've got a chance".
"If we can get a message to the Rutans, maybe, but there's another problem with that plan. Kelner's got all the external communications locked down"
"Simple. We send the message via a courier"
Althain winced. "I had a horrible feeling that you were going to say that. You can't seriously be planning to steal a TARDIS? Quite apart from the prospect of being jailed for about a thousand years, Kelner's also got every TT capsule on Gallifrey locked down. You can't use any of them"
"Every one on the official register, yes". Galen glanced up and grinned. "But what about the ones that have been removed from the register ahead of being decommissioned, but are actually still operational? I doubt Kelner's thought of that. He's a bureaucrat, not an engineer. To him, if something isn't in the file, it doesn't exist"
Despite himself, Althain was intrigued. "So you're going to steal an obsolete TARDIS and go off to warn the Rutans?"
"No. I'm planning to send an unmanned one. You and the others aren't really suited for life in the outside universe, and as for me, I'm not running". The grin faded, leaving Galen's lips set in a grim line. "Let's face it, we need every fighter we can get, and I'm one of the few who've had any experience of actual fighting"
"I'm not arguing about that, Gal, but what are you going to fight with? Stasers won't get through Sontaran armour, two of your robots are scrap, and the other two won't last long against a troop of Sontarans. What are you planning to do, throw rocks at them?"
Galen's fingers were flying over his console. "Actually, that's not far from the truth. No, stasers won't get through their armour, but the probic vent's their weak spot. If we had some way to target that..."
"Some kind of guided impact weapon?"
"If I can be clever enough about it. The Matter Forges won't accept a command to manufacture an obvious weapon, remember. If I tried to do that, I'd just set off alarms in the Chancellery Guard computer net and tip off Kelner and his flunkies". Galen placed his hand on a telepathic circuit link and closed his eyes, meshing his mind with the workshop's computer networks. Complex holographic schematics flashed into being all around him as the workroom's computers processed his design specifications and began suggesting options. Two levels below, a Matter Forge hummed to life, transmuting material and shaping it within an intricate network of tiny force fields. "Fortunately, the weapons won't have to hit them hard enough for the security protocols to register them as weapons"
From outside, the distant echo of the Quarks' heavy guns rang out. Althain glanced at the door. Too flimsy to withstand Sontaran blasters for very long. And the Quarks wouldn't fare much better, unless the Sontarans could somehow be distracted.
An idea struck. Hastily, he crossed to an auxiliary console, tapping in commands. Yes, there was a public address system in the corridor. Now if he could just override the safety parameters and then fool the system into thinking it was making a local announcement... he keyed in the sequence and told the system to execute it, desperately hoping it would work.
A barrage of sound echoed down the corridor. The little force of Sontaran troopers reeled backwards, clutching at their great, domed-shaped helmets in agony. The Quarks, badly damaged but relentlessly single-minded, promptly took the opportunity to shoot down two more of them before they staggered to safety around the curve of the corridor.
"Nicely done", Galen said cheerfully. He was grinning again, a feral, almost hungry expression. "I didn't know you had it in you"
Althain started. He'd been so intent on the monitor that he hadn't even noticed Galen coming up behind him. He swallowed nervously. "You sound as if you're actually enjoying this"
The predatory enjoyment faded slightly from Galen's expression. "I wouldn't go that far. But at least the Sontarans are honest about what they want. It's almost refreshing in contrast to the hypocrisy and double-dealing that usually takes place around here". He nodded to the humming equipment below them. "The Matter Forges are finishing the program. I convinced the security protocol that they're making gymnasium equipment"
The Sontaran sergeant in charge of the assault squad, displaying more presence of mind than his men, stabbed a stubby finger at the terminal in his belt, entering a hasty series of commands. His troopers lurched unsteadily upright as communications gear built into their helmets filtered out the sonic bombardment.
"Destroy those robots!", the sergeant barked furiously. His own sensitive ears were still ringing from the damnable noise. "Take the two Time Lords alive. Bring them to the Academy residential block and execute the pair of them in front of their fellow students as an example. Move!"
The troopers turned and charged around the curve of the corridor, firing as they went. The Quarks managed to shoot down three more of them before they collapsed into pools of melted slag under the fusillade.
The Sontarans levelled their blaster wands at the door, but to their surprise, it slid open. They hesitated for an instant as tactical caution warred with arrogance. Arrogance won and they moved forward, blasters moving around suspiciously.
