The Doctor looked up as Wyn came into the console room. She had changed from her snow gear back into her baggy combats and a T. Shirt with the classic slogan “I am the people my parents warned me about.”

He grinned. Nothing like a bit of teen rebellion in the TARDIS.

“Well, the winter sports were fun,” she said. “Where next?”

“Looking up an old friend,” The Doctor said. “Dodo reminded me the other week about Steven. I thought I’d see how he’s getting on.”

“What’s he getting on with, and where?”

“Leading the people of Calistra II in peace and democracy. We arrived there and found the place in a right old mess. Sorted it out. And they asked Steven to stay and be their leader.”

“So, you, like, just used to leave people off all over the universe? What if he wanted to come back to Earth?”

“I don’t just leave people stranded on any convenient asteroid,” The Doctor protested. “It’s not like that. Steven didn’t want to go back to Earth. He came from the future when mankind looked on Earth as the motherland but were content to make their homes on far off worlds.”

“Well, just you remember I have my A levels to do still, so you have to get ME back to Wales some time.”

“Oh, I will. Scouts honour.”

“Yeah, like you were ever a Scout.”

He winked at her and laughed as he moved around the console fine-tuning their descent from the time vortex into ordinary space and then to a smooth landing on Calistra II.

“Well, relatively smooth,” The Doctor laughed as he picked himself up from the floor.

“Seeing as you still haven’t learned to land this thing after all the years you’ve been knocking about, did you ever think to get some sort of soft floor-covering, couple of crash mats, something to make the impact less painful?”

“Where’s the fun in that. Come on, adventure awaits outside those doors.”

“Funny,” Wyn thought to herself. “It was adventure INSIDE those doors that got me in here in the first place.” But she came along. Of course she did.

Outside the door was a beautiful hall, with a marble floor – well, maybe marble effect, Wyn reasoned. Because there was a lot of it, and marble wasn’t THAT easy to come by. Walls of white rose up to a high, vaulted ceiling and tall windows looked out onto the landscape outside, which appeared to be formal gardens with fountains rising up into the air.

“Pretty,” Wyn said. “Looks like a sort of ultra-modern cathedral.”

“Welcome, strangers,” a voice called, and a young woman crossed the floor to greet them. She was tall, with long auburn hair and hazel eyes and dressed in a long dress that was figure hugging to the waist then fell to her feet in soft folds. “Your coming has been awaited for many years.”

“It has?” The Doctor and Wyn exchanged glances.

“You came in the blue box – the TARDIS.” She looked beyond them to where the TARDIS stood. “I never thought to see it with my own eyes.” Those eyes were bright with excitement when she looked at the object of legend.

“I’m glad you’re impressed,” The Doctor said. “I’m The Doctor, this is my friend, Wyn. And you are….”

“Oh, forgive me,” the woman said. “I’m Miranda Taylor, keeper of the Hall of Truth.”

“Ahhh!” The Doctor drawled slowly. “You must be Steven’s daughter.”

“Granddaughter,” she corrected him. “You know my grandfather?” Then she realised what he had said. “Doctor…. You are the Doctor?”

“He’s the grandson of the one your granddad knew,” Wyn said. That lie seemed to help ease the confusion when they came into contact with old acquaintances.

“But he told me all about this planet, and his old friend, Steven Taylor,” The Doctor said, playing along. “And I promised to look him up.”

“My grandfather is not very well,” Miranda told them. “But perhaps it would do him good to see somebody who knows about his past. Come this way.”

Miranda brought them from the Hall of Truth – The Doctor wondered exactly what that meant and made his mind up to find out later – and along a series of long corridors. He remembered that the largest populated area of the planet had been a citadel inside which an advanced society had lived an idyllic life with philosophy and art and gentle living but at the expense of the non-advanced society beyond its walls. He and his friends had put a stop to that and Steven had become leader of the united people of the planet.

“Does the whole population live within the citadel now?” he asked Miranda as they passed people dressed in good quality clothes and apparently looking well fed and healthy.

“Not all,” she said. “Many of our people live beyond the citadel, tending the fields and producing food.”

“So you still have a two tier society?” The Doctor looked worried. “I thought Steven was going to make sure everyone was treated equally.”

