The wheezing and groaning stopped. Whatever had sounded like an asthmatic elephant banging on bass drums stopped. The mists concealed whatever it was, but whatever it was had not subsequently stopped a man in a floppy hat from stepping out of the alleyway and making his way down the deserted street.
A gate was locked. Pulling a device from his pocket, that problem was easily solved. What was not so easily solved was why he was here to be unlocking gates in the first place. That had not been a comfortable journey and the instruments were registering all zeroes. This looked like Earth, but he couldn't be sure. Earth had not been the destination set and he'd expect something to register if he'd gone off course in any trivial way.
Whatever this was wasn't trivial.
Of course, it could just be some strange energy interfering with the TARDIS but the defences had been up and very, very little could enter under such conditions. That, too, would definitely not be trivial.
The yard was empty. Even of the garbage that might have blown in, or detritus resulting from use. No tyre marks, no rusty bolts, no evidence of use. At least, no evidence other than the laser alarm system that had caught his eye to begin with.
So, he found himself breaking in to the first building nearby that looked interesting because it was so obviously trying to not be whilst being suspiciously secure in a manner of speaking.
He had never found much use for stealth, getting captured and taken to the heart of the action was quicker and easier. You were also less likely to be shot at and more likely placed somewhere you could easily escape if you seemed harmless rather than highly adept. Give your opponent bad information and they'd make a mistake, maybe even two or three.
So he'd walked through the beams, deliberately tripping as many of these optical wires as he could, in the hope of making interesting things happen. An application of the sonic screwdriver opened the door. That lock was rather more advanced, but only by a hundred years or so Still nothing. This was unnerving. By now, a guard should be shoving a gun up his nose, alarms should have been ringing, or at the very least there should be some sign of life.
The lights weren't working, but the corridor was adequately lit for his vision. Progressing down it, he tried a few rooms. All empty. Not just of people. No furniture, no furnishings, no insects, no spiders. Just a totally empty cavity made of bricks and mortar. Eighteenth century Earth bricks, late twenty first century Earth mortar.
Still no real clues as to where or when he was. You could build something like that on almost any planet. But what would be the point?
He was just about to give up, when he found a table. The table was empty but had very faint impressions on it. Getting a poster-sized piece of tracing paper and a bronze crayon from a coat pocket, he was able to create an image of what was there. Instructions on how to go from here to somewhere not too far. Or, rather, three specific somewheres that were close to each other and which could observe the same patch of ground.
Rolling the paper up, he pushed the roll into an impossibly small pocket. He might need it.
Next stop was to find out what was being observed. That was not mentioned. However, leaving might be more complicated. There were still no guards, but he no longer had the feeling of being alone.
He looked round. Nothing and nobody.
His senses were sharp enough to not be fooled by the merely visible, so time for plan B. "Hello there!" he called out. "Don't be afraid!"
Movement. A young woman, nervous, confused, but not apparently harmed in any way, stepped in.
"What's your name?", The Doctor asked.
"I... I... don't remember." She spoke with a well-educated accent.
The Doctor frowned briefly. "Are you hurt?"
"I... don't know. I... can't remember anything. I... feel like something is missing."
The Doctor very gently raised his hand. She flinched slightly but let him look into her eyes. "No sign of concussion... no sign of any drugs..."
Something very faint touched his mind and he almost disregarded it, except that the woman obviously felt something too. She looked puzzled.
The Doctor tried a new tack. "How far back can you remember?"
"I am not sure. I remember being trapped in a room for a long time, then the door opening. I left the room and found you. Did you open the door?"
The Doctor paused. "Possibly, possibly, I've opened many doors here and set off many alarms."
The woman nodded, wondering why a person would want to set off alarms. "What is your name? Maybe remembering things will help."
The Doctor thought this intelligent. Although he hadn't met her in his past, he might have met her in hers, and of course the mere act of remembering might - as she said - help stir up her own memories. "I'm The Doctor. Pleased to meet you."
"That seems more of a title than a name. So I call you Doctor?"
He nodded. "Yes. I'd tell you the story, but I doubt you have seven hundred and fifty years to listen to it."
That caught her attention, although she couldn't remember why. Her lack of disbelief intrigued The Doctor, clearly she had encountered alien races. She had lost memories but facts, such as word meanings and associations, aren't memories. The same was true of skills. This is why amnesiacs can often walk and talk, unless the damage went beyond memory. The idea of an alien humanoid life-form was a fact in a way that her name and past were not.
Still, he didn't have time to ruminate on that. If she had been a deliberate prisoner, the entities that had drawn up the plan would know and would know why. That meant going and looking for them. He did not dare leave the woman, in case other secret doors could trap her beyond his power to release.
"The answers, I think, lie this way. I advise you to stay close until you have your memory back."