With their helmets' acoustic dampers set to full, they missed the staccato thudding noises from within the room, so they had no warning when the blizzard of silver-grey spheres erupted from the open doorway. The fistsized globes whizzed through the air, bouncing off walls, floor and ceiling as they sought out their programmed targets the Sontarans' probic vents. Blaster fire destroyed a dozen of them, but the rest struck home. Like short but massive felled trees, the troopers thudded to the ground. The silvery swarm bounced onward down the corridor.
Galen poked his head cautiously around the door. Althain followed suit a couple of seconds later, even more cautiously.
"Seems to have worked", Galen commented. His face lost the last traces of feral enjoyment as he strode across to one of the fallen Sontarans and pried a blaster wand out of its slack, three-fingered grasp. "And now we can fight back"
"You're mad! They're bred for war! We wouldn't stand a chance against them!"
"Not in a pitched battle, no. I was thinking more of shooting from cover". Galen tossed Althain the blaster and grabbed another for himself. "Come on. The Matter Forges are building more ballistic spheres, but their control systems are easy to jam. I couldn't build any countermeasures into them without alerting the security protocols to the fact that they weren't just toys. Once the Sontarans realize what's happening, it'll be simple for them to neutralise the spheres, but we should have enough time to free the others and get them down to the TARDIS decommissioning bays before that happens. I programmed the spheres to clear out the area around the Academy residential block and the route from there to the bays".
A Sontaran twitched. Grim-faced, Galen sent a burst of blaster fire into its probic vent. Althain flinched.
"You just... you..."
"I'm sorry, Alth, but...", Galen fired again, and again, "... it's a straight choice between them and us. And we have to think about the other students as well". He sent a final shot into the last Sontaran's neck and stood breathing heavily for a second. Then he knelt down and started grabbing blaster wands. "With these, we can at least defend ourselves. Come on, we don't have much time"
The TARDIS decommissioning chamber was a uniformly grey place. It was long grey box of a room, with grey metal struts dividing the individual bays where the plain grey boxes of the undisguised TARDISes waited for the end of their operational lives.
Galen popped his head around the corner in a quick, nervous movement. He relaxed with a sigh as he took in the scene. "Okay, everybody, the coast's clear, but there's no telling for how long. We have to hurry".
The edgy group of Academy students behind him almost pushed him over as they jostled their way into the room behind him. Galen repressed a sigh. It wasn't their fault that they were in a state of barely controlled panic, he reminded himself with forced patience. They'd spent their entire lives in a society where violence wasn't just taboo, but almost inconceivable. With the comfortable security of their existences shattered by the Sontaran invasion, they were desperate for someone anyone to offer them a promise of safety, especially after a day spent locked up in the Academy residential wing under the guns of a squad of Sontaran shock troops. Convincing them to escape from captivity had been the easy part. Herding them down here without them getting their heads blown off had been considerably harder. He'd rapidly abandoned his original idea of arming them with the captured Sontaran weapons. They way they were jumping and twitching at every sound and movement, they would have shot each other before they'd managed to walk fifty paces.
At least Althain was keeping his head, he thought thankfully. His best friend had walked straight over to the control station and was accessing the computer records.
"There's only one TT capsule currently functional. A... Type 49? What's an old crock like that still doing operational?"
"I know. I checked the records from the workroom". Galen pulled a slender crystalline filament from the inside pocket of his robe. "Here, catch!"
Althain caught it automatically. "A space/time element?"
"And without a recall circuit fitted, in case Kelner notices us leaving. I had the Forges in the workroom make it while you were serenading that Sontaran squad with your little sonic barrage"
There was an uneasy stirring in the ranks of the students. Althain's eyes widened. "No recall circuit? Galen, that's so illegal..."
"With the planet under alien occupation, legal and illegal are more flexible concepts than they used to be, don't you think? Are you saying you want Kelner to be able to drag us back the moment we take off - and hand us over to the Sontarans?"
The uneasy stirring among the students promptly stilled, Galen noticed with satisfaction. "Exactly. Now come on, let's get inside before a Sontaran patrol shows up"
Resignedly, Althain touched a control on the master console, and the door of the Type 49 slid open. The students, to their credit, managed to avoid mobbing each other as they broke for the safety of the capsule's interior, but they wasted no time getting inside. Galen followed them into the cool grey-white control room and crossed to the circular console on its double dais. "Alth, can you swap out the element?"
