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'My own adaptation of Block Transfer Computation. Since we last met, Adric's mathematical powers have been put to lively use.'
'Deadly, you mean,' said the Doctor acidly.
The Master bowed his head to acknowledge the compliment. 'That too. You were wise to deter your young friends from approaching-those Hadron power lines are lethal to the touch.' He came towards them with the easy confidence of one who holds the trump card, for his eye was on Adric, the powerless victim of the cruel mesh that only he controlled.
His overweening arrogance was chilling, but oddly it gave Nyssa the faintest grounds for hope. For arrogance is a kind of blindness, and evil that is less than perfect can be foiled. She had seen it happen often in the great days of the Traken Union.
The Doctor in his centuries of wisdom knew this too, knew it in his blood, and hoped that the Master's short-sighted vision, which now focused greedily on himself as the prize for all these centuries of waiting, would not notice Ruther behind him stooping stealthily to pick up the fallen poker.
'All right, Master,' said the Doctor, stepping forward to meet him. 'It's me you want. Let the boy go.' Ruther had the poker now, and was approaching silently out of the Master's line of sight.
'Yes, the trap is sprung,' crowed the Master, moving towards a small panel now revealed at the base of the web.
'We can begin to dispose of all the bait.'
Tegan realised he meant Adric, and caught her breath.
The slight sound must have distracted the Master, for he turned his head, and this enabled him to see, out of the corner of his eye, Ruther running towards him across the flagstones with the poker held high. In an instant his black-gloved hand was at the panel, and even as the poker began its swift flight downwards towards his head, the Master slammed his finger against one of the b.u.t.tons.
With a hollow sucking sound, like liquid vanishing into a funnel, the determined, precise figure of Ruther became empty air, and was gone.
The Doctor did not attempt to disguise his revulsion.
'There was no need for that.'
The Master's answer was a sneer. 'I populated Castrovalva. I will dispose of these creatures as I choose.'
And he threw a meaningful glance towards Mergrave.
Nyssa chose that moment to touch Tegan's hand. While all eyes had been on Ruther she had noticed Shardovan looking down from the gallery, and watched him as he climbed over the bal.u.s.trade onto the long beam that ran the length of the room. Tegan followed her companion's gaze and saw the Librarian walking towards the tapestry on his precarious perch.
The Doctor was matching the Master's commandeering tone with his own particular brand of defiance. 'They may be the by-product of your evil invention, Master. But they are people. They have their own will, like Adric. Unless you let every one of them go free... now...'
'Yes, Doctor?' enquired the Master, knowing full well the Doctor had no bargaining power.
Up until this minute all the Doctor's concentration had been focused on facing up to the Master, and trying to conceal the erosion of his mind that was now being accelerated by the proximity of the web in its raw state. But the tall dark-garbed figure of Shardovan on the beam above had begun to move quickly, recklessly along the beam, and the movement was impossible to miss.
The Doctor caught sight of him, and looking up, shouted: 'Shardovan, get back!'
The Master craned his neck towards the beam.
Shardovan was running now, so fast it seemed impossible he should not at any minute miss his foothold and fall to the flagstones below. Only some powerful intention kept him in balance, and the Master was the first to guess what it was. He cried out: 'Don't touch the web. It's holding Castrovalva in balance. No! You do not have the will!'
'You made us, Man of Evil,' the Librarian shouted back.
'But we are free...' These were his last words. With deadly deliberation, Shardovan dived from the beam straight into the glittering filligree that held Adric prisoner.
Streaks of brilliant steel-blue sparks exploded into the room. Over the deafening sizzle of the depleting voltages the Master's voice rose to a shriek. 'No! The web! My web!'
He crossed his arms to protect his face, backing away from the pyrotechnics. The Doctor knew as well as his evil adversary the dangers of radiation from the Hadron power lines but his thought was for Adric. Shouting to the two girls to stay back, he ran headlong into the smouldering wreckage of the web, disappearing into a storm of sparks and smoke.
The Master shoved Tegan, Nyssa and Mergrave aside and ran to the opposite side of the room. Tegan's main concern was for the Doctor, but the wall where the tapestry had been was completely obscured by smoke, and there was nothing to see. She turned to watch the Master, and was greeted by the extraordinary sight of him climbing into the fireplace and pulling down a sort of iron grid concealed in the chimney, closing himself off from the room.
'He's mad!' she exclaimed under her breath. 'What's he doing?'