“They are,” Miranda assured him. “Many of our people chose to live a more simple life on the land. They have the technology if they want it. But many find they enjoy a life without need for hover cars and televideo and such things.”

“Ah. That’s different. Freedom to drop out of a society is an important freedom. Well done.”

“Just like mum and dad and the Wholeweal idea,” Wyn said. “Back to nature. Nothing wrong with that, really. Unless you REALLY want a bacon butty.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what a ‘bacon butty’ is,” Miranda said. “But we may be able to find a suitable substitute…”

“It's an Earth delicacy,” The Doctor explained. “And Wyn has sworn off them for the time being anyway. If she REALLY wants to fit those new jeans.”

Wyn scowled at him but his teasing smile was infectious and she couldn’t stay mad at him for long. Besides, he was right about the jeans. And bacon butties never really tasted as good as they looked when you actually got down to it.

“Grandfather,” Miranda said as she escorted them into a pleasant drawing room that looked out onto the gardens outside the citadel. “These are some friends to see you.”

The man sitting by the window looked around slowly as if her words only reached him at half speed. Wyn noticed The Doctor draw breath in sharply. And she was not surprised. She had seen pictures of the man called Steven Taylor in his photo album. The last time The Doctor had seen him he was a young man of about twenty five who looked in the peak of health and fitness. This man was old, maybe seventy or eighty, and he looked ill even for that age. He sat in a high-backed armchair with a rug around him and had been staring out of the window until his granddaughter called to him.

“Steven!” The Doctor approached him with a cheerful voice and his arm extended to shake hands with him. “Good to see you, old man. My grandfather told me all about you. Said I should look you up.”

Wyn was right, the lie was easier. Steven did not look as if he could take an explanation of regeneration right now. It would be a cruel thing to have to explain anyway to somebody who had only one life and that near enough coming to an end.

Strange how they seemed in reversed roles now, The Doctor thought. Then, he had been the old man with a stick who sometimes felt as if his legs would not carry him and even two hearts weren’t enough to keep him going. Steven was the strong, vibrant and active youth who did the running around and the physical fighting.

Though he thought he was never as old as Steven looked now.

“I know you,” Steven said and for a moment The Doctor thought he really did. He looked at him almost as if he did recognise him.

“You’re my daughter’s youngest, aren’t you? Fred… No… Clarence. No, wait a minute…” His eyes that had seemed at first alive and intelligent became unfocussed and confused. Then he looked at him again. “You’re that useless lump Miranda wants to marry. I told her…”

His voice drifted off again. Wyn, watching from a few steps behind saw Miranda’s head droop sadly.

“Grandfather,” she said. “You know that I got married last year. To a wonderful man. Edward is the greatest surgeon on Calistra.”

“Oh, Edward, yes. Fine man, fine man,” Steven said. “I was talking about your other husband, Letitia. The one with the fruit stall.”

“I’m Miranda, grandfather,” she sighed. “Letitia is your daughter, my aunt, and nobody in our family ever had a fruit stall.”

The Doctor looked at her. There were tears in her eyes. He wasn’t surprised.

“We’d better let him rest,” he said. “Goodbye, Steven,” he added, just in case. “I’ll see you soon, I hope. We can have a chat about old times then. Old friends. Dodo, do you remember her? Lovely girl. She’s doing nicely. Sends her love.”

There was no answer. No understanding of his words. Steven turned his face to the window and resumed his stare. The Doctor turned away sadly.

“Doctor,” Steven said. “Don’t let them take over my city.”

The Doctor froze and turned around to his old friend. But he didn’t seem to have moved.

“He says things like that all the time,” Miranda said. “When he says Doctor… He doesn’t mean the ones that come to give him his medicine. He means…”

“He means me,” The Doctor said.

“He means the man he used to know. Your grandfather. The Doctor who was with him when he first came here. Who used to own the blue box. He seems convinced that there is something wrong, and that The Doctor can fix it.” She smiled sadly. “When I was little he told me stories. That’s why seeing the TARDIS was so wonderful.”

“I know that feeling,” Wyn said.

“The Doctor he knew is long gone,” The Doctor said with a warm smile at Miranda. “But I am just as good as he was. If there IS a problem, I CAN fix it.”

