|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #14 - "Endless Night"
Chapter 11 — Part 1
"Closing the Circle"
by David Versace
A faux-medieval courtroom, complete with tapestries, guards in suits of armour and a magnificent throne that must have looked quite splendid in its day, before a decade or two of neglect wore off some of the gloss.
Am I painting a portrait for you yet? Wait two seconds, it gets better.
Add in a corpulent, murderous usurper, a gaggle of courtiers so self-involved they practically disappear into the furnishings, a geriatric kingmaker with an interest in biogenetics that borders on the suspicious in this cheerfully regressive backwater and, last but not least, a confused would-be ruler for whom the word Fool is starting to seem quite ironically appropriate. If he does say so himself.
But that's not all, is it? Centre-stage, why don't we scribble in an indescribably ancient alien weapon, currently insinuated into the appealing form of a futuristic datajacker? If there's still room somewhere off to one side, add a time-travelling wanderer with a penchant for getting himself (and invariably his hapless companions) into situations that can only be described as ludicrous. Next to him, a handsome-I-suppose bounty hunting goof whose hand is even now straying towards an empty holster.
Farce. It's the highest form of comedy.
* * *
Gwilym Young racked his brain trying to recall when his life had been more tumultuous, chaotic and just plain bewildering and was struck sharply by the realisation that it was actually quite easy to do so. The Timewar, the future, the other universes - all of that made the relatively minor destiny of an unimportant world that just happened to have been his home all his life rather... small, somehow. Funny how experience broadens the mind, shifts the perspective, sharpens the senses--
There was that word again. What did they expect of him, exactly? How was he qualified to take charge of a situation like this? A bloodline does not a great ruler make, does it? Wil stared back at the old courtier, his thoughts veering crazily from one confused question to the next. In his agitation he was unable to focus on one quiet thought at the back of his mind, that the man seemed familiar for some reason.
How had things gotten so out of hand? All he wanted was to depose a tyrant — the Doctor did that all the time. You would think, he told himself scornfully, that I would have picked up a few of the basics by now. It's not like the Doctor's insurrection training schedule didn't include coping with ultimate powers from the dawn of time.
"Seize them!" Harsferd's guards, a complement of four large men in uncomfortably archaic battle dress, stepped towards the intruders, pikes forward. They looked happy to finally hear an unequivocal order from their lord that had nothing to do with the royal succession and actually made an ounce of sense. The woman who had destroyed the reinforced stone wall and now floated above the rubble glaring at Gerund looked to be the principal threat. This admirably military piece of risk assessment was the last thing any of them thought. They dropped dead with a wave of the Shadowmaker-00's hand. Angela's hand.
"Your inaugural decree will have to wait, Wil!" shouted the Doctor. There was a strange noise all about them, growing in intensity, making it harder to think. No, not a noise, Wil realised. It was a presence at the borders of his mind, thrashing about like a wild beast trying to get in. "Everybody get out of here!"
Wil didn't need telling twice. Waving his arms frantically, he shepherded the dumbfounded members of the royal court towards the hole in the crumbling castle wall. "You're all standing around like hypnotised sheep and you call me a Fool?" he bellowed. Snapping out of it, they scurried to safety, no doubt realising that the order had come from their might-be king. It didn't do to look incompetent in a crisis when the eyes of the monarch were on you.
"Hurry up! You too, Jadi!" He grabbed the bounty hunter by the wrist and yanked him out into a smelly cobble-stoned courtyard. The Doctor followed with a quick jump, his long features screwed up in concentration.
"Doctor, would I regret it if I asked you what was going on?" Wil's heart was pounding, his ears felt full of blood and cotton, there was a buzzing sensation shrieking at the back of his mind. There were butterflies in his stomach and he thought for one bizarre moment that he could smell fresh coriander.
"Only until I admitted I don't fully understand it myself." The Doctor seemed a little dazed himself. "We just caught the edge of a powerful psychic storm. A very powerful one, much more so than an implanted psionic generator can possibly produce."
"Implanted what?" Wil glanced back through the hole. Angela and Harsferd were simply staring at each other like gunslingers, neither willing to be the one that broke the standoff.
"Angela's not quite herself just now. The Paracastrians have invested her own cyberimplants with a very peculiar form of latticed sentience called the Shadowmaker-00. It has imbued her with extraordinary abilities and has completely supplanted her own consciousness."
