There was something like a red-muffled tank moving along with the next section of the parade, surrounded by Reflectionist women. Those women (the same face and body repeated over and over again as children, women, matrons) danced arm in arm, and threw circlets of flowers around people's heads and shoulders, and tossed tiny candies into the laps of the people resting.
Great hazel eyes that were almost golden pivoted to stare at the Doctor.
"Well," boomed out a woman's voice. "Come and ride, if you want to talk. Because if I stop, the whole parade will pile up behind me."
Turlough wasn't quite certain what he was looking at. The thing he had thought might be a tank - it had a woman's face, but huge, his height from chin to brows, and a woman's torso to scale. It had four long shapely arms, and long red hair that flowed down to the ground, but the humped shape underneath that hair was nothing like a humanoid body. More like an insect's. The long multi-jointed legs sticking up all around it were each tipped with an engraved ivory tusk the length of his arm. It must be a puppet, a parade float of some sort.
"Prime," said the Doctor, tipping his hat to her. "A ride would be - my pleasure." He took Turlough by the arm and moved him forward, and in a flurry of extended knees and guiding hands they found themselves on the Prime's back, feeling heavy muscles rippling under them. From up here, the curvature of the Dome was more evident, and the great line of people dancing along its arc, moving back and forth, sometimes drifting away into the surrounding trees in twos or threes, and sometimes coming back.
The Doctor crossed his legs, seeming quite at ease: Turlough knelt back on his heels, ready to rise and jump in an instant. The hair and skin and muscle under his touch were unmistakably alive. This was no puppet. This was a living - person, of a sort.
"My companion had a question for you, Prime."
"Yes, Turlough, about the women - oh. Sorry, introductions are in order, aren't they? Vislor Turlough, this is Prime Mokaska Mother-Kaled-Skaro, the Reflectionist leader. If anyone can answer you, she can."
"A pleasure to meet you," she rumbled.
"Likewise I'm sure," Turlough said, his voice a bit high-pitched. It felt a little odd to address the back of the Prime's head. Perhaps she sensed that, because she turned one shoulder and gave them her profile, freckled nose and great shaggy brows and the top curve of a gilded breast ornamented with twined and flower-decked braids of her own hair, wound around and around and apparently glued to her skin. He could smell her, not an unpleasant smell, heavy and sweet, but it was rising from the red pelt under his legs.
Turlough swallowed, and the Prime's hand darted backwards and offered him a glass of some blue drink, tiny between her giant fingers. He drank, and managed to ask, "Why - what I wanted to know is, why there are so many Reflectionist women here?"
"And where are the rest of the Kaled women," the Doctor added, his tone shading towards sinister. He waved off a glass of the blue liquid, and the Prime handed it to one of the marching women, who drained it with a smile and a wink.
"The rest - oh, of course," the Prime said. "Well, Doctor, the reason why there are so many Daughters here, and so few native Kaleds, are both part of the same thing." She was staring at them with one eye; apparently she was able to see well enough out of the other to keep moving forward, because her steps lanced into the ground as steadily as clockwork. Each step made a faint rasping noise, as her long ivory foot-tusks slid into the hard-packed soil and out; Turlough looked back and saw women pouring what looked like seeds into the holes left behind.
"In your studies of Skaro, Doctor, did you ever come across mention of a chemical called Tek-Four?"
The Doctor flinched a little, and wondered if the Prime could feel it. Probably. He did not deny that he had studied Skaro (of course he had, in his endless battles through time and space with the Daleks - know your enemy was a concept he was quite familiar with). Instead he replied, "Can't say that I have, Prime."
"Well. Tek-Four is a universal preservative; it can keep food supplies fresh and nutritious for weeks at room temperature, and its effect on concentrated food pills is even stronger. It was first discovered just after the outbreak of the war; the crops had been destroyed, and the Kaleds only had what food supplies they had managed to salvage from their burning cities. So, Tek-Four was used in the factories, where all food was treated or produced. And by some strange coincidence, as soon as Tek-Four had been introduced, the birth ratio of male to female Kaled infants began to change."
"Change to what?" Turlough wondered.
"Ten to one - in the male's favour," the Prime said levelly.
The Doctor and Turlough took a moment to digest this. Turlough spoke first, his voice a bit thin but still clearly audible over the music.
"Ten male babies for every female? But - that's, it would destroy their civilisation!"
"No," the Prime corrected him. "The people were told, by their scientists who they trusted, that this was simply an after-effect of the war, of the environmental stress. They were told that they would have to keep those girl babies separate, safe in the deepest parts of their caves and mines and later in the Dome, so that they could produce more soldiers. Enough to compensate for the birth inequality."