Casarian, one of the freer spirits in their graduating class, pushed a strand of dark hair out of his eyes and grinned nervously. "Here, let me. I'm better with capsule systems than either of you". He accepted the component from Althain and ducked under the console. The white radiance from the wall roundels faded briefly as he made the switch. "All right, it's installed. Now what?"
Galen was running his fingers over the smooth black surface of the control console. Blue glyphs danced and shifted beneath his touch. "Now? For a start, I suggest that someone closes the door, unless you want a squad of Sontaran shock troopers wandering in here after us"
Casarian scrambled hastily to his feet, threw the door lever and leaned over the console to watch Galen. "What are you doing, Galen? It looks like you're trying to over-ride some of the navigational safety protocols"
Althain crossed to the console and glanced at the settings. "And making a complete mess of it"
"Everyone's a critic. Why don't you do it, if you think you could manage it better?"
"It'd help if I knew what you were trying to do"
"Get hold of some weapons. Sontaran cruisers have large armouries. If we can program a spatial overlap, we can carve one right out of the fabric of the ship. Then we can land this capsule out in the wilderness and arm the Outsiders. There's only a relatively small number of Sontaran troops in the Capitol. If we're equipped with their own guns, we should be able to deal with them. Once we've unloaded the guns, we can send this TARDIS off to warn the Rutans"
Another ripple of unease spread throughout the students. Galen glared around the room. "All right, what do you all want to do? Stay locked in here until Kelner or one of his lackeys lets the Sontarans in?"
A reluctant grin tugged at Althain's lips as the incipient rebellion died away. "I always told you that you could be a decent negotiator if you put your mind to it, Gal. Get out of the way. If you want to do this, we'd better do it properly"
The Sontaran flagship was a massive, diamond-patterned sphere with the deadly blades of world-shattering energy cannons poised in perfect symmetry at four points around its axis. It hovered above the orange-red sphere of Gallifrey, its devastating weapons powerless against the planet's quantum force field. It held its position at the heart of the fleet's arrow formation with inflexible, military precision... until, quite unexpectedly, it twitched.
Within the ship, alarms were sounding, as most of the two-deck reinforced chamber that contained the ship's armoury was sliced out of the vessel's superstructure as if by a giant knife. The stunned troopers guarding it caught a brief glimpse of a steel-grey box hovering in mid-air amid the cleaved superstructure before it, too, vanished, the elephantine groan of its departure drowned out by the fizzle of dying circuits and the howl of emergency klaxons. Burnouts and overloads raced through the ship's superstructure. Multiply redundant fail-safes locked down the affected systems as fast as possible, but they couldn't save a significant portion of the flagship's electronics from being fried. The ship started to drift off-course and the Sontaran General in charge bellowed at his terrified technicians to correct the problem.
The TARDIS deck heaved and buckled before finally settling down. Galen, who'd been unceremoniously banished from operating the console by Althain, cautiously released his grip on a wall column. Around him, the other members of his graduating class were either doing the same or picking themselves up off the floor and grumbling.
"Did it work?"
Althain gave him a sour look. "Of course it worked. The Sontaran armoury most of it, anyway is now in hold three. I'm programming a course to Outer Gallifrey. I hope you know what you're going, Gal"
Galen's grin wasn't so much triumph as relief. "Relax. Once we liberate the Capitol, we'll all be hailed as heroes. You'll see"
"Hailed as heroes, huh?", Althain said ironically from the door of Galen's room which was now, in effect, his cell.
Galen rolled his eyes. "You couldn't resist that, could you? It wasn't my fault"
Althain winced. "We our entire class have been telling everyone who'll listen just that, but the trouble is, nobody will listen. I even went to the Lord President on behalf of all of us to ask for the charges against you to be dropped"
"He already went out on a limb to grant Presidential pardons to the rest of you, Alth. You can't blame him if he can't do the same for me as well. The political pressure to make an example of me is just too strong"
Althain sank into a chair. "Make an example of you for what? All you did was help defend Gallifrey from an invasion!"
Galen snorted. "Exactly. I made them look bad, Alth. While most of them sat on their fat backsides, cringing and hiding from the Sontarans, I fought back. Worse, I fought back effectively. The question they don't want people asking is, if one inexperienced student could do that, why couldn't you, my Lord Cardinal? So they'll bundle me out of sight as quickly and quietly as possible. I assume they're talking about a sentence of exile? Vaporisation might look a little too vindictive".
