the fear of all sums page 2

The Doctor bent down over the body of the unconscious Zeronaught, and carefully removed its helmet. Beneath the protective mask was the face of an old man, withered and tired and wrinkled with age. He was still breathing, just about. 

'He looks old,' noted Romana. 

'Yes,' the Doctor replied, 'but he’s even older than he looks.' 

He reached into his pockets, rummaging around, searching for something. He seemed to come across several items that he didn't need, and casually passed them over to Romana and the Cavalier respectively, so he could keep looking. After apparently finding everything except what he was looking for--including a pocket watch, a whistle, and a half-eaten apple, which his companions were left holding--the Doctor eventually found his sonic screwdriver. 

'The armour is infused with nanogene technology, preserving the body within indefinitely. This suit has been programmed to slow down the aging process, to keep the body alive for as long as possible with bio-enhancements.' The Doctor was scanning the unconscious Zeronaught with his trusty gadget. 'They're more machine now than man. They're basically immortal. The Zeronaughts can live for ever!' 

'And that’s bad, is it?' Romana asked. 

The Doctor nodded. 

'I can't help but think,' said the Cavalier, 'that for us--three Time Lords--to say that is perhaps just a bit hypocritical...' 

'You mentioned altering the fabric of reality,' said Romana. 'Is that what they’re trying to do?' 

A dark expression fell across the Doctor's face. 'Like any mad scientists, observing the world isn’t enough. They’ve got to use their genius to change it, to manipulate it. There must be a secret--a machine or ability of some kind--that allows the Zeronaughts to rearrange the building blocks of the universe. Given the time, and the solution to the equations, they can do anything!' 

'And you’ve never thought about stopping them?' asked the Cavalier, confused. 'I’ve heard all these legends of the magnificent Doctor, who saves the universe time and time again, yet you know all of this and allow it to go on?' 

'They’re an incredibly secretive community. I don’t know, maybe they’re shy. But I’ve only heard rumours, read eyewitness accounts of people who think they glimpsed a Zeronaught in the darkness. No one truly believes they exist. I’m the only one foolish enough, and it turns out I was right! Oh, that’s a nice feeling.' 

'Yes, reality is in serious danger,' Romana said sarcastically. 'How wonderful that feels!' 

'I got the sarcasm that time, and I've also got the Zeronaughts' data now,' said the Doctor, drawing their attention to the sonic screwdriver. 'With it, I can find their planet and take them by surprise. This ship will be too well defended for a direct assault, and we’d stand no chance against the whole Accumulation at once. The element of surprise is always good.' 

The Doctor turned on his heels to retreat back into the safety of the TARDIS, but he quickly realised that the element of surprise was only good when you weren’t on the receiving end of it. The harsh light of a teleport glow illuminated a darkness of the cell, and the familiarly ridiculous sight of a Kuricam appeared. 

'Oh, not you again!' cried Romana. 

'What are those things?' asked the Cavalier. 

'They’re silly,' said the Doctor. 'They’re self-important, bureaucratic, jumped-up little machines. And they’re looking for you, Cavalier.' 

'Me? Why?' 

The Kuricam took a few unsteady steps forward on its thin metal legs. 'Crimes are too numerous to list. Battery life would not last long enough to recount them all.' 

The Doctor laughed. 'And they run by battery, too! They really are absurd. The future of policing, eh? What a joke--' 

But the moment was interrupted by a hum of power, as the Zeronaught began to wake up. And when it did, it wouldn’t be happy to see the prisoner escaping. 

'Look,' said the Doctor to the Kuricam, 'we’re in a bit of a rush, so if you could just let us go that would be great.' 

The Kuricam sparked with electricity, as it powered up its small but powerful weapons systems and prepared to fire, in an attempt to threaten the Time Lords. 'Proposition rejected. The renegade known as the Cavalier has finally been located. He will now be apprehended. Justice will be swift.' 

'Oh, you’re a real nuisance, you lot,' said the Doctor. 'So is this our choice? Stay here, arguing with you, and get caught by the Zeronaughts? Or hand over the Cavalier, when I’ve only just found him again after all these years, and get away Scot free?' 

The Kuricam seemed to think about this for a moment. Even its advanced circuitry struggled to keep up with the Doctor’s fast mind and faster mouth. 'Correct,' it decided, finally. 

'Hey, it’s fine,' said the Cavalier. 'I’ll go quietly. I don’t mind moving from one cell to another. It must just be one of those days. But I hope you’re better at hospitality than these Zeronaughts.' 

'You will be taken to the Visendi Detention Complex. Your fellow inmates handle hospitality,' announced the Kuricam grimly. 

The Cavalier looked worried. 'Doctor, before I go--before this thing takes me away--I have to tell you something. I don’t know if it’s connected to the Zeronaughts... It might just be coincidence, or totally unconnected, I don’t know... But something is wrong. Something has happened to Time itself.' 

'Something bad?' 