"Tek-Four did that?"
"It did," she confirmed.
"And the people who introduced it as the universal preservative knew this would happen. Of course! They were just going to outbreed the enemy, meet them with an overwhelming force!" The Doctor was excited and horrified at once.
"Yes, a very clever bit of engineering. But they underestimated their opponents. Sex differences, strength ratios and such, separating male and female Thals are not great, and the Thal women started taking drugs so that they could breed early and then serve on the battlefield, pass on their genes before the possibility of contamination. Their psychic gifts, dilute as they were at the time, helped as well. The sniper who always knew just when to shoot, the commander who had a hunch as to where her atomic shells would have to land to breach the deepest Kaled laboratories - well. It was still a stalemate."
The Doctor let himself roll onto his back, feeling the Prime flex under him like a living carpet. "So, you had to make more Daughters. It was the only way to equalise the male to female Kaled ratio."
"Correct." She showed them half of her smile, and then it vanished.
Suddenly they were not moving, even though the Prime's giant knees kept pumping up and down on both sides of them; she was apparently marching in place.
"Sorry!" came a faint voice from ahead of them.
"Daughters, please go push him aside," the Prime said, and as a flood of women rushed past her, she muttered under her breath, "That little steam tank may be very authentic, but I wish they'd let us reinforce their cylinders with slightly more modern materials…"
In less than a minute the Prime was moving again; Turlough stared as they passed a tank that was angled out from the parade route. It was brutally archaic-looking, gleaming with fist-sized domed rivets and black enamel, but the two goggled men working on it seemed more sad than frustrated.
"C'mon, Sweet Victory, don't let us down girl!" one of them entreated, and got a burbling noise from the engines in response.
"Should be in a museum, not tooling around the landscape," the Prime muttered, and then glanced over her shoulder again. "And once we had created those women, of course, the real work began."
Her hands flickered expressively in the air. "Two halves of one race, kept apart by the strictest gender roles — men to serve and fight, women to bear and nothing more. And do you realise they taught all those men that they were heterosexual?"
"Imagine that," Turlough said a bit dryly. The couples they had seen in passing certainly seemed to have a fairly heavy male-male bias.
"The concepts of asexuality, homosexuality, or just good old-fashioned bisexuality weren't even discussed! They were just told 'Oh well, you'd certainly want to have sex with women, but there aren't any for you. Too bad, carry on'."
"Artificial insemination?" the Doctor guessed.
"Correct. The women never saw men, except for medical doctors, and were taught that they would be raped to death if they left their shielded Quarters." The Prime's broad shoulders slumped for an instant, the freckles rippling like stars across her shoulders. "And after the War was over, some were. And some men were killed by women who were afraid of them, and there were suicides. Those were almost harder to bear than the murders. Many of my Daughters died as well.
"And the children! An entire generation was growing up; ten little soldier-boys for every little breeder-girl...well. We had to make a lot of ten-year-old Daughters to fill in the gap."
"But what if they weren't interested in Daughters? In partners who were aliens?" the Doctor asked, a bit sharply.
The Prime's shoulders tensed. "Another preference that we have encouraged, actually. Because we don't seek to be the only women here, Doctor, even though we could be. It would be easy for us to eliminate the older Kaled women entirely, subsume all the men into our embrace...but we do not want that. We want partners, men and women who are equals, lovers, not slaves incapable of choice.
"As it is, every native Kaled woman who is not a Daughter has as many suitors, male or female or Daughters, as it pleases her. We dropped the war regulations against marriage within the first hundred days, and it's fairly common for two or three men to share one wife. And that's easier on the children, of course, having more parents around to care for them."
She looked back at her passengers. The Doctor's eyes met hers fearlessly.
"And while you were creating this lovers' paradise," his voice was bitter, "you were also encouraging the Daleks, sharing your alien knowledge and battle tactics with them. And helping Davros with his plans to Ascend to Eternity. You must have helped, every step of the way (steps Davros took thanks to those new legs you gave him, incidentally) and you must have known the price that Gallifrey would pay if he succeeded, or worse, if he failed.
"The Universe is a mirror, and every Reflection is a little bit different: so your people say, all over the universe. Tell me, what do you think they will make of this particular Reflection of yours?"
The Prime's marching steps actually slowed for a moment. Turlough dug his fingers into her hair, startled. If she should trip and drop them, or worse yet, roll onto them….
Her words were soft, even wistful. "We are all Reflectionists: sisters and brothers and others, together. There are basic underlying principles that we have not violated, that we would never violate. We will meet them, our fellow Reflectionists, and we will invite them to the dance that is our life, to be one with us, to share and mingle, and then to go on.
