Authors: Glyn Jones
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
‘But if we leave a trail of wool,’ Vicki objected, ‘someone could see it and follow us, and we’ll be caught.’
‘If we can’t find our way out of here - and soon - we’re going to be caught anyway,’ came back the reply.
‘Maybe we’ll find our way to the canteen,’ Vicki ventured. ‘If we starve to death it won’t matter whether we’re found or not.’
The Doctor was bundled into what he presumed to be a cell, cylindrical in shape and, like all the other rooms in the building, devoid of any apparent light source or means of ventilation. Not only that but, had he not been outside one second, and in the next, and seen the door close behind him, he would have thought he was there through some conjuring trick and that the room was hermetically sealed. There was simply no way of teiling which panel was wall and which was door. It was like being imprisoned in a tin can, except for the fact that, wherever it was coming from, there was light.
The only furnishing in the cell was a fairly ordinary looking chair with arms, set on an estrade and facing away from him. He walked around to look at it from the other side, then turned his attention to the walls, running his fingers across the panels. But, as this got him absolutely nowhere, he gave up, sat in the chair and decided to let events take their course.
He was too restless to remain seated for long and, after a few moments of drumming his fingertips together, he decided to inspect the walls once more. It was only when he attempted to rise that he realised he was firmly trapped. Some kind of force field held him securely to the chair. It was at this point that a panel facing the chair slid back to reveal a smiling Lobos seated at his desk.
‘Welcome to Xeros,’ he said.
‘I beg your pardon?’ the Doctor replied, not understanding.
‘Welcome to Xeros,’ Lobos repeated, in English. ‘How did you do that?’ the Doctor asked with no little surprise.
‘Do what?’ Lobos looked around, unsure as to what the Doctor was referring to.
‘Switch languages so quickly,’ the Doctor explained.
‘I haven’t,’ Lobos replied. ‘This did.’ He fingered a small, glowing, button-like object just below his collar. ‘I am still speaking my own language and you are still speaking yours but we can understand each other through instantaneous translation. All it required was for you to say a few words and you hear me in... what is it by the way?’
‘Ah, English...’ Ile glanced at the video screen beside him and, after a couple of seconds, continued: ‘That is an Earth language, yes?’
The Doctor nodded.
‘So now we know which system and which planet you come from. And I will hear you in Morok. And now you know which planet I come from.’
‘Amazing!’ the Doctor said. ‘Truly amazing! Instant dubbing.’ His admiration for this piece of Morok technology was patently obvious.
‘Simple really,’ Lobos said with false modesty. ‘It translates a hundred thousand modes of audio communication and is kept constantly updated, language being a living thing and constantly changing.’
‘Of course,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘New slang, new expressions, new technological terms, et cetera. Knowledge, like the universe, is forever expanding and language has to keep up with it.’
‘Unfortunately, it is lacking in quite a few thousand more which have not been fed into it, and I doubt that they ever will be. The Moroks seem to have lost their desire for expansion.’ Lobos sat for a moment staring into space and regretting the Empire had no more use for such as he. Then he pulled himself together, looked curiously at the Doctor, and smiled again. ‘So, welcome to Xeros, the smallest planet in the Morok Empire. What is your name?’
There was no answer.
‘Very well. Mine is Lobos and I am Governor of this planet.’
‘Curator of the Museum would seem a better title.’
Lobos nodded. ‘Yes, Xeros is a museum, a lasting memorial to the achievements of the Morok civilisation.’
‘Really? From my observations it seems to be arousing very little interest.’
Lobos shrugged. ‘People tire of their heritage. Once sightseers filled this place, marvelling at what they saw. Now? Well, the occasional ship from Morok calls...’ He shrugged again.
‘Perhaps if you reduced the price of admission,’ the Doctor smiled.
‘So, you have a sense of humour. You don’t by any chance play chess do you?’
‘I’ve been known to,’ the Doctor said.
‘I might very well do that... if we have time. Though, be warned, I learned my chess from a master.’
‘So did I,’ the Doctor replied. ‘Several in fact.’
Lobos decided to change the subject. ‘Tell me about your ship.’
The Doctor gazed around the room.
‘Perhaps its inclusion in our museum might bring the visitors flocking back,’ Lobos suggested. ‘It must be something of a rarity. If we were fortunate enough to be able to include the crew, that would be novel.’
