The Alchemist's Invitation

by ElsieMcC [Reviews - 0]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure

It was night in city, but the streets still buzzed with life and activity. Torches and lanterns glowed in the darkness, lighting the way to inns, or to home at the end of the working day. Street sellers shouted their wares, trying to tempt those passing by with food, competing with the cries of showmen advertising their latest attractions. The streets were narrow and pedestrians wound their way along the edges of the roads, trying to avoid being splashed with the filth thrown up by the wheels of passing carts or carriages. It began to rain, and, while those who were able to ran to take shelter, those who could not merely cursed and carried on, the sellers plying their trade, the beggars huddling against walls, trying to find even a little respite from the weather. Away from the bustle of the city centre, the alchemist looked out of his window as he closed the shutters. The moon was hidden behind the clouds, but he had calculated its position precisely with his charts. He turned away from the window and checked the lamps. His ceremonial table was lit by candles, but they gave scarcely enough light to read by. As he passed around the room, his shadow loomed, a giant, hunched shape thrown against the walls in the flickering lights. The alchemist took up his position before the table and raised his hands. It was time.

Sergeant Benton looked up in surprise as a coach pulled up on the road outside UNIT HQ, but then smiled as the door opened and a schoolgirl came down the steps. Benton left the motorbike he had been tinkering with and went to greet the visitor. Kate Lethbridge Stewart had grown a bit since the Sergeant had last seen her and had begun to have what her mother described as “episodes of being grown up,” but her affection for her friends at UNIT was undimmed and she forgot her nearly eleven-year-old dignity and ran across the carpark to meet Benton.

“Hello young ‘un!” said the Sergeant, once hugs had been exchanged. “Look at you! Did you have a good time?”

Kate looked down at herself and smiled. Rather than her usual school uniform, she was wearing a dark brown, three-quarter-length skirt and a short sleeved white blouse, the neck of which fastened with a tie. A cream-coloured apron covered the front of the skirt, fastened at the back with broad ribbons. Her fair hair, usually worn in bunches, had been tucked into a cloth bonnet. Instead of her satchel, she carried a drawstring bag that seemed to have been made from sackcloth and a purse made from the same material hung from her belt. The finishing touch was a woollen shawl which was tied around her waist; the day having been too warm for her to wear it over her shoulders.
Kate looked up at the Sergeant again and said, “Yes, it was really interesting. The whole house was like in Tudor times, but I did see a plug hole in the kitchen. But everyone had costumes on and we did dancing, and then in the kitchen they told us all about using herbs for medicine and...”

Benton walked with Kate to the main entrance, smiling as she chattered on. Kate’s class had spent the day at Welkin Hall, a stately home that offered schoolchildren and other visitors the opportunity to experience “living history,” with staff and volunteers dressed in historical costumes and showing crafts, cooking and other aspects of life in Elizabethan England. Visiting children were also encouraged to dress in something approaching period costume and Benton could tell that Kate was delighted with and proud of her outfit, which had been made for her by her grandmother. From what Kate was saying, it sounded as though the illusion of Elizabethan life had mostly been successful, despite the occasional undisguised plug socket. “Trust Kate to spot that,” thought Benton as he held the door for her. Once inside, Kate looked towards the door of her father’s office.

“I’m afraid your dads in a meeting at the moment,” said Benton, after glancing at his watch, “but the Doctor is in his lab if you want go and see him?” he guessed that Kate would be keen to tell the Time Lord all about her experiences.

“Yes, please,” Kate replied, “shall I go straight there, or should you call him first?”

While the Doctor was usually welcoming, the nature of his experiments and the variability of his mood meant that it was wise to check in advance before visiting. Sergeant Benton called into the communications office and dialled the extension for the lab.

“Hello? Laboratory.”

“Hello Doctor, Sergeant Benton here. I’ve got Miss Lethbridge Stewart here; she’d like to pop in and see you if you’re not too busy?”

Kate could hear the Doctor’s voice from the other end of the line, but not his words, so looked questioningly at the Sergeant as he said, “OK, Doctor, yes, yes, will do. Goodbye.”

Sergeant Benton hung up and smiled at Kate.

“The Doctor is just finishing up fixing something in the TARDIS,” he said, “but he says it’s fine for you to go along once you’ve had your cocoa and biscuits.”

Kate nodded happily, said “OK,” and trotted off in the direction of the canteen, leaving the Sergeant smiling. Kate’s mother had insisted that Kate have a drink and something to eat while she was waiting either for her father to take her home or for her mother to collect her, and the canteen staff was happy to comply with her request. Once Kate had fortified herself with cocoa and biscuits, she went through to the lab, tapping on the open door before entering, as, despite Benton’s phone call, you never quite knew what the Doctor would be up to. A voice from within called “Come in!” so Kate went in, moving carefully so as to avoid catching her skirt or shawl on any of the equipment. The Doctor was nowhere to be seen, but the door to his TARDIS was also open, so Kate guessed he was still working on whatever it was he was fixing in there. She went over and stood on the threshold and, sure enough, there were the Doctor’s long legs sticking out from under the control console. Kate said, “Doctor?” not wanting to disturb him or cause him to bang his head. The Doctor raised his head cautiously, then rolled himself out from under the console on the wheeled platform he had been lying on.

“Hello there, Kate,” he said, smiling broadly. He got up, and wiped his hands on a cloth, then, having had a chance to take in Kate’s costume, bowed theatrically and said,
“Mistress Lethbridge Stewart, a thousand pardons, I do forget myself!”

Kate curtseyed, giggling and replied, “thank you, kind Doctor.”

The Doctor laughed and went through the door that led from the control room further into the TARDIS. He returned a few moments later with a wooden stool, which he set down near the console.

“There you are, Mistress Kate," he said, "have a seat and you can tell me all about your day while I finish up my chores.”

Kate sat on the stool and began to tell the Doctor about her visit to Welkin Hall, what she had learned and what she thought of the experience. The Doctor continued to work under the console, then closed the panel over the circuits he had been working on and got up, continuing to ask questions and smile at Kate’s replies. Gradually, however, Kate became aware that the Doctor wasn’t paying attention any more. She stopped talking and watched him as he walked round the console, a frown replacing the smile he had previously worn. Kate got up from the stool and joined the Doctor, asking “Is everything OK?”
The Doctor looked at her and then back at the console, muttering to himself. He made a circuit of the console, checking the instruments as he went, saying quietly, “Strange, that’s very strange.”
Kate stepped back to give the Doctor room to pass, then jumped as there was a sound and the TARDIS doors closed. The Doctor stopped in his tracks, then turned quickly and began to flick switches and press buttons. Kate didn’t want to disturb him, but she was frightened. She stepped back until her back was against the control room wall and twisted the ends of her shawl in her hands. Suddenly, the central column of the console began to move. The Doctor stared at it as if he had never seen it before. Plucking up all her remaining courage, Kate asked, “Doctor, what’s happening?”

The Doctor turned to Kate, and said, in horrified tones, “we’re moving. The TARDIS is moving!”

“But, did you...” Kate was more frightened than ever now.

The TARDIS lurched, sending her off her feet. Kate landed on the floor with a bump and scrambled back to the wall, pulling her knees up to her chin. The Doctor clung to the console, saying, “I haven’t done anything! Something, or someone, is pulling the TARDIS through time and I can’t stop it!”

The alchemist finished his incantation and lowered his hands. He waited with his eyes fixed on the far wall of the room. A sudden draught made the lamps gutter, throwing the shadows into strange and unfamiliar shapes. The Alchemist looked up and raised his hands again, then looked down at the table. In the centre of the table was a shallow silver bowl, full to the brim with water. As the candle flames danced in the draught, ripples spread across the surface of the water. As the alchemist watched, the water seemed to darken and shapes appeared that were not the reflections of the room. The rippling shapes resolved themselves into a picture of an object. A tall, dark structure, similar in size to a large cupboard or linen press. A single light glowed on the top and strange words were inscribed beneath the light. The alchemist smiled. It was as his guardian spirit had said it would be. Now. Folding his hands, he began a new incantation and watched as the background around the structure began to fill in. First with darkness, then with twinkling lights. Good. It was achieved. He had only to wait.

Kate watched as the Doctor tried first one, then another switch on the console. He gripped the edge as there was another bump and Kate squeaked and curled herself up more tightly against the wall. Her head whirled with fear and curiosity. Finally, one question came to the front of her mind and as the movement of the central column seemed to slow, Kate asked, “Doctor, where are we going?”
The Doctor lifted his hands tentatively off the console, then stood back. “Well, wherever it is, it seems that we have arrived,” he said. Then, almost to himself, “and, really, the question is not where, but when.”
He flicked a switch and the scanner screen flickered. Kate got to her feet and moved so that she could see the screen. At first, she could see nothing but darkness, then, as the scanner adjusted, she could see that that the TARDIS was outside and that it was night. Close by, Kate could see covered stalls and people bustling to and fro and a large building loomed in the background, the arches and pointed windows suggesting to the bewildered schoolgirl that they had landed close to a church. The Doctor checked the console, then turned to his young companion.
“Well, Kate, it appears we have been brought to London. The year is 1561 and that,” the Doctor gestured to the screen, “is St. Paul’s Cathedral.”

