|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #14 - "Endless Night"
Chapter 11 — Part 2
"Closing the Circle"
by David Versace
Shadowmaker watched Nemesis across a chasm. The gulf existed only in the virtual world it had created for the Mind, the only concession it was able to allow the creature that hosted it. It did not matter.
Angela Ferris had finally finished screaming away the terror and pain and anguish of her mental imprisonment. Now she took stock of the place she found herself in.
A featureless mesa next to its identical twin, the two separated by a bottomless void. She thought she could see occasional whorls of light glimmer in the (sky) emptiness above and sometimes there were noises. Ethereal notes or slow rolls of thunder.
On the distant mesa she could see the Nemesis. In this landscape, which she knew instinctively was an artificial interpretation created by the Shadowmaker, the Nemesis looked like a cloud of pulsing grey balloons in a sauna, surrounded by puffs of red steam that seemed to emanate from nowhere. Angela sniffed. It didn't seem to be much of a threat.
The Shadowmaker shivered beside her. She looked at it, a representation in gleaming chrome of a native Paracastrian, though bristling with extra legs and even larger eyes. Despite its strangely fearsome appearance, Angela knew what it was.
She had heard the Doctor's voice describe it as a psionic generator, but Shadowmaker-00 was very much more.
It was paying her no attention. It continued probing the Nemesis, looking for a weakness.
She knew that if it didn't find one, she would die and the Nemesis would consume everyone.
* * *
Yt watched as the stone building continued to shake itself apart. The physical echoes of the psychic battle below destroying the old human settlement.
Yt didn't imagine he'd miss this place when it was finally destroyed. He had always known that Denurys was where the Nemesis would finally manifest. His people had sensed it lurking there for centuries, always just out of sight, hiding from them. Its taint had brought ruin to the humans that lived there, though privately Yt suspected that the backward-looking nature of the Kingdom had doomed it in any case. A feudal experiment in a world of technology and comfort? He did not understand the aliens.
But he would save them. There was no other choice.
Around him, his people gathered, drawn like moths to flame, following the same dark instinct that led him here. Hundreds of them, perhaps thousands. There was no need for them to be here - what was planned will succeed or fail regardless of their physical presence - but like him they could not stay away. The Hivemind was gone but in its place was something even more certain, even more binding.
* * *
"Grace Grace Grace, what have they done to you?"
"Doctor?" She could hardly believe her ears. Three years. All of it came rushing back in a moment, every missing memory falling into place at the sound of his voice.
"Thanks goodness I got here before you could get inside the TARDIS," he muttered, kneeling down to face her. He carefully prised each eye open with two fingers in turn and examined them at length. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he gently placed a palm on each cheek and grinned widely. "Dear Grace, it's so good to see you." His hands were warm and soft.
"No time, I'm afraid." He jumped up again and helped her to her feet. "Jadi, take Grace and move her well back from the doors. I need to get into the TARDIS." He pressed the fingertips of one hand to the glass panes and seemed to listen intently. He was humming, a short, tuneless refrain repeated over and over.
Grace and Jadi moved back to the hovercar, where Braxiatel was standing, silently watching. "Irving?"
For a moment he didn't appear to have heard her, then "Doctor Holloway. I missed our appointment. My apologies." It seemed to be all he could manage.
* * *
It was nearly time, Yt knew. Now or never.
There was a message he needed to send. His telepathic heritage had been brushed away by the psychic storm. It might never return. That did not matter. There were alternatives.
The ban had not succeeded in keeping every offworlder away and those that had been captured had proved useful in many ways. Some were even cooperative. He drew a cellular phone from the belt at his hip and dialled a number.
* * *
Nemesis seethed and raged inside what little remained of Harsferd's mind. It did not possess a consciousness exactly, but in its own way it was aware. It sensed the Enemy and understood that it must destroy or risk its own destruction inside Harsferd.
Shadowmaker had a weakness.
* * *
The Doctor eased open the TARDIS door and stepped gingerly inside. Wil watched, remembering that the beautiful young flame-breathing woman was probably still inside, then followed with a shrug. If he vanished in a fireball now, would it matter?
Inside it was so dark that Wil could barely make out the console, a ghostly silhouette cast by the pale phosphorescent glow of the far monitor.
"Emergency system shutdown," observed the Doctor. "The TARDIS is protecting herself from Nemesis. Good girl." He patted the console.
A strident electronic alarm broke the silence and then cut off with a tone. Wil and the Doctor peered into the murk.
