The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey
‘Three hundred years?’ Romana asked.
Chronotis looked up from serving tea and crackers to his guests. ‘Yes, my dear.’
‘And in the same set of rooms?’
‘Ever since I retired from Gallifrey,’ the Professor confirmed.
‘Didn't anybody notice?’
‘One of the delights of the older Cambridge Colleges,’ Chronotis told her. ‘Everyone is so discreet.’ He turned to the Doctor. ‘Now, Doctor, young fellow, what can I do for you?’
The Doctor frowned. ‘What can you do for me? You mean, “What can I do for you?” You sent for me.’
Chronotis looked perplexed. ‘Sent for you?’
‘Yes. We got your signal,’ the Doctor explained.
‘Signal? What signal?’
The Doctor bit into a cracker. ‘Romana, didn't we pick up a signal from the Professor? Would we come and see him as soon as possible?’ he asked through a mouthful of crumbs.
‘Yes,’ Romana nodded. ‘We came straight away.’
Chronotis shook his head. ‘I never sent you a signal... but it's splendid to see you anyway. Why don't you just relax and enjoy yourselves?’ he suggested.
The Doctor was deep in thought, pondering the mysterious origin of the signal.
‘Have another cracker,’ said the Professor, offering him the plate.
‘I will, Professor,’ replied the Doctor. ‘If you didn't send the signal, who did?’
A shadow fell across Wilkin's notice board, and the diminutive porter turned to see a tall imposing figure standing beside him in a silver cape and a wide-brimmed hat. He was looking into the college grounds, apparently searching for something.
‘You,’ said the stranger without looking at Wilkin.
Wilkin took an instant dislike to the arrogance of the man, and ignored him, turning back to his notices.
‘You!’ demanded the stranger, more threateningly this time.
‘Were you addressing me?’ asked Wilkin with evident distaste.
‘I want Chronotis.’
‘Professor Chronotis,’ Wilkin corrected him disapprovingly.
‘Where is he?’
‘He will not want to be disturbed. He is with the Doctor. A very old...’
The stranger glared at him, but Wilkin was undaunted.
‘... A very old friend,’ he told the man meaningfully.
The stranger continued to stare into the distance. Then without another word, he abruptly turned and walked off, away from the College.
Wilkin scowled at his retreating back.
Chris Parsons finished setting up his microscope, and then turned to the book, lying open on the bench. He picked up a razor blade and carefully sliced a sliver of paper from the edge of the page to examine under the microscope. Or rather, he attempted to do so, as the blade made no more impression on the paper than it would on the surface of a diamond.
Putting the blade aside, Chris picked up the book and carried it over to his spectrographic analyser. It was clear that the pages were made of no ordinary substance, and in order to learn anything about the substance's molecular structure, he would have to study its radiation emissions. The spectrograph could interpret these emissions as separate wavelengths forming a spectrum, and the results would indicate the atomic make-up of the pages.
Chris placed the book into the spectrograph with the spine folded back so that only one page was actually being examined. When he was satisfied that everything was set up correctly, he switched on the analyser. After a few minutes of humming, the spectrograph suddenly gave off a loud bang, and began to belch smoke. Chris immediately ripped the plug out of the wall, and began to fan away the smoke. To his relief, the book was undamaged.
‘Wait!’ exclaimed Professor Chronotis suddenly.
The Doctor stopped in the middle of biting into a cracker, and Romana paused in the process of lifting her tea cup to her mouth. ‘What for?’ inquired Romana.
‘I've just had an idea about who might have sent that message,’ the Professor explained.
‘Who?’ Romana wanted to know.
The Doctor was confused. ‘I thought you said you didn't?’
‘Yes, I know,’ admitted the Professor apologetically. ‘Memory's getting a bit touchy of late. Doesn't like to be prodded about too much.’ He tapped the side of his head meaningfully. ‘But my dear old things,’ he added, ‘it must be ages since I sent it.’
‘I said you'd got the time wrong, Doctor,’ said Romana accusingly.
‘I know, but you're always saying that,’ the Doctor retorted.
‘You're always getting the time wrong!’
During this exchange the Professor returned to the kitchen. Noticing his absence, the Doctor called, ‘Professor?’
‘Yes?’ came the reply from the kitchen.
‘What was it about?’
‘What was what about?’
‘The message,’ the Doctor reminded him patiently.
The Professor came back into the study. ‘I don't know. You've seen it more recently than I have.’
‘Was it to do with the voices?’ prompted the Doctor gently.
‘Well, when we were on the river, I heard this strange sound, a sort of strange babble of inhuman voices. Didn't you, Romana?’
‘Yes,’ his companion confirmed.
‘Oh, just undergraduates talking to each other I expect,’ said the Professor vaguely. ‘I've tried to have it banned, but no.’
‘No,’ disagreed the Doctor. ‘It wasn't anything like that at all. It was a sound like a lot of people... or ghosts. Very quietly...’
‘Screaming,’ concluded Romana.
‘Yes,’ the Doctor agreed.
The Professor shrugged. ‘Overwrought imaginings, Doctor,’ he said dismissively. ‘No, I remember what it was...’ He fell silent, seemingly preoccupied with an unpleasant memory.
