|Doctor Who Benny Internet Adventure #01 - "The Slay"
"Deus Ex Cerebra"
by John "Omega" Seavy
As Benny, Jason and Emile slowed to halt, Emile pale and dripping, Kem dropped the Nanite failsafe onto the ground, his plans of revenge shattered. It lay in the brown dirt for a few seconds. Orn slowly let out the breath he didn't even realise he'd been holding. All hell broke loose as everyone dived for the Nanite failsafe.
None of them made it.
Jason found his course slightly diverted, so that he wound up wrapping his legs around Orn in a flying tackle. Kem and Del tripped over each other, and collided with the figures in environmental suits, sending them flying backwards. Ponretto tripped over his own feet, and fell on his face just in front of the failsafe. Emile wound up paralyzed by indecision, uncertain as to whether he should grab the orb or let events take their course.
And Benny, her heart racing from the mental effort of distracting all the various minds, walked over and picked up the sphere.
"Have you all quite finished?" she asked acidly.
One of the men in environmental suits raised a blaster. Jason shouted, "Sayan, no!" and kicked out at the blaster. The shot went wide, turning a section of city wall into powder. Changed began to rush through the city walls, one after the other, snarling and hissing.
Then something genuinely odd happened.
* * *
Extract from the Diary of Professor Bernice Summerfield:
As usual, I'd been possessed again.
Admittedly, this was one of the more benign times--it wasn't like the time the other-dimensional computer virus got me, or the renegade incarnations of agony, or the...perhaps I should consider charging rent on my head?
In any event, Cordelia wasn't interested in much. She just took control long enough to show me how to calm the Changed, and then she faded away. I caught a glimpse of her mind before she left--perhaps a little piece of her is still in me, even now. She was a very nice woman, and she died at the hands of her own son.
Sometimes you feel like you're in the wrong line of work.
* * *
The Changed looked at Benny, their growls and chitters and hisses subsided for the moment. At last, Farren spoke. "Thank you," he said.
Benny shook her head slightly as if to clear it, then blinked. "Er...you're welcome," she said, worriedly. Then she looked back at the others. "OK, now for once in all of your lives, could you just please listen? I have the orb, I have all of the Changed on my side, and I'm pretty sure that there's a way to use the Slay to restore all of the Changed to perfect health. You guys, on the other hand, have alternately been trying to kill me, each other, all of the Changed, and generally made a muddle of things. Not including my wonderful ex-husband, who's just been made a fool of by the last remnants of the original group that unleashed the nanites in the first place." She looked at the six people in environmental suits. "Am I right?"
Seyan, still nursing the hand that Jason had kicked, nodded. "We are the last of the Farasig. These primitive idiots are the last of the Seylasig. They were supposed to all be dead by now, but some of them managed to survive."
Benny nodded. "I think I'm beginning to understand. You started a war, all those generations ago. The nanites that restructure the body, unleash the Change...they were your creation. A simple weapon, designed to kill everyone off slowly, and then you could return from suspended animation and take over the planet, right? So what went wrong?"
One of the women, currently held by something that looked like a cross between a scorpion and a frog, spoke up. "The nanites were meant to be a failsafe. We were losing the war--the decision was made to release them. They would cause madness and death among our enemies as their bodies were restructured. Before they died, they would unleash the plague to as many others as they possibly could. Then, when all others were dead, the ruling council could revive from suspended animation and repopulate."
"Yes, I think I figured that bit out already. You figured, in your pathetic little way, that genocide was preferable to defeat. So What. Went. Wrong?"
"The nanites evolved," the woman said. "The gestation period tended to take longer, and the Seylasig had time to design the Forest and the Slay. They created a sanctuary that survived the death of the rest of Gash. But very few live...we could still--" she broke off as the tongue of the scorpion-frog tightened around her throat.
"Still take over the planet?" Jason whispered harshly as he stood up. "That's what all this was about to you? A war? You slaughtered an entire planetful of living, thinking beings, and even after all that, all you can think about is killing the last few so that you can take over the wastelands that are left?" He walked over to her and stared at her, fury on his face. "I'm sorry, Benny," he said over his shoulder. "They told me that it was an experiment gone wrong, that they needed to destroy the remaining Changed to prevent the disease from spreading further. I didn't know..."