‘Grotesque, I’d call it.’ The Doctor said. ‘When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Quoting - from another master,’ the Time Lord said.
Lobos got up from behind his desk and paced the floor, hands clasped behind his back. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid admission charges have nothing to do with the lack of interest. Our civilisation rests on its laurels’ - now where had he picked up that expression? ‘Galactic conquest is a thing of the past. Life now, it is said, is purely to enjoy.’
‘The decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Yes, it has happened before in galaxies far beyond your reach.’
Lobos looked suddenly interested. ‘Tell me about it.’
‘This Empire.’ He waved his hand in a circular motion, trying to recall the name.
‘Rome?’ the Doctor prompted.
‘What’s to tell?’ the Doctor asked. ‘History repeats itself, that’s all.’
Lobos reseated himself and leaned forward on the desk. ‘No, I want to know,’ he insisted. ‘What happened to it? This Empire.’
‘It grew, it conquered, it fed on - and off - those it conquered. It got too big for its boots.’
Lobos laughed. ‘Too big for its boots! I like that. Too big for its boots!’ And he chuckled merrily. The Doctor raised an eyebrow.
‘Yes,’ he said, "Rather like your - what did you call it? - Morok? Rather like your ‘’Torok Empire I would think. Then it declined and fell.’
Lobos stopped laughing. ‘How?’ he asked.
‘Well, now,’ the Doctor placed his fingertips together. ‘That, as they say, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question, isn’t it? And there were probably as many reasons as there were dollars. Am I going to sit here in this chair for the next twenty-four hours giving you a potted history of the Roman Empire?’
‘If I feel like it,’ Lobos said.
This time the Doctor raised both eyebrows. ‘Well, let’s see if we can’t put it in a nutshell, keep it to the kernel as it were. There was a revolt by slaves led by one Spartacus.’
‘What!’ Lobos stiffened.
‘But that was crushed.’
‘There was trouble in the colonies.’
‘There always is,’ Lobos said.
‘Ah, yes,’ Lobos said, thinking of his own exile. ‘There’s always that too.’
‘Dissention, schism, uprising, rebellion. Finally Rome herself was invaded. There are some who attribute the whole thing to lead poisoning sending them all mad. The Romans were great engineers. They built a water system with marvellous aqueducts of which, I am sure, they were inordinately proud. But, unfortunately, the channels were lined with lead. I suppose it could have been something as simply as that, but it seems to be the way of all empires: sooner or later the conquerer is conquered.’
Lobos sat for a while, thinking, then: ‘So why did you come here?’ he eventually asked.
‘Exploration,’ was the simple reply.
‘Ah, a scientist! Good. It makes a change to have someone intelligent to talk to. And you have come from this... Earth?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘You don’t want to answer? Very well, let’s try another question. Where are your companions?’
The Doctor chuckled to himself. Lobos watched him for a second or two then leaned forward and touched a switch on the console in front of him.
‘You will tell me,’ he said. ‘I can get all the information I want without the need of resorting to brute force. Your co-operation is not essential. Now, where are your companions?’ Lobos’s shoulders suddenly jerked forward and he let out a little gasp as he grimaced in pain. He placed a hand over his stomach.
‘Indigestion?’ the Doctor enquired kindly. ‘I remember I had it once, heartburn you know, like a knife between the shoulder blades. I think it was a mixture of goat cheese and olives that did it. Galen recommended the rind of a lemon as being of great benefit to a delicate constitution.’
‘Galen? What is Galen?’
‘An Ancient Greek physician. Oh, yes, the lemon...’
‘I do not know this Ancient Greek or his lemon!’ Lobos sounded quite put out. He was growing increasingly annoyed with this scientist who seemed to be playing games with him and was having second thoughts about the chess. To be beaten by a Morok robot was one thing. To be beaten by this scruffy-looking Earth creature was quite another. He hastily slipped a capsule into his mouth. And what was this heartburn to which he referred? It sounded extremely nasty, particularly for a Morok with two hearts.
‘What’s this?’ Bo asked, kneeling down and tracing with his fingers a length of woollen thread.
‘They’re leaving a trail,’ Tor said.