"Well I'd have been mad at her if she'd waited until now to tell me she could fly." Wil could barely summon the energy to time the quip properly. His professional standards always tended to slip in life or death situations. "What's our next step?"
"I honestly don't know. A Paracastrian named Yt captured Jadi and myself, explained everything and let us go, but I don't know why yet." He looked pained. "It wasn't really much of an explanation."
"Angela?" Jadi sounded distant. Will recoiled inwardly at the helplessness and fear in his voice, so far removed from his usual cocky bravado.
"She's in grave danger," frowned the Doctor. "But Nemesis and Shadowmaker-00 appear to be deadlocked at the moment. We need to find some way to tip the balance. And for that we're going to need a couple of hundredweight of good, solid answers."
The ground rumbled and suddenly bucked ferociously. Wil instinctively tucked himself into a ball and rolled to his feet, while most of the others were thrown to the ground. Benefits of a classical Fool's education.
He looked up at the keep's parapets as a sharp cracking noises heralded the collapse of a wooden guardhouse. Fine swirls of ancient mortar were dropping from the cracks in the stonework all around. Apparently his birthright was going to be a bit of a fixer-upper.
"The physical disturbances will continue to grow as they attempt to break down each others' psychic defences. It's too dangerous to stay here," announced the Doctor, leaping up energetically. "Let's go."
"May I accompany his Majesty?"
The old courtier's continued presence startled Wil, who had assumed he had joined his confederates in bolting as fast as his feet could carry him. Wil nodded uncomfortably, not quite sure how he was supposed to behave around a loyal subject. Especially one to whom he owed a great debt of gratitude and whose face was oddly familiar.
* * *
Yt drummed his fingers impatiently, trying to ignore his sense of creeping unease. All his attention was focussed at the centre of his Paracastrian being, at the sense beyond, the sense that touched the minds of his entire race. There was nothing but a grey, greasy static.
The Shadowmaker-00 and the Nemesis have met. Paracastria is doomed.
In his entire life he had never been alone, never apart from the Hivemind. There was nothing that a lifetime - no, forty thousand lifetimes of preparation for this moment could do to help him remain calm. Millennia of careful planning came to this day and this hour.
It was a humbling thought. Yet at what was perhaps to be the final hour of his existence Yt found himself incapable of humility. He could not endure this isolation with the calm detachment he demanded of his people. He needed to see for himself, he needed to know.
Of all Paracastrians, Yt knew that only he felt this. In a sudden moment of clarity he understood that this was how it was for the humans all the time.
Shaking with fear and pity for them and himself, he strode out into the morning sun he hadn't seen for months.
* * *
Grace stared. It was the TARDIS. She was right, she knew what it was the instant she laid eyes on it. It had once been her home and her mind sang with recognition.
She knew she ought to be ecstatic but right now she was furious. "What are you up to?!" she demanded, rounding on Sophie." First you agreed to help me, then you shot me to stop me from getting to the TARDIS, and now here we are! Tell me what's going on!"
Sophie took a surprised step back, silvery blotches appearing in her auburn hair. "Take it easy!" Seeing the expression of Grace's face, she gave a start and reached for the stunner tucked into her jacket's inner pocket.
It had vanished. Essen made a reproving clicking noise and held it up by the barrel. "We owe her an explanation. I do not think it needs to be conveyed at gunpoint."
"Look, one of you had better--"
"Okay, okay," Sophie sighed, hands held apart in resignation. "Grace, here's how it is: I'm helping the Paracastrians. I've been working with them all along."
"You were what?" Grace was dumbfounded, though in the dimmest corner of her mind she knew that once upon a time she'd have seen this coming. "Why?"
"Well, now that's my business, Grace." The Elionan ruffled her hair to straighten the colour out and grinned wryly. "Let's just say it'll make a great story. There's probably a book in it, if I can straighten it out so it all makes sense."
"What's making sense?" muttered Grace, flopping against the TARDIS and sinking into a sit as she realised she had no way of getting in.
"Listen to me, Grace. It's important that you understand what's happening. The Nemesis — the entity that you released from the Paracastrian consciousness — isn't from around here. It's alien, and very old. It's been on this world since the Paracastrians were crawling around on eighteen legs."
"So it's an ancient evil from the dawn of time? It took over the proto-Paracastrians and manipulated their evolution to its own ends?" Grace sighed. "That's a bit of a cliche, isn't it?"