Deborah stepped forward, holding out a mobile phone. "Yt's for you," she grinned.
* * *
Angela stepped back in alarm as the shape began to take form before her. Voices like a wave backwashing into the surf burbled across her mind. The bubbles and the smoke wafted in and out like a lover's breath.
Beside her (all around her, encompassing, smothering) the Shadowmaker drew up in alarm. System alerts and priority overrides blared and flared across the sky, the colours and sounds of desperation. Shadowmaker's weak link was exposed.
I'm in trouble.
* * *
The Doctor worked frantically at the console, muttering occasionally into the phone handset tucked into his shoulder. Wil gathered he was preparing the TARDIS for a short jump, and he had a nasty suspicion where they would be going. The last place on Paracastria he ever wanted to see again.
Except possibly here. Deborah — beautiful, insane, fire-breathing Deborah — was here with him, one arm slipped casually around his waist as they watched the Doctor work his conjuring tricks with the TARDIS. Wil didn't are move. He was sure that if he broke the connection she would manifest some new physically impossible, life-threatening ability. He imagined her jaw coming unhinged and swallowing him whole, her fingers turning to razor-sharp scissor blades, her skin secreting acid.
"I'm sorry we had to distract you earlier," she purred softly. "The Paracastrians wanted you away from the planet." While they were implanting your friend's cyberware with an alien control system, she didn't need to add. "I'm not insane you
"Your father tried to kill us."
"He wasn't my father. He was Sophie's producer. He's dead now." She looked away, blinking tear trickles, and for one insane moment Wil forgot where he was and who she was and felt sad and sorry. Not just for her, for himself and everyone else as well.
"The Paracastrians experimented on us, tried to get their implants to take, but their hardware was too primitive for the Shadowmaker's system requirements. I think Nemesis appeared before they were ready to deal with it."
"Until they discovered Angela's ware, which is centuries ahead of anything available here and practically built for storage. They upgraded to Ferris 1.0."
"This will be over soon Wil." She grasped him by both hands. "You could come with me, if we live." Her eyes were piercing emeralds, flecked with impurities. "You have lived an unhappy life, Gwilym Young. I can see that."
"You don't know anything about me," he whispered, willing her to stop.
"I know what I need to know. Behind the pain and the jokes and all your other screens and blinds and masks, Wil Young, you are a good man who deserves to be happier." She kissed him once, a gentle push against his lips, like an admonition. "You must do what you will. Just remember that sometimes you should do what you want."
Wil had no idea what to say to that.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," said the Doctor, clamping a hand on his shoulder from behind, "but we're ready. Wil, please bring the others inside. Make sure Grace enters last."
* * *
Nemesis tapped at the windowpanes of Angela's mind, a relentless call for invitation. Her resolve was weakening — she had no idea how to fight it off. Psychic combat experience appeared exactly nowhere on her resume.
Nearby the Shadowmaker-00 calmly assessed and counterattacked, but it was losing ground fast, she knew. In a few seconds, Nemesis will be in control. And then it was simply a matter of
separating the hardware from the wetware. What would it have her do, in order to destroy its Enemy? Slit her own throat? Drown herself in a lake?
Or would she just stand there as the castle collapsed, crushed and broken and dead with the remnants of two ancient war machines flicking out like cooling embers in her pulverised head? Not all the remnants, of course. There were other places for Nemesis. After all this time, it knew a little about egg/basket distributions.
* * *
He stood mutely by as Jadi escorted Braxiatel inside. There were a thousand accusations, recriminations, taunts he could have made, but it seemed not to matter somehow. To Wil he
suddenly looked as ancient as he probably was. His face was lined, his beard was patchily dotted with silver, and his eyes were puffed and tired.
Thirty years in Denurys will do that to you. It would have done it to me.
And here was Grace, a woman he barely knew, and yet he felt a peculiar sense of ease around her. She had regained some poise along with her memories and she now stood with expectant calm, waiting for the Doctor's plan. That was it, he realised — she had such complete faith that the Doctor had it all worked out, that there was nothing to worry about, that Wil found himself quietly accepting it as fact. Was there a club, Wil wondered? Somewhere all the Doctor's ex-companions went because it was the only place they could really be understood, where they could put their experiences in some sort of sane context. There ought to be, he decided. He'd have to look into it later. A place like that would need an entertainer.
"Ready, Grace?" the Doctor's voice echoed out of the TARDIS. She nodded. "All right then. You first, Wil, then Grace. Mind the floor."