Kate’s eyes widened as she looked up at the screen. The Doctor smiled. Despite his many years of travelling, and the threat of the unknown power that had brought his TARDIS back in time, he could still be amused by the reactions of his human friends to their first journey through time and space.

Kate was about to say that the building in front of them didn’t look like St. Paul’s, but then she remembered and said aloud, “Oh, it’s before the Great Fire of London.”

“Yes, very good,” replied the Doctor. “This is the old cathedral. This is a very different London to the one you are used to. Now,” he paused and checked the instruments again, “I must find out who has brought us here, and why.”

The Doctor left the control room, returning a few moments later with a cloak, which he fastened over his habitual outfit of trousers, frilled shirt and velvet jacket. A woollen cap completed his disguise, such as it was. Kate watched these preparations nervously. Although she knew that it would be dangerous to leave the TARDIS, she didn’t feel especially safe inside it. Supposing whoever had brought it to London moved it while the Doctor was away and he couldn’t find it? She might end up in another time, or even on another planet, with no idea of how to get home. The Doctor took an object from the pocket of his jacket and examined it. To Kate, it looked like a smaller version of the radios she had seen at UNIT, except that it was blue, rather than black or green. As the Doctor put his hand on the lever to open the door, Kate made up her mind. Not sure how to put what she was feeling into words, she walked up to the Doctor and slipped her hand into his.

The Time Lord looked down, surprised, “Kate? My dear, I’m sorry, but you must stay here. I would never be able to forgive myself if anything were to happen to you. I need to go and find the person who brought us here, but I will be back as quickly as I can.” Kate looked down for a moment, then raised her chin in a movement that reminded the Doctor of the Brigadier. Trying to speak as calmly as she could, she said, “I know it’s dangerous, but I don’t feel safe in here by myself. Supposing,” Kate paused, as if fearing that speaking her thoughts aloud would make them come true, “supposing the person moved the TARDIS so you couldn’t find it? We’d both be lost and I wouldn’t know how to get home.”

The Doctor let go of Kate’s hand and bent down, so that he could look directly at her.

“You’re quite sure?" he asked. "This is a real place, not like in a book or a museum, and it will be dangerous.”

“Yes,” replied Kate.

“Very well,” said the Doctor, pulling the lever to open the door. “But you must stay close to me at all times, don’t get tempted to wander off.”

Kate was hurt at the suggestion that she might behave, as she put it, like a little kid, but she just said, “no, I won’t.”

“Good,” replied the Doctor, smiling inwardly at the determined expression on Kate’s face, “and if anyone asks who we are, I am a doctor from... yes, let’s say from Cheltenham, and you are my niece. That should about cover it.”

The Doctor held out his hand and Kate took it and, together, they stepped out of the TARDIS and into the noise and bustle of St. Paul’s churchyard in 1561.

The Brigadier’s meeting had finished early so, after checking with Sergeant Benton that Kate had arrived, he went along to the laboratory to talk to his daughter before her mother came to collect her. The door of the lab was ajar, so the Brigadier tapped on it as he went in. He had taken no more than two steps into the room when he stopped. Neither Kate nor the Doctor was anywhere to be seen and nor, the Brigadier realised, was the TARDIS. The Brigadier sat down on nearby lab stool and picked up the telephone receiver.

“Sergeant Benton?" the Brigadier asked in a dangerously level voice, "Would you be so kind as to ascertain whether the Doctor and my daughter are still in the building? Yes, I’m in the lab, yes.”

The Brigadier hung up and looked round the lab as if he was expecting the Doctor or Kate to suddenly appear out of thin air. Looking at the space where the TARDIS had been, he frowned. Surely the Doctor would have more sense than to take Kate on a joyride in that infernal contraption of his? The Brigadier shook his head. He had had reason to value the Doctor’s expertise over the years, but there were times when he wondered if his scientific advisor was more trouble than he was worth.

The first thing that struck Kate when she walked out of the TARDIS was the noise. There seemed to be people everywhere, shouting, calling, talking, singing. She could hear snatches of music mixed in with the human noise and the sound of dogs barking and the rattle of cart and coach wheels in the roads only added to the cacophony. The next thing she noticed was the smell. Kate had read about the history of the city, and how there hadn’t been any proper sewers until the 19th century and how people hadn’t been able to get clean water and hadn’t washed very often, but she wasn’t prepared for the stench of waste and humans and animals that assailed her nostrils. Kate recoiled, coughing, and held her shawl over her nose and mouth. The Doctor looked at her and smiled, “It is a bit of a shock to the system, isn’t it?” he said. “Never mind, if my instruments are correct our goal lies in a quieter part of the city. In the meantime,” the Doctor stopped and spoke to a woman who was holding a basket of bundles of herbs, drawing a velvet purse from his pocket. After a bit of good-natured haggling, the Doctor purchased two bunches of rosemary and handed one to Kate saying, “Here, hold this up to your nose. It won’t get rid of the smell altogether, but it might take the edge off it a bit.” Kate took the herbs gratefully and buried her nose in the leaves, breathing in their scent as she walked. She was glad of the Doctor’s firm grip on her hand as they wound their way through the crowds. A cart rattled past, the driver swearing at a group of boys who had only just avoided its path and Kate jumped as she was splashed with muddy water from the road. The Doctor paused and looked at his device, then nodded and turned off from the main thoroughfare, leading Kate down a side street, where he paused again. Kate tried to shake some of the mud off her skirt. She watched as the Doctor held the device up, and asked, “what is it looking for?”

“The TARDIS was brought here by a signal,” replied the Doctor. “The signal isn’t as strong as it was, but it’s strong enough to keep the TARDIS here. This device detects that signal so we can follow it and …"

“And stop it,” put in Kate.

“Yes, quite. I was going to say and find out its purpose, but we must disable it or we won’t be able to leave.”

Kate tried to push the fear she felt at the Doctor’s words to the back of her mind. Now they were out in the city and everything was real, the threat of being stranded seemed equally real. Away from the main roads, the darkness was almost palpable, the only light coming from the glow of lamps through cracks in shutters. Kate moved closer to the Doctor. For a moment, she wondered if she ought to have stayed in the TARDIS after all. Would she get in the way? The last thing Kate wanted was to be a nuisance. Kate felt a sob rising from inside and took a deep breath through her rosemary nosegay, trying to calm herself. She was here and she must just do the best she could and try and be helpful, or, at least, to not get in the way. The Doctor finished checking the latest reading from his device and tucked it away in his pocket. He looked up and down the street, then catching sight of an alleyway, said, “that must be it, come on!” and set off at such a brisk pace that Kate had to almost run to keep up with him.

The alchemist had seated himself by his ceremonial table. He stared into the bowl. The image of the TARDIS had faded and the water was clear once more. The alchemist picked up a bottle from the table and held it over the bowl. With great care, he tipped the bottle so that a single drop of ink fell into the water. Almost at once, the surface of the water began to move, as it had done earlier. The ink drop split and spread, swirling and reshaping, until a shape was once more visible. Not the TARDIS, this time, but a face. To the alchemist, the face seemed beautiful. It had the serenity of a statue, with the same, blank eyes and intricately curled hair of a figure from ancient Rome. Its lips seemed almost to smile as they moved and the voice that issued from them was clear and calm.

“Is it done?” asked the voice.

“Yes, most gracious spirit, it is. I have seen the craft of which you spoke. Should I go forth to seek this creature you have had me summon?”

“No, that will not be necessary. He will find you. Your signal is still active and will hold his ship.”

“I do not fully understand, gracious one.”

“There is no need for you to understand, but we will explain. The means by which you brought him here have trapped him. He cannot leave until his craft is released.”

“I see, that is now clear. I should wait, then.”

“Yes. He will find you. When he does, we will speak.”

“As you wish, gracious guardian.”

The ink swirled and moved again, and the face distorted and then vanished. The alchemist sighed, impatient for this mysterious person to arrive. A traveller through time, his guardian spirit had said, one who had sailed beyond the celestial spheres. What might such a man have to say, to share? Perhaps when he had undertaken the task the guardian had assigned, he might be persuaded to stay and share his wisdom. The alchemist looked up into the darkness, his inner gaze leaping to the stars and past the moon, into the unknown regions of the spheres.

The Doctor paused again, and took out his signal tracking device, muttering “it must be close, it’s somewhere in this street.” As he did so a group of men approached, holding lanterns. Kate nudged the Doctor, who pocketed the device and drew his cloak more closely around him. The men stopped and one raised his lantern.
“Sirrah, what dost thou here?" he asked "Art friend?”

The Doctor drew himself up to his full height and spoke in his usual ringing tone. “Friend indeed. A stranger to the city, who seeks a man of science dwelling in these parts.”

