by Casey J
‘What do you know of my time?’ the masked man asked cautiously.
‘Everything,’ replied the Doctor bluntly. ‘Where is it?’
‘Your pig-faced, pig-brained Peking Homunculus?’
Troubled, the robed figure crossed to a side table on which sat a chessboard laid out with ornately-carved pieces. ‘You know of that?’ asked the throaty voice.
The Doctor nodded, reaching out to one of the pieces.
‘How?’ The figure automatically countered the move.
The Doctor moved another piece without even looking at the board, his gaze firmly fixed on his opponent. ‘I was with the Filipino army at the final advance on Reykjavik,’ he explained calmly.
The Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas – in other words, the Filipino Army – was preparing to wage World War Six.
The Philippines had been a staunch ally of the Supreme Alliance back to the very dawn of the geopolitical states in the twentieth centuries. Three millennia later, the bonds between the two states were as strong as ever. Their military might, originally created to combat internal revolutionaries and maintain the peace by superior firepower, the Filipino army had become a massive fleet of mercenaries, and the entire Philippine economy and industry had been geared into one colossal war machine. For the last century they had been mainly focused on maintaining the refugee towns and relocating scavengers fleeing the encroaching glaciers – but now it was back to doing what they did best.
For the past forty months they had been cooling their heels both metaphorically and literally over the ice floes that had buried most of North Asia. A new city state was in the process of construction in the Verkhoyansk mountain range where pre-existing habitation was already equipped to deal with freezing conditions.
But now the massed fleets of battle cruisers swept out towards the Icelandic territories, battling the screaming ice storms and reefs of ionized fallout as they moved in to position at a speed of thousands of kilometres a second. Each vessel boasted the symbol of the Filipino Army – a circle split into three triangular segments, red with a golden lion, blue with a brown eagle, and white with yellow stars.
The fleet was spearheaded by a triumvirate of all-terrain combat rockets, resembling evil-looking lawn darts tipped with jagged skewers that could puncture and collapse any force wall that tried to impede their progress.
The flagship Defensor, named after a notorious Tenyente Heneral who lived and killed a thousand years ago, was buzzing with activity as the war fleet moved across the hemispherical border between Alliances.
Delfin Irriberi, Commanding Heneral of the Filipino Armed Forces, swept imperiously onto the bridge of the Defensor. The flight deck was a circular chamber decorated in gold and blue, lined with instrument consoles and computer terminals, with read-out hologram displays hovering at head-height at numerous points. The status of the army fleet and the outside world was constantly being revised and updated every second that passed.
Flight crew and technicians worked feverishly as blue-uniformed soldiers stood at the exits.
Irriberi was tall, broad-shouldered and straight-backed. His dark hair was scraped back into a severe pony tail and his khaki uniform was plain with the only decoration the indented chevrons on his collar to denote his rank.
‘Status update?’ he called.
Brigadyer Heneral Belinda Sotello, a short and rotund woman with severe cheekbones, glanced up from her position. ‘All cobalt projectiles ready for launching,’ she said, raising her voice over the perpetual loop of the national anthem Chosen Land which provided the ambient background muzak.
Irriberi nodded. ‘Excellent. Our arsenal must be able to be deployed the second the official declaration is made,’ he announced.
A Kalakan officer older than both Sotello and Irriberi combined stepped forward. ‘Heneral Irriberi, the Mother Superious has requested an immediate audience with you?’
The soldier looked up in surprise. He knew the Mother Superious was on Earth this year, but certainly wasn’t expecting her to be interested in a Filipino war fleet. What did those wretched clerics want with Earth anyway? Didn’t they know everyone in the Solar System was heaven-neutral nowadays? He reminded himself that the reach of the Church of the Papal Mainframe covered almost every known galaxy and was as much a military empire as a religious order...
‘Does she wish to join the campaign?’ he asked dryly.
‘A good priest never abandons her flock – nor a general her troops.’
