With a Little Illumination by st_aurafina
Summary: When an opera critic is torn limb from limb, the Brigadier suspects that more than just bruised egos are at play.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Third Doctor
Characters: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Jo Grant, The Master (Delgado), UNIT
With a Little Illumination by st_aurafina
Chapter 1: Chapter 1Author's Notes: Thank you to lilacsigil for beta reading.
The tranquil atmosphere in the Doctor's laboratory did nothing to quash the Brigadier's foul mood. He had sent one officer to fetch the Doctor, and then another officer to fetch the first officer, and now he found that both his men were sitting comfortably on the laboratory floor. One was nursing a cup of hot tea and monitoring an oscilloscope, and the other one juggled a handful of wrenches, trying them on an unidentifiable piece of machinery, clicking his tongue as he rejected one after the other. The Doctor himself was barely visible at all: all the Brigadier could see were two legs protruding from Bessie's undercarriage, one foot tapping in time to the music blaring out of Jo's tiny transistor radio. Jo herself sat cross legged on the table with the newspaper spread out before her. Apart from the radio, it was a peaceful scene of quiet industry and the Brigadier let it go on uninterrupted for a few moments, then cleared his throat politely. The two officers scrambled upright and snapped to attention with a clatter of tools.
"Brigadier, do close the door, will you?" The Doctor beckoned him in with one foot. "You're letting in the cold, and I'm at a very delicate stage. Bessie is particularly vulnerable to draughts."
The Brigadier let the door close behind him, and favoured his officers with a sour glance. "If you've quite finished with your tea-break, gentlemen, perhaps you might be willing to return to your duties?" The two officers saluted, and sprinted for the door, bumping into each other as they fled the laboratory.
"Careful, Jo, the Brigadier's got a bee in his bonnet this morning." The Doctor reached out with a long arm to snag one of the rejected wrenches and began a noisy ratcheting. The Brigadier gritted his teeth.
Before the impending war of words could get started, Jo slipped off the table and flipped the switch for the electric kettle. "Let me make you some tea, Brigadier, and you can tell us why you sent people looking for us."
The Brigadier raised an eyebrow at Jo's ever-so-conciliatory tone, but allowed himself to be mollified. "Thank you, Miss Grant. All I needed was to know if the Doctor had managed to look through the list of names that I had sent over last week."
"Don't know anything about it!" The Doctor's voice was blithe. A faint blue glow lit up the darkness underneath Bessie, and an electronic whine began to grow louder. "Oh, dear."
Jo paused with a tea-bag in her hand. "Do you mean 'Oh dear, that's a bit of a bungle,' or 'Oh dear, we need to evacuate the lab?'"
The Doctor scooted out from underneath the car and hugged his knees with a rueful expression. "I'm afraid it's a little bit of both, actually." The electronic whine, now an emphatic shriek, ended suddenly with a loud bang, sudden darkness and the smell of smoke.
They waited in the Brigadier's office while the fire crew thundered past the windows. The Brigadier watched the Doctor with a faintly predatory smile as he opened a file on his desk.
"Since you're a man of leisure for the moment, Doctor, you might as well tell me what you make of this." He handed over a neatly typed list, which the Doctor scanned absently, still watching the firemen going about their business outside. "It struck me some time ago, that your friend, the Master, can't resist the temptation to put his name on his own work. Colonel Masters, Mr Magister, Professor Thascalos — it's frightfully egotistic of him, but something we can use to our own advantage. I've had a team combing news and police reports, looking for translations of his name. Anagrams, too. Put that chappie who writes the crossword for the Times onto it."
"He's not my friend, Brigadier. He's the vilest of opponents. And it doesn't take a crossword expert to anagram the word 'Master'." Nonetheless, the Doctor read through the list, flipping the pages over at an incredible rate with an expression of concentration. He threw the pages down on the desk with an exasperated sigh, and went back to watching the firemen swarm around his laboratory.