The man frowned, then his face cleared, “If it is a scientist you seek, that would be the Doctor Netherford,” he said, gesturing the way he and his fellow watchmen had come. “He lives three doors from here.”

“Netherford,” said the Doctor, as if he was remembering the name, “yes, that is indeed the name. I thank you, sirs.”

The watchman lowered his lantern and signaled to his colleagues, then nodded to the Doctor. “Then get thee hence, Sir. These streets are no place for a gentleman at this hour, nor yet a child.”

The Doctor bowed as the watchmen passed, then said quietly, “That was a stroke of luck, let us call on Doctor Netherford.”

As they walked, Kate asked, “Did he make the thing that brought us here?”

“I doubt it, Kate,” replied the Doctor, “I suspect that this Doctor has had help. We must find out from whom this help has come and what they want with me.”

Kate nodded. Another question had come into her mind, and, though she didn’t want to trouble the Doctor, she asked it. “What kind of science would Doctor … Netherford? What kind of science would he do?”

“I expect that he is what was once called an alchemist,” said the Doctor, stopping for a moment. “Alchemists used mathematics, chemistry and philosophy in their work as well as astronomy and astrology. They tried to harness the powers of nature to bring them wisdom and to find the answers to eternal questions. In the 20th century they are thought of as little better than quacks or magicians, but they were doing the work of scientists with the tools they had available, even if they misunderstood some of those tools.”

Kate nodded again. She had heard the word “Alchemist” and had thought that it had meant a kind of sorcerer, she had pictured cauldrons and figures in long robes with strange symbols on. As they went on towards the house, Kate wondered if Doctor Netherford would be like that. The front door of the house was right on the road, so much so that it was practically in it. The Doctor raised his fist and knocked. After a short pause, the door was opened a crack and a woman’s voice asked, “Who’s there?”

“I am Doctor John Smith,” replied the Doctor, “a visitor to Doctor Netherford. I have travelled long and far to see him. I am sorry for our lateness, may we come in?”

The door opened a little further and the voice asked, “How many are you?”
“We are but two,” said the Doctor, “myself and my niece.”

He stood back from the door, so the person inside could see him and Kate clearly. At this the door opened fully, revealing a woman dressed plainly, but warmly, with a shawl around her shoulders and a cap on her head.

“Come in, sir," she said, "I will tell the Doctor. he did speak of a guest, but I had not thought you would arrive tonight. Here,” she led the way to a broad kitchen table that stood by a fireplace where the embers of the day’s fire still glowed, “sit down, I pray you.”

The Doctor did so, without removing his cloak and pulled out a stool for Kate, who sat next to him and rubbed her eyes. She was tired from walking and the strangeness of the day and the room was close and stuffy. The woman had gone up a steep, ladderlike flight of stairs, presumably to speak to Doctor Netherfold.

The Doctor put his hand on Kate’s shoulder and smiled. “Tired, Kate?”

“A bit. Are we going to stay here for tonight?”

“If they will have us, I think we may have to,” said the Doctor, “although that may depend on how friendly Doctor Netherford turns out to be.”

Kate nodded, sleepily. The woman returned, and on seeing Kate, said sternly, “Doctor Smith this child should be abed. Go you to speak to Doctor Netherford and I will find her a place to sleep.”

The Doctor stood up. “My humble thanks, Mistress?”

“Harvey. I keep house for the Doctor.”

“Mistress Harvey. My humble thanks. My niece is wearied from the journey, which lasted longer than it should. Katherine, go you with Mistress Harvey and I will see you soon.”

Kate was too tired to say anything much, but, remembering her role, she said, “Yes, Uncle,” then followed her hostess to a corner of the kitchen, where a low, narrow wooden bed stood.

Mistress Harvey drew back a blanket and said, “there, child, sleep well.”

Kate looked at the bed, wondering, then asked, “ this your bed? I can’t take your bed.”

The housekeeper smiled at her young guest and said, “Bless you, child, my chair will serve me for what remains of this night. Here, let me take your skirt. I see the city has left its mark on you.”

Kate blushed, but wriggled out of the skirt, glad that she was wearing a plain petticoat that hid her modern undergarments. “Thank you,” she said, handing it to Mistress Harvey, who took it from her and hung it by the fire. “I’ll brush it for you once ‘tis dried,” she remarked, “think no more on’t for tonight, but sleep.” Kate took off her shoes and cap and laid them by the bed, then laid down and pulled up the blanket. The straw filled mattress prickled against her skin and the coarse wool of the blanket was scratchy and very different to the covers on her own comfortable bed, but Kate was too tired to notice. When Mistress Harvey looked over a few moments later, Kate was fast asleep. The housekeeper smiled and settled herself in her chair near the hearth. The sound of voices above made her glance at the ceiling with a scowl directed at the sort of men who kept folk awake at night and who traveled without due concern for their young fellow travelers. Having silently relieved her feelings, Mistress Harvey cast one more look over at Kate and then drew her shawl around herself and closed her eyes.

As the Doctor climbed the steep stairs to Netherford’s rooms, he wondered what he would find. He paused at the top of the stairs and looked around the room he had emerged into. The main feature of the room was an ornate table, covered in symbols and numbers, which the Doctor recognised as one of the tools of alchemists who favoured numerology as a way of interpreting the ancient texts and communicating with spirits. A sliver bowl stood in the centre of the table, flanked by candles. The rest of the room was in shadow, the lamps having been extinguished. As the Doctor’s eyes adjusted to the lighting, he saw a robed figure sitting in a corner of the room, apparently asleep. The Doctor stepped further into the room and cleared his throat. The figure started, then stood up and came forward.

“Art thou the traveller? The one whose ship has carried him through the celestial spheres?” he asked.

The Doctor, seeing no reason for subterfuge, said, “I am.”

The alchemist sighed happily and gripped the Doctor’s forearms in greeting. “I am Samuel Netherford. I have so much to ask thee, great sage. Thou honourest my humble dwelling with thy prescence.”

The Doctor received the greeting in good part, saying, “It is rather my honour to meet a practioner of such skill as yourself. But pray, why have you summoned me? My journey has been long and I must rest soon to restore my powers but first would know what you seek.”

Netherford, delighted by the Doctor’s use of the more familiar “you” hurried to draw up a stool for his guest and, once the Doctor had seated himself, went to a side table and poured wine into two horn beakers. He gave one to the Doctor, who accepted it with gratitude, but sniffed it cautiously before tasting it. Having served himself, Netherford sat down again and raised his beaker to the Doctor.

“A toast to our work, great sage." he said, "We shall shortly commune with my guardian spirit, who will tell all.”

The Doctor raised his cup in return, wondering as he did so who the “guardian spirit” would turn out to be. Could it be the Master? A plot of this complexity would be typical of him. On the other hand, the Doctor had made plenty of enemies on his travels and most of them had the advanced technology capable of ensnaring the TARDIS. But who and why? And why this particular time and place? The Doctor knew better than to press his host for answers, though, so he drank his wine in silence and waited. Eventually, Netherford set down his cup and stood up.

“It is time,” he said, and approached the table, “Do you stand there,” he indicated a spot close to the table and the Doctor stood up and moved to his allotted place. Netherford nodded with satisfaction, then, with infinite care, repeated the ritual of the ink that he had performed earlier in the evening. The Doctor watched as the image began to form, firstly with interest, then with growing horror. As the face emerged, he gasped and murmured, “Axos!”

“Greetings, Doctor,” said the voice of Axos, “we have waited for you.”

The Doctor recoiled, staggering back from the table.

Netherford watched him, alarmed. “No, you must stay where you are! We must not break the influence!”

“It is of no importance,” replied the voice of Axos.

“But, the time loop,” said the Doctor, hoarsely, “how have you broken free of the time loop?”

“We have not,” was the reply. “Axos still travels infinitely in the time loop you created. But the mind of Axos is not bound by it. The mind of Axos has learned and grown and has sought you out.”

The Doctor recovered himself a little, “so, you have found me. But why bring me here?”

“To set you to work. You must release Axos from the time loop. If you do not, you will remain in this time. Trapped, just as Axos is.”

“No! No, I won’t do it.”

“Then you will remain here. Your TARDIS will never be released.”

The Doctor said nothing, but stared at the face of Axos in the bowl.

The voice spoke again. “Axos will allow you two Earth days to make your decision and begin your calculations. After that, your fate will be sealed. Choose wisely, Time Lord.”

The image of the face began to fade and distort. The Doctor sat down, heavily and put his hand to his brow. Netherford looked at him, his eyes wide and full of wonder.

“Truly I am blessed to witness the discourse of such beings,” he said, “I trust you will accept the task? You must!”

The Doctor looked at him, and asked wearily, “What have they promised you, Netherford?”


“Yes, what have they promised you? Wealth? Fame?”

