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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #01 - "DeathRace"


Chapter 4
"Higher Stakes"
by Cameron Dixon


---


"Inkle grommiter."


       "Inkle grommiter."


       "Sonic screwdriver."


       "Sonic screwdriver."


       "Gripley wrench."


       "Gripley wrench."


       "Seven-sixteenths Gripley wrench."


       "Sorry." Grace sighed, and passed the Doctor the requested tool. The Doctor glanced at it, grunted, and disappeared back beneath Bessie's bonnet for the tenth time in as many minutes. A few feet away, Morok scowled from his perch on a jutting rock, aimed an imaginary pistol at a target on the other side of the cavern, and mouthed the word 'pow'.


       "I think our friend's getting restless," Grace murmured.


       "So am I," the Doctor replied, his voice muffled as he carefully prised open Bessie's power cells. "The Toymaker has had millennia to practice the art of patience to perfection..."


       "What, all that time and he's only finished one volume of the encyclopedia?"


       "...but," the Doctor continued witheringly, "he's still not terribly good at it. The longer this stalemate continues, the greater the chance that he'll grow bored and spring something else on us simply for the amusement value. Blast."


       "Blast what?"


       The Doctor stood up, nearly bashing his head on the engine cowling. "Blast everything," he snapped. "Bessie's perpetual motion induction system is still fully operational, and if I could focus just a little energy through it, it might be able to recycle it just long enough to get us out of these caves and back into the sunlight. But the batteries are completely drained. There isn't a spark of life left in them."


       "So we're stuck."


       The Doctor nodded gloomily. "What we need is a jump start, something to provide the engines with the initial spark they need to begin recharging themselves..." The Doctor's voice trailed off, and he blinked. "Shoes."


       "Gesundheit."


       "No, your shoes," the Doctor repeated impatiently. "The charge they absorbed was meant to kill you; it should be enough to jump-start a car."


       Grace shrugged, and quickly untied and removed her shoes. The Doctor promptly tied the shoelaces together and wrapped each of the free ends around one of the connections to Bessie's battery. "There." He straightened, cleaning his hands on an oily rag. "Jacket."


       "Jacket."


       As the Doctor shrugged himself back into his coat, Grace noticed that somehow he'd managed to get his hands completely clean, without a trace of oil. She blinked in surprise.


       The Doctor picked up his pen torch from the engine block and closed the hood. "Mr. Morok?" he called. "Bessie's recharging herself now. I think it's time we were getting on our way."


       "It's about damn time, too," the bounty hunter groused. He rose from his perch. "If this is supposed to be a race, we're gonna be chewing the other guys' dust from here to the finish line."


       "That was always the intention," the Doctor replied grimly. "The Toymaker never plays to lose. Come along, Grace," he called.


       And looked around.


       "Grace?"


       Jadi Morok looked up sharply. "Where's she gone?"


       The Doctor cast about himself frantically, shining the torch into every crevice of the cavern. There was no sign of Grace. "She was here! Right here next to me! I knew this would happen! Another pointless delaying tactic by the--"


       The Doctor's torch went out.


       So did his voice.


       "Doctor? Doctor!"


       Morok instinctively snapped his gun out of thin air and crouched into a firing position. Night-vision goggles which neither Grace nor the Doctor would have recalled seeing before automatically lowered themselves into position over his eyes. PPG-rifle at the ready, Morok turned a quick 360 degrees, scanning in all directions.


       Nothing. Apart from himself and the Doctor's roadster, the cavern was empty.


       Damn! All right. Calm down. Status report. What's the situation? The two targets are missing. It's over two and a half thousand miles to the finish line. I've got a recharging power pack in the roadster, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and I'm wearing night-vision goggles...


       Something rustled in the distance. Morok spun around and backed away, seeking the source of the sound. He didn't have to wait long. Something was moving, something large-- *several* somethings large, spreading their great leathery wings and flapping over the chasm which Bessie had leapt several minutes ago.


       Morok swallowed and gripped his gun more tightly. He remembered the clouds of bat-things they'd passed on their way through the caves, the talons gripping the rock face, the shining eyes twisting away from the car's headlights.


       Now the headlights were out of juice, and the Doctor's torch had gone with him. The lights were out. And the bats were coming to investigate.


* * *


Grace blinked in surprise. And opened her eyes in another place.


       "Oh, no," she muttered. Another game. Another distraction. Another chance to get rid of her before she even learned where the finish line was, never mind came within sight of crossing it. She was starting to understand the way the Toymaker's mind worked. Unfortunately.


       She looked about herself for clues. There wasn't much forthcoming. She had been transported into a corridor barely tall enough to accommodate her height, sub-divided by tiles of alternating colours into ten boxes of equal, cubic proportions. She experimentally tried to step forward into the next box, but, as she had half-expected, an invisible force field prevented her from proceeding. She sighed and glanced back the other way--


       --and a hairy, five-fingered claw shot out towards her to the accompaniment of a devilish animal roar.