Althain nodded mournfully. "That's the story I've heard, yes. The rumour mill is so busy with what's going to happen to Kelner that you're barely being mentioned"
"Ironic, isn't it?" Galen actually grinned, with genuine humour. "He betrayed the entire planet, and yet their main problem is trying to find something to charge him with. They don't have that little difficulty where I'm concerned"
"Correct", a new voice commented almost cheerfully, from somewhere near floor level. "Illegal importation of off-world weapons to Gallifrey. Unauthorised operation of a Time Travel Capsule. Operation of a Time Travel Capsule without a valid recall circuit"
Althain started as a robotic animal of some kind disengaged from Galen's work terminal and glided across to the couch. He'd been so preoccupied with Galen that he hadn't noticed it. "What's that? One of your projects?"
"Negative", the robot responded almost smugly. "This unit is designated K9. Function: to assist and protect the Doctor-Master and Mistress Leela"
"He belongs to the Doctor", Galen explained. "He's been visiting me for a couple of days now". He lowered his voice. "Look, Alth, it's better for you if you don't know too much, but... just don't assume that the Doctor can't or won't help because he's boxed in politically, okay?"
Althain blinked. His gaze went from Galen to the robot, and back to Galen again."Don't ask too many questions, in other words?"
"Or preferably, any". Galen gave the robot an ironic look. "I'm amazed that they didn't add interference in the affairs of an alien civilization to the charge sheet, after we vandalised the Sontaran ship"
"Their socio-political analysis suggested that widespread negative emotional repercussions were likely to arise from such a charge"
"Negative emotional repercussions?"
"They were afraid of making themselves a laughing stock", the robot said blandly. It certainly had a lot more personality than a Gallifreyan computer.
Althain couldn't resist a snort of reluctant amusement. "All right. No more questions. Is there anything you need me to do for you?"
"You could tell the others that I'm in good spirits"
"They'll be pleased. A lot of them were so furious about the way you've been incarcerated that they've actually started to grow backbones"
"Well, tell them not to compromise themselves for my sake. You're all on thin enough ice already, Presidential Pardon or no Presidential Pardon"
"I'll do my best. If you're sure"
Galen nodded. "I am"
The terminal in Galen's quarters was supposed to be isolated from the rest of the Capitol's computer networks. K9 had taken about half a second to over-ride that restriction. The Doctor must have programmed him with the Presidential access codes.
A wire-frame holographic model floated in front of Galen as he interfaced with the console through its telepathic circuit, putting the finishing touches to the design he'd been working on. It was based on the Doctor's K9 unit, but greatly refined, with more robust power systems, and a sophisticated anti-gravitational drive for propulsion. The memory and processing capacity were both increased, and the weaponry was both more powerful and more versatile. He'd been developing the blueprints throughout his weeks of captivity. With his trial a pointless formality now only a mere two days away, it was time for the concept, the key to his escape plan, to become a reality.
All that he needed was a name. K9 was created by a human, he thought to himself; it would be a nice gesture to give his "descendant" a suitable Earth-derived name. He ordered the computer to search for possibilities with a thought; a second later he had one that seemed perfect. Gwyllgi. He added the designation to the template.
With the Presidential codes in his terminal, it was easy to over-ride the constraints on the Matter Forges in his workshop and order them to build his complete design, including weaponry. He downloaded the personality program that K9 had supplied the little creature had actually seemed flattered to be asked along with all his personal data files. And then he added the additional instructions that would come into effect after his sentence was pronounced...
Galen sprawled comfortably on a low couch in the quarters he'd been assigned. From all around him came the low, resonant hum of a TARDIS in flight, as a soft blue glow spilled from the roundels set into the brushed silver walls.
"However admirable your motives might have been, such flagrant violations of our laws cannot simply be overlooked, especially when one considers how easily your actions could have cost the lives of your fellow students". The voice of the presiding judge floated up out of his memory. The Court had been a stark place of black and silver, with one dais for the three judges and one for Galen himself. Galen had stood in a pool of harsh white light as he faced his accusers in their plain, black-and-white robes. "The most lenient sentence that this Court can impose is a period of one thousand years exile from Gallifrey. We trust that an extended opportunity for reflection will allow you to develop the maturity and judgment that you so conspicuously lack at present"
Galen had lowered his head in as close an approximation of humility as he could manage. The movement provided cover for a nervous smile. He hadn't raised his eyes as he stepped down from the dais and fell into step beside the two Chancellery Guards who would escort him to the TARDIS materialisation bays.
