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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #02 - "Six Sides to Every Story"


Chapter 13
"...& Switch"
by Rebecca Dowgiert


---


The Doctor peered at the ominous figure in front of him with satisfaction. "Well, it's about time!" he declared, as he reached over and shook the insensate form of Merak. "Come on, Merak," he told the unconscious Atrian. "Rise and shine!"


       "I said the two of you. Not him," the hooded figure reminded them, with a quiet menace far superior to the hapless Kabada's bluster.


       Behind the TARDIS-blocked door, the sound of the guards' consternation could be heard. None of them could fit through the doorway; the black box filled the opening perfectly. Nor could they physically move it, though Grace could hear them trying. She heard the Castellan ordering several of his men to go for a TARDIS.


       Time was running out for their would-be kidnapper. Perhaps the Doctor was simply stalling, then.


       The mysterious figure seemed to have reached the same conclusion. He menacingly extended the weapon he held. "Now."


       Merak finally stirred, with a groan, as the Doctor turned his head to look at their captor. "We're coming!" he snapped. As Merak sat up, disoriented, the Doctor wrapped an arm around the Atrian and helped him stand. Grace rose from her seat to help, giving the Doctor an incredulous look as she did so. "Doctor," she hissed, "why are we dragging Merak along now? You practically forced him to stay behind, before!"


       "So, I've changed my mind!" he hissed back.


       They stood momentarily, Merak swaying slightly. "He comes with us," the Doctor told the hooded figure, resolutely. "It's all of us, or none."


       The figure seemed disinclined to protest further, and merely gestured impatiently with the weapon. "Inside."


       He followed them, as the three stumbled into the stranger's TARDIS. A few moments later, it asthmatically faded from existence, leaving behind a stymied Castellan and Guards.


       Spandrell sighed. Well, the Doctor still had the transmitter. They would have to hope that he remembered to activate it in time. Striding away, he began to bark orders.


* * *


In warehouse loft dimly lit by guttering torches, a group of robed and hooded figures stood, waiting quietly amongst the shadows. One of them, the tallest, stood somewhat apart from the others, head bent in quiet contemplation. His fellows maintained a respectful distance; none approached to disturb his silent meditation.


       Suddenly, he looked up. "They approach. The moment is nigh," he informed them. His voice resonated with power.


       The figures stirred, a slight current of excitement running through the room.


       Their leader moved forward to the head of the ranks, as they turned expectantly to regard him.


       "Soon our labours will be complete," he told them. "The Key will be restored to its proper place, and, with it, we Time Lords to our former glory."


       His followers bowed their heads slightly in respect. "It shall be so, Great One," they intoned.


       A wheezing groan heralded the arrival of one of the Circle's TARDISes. Several Circle members backed away, as the black box solidified before them. Then, the doors opened, and three figures emerged, one of them leaning on the other two. Close on their heels came one of the Circle, driving the three before him.


       "You have done well, Jentawat," the Great One told his follower. The man bowed, and stepped back, rejoining his fellows.


       The Doctor, Grace, and a still slightly wobbly Merak stood in the middle of the congregation, feeling the dozens of eyes fixed firmly on them. Grace, glancing around at the silent crowd, shivered.


       True to their name, the Circle members had formed a massive ring around their guests. The ring parted, momentarily, to admit their leader, who came toward the trio and then stopped.


       "Well, we're here," the Doctor told the man before them, cheerfully, as if he were merely passing the time of day with an acquaintance, rather than facing dozens of sinisterly-hooded figures. "Now, what was it you wanted to see us about?"


* * *


"Damn it, Doctor - activate the transmitter!" growled Castellan Spandrell, clenching his fist in frustration, then flinching slightly, remembering that the Lady Romana stood nearby, having joined him at the monitoring station. He glanced ruefully aside at his President. "Your pardon, M'lady," he mumbled. It wasn't proper to mutter oaths in front of one's leader.


       "Oh, Spandrell, never mind the formalities. Knowing the Doctor, he's probably too busy talking the ear off of whoever's taken them to remember the transmitter immediately. I'm sure he'll activate it soon."


       "He'd better. Otherwise, there's no way we'll be able to find them in time," the Castellan muttered, not reassured.


* * *


The Great One stood, regarding the three people in front of him. Ignoring the Doctor's facetiousness, he said, "It is meet, in a way, that you be here, at the end of our quest. Though you ignorantly sought to thwart it, you have been quite instrumental in our recovery of The Key To Time."


       The Doctor's eyes narrowed at this, but he held his tongue for the moment.


       The hooded figure reached out a hand. "Give me the seventh piece. It is time to complete the Key."