'Something very, very bad. Ancient Rome is not so ancient any more. The real problem might be bigger than that, and Rome could be just a symptom of the illness, but it’s a good place to start. I have the strangest feeling that the whole universe might be in very great danger. Solve this, Doctor. If anyone can, it’s you. When I get out of jail, I want a universe to come back to.' 

The Doctor smiled reassuringly. 'And I’ll be waiting for you, too.' 

The Cavalier winked, and he and the Kuricam disappeared in a teleport glow. 


Far across the universe, the Zeronaughts worked in secret. The planet where they had made their home went unnoticed by most space tourists. Their world was sandwiched between Planet of the Coffee Shops and Planet of the Shopping Malls, ensuring that nobody paid the slightest bit of attention to Planet of the Slightly Odd Physicists. 

On the surface of the world that was hidden in plain sight, the Zeronaughts' top-secret fortress was tucked away. Inside, they worked tirelessly, day and night, to solve the questions of the universe. It was a mammoth task, a mighty undertaking, unimaginable in its scope and highly admirable in its ambition. Finding the solutions to these problems was universally acknowledged to be completely impossible. 

But the Zeronaughts refused to accept that: they simply didn't do impossible. 

With Nil the Calculator in charge of the Zeronaughts' fleet, he had been forced to leave Zilch the Abacus in charge. It was a decision that both of them regretted almost immediately. 

Zilch stood in the command centre of the Zeronaughts' fortress, monitoring the computer screen that displayed the myriad rooms and the countless Zeronaughts within them. He oversaw the Zeronaughts celebrating at the end of a successful day solving the problems of the universe. Zilch had used his new level of authority to propose they all throw a massive party and dance the night away. But the other physicists had not been so keen. For the Zeronaughts, a “party” meant time spent doing slightly less challenging sums than normal, just for fun. 

A bleep-bleep-bleep from the computer indicated an incoming message, and Nil the Calculator appeared on a video screen. 

'Oh, hi,' said Zilch. 'How did the kidnapping thing go?' 

'We found the Cavalier, but then he got away,' hissed Nil angrily. 

'Bad luck,' Zilch said. 'Was it the Doctor? Did he mess up our plans like we expected?'
Nil nodded. 'Curse him!' 

'Hey, calm down. We'll get him eventually. Don't worry about it. Just chill out, okay? Is he coming here? The Doctor?' 

'If all goes to plan, yes,' said Nil. 'The fleet will be back in orbit shortly. We will ensure everything is prepared for the Doctor's arrival.' 

'Should I get some of the guys to organise a nice spread, then? With snacks and nibbles and some of those cupcakes with the little sprinkles on? What are they called, hundreds and thousands? That's numbers-related, isn't it? Seems very apt, I think. The Doctor might appreciate that.' 

Nil gave an impatient sigh. 'Just leave everything to me. This is the most important day in our lives, Zilch. Everything the Accumulation has been working towards has led to the moment that is now on the horizon. Nothing can go wrong. Do you know what day it is, my friend?' 

Zilch thought for a moment. 'Friday?' 

'No. That's not what I meant. And anyway, it's Thursday, you fool.' 

Zilch sighed heavily. 'What, really? I thought I had a day off tomorrow. I've made plans and everything. I'll have to cancel my tickets to Chitty Chitty Bang--' 

'Silence!' barked Nil. 'You misunderstand me, Zilch. Today is no ordinary day. Today is the day the Doctor falls!' He began to laugh manically, throwing his head back, seemingly physically excited by the idea of murdering the Time Lord. 

Zilch looked around awkwardly, wondering if perhaps he should join in. 

He didn't. 

The time rotor rose and fell hypnotically, as the TARDIS danced across the dimensions. The Doctor and Romana were working frantically at the controls. 

'This must be why K-9 changed,' Romana thought aloud. 'These Zeronaughts must've been behind it. What else have they been up to?' 

'Let's find out,' replied the Doctor, as he flicked a switch on the console. 'I'm getting massive readings from Ancient Rome, just like the Cavalier said. Somehow, the Romans have got their hands on technology that is, for them, futuristic.' 

Romana studied a screen closer. 'Did you see this? In 218 BC, there are aeroplanes in the sky, cars on the road, submarines underwater... There are reports here saying that the Empire is stretching out across the world at an incredible rate. This is impossible!' 

The Doctor's eyes were even wider than usual, as if he'd just had a sudden thought. 'That's it,' he said cryptically. 'Romana, as ever, you've cracked it, because as unlikely as this is, it's certainly not impossible. It's just improbable. The Zeronaughts must be behind it, but how? Why?' 

'Is it just Ancient Rome?' asked Romana. 'Or are they corrupting other points in space-time, too?' 

The Doctor immediately returned to the controls, flicking switches expertly. Romana stood back and let him continue alone. He knew his ship better than anyone else ever would. They worked together, in sync, more than any other pairing in the universe. She had forced herself to accept that long ago. 