Netherford looked down at the Doctor. “Wealth?” he said, scornfully, “What care I for wealth? But knowledge. The knowledge of the spheres, of the earth, of the spirits? This is beyond price. With such knowledge I would outrank the usurper Dee, he who hath won the ear of the Queen with his falsehoods. I would take the place among the greats that is rightfully mine. And I would know all.”

His voice sank to a whisper on the last word. The Doctor saw the gleam of fanaticism in Netherford’s eyes and sighed. No wonder Axos had chosen this man to be their tool.

Netherford returned from his dreams of glory, looked at the Doctor again and smiled, rubbing his hands together. “But now you must rest," he said. "We have much work to do, you must recover your powers.”

Netherford took off his ceremonial robe and placed it carefully in a wooden chest near the fireplace, then gestured to a doorway. The Doctor followed him, almost in a daze. The room they entered was small, but large enough to hold a bed and a small desk and stool. A mattress and blanket had been placed on the floor next to the bed.

Netherford indicated the bed, saying “please, you are my guest,” and the Doctor didn’t argue, but laid down and drew his cloak around him.

His host settled on the spare mattress with a sigh of satisfaction. “Tomorrow,” he said, softly, “tomorrow the great work will begin.”

As Netherford slept, the Doctor opened his eyes and stared into the darkness. What could he do? He would not release Axos, that was unthinkable. The malevolent, parasitic organism had sucked the energy and life from countless planets, he could not allow it to continue. And what about Kate? The Doctor winced as he thought of her. None of this trouble was of her making, she should have had no part in it. He had to get her home. Closing his eyes at last, the Doctor decided. He would have to find a way to break the connection between Axos and the TARDIS and, if he could, between Axos and the earth. And he had to return Kate safely to her own time. His mind made up; the Doctor slept.

Kate woke to the sound of Mistress Harvey clearing the grate and setting the fire for the morning. For a moment, Kate lay still, her eyes closed, wondering if the previous day had been a dream. She stretched out her hand, feeling the lumps and prickles in the mattress and the absence of Horace, her teddy. It was true then. Kate opened her eyes and sat up. Yes, the kitchen was still there, they really had gone back in time.

Mistress Harvey got up from the hearth and turned to go out of the kitchen. Seeing her young guest was awake, she smiled and said, “Well, Mistress Katherine, did’st sleep well?

“Yes, thank you,” replied Kate, “thank you for giving me your bed.”

Mistress Harvey’s smile broadened. “Think nothing of it, child. Now, here’s bread for you to break your fast. Those men were talking almost till cock crow, so we’ll not expect them yet.”

Kate got out of bed, turning the blanket back as she did at home, and put on her skirt, which was looking less muddy after a thorough brushing. She sat down at the table and picked up the beaker next to her plate, sniffing the contents suspiciously, then trying not to pull a face as she realised that it was beer. Kate had only tried beer once before, when she had been given a sip from her father’s glass at lunch one day, and she had not enjoyed it. The thought of drinking beer at breakfast time made her feel sick, but then she remembered how unsafe drinking water had been in the past, and how people had drunk wine and beer partly because the water had made them ill. She took a cautious sip, trying not to screw up her face too much and risk offending Mistress Harvey. It was no better than she remembered. Leaving the beer to one side, Kate began on the bread, which she ate first cautiously and then hungrily. Having cleared her plate, Kate looked round for her hostess. Mistress Harvey had come back into the kitchen holding a large basket in one hand and broom in the other.

Kate jumped up from her stool and held out her hands, saying, “Can I help you?”

Mistress Harvey smiled and gave Kate the broom, which was almost as big as she was. “There now, that’s kind of you. I must just sweep out the room then I will off to market.”

“Oh, but I can do that,” said Kate, to her hostess’ surprise. “I know how to sweep and you’ve been so kind to me, can’t I help you with something?”

Mistress Harvey looked at Kate’s eager expression and laughed. The child spoke strangely, but clearly meant well.

“Very well, if it pleases you,"she said. "Sweep out the dust into the street, but watch for passers-by, they’ll not want to be covered in dust!”

Kate grinned. “I’ll take care,” she said.

“There, then,” replied Mistress Harvey, “I will be at the market and home again all the sooner.”

Kate watched as her hostess reached into the chimney and removed a locked box. Mistress Harvey opened the box and took out a purse, which she fastened to her belt, then locked and replaced the box. Realising that Mistress Harvey might not want her guests to know where her money was kept, Kate began to sweep, averting her eyes and pretending that she hadn’t been looking.

Mistress Harvey went to the door, then turned and said, “When the gentlemen awake, there’s bread in the cupboard and ale in the jug. They may serve themselves for once!”

Then, with a twinkling smile at Kate, she went out. Having offered to help her hostess, Kate was determined to do the job properly. Starting in one corner, she worked towards the door, sweeping the dust before her into heap. Having cleared one section of the room, she began again from the opposite corner, working steadily until a second heap had formed alongside the first. Kate tried to concentrate on sweeping, pushing the troublesome thoughts of what might happen to her and the Doctor to the back of her mind. So engrossed was she that she didn’t notice the Doctor coming quietly downstairs.

Despite his concerns, the Doctor smiled as he watched her. He sat down by the table, then said, in something approaching his usual manner, “Well, Kate, has Mistress Harvey put you to work?”

Kate gave a start, and looked at him, saying, “I didn’t hear you come down! No, she hasn’t. I mean, I offered to help, she did give me her bed last night and she has been kind to us.”

“Indeed she has,” replied the Doctor. “And where is our hostess this morning?”

“She’s gone to the market,” said Kate beginning to sweep again. “She said there’s bread in the cupboard and ale in the jug for your breakfast.”

The Doctor smiled again and got up from his stool, making his way to the cupboard where he cut himself a chunk of bread and poured a beaker of ale. Carrying his food with him he returned to the table. By the time the Doctor had slaked his thirst and begun on the bread, Kate had almost finished sweeping. She opened the front door and, after a careful look up and down the street, swept the final heap of dust and detritus out of the door. Kate closed the door and leaned her broom carefully against the wall, then mopped her brow on her apron.

The Doctor put down his breakfast and said, “Well done, that was quite a job. You’ve earned a sit down, so why don’t you come and keep me company for a bit and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.”

Kate came over and sat down. She took a sip from her beaker, then grimaced.

“Beer for breakfast takes a bit of getting used to, doesn’t it?” remarked her friend.

“It’s horrible! But I don’t want to get ill from the water.”

“No, you are quite right to be careful.”

“Did you find out who got us here?”

The Doctor sighed. “Yes, I did.”

The Doctor explained what he had learned the previous night. He had told Kate about Axos before, and what had happened on their previous attempt to absorb the energy of earth. Kate’s eyes widened in horror as he told her about the terrible choice he had been given.

“But, but you can’t let them go,” she said.

“No, I can’t," the Doctor replied, frowning, "but if I don’t, we will be trapped here, at least until I can work out how to break the signal.”

“Will Doctor Netherford help you?”

“I doubt it. His head has been turned by their promises, so much so that he is almost mad.”

Kate shuddered, then put out her hand to the Doctor across the table. He put his hand over hers and looked into her eyes. “I will get you home, Kate, I promise, but I need to find the thing that is making this signal and destroy it and I haven’t found it yet.”

Kate tried to smile, then said, “What does it look like? Is it big, or would it be like your signal tracking thing from the TARDIS?”

The Doctor frowned. “That’s the trouble, I’m not sure. It could be quite small. The Axon said it had used a psychic signal, so it is probably using Netherford’s psychic abilities and channelling them through a mechanical device he has constructed. I need to have a proper look in his rooms, but that will be tricky if he is in there all the time.”

“Is he still asleep?”

“Yes, at the moment. I think our alchemist is very much a night owl. It’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to have a better look last night, it might have been on display, but I was tired and the room was dark. I had a quick look round before I came down, but I couldn’t find anything.”

“What did you see?” asked Kate.

“Well,” the Doctor paused as he brought the room to mind, “There’s the table, more like an altar, really, with candles and the bowl on it that the Axon uses to communicate. Then there’s a lectern with a book on it, and a couple of stools. I didn’t risk opening the shutters, in case the noise woke him. There was a chest near the fireplace, I had a quick look inside, but it seemed to just have Netherford’s robes and clothes in. I’ll have another look later on if I can.”

Kate frowned as she tried to picture the room in her head. “Were there any cupboards?”

“No, just the chest.” The Doctor sighed. “I must try and distract him later and search properly. And we must be careful. Mistress Harvey will be probably be back soon and she mustn’t find us talking about her tenant like this.”

The mention of their hostess reminded Kate of something. She got up and went over to the fireplace, then turned back towards the table, saying, “Mistress Harvey keeps her money in here. I think there’s a shelf or something.”

The Doctor watched as Kate bent carefully to look up the chimney. She came out and stood up, saying, “Yes, it’s there, there’s a shelf with a box on. Then, tentatively, “Could there be a shelf in the chimney upstairs?”

The Doctor was about to slam the palm of his hand on the table in triumph, but stopped himself just in time. “Kate! That’s it!” he said.