       The Doctor regarded the figure before him intently. "Why here? Why now? The Key has always been scattered throughout time and space; why bring it here?"


       "It belongs here, on Gallifrey. We Time Lords are its logical custodians," the figure told him, an edge of impatience creeping into his voice. "Give me it, now."


       "Oh, I don't think so," the Doctor replied, disinterestedly. "I haven't heard anything approaching a real explanation. It'll take a lot more information than that to convince me to do as you've asked."


       There were hisses of outrage from around the room, as the assembled Time Lords took umbrage at the Doctor's attitude.


       The Doctor merely stood there, seemingly quite unconcerned.


       "Take care, Doctor," the Great One said, quietly. "You try my patience." He gestured, and several Circle members came forward out of the ranks. "Search them," the leader told them.


       "Wait," the Doctor said suddenly, holding up a hand. "You haven't even told us who you are."


       More mutters of anger were heard, rising from around the assembled circle. "You fool!" snapped one of the Time Lords. "How dare you question the Great One?!"


       "Great One? Why, I've heard of so many 'Great Ones' throughout my travels. Which one would *this* be?"


       Before his followers could answer, the tall figure before them raised his hands, lifting his hood off of his face. Around, his followers murmured and bowed their heads respectfully, as their leader's face was revealed.


       The Doctor's eyes widened in recognition.


       "Yes, Doctor," the man in front of them told him. "It is I, Rassilon. Who else would have the authority and the power to claim the Key for Gallifrey, to bring it to its proper place?"


* * *


"Who else indeed?" the Doctor muttered. Despite his initial surprise, he didn't, Grace noted, sound particularly impressed.


       The Doctor glanced around again, taking note of the surrounding crowd, of the Circle's respectful, downcast eyes, of 'Rassilon's' air of smug confidence. He turned back to the Great One, who had again extended his hand, expectantly.


       There was a physical resemblance, certainly. The tall, majestically-bearded man before him most likely counted Rassilon as an ancestor, and had thus inherited many of the legendary leader's physical characteristics. Plastic surgery could easily have taken care of any discrepancies.


       "I knew... of Rassilon. And you're no Rassilon." He turned dismissively away from the legend. Plunging his hand into his pocket, he felt for, found, and pressed the button on the transmitter Spandrell had insisted he keep. Simultaneously, he grabbed the seventh Key segment with his other hand and transferred it to one of the pockets of Merak's tunic as he passed close by him and Grace. "You'll need this soon," he whispered.


       A moment later, he was roughly grabbed and spun about. Two of the Circle held him, while a third efficiently searched his pockets.


       The searcher promptly held up a small golden disk. "Transmitter," he informed his fellows, as he flung it to the floor, and stamped on it. Hard.


       The Doctor winced in sympathy. Well, he could only hope that those few seconds of transmission had been enough for the Castellan to get a fix on their position.


       Finding no segment, the searchers turned to Grace and Merak. Alarmed, Grace glanced quickly out of the corner of her eye at Merak. She'd seen the Doctor slip something into the Atrian's pocket.


       She abruptly moved away from her two friends, and the searchers automatically turned towards her. "That's right, I've got it! You'll get it from me only over my dead body!" she exclaimed. Perhaps if Merak could somehow get away...


       Unimpressed, the robed figures closed in on her.


       "You fools," 'Rassilon' said, impatiently. "He gave it to the man."


       Abashed by their leader's rebuke, they immediately turned back to Merak. Grabbing him, they quickly turned his pockets inside out, finding... nothing.


       Shocked, Grace plunged her hands into the pockets of her own jacket.


       There was a hard lump of crystal in her right pocket.


       We can't, she thought, dazed, play musical pockets indefinitely. What next?


       'Rassilon's' eyes narrowed dangerously. "Enough of this foolishness!" he thundered. His followers jumped. Several immediately pounced on Grace and one of them retrieved the segment piece, triumphantly brandishing it as he hurried over to his leader.


       Grace gave the Doctor a despairing look.


       "Don't look so glum, Grace," the Doctor whispered to her, encouragingly.


       "But they've got the last piece! All we did was stall them a little!" she whispered back.


       "Oh, never underestimate the advantages of creative time wasting," he replied, cheerfully.


       "You think the signal got through?" she asked, hopefully, eyeing the now defunct transmitter where it sat, a crumpled mass, on the floor in front of them.


       "Don't know. I hope so. Though, the way things have been going, by the time the cavalry gets here, this whole business will be long over!"