Exile from Gallifrey, indeed, he mused to himself as he returned to the present, but not necessarily in the way that the Court had envisaged. Discovering which TARDIS had been assigned to carry him into exile would have been simple enough even without the Presidential access codes it wasn't a piece of information that anyone thought was worth concealing. And if all had gone well, his creation had managed to slip inside that particular TARDIS the night before the trial. Now that they were in flight, and well clear of Gallifrey, the next phase of the plan would be under way. Any second...
The floor heaved violently and the blue light from the roundels dimmed and brightened again. Alarms started to sound.
He couldn't resist a triumphant grin and he got to his feet. The deck was still shuddering and the alarms were getting louder. He crossed to the double doors of his stateroom and tried them. They were still locked, but if everything went well, not for very much longer.
As if in response to his thoughts, there was a soft electronic chirp as the lock disengaged. Fighting the violent movement of the deck, he pulled the doors open.
"Master", Gwyllgi said. Galen allowed himself an instant to admire his creation as Gwyllgi floated in the air in front of him, a faint blue haze radiating from his base. This was the first time that the two of them had physically met, and Galen felt a stab of pleasure as he contemplated the robot's smooth gray shape.
"Hello, Gwyllgi". Another, even more violent convulsion of the deck dragged his attention back to practical matters. "Is everything going as planned?"
"Affirmative. Guidance system malfunction has been initiated. Navigational and stabiliser controls are no longer responding to manual input. Crash-landing on the planet Radirr will occur in thirty-five microspans"
"So far, so good. What do we have to worry about in the way of crew?"
"Five members of the Chancellery Guard and two technical specialists are aboard this vehicle, Master. They are presently in the console room". Gwyllgi raised his head fractionally, and his ears twitched. "Alert. Two Chancellery Guards have left the console room and are en route to this location"
"Can you handle them?"
"Affirmative. Staser fire will have no effect on this unit"
"I know, I designed you, remember?"
"Suggest that your question was therefore redundant, Master"
Galen rolled his eyes. "Yes, it probably was. Sorry. Just nerves". He ducked back into his stateroom. "Still, no point taking chances. Stun them from behind when they come in to check on me"
Galen closed the doors. Too filled with restless energy to sit down, he started to pace up and down, ears straining for the sound of footfalls in the corridor outside. The deck heaved under his feet again, almost dumping him ignominiously on his backside, and forcing him to grab the back of the couch for support.
A two-tone note from outside heralded the guards' discovery that the doors weren't locked any more. There was a pause, and then a double crash as booted feet kicked them open. Both guards had stasers drawn as they walked in.
"What have you done to this capsule?", the younger of the two demanded. There was a vicious scowl on his thin, hawk-like face.
Galen spread his arms. "What could I have done? I've spent the past two months locked away incommunicado, remember?"
"You're lying...". The shrill whine of Gwyllgi's photon blaster cut the accusation off, the beam enveloping the younger guard in a crimson halo as he slumped to the ground. The second guard ducked and spun around, leveling his staser. Nice reflexes, Galen noted appreciatively. Not that it was doing him much good. Gwyllgi's second stun blast caught the man squarely in the chest.
"Nicely done". Galen helped himself to a staser. He felt a flicker of outrage when he saw that it was adjusted to a lethal setting. He reset it to stun with an angry stab of his thumb. "Are the rest of the guards still in the console room?"
"Affirmative". Gwyllgi beeped and chirped briefly. "However, both technical specialists are now attempting to re-route navigational interfaces to the secondary control room".
"Damn it! I was hoping we'd only have guards to worry about, not technicians". Galen headed towards the console room at something close to a run, Gwyllgi effortlessly following. "Can they do it?"
"Probability of their being able to prevent our landing on Radirr only seventeen-point-four percent, Master. Alert! One guard has left the console room and is approaching this position. Take cover!"
Hastily, Galen ducked around the curvature of the corridor. He barely registered the sound of Gwyllgi's blaster, lost in his preoccupation with what the two technicians were up to.
His final use of the Presidential access codes had been to corrupt the database to indicate that the TARDIS he'd used to raid the Sontaran ship had already been decommissioned. If he could get to Radirr, he could pick up an obsolete but fully operational Type 49 and be free to go wherever - and whenever - he liked. But his plan to disappear, presumed dead, depended on making it seem as though this TARDIS had crash-landed at a random location, rather than being deliberately guided to a particular planet and time. If those technicians messed up his carefully engineered "malfunction" of the guidance systems....