Kate sat down again and looked at the Doctor, hope dawning in her eyes. “Do you think it might be there?” she asked.

“I’m almost sure of it. Now, have I got time to go and look...”

At that moment, the door opened and Mistress Harvey came in, her basket on one arm and a sack under the other. Kate ran to her and took the sack, exclaiming at the weight.

“Thank you, child, you take care, ‘tis heavy for a young one,” said Mistress Harvey, nodding a greeting to the Doctor, “yes, by the hearth, that will do for now.” Kate carried the sack carefully over to the fireplace and set it down. Mistress Harvey put her loaded basket on the table and looked round the room. “Well,” she said with a smile, “you’ve done a fine job of the sweeping, I can see!”

Kate blushed at the compliment and nodded when the Doctor said, “Katherine likes to help, don’t you, Kate?”

“She has saved me a job of work this morning, and no mistake,” said the housekeeper, smiling. Looking towards the stairs she asked, “Does Doctor Netherford sleep even yet?”

“He does,” replied the Doctor, “at least, he slept still when I came down.”

“Then we’ll not see him this morning,” replied his housekeeper, drily. “’T’will be the scent of his dinner that brings him down and nothing before that will cause him to stir. Now Mistress Katherine, would you help me to put away my goods?”

Kate agreed willingly and began to carry the groceries her hostess had bought from the table to the cupboard, packing them in as instructed. The Doctor watched, thoughtful. If it was true that Netherford wasn’t likely to wake that morning, might he be able to search the main room without him hearing? He would have to be quiet, but he was used to that. His mind made up, the Doctor got up and crept back up the stairs.
Mistress Harvey and Kate worked on in silence for a while, save for the housekeeper directing Kate as to how her shopping to be stored.

Partly to break the silence, but also because she was curious, Kate asked, “Is Doctor Netherford a nice man to work for?” Mistress Harvey looked at Kate, puzzled. “Your manner of speech is beyond me, Katherine,” she said, “what kind of question should that be?” Kate thought for a moment, then tried again. “Do you like Doctor Netherford?”

“Like him?” Mistress Harvey laughed. “He pays his rent, I keep house for him, it matters little if I like him. I find him to be a clean and quiet tenant, for the most part, and regular in his rent, and that pleases me.”

“Oh, I see,” replied Kate.

Mistress Harvey paused, as if lost in thought for a moment, then went on. “I have of late been worried at his sitting up all night and talking. He has told me that he speaks to spirits. Tell, me, child, does your uncle do the like?”

Kate considered. “No, he’s not that kind of scientist. He,” she paused, trying to find a suitable way of saying what she had in mind, “he knows about nature, about plants and animals, and he knows how to make things out of metal, mechanical things, but he doesn’t talk to spirits.”

“You may be grateful for that. I asked Doctor Netherford how he knew the spirits were not demons, sent to tempt him into sin, and he replied that he would know because they would tell him!”
Mistress Harvey raised her hands at the hopelessness of this reply. Then she sighed, “This thirsting after knowledge is dangerous. There are things that we mortals were not meant to know and he should not go chasing them.”

Her task completed, Kate came over to the table and sat down again. “I suppose,” she said, thoughtfully, “it is tempting to try and find things out... to, to see what makes the world work the way it does.”

“Aye, that it is, for him at any rate, and if it is a temptation, then it cannot be good. I have no quarrel with him so long as he is quiet and orderly and pays his rent in timely fashion, but I will have no demons in my house!” Mistress Harvey stopped, seemingly feeling that she had gone too far, then shrugged. “No more of this for now,” she said, “it will be dinner time soon and I must set about the preparations. Scientists may talk to spirits, but they are still ruled by their bellies!”

Kate laughed at this, and then looked round as the Doctor came quietly back downstairs. He nodded and put a hand on his pocket. Kate tried to hide her excitement. If the Doctor really had found the device that was holding them there, and she had no reason to doubt him, then they would be able to escape. The Doctor glanced to make sure Mistress Harvey wasn’t looking, then put his hand in his pocket and drew out two objects and showed them to Kate. One was a box, at least, it looked like a box, jet black and with a shiny surface. The other was a statue made from metal. It was small, it fitted almost into the palm of the Doctor’s hand, but very detailed. Kate could see the features of its face and the curly hair on its head. The Doctor nodded towards Kate’s bag, which was in the corner of the room near the bed. Kate understood and took the objects, putting her hands in her apron pockets. Making sure that Mistress Harvey was still occupied with the cooking, Kate crossed the room quietly and tucked the objects into her bag, then hid the bag behind the bed. This accomplished, she sat down again. As Mistress Harvey had predicted, the smell of cooking brought Netherford down from his rooms. Despite having slept for hours, he had dark shadows under his eyes and appeared distracted and disorientated. Mistress Harvey sighed as she began to dish out the food. Perhaps it would be better to get a tenant who wasn’t inclined to commune with spirits, for all that he paid his rent on time. The alchemist accepted a plate and turned to go back up the stairs.

“Doctor, wilt thou not eat with thy guest?” asked Mistress Harvey, dismayed at this lack of good manners.

“I have much to do, I cannot pause for food,” was the reply as Netherford retreated. The housekeeper shook her head.

“Doctor Smith, I much regret my tenant’s ill-mannered conduct,” she said, handing plates of fish and cabbage to her guests.

“My dear Mistress Harvey,” replied the Doctor, “your tenant’s faults are not yours to regret. You have been a most generous host and we are truly grateful for your hospitality, are we not, Katherine?”

Kate, her mouth full of cabbage, nodded vigorously. At that moment, there came a shout from the room above. The three diners stopped eating in surprise, and the Doctor sprang from his stool and went to the foot of the stairs.

“Doctor Netherford,” he called, “what is’t? Is all well?”

“Villain!” came the reply as Netherford ran downstairs, even more dishevelled than before, “you have robbed me!”

“I?” said the Doctor, trying to take the irate alchemist’s arm and make him sit down, “nay, not I. What is that you have misplaced? Tell me and I will help you find it.”

“What is it? You know that right well, you villain,” Netherford said, shaking off the Doctor’s restraining hand and going to the door. Before the Doctor could stop him, Netherford opened the door and shouted for the watch, saying, “summon the constables, I have been robbed!” At this, Mistress Harvey took a hand.

“Doctor Netherford,” she said, firmly, “art thou mad? With what theft dost thou accuse thy guest?”

Netherford looked at her with a hunted expression, then said, “certain items of value to me. It is not your business to ask.”

“It is indeed my business,” retorted the housekeeper, “if the crime, if crime it be, be committed under my roof.”

She looked sternly at her tenant, and then stepped back in horror as he took a knife from his belt and pointed it, firstly at the Doctor and then at her.

“You’ll not coax me, woman,” he said, “neither will you escape, Doctor, you know the price of disobedience to the spirits. I will have you before the assizes unless you give me back my property.”

“I cannot return what I have not taken,” replied the Doctor, calmly.

He took a step towards Netherford but then stepped back hurriedly as the alchemist waved the knife at him. At that moment there came a loud knock at the door and voices outside proclaimed the arrival of the watch. Netherford sheathed his knife and opened the door to admit the constables. Two heavily built men entered, both bearing swords and clubs. They nodded to Netherford, then asked, “What’s the matter, Sir?” Netherford, trying to appear calm before the watch, smoothed his hair with his hand and said, indicating the Doctor,

“This man has robbed me. He has taken items of value and will not tell me where they are hid. I invited him as my guest and this is how he has repaid me. I would have him brought before the assizes and made to confess.”

One of the constables turned to the Doctor and asked, “what say you, Sir, to this?”

“That I have not robbed my friend the Doctor Netherford and that, therefore I have nothing to confess,” said the Doctor, calmly.

“He lies,” said Netherford, almost hissing with suppressed rage. “He has tricked his way into my house and stolen from me. He is a foreign spy, I tell you. Look at his dress, does any man of London dress in such a manner?”

The constables surveyed their prospective prisoner, then nodded and took one of the Doctor’s arms each. The Doctor was considering if he had room to throw his two guardians, when Netherford approached and, holding his knife to the Doctor’s throat said, “I warn you, bind him closely, he is a sorcerer.” At this, one of the constables let go the Doctor’s arm and went out, returning after a short interval with rope, which he wrapped around the Doctor, fastening his arms to his sides. His chances of fighting back removed, the Time Lord looked at the constables and said, “Well, gentlemen, you have the advantage of me. I protest my innocence, but I will not resist.”

Netherford smiled, his eyes glowing. “You are wise not to, Doctor. I will see you confess your crime before the judge.”

Kate watched in horror as the constables turned to lead their prisoner away. Catching sight of her, Netherford pointed and said, “what does this child here? Is she his accomplice? You had better take her too, she may know where he has hidden my possessions.”