The woman nodded. They left the way The Doctor came, The Doctor still ignoring the beams. He wanted any assailant to know he was looking for them.
It took over half an hour's walking, half an hour's waiting at lights and ten minutes helping her across roads, but they eventually reached the first location. Or, rather, a hundred yards of it. The heavily armed soldiers monitoring the railway deterred them from getting closer. The uniforms were not ones The Doctor recognized and that bothered him a little.
There was a sparkle of light behind them, two stun gun blasts, before they and their assailants vanished. The soldiers never noticed.
"T.I.M.! Is Elizabeth ok?"
The protein-based computer mulled that over. "Elizabeth is physically unharmed. She has lost her memory but will recover her memories in due course. There is no sign that the ometra virus was ever given to her. It is safe to take her out of the contamination suit. It is the other person that is of interest."
Stephen pipped in. "He's with them, isn't he?"
"No, Stephen, he is not. He is a partial telepath. There is no record of any partial telepaths with his physiology in the Galactic Trig database. Indeed, there is no record of any species with his physiology."
This was perplexing and problematic. Can a world be said to be closed when the person arriving is from no world that could have known Earth was closed?
"The stun is wearing off."
The Doctor sat up. Before him were young adults and teens, definitely from Earth. But at least he'd been shot at. He'd been missing that.
John spoke up. "Who are you and what are you doing on a closed world?"
The Doctor grinned like a maniac. They were bossy. He'd missed being bossed around, too. This was going to be fun. It wasn't a prison cell, but it was at the heart of the action.
"I'm The Doctor. Very pleased to meet you. You wouldn't mind telling me what year it is, would you? Only my watch stopped in the fourteenth century. Well, after it hit the ground, at least. I was rather fond of that watch, as I told Lewis Carroll."
John blinked. This wasn't the reaction he'd expected.
Stephen was less easily shocked by the blatant violations of the laws governing time travel, having bent them - in a crisis - himself. "Do the Guardians of Time know you're here?" he asked, knowing full well they didn't.
It was The Doctor's turn to be puzzled. The Guardians didn't limit themselves to time. It was also very unlikely humans would know about them. As far as he was concerned, time didn't need guarding on the whole and the Time Lords did the bit that did need doing. Well, ok, he did. Then it clicked. He must be in a different universe. The computer above him looked like cut-down Gallifreyan, and these people didn't get past those guards using hope and string.
"I think you have just answered everything. My TARDIS experienced severe temporal disturbance and it would seem I have crossed into a parallel dimension. It happens from time to time."
"Yes, TARDIS. I am a Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey, although in this universe those names might not mean much. I imagine, though, that these Time Guardians serve a similar role to the Time Lords in my own universe."
T.I.M. broke in. "There is no such planet known to the Galactic Trig. However, there is a mythology that may be of some interest. It is said that a man calling himself The Doctor founded the Guardians of Time and provided them with the secret of time travel."
The Doctor frowned. "I would not normally do that. There are laws of time that you can't just break because you want to."
John nodded. "Last time we encountered time travel, the whole of history got changed on a massive scale after the Romans invented the steam engine."
"Time is normally far more resilient than that. A minor deviation should be eliminated due to the fixed points in time, things that can't be altered. It takes enormous power to generate a paradox."
T.I.M. offered a thought. "Perhaps the Time Lords helped create that stability in your universe. Without them here, time is more fluid."
The Doctor hummed. "That might well be. Now, do you know the place is surrounded by armed guards?"
"Yes. They are trying to contaminate us with the ometra virus for some reason. It does not affect humans. They are rogue telepaths, they cannot kill but they are armed with deadly weapons."
"I'm still not sure how you fit in. Who are you in this universe."
"We are the Tomorrow People, the next generation of human evolution. We are telepathic and we can't kill. Unlike the ones outside, we belong to the federation known as the Galactic Trig. We do what we can to help others."
"A race that can't kill? Very rare in my experience, but very welcome."
Stephen looked thoughtful. "It's you they're after, isn't it? They're not after us, they're after you, to stop you from setting up the Guardians. They can't use the weapons on us, but if they don't see you as living as you're not from this universe, then maybe they think they can use them on you."
John blinked. "Then why did they capture Elizabeth?"
"A lure", said The Doctor, groaning. "Her cell door opened when I entered the building she was trapped in. They provided me with instructions on how to get here, everything."
John and Stephen grabbed their stun guns. "T.I.M.! Tell the Galactic Trig everything. I don't know if they can help, but they have to know."
The Doctor was examining the belt used for teleporting non-telepaths. He wouldn't have time to modify it right now, he realized.
T.I.M. spoke up. "An incoming message from the Galactic Trig cut off. It would appear that all telepathic powers are currently being blocked."
John looked up at The Doctor. "The only way out is through the tunnel."
