Meanwhile, in the Circus Wagon...
"Since the Bookworm decided to stick with our hostess," he explained to his earlier selves and the small group of party-goers who weren't either visiting the Valeyard or somewhere in the depths of the TARDIS helping the Master and Jim with the cats, "we can't rely on him/her to show us the way to Sailor Gallifrey. We'll need to build a tracking device of some kind."
"The work of a moment," said the Third Doctor confidently.
"But it will still take valuable time to reach her travelling through normal space," said Lord Gallifrijan, somewhat indistinctly through a mouthful of banana. "Why don't we just use this TARDIS to travel there directly?"
"Because we don't know where 'there' is," snapped the Sixth Doctor.
"I do," Lord Gallifrijan said, negligently tossing the banana peel over one shoulder.
Everybody stared at him.
"Why didn't you say so before?" asked the Eighth Doctor, eventually.
"The time didn't seem right," Lord Gallifrijan shrugged. He reached under his cape and produced a large ray gun. A smile crossed his face (which, everybody noticed for the first time, was actually a rather unconvincing latex mask). "But now, with our happy group diminished in number, I think I can keep you all under control..."
The Eighth Doctor blinked...
Eighth sped the horses up as fast as he dared, blinking as the sharp wind stung his eyes. The Bookworm helped direct position, gazing into the middle distance.
"What are you getting now?" he asked after a few minutes, the only other sounds the horses' hooves pounding the ground, and the wagon wheels creaking as they rolled.
"Despair. Discord. Apathy."
Eighth's mouth set in a line.
"How much farther?"
"Not... too far. Caves." The Bookworm pointed up ahead.
The Doctor saw the outcrop of rock wavering in the heat haze, and snapped the reins again.
Sailor Gallifrey sank to her knees in the cold, dank cave. First one voice spoke, the voice of a young woman frightened by an unbearable responsibility.
A second voice issuing from the same lips, calmer, more stable.
"I cannot say. They made an offer that I accepted. I had no idea at the time that it would involve fusion of any kind."
"I know I wanted to be part of something important, but... I never wanted this. Am I stuck with you in my head now for the rest of my life?"
"Our life. And, I'm afraid to say, immortality comes with the package..."
"Oh gods! So I'll never be free..."
"Why do you insist on seeing this as an punishment?"
"Because I must have done something wrong to deserve it, or they would have had the common decency to ask me first!!"
The rage welling up again....
I won't let you control me. I WON'T!
I do not wish to control you, merely join with you. But I cannot allow you to inflict harm, even upon yourself.
I can't... can't...
The circus wagon came to a shuddering halt in a cloud of dust. It hadn't even stopped moving before Eighth had jumped down, Bookworm in tow.
"Quickly! We're running out of time!" Bookworm shouted.
Eighth led his team into the cave system.
And then, before he had taken a dozen steps, he slowed his pace and stopped. He turned to Bookworm. "Wait a minute, he said, slowly. "You're not supposed to be here! You had chosen to stay with Our Hostess's team, consulting with the Valeyard!"
These words were barely out of his mouth when "Bookworm" and all the others of his team, flickered and went out. The Doctor was alone. An evil "Bwha-ha-ha!" echoed through the cave.
The Doctor looked back toward the circus wagon, standing in the brilliant sun. It seemed solid enough, but the little brown cow pony (which he was sure he had hitched to the wagon himself with the twelve whites before they left) was nowhere to be seen. "That's funny," he thought to himself, "Why did I hitch a saddled horse to the circus wagon in the first place? There's no place in the harness to hitch a thirteenth horse anyway."
Then a second wave of confusion swept over him, which made his thoughts about the pony seem as small as a ripple in comparison. He could have sworn that he'd put the android horses on autopilot and went back inside to consult with the others about constructing a tracking device to find Sailor Gallifrey/Alryssa. So where -- who was he?
It was like watching himself dreaming -- one eye on his "real" self, the one doing the dreaming, and one eye on his "dream" self, battling fantastic monsters, and running down corridors that never had any end. One was real, and one was the illusion. But the only problem was, he didn't know which was which -- he didn't know which thoughts to fight and which to embrace.
I wonder, he thought, with a stray corner of his mind, if this is how Alryssa feels all the time.
Alryssa! He had to get to her -- and quickly! But how? He was trapped inside --
"Aah!" The Doctor's eyes flew open, searing pain racing from one temple to the other, and down his spine. "That gun!" he shouted, as he struggled to reached the figure in the Lord Gallifrijan mask. "It's shooting a disorienting ray -- you must all fight it!"
"So let me get this straight," Our Hostess said, dread welling up inside her and almost blocking her ability to speak. "Half of the Doctors, half my guests, and the Master, are trapped in my TARDIS with someone who may want Alryssa / Sailor Gallifrey to blow up this entire galaxy?"
"At least," the Valeyard said. "Having Alryssa blow up the galaxy may be only the first step to an even bigger, even more evil plan."
"And we are totally without transport, except for one cow pony..."
Before the Valeyard could answer, the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe all cried out at once and pressed their fingers to their temples.
"No," the Second Doctor said, moaning, as if arguing with a voice inside his head. "No! I won't let you do this -- not again!"
I can't do this. Not for forever. Not immortal.
It hurts me. This... this hurts me.
I know. I...
...It hurts you too, doesn't it?
...I can't let you hurt someone. Can't let you hurt yourself...
Can you stop me being hurt?
No. I never claimed I could stop it. But I don't want to cause any more pain...not after...
...ssh. I know. I know. It wasn't your choice. It wasn't my choice. Neither of us were to blame...
...then who do you blame?
Them. They imposed this on us. They didn't ask. Didn't say "hey, you want to do something important?" Simply stuck us with the job.
