January 15, 1901 - Memphis, Egypt
A teeming metropolis. Everywhere white-robed Bedouins harked their wares, while others paused to inspect the goods, musing thoughtfully before moving on. In a square, acrobats performed to the twangy accompaniment of an out of tune guitar. A tidepool of humanity, the streets ebbed and surged to some incalculable rhythm.
In a secluded alley, a mere eddy in the cauldron, the TARDIS rematerialised, its arrival causing scarcely a ripple as pedestrians streamed by.
The door opened and the three travellers stepped out.
‘Doctor, where are we?’ queried Ace.
‘Somewhere in Egypt, I should think. Memphis, by the look of the architecture.’
‘The old capital of Egypt, right?’
‘Very good. Now to find our king.’
‘Doctor, will those creatures try to follow us?’ asked Sir Arthur, leaning on a walking stick he had found in the Doctor's wardrobe.
‘Most probably, but it should be the better part of a day before they pick up the trail again. We're relatively safe for a few hours.’
With his usual nonchalance the Doctor led them out into the churning throng.
Ace was feeling distinctly nervous about the crowd. It seemed to be pressing in from all sides, tugging at her, trying to sweep her away. With grim determination, she stuck close to the Doctor.
Suddenly a scream ripped through the crowd. Ace immediately ran forward, towards the source of the disturbance. As she melted into the jostling bodies, the Doctor sighed and forged through the crowd, dragging Sir Arthur with him.
Meanwhile, Ace had reached a small square, from which the scream had broken. Ace struggled to get a clear view of what was happening. Suddenly she found herself at the edge of a crush of bodies. The crowd had parted to provide a dry, dusty clearing. Inside were two people. One of them was one of the familiar swordsmen Ace knew so well. He was menacingly stalking a small figure huddled on the ground.
A sudden movement of the crowd brought the victim into view. Ace gasped. It was a young woman, about her own age. The veil had been ripped from her face, to reveal wisps of dark hair and sculpted features. For a moment, their eyes met. Ace saw a pleading in the girl's eyes. A shock rippled through Ace as she realized it was the young woman she had seen assisting Rama at the music hall. Then the swordsman charged.
The reflex was automatic. It was an action requiring no thought. Ace's foot swung forward, into a conveniently strategic location. The charging Arab tripped and crashed to the ground. In the scant seconds he lay dazed, the girl vanished like morning dew in the Egyptian sun.
The Arab rose with a low growl. He whirled, sword describing an arc in the air... to stop dead. Only inches from his nose Sir Arthur's walking stick hovered, rock steady, with intent as deadly as a rapier. The Arab's own sword had been checked just before striking the grey haired gentleman in front of him. Yet he hadn't flinched and the stick wavered scarcely a whisper.
This broke the Arab's nerve. He backed away a few steps, and then turning, fled into the crowd. Sir Arthur turned to the Doctor, who had joined Ace. ‘Heaven help me, Doctor, I thought I was getting too old for this sort of thing. I was younger last time.’
‘Doctor,’ Ace piped up, ‘why were they trying to kill her?’
‘I don't know, Ace. Perhaps we should ask her?’
‘Find her in this crowd? You've got to be kidding, Doctor!’
‘I have a feeling we'll meet her again sooner than you think.’
‘So where do we go now?’
‘The central plaza. That's where the action is likely to be.’
The Doctor set a brisk pace through the narrow streets, and Ace and Sir Arthur were hard pressed to keep up. Ace was amazed by way the Doctor seemed to know exactly where he was going in the bewildering web of crowded alleyways. Was it possible he had been here before? He had met Cleopatra, and a trip to the old capital wouldn't have been surprising...
She looked up to see they had reached a large flat square. It was less crowded than the congested streets, and it was formed of cracked, but still discernible marble. The square was dominated by a large building. Crumbling pillars supported a sagging roof, and it was obvious that it had seen better days.
‘What is it?’ asked Ace.
‘It once was a palace. Now it serves as a collection point for petty bureaucrats to shuffle papers. Can't say I approve of what they've done to the paintwork.’
‘So why are we here?’
‘Because any minute now this place is going to explode.’
‘You mean it?’ said Ace excitedly.
‘Figure of speech, Ace,’ replied the Doctor, well aware of Ace's enthusiasm for explosives.
‘Doctor?’ began Ace.
‘A couple of things that are still bothering me. Where was Rama during the performance? And what about that carriage that disappeared?’
‘Well, they're both tied up in the operation of the Dalek powersphere, which Rama obviously knows how to use. The sphere is an energy converter - able to convert any form of energy into any other form. Incredibly powerful, and incredibly dangerous things. Can you imagine what would happen if every form of energy on the planet was drained by a powersphere? No movement, no growth, no life, no geothermal energy, no heat. It would be reduced to a frozen husk. Imagine being able to use the energy that makes every single particle in every single atom move. It would be enough to scare even the Daleks. They only used them for a few years.
‘But anyway, Rama probably used the sphere to store the mental energy of his followers. Then he converted it into sound and light for his show, while he was off stealing the sarcophagus. The sphere was probably able to prerecord the exact display of lights and sound he wanted.’
‘Sort of like a film reel - just shine light through it and let it run?’
‘Exactly. Then he just released the rest of the power in one discharge to transport the carriage from England to Egypt.’
‘Wow. And the Daleks are trying to get their hands on it?’
‘It's not the sort of thing you want lying around. If someone else gets their hands on it, it could be their doom. If they get it first, they can either use, preserve it, or destroy it. Anyway you look at it, it isn't causing them a problem anymore.’
