The travellers moved towards the Dome, slowly, observing the landscape as they went.
The trees here were different than the ones in the orchard. Those had been rigorously shaped for fruit growth, straight up and down with great heavy crowns of leaves; these trees were wide, with S-shaped trunks and branches conveniently placed for climbing or sitting on. Trees for recreation, not food. The grass was cropped short, but not evenly; it was cut into patterns, spirals radiating out from the trunks, checkerboards and rippling stripes. Living art that would last only until the grass grew out and erased it.
The people circling the Dome were a parade. A military parade: marchers in uniform, great metal cradles towing guns or rockets, tanks gleaming with new paint. Men with grim faces, their booted feet stamping down in perfect lockstep. But not everyone was dressed for war. There were people in festive clothes or even more festive paint-decorated nudity who danced around the military figures, displaying themselves, and sometimes pulling them out of line for a quick kiss or cuddle or more.
On second inspection, the weapons in the marchers' hands were bound with ribbons and flowers. Chains of flowers tied swords into their sheaths, and guns into their holsters. The tanks' cannons flowed with some intoxicating liquid, judging from the eager way the painted marchers held cups under that stream; the drink was golden or crimson or deepest blue, splashing in the tall glasses, colouring the drinkers' lips and bringing a flush to their faces.
The marchers were Kaleds, of course. Familiar to the Doctor from many meetings in the past, and to Turlough from one unforgettable meeting on Gallifrey. A pale race, with predominantly dark hair and dark eyes. They marched, and they danced, and they made their march a dance. They spun arm in arm, men with men, or women with women, or mixed pairs. Couples perched on the well-scrubbed decks of the tanks, kissing and caressing; others offered kisses to everyone they met.
Again and again the military marchers were dragged aside, and then rejoined the parade. Some returned less a few articles of clothes, or their helmets, or their weapons; and some revellers took up weapons and fell into line. It was clear as they watched that there was no real distinction between the military and the rest of the paraders; they were constantly switching roles.
The Doctor's eyes were harsh in their appraisal. The well-exercised bodies of the marchers, and the skilled way that they handled their weapons, suggested that the Kaleds were still living up to their heritage as a martial race. There were other groups marching: women carrying babies, men and women carrying signs proclaiming their professions, but they all had the same alert air and hard-muscled physiques. Even the musicians held their great brass spiral instruments like weapons, and the cymbals that crashed like shivering thunder were razor-edged.
Turlough swallowed as he watched; the spectacle was as lush as could be imagined. The sight of the marchers in their costumes or lack of same, the grace of their dancing bodies, the sounds of their singing voices and instruments, the smells in the warm breezes blowing past them: hot foods, perfumes, and people. He was more eager than usual to follow the Doctor, who was still working his way closer to the march. He was rather thirsty, and apparently anyone could just walk up and take up a glass and fill it from the drink-fountains. Surely they could spare a glass for him.
They had seen only a few Daleks; one had been herding a dazed-looking man with a bruise rising on his face towards a Dome entrance. A few others drifted along with the flow of the parade, but none of them turned their eyestalks to see the travellers.
"Are the Kaleds - I mean to say, do they clone themselves?" Turlough asked curiously. "Those women-" There were certainly a lot of similar-looking women marching. They all shared the same air of authority as well: they seemed to be in charge in some way, guiding the parade around couples lost in their embraces, or walking arm in arm with men whose blank or twitching faces showed some inner turmoil. The women all looked very much like Esselle, sharp-nosed with wide hips and intense dark eyes.
"No, those are the Reflectionists. The Daughters of Skaro, they call themselves. On Skaro, all Reflectionists look alike - so far as I know."
Turlough considered how many women in the parade wore the same face. It seemed to be a considerable percentage of the whole. "But why would they make so many-"
They rounded one of the larger trees and came face to face with two different women. Young women, laughing, wearing white dresses, their hair bound with long streamers of ribbon that dripped with red tassels. Not Reflectionists; their faces were different, one had light-brown hair, and the other had startling green eyes outlined in grey paint. They were sun-scorched across the cheekbones, just a little; clearly they had been outside for some time. And they smiled, holding hands so tight that their fingers were white.