"Master? Hostile has been neutralised"
"Thanks, Gwyllgi. Are those technicians armed?"
"All right. You take the guards in the primary console room. I'll go and deal with those two technicians in secondary control before they can change our course"
"Caution is advised, Master".
"Trust me", Galen told his creation grimly, "Caution will be exercised"
Tominabrenavisendaresh straightened up with a grunt of frustration. "Something's jammed the control relays, Castran. It has to be sabotage. The failures are too selective to be a random malfunction"
Castranaranelunsiedar's expression warred between exasperation and amusement. "You needed to run a system diagnostic to work that out? Wake up, Tomin! Our passenger killed a whole squad of Sontaran stormtroopers, carved a hole out of their command ship, and stole half their armory for the Outsiders. He was never likely to go quietly".
"You sound as if you admire him!"
"Respect his resourcefulness, certainly". Castran entered a quick series of commands on the console. "Difficult not to, in the circumstances. Ah... I think I can see how he did it. Very ingenious"
They both looked up to find themselves staring down the barrel of a staser. Galen was leaning against the doorframe, tracking it lazily between them.
Tomin glared at him furiously. "Give up. You can't get away. Even if you steal this capsule, the Capitol's just going to override the navigation systems remotely and drag you home when they notice we're missing".
Castran rolled his eyes. "I'm sure he's grateful to you for pointing that out, Tomin. He never would have thought of it otherwise".
Galen couldn't repress a snort of laughter. "A TARDIS isn't the only way to travel. I'm willing to make do with something a little more primitive. There are a lot of interstellar civilizations in the universe. Ahranedril's a crossroads for several of them. It's a lot better than spending a thousand years in a villa on some bucolic backwater". Let them report that little bit of misdirection when they got back to Gallifrey, he thought to himself. Ahranedril was a major interstellar spaceport, only about seventy lightyears from Radirr. With any luck, the High Council would conclude that Galen had been trying to reach it in the hijacked TARDIS, and not consider the possibility that Radirr has been his intended destination all along. It made sense, after all; why would anyone in their right mind want to end up caught in a crossfire between the Sontarans and the Rutans?
Tomin sneered, his mask of bravado not quite hiding his fear. "And now you murder us so you can make your escape, I suppose"
"Stun you, actually". Galen's smile turned brittle. "I altered the lethal setting when I took it from the guard. So you can stop striking morally superior poses"
Castran felt a stab of genuine anger. The stasers had been set on kill? Someone back on Gallifrey was going to pay for that.
He watched Tomin topple to the floor under the impact of the staser pulse with a certain amount of satisfaction. His fellow technician was a self-righteous little idiot at the best of times, and his ability to quote the party line on any subject, letter-perfect, had ceased to be impressive after the first half-dozen times. His feelings as the staser swung back towards him were more mixed. On the one hand, the CIA took a dim view of field agents who bungled a simple recruitment pitch. The Agency had been confident that Galen would gratefully accept an offer to work for them as a deniable asset, rather than suffer a thousand years of bucolic exile. They hadn't anticipated that he'd somehow manage to escape without any help. The offer that Castran had been infiltrated onto this flight to make would be moot if Galen got away on his own. On the other hand, the escape proved that Galen was even more resourceful that the CIA had thought. He'd make an excellent field agent.
Any further musings were interrupted by a staser blast.
The main console room was a hexagonal silver chamber, whose circular central console was dominated by a time rotor made of an intricate maze of blue crystalline filaments, like a jagged ice sculpture. The bright blue lighting from the wall roundels had been dimmed slightly, in deference to the headaches from which the entire crew were still suffering. Several were still groggy from the stun blasts which had felled them during Galen's escape.
"He missed!", Tomin crowed. He gestured at the scanner screen, which occupied most of one wall. "He missed by seventy light years! This isn't Ahranedril, it's Radirr!". The screen showed a bombed-out wasteland, the spires of once-proud cities clawing at the sky like skeletal fingers. "It's poetic justice. Whoever or whatever sabotaged this capsule made too good a job of it. It might have disrupted our navigational systems, but it couldn't control them properly itself". His gloating abated slightly as he studied the console readouts. "And it burned out a lot of other circuits as well. This is the clumsiest, most botched piece of sabotage I've ever seen. The idiot!"