       "SILENCE!" the Great One bellowed, noticing Grace's and the Doctor's sotto voce conference. Infuriated, he pointed at them, where they and Merak stood, flanked by several grim, hooded Time Lords. "You are an insolent fool, Doctor! I gave you a last chance to cooperate, here, at the end. Instead, you chose to play idiotic games. For standing in the way of the revival of Gallifrey's glory, you all deserve to die. Still, I shall allow you to witness the assembling of the Key to Time, first. Bring them," he commanded, turning away.


       "Oh, don't do us any favours," the Doctor muttered, disgusted, as they were dragged along behind the imposing figure of 'Rassilon'.


       "Well, I don't mind a few extra moments of life," Grace muttered, equally disgusted. The Doctor looked over at her.


       She saw his glance and shrugged, a little sheepishly. "Well, I've gotten quite used to it again."


       He abruptly grinned. "So have I."


       She couldn't help smiling ruefully. Looking up, she saw that they had arrived at their destination.


       On a table in front of them lay the other pieces of the Key To Time, neatly set in a row. As 'Rassilon' placed the seventh piece at the end, the pieces began to glow slightly.


       Next to Grace, Merak took an involuntary step forward, as if instinctively drawn toward the table. His guards grabbed him, wrenching him back.


       "Astra..." Merak said, hoarsely. "She's there. Which one is she?"


       "Steady on, lad," the Doctor advised him, as the Atrian subsided, staring at the segments before him.


       The Doctor looked up at 'Rassilon'. "Having trouble putting it together, are you? I should have thought that the mighty Rassilon would have been able to at least join what you have of it so far..."


       On of his guards, incensed, raised a hand to hit him.


       "No," the Great One said, and the guard aborted the blow. "I'm curious, Doctor," the living legend said, mildly, having regained his equilibrium. "What makes you so sure I am not who I say I am?"


       The Doctor looked at him keenly. "Rassilon was a ruthless, canny leader. But he wasn't a megalomaniac — quite. His main concern was always for Gallifrey's welfare as a whole, even if he did, in the course of fulfilling his goals, run roughshod over the rights of many of his constituency. The Key To Time, so exquisitely powerful and dangerous, being kept indefinitely on Gallifrey? He'd never have agreed to such a thing. You look the part, but you're only playing at being Rassilon.


       "Besides that, there's the small matter of his being dead."


       'Rassilon' smiled. "On one level, Doctor, you're correct. "I'm not quite Rassilon. Yet." The Doctor raised an eyebrow at this admission.


       "I am a direct descendant of Rassilon. One day, while I was meditating, his spirit came to me, and told me of the glory which could again be Gallifrey's, once The Key To Time was returned to us..."


       "Oh? I heard differently, from a certain High Lord of the 'Reformed Order of Westenra'. He said that it was Rassilon who had scattered the pieces of The Key To Time throughout time and space."


       "Ah, yes, Kabada-Zabada-Klamana. He did so want to help, but he, is, of course, hopelessly insane. We assigned Jentawat to watch him, to make sure he didn't interfere with our quest.


       "But, as I was saying before you so *rudely* interrupted, Doctor, Rassilon, after granting me a portion of his powers, commanded me to form the Circle, and begin the search for The Key. Once it is assembled, he will be able to fully inhabit my form, and will return to lead the Time Lords once again."


       Startled, Grace blurted out, "He'll steal your body?"


       The Great One leaned forward, his eyes fervent. "I shall relinquish it to him, willingly. Could I do any less for the man who will ensure our continued greatness as a civilization? It is a small sacrifice to make."


       The Doctor sighed, sadly, and shook his head. "What are they teaching in the Academies these days?" he muttered. He raised his voice to carry out over the assembled Circle. "Do you believe every disembodied voice you hear, every vision that comes to you? Have you all forgotten how to think for yourselves?


       "Don't you know when you're being used?"


       Apparently not. The Time Lords around him stood, placidly awaiting their leader's next command. They'd been turned into puppets, tricked out of their common sense — what little they'd had — into an insane plan to activate The Key To Time. And he now had his suspicions as to who the 'spirit of Rassilon' who had ensnared these Time Lords really was.


       There wasn't very much that he, Grace, and Merak could do to stop them, at the moment. Still, he had a feeling that there was one little thing that their captors had overlooked...


       The Doctor blinked, suddenly, looking up. He hadn't thought he'd just spoken aloud, but there was the false 'Rassilon' in front of him, staring at him.


       "What has been overlooked, Doctor?" the Great One asked, his eyes boring into the Doctor's.


       The Doctor looked back steadily. He lifted his chin defiantly, indicating the seventh Key segment. "What's the extra Key segment for? Why weren't you able to assemble the Key from the original six pieces?"