Wil stepped back inside and immediately caught his foot in a snare of cables. The floor at the entry arch had disappeared beneath a jungle of cabling, tools and what looked like innards from the central console. Wil caught an dim view through the darkness of the chaotically-bundled arrangement snaking back into the console as he tilted and fell over. Jadi stepped forward to catch him but Wil was already turning the fall into a twist, springing off one hand and landing with a flourish atop Jadi's shoulders. Jadi immediately spoiled the effect, straightening up with an indignant "Hey!" and accidentally tipping Wil off where he fell into a grinning heap.
"No time for a vaudeville revival," smiled the Doctor. "Welcome home Grace."
Grace appeared in the archway, barely visible, a shadow among shadows. She was blinking furiously.
* * *
Angela could feel herself slipping away.
Nemesis was like an oil slick, oozing into her mind wherever it could, slow and clinging and unstoppable. She tried to lash out, imagining herself free, desperate to find the trick that would turn it away. It was too strong, it was relentless, it wanted her and then she would be Nemesis and she wanted--
* * *
A door suddenly opened. Nemesis spared a fraction of its awareness to investigate, loosening its slippery grip on the fragile psyche of Grace Holloway and taking a tentative step beyond the threshold. Into the darkness. Nemesis tried to blink the darkness away, without success. It did not feel fear but it was wary of the darkness. The darkness was the Enemy, the darkness was prison. Nemesis exercised caution, isolated the piece of itself in Grace and pushed.
A great psychic landscape rolled out before it, a mind vast and powerful and vulnerable. Paradise. Fertile ground for Nemesis. Here it could grow and multiply and finally achieve its potential, free of shackles, free of flimsy minds.
Free of the Enemy.
* * *
Angela howled her helplessness at Nemesis, a useless ball of frustration and terror and rage that filled her and drained her at the same time. She could feel it all falling into smoke and light and emptiness.
Jadi? She clung to him for just a moment, one last conscious scrap of hope.
And then there was nothing left.
Angela was Nemesis. Nemesis was everyone.
The Enemy stood before it/beside it/within it. Powerless. Shadowmaker was no longer a threat.
There was movement at the entrance. Blinking dust from its eyes, Nemesis saw them, its captors. The chikatha. They filed through the door in twos and threes and stood mutely watching, a sea of calm faces surrounding it. They no longer mattered to Nemesis. They were dead flesh. They would die here.
Nemesis pulled its new face into a smile and turned it upward. The ceiling of the Royal Court was buckling. Beams cracked and supports bent. Steady streams of dry mortar poured like ash from every crevice. It brushed Nemesis' cheeks and stung Nemesis' eyes. All around Nemesis, the walls and the floor shook - everything was shaking, the vibrations mounting towards a final exultant release.
And then everything changed.
* * *
"Now!" said the Doctor, stabbing at his instruments.
* * *
"Now!" said Yt and the Paracastrians pushed.
* * *
Nemesis was plunged into utter void. It did not even have that moment to register the danger before it was alone.
* * *
Nemesis registered its alarm, its voices screaming away into hoarseness. It was alone.
Its corpulent hands clutched at its ears and tore at its velvet robes. It collapsed into its throne and dashed its head against the high, padded back.
Its slender fingers scratched at its throat and fumbled at its temple, trying to rip its input jack free.
Its blinking eyes bled into the darkness and flailed at the cables and the bodies as they wrestled it to the ground.
* * *
Shadowmaker-00 struck, the culmination of its million-year existence over in a nanosecond as it pumped its psychotoxic charge into the Enemy.
Angela reeled and fell to her knees. "Where the hell--?"
A crowd of Paracastrian natives surrounded her, more than she could count. One stepped forward. "This confrontation was ordained a million years before you were born, Angela Ferris. You have played your part and you have my people's gratitude. But you cannot remain here. Leave now."
Angela tried to stand and found her ankle wouldn't support her. She could barely see through eyes that felt swollen and inflamed. She looked and saw her skin was a reddened expanse, hours away from a fully-body bruise. If I live that long. This place is about to collapse, she realised. She half-crawled, half-hopped towards the entry-arch.
Behind her the Paracastrians fell on Lord Gerund Harsferd and began their awful work.
* * *
"Keep her still!" said the Doctor, his words muffled by the syringe clamped between his teeth. Between the four of them — himself, Jadi, Wil and Braxiatel - they were barely managing to restrain Grace as she twisted and writhed. She worked a hand free and thrashed it across the bridge of Braxiatel's nose, sending him sprawling. "Please Grace, hold still!"