Irriberi turned to see the Papal Mainframe herself striding onto the bridge as though she owned it and the soldiers were barely-tolerated guests. Her arrogance made Irriberi grimaced slightly, as did her perfume.
The Mother Superious was every bit as regal as her name implied. She was a medium size woman of indeterminate age with her midnight-black hair coiled into an elaborate beehive, dressed in a glittering low-cut gown (or rather, a holographic simulation of a glittering low-cut gown as the rules of her order demanded). Her large grey eyes were framed by purple face-paint that signified her rank in the Church by tribal markings as old as civilization.
‘As you are no doubt aware, we are busy at the moment,’ snapped the Heneral. ‘Just what is it that has brought you here?’
‘We returned to Earth to help sanctify the new union between alliances at the birthplace of the species,’ retorted the Cleric Leader, moving across the flight deck with a faked rustle of sequined silk. ‘Yet within hours of our arrival the accord has not only been abandoned but World War Six has been declared. It is said that Magnus Greel himself has swapped sides. And now billions of people are about to perish.’
‘Then you can pray for their souls elsewhere,’ grunted Irriberi contemptuously.
‘Things are happening too quickly,’ the Mother Superious went on, as though he had not spoken. ‘It is possible the situation will resolve itself as quickly as it became undone – but that cannot happen with four billion corpses left steaming in the ice!’
‘Such matters are not within my purview,’ Irriberi replied with an insincere smile. ‘If you think the diplomats and Commissioners can avert conflict, than you should be bothering them instead of us. We have a war to win.’
‘You mean a slaughter to carry out.’
The old soldier smirked. ‘Only if they’re stupid enough not to surrender.’
‘The Icelanders are a proud people.’
‘No, Mother Superious,’ Irriberi corrected. ‘They were a proud people. Soon they will be extinct, a matter for historians and intellectuals to argue over to justify their jobs. How long until our arrival, Pulimagat?’ he demanded, turning to the first lieutenant.
The Pulimagat looked up from her displays. ‘The fleet will be in position for maximum strategic advantage in two hours, six minutes and thirty-four seconds.’
‘Direct flight would get us there within half an hour,’ Sotello pointed out.
Irriberi shook his head. ‘We must approach on bearing zero-seven-three to enter through the weakest part of their detection grid. Besides, no lackeys of those cruel animals can outflank us before bombardment begins in two hours.’
‘I ask you to reconsider. After all, there will be little opposition from the Icelanders,’ the Mother Superious pointed out disapprovingly.
‘All the better,’ replied Irriberi with rising satisfaction. ‘We shall use limited tactical missiles until their determination crumbles.’
‘And if they stay true to their creeds?’
‘Then we shall destroy Reykjavik, Mother Superious. We shall destroy it completely.’
Irriberi turned to address the rest of the flight deck. ‘Continue the attack exactly as instructed,’ he ordered. ‘I repeat, do not deviate from your instructions, no matter what the provocation,’ he added, shooting the Head of the Church a significant look.
She arched an eyebrow, unimpressed.
A shrill alarm went off as the Himagat tapped furiously at his control console. ‘Detectors register extra-particle activity on the tundra directly ahead of us,’ he called.
‘Possibly some kind of Icelandic transmat mechanism?’ wondered Sotello suspiciously.
‘Visual contact!’ barked the Heneral.
The trapezoid strategy display table that filled the middle of the flight deck lit up with an image of the icy wastelands below them. Huge clouds of snow was whipped by gales across the white hellish landscape of ice and half-frozen boulders. Immediately it became obvious what form the intrusion below had taken.
Irriberi frowned in bewilderment. ‘What are those infidels trying to achieve with this?’ he asked, baffled.
No one had any answer.
For, standing askew in the barren tundra – which just seconds before had been empty – was the square blue shape of a battered police public call box.
The screams of mass panic were drowned out by the wailing of emergency sirens and the crash of lumps of metal and ceramic crashed to the ground.