"No," said Benny, "you never do. You never--" Then she looked at the way he was standing, and broke off. As much as she could sometimes utterly loathe the man, she still wasn't sure that she didn't love him, and she couldn't hurt him like that.
Not to mention, a row like that could take several hours, and she wasn't sure that she could hold the Changed that long. God alone knew how Cordelia had done it. Keeping a hold of the sphere, she went back to her examination of the Slay. The 'Material' meter seemed to be full now, but it was flashing, and some message was displayed below it in an indecipherable alien language. Benny turned back to the gathering. "Erm...can anyone read this?" she asked.
Kem walked over to the small display screen. "It's an ancient language...but I think I can make it out. It's saying, 'Sample Required'."
Benny nodded. "That mean anything to you?"
"Not a thing."
"Me neither. I suppose we could go ask the experts..." she turned back to the assembly. "All right," she said to the woman in the suit, "what is it asking for?"
The woman remained impassive.
"I see. You're really into the whole 'racial purity' thing, aren't you? Perfectly fine with condemning the remainder of these people to death, simply to get your own way."
"It's a war," she replied simply. "You don't get into these things if you don't plan to win them. And you don't give away information to the enemy."
Benny smiled sweetly. "I see." Then she put her hands on the woman's shoulders, and rested her head gently against the helmet of the environment suit.
* * *
Waim wanted nothing more than to kill all of these people. She had the stasis field inducer--the controller on her wrist required only a single touch, and the abominations here would writhe in agony when they approached her. She could kill this pathetic alien in front of her, and the Farasig could take their place as rightful heirs to the destiny of Gash.
But the twisted thing that held her kept her from reaching her field inducer. She was trapped, and the only thing that kept her mildly consoled was the fact that there was no way that the woman in front of her could discover how to make the Slay function again. She chuckled to herself, lightly. Even if she did find out, she wouldn't have the courage to do what it took, either. This was how it had been at the beginning. The scientists who developed the nanite weapon feared it too much to use it. The populace would not sanction the release of the weapon, even as the Seylasig overran their cities, one by one. Only the Inner Council, the six of them here, had the courage to take this measure. Only they were the true heirs of the Farasig. Only they--her train of thought seemed to derail. She realized that something was wrong.
* * *
"Thank you," Benny said as she raised her head back up from Waim's helmet. "I know what to do, now."
"You were in my mind," Waim hissed venomously. "You went into my mind, read my thoughts..."
"Yep," Benny agreed. "And considering what they were, I'd be very tempted to let the Changed rip you to tiny little shreds, so don't go acting victimized here, alright?" She turned away from Waim, and went back to the Slay. She pressed another spot on the machine, and a small keypad appeared. She typed into it rapidly, and the firepit opened once again.
"What's going on, Benny?" Emile asked.
Benny sighed. "We've got a problem," she said at last. "The nanites that created the Change are constantly changing. Normally, the changes are minor, easily adapted to by the Slay, but it's been several thousand years since this thing was used last. The nanites that are in my system--in all of our systems now--are radically different from the ones they're used to. It needs an experimental subject to test out the differences on, an expendable sample."
"In other words," Ariadne said, "one of us has to die if the rest of us are to be saved."
"Not necessarily," Benny said desperately. "The first one will be dangerous, yes, but not necessarily lethal. It might still work."
Orn spoke up. "So it would either kill the person, or purge them of the Change?" Benny nodded silently. "Then I will do it." Benny looked at him, confused, and started to speak, but he silenced her with a look. "You cannot understand, alien, what it is like to live with this fear all of your life. I have consigned many to the pits in my time as Protector--we all have. For so long, I thought I was doing the will of the gods." He sighed. "It was a lie. All a lie, created by madmen who wanted to sterilize a whole world before I was even born. And by killing the Changed--by killing my people--I have helped these madmen." He walked over to the pit. "I perpetuated a cycle of death that would have ended with no living being on this planet...and I enjoyed it. Perhaps there can be no better atonement than this." And he let himself fall backwards into the pit.