In unison they inhaled at the sight of the strangers, their faces flushed with elation, as though ready to burst with delight. Then they laughed, again.
One of them blurted out, "We're married!" Then they giggled again, and kissed each other, and scampered away, bare ring-decorated feet skipping through the green patterned grass, hand in hand.
"Bye, ambassadors!" one of them shouted as they merged back into the parade.
"Ambassadors, of course." The Doctor took off his hat and methodically tucked it under his arm. "We must look like Thals to them."
"And the Thals are?" Turlough asked. This was all rather confusing, Daleks, Kaleds and now Thals: he thought he might need a chart to keep them all separate.
"The Thals were the enemy of the Kaleds, for a thousand years. A telepathic race."
"They're the ones who convinced you that the Daleks had been destroyed."
"Yes. And they tend to be blonds." The Doctor's own fair hair ruffled a little in the wind. "The perfect disguise, in this case, is no disguise at all."
They did not join the parade; instead they walked beside it, watching. Other people were drifting along as they did: talking, or sitting and resting. The group marching parallel to them at this point in the parade carried banners proclaiming themselves the Dome Plumbers; some of them carried comically large tools, and others were dressed in a froth of artificial bubbles of some plastic that had a magnifying quality. Turlough's eyes were locked almost involuntarily on a man who was wearing what appeared to be ribbons of all colours tied around a certain section of his anatomy, and nothing more, when they heard a voice coming from among the trees. The Doctor raised his head; that voice was familiar.
* * *
The voice belonged to an older man, with white hair and dark brows and a smile of stunning charm flashing through his natty white beard. He was seated with his back to a tree, and wearing a quasi-military jacket and pants in a deep blue shade; lettered in angular script across one sleeve were the words North Biotechnical. And dandled on his knee was a dark-haired infant boy, wearing only blue shorts and a flower-wreath in his hair.
"Aren't you just the most beautiful boy in the world? Aren't you? Aren't - oh, excuse me," he said, looking up at the two men standing over him.
He rose with the infant on one arm. "Ambassadors, this is Skoll. I'm sorry to impose on you for your unbiased opinion, but you must admit, he is the most perfect little boy in the world."
Skoll blinked at the visitors and pouted.
"Ah, he seems very charming. Is he yours?" Turlough managed to ask.
"Oh no, no! No, he's Caso's son. I'm watching him for her," he said proudly.
"Hello, Ronson," said the Doctor, and the white-haired man looked at him carefully.
"Would I - do I know you?" he finally asked, holding the infant a bit closer to himself, protectively.
"Well, you once smuggled me out of the Bunker with your notebook, to save me from being a Dalek target. I was dressed differently back then: different clothes, different body…I am sorry about losing that notebook, by the way. I never had a chance to apologise."
"The Doctor." Ronson's expression changed, from delight to a nervous fear that suddenly reminded the Doctor of how the scientist had acted when they first met. "I - I'd heard that you had changed."
He looked at Turlough, squinted, and finally hazarded, "Sarah Jane?"
"Hardly," Turlough snapped.
"Ronson!" someone called. The caller was an older woman with a pleasantly lined face, leading a little girl by one hand. Their long white dresses were almost identical, except for the woman's strap-woven vest. The girl stared at the visitors with a tiny frown.
"Caso," Ronson said, his eyes darting back and forth between her and the Doctor. "Ah, I was just introducing these men to Skoll."
"He's beautiful, isn't he?" She smiled and her face lit up with deep happiness.
"He's boring," said the girl. She beckoned imperiously towards the Doctor, and he went on one knee and turned his ear to her.
She leaned close and whispered very loudly, "All he does is poop!"
"Well, that is rather characteristic of babies," the Doctor suggested.
"Young lady, I'll have you know that when you were this age, you pooped like a champion," Ronson said with a mock-frown. "I changed enough diapers to know that."
"And then you had your company create the perfect diaper," Caso said, standing next to Ronson. "The mothers of Skaro are eternally grateful, I assure you." Her eyes lingered on him with more than just neutral praise.