Heneral Irriberi couldn’t tell which commercial distinct of Peking was being displayed, but it didn’t matter.
The Earth Free Media broadcasts showed a tall building collapsing in flame atop fleeing crowds; rescue services trying to fight the fires and also the panicking citizens re-entering buildings desperately seeking friends and loved ones. The image on the intelligent glass was slid aside to show the overwhelming damage throughout the disaster area Peking had become.
‘The callous bombing of the once-fair-and-bountiful capital city was an all-out attack on the heart of the Supreme Alliance and its chain of interdependent states!’ the reporter was narrating with barely-concealed anger. ‘Eyewitness reports of the terrorist attack prove there is no doubt that the Icelandic delegation left mere minutes before the atrocious firestorm took place, seemingly having taken Justice Minister Magnus Greel and his fiancée hostage...’
Irriberi glanced up from the display table to look at the Mother Superious, his tone as frosty as the landscape outside. ‘Even EFM can see the disregard the Icelanders have for the lives of Alliance citizens,’ he sneered.
‘And are the Icelanders not human too?’ she challenged. ‘What will attacking Reykjavik achieve beyond adding more to the death toll?’
‘They must be stopped before they strike again,’ the soldier replied. ‘There’s no telling what could be their next target. Already over three hundred thousand people are confirmed perished. Doesn’t that count as provocation?’
‘Anger, Heneral, is the quickest path to a mistake,’ retorted the Mother Superious. ‘By all means punish the dissidents who have caused chaos, bring those responsible to justice – but do not slaughter innocents needlessly.’
‘This is the Filipino Army, woman!’ Irriberi snarled. ‘We are not pacifists!’
‘An army kills when necessary – it does not look for excuses to end life!’
‘The fabled Icelandic Alliance have finally turned on the civilians they have always claimed to be fighting for,’ the reporter went on. ‘With a full-scale assault like this, completely ignoring the articles of war established at the end of the previous global conflict, it is clear Commissioner Bjarnsdottir and her legions have no qualms holding us to ransom with the threat of mass slaughter.’
The image of the EFM broadcast was shoved aside by an image of Brigadyer Heneral Sotello, struggling to remain steady in the strong gale and driving snow. Behind her in the murk could be seen the silhouettes of other figures. Frost was already forming across her shoulders and helmet.
‘Heneral. We have captured three Icelanders near the vicinity of that blue box. They are unarmed and have not resisted arrest.’
‘Are they military personnel?’ asked Irriberi.
‘Apparently not, Heneral. They wish to speak with whoever is in command.’
He smiled. ‘Then bring them to me at once. Any clue as to the box’s function?’
‘None, but one of the Icelanders claims it as his property.’
‘Some kind of transmat capsule, perhaps? Have it placed under guard with some of the cyborg ground troopers,’ Irriberi ordered and broke contact. If it was some kind of bomb, the animal-brained grunts were dispensable and easily replaced. He turned to look at the Pulimagat. ‘Prepare to resume the assault on Reykjavik as soon as the Brigadyer Heneral and her team are back aboard.’
He turned to look at the Mother Superious. ‘As you can see, we are not mindless barbarians. Or did you think I’ve have them executed out of hand?’
‘The night is young, Heneral,’ she retorted with a knowing smirk. ‘But I trust my faith in you will be rewarded.’
Irriberi wasn’t sure if that was meant to be compliment or not. The rear doors to the flight deck slid back, and a soldier entered and saluted. He stepped aside to make way for two more soldiers, escorted three prisoners.
One was a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark brown hair and classically handsome features that reminded Irriberi of an old boyfriend; definitely someone who had seen war.
Beside him was a short, elfin teenage girl whose hair was cut short in the latest fashions, though like the man she was dressed in practical cold weather clothes with no obvious logos or style, and they certainly weren’t the spray-on unitards most people wore nowadays.
