Romana looked up from her paperwork. “Do what?” She asked disbelievingly.
“Come away with me. Leave Gallifrey behind and come with me to the Collection,” Braxiatel repeated.
Romana put down her pen. “Yes I thought that’s what you said.” She hesitated. “And what made you think I would agree to this?”
“I…” he hesitated. “I need you to trust me, Romana.”
“Trust you?” she laughed. “Braxiatel, I thought we’d agreed long ago that our relationship works a lot better when neither of us expect the other to trust them.”
He shook his head. “Please, Romana. Just this once.”
She shook her head. “I can’t leave Gallifrey. Not now, and not ever.”
“If I tell you that I will explain once we are there? You can even return afterwards if you want.”
“If you are planning on telling me either way, why not do so now? I don’t make uninformed decisions, Brax. You know that.”
Braxiatel fell quiet.
“Is that all?” Romana asked, lifting another unread report from the pile looming over her head.
“You can help Gallifrey from the Collection,” he said.
“But not nearly as well as I can here.”
“Narvin and Leela trusted me,” Braxiatel tried. “They are already on the Collection.”
Romana stilled. “So you are the one responsible for them disappearing?”
“They came with me of their own volition.”
“Months, Brax,” Romana snapped. “I have spent months looking for them, and all along you knew where they were.”
“I couldn’t tell you,” Braxiatel said weakly. “For the sake of the web of time.”
“The web of time is in tatters already, what difference does one more paradox make?” Romana asked. “Nothing.”
“This one does,” Braxiatel said. “I just need you to come with me. You can go back if you want, but please let me explain somewhere you can afford enough time for me to be able to explain everything.”
Romana considered it. “I need to think,” she conceded.
“No, Braxiatel. I need time.”
“And if I say there may not be time?” he asked.
Romana’s gaze hardened. “Then make it.”
He stood. “I’m not sure if I can,” he said. “But I will try.”
“We are being watched,” Braxiatel told her when she came to visit him the following night.
Without asking, Romana sat down in his only chair. “Everywhere is under surveillance these days. I would know, it’s my agency’s resources being used to facilitate it.”
“You don’t approve.”
“I approve of very little President Rassilon does.”
Braxiatel raised an eyebrow.
“I might as well say it,” Romana said. “I won’t be here much longer.”
“So you have decided to come with me?” Braxiatel asked hopefully.
“Decided isn’t the word I would use. This morning I signed an execution warrant.”
He frowned. “I know your stance on capital punishment, and I agree, but it can’t be the first time you’ve had to authorise an execution”
“It’s not,” Romana said “But it’s the first time I’ve had to sign my own.”
Braxiatel froze. “How much time do we have?”
“Until they try to execute someone else and find the chamber empty, I suspect. So until tomorrow morning.”
He nodded, suppressing the urge to fiddle with his cuffs. “Are you ready to leave?”
“As I said, I don’t have much choice. I took what I could get from my office, and then I went back to my chambers to get what I needed from there.”
“Getting past the Transduction Barriers won’t be easy,” he said.
“We can slip out with the morning dispatches,” Romana suggested.
Braxiatel nodded. “That could work.”
“But it is several hours away,” she sighed. “And by then someone may have already realised I’m still alive.”
“We could try to leave now,” Braxiatel suggested.
“Our chances of escape are too low. We will just have to wait until the morning and hope no one comes looking for me here.”
Romana sat watching the Gallifreyan night sky changing. The stars paled next to the lights of the constant Dalek bombardment.
Regardless of when they had chosen to leave the planet, they would have mere seconds to dematerialise before they were spotted and exterminated. When Narvin had disappeared, not long after Leela, only a few Dalek ships would make it to Gallifrey - and the few that did would be destroyed within hours. Now there were hundreds of Dalek ships hovering over Gallifrey’s skies.
But what Gallifrey lacked in numbers it made up with in increasingly horrifying weaponry. A significant portion of which her agency were to blame for.
She and Narvin had been systematically sabotaging designs and stalling tests. They had always known that it was only a matter of time before someone took note and reported it to Rassilon. When Narvin had disappeared she had assumed he had been executed, and that she could expect the same fate soon. A part of her still believed that Narvin was indeed dead, and Braxiatel was lying to get her off world.
Either way this was her choice. Not one she would have made had the circumstances been different. But one she would have to stand by. She could do more for Gallifrey elsewhere, Braxiatel was right about that.
Overthrowing Rassilon, even if he was a tyrant and a despot, was not the way. A millennia ago she would have scoffed at such thinking, but now, jaded by war and death, all she wanted for Gallifrey was stability. Even if opposition to Rassilon was desperately needed, she knew he would not tolerate any. Either he would kill her or she would have to kill him, it was that simple. And Gallifrey had lost enough life already. Her conscience would just have to bear leaving Gallifrey in the hands of someone so corrupt. At least until more peaceful times when she could try to right her past mistakes and restore Gallifrey to what it ought to be.