"Anything of interest, then?" The Brigadier picked up the sheets of paper and put them back in order.
"Other than UNIT harassing the Smarte clan unnecessarily, no," the Doctor said, drily. "Or this poor Mr Isäntä from Finland, who composes opera. Hardly the sort of thing the Master would bother with."
"Did you say opera?" Jo unfolded the newspaper under her arm. The headline read "Torn to Pieces! Opera Critic Slain on Stage!" She scanned the article. "It says he was attacked by an angry mob of opera fanatics who disagreed with his disparaging remarks about the works of up-and-coming composer Mr Isäntä."
The Doctor frowned. "Well, then, perhaps this does bear looking into. The Master has never taken criticism well."
Bessie was still up on stumps, so the Doctor consented to a UNIT driver to ferry them to London for a mid-afternoon appointment with the Director of the Royal Opera. In the back seat of the car, Jo pored over the scanty information the Brigadier had managed to cobble together on the mysterious Mr Isäntä.
"It must be some piece of work, this opera — I imagine the Royal Opera doesn't rearrange their schedule mid-season for anyone. " Jo flopped back in her seat with a sigh. "I don't see the appeal of opera, really. It's all a bit pompous, isn't it? I mean, maybe I'm tone deaf, but lots of inflated personalities strutting around singing about love and murder doesn't make for great entertainment. I suppose it makes me a philistine, but I'd much rather listen to someone singing about things I know, like breaking up over the phone, or a holiday romance or something." The Doctor laughed, and Jo wrinkled her nose at him. "You're going to tell me that's just what a girl my age would say about Mozart in, I don't know, Mendelssohn's time, aren't you?"
"Perhaps I'm thinking of a girl in the far distant future, who just doesn't see what relevance the Bay City Rollers have to her life?"
Jo snorted indignantly as the car pulled up beside the cab rank on Bow Street, outside the Opera House. "Say what you like, Doctor. The Rollers will be classics forever." She opened the door and stepped out into the grimy London rain. The Doctor, still laughing, flipped his cape over one shoulder, and followed her.
Scaffolding obscured most of the front facing of the Opera House itself, but the marketing department had done their best despite the disruption, and huge banners hung from every metal frame, flapping ominously in the wind, proclaiming the name of the current show in large black letters: Obedience, the Only God! In the banner, tiny figures in silver suits laboured under the weight of a spidery-looking device that they carried on their shoulders, their heads bowed.
"Well, the subject matter seems grim enough. Is that a satellite they're carrying?" Jo said. There was no response from the Doctor, and she looked over her shoulder to see him standing with his head tilted to one side, examining the banner with narrowed eyes. "Is something wrong, Doctor?"
The Doctor shook his head. "Let's get inside, Jo. No sense in standing and gawping, not while it's raining."
Inside, despite the lavish trappings, Jo thought the box-office smelled of damp carpet and old perfume. The bored attendant in the ticket booth carefully looked them up and down then made sure not to meet their eyes again. The Doctor, oblivious to the snub, hurried to the display of props from the opera, stepping blithely over the velvet ropes to run his hand over the twisted framework of the five-legged metal device depicted in the banner. With a noise of satisfaction, he bobbed down and plunged his arm deep inside the central box of the machinery.
Jo hurriedly positioned herself in front of the Doctor, blocking the theatre attendant's line of sight, thankful that there were very few people around at this time — the evening's performance was hours away. "Doctor! That's just a prop, you know. It's made of tinfoil and cardboard, it can't possibly be dangerous." She chewed her lip, as the Doctor rummaged in the prop's innards. "Can it?"
The Doctor held up a silver-wrapped disc which was set with a large plastic gem. He grinned. "Well, it is made of cardboard and tinfoil, I'll give you that, Jo. But tell me, who makes a perfect tinfoil replica of a psionic accumulator, right down to the power source? Whoever made this clearly copied from an authentic piece of equipment without knowing what it did, and that really is very peculiar indeed."