But it was the third prisoner that caught the Heneral’s attention. He was a white-haired old man in an oddly-shaped fur hat, wrapped in a long fur-collared cloak with a striped scarf wound round his neck. His heavily-lined and wrinkled face was alert and vital, and Irrebiri recognized the cunning intelligence blazing in his eyes. The old man had the proud imperious demeanour of one born to privilege that, together with his capture outside Reykjavik, strongly suggested he was a powerful figure in the Icelandic Alliance – and thus a valuable prisoner until the war was concluded.
The Heneral stepped forward.
‘I am Heneral Delfin Irriberi. You three are now prisoners of the Filipino Army under the wartime legislation ratified by the Supreme Alliance of Eastern States. This is an official interrogation and will be conducted in an orderly manner. It is your duty to answer all questions fully and honestly without evasion, deception or provocation. There shall be no legal representation, all decisions are final and binding and against which there is no appeal. We have the authority to execute you immediately should it be deemed necessary to safeguard the interests of military and political infrastructures.’
The prisoners exchanged wary looks but said nothing.
‘Cooperate and you will be treated honourably, and all clemency will be extended to you,’ he concluded. ‘Kindly identify yourselves and explain your function – as briefly as possible, please.’
The old man looked down his aristocratic beak of a nose at Irriberi. ‘We three are merely travellers, sir. This fine young man is named Steven Taylor, and with him Miss Dodo Chaplet while I am called the Doctor...’
Tegan stared up at the Doctor, utterly incredulous. ‘What did you just say?’ she asked, her eyes wide.
The Doctor sighed. ‘I said, I’m out there now on the Siberian floes with the Filipino Army.’ He shifted uncomfortably. ‘For entirely different reasons, of course, but that’s where I was when all this blew up. Hence my knowledge of this period.’
Turlough shook his head in disgust. ‘Now he tells us!’ he complained. When he had first met the Doctor, he had encountered the Time Lord’s friend the Brigadier twice over, a version from 1977 and 1983 bumping into each other and unleashing the sort of chaos and destruction that even the Black Guardian himself recoiled from.
‘The point is, Turlough,’ the Doctor went on pointedly, ‘that you are unaware of the one small detail that once the bombardment starts, the city of Reykjavik has only two days to live before it is destroyed totally.’
Turlough refused to be intimidated. ‘Well then, we best hurry up then.’ He turned and hurried off down the street.
Tegan nudged the Doctor. ‘This other you – is it the one in the scarf?’ she whispered.
The Doctor smiled slightly. ‘Oh no, he’s the one who gets to deal with the leftovers...’
He crossed to a public access telecom unit on the other side of the street. It was a cylindrical pillar with a monochrome monitor and a touch-sensitive keypad that, like so much of this time seemed futuristic in construction but backwards in design – even the primitive phone boxes back in 1983 London seemed more sophisticated.
The Doctor prized open a hatch in the base of the pillar and was lying on his back, immersed in the internal workings and fiddling with tangles of wires and mazes of circuits.
‘Doctor, come on!’ said Tegan impatiently. ‘What are you doing?’
‘There’s a call I need to make,’ the Doctor replied.
‘We’re wasting time,’ Turlough pointed out, pacing restlessly. ‘The Filipinos will be here any minute!’
The Doctor was punching in new commands into the pillar, and then bent to peer into the inspection hatch. ‘It’s been so long I can’t remember if I’m writing history or rewriting it, but desperate times call for desperate measures…’
‘Doctor, the bombs could start falling any second!’ Turlough shouted desperately.
The Time Lord continued to type at the keypad. ‘I know, Turlough. I’m the one who warned you about it in the first place. Now, come on, come on… What was his name? Ebery? Ivory? Ibelery? Something like that...’
Tegan and Turlough exchanged looks as the Doctor continued to type.