The Doctor turned and saw a lone figure in white dashing across the square. 'Hello, it looks like the show is about to start.’ At first there was no sign of pursuit. Then from a dozen different alleys swordsmen ran, converging on the heavily outnumbered fugitive Ace identified as the girl she had rescued earlier.
‘Come on, Ace!’ Ace turned and saw the Doctor sprinting across the wide plaza, Sir Arthur puffing gamely behind. Ace hesitated and dashed after them on an intercept course with the girl.
The young woman turned and saw them approaching her. She hesitated, torn by indecision, unsure of which presented the greater threat - the swordsmen behind her, or the trio in front of her. In the pause the Doctor reached her, and grabbed her hand.
‘We're friends here to help you. You can trust us or face them,’ he pointed to the approaching swordsmen, ‘but decide quickly.’ The young woman nodded, a glint of fire returning to her eyes. Marking her agreement the Doctor turned to Ace. ‘We need a diversion. Something to slow the hunters down.’
‘I thought you'd never ask!’ exclaimed Ace, gleefully rummaging in her rucksack. The Doctor had no time to consider the wisdom of his request. Grabbing the girl's hand he dashed towards the doorway, Sir Arthur doggedly jogging behind.
Meanwhile Ace had thrown the first of her ever-helpful cans of Nitro-9 in front of the approaching horde. As the ground erupted before them, they fell to earth stunned. Satisfied with her handiwork, Ace turned and sprinted after the Doctor, pausing only to roll another canister of Nitro-9 along the smooth surface of the plaza. There was a satisfying thump as she plunged into the twilight world of the halls of antiquity.
A startled clerk looked up at her dishevelled appearance and looked down at her with contempt. She slammed the door, locking it, and gazed around looking for the Doctor and his charges. She spied him entering a little used service door as a sword slashed through the door, mere inches away. Abandoning the support of the door, she made a bee-line for the service door, as the main entrance started to tremble under repeated heavy blows. She was barely halfway across when she heard the clerk scream and a rolling rumble as the door collapsed.
It was a race for the door as the Arabs spilled into the expansive hallway. A dagger whistled past Ace. Glancing back she saw one of her pursuers drawing another one. As he drew back, she launched herself into a rolling dive across the slippery marble floor. The dagger clattered against a pillar and fell harmlessly to the ground.
Ace slipped through the service door. A corridor stretched away, with doors and corridors branching out on either side. To the side a staircase spiralled upwards into the unknown. She was racked by a moment's indecision before noticing a few drops of blood on the steps. Concerned, she climbed the stairs, as below the swordsmen began to hack at the service door Ace had locked behind her.
She emerged onto a balcony. Her run took her perilously close to the edge and she experienced a moment of dizziness as she looked across the rooftops of Memphis. Reasserting herself, she looked around and saw the Doctor leaning over the crumpled form of the young woman. Dashing over she caught a few phrases of what she was saying.
‘...I was recruited by Rama to be an acolyte. By helping him in his performance in London, I was able to get promoted from neophyte to disciple. It was only later I learned that he had gone to England to rescue the Stone of Amunra, which had been stolen by unbelievers. However I then discovered that my real destiny was to be the sacrifice required for Rahtep's awakening. I escaped but they followed me. It was after your friend saved me that I received my injury. I was careless and one of the brethren saw me.’
‘Kala, why are they chasing you so hard?’ asked the Doctor.
‘I stole the Stone of Amunra.’ From her tattered dress she produced a smoky grey orb.
The Doctor took it in his hand and examined it. ‘Definitely a Dalek Powersphere. Ace, you had better look after this. It is too dangerous for her to carry it while she's injured.’
Ace looked down at the woman the Doctor called Kala. Blood was slowly seeping into the robe she wore, and staining it a bright scarlet. Ace glanced up at the Doctor and saw the strangest expression on his face. It was a look of deep sorrow, almost tragedy. For some reason it chilled Ace to the bone.
‘Doctor, they're coming,’ Sir Arthur called from the doorway.
‘Keep them busy for a few minutes. I think I've got our escape ticket.’ Ace started to search through her rucksack again. Triumphantly she pulled out a steel link ladder and her last can of Nitro-9. She turned to Kala, who was struggling to her feet. ‘Take this. If you get into trouble, pull the pin out, throw and run for cover. You'll have the biggest explosion this side of Hiroshima.’
Kala gazed in intense concentration at the canister. ‘An explosive device. I have heard of such objects. The British possess them, and Rama says they are the work of the Devil, but it is a gift I will treasure.’ She secreted it in the folds of her robe.
Wasting no more time Ace secured the ladder and spilled it over the edge of the balcony. Behind her, Sir Arthur was valiantly duelling, forstaying the swordsmen with great thrusts of his marlinspike. Seeing Kala safely on her way down, Ace ran to join Sir Arthur as the Doctor began his descent.
Despite their combined efforts, the odds were hopeless. Slowly the pair were being pushed back. As she fought, Ace found herself entangled. Slowly she was lifted up, caught by innumerable hands. Sir Arthur saw her plight but realized the hopelessness of rescue. It was all he could do to fend off the attacking Arabs for long enough to allow him to climb down the ladder.
When he reached the ground Kala and the Doctor were waiting with concern.
‘What happened to Ace?’
‘I'm afraid she was captured.’
‘Quickly Kala, where will they take her?’
‘The Temple of Amunra. They are holding the ceremony of awakening tonight. Ace will be taken along with the other chosen imprisoned by Rama.’
‘Where is this temple?’
‘An hour's ride by camel. We can steal them from the market.’
‘Steal camels? You're almost as bad as Ace. Come on Sir Arthur - we've got a date with Amunra!’