"May I ask what you're doing?" A pale man with a harried expression leaned over the ropes. His expensive suit was rumpled at the sleeves, and there were dark shadows under his pale grey eyes.
"Ah," said the Doctor, and stood up, brushing down his knees. "I'm the Doctor and this is Miss Grant."
"I'm János Storm, the creative director, and I'd appreciate an explanation of why I must waste time with special UNIT investigators when I've spent all morning with the police. As you can imagine, we're all very pressed for time after the incident last night." His lips, when pressed together, were bloodless and thin. On his lapel was a silver pin in the spidery shape of the psionic accumulator.
The Doctor smiled, broad and genial. "Mr Storm, thank you for seeing us. I must say, I do like the look of the renovations. It's going to look splendid, especially when you incorporate the Floral Hall."
The man's eyebrows shot up. "Those details are not even official! Why, the real estate has only just been acquired." He gave the Doctor a measuring glance. "You lot at UNIT certainly do your research. Come this way, we can talk privately in my office."
"Actually," said the Doctor, "I think it will waste less of your time if I take a stroll backstage — I have some pertinent questions I'd like to ask your prop designer." He deliberately stood between Jo and Mr Storm, so that the director couldn't see Jo frantically shaking her head. He made a neat bow, and walked away, calling back over his shoulder, "My assistant, Miss Grant, is perfectly qualified to speak with you about the murder."
Mr Storm flinched at the word and hurried Jo away, out of the public eye. "It's not as if I haven't got enough to worry about," he muttered to himself as they wove through the labyrinthine corridors, " I've only just cleared the police out of here in time to get ready for tonight's performance. And it's such an important performance." He pushed open the door to a well appointed office, pointed her towards a seat, and slumped into his own with a sigh. "You know, your friend is going to be disappointed. Mr Isäntä designs all his own props, and he's in seclusion, always is before a performance."
"That's unusual, though, isn't it? For a composer to design his own props."
Mr Storm ran his hand through his thinning hair. "That's the least of it. Half the score is written for electronic equipment only he knows how to operate; the lighting for the show is completely automated. A month ago, I knew what every switch and every cable did, but now I'm completely lost."
Jo raised her eyebrows."It seems you've put a lot of faith in an unknown composer — why put yourself through all that?"
"I can tell you haven't seen the opera yourself, Miss Grant." Mr Storm's eyes burned with intensity. "It changes you. You cannot but admire Mr Isäntä's genius. Everyone in the world must experience his gift."
The strings section was rehearsing in the orchestra pit, and the Doctor found himself humming along to the odd, lilting melody as he stood in the wings and watched the crew bustle around the stage. Apart from the music, it was suspiciously quiet — no cheery songs, no colourful cursing, just people working quietly and diligently at their assigned tasks. It was nothing like any backstage crew he'd ever seen.
"Extremely suspicious." He rubbed a hand across his chin, and reached out with a long arm to snag the elbow of a passing technician. "I say, can you point me towards the prop room?" The man, tall and solid with a bristling ginger beard, stood slack-jawed in front of him, eyes unfocussed. The Doctor snapped his fingers in front of the man's eyes, and the man frowned and moved his lips as if to speak, then sank back into the classic torpor of the hypnotised mind. The Doctor patted him gently on the arm, "Never mind, old chap." Keep it simple, he reminded himself, you don't want him to burn out his own mind fighting the conditioning. He pulled the foil-covered disc from his pocket, and held it up in front of the man. "Where can I find this?"
The man blinked, then focussed on the gem. With sudden purpose in his eyes, he turned on his heel and shuffled backstage, and through a long, twisting corridor that angled vaguely downhill. The Doctor followed, down a rickety staircase that was more like a ladder, along more corridors lit with flickering electric bulbs that swung to and fro on exposed wires, and finally into a large, dank room, dominated by an enormous papier-mâché sphinx. The Doctor looked at the ceiling — a large block and tackle hung from a reinforced beam, next to a wide hatch. "We must be right under the stage, then?" He turned to his guide, but saw only the man's broad back as he wandered back to his assigned task. "Ah, never mind. I'm sure I can find my way back."