“But there ISN’T a problem,” she insisted. “Except that grandfather is losing more of his mind every day. Everyone else here is happy and healthy and content. My father took over the leadership before grandfather became as ill as he is. He rules well. He rules fairly for all.”

“Glad to hear it. But meanwhile, I’m not quite hungry enough for bacon butties, but I could murder a cup of tea. Is there anywhere we…”

“Oh yes,” she said. “Please, come to the refectory.” She led them again down a series of corridors. Wyn wondered how anyone knew their way around this place.

They came to the refectory, a bright, cool place with hundreds of tables where people ate and talked. There was a frosted glass roof letting in diffused natural light that brightened the room without glaring and there were pot plants and pieces of sculpture all around to make it look colourful and interesting. Miranda brought them to a seat and went off to get refreshments.

Wyn looked at The Doctor. He was looking like a man who was FORCING himself to look cheerful.

“Your friend,” she said. “He seems as if he’s a couple of cakes short of a tray.”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” The Doctor sighed.

“Yeah,” she sighed, too. “I hate that. It's horrible when people who used to be strong and capable become so helpless. I remember my granddad… He just went in about a year from being able to do everything to being able to do nothing. My dad was so sad about it. He said he thought when he taught me to tie my shoes he was done with that. Never thought he’d have to do it for his own dad.”

“Been there,” The Doctor said.

“Your dad?”

“No,” He smiled sadly. “Me.”


“I’m nearly 1,000 years old, Wyn. When I was 500, my first body was wearing out. I was old, physically and mentally. There were times – couldn’t even remember my own granddaughter’s name. Couldn’t remember my OWN name! Couldn’t remember how to pilot the TARDIS properly. Sometimes I blacked out and didn’t know who I was. And when I did know who I was and where I was, I was terrified of losing it so much I could never get myself back.”

“So what happened?”

“Regeneration. When my body had taken so much it couldn’t cope any more I regenerated into a younger man. A bit younger anyway. But I can remember that time. I remember the feeling that my mind was turning to mush and I’d lose even who I am. I’m lucky. I got a second chance – nine of them. Great thing about being a Time Lord that. All the things we know, centuries of experience – we get to keep it.”

“Humans don’t.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Poor Steven.”


“And even your planet has no actual cure for that sort of thing?”

“No. I don’t think anyone anywhere in the universe has figured that one out. And yet…”

“What he said to you at the end…”

“IF he said it to me. Miranda says he’s said that a lot.”

“But he was thinking of you. And he thinks there’s a problem here.”


“Another mystery to solve.”

“Yep.” The Doctor looked at his watch and grinned. “It’s Thursday on Earth, mid-afternoon. Double Maths.”

“Thursday was French,” Wyn corrected him. “I didn’t mind that too much. The teacher was nice.”

“Yeah, but isn’t it more fun being out here in another galaxy with who knows what challenges.”

“Yeah, course it is,” she said. “I’ll let you know when it isn’t. But we’d have to be in a pretty miserable state to make Llanfairfach look a better idea. Besides, I wouldn’t just dump you on your own.”

“That’s the nicest thing anyone ever said to me,” he told her with a smile.

She meant it, too. But when she spoke again he didn’t respond. He was looking around the room, staring at people.

“There is something wrong here,” he said. “Some of these people aren’t people.”

“Huh?” Wyn looked at him. “So what are they then?”

Miranda returned to the table with tea and sandwiches. None of them were bacon, though there was a meat that was not unlike ham with a tasty sort of salad vegetable. Wyn thought about asking what it was but decided against it. It might just turn out to be another fungus like her dad made food out of.

“Miranda,” The Doctor said. “Has anything unusual happened around here lately? Have any spacecraft arrived – apart from mine, that is?”

“Spacecraft arriving isn’t unusual. We have a thriving trade with other planets. There are shuttles daily. Transport ships. The spacedock is the other side of the citadel, away from our living quarters.”

“So something hostile could easily slip in.”