"Which means they'll be waiting. I can sense this point in time is particularly fluid. We have to do what was done the first time, the time that founded these Guardians."
"What was that?"
"I honestly haven't the faintest. Care for a jelly baby?"
T.I.M. asked the obvious. "What would you have done had there been no soldiers?"
"Well, I would have walked to my TARDIS, chosen a key point in galactic history and gone there, I suppose."
"Do you have enough galactic history?"
"Ah. No. I get your point. Your circuits are compatible with my TARDIS. If you have no objection, I could copy over the relevant data."
"Your TARDIS is a spaceship and I cannot move."
"Ah, but it can!"
"This is a very small location and is underground."
"Pffft! It's dimensionally transcendental and I've landed underground before. There is, however, one problem."
"What is that?"
"It was unable to register any position and there were a few systems failures."
John looked up. "Is this TARDIS telepathic?"
"Yes, it is... and if they've moved the jamming device here, it might well be free. It can land in interference."
The Doctor pulled out a hand grip with a button on it. "Recall device. It should work."
Sure enough, the asthmatic elephant and its drum entered the room. One corner of the lab grew hazy, then filled with the sight of a blue police telephone box circa 1960.
Stephen laughed. "A police box?"
"Well, you don't want to be conspicuous you know."
Elizabeth was awake at this point, some of her memories returning. She had been given sedatives, as an extra precaution.
The Doctor thought for a moment. "This location is not secure and they can't break into my TARDIS. I dislike using it as a taxi, but a shelter is acceptable."
"It looks very... cosy..." Elizabeth chipped in, looking doubtful.
"Oh, I think you'll manage. The deckchair is mine, though."
John walked over, pushed open the door, glanced in, walked around, pushed open the door again and walked in.
The Doctor was examining T.I.M.'s connections and thinking about the next stage. "Are you alright with me doing this?"
"Under the circumstances, I think I can manage", T.I.M. sniffed in an exaggerated way.
The Doctor chuckled. Computers with a sense of humour were rare.
Stephen and Elizabeth were now inside the TARDIS, gazing in wonder at the walls (which Stephen discovered were covered in storage bays that were themselves larger on the inside), the console and the maze of corridors beyond. None of which should have fitted in that small exterior.
The Doctor came in, opened a couple of roundels and started running cables.
"How do we know what's going on outside?" asked John, understandably worried about weapons fire.
The Doctor turned a dial on one of the panels. The viewscreen panel slid aside, revealing an image. It was slightly blurred, due to the jamming, but was good enough to tell if there was a threat.
Cables in hand, The Doctor walked quickly outside and started fitting them to T.I.M. It was quite possible someone could storm in, or at least try to, but he'd extended the TARDIS forcefield to include TIM. He doubted the enemy had considered that possibility. Even so, he'd given the lock on the door a going over with the sonic screwdriver. It was now jammed and he didn't recall seeing explosives with the soldiers.
Fitting the connections was easy. The similarity to the Time Lord Matrix made him suspect this was his doing, later on, in the past. Now all he had to do was get back and transfer the data.
The door exploded inwards. Ah, they had had explosives.
Three soldiers rushed in and pointed their guns at The Doctor. He decided to leave. Their weapons fire was, as he suspected, no match for Time Lord shielding. Time Lords had annoyed enough species in the universe to need good shields.
But escaping being shot wasn't going to help if the TARDIS circuits were totally jammed. He had to hope that impairment was limited. He also had to hope the attackers hadn't noticed the obvious circuit breaker, at least until everything was across.
The data lights were on, showing that information was flowing rapidly. Just then, as luck would have it, the soldiers found the circuit breaker and pulled it.
The Doctor sighed, pulled the door control and the heavy blast doors swung shut. There was nothing the enemy could do, it was now a matter of what he could do.
Plugging a neural interface headset in, he vowed to give up Leonid chocolate, obtained from the planet Xarn. He always seemed to get into the worst messes after eating it. On the other hand, those were always fun. He modified that vow to obtaining another kilo.
The interface worked, although not well. It was sufficient to show a lot of data had been obtained and that T.I.M. had been kind enough to highlight prominent features.
The picture was incomplete, but it was sufficient. For if you plotted the space-time coordinates and looked at them from the space-time coordinates of Earth at that time, you would see in High Gallifreyan a single word. Assuming you also read High Gallifreyan, you'd then have the correct planet.
By viewing from the side, you saw a funnel converging on a point in time.
He now understood why he'd had to start from Earth. He also understood why the streams of time had ended up with the Tomorrow People in the TARDIS. This was going to take a true telepath.
"Anyone for a ride?"
The Tomorrow People were too busy watching their lab being smashed up.
He plugged the coordinates in, diverted all non-essential power to the engines and hit dematerialize.