He pushed past a chipboard forest of cherry trees and a bejewelled howdah. Props from various productions had been pushed to the edges of the room to make space in the centre for the large, five-legged device. A bigger, more fully realised version of the one in the lobby, nearly seven feet tall, it perched on spidery legs that sprouted from the bulbous central body. The Doctor ran his hand over one of the struts with appreciation. "Reinforced titanium alloy. And look at this pitting and oxidation — you've certainly spent some time in vacuum, haven't you? Now, let's see what kind of data you're calibrated to collect." He flipped the access panel open on the central unit, which had silicon seals and hydraulic hinges where the prop-manufacturer had used silver tape and foam rubber. Inside, as he expected, the crystal winked and blinked at him from the centre of the palladium disc. The Doctor tapped the crystal once to activate the storage pattern.
The crystal blinked twice in response, and projected a neural network against the open panel. "That seems familiar." The Doctor tilted his head, trying to make sense of the pattern. "Wait a moment, I'd recognise those synapses anywhere! But that doesn't make any sense at all."
Sudden applause made the Doctor jump. "I know my reasoning is a little more complex than anything you're currently equipped understand, Doctor, but I assure you, I'm very precise in my calculations." The Master beamed in delight from the doorway. "But credit where credit's due - I must admit, I wasn't expecting to see you for some time. There's only been one act of mass violence so far. It's a credit to your vigilance that you're here so early."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "I suppose, from that back-handed compliment, I am to assume that you were expecting me. As if I couldn't tell that from seeing my own neural network programmed into your psionic accumulator."
The Master flicked imaginary dust from the lapel of his charcoal suit. "Of course. I need the cerebral power of a Time Lord to power the accumulator, and I certainly do not intend to use my own brain matter. Yours will do, for what I want. It's only human minds I want to overwhelm, after all."
The Doctor leaned closer. "Now, if you think I'm going to allow you to do something like that, you're sorely mistaken." He narrowed his eyes at the Master, who was looking over the Doctor's shoulder. "What?"
The Master smirked. "Behind you, Doctor."
The Doctor put his hands on his hips. "Oh, you've got that all wrong, I'm afraid. This is opera, not pantomime." The chain from the block and tackle swung into his head with a resounding thud, and he crumpled to his knees, then fell flat on his back. The stagehand that had led him to the prop room loomed over him from above. As consciousness fled, the Doctor could hear the Master laughing to himself.
"No, Doctor. That is what we, in the theatre industry, call farce."
Jo paced nervously around the lobby, and wondered if it was too soon to ask the indifferent clerk to page the Doctor again. Her interview with János Storm had ended abruptly when the director was called away to a crisis backstage, but they'd exchanged enough information for Jo to see that there was something clearly wrong with Mr Storm's judgment when it came down to Mr Isäntä and his opera. No experienced director would even consider an unpublished composer's first major work for an esteemed establishment like the Royal Opera, and yet Mr Storm spoke of the composer as if he were some kind of visionary. Jo had seen that glazed, slightly disbelieving expression enough times to recognise a person under the influence of some kind of mesmerism — as if the man couldn't quite believe the words that came out of his own mouth. She shuddered, remembering the times that she had been under the same influence. Jo never wanted to feel that way again. She checked her watch: forty minutes since she'd seen the Doctor, and fifteen minutes since she'd had him paged. She hurried across the thick carpet to the box-office window where the bored clerk was cleaning his fingernails with a letter-opener.
"Mr Isäntä!" The clerk's voice lit up with energy, and one hand flew to the silver pin on his waistcoat as he stared in awe over Jo's shoulder.