“Something….” Miranda looked at him. “Doctor… My grandfather is a very ill man. His mind wanders. You really must not take notice of the things he says. It is sad. He WAS the architect of our civilisation. He brought the people together to work for the good of all. He taught us to look beyond whose ancestors were Elders and whose Savages and work as one people to build a society where everyone is happy, where learning and truth is available to all. And to see him reduced now to a helpless invalid whose mind is so divorced from reality….”

“Steven sees more of reality than you think,” The Doctor said. “Miranda…” He took her hand and he reached and took Wyn’s, too. She put down the sandwich in her other hand. Something was happening around her. She looked at The Doctor. His eyes looked as if they were focussed on a distant place and he seemed to be concentrating mentally.

And around them time slowed. Within the field that extended around the three of them everything was normal, but outside of it everyone was moving in slow motion.

And some of the people were not people. Miranda and Wyn both stared in horror.

“Woww!” The Doctor exclaimed as he let the time fold collapse and opened his eyes. “It takes it out me doing it for three people. So… tell me… what did you see? Taking you out of phase that way should have made it possible for you to see them.”

“They were….” Miranda struggled to find the words. She was still trying to contend with what she had seen.

“Like blancmanges that had gone mouldy,” Wyn said. “Pulsating blobs of green and purple with sort of tentacles….”

“But…” Miranda looked around. “That’s Richard.” She pointed to a young man sitting at a nearby table who had appeared as one of the pulsating mouldy blancmanges. “He’s one of our top computer technicians. I have known him since we studied in the Hall of Truth.”

“Ah,” The Doctor said. “The Hall of Truth is a SCHOOL.”

“It is where we learn the truths we must know to be productive citizens,” Miranda said.

“School,” Wyn nodded.

“But anyway… Doctor…” Miranda looked at him with wide, fearful eyes. “If that’s not Richard…”

“Wait one.” He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and pointed it towards ‘Richard’. He frowned as he looked at the result of his scan. “There’s no Human DNA at all in that body. The form you see is just an illusion – a glamour cast by the creature so that you don’t suspect.”

“Then where is the REAL Richard?” Miranda asked. “And… and all the other people.”

“About a quarter of these people are blancmanges,” Wyn whispered.

“I can see them all now,” The Doctor said. “Now that I know they’re there, I can see through it.”

“I can’t,” Wyn said.

“Look at me.” She did so. His brown eyes seemed to bore into her mind. She wasn’t sure what he was doing, but when he finally looked away and she looked around the room she could see the creatures.

“I almost wish you hadn’t done that. They’re horrible.”

“How can we stop it?” Miranda shook her head as he turned his hypnotic gaze from her and looked in dismay at how many of the people she cared about, friends, neighbours, were gone, replaced by these things.

“Are they dead?” Wyn asked. “Where ARE the real people?”

“I don’t know,” The Doctor answered as he looked at the reading on the LCD panel of the sonic screwdriver again. He stood up and flashed his smile at them both. “But we’re going to find out. Come on.”

Wyn and Miranda almost had to run to keep up with him as he swept down the long corridors to the Hall of Truth, intending to check his findings on the TARDIS database. At the door to the Hall, though, he stopped.


“What’s going on?” Wyn asked. “What are they all doing?”

“This is supposed to be a truth session,” Miranda said. “A… a class. There should be people here to learn about botany.”

“We seem to have a classful of blancmanges,” The Doctor observed. “There are more of them than I thought.”

“Can we get to the TARDIS without them spotting us?” Miranda asked.

“We just walk on through,” Wyn said. “They don’t know we’re onto them.”

“Well done, Wyn. Come on,”

The Doctor stepped into the Hall of Truth. Miranda and Wyn followed him, trying not to look nervous, trying not to notice that they were working their way around the edge of a room full of mouldy blancmange creatures. They seemed to be carrying on with the lesson that was scheduled for the day. They seemed to carry on as if life was normal. That would be part of the plan, The Doctor reasoned. Keep everything normal until the whole community was infected and there was no need for the disguise.

Not if he could help it.

First he had to acclimatise Miranda to the TARDIS. He grinned despite the seriousness of the situation. It was always very much the same every time somebody new stepped over that threshold. The wonder and disbelief in their eyes. And the inevitable question….

“How is it so much bigger on the inside?”