Kate shrank back as Netherford approached her, then felt Mistress Harvey’s hand on her shoulder and heard the housekeeper say, calmly and firmly, “Doctor Netherford, thou dost forget thyself. I will not have thee speak so to my niece. This is my brother’s daughter, come to me to learn the ways of housekeeping. I told thee of her coming not three days ago.”

Netherford looked puzzled. He couldn’t remember Mistress Harvey telling him about her niece, but the housekeeper knew that the alchemist had been so distracted by his art that he could not contradict her.

He gave an exclamation of disgust and said, “So be it. Constables, take this man away. I will accompany thee and lay the charges against him.”

At his words, the watchmen led the Doctor out of the house and Netherford followed them his face contorted into a devilish smile. When the door closed behind him, Mistress Harvey sighed and said, “He has indeed run mad. That or he is possessed.” She sat down and took Kate’s hands in hers, then looked into the frightened schoolgirl’s eyes. “Tell me, child,” she asked, “what did your uncle take from Doctor Netherford?”
Kate looked at her, confused, but the housekeeper said, “You need not fear me, Katherine. It is plain that Netherford is up to no good. Mayhap I can be of help, but you must first trust me.”

Kate gulped and tried to think. What could she do? She didn’t know where the Doctor was being taken, or if he would be able to escape. And time was against them, if the Doctor didn’t manage to break the Axon signal, they would be trapped. Kate made up her mind. She nodded, then ran over to the corner of the room and retrieved her bag from behind the bed. She set the bag down on the table and took the two objects the Doctor had given her down in front of Mistress Harvey. The housekeeper looked at them and frowned. The box puzzled her, but she recoiled at the sight of the figure and gripped the plain cross she wore around her neck. Murmuring a prayer, she looked at Kate, then said, “Demons. He has consorted with demons and worshipped golden idols.” Kate nodded. She had been trying to think of how to explain Axos to her new friend and decided that demons was about as close as she could get to the truth. Kate took a deep breath and tried to get her thoughts into a form that would make sense to Mistress Harvey.
“Yes, he has consorted with demons,” she said, slowly, “the demons tempted him with knowledge of the universe and used him to put a, a curse on my uncle and make him do their bidding. If he doesn’t do what they ask, in two days he will be doomed. The demons showed Doctor Netherford how to make these things to put the curse on my uncle and to bring him here against his will. I was visiting my uncle when the curse began, so I had to come with him. If the curse is not broken, we can never go home,” Kate’s voice rose on the last word as she tried to choke back a sob. “My uncle took these to try and break the curse, but I don’t know how he was going to do it.” Kate looked at Mistress Harvey and the sympathy she saw in the housekeeper’s face made the tears she had been fighting spring to her eyes.

Mistress Harvey put her arm around Kate, letting the girl lean against her as she wept and said, softly, “we will defeat this wicked man and his wicked demons, child. I will aid you in every way I can. Hush. He may return at any time and he must not see you weeping. Dry your eyes and put these evil things away and we shall find a stratagem.” Kate raised her head and nodded, then wiped her eyes on a corner of her apron and put the objects back in the bag and the bag back behind the bed. Mistress Harvey busied herself with clearing away the remains of their interrupted meal, then set a kettle to boil on the hearth.

The Doctor felt himself to be unpleasantly conspicuous as he left the house in the company of the watchmen and Doctor Netherford. The manner of the constables’ arrival and the tone of Netherford’s accusations had drawn a small crowd, which followed them as they made their way to a closed cart which had been drawn up at the end of the street. The constables steered their prisoner up the steps and into the cart, then closed and bolted the door behind him. Netherford got up onto the driver’s platform with the two watchmen and the cart drove away to a hubbub of comment from the assembled onlookers. It was a short drive to the nearest gaol, where the Doctor’s assumed name was entered on a list and he was taken to a cell to await the assizes. The gaol was a solidly built structure with thick stone walls and an imposing iron gate and the Doctor sighed when he saw it. At the door of the cell, the ropes restraining the Doctor were removed, then he was shoved inside and the door closed and locked. The Doctor looked around. The cell was small and dark, the only light came from a small, barred opening in the door. The floor was covered in straw, which had been heaped in one corner, presumably to provide a more comfortable sleeping surface for the previous inhabitant. The Doctor bent down to inspect the straw more closely and decided that, for the time being at least, he would remain standing. He leaned against the wall, one hand on his chin, trying to puzzle a way out of this latest predicament.

When Doctor Netherford returned to the house, buoyed by what he saw as his victory over the Doctor, he found Mistress Harvey and Kate apparently absorbed in the household accounts.

“Now, Katherine,” said the housekeeper, “you see that this figure is carried forth, then added to the sum?”

“Yes, yes, I see that, Aunt,” replied Kate, frowning.

“Good,” Mistress Harvey smiled at her newly adopted niece, “we shall make a housekeeper of you yet!”

Kate smiled, a little uncertainly, and Mistress Harvey looked up at her tenant as he approached. “Well, Doctor,” she said, drily, “thou hast completed thy business for today, I take it?”

“Aye, Mistress, that I have,” replied her tenant, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction, “and now I must about my work. I pray you, disturb me not.”

“Thou need’st not fear that,” said Mistress Harvey, pointedly using the more formal address, “Katherine and I go to call on Master Phipps, to take him a blanket and some victuals, he that has been laid up with the gout this last week.”

The alchemist waved her away airily. “As you will. The better that I shall have peace to work.”

Mistress Harvey got up from her stool and said to Kate, “Now, child, put the book away and fetch your wraps and the blanket, I will prepare the victuals and we shall away to Master Phipps’.”

Kate got up, curtseyed and replaced the account book in its place, before running to the bed. Checking quickly that she wasn’t being watched by Doctor Netherford, Kate slipped her bag on with the strings across her chest, then put her shawl over the top to hide it. She folded the blanket that lay on the bed, and took it over to her ally, who had packed a flat basket with bread and cakes. Mistress Harvey nodded approvingly.
“Good, Katherine. Do you hold the blanket and I will carry the basket.” Mistress Harvey put a cloth over the food, then led the way to the door, saying as she went, “We shall return anon. I pray thee, do nothing more to bring mine honest dwelling into disrepute while I am gone.”

Doctor Netherford scowled, but made no reply, and Mistress Harvey ushered Kate out of the door and closed it quickly behind them. Kate kept close to Mistress Harvey as they set off, not to Master Phipps’ house, but in the direction of the gaol.

Inside the house, Doctor Netherford poured himself a generous cup of wine and went up to his room, determined to continue the search for his missing possessions. Having checked the chimney shelf right to the back, banging his head, which did nothing to improve his mood, he began to root through the chest, throwing garments aside as his search became more frantic. Eventually he reached the bottom of the chest, and collapsed back on his heels, his head in his hands. What had the man done with them? Could he have hidden them downstairs, surely, he hadn’t time and Mistress Harvey would have seen him? The alchemist’s expression darkened. It was a conspiracy. They were all arrayed against him, trying to thwart him at every turn. Well, they would see. He would have the Doctor before the assizes and if he refused to confess, there were those who would be able to persuade him. Taking a swig of his wine, the alchemist got up and ran back downstairs, to search Mistress Harvey’s kitchen.

Kate and Mistress Harvey had made quick time in their journey to the gaol and now stood a little way off from the gate. Kate folded the blanket again and put it over her shoulder, then held out her hands for the basket.

Mistress Harvey looked at her young friend with concern and asked, “Art certain, Katherine?”

Kate hesitated, but then said, “Yes.”

Miss Harvey placed the basket in Kate's hands then bent and kissed her forehead.

“Well then, good fortune go with you, child, and may you and your uncle break the wicked curse.”

“Thank you,” said Kate, softly, then she turned and walked towards the main gates of the gaol.

Mistress Harvey watched Kate as she approached one of the guards and curtseyed, then saw the door in the gate open and Kate disappear inside. The housekeeper sighed, and turned to leave. As she went, she heard the cry of a street seller and turned aside, thinking that a cup of hot wine might help the place in her heart that was sore with worry for her new friend.
Kate approached the gate with a shrinking feeling inside. She and Mistress Harvey had made their plan after Kate had asked if prisoners were permitted visits, and the housekeeper had told her that relatives or friends were expected to bring food or clothing to those incarcerated. Kate’s first thought was that they might attempt to smuggle a weapon to the Doctor, but she dismissed this as too risky and decided that she, or they, would attempt to distract the guards for long enough for the Doctor to escape his cell, using the blanket as a disguise. In her head, the plan had seemed relatively straightforward, provided she could get into the gaol, but, as Kate made her way to the gate, she began to feel small and the little voice that told her she was being silly and would only make things worse began to torment her. Kate raised her chin and tried to stifle the voice. She approached the nearest guard, and cleared her throat, her voice sounding thin and quiet in the noise and bustle of the street.

“Your pardon, sir,” said Kate, holding up her basket.

The guard looked at her and asked, not unkindly, “What is’t child?”

Kate replied, carefully, “Mine uncle is confined within and I have food and a blanket, may I take it to him?”

“What is his name? When was he brought in?”