There was a flash of light that sharpened the struggling time travellers into a single frozen moment that burned on their retinas. Grace relaxed suddenly and fell still. The Doctor gasped in alarm and felt at her throat for a pulse — slow and even. Rolling onto his back in relief, the Doctor blinked away the dancing pinpoints of light and saw Essen still pointing Sophie's stunner at them. "Thank you, Kali-Essen. Why didn't I think of that?"
"Because you never think of guns," retorted Jadi.
"Hmm, yes, that's right, I never do, do I?" mused the Doctor, energetically returning to the console and playing with the controls.
"If that was your plan," demanded Braxiatel nasally, nursing a swollen and probably broken nose, "why didn't we just knock her out when we first got here?"
"It's not my plan," said the Doctor, "it's the Paracastrians. And I needed Grace in here, so that Nemesis would attack and infiltrate the TARDIS's telepathic circuits."
"WHAT?!" cried everyone at once.
"The TARDIS was the bait to distract Nemesis into breaking away from its central consciousness in Grace — a psychic presence as powerful as the TARDIS would have been impossible for it to resist. Unfortunately for Nemesis, all it really got was a reflection of the TARDIS's psyche. A very dark reflection." He looked almost embarrassed. "It won't hold Nemesis long, unfortunately. It's a tricky little thing."
"What do we do now, then?"
"We stage a last-minute rescue!"
* * *
Angela could barely make out the welcome sound of the TARDIS's arrival above the final death throes of the castle. The upper turrets fell away first, disintegrating into an explosion of stone brick fragments as they smashed into the ground. Then with a final unhappy groan, the walls
and ceiling imploded with slow dignity, collapsing into a mountain of rocky debris.
"Angela!" Jadi was there, lifting her into a bear hug, stroking her cheeks and face and raining kisses on her forehead. Every touch was a bolt of searing agony, but she smiled through swollen lips and didn't say a thing.
The Doctor flopped beside her carrying a small red box with a spiral cord attached to one side. His face was picture of apologetic concern. "Sorry we took so long," he said as he licked the sucker on the end of the cord and pressed it tenderly to her forehead. "This might feel a little warm."
"Doctor, the Paracastrians" she muttered, barely able to form the word. "There were dozens of them inside the castle."
"Don't worry about them," he said. "I think Yt knows what he's doing. There, that's got it?"
"Shadowmaker-00. I've uploaded its schematics to the TARDIS and wiped all traces of it from your memory. I'm afraid there's still some residual damage caused by the battle though. You'll
probably have some bad dreams for a while."
Angela sighed "Nothing new there then," and quickly kissed Jadi before he could ask what she meant.
* * *
Yt smiled at the Doctor. "Thank you again, Doctor. It feels like my people are doomed always to owe you debts of honour."
The Doctor frowned. "You did everything yourselves. I don't exactly approve of your methods, by the way."
"I know. We regret the way we used Angela Ferris but we were desperate. Human technology is incapable of supporting the Shadowmaker at this time — that was why all our implant experiments failed. The knowledge of how to build it has been with our race longer than we have ourselves existed — as old as Nemesis itself — but the practical considerations were another matter. When we discovered what was in her head..."
"You might have asked for her help."
Yt said nothing.
* * *
Braxiatel had shaved the beard off and now more resembled the man she remembered, but he still looked worn and tired. She wondered if his regeneration was due soon.
"The Paracastrians have changed, evolved their psychic abilities. None of them were hurt in the castle, hundreds of tonnes of rocks and timber. It's fascinating. I think perhaps a study--"
"You owe me a ride home, Irving," said Grace. "I think I'm ready to take it now."
* * *
"I don't know exactly what I'm gonna say about all this," grinned Sophie, "but it'll make a hit vid." Her hair had turned a vivid green. "We should get together more often, Doctor. You'll make my career."
"Perhaps. Feel free to downplay my part, write yourself into a few more scenes, that sort of thing. A good solid editing never hurts. Kali-Essen?"
"My people are reborn Doctor. I am no longer Kali-Essen. None of us are." Her large eyes shone with simple joy. "But we will be fine."
"The Nemesis is still within you."
"It is a part of us, we are its guardians, as we have always been."
It was, after all, as simple as that.
* * *
"It wouldn't be real."
"Is it any less real than running away again to have adventures in time and space?"
He had to admit, she had a point. And beautiful, beautiful eyes.
But she was Here, and Here was one place he could never be again. So in the end he turned his back and walked into the TARDIS and went away forever.
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