Castran wasn't so sure, although he was keeping his own counsel. The apparently "random" damage had been expertly faked, but it struck him as a bit too selective to be the result of simple chance. Oh, there were technical reasons why an attempt to sabotage the TARDIS' navigational controls might have disabled most of its sensors as well, related to the way that certain systems were interconnected, but it wasn't what he would have expected to happen.
"What do you think did sabotage the capsule?", the younger guard - Drennek, was it? - asked nervously.
Tomin grunted, uninterested in the question. "Probably one of those Quark things that he used to attack the Sontarans. Perhaps he had another one hidden away and smuggled it aboard somehow. Or maybe he got his hands on a Sontaran scout robot when he raided their command ship. Does it matter?"
Commander Verun sighed grimly. "Yes, it does. It's not on board now, which means it's still with him. So we're likely to meet it when we go after him. Since it managed to knock us all out and crash a TARDIS, it's obviously fairly dangerous"
"Not as dangerous as everything else that's out there" Tomin pointed incredulously at the scanner. "Look at it. The Sontarans and Rutans are blasting it to pieces between them. Why not just leave him here? It'd be his own fault"
"Aside from the moral argument over our responsibility towards a prisoner in our care, there's a strategic issue to think about. We don't want to give the Sontarans or Rutans a chance to capture and interrogate a Time Lord, especially one as technically skilled as he is. Are the sensors picking him up?"
Sulkily, Tomin adjusted the controls. "Yes, absolutely no thanks to him. Life-sign scanners are one of the few detection arrays still working. He's heading for the ruins of that city in the distance"
Life-sign scanners only? Castran kept his face carefully neutral as he looked over Tomin's shoulder at the console. Now, wasn't that interesting? All the sensors that might have reported the presence of another TT capsule were inoperative. Including, surprise, surprise, the TT capsule proximity alarm.
Galen wiped the sweat from his brow and ducked under a shattered girder. "This way?"
"Affirmative, Master. Two hundred and sixteen metres and closing"
"Are they still watching us?"
"Sensors from the Chancellery Guard TARDIS remain locked on to your life signs, Master"
"What about our TARDIS?"
"Materialisation will occur in sixteen microspans, Master. Suggest that you accelerate your progress"
Galen bit back a retort, knowing that Gwyllgi was right. The faked crash-landing had brought them to Radiir about an hour before the stolen Type 49 was due to arrive. It was cutting it fine - he'd had to practically sprint across the baked, uneven ground to make the rendezvous - but he didn't want his own TARDIS exposed to detection for any longer than necessary, even though the sensors on the other TARDIS were out of commission. And besides, there was another reason to hurry. "And the Sontaran battle station?"
"It will be overhead in twenty microspans, Master"
"Then you're right, I'd better get a move on". He scooted around several piles of jagged rubble and jogged across a relatively clear patch of ground that must once have been an open plaza. Now, it was torn up by constant bombardment, much of its surface fused and melted by repeated energy weapon discharges.
"Ten microspans, Master. Sensors now indicate several Gallifreyan life signs on the planet's surface. They have left the Chancellery Guard TARDIS and are headed in this direction"
"Hunting us, no doubt. Just as well we won't be here much longer. How much further?"
"Seventeen metres and closing, Master. Through the entrance to the partially collapsed building on the right"
The doorway was half-blocked by rubble, but it was more than three metres tall, and Galen had no trouble scrambling over the obstruction. He thought for a moment that the entrance had been built so large for ceremonial reasons, but a glance at the rusting hulks in the cavernous chamber beyond it changed his mind. He shook his head wryly. A vehicle maintenance depot for ground transports, from the look of it.
"Two microspans, Master... One microspan... Arrival now imminent"
The wheezing, groaning sound of a dimensional stabiliser in materialisation phase echoed through the huge room. Another corroded, blocky ground transport appeared in a convenient gap between two other vehicles.
"Sontaran battle station will be overhead in four microspans, Master". Gwyllgi emitted a rapid sequence of chirps as he transmitted a recognition code to the newly arrived TARDIS, and a door on its side opened with an authentic-sounding rusty creak.
Galen nodded and stepped closer to the door, but made no attempt to enter. He swallowed; his throat was very dry. This was the most dangerous part of his escape plan, and timing was going to be crucial. "You're interfaced with the TARDIS computer?"
"Affirmative. All programmed directives are now being implemented. Sontaran battle station moving into position overhead. Transmitting Rutan recognition codes now..."
High above the planet's surface floated the dark, globular shape of a Sontaran battle station, the weapons bristling from its hull giving it the appearance of a grotesque puff-ball. In the command bridge nestled deep within the behemoth, an alarm sounded.