“John Smith, he was brought here just today.”

The guard opened a door in the gate and shouted a question to an unseen colleague. Having apparently received an answer in the affirmative, he turned back to Kate and said, “very well,” then stood aside for her to pass. As Kate passed him, he lifted the corner of the cloth and looked into the basket. Kate held it as high as she could for him to see and he smiled and tore a chunk off the loaf of bread and put it in his mouth, saying, “Payment gladly received. Go you with Master Watt and he will guide you to your uncle.”

Kate curtseyed again, and said, “thank you,” then followed the guard into the building, trying to keep her eyes straight ahead and to shut out the alarming sounds and smells of the prison as she walked.

The Doctor had grown tired of standing and had crouched down with his back against the wall, his mind still running through possible courses of action, though these were getting fewer and fewer as time went on. The Time Lord looked up in surprise as a face appeared at the hole in the cell door and a voice said, “Prisoner John Smith, stand back from the door.” The Doctor got to his feet and did as he was instructed. Surely it couldn’t be time for his trial already? Then the door opened and a guard stepped in. The guard took up a position between the Doctor and the door, then said, “advance” to an unseen person outside.

The Doctor watched in amazement as Kate entered, basket in hands and said, “Uncle, I have brought victuals and a blanket for you, are you well? How do they treat you?”

“Katherine!” The Doctor did not need to feign surprise at this unexpected visitor. He stepped forward but the guard put out a hand and stopped him. Kate looked up at the Doctor, then down at the floor and gave a tiny nod. Partly guessing Kate’s plan, the Doctor returned the nod and shifted slightly closer to the guard, saying, “My dearest Kate, how goes’t with you? You are so kind to think of me.”

“How could I not?” said Kate, then stopped and put a hand to her forehead. The Doctor looked at her with a concerned expression.

“What is it, Kate?” he asked, “Does something ail you?”

“No, I am quite well,” Kate replied, slowly, removing her hand and looking at it, “I am...” she looked at the Doctor then her body seemed to go limp and she fell to the ground, her eyes rolling up. The Doctor made as if to start forward and was again held back. He shouted,

“For God’s sake, man, help her! She is sick and should not be in this pit of disease and filth.”

The guard stepped forward and bent over to look at Kate. He turned as he heard the Doctor’s footstep behind him, but it was too late. The Doctor gripped the back of the guard’s neck and the man slid to the floor, rendered unconscious by the Time Lord. Kate scrambled to her feet to avoid the falling guard, then picked up the blanket that she had dropped when she had pretended to faint. She held it out to the Doctor, who took it and draped it over his head and shoulders. The blanket was a large one, and concealed most of his body. Having done that, he held out his arms and Kate ran to hug him.

“Thank you, Kate,” he said. “Now, we must get out of here and deal with those infernal devices of the Axons.”

Kate nodded, saying, “I’ve got them in my bag. Mistress Harvey helped me get away from the house, she gave me the basket and the blanket.”

“Then my thanks to her,” said the Doctor, “quickly now, we must get moving before anyone notices this fellow’s absence.”

He took the bunch of keys from the guard’s belt and went quickly out of the door, followed by Kate. Once they were both safely in the corridor, the Doctor locked the door, then bent forward as if with great age and put his hand on Kate’s shoulder. Kate understood and began to walk slowly back the way she had come, with the Doctor walking haltingly behind her. They crossed the yard in front of the prison and made their way to the gate. Kate held her breath as they approached the exit, scared that someone would stop them, but, fortunately, they were able to join a group of other petitioners and visitors who were leaving at the end of the prison day and got out of the gate without attracting undue attention. The Doctor limped behind Kate until they had put two streets between them and the prison, then stopped and straightened his back. “Right,” he said, “let’s have a look at what the Axons gave to our friend Netherford.” Kate pulled her bag over her head and fished inside it for the mysterious objects. She handed them to the Doctor and looked on curiously as he examined them. The Doctor examined the figure briefly, then turned his attention to the box. He turned it over and over in his hands, pressing on the sides and corners until one of the sides slid upwards. The Doctor took a jeweller’s loupe from his pocket and peered inside the box, then held it out for Kate to look. Kate gasped as she looked in and saw what looked like the insides of a very complicated watch, a myriad of cogwheels and springs all spinning and stretching and, in the centre, what looked like a jewel, sparkling with the reflections of the shining metalwork.

Kate looked up at the Doctor and asked, “What do we need to do to stop it? Can we take it to bits?”

“I fear not,” replied the Doctor, looking through his lens. “This mechanism has a psychic connection. If we were to remove the parts, they would simply reassemble themselves. We must destroy it utterly.”

“How do we do that?”

“The best way would be to melt it, but that would need a fire of extreme heat that will be hard to find in this time. Unless...” the Doctor’s voice trailed off. He looked a sign that gave directions to various parts of the city, then spoke to a passer-by.

“Can you tell me, kind sir, how near we are to Whitechapel? I am a stranger to the city and have missed my way somehow.”

The man nodded and began to give the Doctor directions. Kate had trouble following their conversation, so looked around instead. Suddenly, she saw a pair of guards approaching from the other end of the road, and tugged at the Doctor’s sleeve.

The Doctor looked round and said, “yes, oh dear,” and then hurriedly thanked his informant, took Kate’s hand and walked briskly round the corner. Once there, the Doctor looked round until he saw an inn with crowded benches outside and a group of beggars clustered nearby, hoping for charity from the drinkers. The Doctor sat down near one of the benches and pulled Kate onto his lap, wrapping the blanket round so they were both concealed. He held out one hand and, as the guards walked by, called out for alms in a quavering voice. One of the drinkers laughed at him and threw a small coin towards him, and the Doctor called his thanks. The guards looked briefly at the assembled drinkers and beggars, but then passed on. Kate held her breath, not daring to move. After a few moments, the Doctor put her gently off his lap and stood up. Keeping the blanket over both their heads, he took Kate’s hand again and walked in the opposite direction to that taken by the guards.

“Where are we going?” Kate whispered.

“To Whitechapel, to the foundry,” was the reply.

“Oh,” Kate wasn’t sure she knew what a foundry was, but it must be something to do with destroying the box.

The Doctor explained, “it’s a kind of factory, where church bells are made. The bells are made from molten metal, heated in a furnace.”

“Oh, and, will it be hot enough to melt the box?”

“I hope so, Kate, I think it will be our best chance.”

Kate was about to ask how they would get into the foundry, but decided not to. Either the Doctor knew, or he would work that out when they got there. Kate skipped as she tried to keep up with the Doctor’s long legs and hoped they didn’t have much further to go.

As they walked she asked, "What about the little man? The statue?"

The Doctor frowned as he replied. "Some magicians have an object they call a 'focus' to store or increase their powers. My guess would be that Netherford has made this object to strengthen his psychic connection with Axos. We will need to destroy it too, to make sure the connection is severed."

"Will it hurt him? If he's connected to it?" Kate didn't like Doctor Netherford, but the idea of deliberately harming him made her uneasy.

"It might," the Doctor conceded, "but I'm afraid we will have to risk it. We can't take the chance of leaving any trace of the connection."

Kate looked at the Doctor, but his expression made her decided not to ask any more questions for the time being and the two adventurers walked on in silence.

When she reached her front door, Mistress Harvey paused and listened. All seemed quiet inside the house, so she opened the door and went in. What she saw when she entered caused her to freeze on the threshold, her hand over her mouth. The kitchen was in disarray. Pots, pans and foodstuffs were strewn around the room. The fire was out and the ashes had been trampled over the hearth. Even Mistress Harvey’s bed had not escaped the destruction, the mattress cover had been slashed and the straw pulled out. Mistress Harvey walked slowly into the room, speechless at the destruction. As she did so, Doctor Netherford appeared from the upper room, his knife still in his hand and the same wild look in his eyes as he had had that morning.

Mistress Harvey looked at her tenant, then said, trying to speak calmly, “Master Netherford. What means this outrage?”

“Witch,” replied the alchemist, “you know full well. You have aided that scoundrel and that infernal changeling. You have speeded their escape and helped them hide that which is rightfully mine, that which the spirits gave me. Where is it? Where have they taken it?”

Netherford came down the stairs and Mistress Harvey backed away from him, picking up a pan and holding it in front of her to try and fend him off. Netherford smiled. “You fear me now, do you not, witch? Well you should. The spirits and I will be avenged on those who would thwart us. Now, where is the scoundrel?”

“I do not know,” replied Mistress Harvey, “unless he be in prison, where you sent him, where else should he be?”