* * *
As the Doctor, Wil and the old man clambered into the back seat of the hovercar, Jadi gunned the engines with a ferocity that betrayed his mood. His breath was coming in fast, angry growls and the knuckles that poked out of his cut-off leather gloves were white with barely repressed rage. The backs of his legs were stinging with the glass from the window he'd shattered and hadn't bothered to clear off the seat. The tips of two fingers stung, a reminder that he still had a few things to learn about hotwiring.
Jadi was in a bad, bad mood. "Where to?" It was more of a snarl than a question.
The Doctor didn't seem to notice. "Back to the TARDIS. That's where Grace will be. After that we'll have to see."
"All right then. What if she's infected it with this Nemesis thing?" Jadi asked, self-consciously trying to distract himself.
"If it's already happened, I haven't sensed it. I don't know if I would." He tapped his fingers against the back of Jadi's headrest in excitement. It was annoying, as was the Doctor's unhelpful answer." We'll just have to see."
"And what about Angela?" He kept the tone of the question even and low. He was kind of proud of that.
"Jadi Jadi Jadi, I don't know. I don't have any of the answers. I'm sorry."
"Is your Majesty comfortable?" He glanced back and scoped the old goat in medieval robes wedged between the Doctor and Wil. His scowl broke into a broad grin and he turned quickly back to the front to hide it from the young Paracastrian. Jadi had no idea what was going on, but he knew something Wil apparently didn't. Faces didn't change — well, most people's didn't — and Jadi Morok never forgot a face. It was a point of professional pride.
He flicked his eyes up to the rear view mirror as often as he dared. This was getting interesting.
"Please stop calling me that," pleaded Wil with a hint of desperation. "I'm not-- I mean, I don't even know your name."
"Your majesty, I--"
"I think," said the Doctor loudly, "that that is quite enough of that." He waggled an admonishing finger at the old man. "Just what are you playing at, anyway?"
Jadi snorted helplessly at the expression on Wil's face. "You know him?" cried the young jester, obviously near to breaking point.
"Intimately," replied the Doctor through thin lips. It suddenly felt to Jadi like his bad mood had leaped off his shoulders and settled on the Doctor itself. "I believe you've met him yourself, Wil."
The old man stroked his luxurious salt-and-pepper beard with a melodramatic sigh. "Ah well, it was inevitable I suppose. I shouldn't have got so caught up, I lost track of the time and--"
"Who are you?!" screeched Wil, pummelling the hovercar door with his fist. He was almost in tears.
"We did meet once, briefly. I'm Irving Braxiatel."
* * *
"You do not understand, Stefre Holloway," said Essen calmly. "The Nemesis could not do what you describe, though certainly it tried. It attempted to psychically dominate the creatures from which we evolved - but it failed. It could never have succeeded, it was too alien. It was incapable of forming the empathic links that would have bound them to its will."
"It imprisoned itself. In trying to get at the core of the creatures it became ensnared in their collective will. It became part of the Paracastrian hive consciousness and eventually, over countless generations, it became a physical part of them. Of we, the race who evolved from them. The organs you discovered when you conducted your...your autopsy--" She broke off quietly, suddenly lost.
Grace stared at the Paracastrian in horror. "So it was a symbiont?"
"Not as you understand it," said Sophie. "The Paracastrians derive no benefit from the ganglion clusters. They're not parasitic either. They're just there. But--"
"But the Nemesis still actually exists within them? Trapped?"
"The burial rituals of my people are very specific," said Essen, almost weeping. "The organ, we call it chikatha, must be removed and consumed within hours of death to ensure that the Nemesis is reabsorbed. Not one of my people would ever have allowed you to act as you did."
"But I thought you said that the Nemesis couldn't control you? That you were too alien to it?"
Sophie stared hard at Grace. "They are," she said, "but we aren't."
Essen nodded. "These measures became necessary only when your people came to our world centuries ago. From the moment we saw the first humans we knew that Nemesis could become free through them. The other alien races that have come here are just as susceptible. Since that time, the people of Paracastria have been your sworn protectors."
* * *
"During your last visit, I became interested in the legends of the native Paracastrians, to do with the Rawds, the Ytlon and the complex myth structures that built up around the Gliph."
Wil grimaced. Braxiatel was delivering a lecture.
"Your interests have broadened to include cultural anthropology, then?"
"My interests, my dear Doctor, include everything, as well you know. Just because I don't usually heave about interfering in things doesn't mean I'm not curious."