“Relative Dimensions,” The Doctor explained, knowing that was no explanation at all. “Welcome to my TARDIS, Miranda. Don’t worry, this is just a technology a little more advanced than you are accustomed to. No magic, nothing to fear.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

The Doctor and Wyn both looked at her. The TARDIS had been called many things in it's time, but beautiful was a rare one.

“Yes, it is,” The Doctor agreed. “And clever, too. Here we go…” He tapped the viewscreen on the console and smiled grimly as it brought up the biological and biographical detail of the blancmange creatures.

“This is a bit of a first for me, you know. A species I’ve never met before. There aren’t too many of those. They’re called Jikarians. And they’re not nice beings at all. The best advice my people had was ‘steer clear’.”

“What?” Wyn laughed. “The TARDIS has its own ‘Rough Guide’ to the universe that tells you who to socialise with?”

“Database of species and their origins. Oh, this is bad. Hang on.”

The time rotor rose and fell and glowed green and the sound of dematerialisation followed very quickly by the re-materialisation told Wyn that they had moved. Miranda was still unaware of what was happening. On short hops it was sometimes impossible to tell the TARDIS had moved at all until the doors opened.

“You should stay in here,” The Doctor said to her. “What I’m expecting to find out there is not going to be interested in ‘Truth’. There’s nothing a teacher can do.”

“What do you mean ‘out there?’ Miranda questioned. “What…”

The Doctor opened the door and reached his hand out to Wyn. “Jikarian space ship in hidden orbit above Calistra II.”

Wyn came to his side. Miranda did, too.

“I am Steven’s granddaughter. He would not have waited behind, would he?”

“No, he wouldn’t,” The Doctor agreed. “And after all, it is your people who are being hurt. Come on, then.”

“Actually, NOT Jikarian,” The Doctor said as he looked at a schematic of the ship written in a language that seemed to consist of patterns of squares, some solid, some outline. As Wyn looked they resolved into readable English – the psychic gift of the TARDIS to anyone who travelled in it. “The ship is Delvarian. I think they must have taken it over and killed the original crew.”

“Funny we haven’t run into any of the mouldy blancmanges,” Wyn said as they moved on again stealthily, following The Doctor’s lead now he had his bearings.

“I’m glad we haven’t,” he said. “All the methods of unarmed fighting I know assume that the opponent HAS arms, and a neck you can give a karate chop to or something of that nature. The databank wasn’t at all helpful on how to fight these things.”

He stopped at a bulkhead door that looked, to Wyn and Miranda, little different from several others they had passed. But this one The Doctor examined very carefully, pressing his ear against it like a safecracker as he aimed the sonic screwdriver at the lock mechanism. There was a click and a thunk that they all heard and the door slid back. He adjusted the sonic screwdriver and applied it to the locking mechanism, melting it into a solid lump.

“We don’t want to get locked in here!”

He said that even before they stepped inside. When they did, they knew for certain. They REALLY didn’t want to get locked in there.

“Oh my…” Wyn exclaimed.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Miranda gasped, turning her face away from the sight.

“Please don’t,” The Doctor warned her. “This place is unpleasant enough.”

It was hard to take it all in at once, or to decide which was the first thing to truly repulse the senses. Was it the rows upon rows of still living, still breathing people lying in what looked like incubator tanks? Was it the tendril like tubes and conduits attached to their heads and torsos? Or was it the horrible smell of dead flesh that suggested that these were the lucky ones?

Or was it the giant version of the mouldy blancmange that squatted in the middle of the room, pulsating and glowing malevolently?

“It's like a queen,” Wyn said. “Like a queen bee, that sort of thing.”

“It's a gestalt creature,” The Doctor said, almost sounding impressed.

“A what?”

“Gestalt – a single being made up of lots of individuals, but with a single purpose.” Miranda seemed to understand the concept, but Wyn looked blank. “Like the crowd at the Millennium stadium singing “Land of My Fathers”. A single great voice made up of thousands of individuals with the one common purpose.”

“Ok, I get it,” she said.

“But what are these people here for?” Miranda asked. “And why is…”

“They are the food source for the Jikarian,” The Doctor said. Saying it was easy. It was a statement of facts. He was not even beginning to address the horror of it. “I’m guessing that it has some kind of simple transmat technology that can take people a few at a time, lone subjects, nobody missed, and put them in these tanks. The core being there feeds off their energy, their mental and physical life-force and the individuals of the gestalt take over the image, the persona of the victim.”

