Running, he could recall that. And the avatar swooping towards him. Oh dear.
The Time lord was stood at the controls of the TARDIS before his conscious mind had registered that he was awake. He sniffed at the dampness on his cheek and realised Xan must have tried to lick him awake. He glanced about him to give a reassuring smile but found she was knelt in the porchway of the Outer doors.
He’d obviously missed something but first things first, where was he. The console told him the ship was in a temporal orbit. Now that seemed familiar. He stepped to one side, reading the display on the next panel and nearly collided with the blonde time lady – er Valeris, yes, Valeris he thought.
“Ah, hello again, managed the temporal orbit then, well done, can’t have been easy in this old thing.”
“Er no, I think its too late though.”
“Really, whatever gives you that idea?” Valeris nodded at the doors again. From this new position The Doctor could see that Xan was knelt over someone.
“Susan?” The Doctor asked as he ran over. Xan shook her head.
“She tried to help me get inside. We weren’t quick enough.” The timelord placed a gentle hand on Xan’s shoulder.
“Max is still there. He won’t be able to stop her.”
“Then we shall have to give him all the help we can.”
From the calm mourning by his companion’s side the Doctor became a flurry of action.
“Wait, wait wait, I’m forgetting something!”
“There’s a dead human on your carpet?” Valeris tried with obvious distaste.
“No, no, it’s something more important than that. Of course! The Moon.”
“You mean that if she’s dead..”
“Then there’s a good chance the avatar’s next stop is the moon that never was!”
He bounded over to the console and reached up for the pull down monitor before realising that it was no longer there. He muttered something under his breath and yanked at the handle for the overhead screen. The swirling tunnel of the vortex glittered around the room creating grotesque shadows amongst the statuary. He typed passionately at a row of keys and looked up. The view had not changed.
He thumped at the console and the view wavered showing a hole through the vortex into normal space. There were two moons.
“Now that is not good, that is not good at all. In a complete last three minutes of the cup final kind of way”
“What’s that?” Xan called as she pointed to the edge of the viewer’s range. Valeris set about enhancing their view of the vortex. The Doctor watched intently, nodding encouragement when she looked at him. To Xan it was obvious he’d not know the viewer could do this at all!
“It’s a fridge” Xan answered herself
“No, it’s a TARDIS.” The Doctor corrected.
“Its my TARDIS” Valeris quantified. “But it shouldn’t be in the same temporal orbit as us, it’s been up here a week.”
“Maybe it is a fridge then.” The Doctor edged the view deeper past the unassuming time vessel. An orange smear pulsed over the tunnel of the vortex.
“No, but I don’t like the look of that. I wonder if I can get us onboard?”
“In this antique?” Valeris replied startled “ you’ll kill us all!”
The Doctor patted a console with a grin and lent towards the time rotor. “Don’t you listen her old girl, you’ll hold together.” He threw switches and corrected dials. The time rotor squealed in its glass case, the blue glow tingeing with green at the effort.
“Come on old thing, hold together!”
A sonorous clanging rose from deep within the TARDIS. Valeris stared at he Doctor with wide eyes. She’d never heard a real cloister bell before. He seemed to be ignoring it.
“Oh yes, forever going off that cloister bell, getting sensitive in your old age” he accused the console. It replied by chattering a stream of paper out of a slot and spooling over the Drs shoes. He snatched it up and stared at the printout.
“Of course! I should have realised!” he began releasing catches and slowly the TARDIS returned to its hovering inside the Vortex.
“What’s happened, why have you stopped?” Xan asked as the time rotor slowed down.
“Because we weren’t going anywhere anyway. Valeris is quite right, that cant be her TARDIS out there, as it’s in a different tempro-spatial location.”
“And in English?”
“Its not there.”
“But we can see it..”
“Of course you can” he raised his hand with the spool of printed paper in it. “And you can see this paper correct?”
“Of course I..” the Doctor flicked his fingers and the paper vanished. “So its magic out there then?”
“No, it’s a trick of the light” Valeris muttered and reached out, plucking the paper seemingly from thin air.
“So we’re seeing a reflection of her TARDIS, not the real thing?”
“Yes Xan, exactly! The HOST is acting like a prism. Wait, wait, wait. That means the HOST is in the Vortex.”