The TARDIS lurched violently, as it struggled against the field. Explosions rocked the console. Flames burst out of one panel, which The Doctor fought to extinguish. The Tomorrow People were in a pile against the far wall.
The Doctor ejected a small amount of mass into the time stream and diverted life support as well.
The groaning and shuddering made way for a grinding sound that slowly softened into the dematerialization. He'd broken free. For now.
"It it like that every time?" asked Elizabeth.
"No, no, only when massive interference from jamming devices is involved", replied The Doctor cheerfully.
Ignoring bruises to body and ego, everyone was ok. It was now a matter of finding out what had happened.
"I found out where the Guardians of Time began. I wrote a message for myself in the stories. It wasn't safe for you to go out. The only option was to take you to that point of origin."
"And where is that, exactly?"
At that moment, the materialization sound echoed through the room and the time rotor stopped. "Right about here." said The Doctor.
He activated the scanner. A darkened room, long abandoned, waited outside.
"There's nothing there," breathed Elizabeth.
The Doctor glanced at the still-working readouts. "Oxygen, radiation, gravity, all normal. That's not nothing."
He activated the door control. The blast doors swung open.
The four of them stepped outside. The room seemed vaguely familiar, but with no light they couldn't tell. The Doctor activated a hand-held light unit and they found a door leading out. This door was much, much newer and it was locked by some sort of electronic device of advanced technology.
"Thirty first century, at a rough guess", said The Doctor dismissively. The lock was disabled with the sonic screwdriver before he had time to finish.
He opened the door. Beyond it, a large hallway with an arched ceiling. It was brightly lit. John, Elizabeth and Stephen picked up a flood of information. The door had been shielding them, but now it was open they could tell these were telepaths in the distant future. They were unsure of the world, only that it was safe for their kind.
Slowly, people noticed them, in their twentieth century clothes. A new flood, this time of questions, greeted them. They made out that the room they had just left was a dedicated memorial. Not one that anyone needed to visit much. so well known was the legend. A legend that described the first free telepaths of that world but also some of the most important telepaths in the galaxy.
In short, not people you actually expect to see walking out of their memorial.
"This is Earth, isn't is?" asked Stephen.
"I've always had a soft spot for you Earth people. Willing to out-sit eternity, if you need to. Indomitable."
"That I don't go haring off and train people from the distant past. I could never still that long."
"I find that if you start with good ethics and good intent, it's so much easier."
A young man approached. "You are the first of homo novis. How did you get here? Don't you know the laws of time?"
The Doctor coughed. "I am a Time Lord, my people invented the laws of time."
The man's eyes narrowed and The Doctor could sense his mind being probed. Normally, he would have thrown up defences. This time, he lowered them. The man stumbled as the Time Lord's vast mind, many lives and horrific experience was completely open to his view without limit.
Never had anyone encountered a life so rich, so filled with sorrow, so filled with compassion. So filled with Time Lord injunctions on what can and cannot be done, so filled with understanding of the limits imposed by reality, so filled with knowledge of time travel even between universes and the mechanics of it.
The young man could see that these Time Lords were truly ancient and powerful but were only limited telepathy. He would need to consider this, but he thought it was possible a telepath could achieve mentally what a Time Lord needed technology for. Same result, different means.
He could also see that the laws of time that he knew must have originated in this same man, in the past and the Time Lord's future.
"With respect, Lord, bringing these people from their time stream could be damaging."
"If I hadn't, they'd be dead and none of you would exist. They also need something you have."
"And what is that?"
"Hope. Hope that if they hold to what they believe in, rather than be dragged into the swamp of bitterness and greed, it will be worth it. Hope that you have because they had it."
"Doesn't that create a paradox? Where does it come from originally?"
"Perhaps originally it came from me. Perhaps it doesn't matter any more. This is now a fixed point in time, existing because it existed."
Now the young man understood.
"So the attack you mentioned..."
"Could have succeeded. The fixed point is here, not there. An attack here could not. An attack there would have changed which Tomorrow People reached here. Perhaps, originally, they died. That can change. This event cannot."
"The stories tell of you in the distant past."
"Maybe I'll get there, maybe you'll go. Once you and those you choose become guardians of time, you must predate all other telepaths and have time and numbers to evolve."
The man nodded, thinking.
The Doctor look sternly at him. "Regeneration is a secret I've allowed you to have so that you can be responsible with time. But in this universe you may find better alternatives. Until time is less fragile, be very careful with whom you share."
Sensing that certain things had to take place soon, he left with the Tomorrow People, who had been treated as legendary heroes.
He arrived at the lab three hours after the attack. The place was a mess, but T.I.M. looked intact. John turned round to say something to The Doctor, when a groaning sound indicated he'd have to wait.
He picked up a surviving broom from a storage locker. "Let's get started on cleaning this up."