"And perhaps they will embrace us, like water to the ocean. Perhaps we shall become as one, and then part and go on, each of us greatly enriched. And perhaps they shall hold themselves apart from us, say that we are no longer a part of their Reflection. And - that will hurt us, terribly. But we shall go on with our life. And when we die, warn Heaven and Hell, for we have seen both here on Skaro, and made Hell into Heaven, and we will not hesitate to take our hands and minds to any who would oppose us, on this side of life, or the other."
"Warriors even after death, eh? Planning on conquering Eternity?"
"That would be difficult." She pouted for an instant. "It is, for starters, infinitely large, and extends an immeasurable period in time. How to conquer it? And why should we? Davros and his followers are there, and we are here, and someday we shall all be together." She blinked, and smiled. "Which will be very fine, I think. All of me that wished to leave left on the Fleet, but…I miss Davros. He was a very great man - now a very great Eternal. Thanks to you."
She dared to wink at the Doctor, and met an expression of cold fury.
"Oh, don't glare like that!" she scolded. "If you were so concerned about the after-effects of our Harvest, you wouldn't have run away and left your people so quickly."
"You saw that, I suppose."
"The Fleet sent back recordings; they observed your departure." She blinked, and her eyes slid to Turlough. He gestured with the empty glass in one hand, and almost reflexively accepted a full one offered to him.
"How do you feel about all this? About being a part of the Ascension?"
"I made a bargain," Turlough said, and drained the glass. "The mark of the Black Guardian, gone from my soul, in exchange for my — compliance."
"Let me point out to you, Doctor, that it would have been very easy for Davros to strip out, say, the curious part of your soul, so that you would not return to harass his people. Or the problem-solving part of it. As it were, the absolute minimum was-"
"Harvested, yes," she repeated.
The Doctor's face was tight with upset. "And this is what my Harvest bought — a race still war-ready, armed with every weapon that Davros could build and every alien technology that you Reflectionists could give them. And the Daleks are undoubtedly upgraded as well. What you have done is only going to accelerate the Daleks' conquest of the universe, of their destruction of all life that is not theirs-"
"I should think the Kaleds would have something to say about that, seeing as how they live in this universe." She sighed, massively.
"We gambled, Doctor. We gambled that a single Reflection could infiltrate the Kaled Bunker and win Davros' attention. We gambled that Davros could be put into a new body, and there treated for his illnesses, mental and otherwise, and brought as close to normal as an intellect such as his can ever be. And yes, we gambled with you, to distract you, to manipulate you, in order to send Davros into the realm of the Eternals. We threw the dice, and we won. You were a part of our victory, Doctor, and we cherish you, as we cherish and adore and promote all sentient life. But we will not pretend that our victory was a failure, in order to make you feel better for your brooding."
Turlough was feeling quite affable for some reason, and simply nodded his head in agreement, his fingers tapping out the marching rhythm of the Prime's footsteps — tinesteps? — on her back.
"There's nothing I can do to open your eyes, is there?" The Doctor's voice was hopeless, then his face firmed with resolve. "Come on, Turlough. There's nothing we can do here — this time."
He slid off the Prime's side (she politely bowed her legs to let him do this) with Turlough behind him. He took two steps along the parade route, and then turned.
"Before I go, just one last thing. The name of that scientist who invented Tek-Four, do you remember it?" The Doctor's tone was breezily casual.
The Prime's reaction was not. She frowned, and her brows knit into a solid red bar. Two of her hands shot out and took the Doctor under the armpits, and in an instant he found himself dangling in front of her face, helpless as a mouse in cat's grip.
"His name is of no concern to you, Time Lord." He could feel her breath stirring his clothes, and the menace in her tone and her hands. Her legs moved as she marched in place, and around her feet gathered the Daughters, their identical faces grim. "He is protected, from now through all time. You will not meet him and persuade him not to create Tek-Four, and you will not convince his mother not to bear children, or his grandfather to commit suicide before he reaches puberty and donates to the sperm banks. You will not kill us, all of us, to blot out a future that is alive," a third hand reached out and pressed one fingertip against the Doctor's forehead, "here and only here! Only in your head does this vision of a universe scalded bare of life by the Daleks exist!
"It has been unwritten, Doctor. That future is done. We are the new future, and you can fight us or you can join us. But you cannot undo what has been done."
She could have dropped the Doctor his own height to the ground; instead she placed him down, and stepped over him with deft speed. Her long red hair tickled as it brushed past in a heavy perfume-scented wave.
"Goodbye," she said over one shoulder, marching on to the beat of the music. "May we never meet again, except in peace." She turned her head forward and stepped on, surrounded by her Daughters, leaving the Doctor standing small in her wake.