Heneral Irriberi took a deep breath and studied the trio of prisoners once again. ‘So, to summarize, you have nothing to do with the Icelandic Alliance or any security arrangements with Reykjavik? You are innocent tourists who were lost on the ice floes and have no military or political allegiance with either the Filipino Army or its current enemies in this war? You are just in the wrong place and the wrong time?’
The old man gripped his lapels. ‘I detect a note of scepticism in your tone, sir. We are being quite honest and forthright, as you asked. If your imagination is of such limited capacity as to fail to believe us, well, then, I say that is your concern!’
‘Doctor,’ warned the young man wearily.
‘No, Steven, he’s right,’ the girl piped up. ‘I’m sick of being pushed about by these thugs, and now they think we’re lying and we’re spies!’
‘Their behaviour does not suggest training in the art of infiltration,’ observed the Mother Superious, smiling slightly. ‘Nor do their inefficient and inappropriate clothing – if you had not taken them prisoner, they would have frozen on the tundra below...’
‘Making it a perfect double bluff,’ retorted Irriberi, even more annoyed with the Cleric Leader than his prisoners. ‘You think I should let them go free?’
She shrugged her bare shoulders. ‘Not if you really think these three are a threat to your mission to destroy a civilian population centre,’ she replied bluntly.
‘What’s that?’ asked the old man, his expression showing he had heard and understood her statement perfectly. ‘What’s all this? You’re at war against civilians?’
‘Reykjavik is the core city-state of the Icelandic Alliance, our enemies,’ Sotello explained, feeling a bit foolish at having to state the blindingly-obvious. ‘Now a state of war exists, we are entitled by the sanctified articles of combat to begin full-scale assault once the official declaration is made.’
‘You’re warning them first?’ echoed the girl, surprised. ‘That’s something, I suppose.’
‘But the Icelanders have no means to defend themselves, nor any way to escape,’ the Mother Superious pointed out. ‘Nor does the Heneral seem interested in accepting their surrender, conditional or otherwise.’
‘They have not attempted surrender,’ Irriberi snapped.
‘Have you given them a chance to do so yet?’ asked the young man reasonably.
The Himagat turned away from his control panel. ‘Heneral,’ he called. ‘We’re being hailed on a broad-frequency telecom message, origin Reykjavik!’
‘Yes, it seems that all things do come to those who wait,’ chortled the old man.
Fuming, Irriberi ignored the mockery and turned to the Himagat. ‘Direct the contact feed to my strategy control node,’ he said with all the dignity he could muster, then moved to the free-standing unit at the side of the flight deck. He tapped the privacy control, and a sound-cancellation wave shrouded him from the rest of the ship, and the angled visi-screen ensured no one else present could eavesdrop.
The image showed a young blond man with blue eyes. ‘Ah, Heneral!’ he said in an over-familiar manner that Irriberi took an instant dislike to. ‘I’m speaking to you on behalf of the Icelandic Alliance and wish to offer the Filipino Army our full and unconditional surrender, on the basis that the war status will be revoked and bloodshed prevented.’
The soldier stared at the man in confusion. ‘Who are you?’ he scoffed. ‘Where is Commissioner Bjarnsdottir? Why isn’t she contacting us?’
The blond man scowled. ‘Probably dealing with a nasty domestic incident at the moment,’ he replied. ‘But believe me, I am entirely genuine and have full authority to speak on her behalf. Surely our, er, peace envoys have made contact with you?’
‘Peace envoys?’ repeated Irriberi doubtfully.
‘Yes, you know. Three people outside a blue box? A rather grumpy old man, a teenage girl and a nice chap called Steven?’ The man began to look worried. ‘You can’t have missed them! They’ll have told you Iceland wants to surrender, and—’
Irriberi slammed his fist down on the controls, breaking contact and ending privacy mode. He swung round to face the trio. ‘Kalakan!’ he barked. ‘Take these three to the brig and hold them under close confinement – if they show the slightest sign of resistance, you are authorized to execute them on the spot!’
‘What are you doing?’ Steven protested. ‘What did the Icelanders tell you!’