And what would happen if we set that job down?
I don't know. Worse? Better? But I'd have my life back... oh no.
Yes. I know. I would pass on.
Do you want to...?
Not... not now...
I wouldn't have my life back, would I? This would always have an impact...
I can't change what's already happened.
But I can change what's going to happen.
If I'm going to have an impact, then I choose how it affects me.
They may have made the choice. But I'm the one who lives with the consequences.
And I'm not going to destroy myself just to show them why they shouldn't have done this.
I want to know why they did this.
I want to know.
The staff rose off the floor.
'I want to find out.' Sailor Gallifrey whispered.
She looked, truly looked, at the large cave again. She squinted, as if trying to see beyond the damp stone.
"Dimensional shift," she muttered. "Not very well hidden, when you know what you're looking for..."
She reached out and touched the stone. The walls shattered into oblivion.
And once more, she was in the place she had been brought to - before this had all begun. Before she had been... fused.
"Full circle." She lofted an eyebrow. "Come out. I know you're here."
A shape moved in the darkness.
"So you have found your way back to us, Senshi."
"Why are you doing this? You tried to destroy me... a being you created!"
"It was not our idea. We were simply coerced into carrying it out. Of course, there are always those who will agree and those who disagree with its... results...."
The leering tone in its voice made itself clear. She set her jaw.
"So you thought it a nice tidy little operation if I doubted my abilities, my strength, my friends, and took myself out? How convenient."
"There's still time for that, my dear. Right now, your friends are wandering about in the menagerie. Including that infernal Doctor... in more than one of his incarnations."
A screen materialised, seemingly out of thin air. She could see the troupe in the 'caves.' They were in trouble. She went to reach out to the image, but it vanished.
"What are you going to do with them?" she demanded.
"I simply propose a bargain."
She didn't like the sound of this, but these were lives at stake...
'The computer...' the Bookworm whispered.
'I will not let you do this!' Second hissed. 'Not again! I will not listen to you!'
'What does it want?' Seventh asked.
'It wants me to go outside. It wants me to go to my friends. Not again...'
'Because it would be waiting for us outside...' Seventh said.
'And it wants that...' Fourth said.
The Valeyard's face darkened. 'No. No. I have no intention of giving that any satisfaction... Come with me.'
He stood up, and walked deeper into his cave.
Supporting the Second, Jamie and Zoe, the others followed.
A hand reached out and grabbed the masked figure.
'No.' the Sixth said simply. 'No. I have walked in the Matrix. I have faced the illusions of Varos, and the fantasies of Astrolabus. My mind was tampered with, far too many times. Not again.'
He twisted the gun out of the masked figure's hands, dropped it to the floor, and stepped on it.
The others blinked, and shook their heads.
'That was particularly nasty...' Third said.
'Who are you? Why have you lured us here? What do you want?'
'You would come. You always would come. We simply had to get your attention. Now you are here. You, who fight for the cause of diversity. Individuality. You are trapped here, unsure of what is real and what is not, of what can be trusted. A prison of our making. A prison we control. Even what I say now... how do you know it is true?' the masked figure hissed.
'How can you fight... when you do not even know where we are? Who we are? What we want? Even if Gallifrey does calm herself, does find you... you remain in our trap. Our cage. And you cannot even see the walls. Our plans unfold. Watch, then. And learn.'
The figure dissolved, leaving only the mask, which fell to the floor.
'I hate this...' Sixth murmured. 'Now we're in The Prisoner...
'Say. Nothing.' he told Third, who'd already opened his mouth.
'What now?' Fifth asked.
'Now...' Eighth's face shadowed. 'Now we find...'
Something fell out of his pocket.
'The Bookworm's map...' Fifth murmured. 'The one you got back before we split up...'
'Can we trust it?'
'It's all we have...' Eighth said. 'Let's go and find Alryssa.'
The Master raised his eyes from the tangle of electric circuits he'd been studying, and let the jeweller's loupe fall from his eye.
"Sh!" he said to the others. "Do you hear that?"
"I don't hear anything," Daibhid said, after a while.
"Exactly!" the Master said. "It's far too quiet. "Even when the whole universe is in danger, those silly fools can't keep still for five minutes! Come on!"
As the group came around the corner into the party hall, the found the dance floor nearly empty. A deserted rubber mask and crushed ray gun lay on the floor in front of the bar (a carelessly discarded banana peel was nearby).
The Master crouched down beside the ray gun to examine it more closely (being careful not to touch it). "A disorientation ray!" he said, with disgust. "The fools! I knew they would mess everything up..." Straightening, he went to the TARDIS's water trough scanner, and flipped a few invisible switches. An image of the cave mouth rippled into view. "And I bet those idiots are currently getting themselves lost in there!" he spat out.
"Hey!" said the little turquoise troll said. "How do you know how to work Our Hostess's scanner?"
The Master chuckled quietly. "I don't think you really want to know that," he said. "Come on," he ordered, as he ran toward his own wardrobe TARDIS. "We don't have much time!" When the others hesitated, he pulled out his TCE. "You will come with me," he said, flatly. "I'm not going to let you stay behind and risk you ruining all my work!"
The others came.
"But why are you doing this?" Jim asked, after the black TARDIS doors slid quietly shut behind them. "Why try to save the Doctor, since you hate him so much?"
"You think I'm doing this for him?" the Master asked, derisively. "I'm doing this for myself. "If I let someone else destroy this galaxy, then I won't be able to rule it, will I?. Besides, now that I know that these aliens are armed with disorientation rays, it's clear to me that I'm the one best suited to stop them."
"Wh-why's that?" the little troll asked.
"Because -- unlike you and all your simpering friends, I am free from all self doubt!"
And as the Master had guessed, deep in the cave system...Previous chapter Next chapter