Jo turned, and saw the Master bearing towards her from the other end of the lobby, the spearhead of a small crowd that included János Storm and a number of burly men in overalls. She gauged the distance between the group and the door, and chewed her lip for a moment. "Don't worry, Doctor," she whispered, more to convince herself of her own courage than anything else. "I'll be back to find you, as soon as I can." Then she pelted for the revolving glass door. As she flew through the doorway, she kicked over one of the brochure stands at the door, and jammed it half in and out of the revolving door. One glance over her shoulder showed the supposed Mr Isäntä leaning against the jammed door, his face filled with rage. Then she turned the corner and vanished into the gathering gloom. She ran until she had no more breath, darting in and out of the afternoon foot traffic, until she was sure that she wasn't being followed. Then she found a payphone, and called the Brigadier.
"No, Brigadier, you can't launch an assault team on the Royal Opera — even I can see that's going to end up with a lot of dead opera patrons." Jo blew on her tea to cool it down while she gestured around the tiny café. "That's why we're meeting here, so we can keep everything low key. Think about it — how many people do you know who go to the opera? How many people in Parliament, or in MI5 or the Army have season tickets like you do? The Master saw me, and he has the Doctor. He's got to be expecting UNIT to thunder through the doors at any minute. This way, we'll have the element of surprise."
The Brigadier shifted uncomfortable on the wicker seat at the thought. "But Miss Grant, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of, of..." He couldn't quite bring himself to say it.
"An undercover rescue mission!" Jo's voice was triumphant, and she sipped her tea with relish. "But first we have to find a disguise. They'll be looking out for me, so I have to be totally unrecognisable." She popped the last piece of biscuit into her mouth. "Come on, we have to go shopping. There's barely enough time before curtain-up."
"I must say, Miss Grant," said the Brigadier to the dark-haired figure looking over the crowd with a supercilious expression from behind her enormous sunglasses, "You're not doing anything for my reputation. What if word gets back to Doris?" He nodded politely to the Minister for Public Transport, and twitched at his kilt nervously as he followed the Minister's approving gaze to Miss Grant's legs, exposed by her very short, shimmering dress.
Jo brushed a hand over her sleek black wig, and leaned on the Brigadier's arm coquettishly to whisper in his ear. "Call me Vespa, remember? We're undercover. And don't worry, I'm sure all your friends will be utterly discreet. And if they're not, well, then I'll apologise to Doris myself."
The warning bell sounded, and the crowd began to dissipate as they filed into the auditorium. The Brigadier's seats were well up in the balcony, and from that lofty height, Jo could see that a large section of the stalls had been reserved for some kind of broadcast equipment. The Brigadier leaned forward with interest, then pointed surreptitiously towards the armed guards at the door.
The lights dimmed, and the noise fell away, only to rise up again in surprise as János Storm appeared from behind the curtain. He held up his hands for silence, then cleared his throat."Ladies and gentlemen, I know it is unprecedented for the Director to address the audience before a performance, but I beg your indulgence. Tonight is a very special performance, and as such, will be filmed for live broadcast. I have the honour and the sadness to announce that tonight will be the final performance of Obedience: The Only God. Please, enjoy." He made a small bow, and slipped between the curtains again, as the audience murmured in surprise. Jo and the Brigadier looked at each other nervously.
The lights dimmed, and silence fell over the auditorium again. A single spotlight cut into the darkness, and the Master stepped into the circle of light, dressed in crisp white tie and tails, holding a conductor's baton lightly in one hand. The crowd took in a collected breath, and burst into spontaneous, enthusiastic applause as Mr Isäntä bowed left and right with a perfectly calculated expression of surprised humility. He raised his hands for silence, and the applause stopped as if cut off. The Master took the conductor's podium and raised his baton. Over the first few bars of the overture, Jo whispered to the Brigadier, "I really don't like this one little bit."