So there she was sitting. Taking in the sight of her beloved planet’s night sky one last time. Pazithi Gallifreya had been put out of phase with normal time by 0.1 seconds so the Daleks couldn’t destroy their only remaining accessible source of Taranium, so it was no longer visible in the sky. The stars outshone by the debris in Gallifrey’s orbit, gleaming in the lights of lasers and fire.
“The sun is rising,” Romana said when it’s light welled over the horizon. “Are you ready?”
Braxiatel had spent the night salvaging what had to be saved, and recalculating their coordinates. Travelling directly to the Collection was out of the question. If any Daleks decided to follow them it would endanger everything and everyone on the planetoid.
“I am,” he said. “My TARDIS awaits.”
“Will she be able to stand the strain if we are fired upon?” Romana asked as they entered Braxiatel’s TARDIS.
“She will have to.”
They stood on opposite sides of the console. The TARDIS made a noise of complaint as they set it into motion.
“Transduction Barrier being lowered,” Romana said.
The TARDIS came to a halt, and the comms link opened.
“Cardinal Braxiatel, state your purpose in leaving Gallifrey,” a guard demanded.
“I am carrying an urgent message from Coordinator Romanadvoratrelundar of the Celestial Intervention Agency,” Braxiatel said confidently.
“The former Coordinator was relieved of duty and executed for her crimes against Gallifrey. Any orders she has given are void,” the guard told him.
Sensing this was not going to work, Romana approached Braxiatel and slipped something into his hand, a mental suggestion following it. He didn’t react visibly, instead showed the guard the metal disc now in his hand.
“Her confession dial. Long ago, in a time when we were still political allies, she charged me with bringing it to its final destination.”
“Her human bodyguard. Leela. She was shipped to some backwards planet months ago. It shouldn’t take me long to find her.”
The line went quiet. Both of them were aware of each moment that passed while they waited. Ten seconds. Twenty. Forty. It had been eighty-six seconds when the connection was reestablished.
“You have clearance to leave. Be back before second sunset. Failure to do so will be regarded as an act of treason, punishable by death.”
Braxiatel remained stoic. “I understand.”
The transmission ended, and they both relaxed.
“Right. We had better hurry,” Romana said, setting the TARDIS into motion.
“We’re past the transduction barriers,” Braxiatel replied.
The TARDIS rocked, and they both had to hold on to the console not to lose their footing.
“Inputting coordinates now,” Braxiatel said.
Romana flicked a switch. “Initiating dematerialisation.”
They had both breathed a sigh of relief when the TARDIS was hit. This time they were both knocked over.
The cloister bell sounded. The TARDIS’ external shields had been destroyed by the Dalek ship’s weaponry, and now the time winds of the Vortex were eating away at the ships hull.
“If we jump out of the Vortex now we will be in Dalek territory,” Braxiatel spoke.
Romana read the readings on the screen. He was right. “I may have a solution.”
The door to the TARDIS was ripped off its hinges. It wouldn’t be long before the radiation of the Vortex killed them. “Thank the Other. Please, my Lady, whatever it is, do it.”
“It’s incredibly dangerous,” Romana said, one hand finding her dimensionally transcendental pockets. She quickly found what she was looking for, her hands closing around the small box. She pulled it out, and as soon as she put it down it grew in size.
“My TARDIS, yes,” Romana replied, looking around its edges for the door. “I’m going to materialise around your TARDIS.
Braxiatel’s eyes widened by a fraction. “You certainly weren’t joking when you said it was dangerous. You know that if you are just a single inch off our TARDISes could collide and we could get stuck in the moment of our very painful deaths for the rest of eternity, yes?”
“Yes, yes I am aware.” Romana finally found the door and pried it open. “I will just have to make sure not to miss.”
Braxiatel laughed shakily, as she closed the door behind her again. As more parts of the TARDIS’ exterior were torn off it became harder and harder to hold on to the console. Just when he thought his was bout to lose his grip Romana’s TARDIS materialised around his.
“I told you I would make it,” Romana said from her own console room.
Braxiatel tidied his clothes and tried to get his hair back under control as he walked through the now empty doors of his TARDIS straight into Romana’s control room.
“That jump took a lot out of her. I doubt we can make more than one jump right now. We barely made this one,” Romana said, resting her hand on the central console. “We are going straight to the Collection. It will look like your TARDIS was destroyed in the vortex and no one will come looking for you.”
Romana’s TARDIS groaned as it rematerialised on solid ground. She turned, steering for the door.
She took little note of Braxiatel staying behind, because as soon as she opened the door a familiar figure was within her reach.