       Grace flinched back, gasping in shock. The claw skittered down an invisible wall, failing to penetrate her square. The creature to which it belonged howled in disappointed rage. Grace tried to calm her racing heart by mentally picturing the blood flow through her circulatory system.


       The creature slashed vainly at the wall again. It appeared to be a bipedal mammal of some kind, with protruding tusks curving up above its snout and muddy red eyes nestled in cavernous sockets, nearly hidden by the tufts of reddish-brown hair which covered its body. Part of Grace's mind noticed with scientific detachment that the claw scraping down the force field possessed an opposable thumb, indicating a possibility of intelligence which the animalistic behaviour rather militated against and oh HELL I'm going to DIE...


       Stop that. Deep breaths and wait for the next--


       The wall chimed gently, and a small panel opened to reveal two dice.


       "Oh, *please*," Grace said to an unseen audience. "If you really think that I'm going to--"


       The creature howled triumphantly as its claws slowly began to sink through the force field. It attacked the invisible wall with renewed vigour.


       "...then you're probably right," Grace concluded, picking up the dice and throwing them to the floor without time to consider.


       The dice landed with a six and a two facing up. Grace took a hesitant step forward, noted with relief that the wall impeding her progress had vanished, and ran ahead. The creature behind her screamed with frustration.


       Of course, as soon as she'd reached the eighth box, she bounced off another force field. She paused, gasping for breath, and turned to check on the pursuer's progress.


       The dice had vanished from the floor of Grace's former cubicle, and reappeared inside a panel in the creature's. The creature had abandoned its assault on the force field and was sniffing suspiciously at the dice. Go on, Grace urged it silently, knock them aside, eat them, but whatever you do, don't--


       The creature stretched out one of its paws... No, Grace realized despairingly, it was a hand, and the creature was taking the dice and rolling them. The hell with opposable thumbs anyway. Highly overrated in her opinion. Please don't let it roll a nine.


       The creature studied the dice, roared angrily, and bounded ahead five spaces, where it paused and took an experimental swipe ahead. Its claws once again skittered off an invisible wall.


       Pure luck, thought Grace. No skill to this at all. The wall beside her chimed once again. Damn and blast, a single random throw of the dice could let that thing catch up to her and she was running in her stocking feet and it was all so *unfair*...


       Take the dice, she thought, just roll, keep ahead of it, there are bound to be penalties for delay. Keep calm, and try to think of a way out of this.


       She rolled a three and a four. Seven spaces, but only one more box ahead of her. She stepped forward experimentally, and with a sickening lurch, suddenly rose through the roof into another, identical corridor, this one stretching the other way. Groaning in despair, she ran forward six more spaces...and the ceiling of the cubicle suddenly vanished. With a slight hum, a series of handholds extended themselves from the wall.


       Never one to look a gift ladder in the mouth, Grace set to climbing. Beneath her feet, she heard the sound of her pursuer screaming in rage.


* * *


"I hope you're happy now." The Doctor faced the Toymaker across the large desk/console in the centre of the Game Control Room. "You're not simply satisfied with dropping myself and my companion into the most ill-managed, unjust race since the human one, now you're kidnapping us from the course without giving us a chance to finish. This hardly qualifies as giving us a sporting chance, does it?"


       The Toymaker spread his hands out innocently. "Kidnapped? Hardly that, Doctor. I simply thought we might take the opportunity for a friendly chat whilst you wait for your charming roadster to recharge her batteries."


       "And Grace?"


       "Is being... suitably diverted."


       "Diverted," the Doctor snorted. "Another pointless delay to give our opponents a chance to get well ahead of us. What about Jadi Morok?"


       "Perfectly safe," the Toymaker assured him. "He's not a part of the game at all, really, just a simple distraction. Frankly, I wasn't expecting him to last this long at all - I believed you would outrun him in the city." The Toymaker waved a hand languidly at a wall full of television screens, all of which illuminated to show Morok crouching in a cavern, desperately casting about himself. "He's in no danger. The bat-creatures inhabiting the lower caverns of this continent are perfectly harmless, as long as he does nothing to provoke--"


       On screen, the Doctor saw Morok snap his rifle up to shoulder height, and open fire. A bolt of superheated plasma shot out of the barrel, and on the other side of the cavern, a bat burst into flames, screeching and careering out of control into the abyss.


       "Whoops," the Toymaker said. "He is in trouble now, isn't he?"


       The Doctor wasn't listening. "What is that..." he pointed at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, where a golden letter I had appeared, rotating counter clockwise over a representation of a ringed planet. "That's a television logo. Of course," he realized. "That's why the inhabitants of the city did nothing to help us. You've been broadcasting the race to the people of this planet, haven't you? They think we're participants in some kind of a cross-country game show!"