"Absolutely, I agree. Time to jump ship and find the Doctor, I think." The Brigadier stood up, and with apologies to the people beside him, helped Jo to the aisle.
At the door, the guard stepped forward to block their way, and Jo lurched forward with her hand over her mouth. "I'm going to be sick!" Apparently, mesmerism held little sway over squeamishness, and the guard flinched back long enough for them both to slip through the door and away.
The upstairs foyer was deserted, and so was the lobby downstairs — even the attendants had gone in to experience the final performance. The discordant notes of the overture floated eerily through the empty space. The ticket box was unattended, and the Brigadier reached over the counter to push the cash drawer closed. "The guards must be to keep people inside the auditorium." The opening aria began with a clash of cymbals and an electronic whine, and the Brigadier winced. "I begin to understand why they're armed."
"I think the music has something to do with the Master's mind control. I'd certainly want to run away." Jo tore off her wig, and kicked off her impractical shoes. "Right. Let's get backstage and find the Doctor."
They searched through most of the first act — trying door after door along the long and winding corridors to no avail. Crashing gongs and a rousing chorus condemning the foolishness of those who were not obedient, followed by thunderous applause, indicated the end of the first act, just as they found the stage door. The Brigadier tugged Jo back into the shadows, expecting a flood of cast and crew, but after a brief pause, the music started again: crisp staccato notes ringing out in counterpoint to waves of electronic static. The Brigadier opened the stage door tentatively; the music was much louder on the other side. He gave a sour look. "This really is the most awful drivel. He may be the Master of something, but classical composition isn't it."
The second act was well underway when they found the Doctor in the props room below-stage, tied to the upper framework of the psionic accumulator by his arms, feet dangling a good distance above the ground. Multicoloured cables taped to his temples snaked down the device and into the central unit. Music from the performance above pounded through the wooden ceiling, and Jo's head began to pound with it. The guard who had been assigned to watch the Doctor had already been overwhelmed: he knelt on the floor with his head tipped towards the ceiling as the tenor's voice boomed through the stage floor, extolling the virtues of absolute submission. The piccolos in counterpoint were shrill, boring like a drill through Jo's head, and she sagged against the Brigadier with a sigh.
At the soft sound, the Doctor's eyes sprung open, despite the bellowing of the tenor. "Jo! Brigadier, you must both block your ears. There's a stuffed sheep just near the door, the wool should provide enough insulation."
"Right," said the Brigadier. He eyed the sheep dubiously, then tore a handful of fleece from its back and stuffed small balls of wool into Jo's ears then his own.
Jo's eyes fluttered open again. "Ugh, I smell lanolin. Doctor! Are you all right? I'm so sorry I ran away this afternoon — the Master, he tried to catch me in the lobby, I ran to get help, because I knew you were in trouble. Oh, am I shouting? I'm sorry — it's hard to gauge with my ears full of wool."
"You did the right thing, Jo." The Doctor shifted around to ease the weight on his shoulders. "I'm fine, though I wouldn't mind having something rest my feet on."
Jo looked around, found a papier mâché minaret and pushed it towards the accumulator. The Doctor settled his feet on it with a happy sigh, almost as if he were relaxing in an armchair. "Thank you, Jo. That's so much better."
"Well, then." The Brigadier prowled around the bottom of the device, testing the strength of the legs. "Let's see about getting you disconnected from that gizmo. I'll call in my team and we'll get the Master behind bars." He propped one foot in a cross-bar and hoisted himself upwards towards the Doctor.
"Alistair! Don't touch those cables, for heaven's sake. I'm telepathically connected to the accumulator! If you disturb the connection now, I could have a seizure. It will take time and effort to disengage myself — otherwise I'm risking permanent damage."
The Brigadier paused, perched high in the scaffolding of the accumulator, and tilted his head towards the stage. "Act Three is just getting under way — we'll have time, Doctor. Just tell me what I have to do, and we can have you free."
