The Axis portal deposited Romana, Leela, and Narvin in a corridor identical to the ones they were used to on their own Capitol. For a brief second, Narvin dared imagine they were home. Then a siren blared, and in a moment he was resigned to another traumatic experience. They’d had so many.
“That was quick,” Romana opined sardonically, as they started to look around for anywhere they could run.
“Let them come,” Leela planted her feet. “I shall defend us.”
“Leela, be serious,” Narvin reprimanded her. “The three of us against whatever Chancellery Guard they have, we wouldn't stand a chance!”
“Narvin’s right,” Romana responded, grabbing Leela and pulling her hand away from her knife. “We should find somewhere they won’t find us, see if we can figure out what to do next.”
Leela said nothing, but nodded, and the three started to run away from the closing Axis portal.
“These corridors look exactly the same as the ones of our Capitol, all of them,” Narvin noted as they ran.
“Clearly their technology can’t be too different to ours,” Romana replied over the still sounding siren.
“Should we be running, then?” Leela asked. “Surely if they are similar to what we are familiar with, they may be willing to listen to our plight and assist?”
“Think about it, Leela,” Narvin responded. “How many places have we been to with similar technology that have turned out to be hostile? I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count!”
“I suppose you are right, Narvin,” Leela said, dejected, and Narvin cursed himself for putting her down.
“Not this way!” Romana stopped them, pointing out a shadow on the wall in front of them. “Follow me!” she instructed as she ran down another connecting corridor, the others following.
“Where are we going?” Narvin asked.
“How should I know, I don’t know the Capitol by hearts,” Romana responded, and not for the first time Narvin wished Braxiatel was still with them. He would have been more likely to know the layout of the citadel. They came to a wall and Romana called a halt so they could catch their breath for the first time since arriving.
The siren stopped.
“Why has the alarm stopped?” Leela asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Either they’ve decided we’re not a threat…” Romana started.
“Or they’ve found us and think they can deal with us,” Narvin finished ominously. “We should keep moving.”
They started to move again, but before they could move anywhere Leela called out “stop!”
Narvin turned to face her. “What? What is it, Leela?”
But Leela’s face did not encourage him, neither did her response.
“I did not say that.”
The three turned to be faced with another Leela, holding a knife and blocking the corridor they had come from. Narvin turned to find somewhere else they could run, but saw no exits. Suddenly he realised. The shadow Romana had seen was this alternate Leela, and she had driven them straight into a dead end.
“You!” she pointed at Romana. “Who are you?”
Before Romana could respond, she pointed at Narvin: “And you! Why do you look just like Narvin?”
Before either of them could say anything, she pointed finally at Leela: “And you! Why do you look just like me?”
Before any of them could even open their mouths, however, another familiar voice rang out. “Calm down, Leela, I’m sure we can settle this nicely.”
Down the corridor strode another figure. Leela’s hand went to her knife and Romana gasped. Narvin recognised the figure, identifying her as Pandora. However, just as quickly as he had, they all had the same realisation: this was likely not Pandora, simply this Gallifrey’s version of Romana’s first incarnation.
“I would, however, like an explanation,” the alternate Romana continued, “as to who you are, how my bodyguard can be in two places at once, and how my trusted and very dead advisor can be standing in front of me.”
“Am I supposed to be dead?” Narvin demanded.
“I’d guess the Narvin from this Gallifrey died some time ago,” Romana ventured.
“This Gallifrey?” the other Romana questioned. Before any explanations could be offered, she shook her head. “Perhaps we should find somewhere to sit and discuss this.”
“I think that would be to everyone’s benefit,” Romana agreed, though shooting an apprehensive look towards Narvin.
“Very well,” Narvin nodded, resolving to keep his guard up.
Some time later, six figures sat around a table, the version of Braxiatel from this Gallifrey having joined them.
“Shall we begin?” the alternate Braxiatel opened the conversation.
“Indeed,” Romana answered. “As we are the interlopers, perhaps we should explain first. My name is Romanadvoratrelundar.”
“Interesting, I am also Romanadvoratrelundar,” the alternate Romana replied.
“I know, I recognise you,” Romana answered, bringing confused looks to the alternatives’ faces. “I am the second incarnation of you from my Gallifrey.”
Their faces remained confused, until the alternate Braxiatel realised with an “oh, I see”. When the alternate Romana turned to question him, he responded.
“It would appear that these fine visitors are from a Gallifrey where they still are able to regenerate.”
The five faces remaining at the table became shocked at this.
“You...can’t regenerate?” Narvin asked. He had to restrain himself from adding “either” to the end of the sentence.
“You can?” the alternate Romana asked in return, and Narvin felt a hole open inside him and swallow his hearts. “We banned regeneration long ago. We live such long lives already, living several lives as Rassilon intended would just lead to corruption and stagnation in our society. We as a species decided it should not be allowed. We thank Rassilon for the gift of travelling through time, but extending our lifespans was not necessary.”
“I’m tempted to say you had the right idea,” Romana opined.
“Did you say that your Narvin...died?” Leela asked.