But she knew the answer even before Nyssa replied, for the fireplace began to shimmer and become translucent.
'Escaping,' said Nyssa. 'It's his TARDIS.' They did not wait to watch it vanish completely, for there was a shout from the Doctor, and the billows of smoke parted to reveal him carrying the limp body of Adric in his arms. Tegan and Nyssa ran to him.
The Doctor put the boy down in a corner away from the smoke. 'Is he all right,' Tegan asked. The Doctor shrugged.
'We'll have to see.'
'And Shardovan?' Nyssa wanted to know.
'He gave his life to help us,' the Doctor said simply.
Tegan looked across to where the fireplace had been, and now nothing but a blank wall remained. 'The Master's escaped.'
'So must we,' said the Doctor grimly. 'Without that web local s.p.a.ce will begin to fold up infinitely into itself. Come on.'
He gathered up Adric in his arms, and indicated to Tegan that she should take care of Mergrave, who was standing alone and dazed in the residue of the settling smoke. As the five of them headed for the door the selfish idea crossed Tegan's mind that Adric was going to be enough of a liability, without adding the burden of responsibility for Mergrave. She was able to dismiss it as quickly as it entered her head, but it wasn't until they had stepped out onto the terrace that she realised how very short-sighted the thought had been.
She looked again and rubbed her eyes. The geography that had been insidiously deceptive before was now blindingly baffling. A shuffled mosaic of the Castrovalva they knew, fractured into tiny shards of s.p.a.ce, scintillated in front of their eyes. This was not some confused picture, a viewer screen gone wrong, the image in a mirror pummelled into fragments-it was the very s.p.a.ce they occupied.
'How do we get anywhere in all this?' cried Nyssa. Even the Doctor sounded alarmed when he said: 'Stay close together. There must be a way to get back to the TARDIS.'
But Mergrave was a Castrovalvan, and he could see.
Without saying a word he reached out his hands for Nyssa, Tegan and the Doctor and began to move into the melee of scrambled s.p.a.ce.
Whether it was in hours or merely seconds it was hard to say, for time itself seemed to have joined in the mad dance of the dimensions, but at last they came to an archway from which steps ascended at a ludicrous angle.
Mergrave pointed along them. 'This way.' It seemed to Tegan that, as they climbed, the steps rotated beneath them until their feet were higher than their heads. This fragment of architecture was like some great staircase that arched across the sky, and they were attached to the underside, mere flies walking across a ceiling. She looked down, or rather up, into a well of receding perspectives, and glimpsed on the other side of the steps the swish of white skirts as a gaggle of Castrovalvan women ran past.
Mergrave named the places he saw as they pa.s.sed them, although he confessed that even to his eyes the topology of Castrovalva was becoming obscurer by the minute. They came inevitably back into the square again, and recognised fragments of the fountain.
Adric was stirring into consciousness. The Doctor sat down on the fountain's edge and put his handkerchief into the water to cool the boy's forehead. And then he stopped dead, for through the spray he could make out the entire outline of the fireplace that had dematerialised from the Portreeve's chamber.
The Doctor whistled softly. 'The Master's TARDIS! He couldn't take off! s.p.a.ce is squeezing in too fast.'
'Then we're all trapped,' Nyssa exclaimed.
The Doctor shook his head. 'It can't collapse without creating a breach somewhere. All we have to do is keep our eyes open, and hope we spot it when it happens.' When he said 'we' the Doctor really meant Mergrave, for his own eyes now registered nothing but postage-stamp-sized pieces of s.p.a.ce, turning and whirling all around him.
Mergrave's reply was not rea.s.suring. 'Forgive me, Doctor. There is nothing but confusion in my eyes now.'
But just then the Doctor felt a stirring beside him.
Adric sat up, and then stood confidently on the fountain edge surveying the square through blinking eyes. 'It's all right,' said the boy. 'I can see!'
'Of course,' cried the Doctor, jumping to his feet. 'Adric created it! Which way, Adric?'
'What am I looking for, Doctor?'
'Anything you don't recognise as Castrovalva,' said the Doctor. 'It should start to break up any minute, and when it does...' But even before he could finish, a great rumbling shook the ground. It was terrifying, an earthquake and a sky-quake combined, as the broken fragments of Castrovalva rattled like loose pennies in a jar and began to tumble in upon them.
But suddenly Adric was pointing and shouting. 'There, Doctor, there!' To his eyes the town square was splitting down the middle, as if being torn apart by giant hands.