'I've got another trace,' said the Doctor. 'Oh, this is unbelievable. There are mobile phones in Ancient Egypt!' 

'Oh my...' Romana didn't like this at all. 

'No, no, no! I'm losing the signal. I'll try to follow it through Time, see if I can pick it up again at a later point. Hold on...' The Doctor reached under the console and found the TARDIS telephone. He dialled the number that was displayed on the screen. After a while, someone seemed to answer. 

'Hello?' said the Doctor into the phone. 'Who's this?' His brow furrowed. 'It doesn't matter how I got this number, you'd never understand. Is Cleopatra there by any chance? Can I speak to her? We're old friends. Tell her it's the Doctor. Hello? Can you hear me? Hello!' 

Frustrated, the Doctor hung up the phone. 'Lost the signal,' he said. 'But at least we've learned that it's not just Ancient Rome. What else have you found?' 

Romana was at the computer screen, scanning all of space-time for more anomalies. Her hearts skipped a beat every time she found further evidence that the universe was breaking down. There were countless corruptions in the timelines: spaceships launching from the 18 th Century, explorers settling the New World with clones, cyborgs in the Middle Ages... This was bigger than she had suspected. 

'Romana, focus!' cried the Doctor, snapping her out of her worried trance. 'Don't panic. Just talk to me. What have you found?' 

'Yes, sorry,' she replied. 'Well, there are reports right across the universe, all rippling out of that one original corruption in Ancient Rome, like when you drop a stone in the water. We have to stop this, Doctor!' 

'I know!' he bellowed, angry with himself more than anyone else. He was visibly struggling to think of a solution. 'Look.' He sighed. 'We'll just have to go to the Zeronaughts' planet and confront them. It's dangerous and stupid, yes... But it's the only plan I've got.' 

'We have to do this,' said Romana simply. 'The universe is in danger, and we have to save it.' 

The Doctor looked up at her, his worried expression falling away and becoming something warmer and more familiar, and if you were a Zeronaught, infinitely scarier. 

The Doctor was smiling. 

The Cavalier sat down on the bench of the prison cell. He let out a great sigh. He had to spend the next three-hundred years in this tiny room--only two-hundred if he was well behaved, but he knew that he wouldn’t be--and worst of all, he had the spend all that time in a body that he didn’t like. He was disappointed with his latest--and last--regeneration. He wanted to go out on a high, as some Adonis-like figure who could strut around and flex his muscles at random strangers without them becoming afraid, only impressed. Instead, he was stuck looking like a Maths teacher in a Roman fancy dress costume, and that was destined to be his appearance until the end of his days. The Cavalier would have to be careful, take no risks, stay out of any unnecessary danger. He sighed again, thinking about the boring future that lay ahead of him. He was tired of this body already. Under his breath, he cursed the Time Lords and their silly old rules. 

With a few centuries of solitary confinement ahead of him, the Cavalier searched through his pockets to see what he had in his possession to pass the time. Confident in the security features of the Visendi Detention Complex, the Kuricams had not taken the time to search the Cavalier at all. Or perhaps pride was only one explanation: it was more than a little tricky to conduct a full body search on prisoners when you didn’t have any arms. 

The Cavalier found his Micro-Matrix: a Time Lord device that allowed him remote access to the archives of Gallifrey. It was about the same size as a mobile phone, but could do so much more. In an instant, the Cavalier could bring up the entire records of the Sontaran/Rutan War, and learn the exact number of causalities down to the nearest half-batch of troops. Or he could track the timeline of any being in the universe, down to the tiniest details: he could pick a person, and discover the brand of toothpaste that they used on any given morning. In short, the Cavalier had in his possession a device that could tell him almost anything about everything that ever happened or ever would happen.

Instead, he watched cartoons. 

As much as the Cavalier was enjoying the exploits of a pixelated boy and his talking goldfish, he was too distracted to truly pay attention to it. He was too occupied with recent events to think about anything else. The enigma of the Zeronaughts puzzled him, with their mysterious and sinister belief that nothing was impossible. Could that possibly be true, or would the Doctor expose them as frauds? The Cavalier tried to think of any other explanation for the improbability of Ancient Rome discovering the secrets of advanced technology way ahead of their time, but couldn’t. He shuddered at the thought of the Zeronaughts’ power. 

Making further use of his Micro-Matrix, he checked the records of Ancient Rome. The screen flickered, and then the device turned itself off. Confused, the Cavalier tried again. There was still nothing, like the data couldn't be accessed. He found himself wondering if it the device was broken, but he knew that it wasn't; it was one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology in the universe. So if the Micro-Matrix wasn't at fault, then the records themselves were. The data had been corrupted, just like Ancient Rome itself. History was falling apart, and the Doctor was trying to repair it all on his own. The Cavalier refused to sit back and do nothing. He had to get back to his old friend and help in whatever way he could, but he was locked up and stuck in the cell.

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