The Doctor shook his head. "I don't want to be free, Brigadier. I haven't been hanging here counting sheep, you know. I have a plan. The Master's opera contains a series of telepathic resonances designed to lull the mind into a receptive state. The psionic accumulator then overwrites the mind with his commands — with a Time Lord physically connected into the circuit, his control will be absolute, or so he thinks."
Jo chewed her lip. "But you'll be able to stop him, won't you, Doctor?"
"Of course I will, Jo. The Master's arrogance often causes him to underestimate his foes — I can easily overwhelm the telepathic commands. I should be able to reverse the effects of the music, and free those poor people from his influence. I just have to wait for him to activate the accumulator at the critical time."
There was silence in the prop room, while above them, Act Three began to build towards a magnificent climax. Jo chewed her lip. "It sounds a bit dangerous, Doctor."
"I agree with Miss Grant, Doctor." The Brigadier lodged his feet more comfortably in the lattice work of the accumulator. "You're taking quite a gamble with innocent bystanders at risk. Are you sure you're not overestimating your abilities?"
The music from the stage above reached a tumultuous height, and a panel in the ceiling rolled back on silent tracks. Light flooded the room. The cables attached to the accumulator began to vibrate, and the Doctor looked upwards towards the stage. "That's my cue. Yes, Alistair, I think I'm perfectly capable — there can't be more than a thousand minds up there. And human minds, though fascinating, don't really pose much challenge to my telepathic abilities."
Jo remembered the cameras and broadcast equipment. She put a hand on the leg of the accumulator, which was beginning to vibrate as the cables supporting it wound up. " Oh, no! The broadcast! Doctor, the Master has a film-crew in the theatre, he's transmitting the performance out of the Opera House. It's a national broadcast."
"International," the Brigadier said, glumly. "Could be millions of people watching. Can you overwhelm a million minds, Doctor?" From the roof, the cables groaned as the last of the slack was taken up, and the accumulator lifted a few inches off the ground.
"Ah," the Doctor raised his eyebrows as he thought about it. "No, I'm afraid that's a little beyond even my abilities." He looked up at the bright lights as the cables drew tighter on the accumulator. "Alastair, do you have your sidearm with you?"
The Brigadier hooked one arm around a strut and drew his weapon. "I do, Doctor."
The Doctor took a deep breath. "I hate to ask this of you, my dear friend, but if it comes to a choice between me and the people of the world, I hope you're able to do the right thing." His voice was very calm.
Jo realised what the Doctor meant, and flung herself at his knees, wrapping her arms around them tightly. "No, Doctor! There will be another way!" The accumulator began to shake as the cables supporting it pulled tight, then it slowly lifted from the ground, lifted with stately grace through the opening in the ceiling. Jo clung on tight to the metal struts as she shouted above the rising drone of voices pouring down from the stage. "Tell me how to stop the machine!"
The Doctor shook his head as they were all lifted into the bright heat of the spotlights. "There's no time, Jo. I'm so very sorry, my dear." The stage floor passed them, and they were onstage — the psionic accumulator touched down gently on the wooden floor, and the entire cast of the opera stood before them. The Doctor was forced to raise his voice in competition with the ringing chorus. "Imagine what the Master might do with a million or more minds under his control. It's unthinkable, I cannot allow it."
The soprano, clad in a space-suit, launched into a soaring arpeggio, sprinkling the accumulator with silvery petals from her upturned helmet. Jo held up her hand to the lights and peered at the audience: rows and rows of blank faces, completely untroubled by the man tied to the metal machinery. Their mouths were open and drooling as the music prepared their minds for telepathic control.
With a nimble leap, the Master stepped from the conductor's podium to the apron of the stage. He tucked his conductor's baton under his arm and strode through the chorus. "How typically considerate of you, Doctor. I'm sure the people of Earth would thank you for your noble sacrifice." All around him, unperturbed, the mesmerised cast carried on their performance. He pointed his baton at the accumulator with a flourish, and the machine began to hum. "I think, however, that your friends will be a little less eager to throw away your life."