He walked around the room as he spoke and they came to one of the sources of the bad smell. This was a still living man, but only just. The flesh was rotting on the body, as if decomposition had begun, but there WERE still signs of life. The heart was beating and the lungs breathing, and the eyes…

The Doctor couldn’t help letting out a gasp as the eyes looked into his. And he heard the weak voice that said ‘help me’.

“There is only one way I could help that man,” he said stepping back and looking at his companions. He could see in their faces that they knew what he meant.

But it went against everything he believed in. Euthanasia was only one step from murder. Not even that in some cases.

And yet….

And yet this man had no life left. It had all been drained into one of the vile spawn of that creature. Ending his agony WAS an act of mercy.

“Do it,” Wyn said. “I would.”

“Please….” Miranda begged him. “Don’t leave him like that.”

“I can’t take that decision for him,” The Doctor said.

“Then let me,” Miranda said. “He’s one of MY father’s people. Let ME decide. Do it, Doctor. Please.”

“But if I’m wrong… If he CAN be saved….”

If I’m wrong, I’ll have to live with it, The Doctor thought. But in his hearts, he knew he wasn’t wrong. In this instance, something he would never give his approval to in another circumstance WAS the merciful and ‘right’ thing to do.

He reached his hand out and put it over the man’s heart. His eyes glazed over in concentration as he willed the heart to slow and stop beating. He felt rather than heard a gratefully whispered ‘thank you’ with the final beat. He stood up and stepped back. He felt Wyn and Miranda both reach out to him. He resisted the urge to shrug them off. He felt unclean after what he had done. He didn’t want to contaminate them.

And he didn’t want either of them dwelling too long on what they had just seen him do, least of all Wyn. He didn’t want to look at her in the TARDIS and know that she was thinking about this.

He didn’t want her thinking of him as the man who can kill with the power of his hands.

“I’ve got to stop this,” he said. “WE’VE got to stop this.” He looked around at his companions. “Wyn, Miranda, get those things off, get these people free of this thing. Try to revive as many as you can.” He looked into some of the tanks nearest to him. “Start with these people here. They look military.”

“They ARE,” Miranda said with a groan. “Our planetary army. It’s even taken them?”

The Doctor bent over one of the soldiers and retrieved his knife from his webbing. He gave it to Wyn who set to work cutting the tendrils. Miranda moved to the next one and did the same.

“A lot of them are too far gone,” The Doctor said as he cast an eye over the lines. “We may lose some…”

“What are you going to do?” Wyn asked him, though she knew. “You’re going to kill the queen – the core, whatever you called it.”



“Bloody good question!” he thought to himself as he looked at the creature. He had half a dozen sharp swords and a few other things that would make good weapons back in the TARDIS, but here and now he had nothing but his bare hands.

“With my bare hands if I HAVE to,” he said and strode towards the creature.

If it had a heart he could do the same thing he just did to an innocent man, he thought. If it had a neck he could wring it. He wasn’t sure what he COULD do to a creature like that.

What was its weak point?

He had to find it fast, because he quickly realised that the victims could not be freed otherwise. Wyn and Miranda were cutting the tendrils feverishly, but they were not just wires, they were living things, a part of the gestalt, and they simply snaked back around the victims. He saw them manage to pull one man free, but it had taken both of them several minutes to do it and even as they lifted him from the tank there was a shimmer of white and another kidnapped Calistrian screamed in terror as the tendrils snaked around him.

Deciding right from wrong was one of the most difficult tasks he faced in his life as a ‘defender of the oppressed’. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. Sometimes the monsters were mankind and the oppressed the ugly blob creatures. But not this time. These were parasites preying on innocents. It was black and white. This thing had to be stopped. Even if he had to go against the grain and kill.

“Who dares interfere?” He heard the voice in his head. Even in his head it seemed to be a rasping thing as if created by something that didn’t have vocal cords as he recognised them. The creature pulsated in rhythm with the words, reminding him, in a curious way, of the way the lights on a Dalek lit up with every syllable of their staccato voices.

