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he Doctor and Romana were forcefully escorted into a huge chamber, the walls of which were lined with computer terminals, displaying seemingly endless strings of numbers and complicated equations–they were so difficult to understand, in fact, that it took Romana a few more seconds than usual to solve them. Zeronaughts were sat at each terminal, staring intently at their own personal screens, typing rapidly on their computer keyboards.

‘Welcome to our home, time-travellers,’ began the Zeronaught that stood at the head of the crowd. He looked to be the one in charge. ‘I am Nil the Calculator.’

‘And I'm Zilch,’ said a second Zeronaught brightly. ‘Hello!’

‘Not now,’ hissed Nil. He cleared his throat. ‘Tell me, Doctor, what do you think of our base of operations?’

‘Impressive,’ said the Doctor admiringly. Romana noted that his appreciation seemed genuine, and not like the false niceties that he displayed to most of the evil geniuses that they encountered on their travels.

‘No doubt you've heard the legends of our people,’ said Nil the Calculator, standing face to face with his restrained prisoners. ‘How do we measure up against the stories? Do we exceed your expectations?’

‘Almost,’ the Doctor replied, gazing around casually, ‘but I was expecting some sort of welcome party, and a few nibbles wouldn't have gone amiss. I do love those little cupcakes with sprinkles on.’

Zilch leaned in close to his boss. ‘I told you,’ he whispered.

Nil waved his hand dismissively. ‘You can see, Doctor, how we work to solve the greatest problems in the universe. Assigning everything a numerical value, transforming all of creation into equations, we can reach the answers that philosophers have bickered over for centuries. We laugh at men like Aristotle and Descartes!’

‘So did we,’ said Romana, ‘but then again, they were incredibly witty.’

‘Let me show you, Time Lords, something that will really impress you...’

The Zeronaughts that held the Doctor and Romana firmly by the shoulders forced them to the centre of the chamber, where a mighty machine was brought to their attention. Wires and cables connected the base of the device to every computer bank in the room, and atop the machine was an enormous lever.

‘That's a big one,’ said the Doctor, ‘isn't it, Romana?’

‘Huge,’ the Time Lady agreed. ‘What does it do?’

Nil gave a deep, booming laugh from within his suit. ‘Everything.’

‘Don’t be too specific, will you?’

‘It's true, though. This is the heart of the Zeronaught Accumulation. It can do anything and everything–whatever we want it to. It can achieve the impossible.’

‘Yes, we noticed,’ said the Doctor. ‘Guns in Ancient Rome, and similar effects right across the universe, all echoing out of that original corruption in Time. Do you have any idea what you've done?’

‘Indeed,’ replied Nil, ‘but the question is, Doctor, do you have any idea how we did it?’

The Doctor screwed his face up, as he thought hard. ‘Of course I do. But, umm, while don't you tell me, just to be sure, and I can check if I was right?’

‘We, the Zeronaughts, are the greatest minds in the universe. Expert physicists. Skilled mathematicians. All-round brainboxes. We can work out, for instance, the probability of anything happening. What are the chances of advanced technology being developed in Rome? Only we know. But what, you may ask, is the use of that information? That is why we created the machine you see before you. We feed the numbers into this marvellous invention, and the code is transmitted across all of Time and Space.’

‘You'd need to unravel the base code of the universe or solve the Skasis Paradigm in order to do that!’ cried Romana, horrified.

‘Oh, we figured out those simple sums ages ago,’ said Nil. ‘Didn't we mention? We're very good.’

‘Why?’ asked the Doctor. Romana noted a dark look fall across his face.

‘Because we're really clever–‘

‘No. No. Why do you want to change the universe in this way? What do you get from it, eh? Is it all just a bit of fun to you?’

Nil sighed, the sound echoing out of his suit like a terrible winter's breeze blowing through the chamber. Romana shivered.

‘We know everything,’ Nil said. ‘Nothing is a mystery to us anymore. The Zeronaught Accumulation has achieved its aims. Our pursuit of knowledge has ended. Now we desire a new universe, one infinitely stranger than this one, with new problems to solve! ‘

‘So you don't care what happens to this one?’ asked the Doctor. ‘You don't think about the consequences of your experiments? How selfish! I happen to be rather fond of this particular reality, thank you very much. But if you're as powerful as you say, and you want to bring about an end to this universe, why haven't you done it already? I mean, I'm not complaining or anything...’

‘There is, reluctantly, one thing standing in our way. In our world, nothing is impossible. We could make anything happen. We brought peace to the war-torn world of Zarathstra! We gave single-celled organisms the means to develop faster than light travel! We even got the human known by all as Weird Steve a girlfriend of reasonable attractiveness! But we encountered a problem. In our search for the likelihood of this universe suddenly ending, and a new one taking its place, we found something we never suspected. A reading on our computers that we never dreamed existed.’

‘What was it?’

‘Such a thing was, apparently, genuinely impossible.’

‘Why is it impossible for the universe to cease to exist?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Because of you,’ hissed Nil. ‘You, Doctor, are the saviour of worlds, the bringer of peace, the harbinger of joy and prosperity. Records indicate that you would never, ever allow the universe that you adore–and that adores you in return–to be destroyed.’

A huge grin broke out across the Doctor's face. ‘Well, I'm flattered. It's always nice to get some positive feedback, isn't it?’

Romana began to work everything out in her head. ‘So,’ she deduced aloud, ‘that's why we're here. You needed to get the Doctor here, to your home, in order to kill him. If you remove him from the equation–literally, in this case–then your plan can advance. That's why you kidnapped the Cavalier, to get our attention, to put us on your trail. You lured us here, and we've ended up right in the middle of your trap.’

‘And that is also why we reached out and changed your beloved dog,’ the Zeronaught went on. ‘But you seemed relatively unconcerned by that, so we turned our attention to your old friend instead.’

‘If you wanted me,’ said the Doctor, ‘you should've kidnapped Romana instead. I'd have dropped everything to come and rescue her in a heartbeat.’

Despite everything, Romana felt a smile breaking out. ‘Doctor, I'm touched, really...’

‘I mean, she's got a TARDIS key. Can't have that falling into the wrong hands.’

Romana tried to wrestle free from her captors in order to give the Doctor the great whack on the arm that he deserved. ‘You have to go and ruin it, don't you?’

The Doctor shrugged, oblivious, as the Zeronaughts held his companion back.

‘You are complicated, Doctor, I'll give you that,’ said Nil, who took to pacing around the chamber.

‘Oh, you sound just like my therapist!’ said the Doctor, keeping his steely gaze fixed upon the Zeronaught leader. ‘I told him, time and time again, I said, Sigmund, don't keep overanalysing my dreams. The Time Vortex isn't at all symbolic, I tried to reassure him, but he wouldn't listen. You see, in Freudian analysis, a tunnel like that would represent a–‘

‘Are you capable of being silent for a moment?’ asked an exasperated Nil.

‘I have no idea. I've never really tried.’

‘What I meant was, you are a complicated event in space-time, immune to the effects of our machine. So are your companions and your TARDIS. That's why we couldn't affect you directly, rather annoyingly for us. Is there anything you can't do?’

‘I'm terrible at making desserts,’ he admitted. ‘My meringues, in particular, are frankly a bit rubbish. But I really don't think it's worth killing me over that, do you?’


artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
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