From his lofty perch in the arms of the accumulator, the Brigadier took steady aim. "It's been an honour to work with you, Doctor. Sorry that it had to end this way." What was meant as a quiet exchange between friends carried much further than he expected, and the Master shielded his eyes to look up at the Brigadier with an expression of annoyance.
"Then again, perhaps I've overestimated your friends' regard for you." The Master pointed his conductor's baton at the Brigadier, clearly taking aim.
"No!" Jo let go of the Doctor's legs and darted under the machinery, just as the soprano began her final, magnificent arpeggio. She prised the panel in the base open, and reached inside, remembering the Doctor extracting the silvery disc from the replica in the lobby. It was hot, blistering her hand as she yanked it free from the body of the accumulator. As the wires pulled free, there was a scream of pain from the Doctor, and an answering bellow of rage from the Master. Jo gripped the neural circuit and dashed away from the accumulator, evading the Master as he pelted after her, his dignity abandoned and teeth bared in fury. She threw the circuit to the ground and stamped on it, forgetting that her feet were bare. When her attack did no harm to the metal at all, she snatched the helmet from the arms of the dazed soprano, and smashed it hard against the central gem, which pulverised with a very satisfying crunch.
A shot rang out across the stage. Jo shrieked and turned towards the Doctor, but the Brigadier had his pistol trained on the Master, who clapped a hand to his arm in outrage: blood oozed between his gloved fingers. Jo ignored him, clambering back up to where the Doctor hung senseless from the defunct accumulator. She put her head to his chest: two heart beats thudded strongly, if erratically. All around them, the cast and audience of the opera blinked and looked around in surprise.
The Brigadier climbed awkwardly down from his perch in the struts of the accumulator, keeping his aim on the Master. "And now, the part I despise the most: explaining the aftermath to the general public." He motioned with his gun at the Master. The Master stood his ground defiantly until the Brigadier was close enough to touch, then he flung down a handful of pellets that ignited instantly in the air, releasing plumes of acrid yellow gas. The Brigadier choked and stumbled, and the Master took his opportunity and fled into the confused and milling crowd. By the time the Brigadier could stand up straight, there was no sign of the Master.
"I suppose I ought to have seen that coming," the Brigadier wiped his watering eyes and tried to catch his breath, "Should have shot him where he stood. Too compassionate by half, Alistair. No doubt you'll regret that." He strode off into the wings to commandeer a telephone and get his back-up team down from the roof.
Still in the rigging of the accumulator, ignoring the pain from her burned hand, Jo put her hand to the Doctor's cheek: he was still unconscious, pale and clammy under the stage lights. "Oh, Doctor, I'm so sorry."
UNIT soldiers filed in through the emergency exits and began organising an orderly evacuation of the audience, crew and cast. Cold air washed in from outside, smelling of mundane things like London rain and exhaust fumes, dissipating the acrid haze of smoke hovering above the stage. The Doctor coughed and raised his head. "I've told you, Brigadier. Bessie has no tolerance for draughts." He looked around himself in surprise. "Goodness me, have we landed at Covent Garden?"
Jo flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around his chest until he complained. "Jo, Jo, you'll pull my arms from their sockets!"
"I thought I'd fried your brain, Doctor!" Jo gave him a little shake. "I don't care how noble it seems, you mustn't ever give up like that again. There's always a way out, you know."
The Doctor smiled ruefully. "I am sorry, Jo. I suppose I must have gotten caught up in the opera. It lends a certain grandiose drama to everything.
They watched together as János Storm alternately wrung his hands at the Brigadier, and swore bloody revenge on the head of Mr Isäntä.
"I think we can safely say," the Doctor grinned, as two burly soldiers cut him down from the accumulator, "That the Master will never work in this town again."
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story archived at http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=30965