"I saw you in the newsreels, you're the Doctor."
Caso tensed at that plain statement, delivered with all the boredom that a little girl could manage. She reached out and pulled her daughter close, and her other hand went slipping into the broad coloured sash of her dress.
"Caso, no!" Ronson put a hand on her arm, probably to keep her from drawing a weapon. "It's Peace Day."
"If he was any danger, do you think the Daughters and the Daleks would let him stay here?"
That stilled her.
"I don't care," said the girl, frowning and crossing her arms. "I saw him in the newsreels. He's bad, he should go away."
"Now, what makes you think I'm bad?" said the Doctor, back on his feet.
"You're why Bryn and Frimma don't have daddies, 'cause their daddies were killed by aliens. You're why Davros had to go away, so that more aliens wouldn't come." Her frown whitened her lips, and her brown eyes glared up at the Doctor. "You go away!" she demanded, and stamped her tiny bare foot. "I don' want you here, nobody wants you have, so go away! Now!"
The Doctor looked for help to the girl's mother, and met an equivalent frown.
"As it happens, I was just about to discuss something private with Ronson," she said tightly. "If you would excuse us?"
The Doctor dithered for a moment, and cast one look at Ronson. Ronson gave a minute shrug.
"Very well…A pleasure to meet you all." He went as though to tip his hat, remembered that it was in his pocket, and finally just left. Turlough glanced back over his shoulder as he followed, wondering what the private discussion was going to be about.
* * *
The Doctor decided to get a closer look at the parade. Maybe those weapons were just mock-ups, maybe the marchers were just — very healthy.
As soon as the Doctor left the shelter of the trees, two young men came dashing up to him. They were wearing the same sort of loose colourful clothing as the rest of the non-military marchers, along with ribbons tied through their hair in an elaborate three-way braid of white, red, and black strands. They also wore identical gleaming white smiles.
"Excuse me, sirs-" one asked.
"-but we're collecting for the Temple-" said the other.
"-and it would be an honour-"
"-for you to be the first Thals to contribute-"
"Ah, what Temple?" the Doctor broke in. The two men were very alike, enough to be fraternal twins perhaps. That might explain the way they completed each other's sentences.
"We want to dedicate a Temple to the Ascended. We've got the votes, an' the building; we just need the money."
The Doctor looked at them, his face completely blank. He crossed his arms, slowly, and let a bit of coldness leak through his expressions. Turlough thought he could actually feel the air chill around the other man.
"A Temple. To the Ascended." He sighed. "From my pers-, in my personal opinion, the last thing any sane person would want would be to attract the attention of the Eternals."
"But they work miracles," one of the men objected. "And they have given so much to Skaro, it is only right that we honour them. Ravon-"
"-and Davros," they finished in unison, a bit breathily.
"And what about Esselle?" the Doctor asked, and the men actually flinched.
"And is there a section, some little niche, set aside for myself?" The Doctor knew as soon as the words left his lips that he should have concealed his identity. But both Gharman and the girl had mentioned seeing records of the Ascension, sent back by the Fleet. He wondered for a dour instant what point of view they had used: a Dalek circling overhead, filming him prone and sweating in the paralytic grip of Davros' machinations? And were they filming him now? Probably.
The men stared at the Doctor, and suddenly their mouths fell open as one.
"You're him," one gasped. "The Doctor. I didn't recognise you without the-" and he gestured above his head, as though outlining the great gorget-crest of a Time Lord's regalia.
"You really were there, weren't you. At the Ascension," the other said.
"Yes. Esselle stood with Davros and the others as an equal, and unless she was killed in the process, I expect she would be as powerful as the rest of them. If not more so."
"She is," the man actually looked around and leaned closer, "She is, um, the word is - the word is discreet. It would not be fitting for her to be honoured as they are."
Suddenly he smiled, teeth bright. "And besides, the building we're goin' to convert has three sides. Hard to fit four into three."
After a brief conversation in which the two Kaleds had to be firmly dissuaded from taking a lock of the Doctor's hair as a relic of the Ascension, they sloped off, looking nervously over their shoulders at the blond man from the newsreels.