The Doctor leaned forward. ‘What?’
‘A delicate matter, slightly. It was about a book...’
The Doctor's expression fell as he looked around at the hundreds of books lining the room. ‘A book?’
‘Ah,’ said the Doctor, and took another sip of tea.
Wearing a protective apron, Chris watched from behind the shield window of his old X-ray machine as he took a plate of the book. His eyes widened with astonishment as the book started to glow, and not wanting to repeat the experience with the spectrograph, he hastily switched the machine off, and carefully approached the book. Tentatively, he reached out a hand to touch it, and then snatched it away again. The book was definitely hot, almost as if it had been drawing off radiation from the machine...
With a flourish of his silver cape, the stranger emerged from an alleyway into a busy main street. He stood by a shop window and observed the bustling life around him.
A middle-aged man in a brown jacket and tie emerged from the shop clutching his keys. He went over to his car, parked at the roadside, and unlocked the door.
‘I say?’ ventured the stranger, coming up beside the man.
The man in the brown jacket turned to face him. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Yes, perhaps you can.’ The stranger proceeded to convince the man that he urgently required a lift out of town and would be very grateful if he could give him a ride.
The man readily agreed, and opened the passenger door for the stranger, who got in and placed the carpetbag on his lap. The man climbed in behind the wheel, started the car, and drove a short way down the street.
The car came to a sudden halt with a squeal of brakes. Inside, the carpetbag was open and empty on the stranger's lap. The bag's previous occupant, the large silver sphere that the stranger had taken from Think Tank, was attached to the driver's forehead. His body lay slumped back in the seat, his mouth open in a silent scream.
The sphere detached itself, and the stranger hauled the driver out of his seat and dumped him in the back of the car. He took the man's place at the wheel. The sphere settled on the seat beside him, a babble of inhuman voices coming from it. The stranger stared at the unfamiliar controls, concentrating his mind on the sounds from the sphere. Moments later, he put the car in gear and smoothly accelerated away with the confidence and skill of an experienced driver.
As the car drove past St Cedd's College on the road out of town, the sphere continued to babble.
‘Did you just hear voices?’ asked the Professor. He was standing on a stool, taking down books from the top shelf and handing them to Romana.
‘Professor, I think that...’ the Doctor paused. ‘I just heard voices,’ he said in a hushed tone. ‘Romana, did you just hear voices?’
‘Yes. Very faint this time. From...’ Romana paused, trying to place their origin.
‘Yes?’ persisted the Doctor.
‘Inside my head?’ suggested Romana.
‘That's what I thought,’ added the Professor helpfully.
‘Is it anything to do with that book, Professor?’ asked the Doctor.
‘What? Oh, no, no, no,’ Chronotis shook his head adamantly. ‘That's just a book that I... well, accidentally brought from Gallifrey with me, and I thought it was about time it, er...’
‘From Gallifrey?’ exclaimed Romana. ‘You brought a book from Gallifrey to Cambridge?’
‘Well, just a few knickknacks. You know how I love my books, Doctor,’ the Professor said cagily.
‘Professor,’ the Doctor reminded him, ‘you just said you brought it by accident.’
Chronotis shrugged. ‘An oversight. I overlooked the fact that I had decided to bring it.’
The Doctor frowned, but said nothing.
‘It was just for study, you know,’ continued the Professor. ‘But as I'm now getting very old, I thought...’
‘You thought that perhaps I'd take it straight back to Gallifrey for you?’ suggested the Doctor.
‘Well now that I'm retired, I'm not allowed to have a TARDIS,’ replied the Professor evasively.
The Doctor drew a deep breath. ‘Professor, I don't want to be critical, but I will. It's terribly risky to take books from Gallifrey. I mean, they could be so dangerous in the wrong hands.’ He looked at the Professor, expecting a reply.
Chronotis meekly nodded.
‘Yes,’ said the Doctor.
Chris dialled a number on the telephone in his laboratory. He had initially considered calling the Head of Physics, but then decided to get a friend's second opinion before he went bothering Doctor Elizabeth Shaw with his discovery. He waited a few moments for the phone to be answered.
‘Keightley? Hey, yes it's Chris. Listen, I've just... What? Yes, I'm fine... Listen, the most amazing thing. I've got this strange book. It's got a molecular structure unlike anything I've seen... Yes, I said book. It's like nothing on Earth. And I think I mean that literally... Extra-terrestrial... No, I'm not mad. Listen, I've done everything: x-rays, spectrograph, you name it. You don't have to believe anything till you've seen it yourself... Yeah, come on over... Great. See you soon.’
Chris put down the phone, and sat watching the book intently, as if expecting it to vanish at any moment.
‘“On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok...” I've read that,’ the Doctor observed. He passed the book the Professor had handed him on to Romana.
Romana glanced at the author's name on the spine. ‘Saul Bellow,’ she read, and added the novel, The Victim, to a steadily growing pile of books on a table.
The Doctor was passed another book. He opened it and began to read the first line as he had done with the previous one. ‘“Once upon a time...” - read that!’ he exclaimed.