       For an instant, a look of uncertainty flickered across 'Rassilon's' face. "A fascinating conundrum," he said, toying with the last piece. "A puzzle, of sorts. But in the end, rather obvious. Objects of power are obviously not necessarily immutable. It existed before as six pieces; now it exists as seven."


       Wrong! the Doctor thought, gleefully. But he kept the expression on his face as neutral as he could.


       The Great One glanced at him for an instant, suspiciously, then back to the Key pieces. "It is time, now, to assemble the Key," he told his followers, raising his voice to carry across the room. "Our apotheosis is near."


       Beside the Doctor, Grace sighed. Not much time left now...


       The Great One began to fit the pieces of the Key together, as the Circle had done a dozen times before, always with failure as the result. The followers of the Circle watched eagerly. This time it would work, now that they had all the pieces...


       As 'Rassilon' set the irregularly-shaped crystal chunks together, they glowed for a moment, then remained in place, the seams disappearing, as, from the disparate elements, a cube began to form. Finally, he slotted in the sixth piece. The entire structure glowed, and held its shape. Although there was no apparent place left for a seventh piece to fit in, he reached for the extra segment...


       ...and turned quickly back to look, as a gasp of consternation rose from his followers.


       The Key segments lay, again separated, on the table in front of him.


       The Doctor couldn't resist. "Having trouble?" he inquired, innocently.


       "I take it," the Great One inquired menacingly, "that you are privy to some information that I am not?"


       The Doctor smiled, a bit gingerly. This was where things got dicey — frustrated villains could be so vindictive. "Oh, not necessarily... just making an observation..."


       'Rassilon' nodded at Grace's guards, who promptly dragged her over to the table. One of them brandished a very sharp knife, and looked expectantly to his leader. The Doctor, stepping forward in instinctive protest, was pulled back by his own guards.


       "Two times in one day," Grace murmured, unable to resist looking at the blade, which one of her guards was beginning to press to her throat in anticipation. "This is getting monotonous."


       Bizarrely enough, Merak seemed to not be paying attention to the tableau unfolding in front of him. He had eyes only for the table in front of him, for the softly-glowing Key segments.


       "Astra," he whispered. One of the pieces began to glow a little brighter. The Doctor saw this out of the corner of his eye and felt a welcome surge of hope. None of the others seemed to notice the segment's increased radiance.


       "Tell me the answer to the conundrum of the seventh segment, Doctor, or she will die, now," 'Rassilon' snarled.


       The Doctor tilted his head slightly. "You all say that you want to restore Gallifrey to its 'former glory'. This is how you go about it — with bloodshed?" he said, sharply. He shook his head. "I will do nothing to help you to access the power of The Key."


       He turned to look at Grace. "I'm sorry," he told her.


       Despite her precarious position, she gave him a sad smile in return. "Oh, no, I quite agree," she told him.


       "Then she die--"


       At the same instant, the Doctor shouted, "NOW, Merak! Astra is here! Call to her!"


       Merak needed no further urging. The Atrian moved forward, as his guards grabbed at him, trying to restrain him. "ASTRA!!" he cried, and the heartache and need contained in that one word was such that Grace almost wept as she heard it.


       On the table before them, one of the pieces began to glow more brightly with every passing moment. Merak locked eyes on it and stretched out his arms in entreaty. "Come back to me, my Love," he pleaded.


       The intensity of the glow became such that people started to move back, shielding their eyes. The guards relinquished their grips on their prisoners as the light dazzled them, and the Atrian leapt forward.


       A few moments later, the light faded. On the table, alongside the crystalline segments, sat a woman. Smiling, she reached up to touch Merak's face. He stared at her for a long moment, before enfolding her in a wordless hug.


       The on-lookers stared in astonishment.


       The Great One's face was twisted with surprise and rage.


       "You called me," Astra said, wonderingly. "You called me back." She disentangled herself from him, and smiled at him. "I'm back, now. I'm here to stay."


       She slid off the table. "But there's one thing still to be done," she said absently, turning away from her consort. She reached down to the seventh segment and picked it up, moving slowly, as if entranced. Cupping it in her hands, she raised it to eye level, and stared intently at it. It burst into a dazzling radiance, and the dark-robed members of the Circle again flinched back, crying out in surprise.


       When the light subsided, Astra staggered, her eyes rolling up into her head. She would have fallen, but for her husband, who caught her.


       Everybody stared.


       'Rassilon' let out an angry sigh. It escaped into the stunned silence, startling them. "The seventh piece - a replacement for the woman." He looked at the Doctor again, and the malevolence of the gaze was like a physical blow. The Doctor flinched slightly. Whatever mind inhabited the would-be Rassilon's body at that moment, it was definitely nothing Gallifreyan.


