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.This was his first, and perhaps his most important, meeting in his new role as Ambassador.It was not going well.He was standing before the throne of the Emperor in the Audience Hall at the Draconian Court.It was a handsome chamber, magnificently furnished in the green and gold the Draconians always seemed to favour.Robed court officials were grouped around at a respectful distance.On the raised dais before him, the Emperor of Draconia sat on his golden throne, magnificent in his formal robes.In his white and gold Time Lord ambassadorial robes, if possible even more elaborate than the uniform provided by Karn, the Doctor blended well with his opulent surroundings.He felt a sudden pang of nostalgia for his beloved cricket blazer.Clearly intrigued by the arrival of a messenger from the usually reclusive Time Lords, the Emperor had received him courteously.His long, thin face impassive, the slanting green eyes alert and curious, the Emperor had listened politely to the Doctor’s impassioned plea for military aide.His first reaction, however, had not been encouraging.‘These planets are inhabited mostly by humans, are they not?’ the Emperor went on.‘Humans and humanoids, your majesty,’ agreed the Doctor.‘The Earthmen are not precisely our enemies, but they are certainly not our friends.And as for the Time Lords – we bear them no ill will, but we know too little of them to see them as friends or allies.I cannot see that the actions of this renegade Morbius are of any concern to the Empire of Draconia.’‘Not as yet, your majesty,’ said the Doctor grimly.‘But they will be.By now at least a dozen planets have come under his sway.Each planet is looted, and Morbius uses the combined resources of his conquests to attack the next.and the next! He is a military genius with the charisma to win over his former enemies.Somehow he persuades, or compels, their armies to join his forces.All the thieves and rogues and space pirates of the galaxy are flocking to join him too, drawn by the lure of loot and the false promise of eternal life.’ He paused to draw breath.‘Morbius grows stronger with every conquest.Unless we stop him now, he will grow too strong to be stopped at all.’The Emperor smiled.‘You speak eloquently, Ambassador.But all the same.’ He broke off as an official hurried into the audience chamber, approached the throne and bowed.‘Well?’‘My humble apologies, your majesty, but there is important news.I judged that you would wish to hear it without delay.’ He glanced meaningfully at the Doctor.‘Shall I withdraw, your majesty?’ asked the Doctor.Impatiently, the Emperor nodded his head – which, from a Draconian, as the Doctor knew, meant ‘no’.He waved to the official.‘You may speak.’‘A scout ship has arrived from one of the newly founded outer colonies, your majesty, carrying the survivors of an unexpected attack.The rest of the garrison was massacred.’The Emperor rose to his feet.‘Who has dared to do this?’‘The attackers carried a black flag, your majesty, emblazoned with a red “M”.’The Doctor felt a sudden surge of relief – a feeling of which he was immediately ashamed.All the same, the timing.For once, it seemed, Morbius had overreached himself.‘That is the banner of Morbius, your majesty,’ he said.The Emperor’s slanting green eyes flashed with rage.‘It appears that your warning comes too late, Ambassador.’‘I greatly regret that it does, your majesty.But it is still not too late for action.’For a moment the Emperor stood poised.‘Summon the War Minister!’ He turned to the Doctor.‘We shall discuss your proposition further.’In a secure conference room in the heart of the Capitol a secret meeting was being held.President Saran presided.Also present was Junior Cardinal Borusa.The purpose of the meeting was to receive a highly confidential report from Councillor Ratisbon of the Celestial Intervention Agency.‘You are sure that nothing can be traced back to us?’ asked Borusa.‘Quite sure,’ said Ratisbon.‘The mercenaries were hired through three distinct cut-outs.’‘One of them may talk,’ said Saran worriedly.Ratisbon smiled.‘I doubt it.The second link in the chain suffered a fatal accident shortly after the arrangements were made.The first agent knows nothing of the third.’Borusa nodded approvingly.‘Very thorough.’Ratisbon shrugged.‘Merely a routine precaution.’‘The mercenaries’ instructions again?’ asked Saran fussily.Ratisbon sighed.‘To attack the Draconians’ newest and most lightly defended colony, with the banner of Morbius prominently displayed, and to allow one scout ship to escape.’‘And afterwards?’ asked Borusa.‘To do the maximum damage in the shortest possible time and then disappear.’Borusa frowned.‘Surely Morbius occupies and loots the planets he attacks? Won’t the Draconians be suspicious?’‘Possibly.But the precise nature of the incident will soon be forgotten in the fog of war.’‘I dislike the use of these unscrupulous methods,’ said Borusa unhappily.‘As do we all,’ said Ratisbon.‘But we ran matrix projections to determine Morbius’s future strategy in the case of continued success.He would have attacked the Draconian colonies eventually, and in greater force.We merely recognised the inevitable and used it to our advantage.If the Doctor is to succeed in his mission, he needs a little help.’‘Is he aware of these schemes?’ asked Saran.‘We thought it better not to trouble him, Lord President.The Doctor has a somewhat overactive conscience.’Borusa said, ‘And what of the Sontarans?’‘A more complicated affair – and considerably more expensive.It involved the purchase of an obsolete battlecruiser from a somewhat disreputable arms-dealer.The ship was then renovated and re-armed for one last mission, and a crew of mercenaries hired.The mission has now been successfully concluded.’‘How?’‘A message was sent to Sontaran HQ on Sontara itself, demanding the immediate surrender of all Sontaran colonies to the Army of Morbius.Shortly afterwards an unknown craft attacked and destroyed a Sontaran transport ship.Then the unknown ship itself blew up – some fault in the space drive, triggered by the firing of the missiles apparently.Soon after that, a second message reached Sontara, demanding immediate surrender of the colonies and threatening reprisals for the destruction of one of Morbius’s battlecruisers.’ Ratisbon chuckled.‘The Doctor should be warmly received when he reaches Sontara.’Saran looked appalled.‘Two ships, and all their crews, destroyed!’Ratisbon looked surprised.‘One ship was crewed by space pirates, the other by Sontarans.Small loss.’‘Not to mention the destruction of most of a Draconian colony garrison,’ said Saran.‘Are such methods really necessary?’‘We shall get nowhere with half measures, Lord President.’said Ratisbon brutally.‘These things must be done thoroughly or not at all.’‘Have you further such schemes in hand?’‘If necessary,’ said Ratisbon calmly.‘We must hope they will not be,’ said Borusa.‘The more repetition, the greater the risk of discovery.We have, so to speak, primed the pump.From now on, with any luck, the Doctor will succeed by his own efforts.’‘ Vrag, Ambassador?’ asked Battle-Marshal Skrug.Without waiting for an answer, he turned to the worn plastisteel cabinet behind him and produced a stone flagon and two stone goblets.He filled the goblets and passed one to the Doctor.‘Don’t spill any,’ he said with a guttural chuckle.‘They say that stuff can eat through armour plate.Don’t want a hole in my battlecruiser [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]