Netherford stared at Mistress Harvey, then seemed to be looking through her. His eyes glazed for a moment and he whispered, “of course, the cathedral. The ship is at the cathedral.” Before the startled housekeeper could speak, or even move, the alchemist sheathed his knife and dashed outside, slamming the door behind him. Mistress Harvey’s first concern was to lock, bolt and bar the door, dragging the bed across to give an extra barrier. Her next was to find a bottle of wine that had escaped her tenant’s orgy of destruction and pour herself a generous measure. Mistress Harvey righted a stool and sat down on it, then buried her face in her hands. Her thoughts went to Kate and the Doctor, and she offered a silent prayer for their deliverance from Netherford’s ‘curse.’ Her prayer concluded; the housekeeper sat up straighter on her stool. She was certain of one thing. Doctor Netherford would never enter her house again, or it would be she that would call the watch and she would have plenty of evidence to show them.

The foundry at Whitechapel was a hive of activity, even as the evening drew on. Smoke streamed from the chimneys and the air was filled with the sounds of industry. Rather than going to the front door, the Doctor and Kate went to the side of the building, where a large gate gave access to deliveries and for goods to depart. A cart approached, and the gate swung open pushed by two men. The Doctor beckoned to Kate and then took her hand, leading her alongside the cart as it went through the gate, on the opposite side to the gatekeepers. He looked around the yard, trying to find the likely location of the furnaces, then nodded and walked on. Kate kept close to the Doctor, trying to make herself invisible and trying not to jump at the noise and the heat and the sudden flashes of hot metal being poured into the bell pits. The Doctor and Kate moved quietly through the foundry, unnoticed by the workers, until they reached the furnace. Kate recoiled at the sight of it. The structure seemed somehow to threaten, as if it would reach out and pull her in. The smoke and the heat made her feel that this wasn’t a piece of machinery, but a living, breathing thing.

The Doctor pointed to where one of the foundry workers was pouring fuel into the furnace and said, “That’s it, that’s where we need to get to.”

Kate wanted to run. She was tired and afraid and she wanted to be as far away from this place as she could be, but she knew that they had to go on. If they didn’t, they might be trapped in this time for ever. Kate looked up at the Doctor and nodded, then gripped his hand more tightly as they made their way up towards the top of the furnace. The heat was intense. Kate cried out and turned away as they approached the opening, and the Doctor pulled the blanket round to shield her. Holding one hand in front of his eyes, he crept closer to the opening, then, with one swift movement, threw the box and the miniature figure into the inferno below. There was an explosion and sparks shot up out of the furnace and showered over those below. One of the foundry workers looked up and, seeing the Doctor, shouted, “What man is that? You, declare yourself!” The Doctor did not reply, but turned and hurried away with Kate by his side, still hidden by the blanket. The foundry worker tried to give chase, but the intruders managed to hide themselves in the shadows of the yard as they edged towards the gate. The Doctor caught sight of a cart that had been delivering fuel and was waiting to be let out of the gate.

Saying to Kate, “one last effort, come on!” he ran towards the cart, then lifted Kate into it. As he did so, the foundry worker who had seen him at the furnace ran into the yard and shouted. The Doctor jumped and gripped the edge of the cart, swinging his legs over and coming to rest next to Kate. They both ducked down as the gate was opened and the cart rattled out into the street.

Kate whispered, “Did it work?”

The Doctor, who was mopping his face with a handkerchief, replied, “I hope so. But there is only one way to be sure. We must go back to the TARDIS and try to leave.” Kate looked at the Doctor, not daring to voice her thoughts aloud. Supposing it hadn’t worked? What would they do? As if sensing her fears, the Doctor put his arm around Kate, so that she could lean against him.
“I promised I would get you home, and I will,” he said, “trust me.”

Kate said nothing. She wanted to trust the Doctor, but her worries wouldn’t go away. Instead, she nestled up to him and closed her eyes. The Doctor smiled down at her.

“That’s right,” he said, “you have a rest. I’ll tell you when it’s time to get off.”

Kate smiled, despite herself, and began to drift off to sleep.

By the time Doctor Netherford reached St. Paul’s churchyard, he was breathless and staggering with fatigue. He had run all the way from his lodgings and this, and his excited mental state had tired him almost to exhaustion. He reeled as he walked, bumping into people and being shoved and shouted at as he went. Suddenly, he saw his goal. There was the TARDIS, hiding in plain sight in a shadowy corner of the churchyard. Netherford gave a triumphant cry, which changed to a scream. He sank to his knees, clawing at his face with his hands, his voice rising in a terrible high-pitched shriek that cut through the usual noise of the churchyard. A crowd began to gather around the stricken alchemist, and one of the stallholders sent his assistant to seek a priest, convinced that Netherford was being attacked by demons. His screams subsiding, Netherford curled up on the ground, sobbing and trembling. Two priests appeared, led by the stallholder’s assistant and knelt by the alchemist. One of them reached out a tentative hand and touched him on the shoulder, saying, “what ails thee, my son? Cans’t speak? Dost thou know where thou art?”

Netherford lowered his hands from his face. His eyes were wide and he seemed dazed. He looked at the priest and said, slowly, “My spirits... all … gone. All of them. My golden guardian spirit, gone.”

The priest sighed and gave his hand to Netherford to help him stand. “My son,” he said, “thou shouldst not trust in such things. They are fickle and will only lead to temptation. Come,” as Netherford got to his feet and looked around, still dazed, “come with us and give thanks for thy deliverance.”

Netherford nodded though he seemed not to have understood, and went with the priests to their lodgings, which were close to the cathedral. Once the priests and the alchemist had departed, the crowd gradually dispersed and the usual sounds of the stallholders and their customers began to reassert themselves. So much so that, a little while later, nobody noticed a man and a girl going into the strange box that stood to one side of the churchyard, or that same box making a soft sound, a groaning, wheezing sound, and disappearing.

Sergeant Benton had joined the Brigadier in the laboratory to report that Kate and the Doctor were nowhere to be found. The Brigadier, having relieved his feelings by barking “WHAT?” at his Sergeant, was, once more, sitting on a lab stool and staring at the space where the TARDIS had been. “He’s taken her off in that dratted machine of his, you mark my words,” the Brigadier said to Benton, who didn’t feel he could really do any more than nod.

The Brigadier was about to continue, when a familiar and unmistakable noise filled the lab. The two men watched as the TARDIS flickered into view, then solidified before their eyes. The door opened and, for a moment, nobody came out. The Brigadier approached the TARDIS and called, “Doctor, are you in there?” and the next moment there was the sound of footsteps and Kate emerged. She ran to her father and threw her arms round him with a force that made the startled Brigadier step back. He hugged her, then held her at arms-length and looked at her. “Kate? What the devil have you been up to?” he asked, as he looked at his daughter, her clothes muddy and torn, her face grimy with soot from the furnace and her shoes scuffed and battered from the rough roads. Before Kate could answer, the Doctor appeared, looking tired and disheveled.

He stood in the TARDIS doorway and said, “well, Kate, we got home.”

The Brigadier glowered at his scientific advisor. “And where, may I ask, have you been? What on earth did you think you were doing taking Kate off in that blasted box of yours?”

The Doctor was about to reply, but Kate spoke up. “Dad it wasn’t the Doctor’s fault. I was just talking to him and the door closed and we got pulled back to Tudor London. It was Axos, they made this man bring us to London to make the Doctor stop the time loop.”

Kate paused, having run out of breath and the Brigadier asked, “Is this true, Doctor?”

Kate looked hurt that her father had doubted her word, but said nothing.

The Doctor replied, quietly, “Yes, yes, it is. The mind of Axos brought us to London in 1561 and tried to force me to break the time loop.”

“But... you didn’t, did you?”

“My dear Brigadier, of course I didn’t. It was touch and go for a while,” the Doctor looked at Kate and smiled, “but we won out in the end and the link with Axos is broken.”

“Good. Now, I don’t know how we are going to explain this to Kate’s mother...”

“You can save your explanations, Alistair,” said Fiona Lethbridge Stewart from the doorway. “I will hear them all later. For now, Kate is coming home and staying there. And if she comes to HQ in the future, she will be going no further than her father’s office. Is that understood?”

Sergeant Benton looked at his shoes as the Doctor and the Brigadier murmured “Yes.”

Fiona put her arm round Kate's shoulders and they left the lab, Kate saying, “but Mum, it wasn’t the Doctor’s fault.”

“It doesn’t matter if it was,” replied Fiona, as they walked down the corridor, “I don’t want you getting into trouble again.”

Kate looked down and murmured, “I’m sorry.”

Fiona stopped and crouched down, putting her hands on Kate’s shoulders, then hugging her. “Oh, darling, I’m not angry with you,” she said, “but I worry about you, and so does Dad, and that makes us seem a bit cross when something like this happens.”

Kate hugged her mother and then said, “OK.”

Fiona stood up and said, “Good. Now, I can see that the first thing you are going to need when we get home is a bath.”

Kate looked down at herself and then back at her mother. “It was a bit dirty there,"she said, ruefully, "I’m sorry my clothes got in such a state.”

At this, Fiona laughed. “Oh Kate,” she said, “let’s get you home and bathed and then you can tell me and Horace all about your adventures while we have tea. Does that sound good?”

Kate looked up at her mother and said, “Yes”. However exciting adventures were, it was good to come home again afterwards.