       "Oh, they too are participants, of a kind, Doctor..." The Toymaker smiled. "Which brings me to the real point of this meeting. I'm afraid your delay in the caverns has grown rather boring to our viewers. Thus, the unfortunate Dr. Holloway's current predicament. You will put on a good show from now on, won't you, Doctor? After all, half the planet is watching..."


       "This has gone far enough!" the Doctor shouted furiously. "I refuse to permit you to dictate my future based on television ratings!"


       "Oh, Doctor..." the Toymaker purred. "It's quite the opposite, I'm afraid." He casually began to fan himself with a semi-circle of playing cards which had suddenly appeared in his right hand. "Interactive television was recently introduced to the central continents of Deremar, and the opportunities offered to a master of games such as myself were simply too enticing to pass up. You didn't really think this race was entirely for your benefit, did you?"


       The Doctor stood very still, his eyes wide. "Go on."


       The Toymaker grinned. "The people of this planet are speculating on the outcome of the race, Doctor. Of course, they remain unaware of the full price they will be expected to pay should they lose..."


       "Of course," the Doctor echoed hollowly.


       "...The fact remains, Doctor, that whatever you do, whether you win or lose, a certain percentage of the population will have wagered incorrectly on the outcome. They will have lost the game." The Toymaker continued to smile. "They will become mine."


       The Doctor closed his eyes. If half the planet was watching, and if half the viewers placed a bet, and if half the guesses were incorrect... The Doctor opened his eyes again. "Half a billion people," he whispered. "What are you going to *do* with them all?"


       "Oh, I don't know," the Toymaker said carelessly. "Add them to the pile, I suppose." He shook with silent laughter at the Doctor's appalled expression. "You wouldn't care so much if it were only your life at risk, would you, Doctor? I've known that for centuries. But I will have my revenge." The Toymaker grinned savagely and brought his hand down in a cutting motion, spreading out the cards, face-down, between himself and the Doctor. "In spades."


       Every one of the cards in the Toymaker's hand was a Joker, and they all bore the face of the Doctor.


* * *


How many more squares does this course run? Grace thought irritably as the wall opened up beside her once again. Somewhere below her, she heard her pursuer roar in frustration. Yes, thank you, I know you're still there. She threw the dice and rolled a seven. The roar sounded closer than it had before, but perhaps if her luck held out, there would be another ladder waiting for her at the end of this round.


       Ladders, Grace thought about ladders as she ran the next seven spaces towards her destination. There was something blindingly obvious that she was overlooking, like having a word on the tip of her tongue, like suddenly, inexplicably being unable to remember exactly what a 'wheel-barrow' was. It was an itch of the memory and it had to do with ladders.


       The air shimmered before her and Grace came to a stop, panting slightly and resting her hands on her knees. Dammit, this was all wrong; even when she took the Rottweiler from Hell into consideration it had been too *easy* so far, not the Toymaker's style at all. There had to be something else here besides the thing chasing her, some hidden danger, if only she could think of it in time. Something to do with games, with board games, dice, ladders--


       Ladders.


       Ladders and--


       Something moved beneath her feet.


       "Oh shit," Grace said, and dropped through the floor.


       Her fingers scrabbled for purchase far too late as the walls of the maze curved in about her, as the smooth texture of the floor acquired an unpleasant warm, muscular quality, as she fell out of control, tumbling helplessly down--


       --down the back of a giant snake out of her worst nightmares, towards a flat reptilian head that reared up and hissed at her and she was falling out of control and the head was descending towards her and she couldn't STOP--


* * *


The Toymaker stood, fingers flexing slightly. "Well, I think that's enough casual chit-chat for now. You do have a race to run, after all, and events in the cavern are, I think, interesting enough to warrant your return. But you will deal with them quickly, won't you, Doctor? Time is ticking away..."


       "You said there was no time limit," the Doctor reminded him.


       "Of course not. But remember: you and your companion must cross the finish line before anyone else, and you must cross it together. Those are the rules of the contest."


       The Doctor shook his head wearily. "Games..." he spat. "What do you expect me to do, fling myself to my knees and beg for mercy?"


       The Toymaker suddenly glanced sharply to one side, as if sensing something of importance occurring elsewhere. His grin widened. "Mercy? Doctor, you know very well that I show no mercy, play no favourites... However," he added, "as a reward for the... amusement you have offered me throughout the centuries, I believe I may now be permitted to show you... a little grace."


       The Doctor froze in shock, and slowly raised his eyes to meet the Toymaker's gaze. The immortal's hand dipped into his robes and emerged holding a small rag doll. A clear liquid dripped slowly from two tiny puncture marks in the doll's ankle. It was clothed in a parody of a surgeon's outfit, complete with toy stethoscope draped around its neck. With characteristic lack of subtlety, its creator had stitched a large red heart on the jacket's lapel. A ghastly needlepoint smile had been stitched onto its face, which was framed by short locks of blonde, curled hair.


       The Doctor didn't have to look any closer to know that the hair was real.


       "Well, Doctor," the Toymaker said lightly, "shall we discuss forfeits?"


---
To be continued...



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