       The Great One glared at the Time Lord before him. "Very nice," 'Rassilon' sneered. "But now that there are only six segments again, the Key can again be assembled."


       "Oh? What segments would you be talking about?" the Doctor asked, looking around innocently.


       'Rassilon' gaped. The pieces had all vanished.


       The Doctor was unable to contain his merriment. "The Key used all of us for its own ends, this time around!" he laughed.


       The Great One let out a venomous snarl. "KILL THEM!" he shouted, but his influence over his followers seemed to have waned. Dazed and confused by what they'd just seen, they were milling around uncertainly. Grace crossed quickly to the Doctor's side, and directed a glare of her own at the menacing figure of 'Rassilon'.


       Suddenly, at the back of the warehouse, the doors burst open, and the Chancellery Guards streamed into the loft, ordering the Circle to throw down their weapons. The Great One's followers looked to their leader for direction, but saw no leadership; he was staring in apoplectic fury at the Doctor and his two — no, make that three, now — friends.


       The followers numbly handed over their weapons and allowed themselves to be herded out of the loft.


       As several Guards strode purposefully towards the Great One, he gave the Doctor and Grace one last hate-filled glare.


       "Next time," he said, simply.


       The Doctor tilted his head in acknowledgment. "Next time, Guardian," he told the creature before him, "I doubt you will be any the wiser than you were today. You see..." here he glanced meaningfully at Merak and Astra where the couple stood, arms wrapped around each other, "...you always keep underestimating the same thing.


       "The power of Love."


       The Great One stared at the Doctor, his face blank with incomprehension. Then, the body suddenly jerked and collapsed onto the floor, felled by the violence of the Black Guardian's departure.


       Grace stepped forward gingerly. "Is he dead?" she asked.


       "The Time Lord host, most likely," the Doctor sighed. "The intelligence that just left it, no."


       She looked at him questioningly. "What was it?" she asked.


       "The body was Gallifreyan, but the mind possessing it, at the end, was a being of great power whom I've encountered before when the Key has been involved." He smiled tiredly. "I'll tell you about it when we get back to the TARDIS."


       They turned to see Spandrell and Romana approaching.


       "I see you managed to get our signal," the Doctor observed.


       The Castellan grunted. "It was almost too brief to get a fix on, but we managed." He glanced around the warehouse. "Quite a nest of plotters we've found ourselves, here."


       "Yes, but I doubt they'll give you much trouble, now. Their guiding principle is gone."


       They all looked at the body on the floor.


       Romana had heard a few of the Doctor's comments to Grace as she was approaching. "It was the Black Guardian again, was it?" she said, simply.


       "Oh, you know how he is — showing up every once in a while, looking for trouble. Well, it's turned out all right, in the end." He glanced over at Merak and Astra, who had finally managed to tear themselves away from each other long enough to come over and greet their rescuers. "Astra's no longer a part of the Key; it has set her free. They should be able to get on with their own bit of happily-ever-after, now." He smiled broadly. "I'm glad. It was the decent thing to do."


       Grace stared at him. "It sounds as if you're saying that the Key itself 'arranged' for all of this to happen," she said, incredulously. "I mean, it's not 'alive', is it?!"


       The Doctor looked mysterious. "Well, objects of power do sometimes seem to have minds of their own..."


       "Your Highness," he said then, as Astra arrived with her husband, "I'd like you to meet some friends of mine. This is Dr. Grace Holloway, The Castellan Spandrell, and this person over here, who bears such an uncanny resemblance to you, is the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, President of Gallifrey's High Council. I believe you've met before..."


       Romana pulled a face at her old friend as he deliberately used her full title, then smiled broadly and extended a hand in greeting.


       Astra stared, astonished, at her doppelganger, then smiled in return and grasped the pro-offered hand.


       "I told you copying her form might be awkward, Romana," the Doctor scolded. "But then, you never did listen to me..."


       Romana gave him a Look. "Why, I don't see any problem here, do you, your Highness?" she inquired breezily.


       Astra gazed at her double in a bemused fashion. "It is as he said? You changed, and made yourself look like me, deliberately?" At Romana's nod, Astra grinned.


       "Why, then, I shall take it as a supreme compliment," she declared airily. The two women both turned to simultaneously slant an arch look at the Doctor, who held up his hands appealingly, grinning. "Ouch!" he said.


       Grace smirked. "Outnumbered!" she declared.


       The six turned from the slumped body, and, walking away, left it and the shadows far behind.


---
Fin.



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