The Professor handed him a third book, and once again the Doctor read from it. ‘Aha!’ he exclaimed. ‘“... And in the ancient days of Rassilon, five great principles were laid down. Can you remember what they were, children?”’
‘It's just a Gallifreyan nursery book,’ observed Romana, taking it from him. ‘Our Planet's Story - I had that when I was a Time Tot.’
‘Yes, it's really good,’ said the Doctor sincerely.
Romana gave him a disbelieving look.
‘That's just a memento,’ said the Professor distractedly. ‘Not the right book at all. Where is it?’ he asked himself, a note of worry creeping into his voice. He pulled another book from the shelves. ‘Is this the one? No, not that one... Where is it? I know it's here somewhere.’
‘Professor, Professor,’ said the Doctor suddenly. ‘How many books did you bring, for heaven's sake?’
‘Oh just the odd two or seven...’ admitted the old man. ‘But there's only one that was in any way...’
‘Dangerous?’ suggested the Doctor.
A short distance out of the town of Cambridge, the stranger drove the car off the road and up a short gravel track that ended in a gate leading on to a large field. He parked the car out of sight under a cluster of willow trees and then walked out across the field.
Suddenly he began climbing into the air, as if walking up an invisible slope. As he did so, his body began to disappear from view as well, beginning with the top of his head and ending with his feet.
Within seconds, there was no trace of him ever having been there.
The Professor was now on the floor, feverishly sorting through a mountain of volumes scattered about him. The Doctor and Romana were assisting by neatly stacking the books as he discarded them.
‘What does it look like?’ asked Romana at last. ‘What's it called?’
The Professor looked up briefly. ‘The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey.’
The Doctor's mouth dropped open. ‘The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey?’ he repeated.
‘Er, yes,’ replied the Professor, unperturbed. ‘A red book, about five by seven.’
‘Professor, how did that book get out of the Panopticon Archives?’ the Doctor asked gravely.
Chronotis looked distinctly uncomfortable. ‘Well, what I did, you see, was I... I just took it.’
‘Took it!’ exclaimed the Doctor.
‘Well, there's no one interested in ancient history on Gallifrey any longer. And I thought that, possibly, certain things would be safer with me...’
‘And were they?’ inquired the Doctor meaningfully.
‘Yes, in principle,’ replied Professor Chronotis.
‘Good. “Delicate matter”, Professor? “Slightly”,’ the Doctor quoted him. He helped the Professor to his feet, put an arm around the old man's shoulders and leaned in close to his ear. ‘Professor, that book dates back to the days of Rassilon.’
‘Does it?’ said the Professor ingenuously. ‘Oh, er, yes, it would do. Yes,’ he agreed reluctantly.
‘It's one of the Artifacts,’ continued the Doctor.
‘Is it indeed?’
The Doctor was losing patience with Chronotis. ‘Oh, come on, Professor, you know that perfectly well. And you also know perfectly well that Rassilon had powers and secrets that even we don't fully understand. You have no idea what might have been hidden in that book!’
‘Well, there's not much chance of anyone else understanding it then, is there?’ suggested the Professor brightly.
‘I only hope you're right. I think we'd better find it.’ The Doctor left the Professor to continue his search, and went over to Romana, who had climbed up on the stool and was replacing books on the shelves. ‘Romana!’ the Doctor called up to her. ‘Little red book...’
‘Five by seven,’ she answered.
‘Good, good,’ said the Doctor approvingly.
‘Could be green...’ the Professor added suddenly.
The stranger entered the gleaming white interior of the spacecraft he had piloted to Earth from the Think Tank station. The exterior hull was at present shielded, so that it appeared invisible from the outside.
The stranger walked along a passageway until he reached the ship's bridge. The chamber was empty apart from a small amount of instrumentation and a couple of couches. The ship was quiet and deserted.
‘Feed me!’ he demanded suddenly.
By his side, a beautifully prepared serving trolley laden with equally delightful food materialised from nowhere. The man sat down in one of the couches.
His head was bathed in a gentle aura for a few moments, then the aura disappeared and the man opened his eyes, refreshed and revitalised. He took some food from the trolley and began to eat.
‘I have confirmed the location of the book,’ he said. ‘It shall soon be mine.’
‘Congratulations, my Lord,’ a soft feminine voice replied. The voice was that of the ship itself.
‘Tell me of the one called “The Doctor”,’ the man ordered.
A holographic projection sprang up in front of him, displaying a rapid series of images and information about the Doctor.
As the projection played, the man's eyes blinked very fast, assimilating all of the data. When the recording stopped, he paused for a moment, deep in thought. ‘He has no more power than the others,’ the man said eventually. ‘Only one has the power I seek, and when I have the book that power shall be mine. Get me the Carrier Ship.’
The projection flickered and resolved into a new image.
‘All goes well,’ said the man, addressing the projection. ‘I shall be with you very soon, and then let the Universe prepare itself for me!’
The projection displayed a creature straight from a nightmare. It was roughly humanoid, with glowing, fiery red triangular scales. Its face seemed to be composed of lumps of coal with burning eyes. ‘Everything is ready,’ the creature hissed.