“Leela!” Romana laughed, before the two embraced. “I’m so glad to see you.”
“It is good to see you too,” Leela said. She held Romana a second longer than the two would normally embrace when in public. “We were worried you would not come.”
“I didn’t have much choice,” Romana said. “It was come here or wait for Rassilon’s fanatics to find me and execute me.”
“I would not have allowed it,” Leela assured her. “I would have rescued you.”
Romana was too happy to point out that Leela would have had great difficulty doing so while not on Gallifrey, instead she laughed and said, “I don’t doubt it.” Romana turned to greet Leela’s companion. “I have missed you too, Narvin.”
“Coordinator,” He said warmly, the greeting accompanied by a psychic greeting comparable to the hug she had shared with Leela moments ago.
“Not anymore,” Romana said. “But I know you will continue to regard me as such. So here is an order, deputy coordinator. Next time you decide to leave the planet under the cover of the night, in the middle of a war, do tell me first.”
“Should we find ourselves in a such situation again, I will make sure to do so,” Narvin promised.
Behind her, Braxiatel cleared his throat. “I believe I owe you an explanation, my Lady.”
“I hadn’t forgotten,” Romana agreed.
“This way.” Braxiatel guided them all through the Collection gardens, to the mansion house, and through the building to his, Leela, and Narvin’s shared rooms.
Romana sat between Narvin and Leela on the couch. Braxiatel stood.
“The war will end soon,” he started. “But before that can happen, many lives will be lost.”
Romana’s gaze hardened. “And that’s why you took us all off world? So you could keep us safe rather than let us save those people?”
Braxiatel shook his head. “No. We would all four have died had we stayed, yes, but that is not why. I have it on good authority that Gallifrey will need all of us alive after the war. Rassilon will fall, and when he does, Gallifrey will need a new President.”
“The good authority here being yourself?” Romana asked skeptically.
Braxiatel shook his head. “For once, no. The Doctor.”
“The Doctor?” Leela asked. “You did not tell me this.”
“No, I didn’t,” Braxiatel said sheepishly. “I couldn’t tell you everything until we were all here. You see, before we can return to Gallifrey, we must wait for it to be found.”
“I don’t like the sound of this,” Narvin said. “Found?”
“As a last effort to save themselves, the War Council removed Gallifrey from normal time and space. That is the other reason it was crucial we were outside of Gallifrey’s time stream when the war ended.”
“So we just have to sit on our hands and wait?” Romana asked.
“Far from it. We use this time to plan your rise to power.”
“And there it is. What I was waiting for. You want to make me President again,” she accused. “You know full well I don’t want that position back. I was happy as the Coordinator of the CIA.”
Braxiatel went quiet. “There is no one else,” he finally said.
“Don’t be absurd.”
“Who, then? Who do you suggest? Myself? Narvin? Had I suggested the former, you would have assumed this was all another ploy to win the presidency, and Narvin is hardly suited for the position.”
“I am taking that as a compliment,” Narvin informed him. “He does have a point. Gallifrey will need someone to rally under to recover.”
“And what I want doesn’t matter”? Romana said. “No, don’t answer that. I know it doesn’t.”
She sighed, then stood. “I have asked you not to keep secrets from me too many times, Brax. I won’t ask again. But if we are to do this, we do it my way. No schemes, Brax. I will be President only if the people want it.”
“They will,” Braxiatel assured her.
She started making for the door.
“Wait, Romana,” Leela said. She stood as well and followed Romana out.
“You are doing the right thing,” Leela said once they were alone
“What, playing Braxiatel’s game?”
Leela shook her head, and offered Romana her arm. “Becoming President again. Braxiatel is right, Gallifrey needs you.”
“You all have a lot of faith in me,” Romana sighed, taking Leela’s arm. “Too much.”
“I do not think so,” Leela said. “You are not as perfect as Braxiatel seems to think, and Narvin is sometimes too blinded by loyalty. But in your hearts you are a good person.”
Romana laughed softly. “From anyone else, Leela, I would have taken insult.”
“But when I say it, you know it is the truth.”
Romana stopped walking. “Yes. Yes, I do. And you are right. I am not perfect, and I do not deserve blind loyalty. But… I love Gallifrey. It needs me, even if it is an inconvenience to me.”
“We will not let you be unhappy,” Leela promised.
Romana looked her in the eyes. “You cannot promise that. But I still appreciate the sentiment. I have missed you a great deal, Leela.” She stopped, stepping to the side so they were hidden in an alcove. Romana hesitated, then pressed her lips lightly against Leela’s. “You will come with us back to Gallifrey, won’t you?”
Leela smiled. “You need me, Romana. I would leave you when you need me.”
Romana smiled back. She looked as tired as she felt. “Then I think, with you, Narvin, and Brax, maybe I can do this.”