“I do,” he replied. “I’m The Doctor.” He watched the pulse change momentarily. Ah, he thought. It’s heard of me!

“The Time Lord. Ahhh!”

“Yes, The Time Lord,” he replied.

“You will not succeed, Doctor. Even YOU cannot stop me. You will succumb to me. Your lifeforce – all those lives in one body – will allow me to grow in strength and power.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” He looked around. Miranda and Wyn seemed to be having a bit more luck now. The creature was distracted by him and they were pulling more of the people from the tanks. And it seemed slower to transmat replacements aboard. Some of the tanks were empty now.

“When we take these people out of the tanks your gestalt beings who have taken them over die?”

“You are murdering me,” the creature said. “Yesss…”

“Good. That’s what I hoped would happen. All I have to do now is stop you from taking any more people.”

“But I am not completely defenceless. Did you think it easy?” The creature shimmered and gave out a shrill cry. Moments later the doorway The Doctor had jammed open was blocked by gestalt creatures trying to get in to defend the core from its enemies. The soldiers who had been rescued from the tank immediately went into a defensive mode themselves.

They found the gestalts hard to kill. The were not, of course, blancmange, but flesh of a kind. But there was no heart, no brain in these creatures, nothing that a bullet could harm. All they could do was fire enough bullets from the guns they had with them when they were transmatted to this place to actually physically rip them to pieces. But their ammunition was low and it took a lot of bullets to kill a few of those that were trying to get in. They scored a significant blow when two of them thought of throwing grenades through the door. That held the enemy off for a while.

Most of those they had rescued began to recover, some of them enough to help rescue others. They were the ones who had not been there long, who had merely been drained of energy and weakened by it. Others died quick deaths. The tanks seemed to be keeping them alive artificially beyond their endurance – in order to provide the last dregs of their being to feed the creature. Either way, each time a tank was emptied it was taking a toll on the core creature. The tide WAS turning. Its inner glow seemed to be dimming and its voice was more desperate.

But there were still hundreds of tanks and they were still too few.

“Smash the empty tanks,” The Doctor told them. “Then it can’t bring new people up.”

One of the soldiers turned and shot two of the tanks to pieces before returning to the fight against the gestalt army. Some of the civilians took up pieces of twisted metal that formed the framework of the tanks and used them to smash the rest, destroying the tanks now as each victim was rescued.

“You cannot stop me,” the creature rasped again. “You have weakened me but there is still much lifeforce on the planet below.”

“No!” Miranda screamed out loud as one of the tanks she had just cleared immediately gained a new occupant, taken at random from among the people of Calistra III. The Doctor looked around and his hearts lurched.

It was Steven.

Miranda fought back, cutting the tendrils that tried to wrap around him. Steven seemed awake but blissfully unaware of what was happening to him. In his confused mind he was somewhere else even at the best of times. He was luckier, The Doctor thought, than most of the other victims who must have been all too aware of the horror.

Kill the core and they would ALL be safe. He turned and looked at it again. It had no heart. It had no bones that could be broken, no jugular to be cut. What it DID seem to have, that the smaller gestalts didn’t have, was a brain. And it was a powerful one. It controlled all of the feeding tanks, it controlled the transmat that brought the people into its lair, it controlled hundreds of its gestalt individuals and the psychic disguise they used to continue their infiltration of Calistra without being detected. And while doing all of that, it could STILL speak to him telepathically.

He closed his eyes and forced his inner eye to look into the creature’s mind. He was right. It WAS powerful. But he was equal to it. And it knew it. As soon as he began concentrating his mental force onto it, he felt it hesitate. He felt it slacken its hold on its victims as it was forced to defend itself from his penetration of its mind.

At its full concentration it was putting up a fight. He groaned in pain as he felt its riposte sear into his brain. He responded with a blow that made the creature scream as its synapses burned. It hit him back, but decidedly weaker now. He hit it again and once more while it was still reeling from the first blow. He was more powerful. The worst it could do to him was a headache to end them all. But each time he attacked a piece of the huge brain that took up at least half of the great bulk of the pulsating body was burned out. It screamed piteously, but he had no pity for it. It was a monster that fed on living people and it had to die.