The doors closed over him, and there was a brief, whirring noise from inside the Slay. The meter stopped flashing, and the doors opened again to reveal a twisted, misshaped skeleton inside the Slay. Benny looked at the screen--she could read it now, thanks to a brief telepathic language course while in the mind of Waim--to see a message that read, "Catastrophic nanite alterations--subject cure failed. Alterations compensated--retry?" She looked back at the group again.
* * *
Extract from the Diary of Professor Bernice Summerfield:
After that, things went fairly simply. The Changed were cured, one by one (I went last, since it was my brilliant brain that kept the rest of them from killing everyone), and after the last of them had been rounded up and run through the Slay, we used the nanite failsafe to finally finish up the whole thing.
Afterwards, I spent a bit poking through the computer systems of the Slay, trying to figure out what it used for material, and why it ran out. It was mostly heavy metals--calcium, magnesium, zinc--with some carbon. The materials that would be present in a big fire used to burn up human beings.
We'd thought that the firepit started after they'd forgotten how to cure the nanites...that superstition took over, after reason lost the way. I guess we have to keep thinking that, don't we?
* * *
As Jason navigated his ship through the rain and mist that surrounded Dellah's spaceport, neither of them spoke much. Emile tried to make conversation, but it didn't go anywhere. Neither of them seemed to want to talk much, after what they'd done with the last of the Farasig.
When they arrived, it was to an astounded reception. The word had indeed been spread by the Utrassi that Bernice Summerfield and Jason Kane had paid for their crimes with their life, and their safe return was a source of joy to many, although not to Bernice's students, who were privately hoping that this would get them out of having to take midterms. Rech, who they'd incarcerated in one of the cargo holds, was removed and duly tried for his crimes, after signing the standard book and TV contracts.
And Benny, as was her habit after such adventures, went to have a quiet drink with Irving Braxatiel.
* * *
"One question, Brax," Benny said. Irving Braxatiel raised an eyebrow. "Ask away." Benny gulped down half a glass, and looked back up at him. "I already had nanites in my body. They were supposed to keep me safe from things like the Change. So what went wrong? How did I end up with a swollen head?" "Too many advance cheques from publishers?" Irving quipped, then winced as Benny kicked him under the table. "Nanotechnology is a delicate science, Benny," he said. "Some might say it's more of an art, and that we - they - would have been better off trying to control the wind or the weather -" "So what you're saying is, you don't know." "- I don't know." Brax finished his sentence at the same time as Benny. He looked away for a moment, then back at Benny. "So, your crashing into the same planet Jason was already on was just coincidence?"
Benny frowned a little at the sidestep. "The only real coincidence in the whole thing," she said, pausing to finish off her glass of brandy. "Is that we keep bumping into each other in the middle of nowhere, usually while being pursued by various psychotic aliens or warring colonials or something. I think it might be the universe, telling us it's our karmic destiny to be together." She poured herself a new glass. "As far as I'm concerned, the universe can go bugger itself."
Braxatiel chuckled. "And the Farasig?" he asked.
Benny looked into her glass, refusing to meet his gaze. "They got what they wanted," she said.
* * *
Waim looked into the sky, sheltering her eyes from the blowing winds as she scanned the horizon for any sign of a ship. There wasn't any, she knew, but she had to look anyway.
Her helmet would have shielded her from the wind, of course, but they'd stripped her of her suit, the same as all the others, when they put her here. She could still remember Jason's voice, etched with pain and fury as he herded them out of the cargo bays at blasterpoint.
"Here you go," he'd said, shoving them out one at a time onto the surface of the desert planet. "It doesn't have a name--it isn't inhabited, it's so far off the exploration charts that nobody will find it for a thousand years." He'd tossed a survival kit onto the ground. "There's water, some simple plants and animals...it's mostly desert, but I'm sure that you don't mind that. After all, it's what you reduced Gash to, isn't it?"
"You can't leave us here like this," Navari had said.
Jason had grinned savagely. "Watch me." He had pressed a button, and as the cargo bay doors had closed, he'd said, "You didn't care about anything but authority. A dead planet was better than one you didn't rule, right?"
"Well, this planet is totally dead. Nobody but you, ever. It's exactly what you wanted to rule...and you're welcome to it."
Waim had watched as the ship departed. She was still watching now...
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