"Sir!" the scanner operator rasped. "The sensors are picking up a Rutan energy signal from the city beneath us. It's some kind of transmitter. The computer thinks it's powering up to make an interstellar transmission"
Major Sesek's blubbery features twisted into a frown. "Some of those Rutan vermin have made it past our blockade? Much good it'll do them. Communications, advise fleet command that the blockade has been breached. Weaponry, configure for surface bombardment. I want that entire city melted into slag".
Galen leaned against the TARDIS, both his hearts beating rather faster than they should. From inside, he heard Gwyllgi's voice.
"Sontaran ship now preparing to initiate surface bombardment. Plasma cannons charging to full capacity. Plasma bolts launched. Impact in four microspans... three... two..."
Galen lunged inside. The doors swung shut behind him as Gwyllgi, interfaced with the console, initiated an emergency dematerialisation.
The incredible blaze of light provided only a few seconds warning before a tornado of scalding air slammed into Commander Verun and knocked him flat. The thunder of an immense detonation filled his world, and the ground beneath his feet shook as though from an earthquake.
As the titanic cacophony died away, he became aware of a frantic voice from his communicator. "Commander Verun! Verun! Are you there? Respond, please!"
Shakily, he tapped his communicator. "Verun here, Technician Castran". He looked around at his men, who were pulling themselves to their feet. In the distance, the city shone like a second sun as it dissolved into molten rock. "We're fine, bar a few cuts and bruises. What happened?"
"The sensors are still mostly offline, but it looks as though something in orbit fired a plasma barrage at the city". There was a slight pause. "I'm sorry, Commander, but we've lost Galen's life signs. There's no way he could have survived that"
Verun squinted at the city. It was still too bright to look at directly. His stomach clenched.
The House of Wintershard, as its name suggested, was situated on the edges of Gallifrey's north polar region. Beneath its battlements, a landscape of red grass and scrubby silver trees gradually gave way to a tundra of blue-grey ice, and then to a looming range of glacial mountains. The angular architecture of the House itself was deliberately designed to resemble one of those glaciers, sharp and jagged-edged, its white stone facade slightly translucent and glittering in the light of the twin suns.
Cardinal Adaranurantyarilahn leaned on the balcony, staring out at the mountains. She drew in several great lungfuls of cold, clan air before she spoke.
"Thank you, Thete"
The man standing behind her shifted uncomfortably and coughed. "Well, I'm sorry that I couldn't do more, but..."
She laughed. "More than sparing me from having to mourn two lost sons in the space of a year? I think that'll do to be going on with". She turned to face him. There was a mischievous grin on her face. "Did I ever tell you that your class was the first one I ever taught, when I was appointed a junior instructor at the Academy?"
The Doctor's face pursed into one of its peculiar pouting frowns as he considered. "I don't think so, no. Why?"
"Oh, it just reminded me of another debt", she said lightly. "I wasn't sure that I could do the job, at first. But after I survived you, I knew I could survive anything. You did wonders for my self-confidence".
The indignation on his face wasn't especially convincing. "I was a model student!"
"But a model of what?", she asked wryly. Her expression sobered. "You're sure he got away?"
His toothy grin, she mused, looked distinctly smug. This new incarnation was even more insufferably conceited than the original. "His TARDIS is decommissioned, so it's rather hard to trace. But I asked him to attend to a little problem for me, on Earth. K9 did some discreet checking of the timelines, via the Matrix, and they definitely shifted thanks to an external influence. I think we can assume he's responsible".
"I'd accuse you of leading him astray, if I thought I could keep my face straight. But the High Council are definitely convinced that he's dead?"
"Oh, I was terribly clever about arranging that", he said airily. And he probably had been, too. Normally, she would have found that thought annoying, but if it meant that her son was free, she could live with it. "I dropped a few hints that - considering how much public sympathy there was for him already, especially among the young - the only thing worse than his being killed would have been for him to have succeeded in escaping and thumbing his nose at the High Council again. He would have become a legend. So any suggestion that he might have survived is being discouraged very firmly. And I must admit that he was fairly clever there himself - baiting the Sontarans into firing on his location with a fake Rutan signal, then waiting until the last moment to get away, so that his life signs didn't stop registering until the bombardment actually hit. He'll go far"
"Thanks to you", She stared up at the orange sky, reddening now as the suns set. "Enjoy your freedom", she whispered. "And be safe".