"But you interfered this time." Wil's voice was low and dangerous. He was beginning to perceive just how outraged he was about to become.
"I was studying the native Paracastrian religion the time prior to human colonisation, but my researches took me to Denurys. After a few months with the locals, I became curious as to whether any of them during the period since settlement had made some worthwhile observation or insight. It was unlikely, of course, but on a whim I decided to examine the records of the royal libraries."
He spared a glance at Wil, who was sitting very quietly. Even Jadi had fallen silent at the wheel. "As you might expect the anthropological insights of the human settlers were childishly incomplete and of no use whatsoever to me, but the historical records revealed some interesting patterns of behaviour in certain families since settlement."
"What sort of patterns?" asked the Doctor.
"I think you can guess. Reading between the lines, and with the benefit of an... advantaged perspective, I came to realise that certain families demonstrated uncommonly reliable psychic abilities and a marked tendency for volatile and destructive behaviour."
"I didn't know what it was then, and before I could study it much further, the trouble with the Rawds began. I set my concerns aside for the duration of that affair."
"I planned to take Doctor Holloway back to Earth, as you, erm, requested, but first I decided that there would be no harm in a short side trip. I travelled back thirty years and insinuated myself into the royal court in order to observe one of the families in question."
"Lord Harsferd's family." Wil was beginning to understand. "You were there when he arranged their deaths and seized the throne?"
Braxiatel looked uncomfortable. As well he might, though Wil bitterly. "Naturally I had no interest in Denurys' political affairs. At least, not until--"
"Until you realised that the Nemesis was inside Harsferd, influencing his behaviour and possibly trying to arrange its own release. Of course!" The Doctor slapped his knees sharply. "Even you couldn't allow a telepathic alien entity to expand unchecked throughout Paracastria and possibly spread to other planets."
"No. Quite," said Braxiatel dryly. "As I continued to observe, I came to realise that the entity, whatever its nature, was either being held in check by some other force, or else it was deliberately restraining itself to avoid detection. Since it had taken no actions against me, I concluded that it did not know I was aware of its existence. It was afraid of something else."
"The native Paracastrians," Jadi said from up front. Wil had almost forgotten where they were, but now he realised that the hovercar was no longer cruising along at Jadi's standard breakneck pace, but was slowing down and manoeuvring through city streets. He thought he recognised them.
"As it transpired," said Braxiatel. "In any case, I decided that it would be dangerous for Harsferd to continue to hold the throne when I suddenly realised what the entity was up to. Harsferd was choosing and discarding wives at a rate that defied propriety — over the next few years he took several, who bore children by him and were then either executed for trivial or fabricated crimes, or if they were lucky, thrown out onto the streets. I took the opportunity when I could to examine some of the children."
"They were all psychically null," guessed the Doctor.
"Exactly. The entity was attempting to breed a better receptacle for itself, and disposing of the rejects. It was only a matter of time before he found a mate with the proper genetic disposition to create a true telepath. I acted where I could, intercepting some potential wives and steering them away before Harsferd, and I--"
"And," said Wil through gritted teeth, "you started the rumours. The murdered king and queen had left behind a rightful heir who would someday appear to reclaim the throne."
"Don't be a fool," said Braxiatel, looking away in annoyance when he realised what he had said. "In a society with as carefully-cultivated an air of backwater, superstitious suspicion as this, there are always rumours. I didn't start then, I just used them. I fuelled Harsferd's paranoia with lies, with court intrigues, with hinted prophecies and every other conceivable piece of contrived nonsense I could imagine. I had to get him jumping at shadows whenever -"
"THAT WAS MY LIFE!" screeched Wil. "You bastard, Braxiatel, you stupid manipulating bastard! That was my life you were playing with! Every insult, every threat, every single torment! You were there, you were watching and it was all your fault! You stood by while my entire world fell apart piece by piece and you did nothing. You--"
"We're here," said Jadi quietly.
Before the hovercar could even come to rest, Wil had flung open his door and climbed out.
Braxiatel stared after him for a long time. "I didn't tell him the worst part," he said finally. "How could I? The reason I chose him as my impostor heir."
Jadi stared back at Irving Braxiatel and understood. "One of the people you already knew Nemesis wouldn't bother trying to infect."
"Oh Brax," said the Doctor sadly.
To be concluded...
Prev | Up | Next