Tor looked at Bo and wished the youngster wouldn’t believe he had all the answers. ‘They must have missed the old one,’ he said. ‘Yes, this was put there for him to follow them.’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ Sita’disagreed. ‘They would have come back to look for him, surely.’
But Tor was in no mood to be contradicted. ‘Well, whatever the reason,’ he snapped, ‘it’s a trail and trails are meant to be followed. So let’s follow it.’
‘I ask you again,’ Lobos said. ‘Where are your companions?’
Again the Doctor refused to answer. Lobos turned away and looked at the screen. Then he flicked an intercom switch and, smiling at the Doctor - the capsule had obviously gone to work on the pain - said, ‘Commander B Division.’
A disembodied voice immediately answered him: ‘B Division commander, sir.’
‘Proceed immediately to Corridor 417. Detain three Earth creatures: one male, one female, one young female.’
‘Message received. It will be dealt with imrediately.’
‘You look surprised,’ Lobos said. ‘I told you there was no need for brute force. Unless, of course, I feel like it,’ he added threateningly. ‘Look.’ He swivelled the screen into a position where the Doctor could see it. On the screen was an image of Ian and the girls in the corridor that contained the flying saucer. ‘A simple matter of thought selection,’ Lobos went on. ‘By asking a question I plant an image in your mind. No matter what you might say, so long as you are in that chair, I will see your mental pictures reflected here.’ He tapped the screen. ‘So, you see, it is quite useless for you to lie. Shall we return to the questioning? How did you get here?’
The image of a penny-farthing cycle appeared on the screen. Lobos frowned. The Doctor smiled at the governor’s reaction. He was beginning to enjoy the situation.
Ian played out the last few inches of wool. ‘Well... that’s it.
‘It didn’t work, did it?’ Barbara said.
‘At least we didn’t go around in circles or backtrack.’
‘Why don’t they put up signs like they do in ordinary museums?’ Vicki sighed.
‘Maybe the Doctor is wrong,’ Barbara said. ‘Maybe you can’t change the future.’
‘Don’t say that, Barbara!’ Vicki cried. ‘I don’t even want to think of such an awful thing happening.’
Ian dropped the wool and moved away, disappearing around a corner. Barbara shook her head and took Vicki’s hands. ‘I don’t want it to happen either, of course I don’t! But we can’t just walk about for ever hoping we won’t be discovered. We’ve got to do something positive. And where is the Doctor?’ She looked around as though almost expecting him to appear, breezily unconcerned. Instead it was Ian who returned, smiling broadly.
‘So it didn’t work, hey?’ He crooked his index finger, indicating they should follow him, ‘Come and see what I’ve found.’
Vicki and Barbara followed him around the corner and there, ahead of them, lay the outside doors.
‘What is it like, this planet, Earth?’ Lobos asked.
A series of images appeared on the screen: a colony of seals congregated on a rocky outcrop, diving into the choppy sea, cavorting about; penguins, strutting about, flapping their wings, nature’s natural clowns; the wild black and white wastes of Antarctica with eddies of snow being blown across the ice; a close-up of a walrus, all tusks and bristling moustachios; and finally back to the seals.
‘What are these creatures?’ Lobos asked.
‘Friends of mine,’ the Doctor assured him, still smiling. ‘But these are aquatic creatures! You are not an aquatic creature.’
‘Oh, am I not?’ The images were replaced by a picture of the Doctor posing magnificently in Edwardian striped bathing costume and boater. The Doctor chuckled. Not a bad pair of legs, he thought.
‘So...’ Lobos growled. ‘You still see fit to play games with me. Well then, I don’t have any more use for you and we have a saying on Morok, he who laughs last laughs longest...’
‘Funny,’ the Doctor said, ‘they have that saying on Earth too.’
‘Very funny, particularly as it is I who have the last laugh.’ He pressed a button on his desk, the doors behind him slid open and two soldiers entered, saluting smartly. ‘Take him to the preparation room,’ Lobos commanded.
‘Great!’ Ian exclaimed. ‘We’ve found the way out, now how do we get out?’ They stared helplessly at the huge doors unable to discern any means of opening them.
‘Open sesame!’ Ian said with irritable frustration. ‘This is becoming more and more nightmarish. We don’t know which way to turn. Every way seems the wrong way. We don’t know what’s out there anyway.’