“How? Where’s that thing from?”
“As far as I know it’s the collected intelligence of an entire parallel dimension. It’s planned across aeons of our recorded time and its hungry.”
“What do you mean hungry?” Valeris asked with a whisper.
“I only came into contact with it the once. But the raw mental energy that it possessed almost swamped even my mental defences. It wants more, like any gestalt, its wants to add to itself. It can no longer reproduce and has achieved its own form of immortality. But it needs. Like all of us there’s a drive within it that forces it onwards. A passion, a yearning to be more than it already is. There are plenty of things like that already, the Great Intelligence and all the old ones, the Faction Paradox, even the Cybermen. They are all driven to acquire, to grow, to become.
And that’s what this is all about, it wants to become in our universe. And that moon-sized entity out there is what its waiting on. It can’t influence the vortex or it would have assaulted your ship or us already. But it must have had to do something temporal to take that moon away..”
“But how do we fight something like that?”
“With a very big stick?” the Doctor suggested with a sigh, he was obviously deep in thought.
“Why temporal?” Xan asked.
“You said it did something temporal, why?”
“Well moons don’t just vanish like the never existed.” The Doctor explained patiently.
“Not like your bit of paper then?” Xan frowned. The Doctor smiled a precursor to a healthy laugh. He jumped on the spot and threw his arms around the startled Wolfgirl, even kissing her cheek. She stood still, her hand on the damp imprint he’d left as he waltzed around the console once more.
“What did she say?” Valeris shouted over the sudden roar of the engines.
“Its all prestidigitation, its not controlling time at all. Its all done with mirrors don’t you see? Xan’s right, it’s just pulled the moon into its own universe, or some sort of transit space between the two.”
“The void?” Valeris whispered.
“Precisely! Which means there must be a hole somewhere roughly the size and shape of a moon that we can use to reach into the heart of the problem.”
“Oh no you don’t, what if there’s no vortex over there?”
“That’s why I’m tracking wherever it is your TARDIS really is, I’ll need you to stay on this side to keep a monitor on what’s going on. And maybe to bring us back.”
The TARDIS doors opened into a rather bleak white room with a round console in the centre. It hovered above the ground, suspended from the roof by its time rotor. There were no controls to speak of, just recesses in the surface of the console. Xan wrinkled her nose and hugged close to the battered Police box exterior of the Doctor’s TARDIS.
The Doctor and Lady Valeris poked and prodded at a variety of scrolling information that seemed to hang in the air.
Xan breathed a sigh of relief when they re-entered the TARDIS’s familiar wood panelling. The Doctor stopped in the threshold and turned to peer into Xan’s eyes.
“Are you sure you want to come with me? It’s going to be far more dangerous than anything we’ve been through before.”
“I’ll stay. Max would want me to.” The doctor frowned, not sure that this was entirely true. “And besides, I prefer your TARDIS, hers was like a vets. All clean with no life.”
“Are you saying my TARDIS isn’t clean!” he smiled in mock outrage. With a blur of chestnut curls he was stalking onward to the console and telling it not to listen to the naughty Wolfgirl.
Xan followed, watching his face as he began setting the controls. He looked up once, his features washed pale in the glow of the time rotor, his bright blue eyes in shadow.
“You’re sure?” Xan nodded. He pulled the dematerialization lever.
Valeris watched the battered Police Box slide from existence. “May Rassilon protect you.”
The TARDIS screamed. Xantist held the rail around the console by both hands and her tail. The Doctor was too busy moving to be thrown anywhere. Alarmingly the Cloister bell had begun ringing almost as soon as the ship had started. Now smoke was rising from the joint where the console met the time rotor. The lights around the room flickered briefly and went out leaving the Time rotor to illuminate the ironwork pylons that surrounded it.
The roar of the engines was deafening. The smoke turned to flame and with a pyrotechnic that would have surprised Guy Fawkes one panel of the console exploded in a sparks and flame.
The Doctor was illuminated briefly in the flames as he blasted the mess with a foam extinguisher. “Don’t move from their Xan, that was the architectural controls! If you can’t see it, it might not be there afterall.”
Another spray of sparks caught the edge of Xan’s jeans and she patted gingerly at herself to put them out. It was only when the floor twisted out from under her that she realised letting go off the rail had probably been a bad idea.