‘Get them out of my sight! All of them!’ the Heneral snarled, refusing to listen to another word. He pointed to the Mother Superious. ‘Especially her!’
‘This is not a response to be made lightly, Heneral,’ she warned him in a calm, steady fashion.
‘Get that hypocritical harridan off my flight deck!’ he bellowed, his voice cracking with the rage and tension that had been building up within him even since war had been declared.
This was the first time he’d ever been in charge of an army in active combat and Irriberi would have been stressed at the best of times. ‘Now!’
The quartet were bustled through the doors and off the command deck, the Heneral rounded to face the rest of the crew. ‘Either the Icelanders have gone completely insane, or this is some cunning diversionary tactic to allow them to implement their true plan. Our wisest course of action in both cases is the same – prepare for bombardment!’
‘Well, did you convince them to back off?’ asked Tegan.
The Doctor made yet another attempt to reconnect with Irriberi aboard the Defensor, but to no avail. The Filipinos weren’t answering. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said with the air of someone too modest to take all the credit for something amazingly impressive. ‘But I certainly gave them something to think about.’
Suddenly an accented voice boomed from above, filling the domed sky and echoing to the horizons of the city with enough force to vibrate the air like a plucked string. It reverberated across the towers and skyscrapers, echoing like the bellow of an angry giant.
‘This is Heneral Delfin Irriberi of the Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas,’ thundered the voice. ‘Reykjavik is completely surrounded by our forces and is at a clear tactical disadvantage. We have analyzed your defenses and they are unable to withstand our weaponry. Shortly before the destruction of Peking, the Supreme Alliance of Eastern States gave us precise instructions. If you do not lower your force fields immediately, we will destroy you.’
‘Oh yes, you’ve definitely got them thinking!’ yelled Turlough scornfully.
‘Your defences will delay this for approximately one point two eight hours so all Icelanders may consider this the official declaration,’ Irriberi roared. ‘The bombardment of Iceland begins now!’
A series of klaxons began to howl, like melodic air-raid sirens droning out a half-hearted warning about the imminent blitzkrieg. Suddenly, Reykjavik was lit up with a brilliant, searing flash and trembled on its foundations. No sooner had glare began to fade then there was another flash, and then another.
Over the crackling thud of the explosions and the drone of the sirens, people throughout the city-state were starting to scream…
Aboard flagship Defensor, Heneral Irriberi was overseeing the bombardment program. Sotello looked up from her position and reported, ‘Flotillas three and six have returned to formation and are now in optimum position for the next attack run, Heneral!’
Irriberi nodded. ‘Instruct them to concentrate their fire on the apex of the dome, and have the remaining flotillas use maximum firepower. How long until that force field collapses?’ he asked the Kalakan.
‘All detectors show the barriers are still functioning at eighty-four per cent capacity,’ he replied, checking the displays. ‘Without regeneration, it’s barely holding.’
‘And how long before it isn’t holding at all?’ asked Irriberi, rolling his eyes.
‘Not long, Heneral. The energy demands are five hundred times above the normal requirements. Not even the Icelanders can cope with an energy drain of that magnitude,’ he added confidently.
‘They’re managing so far,’ Irriberi noted, watching the domed city crackle and spark under the onslaught, deflecting the attack almost completely.
After all, the war fleet’s own resources weren’t infinite and every moment that passed not only depleted their own weaponry, it gave Commissioner Bjarnsdottir and her kind time to prepare a full-scale counterattack…
Heneral Irriberi looked across the flight deck at Sotello. ‘All force walls have collapsed,’ he announced. ‘Align all fragmentation cannons and charge!’
His second-in-command nodded, adjusting her own console setting. ‘All fragmentation cannons charging,’ she replied. ‘All ground parties standing by. All commando units armed and ready.’
Irriberi nodded. ‘They are to go in once the optimal amount of the thermal dome has been annihilated. If Magnus Greel is found, he is to be taken alive but we care for no other prisoners, is that clear?’