The creature gave one last scream and one last effort against him. He fell back, dazed at the force of it and he lost the mental contact, but when he looked he knew it was over. The creature seemed to be burning from within. Around him the tendrils that had drawn the life force from its victims were shrinking and withdrawing. So were the soldier gestalts. They collapsed around the doorway in a heap.

“Doctor!” He heard Wyn scream and too late he felt the tendrils wrap around his legs. He was pulled down hard and felt himself being dragged towards the creature. It WAS burning and it meant to take him with it as a final vengeance on him. If his body so much as touched it, he would burn with it.

“Here!” One of the former victims grabbed a shard of glass from one of the broken tanks and ran towards The Doctor as he was pulled closer to the dying creature. As he sliced at the tendrils that bound his legs, The Doctor recognised him as the one called Richard whose simulacrum they had noticed in the refectory.

Thanks,” he said when he was free. “Come on. We need to get out of here.” He looked around. Most of the tanks were empty now. What was left was maybe a dozen people for whom nothing could be done. Some of those rescued were so badly hurt they had to be carried by the others. All of them were emotionally disturbed by their experience. He could see the horror in their eyes that would haunt their dreams for years to come. The only one not affected, he noted, was Steven, because his mind was still in some far off place.

“Back to the TARDIS,” The Doctor ordered. That instruction was only meaningful to Wyn and Miranda, but the walking wounded understood enough to follow them. They moved as quickly as they could. They could hear the ship breaking down around them as the creature whose mental power had driven it died. Life support was failing and soon the engines would stop altogether. After that, its orbit would decay until it burnt up in the atmosphere.

Along with those victims he couldn’t save.

Back in the citadel they found a scene of panic and confusion. People had begun ‘melting’ all over the place, leaving strange miscoloured and shapeless husks. Their friends and loved ones didn’t know what had happened to them.

For most of them, there was relief when the TARDIS returned to the Hall of Truth and the victims emerged, though the physical and mental state of some of them was distressing. For the families and friends of others, the ones they couldn’t save, there was grief. The worst was when The Doctor found himself talking to the daughter of the man he had helped to end his life.

“Did he suffer in the end?” she asked him. He swallowed hard before he answered her.

“No,” he said. “He didn’t. I promise you that.” What else could he say?

“You didn’t kill him,” Wyn told him when the girl went off, distressed but at least relieved to know her father had died without pain and suffering. “That thing did it. It killed them all.”

“I know,” he said. “But still…”

“Where did it come from?” Miranda asked him. “And how can we be sure this won’t happen again?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” The Doctor said. “The TARDIS database indicated that its planet was one that had been destroyed by a supernova and was no more. The creature escaped and stayed alive by preying on those planets it came into orbit around. I think there was only ever the one – gestalt creatures tend to be. So I think you can assume you won’t get another one dropping by. But I’ll be having a look at your planetary defence systems before we move on. Make sure your sensors are phased to spot anything that tries a hidden orbit like that. You’re a thriving community and there are beings out there that would see you as nothing but a resource for plundering. You have to look after yourselves.”

“You did a good job of looking after us, Doctor,” Miranda said. “Thank you.”

“All in a days work for us, isn’t it, Wyn!”

“Oh, yeah, giant mouldy blancmanges! Regular nine to five job for us, that.”

“Letitia, aren’t you going to invite your young man for tea?” Steven asked. Miranda looked at him and sighed.

“Come on, Grandfather, let’s get you back to your room where you’re safe.”

“Let me,” The Doctor said, taking Steven’s arm gently. “We still have to have that chat about old times. I told you before, Steven, that Dodo sends her love. And Vicki. Ian and Barbara say hi, as well.”

“Vicki married Troilus,” Steven said. “We left her in ancient Greece.”

“See what I mean,” Miranda said to Wyn as they followed behind. “He says that sort of thing all the time.”

“Yes,” The Doctor said to Steven. “She did very nicely for herself.” He looked back at Miranda. “Don’t dismiss everything he says. He’s not so far gone as you think.” He turned back to Steven. “Did you ever tell Miranda about the time we were in Paris in 1572? Or Tombstone in 1876. What’s the use of having grandchildren if you can’t bore them silly with tales of your youthful adventures?”