And in the centre of the earth's dark turmoil was a distant patch of placid, tree-fringed sky, the hillside beyond Castrovalva.
At the Doctor's crisp command they ran towards it, Adric, Mergrave, Nyssa, Tegan and the Doctor himself, hanging onto each other's hands to keep together. They heard a shrill cry behind them and glanced back to see the Master following on their heels, pursued by a raging crowd of wild Castrovalvan faces.
Mergrave let go of the Doctor's hand and fell back.
'Mergrave! What are you doing?' The Doctor had to shout, for the rumbling noise had become tumultuous.
'Goodbye, Doctor!' shouted Mergrave, turning to join his fellow Castrovalvans as they surged around the Master.
The Doctor hesitated, but Adric was pulling at his hand, urging him out into the daylight that lay beyond the fast-crumbling tunnel-mouth. 'Doctor! Quickly-before it closes again.'
Nyssa and Tegan had already tumbled out into the long cool gra.s.s at the foot of the huge hill on which Castrovalva stood. 'Doctor! Adric! Please, hurry!' Tegan shouted.
Above them they could see the diminished figures of their two companions standing at the heaving mouth of the tunnel, and couldn't understand why they didn't turn and jump before the earth engulfed them.
The Doctor took no pleasure in that last glimpse of his hated enemy, the Master. It was easy to forget that this despicable monster, now victim of his own trap, had been born all those centuries ago in the full dignity of Time Lordliness. Now all his strength and all his ingenuity could not inch him one step nearer the closing cave mouth, or free him from the grabbing Castrovalvans who were his own creation. The forest of flailing arms, now black from the boiling, heaving earth, pulled at him, tearing at his flesh and dragging him back into the rapidly fragmenting vista of the evil town he had dreamed into reality.
A sudden lurch of the earth sent the Doctor and Adric tumbling down towards the two girls on the gra.s.s below. A blinding wind blew in their eyes, tearing down the foliage around them. Then came a deep stillness. They stood up and looked around. The void in the hillside had closed invisibly. They raised their eyes to the hilltop where flags had fluttered on the white turrets, but there was nothing above the vegetation line but the skeletons of a few desolate bushes.
Only the total quiet, the absence of birdsong, as if the planet were in mourning for its lost town, served to remind them Castrovalva had ever existed.
'So it's gone,' said Nyssa when they came to the edge of the wood. 'Gone forever.'
'And the Master?' Adric asked.
'Let's hope so,' replied the Doctor, barely suppressing a shudder. And then, taking a deep breath and lifting his face towards the sunshine he began to run. 'One, two...
One, two... Keep up there.'
The Doctor and his companions kept it up in fact all the way back to the gra.s.sy knoll above the stream where the TARDIS still stood, jammed at an angle into the ground.
They emerged from the bushes, mud-bespattered and weary after their long trek, but with their lungs filled with good clean air.
'All right, rest,' the Doctor called out rather officiously, bending his knees and stretching. 'Deep breaths, everybody.' Adric, who was still a little pallid after his long ordeal, threw himself down on the gra.s.s and stared up with grat.i.tude at the open blue sky. 'Well done, Adric,' said the Doctor. 'Nothing like a good run to clear away the-er- cobwebs, eh?'
'Why couldn't we just have walked?' asked Tegan.
The Doctor winked. 'You've got to be fit to crew the TARDIS. A trim time-ship and a ship-shape team.' He tailed off, catching sight of the lop-sided vehicle for the first time. He walked over towards it and leant over at an angle to size it up. 'Who exactly landed this?'
'I did, Doctor,' Tegan confessed. Personally she was proud of the landing, but she could see that from the Doctor's somewhat tilted point of view, it was less than perfect. All the Doctor said was: 'Hmmm...' which left her guessing about his mood as they all followed him in thoughtful silence towards the ship.
He held the door open, and they trooped inside one by one. Tegan was the last to go through, and the Doctor said quietly to her, with a very wicked grin: 'Do you mind if I drive?' He hadn't the heart to explain to her yet that she had never really flown the TARDIS at all-that the whole of the voyage to Castrovalva had been pre-programmed by the evil mind of the Master, who never left anything to chance.
The blue doors closed, and with a familiar chuffing sound the TARDIS grew pale, and then translucent, and was gone. The mound of gra.s.s where it had stood was left with only the faintest impression of its shape, and as the chuffing died away into the cosmic distance the first birds began to sing once more.