‘Indeed, Heneral,’ said a voice behind him.
Irriberi turned around to see the Mother Superious standing by the rear entrance to the flight deck, arms folded and with an imperious expression. A squad of Clerics, in tan and orange camouflage combat overalls, helmets and goggles surrounded her, each carrying jet black percussion rifles. Accompanying them were the Doctor, Steven and Dodo, the latter of whom were also carrying blasters.
‘If I were you, sir, I’d stay your assault for now, hmm?’ suggested the old man with a chuckle.
Irriberi gazed at the squad of vergers, bishops and clerics threatening to seize control of his flagship. He could order his troopers to retaliate and probably take down quite a few of the enemy, but the forces of the Mother Superious were still likely to retain command of the Defensor. Thus, the Heneral had to press home his main advantage.
‘The fleet is ready to destroy the city in the next few minutes, with or without my order,’ he announced. ‘You can seize my ship, but standing orders are clear – a captured ship is a viable target. All you can do is delay the annihilation of Reykjavik by perishing beforehand. If you wish to add to the bloodshed, Mother Superious, go ahead.’
It was the Doctor who replied. ‘Heneral, please. Most of the people in that city are unarmed civilians – what glory can any soldier claim for butchering innocent bystanders, hmm? Or are you merely interested in committing violence for its own sake?’
‘You have no idea what you’re talking about, old man! The Icelandic Alliance is a depraved nest of vermin!’
‘And what are you, sir, if you’ll wipe them out needlessly?’ the Doctor demanded, eyes blazing. ‘Surely it will be better change this society instead of destroying it outright? What gives you the right to decide that these non-combatants should die for the greater good? Hmm?’
‘You have a rosy view of life, Doctor,’ Irriberi replied.
‘When you have seen as many innocents die as I have, Heneral, it is the only view left there to take!’ the old man shouted, then added in a more reasonable tone. ‘You have already won this war, there’s no need for senseless killing!’
‘Just last year, the Icelanders once destroyed a shanty town full of scavengers because they refused to join the Alliance,’ the Filipino Heneral began.
The Mother Superious cut him off. ‘And you could do nothing?’ she surmised.
Irriberi nodded bitterly. ‘Nothing,’ he agreed. ‘Except let them die.’
‘You were powerless then,’ she replied tonelessly. ‘But you are not powerless now.’
All those on the flight deck watched, holding their breath and waiting for the old soldier to make his decision.
The air around the Time Cabinet flared and creased as if the vehicle had burst into crackling flames of dark non-light. The flaring, coruscating swirl of light stretched until it was a wafer-thin tunnel stretching impossibly into infinity, before it was wrenched free and vanished like a balloon popping.
Suddenly, they were alone at the top of the pyramidal roof, just the TARDIS crew and Findecker’s cooling corpse. ‘Where’s he gone?’ asked Turlough. ‘Do you know?’
The Doctor cleared his throat awkwardly. ‘Yes. I do.’
‘Because you were there?’ Tegan guessed, unsurprised.
‘It’s history, Tegan,’ the Time Lord replied, unwilling to get into a long debate about temporal paradoxes and the nature of free will. ‘That’s all you need to know.’
Turlough nudged the alien corpse with the toe of his boot. ‘Findecker’s dead,’ he announced, just in case anyone was uncertain of his current state.
‘It’s all over, then,’ Nyssa sighed wearily.
Tegan looked to the Doctor with tired, haunted eyes. ‘Is it?’ she asked desperately, sounding on the verge of breaking down in tears. ‘Is it really all over?’
He looked at her, realizing just how close to the edge she’d been pushed by this trip to the Fifty-First Century. The carnage and cruelty to man and beast, whole cities being blown up and populations used as raw materials for pointless experiments, death after death after death… and to ad to the injustice, those responsible had escaped.
‘Yes, Tegan,’ he said gently. ‘It’s all over. World War Six has been averted, the bombs have stopped falling – that’s something I was able to sort out, at least.’