“He did,” the other Leela responded. “During the war.”
“War?” Narvin asked.
“We had a civil war, not long ago, I’m afraid,” the other Romana explained. “An ancient Time Lady, Pandora, returned through the Matrix and took the body of my advisor Narvin. We defeated her, but her possession...it erased his mind. And his body...Pandora...died at the end of the war.”
“We had something similar happen on our Gallifrey,” Romana said. “Only our Pandora unleashed a virus. That’s why we’ve left our home. We may well be the only ones left.”
“Other than our Braxiatel, but he fell through another portal,” Narvin chimed in. “Who knows where he is now, if he’s even alive.”
The other Braxiatel looked a little disturbed at this, but did not interrupt.
“I almost wish our Narvin could regenerate like you can,” the other Leela addressed Narvin. “Then he would still be here.”
“I…” Narvin started, and had to take a deep breath before continuing. “I can’t regenerate. The first alternate Gallifrey we went to, I...I had my regenerations taken from me.”
Nobody spoke, nobody knowing quite what to say to this. The table was silent for a while.
“I’ve made my decision,” the other Romana announced, finally. She turned to address the three explorers.
“I am sympathetic to your plight, I truly am. I am sorry to hear of what happened to your home. However, I cannot break our laws, even to assist you.”
“Nor would we expect or want you to,” Romana reassured her. The other Romana nodded and smiled at this.
“As such, Romana,” she turned to her alternate self. “We cannot allow you to stay here. We cannot have anyone who may regenerate stay here. It would set a bad example, and could lead to corruption and a return to the decadence of our past. I am sorry.”
Romana nodded sagely. “I understand. Your ideals and laws are more important.”
“Leela,” she turned to Leela. “We cannot allow you to stay here either. There is already a Leela here, and the presence of two of you could lead to disruptions to the Web of Time and the fabric of reality itself. I am sorry.”
Leela nodded. “I also understand. I would not wish to put your world at risk if I could do something to avoid it.”
“Narvin,” she turned to Narvin. He prepared to hear the same speech she gave Romana, but to his shock it never came. “You are welcome to stay here, if you so wish. We shall not force you, as I would not wish to separate you from your companions if you did not wish to part from them. But you would be welcome here, and you would be offered a place as my advisor once again. The choice is yours.”
“I...I,” Narvin stammered. “I shall have to consider.”
“Of course,” the alternate Romana gestured at her Leela and Braxiatel to leave with her. “Take all the time you need.”
“K9,” Romana spoke into her communicator. “How long until the Axis portal is open again.”
“Two hundred microspans, mistress,” came the reply from the Axis.
Romana stood and faced Narvin. “Leela and I shall have to leave when the portal opens. You have until then to decide if you will join us or not.”
“Narvin!” Leela turned to him, aghast. “You cannot truly mean to leave us?”
“We cannot force his decision, Leela,” Romana chided her. “If he wishes to stay, that is his choice.”
“But we all set out to find a home together!” Leela was incredulous.
“And how well has that gone for us?” Narvin turned on her. “Braxiatel is gone, I’ve lost my regenerations, I very nearly died to Lord Prydon. Who knows what will happen on the next Gallifrey? Maybe I’ll die, maybe we’ll lose K9, or someone else! We don’t know!”
Narvin breathed, forcing himself to calm down. Leela looked close to tears. He never thought she’d be so opposed to the idea of being rid of him.
“I’ve become a liability to you,” Narvin continued. Leela opened her mouth to object but he interrupted. “Don’t say otherwise, we all know it’s true. Without my regenerations I’m more vulnerable than ever, and I’m not as fast or strong as I was before...before what Prydon did to me. I will only slow you down. But here. I could stay here. I could have a position here. A...a new home. This could be a place I belong.”
They all were silent for a while.
“I thought you had already found somewhere to belong…” Leela almost pleaded, but then turned to exit, Romana following her, leaving Narvin alone with his thoughts.
Romana and Leela travelled back to the Axis portal in silence, stopping off briefly to thank the alternate Romana for her hospitality. The alternate Romana gave them some supplies for their journey and wished them luck. Romana thanked her, and set off again to the Axis in silence. They walked through to the familiar sight of the Axis control room. The two hundred microspans passed in silence, though neither of them could bear to be in the room when they heard the portal close. Romana thought she could hear Leela sob briefly, but decided against asking her about it. Now was not the time.
Without looking, she heard K9 enter the room. She was about to ask when the next portal would be open, but before she got the chance, she heard a familiar voice.
“Right, K9, when can we expect the next portal?”
Romana turned to see Narvin standing in the Axis room. Before she could even exclaim her surprise, Leela appeared in the corner of her eye, launched across the room as fast as she could run, and despite herself, threw her arms around Narvin, who, despite himself, returned the gesture.
“Narvin!” Leela beamed at him, her smile radiant. “You came back!”
“What about the home you found?” Romana asked, not meaning it, just happy to have her friend back.
“I belong with you,” Narvin answered. “I won’t leave you behind.”
He looked deep into Leela’s eyes.
“We’ll find a home together.”