It was as if with Greel’s departure, the madness and destruction had gone with him. The bombardment had ended and Reykjavik had finally stopped shaking, the klaxons and screams silenced as well. Thick black clouds of oily smoke rose up from the city as automated emergency services doused the flames and tended to the wounded. Lights were flickering on throughout the skyscrapers as power came back online. Several towers had collapsed, but almost everything else was undamaged. Even the thermal dome overhead, though warped and melted out of shape, had maintained its integrity.
‘I thought you said Reykjavik would be destroyed,’ Turlough reminded him.
‘It will be,’ the Doctor predicted. ‘The Icelanders will surrender to the Filipinos and as a gesture of good will, they’ll abandon the city and all the time technology and weapons of mass destruction they may or may not have had behind to be blown up. In two days’ time, what’s left of Reykjavik won’t fill an ashtray.’ His expression brightened. ‘But no one else will die. All the old alliances will be abandoned, and the people of Earth will finally accept they’ve been festering down here instead of being loyal. The only way from here is up,’ he said, pointing skywards.
Tegan nodded, reassured by his words. ‘Do you know everything that’s coming, Doctor?’ she asked idly, watching as below them the last of the fires were put out.
The Doctor tutted and shook his head. ‘I couldn’t say, Tegan,’ he replied with mock-reproof. ‘I wouldn’t dare...’
The flight deck of the Defensor was abuzz with activity. Crewmembers moved busily from display podium to control node, cross-checking positions with the rest of the Filipino fleet and assessing the latest data for the next phase of the battle campaign. The Himagat looked back over his shoulder at Heneral Irriberi. ‘All battle cruisers within range now rerouted onto LX9 pattern, Heneral,’ he reported.
On the opposite side of the deck, Irriberi’s Pulimagat looked up. ‘Squad carriers three, four and nine beginning descent. No hostile agencies have been identified.’
Irriberi nodded briskly. ‘Prepare to join them once the broadcast has been made.’
‘All communication frequencies open, Heneral,’ announced the Kalakan.
Irriberi leaned over the relay grille and spoke, his words reverberating around the confines of the command chamber. ‘This is Heneral Delfin Irriberi of the Filipino Army to whatever remains of the Icelandic Alliance,’ he announced. ‘We are ending our assault on Reykjavik. You may keep your miserable lives and your damn city, which frankly isn’t worth the trouble of destroying.’ He stabbed the cut-off button and swung round to face the armed clerics and the Doctor’s party.
‘Satisfied?’ he demanded.
The old man smiled, his face wrinkling kindly. ‘Definitely, sir, quite definitely,’ he said. ‘Next to a battle lost, there is nothing half as melancholy as a battle won. Yes, I should say so, indeed.’
The Mother Superious nodded. ‘Our faith in you has been rewarded, Heneral.’
Irriberi sneered, ‘If just one of those Icelanders tries to take advantage of this mercy, the previous stratagem will be implemented! This is their first, last and only chance.’
‘But they will take it,’ she replied calmly, ‘and you will honour their surrender.’
The Heneral snarled in annoyance and went off to find out where Sotello had got to. He rudely shoved past two vergers, a bishop and Steven as he stormed off the flight deck and into the depths of the battleship.
‘So we’ve really saved the day?’ asked Dodo, almost bouncing with excitement.
‘Indeed, my child, with the help of our delightful friend here,’ her companion chuckled happily, indicating the Mother Superious with his ringed hand. ‘Oh gracious, I still haven’t learned your name, my dear.’
Their ally gazed at the trio with glittering eyes. ‘I am the Papal Mainframe, the Neverborn Queen, Mother Superious of the Children of the Last Church. You, however, Doctor,’ she purred, arching an eyebrow, ‘may call me Tasha Lem.’
The Doctor took her proffered hand and kissed it. ‘Enchanted, my dear lady.’