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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #14 - "Endless Night"


Chapter 4
"Interlude"
by Alan J. Taylor


---


At first, they thought it was me.


       But I'm getting ahead of myself. Start at the beginning, keep going till you reach the end, then stop. That's what the Doctor would do. Start at the beginning. It sounds like the sort of thing Lewis Carroll would write, the sort of thing I would read to John when we were kids, growing up in that big house so many millions of light years from here. From Paracastria.


       Me, an American, practising field medicine on an alien world, with biologies I didn't fully understand. Not what I'd had planned for myself. I saw myself settled down with Brian and a couple of Great Danes. After all, I'd killed my first alien patient. Hardly the best qualification.


       But Paracastria was almost idyllic. No television, no beepers, no endless bureaucracy. And no escape.


       I didn't mind that, really. I was welcomed into Paracastrian society, became a minor celebrity I guess. Found myself somewhere to live, somewhere to work from and built myself a little life. Things were good. I treated human colonists, native Paracastrians too, sometimes — I felt I was helping, building bridges.


       Now, I'm a cardiologist. Not used to general practice. Doctor Grace Holloway, Space Physician. Even I noticed something peculiar about the indigenous Paracastrians the first time I operated on one.


       It should have been routine — resetting a fractured shoulder blade. Minimal incision, clamp the bone in place, leave to set and heal. Even alien anatomy had to work according to basic rules, I guessed. I was wrong — but I've been wrong about a lot of things. Like the 'one patient: one heart' thing.


       I guess it would be about seven or eight months ago now — we were my back room — me — Alyssa Ogawa, a local girl who helped me out and acted as a nurse - the patient, and a female Paracastrian that I guessed was the patient's wife. Or mother. She was sobbing anyway, and I didn't have the heart to make her wait outside. Conditions were less than sterile, but the best we could manage. Anyway, cutting a long story short, I couldn't find the bone.


       Oh, it was there all right — don't get me wrong — it's just that there was something in the way - something spongy attached to the bone, near the spine, something that shouldn't have been there. I couldn't identify it at first, and didn't want to probe too much for fear of damaging something I shouldn't. First law of being a doctor. Never make the patient worse if you don't have to.


       It took time, but I worked around the spongy matter and reset the bone. The Paracastrian is fine now, as far as I know. But the whole episode unsettled me.


       I discussed it with Alyssa at some length after the Paracastrians had left.We were both intrigued, and wanted to know more. And there was only one way to find out more — autopsy.


       So I became Doctor Grace Holloway, Intergalactic Grave Robber.


       This wasn't as easy as it sounds, since the Paracastrians are deeply protective of their dead, and conduct their rituals of absolution in privacy. They don't seem to have any graves, and there are no ceremonial burning sites that have been identified. Alyssa suspected that they ate their own dead. It's a dangerous practice — if the deceased had a disease you've got a fairly high chance of picking it up yourself — either that or you develop immunity. I don't know what they do with their dead. I know that they want it to be private, and I respect that.


       The corpse that we found was one that had died alone, and it just happened that we found it before any Paracastrians did. I still felt ashamed of what I was doing.


       The autopsy took two hours in total, but I knew what I was looking at about half an hour after we started. A mass of ganglia coiled its way around the spinal column of the Paracastrian, pink/grey sinew, spreading out to caress the shoulders before narrowing again as it approached the neck and wound its way into the brain.


       My first thought — a parasite — and my second thought — a symbiotic life form — were both wrong. Close examination of the interface between the brain and the ganglia revealed the fact that the spongy mass that I had found was an extension of the brain itself, running all the way down the back.


       Darwin. Remember Darwin. Evolution and purpose. What could it be for?


       Conclusion One: The ganglia are not essential for life. The brain is heavily protected in the skull, and needs to be. The ganglia have no such protection, and are highly exposed, with only the skin protecting them. Therefore, protection is not required. Therefore the ganglia are not essential.


       Conclusion Two: Well, conclusion two came later. After the implantation when things became clearer.


       We buried the corpse a short way out of town, and marked the grave with a small wooden cross. Alyssa and I agreed never to mention it again.


       I suspect it was a coincidence, but a day or two later, the natives started to grow restless. They began demanding more concessions, bigger koko allocations, higher prices, that sort of thing. My neighbour, Gaskin, who served on the trade committee said it was almost like they were trying to push the humans, to see how far they would go. Prophetic.


       One day, over two thousand native Paracastrians walked key facilities announced calmly that they were taking control. A spokes-person broadcast the news of the curfew. There were no threats as such, but there was no need. We sort of acquiesced. No resistance. We knew that it would be futile, but we didn't know why.


       My arrest followed shortly thereafter. They gave no reason, just walked into my home one night, grabbed me, gagged me and hauled me away. They brought me here, and I had time to think.


       Somehow, it was all related. The ganglia, the rise of the natives, and the link was..


       The link was Conclusion Two — see above — the link was Doctor Grace Holloway, Trans-stellar buffoon.


       Telepathy. The ganglia are some form of telepathic booster, or transmitter, or receiver or something. It links the natives somehow, binds them together in ways I don't understand. By interfering with that binding, I had.


       I didn't know what I had done. Angered them? Weakened them? Somehow, though, I felt responsible.


       For a week I shouted in futility, trying to get someone's attention. I wanted to speak to someone in charge, to get someone's attention.


       When someone finally came, I wished they hadn't.


       Standard Incarceration Department One was never an attractive place from the outside, and not one that I had hoped to see from the inside. They dragged me to the room that had formerly been the governor's office, and roughly strapped me to a table.


       Somehow, I knew what was happening next. It was like a ghastly reversal of my life. Suddenly I was the patient, not the doctor, only there was nothing wrong with me and I didn't know what they were doing with me and I wanted them to make it stop and I wanted to close my eyes and I wanted to scream and my throat was dry and I wanted to struggle but I was bound too tight and I wanted to see what they were doing and the first incision was wrong and it hurt and--


       I don't have any shame about blacking out.


       At first — as I said — they thought it was me. That's why they gave me the implants. That's why they took the genetic samples. That's why they spent days interrogating me. I was alone in my cell, with the voices bombarding me in my head. The Paracastrians, and other voices, external voices.


       I was not Grace Holloway. I was Shadowmaker-00. I was not Shadowmaker-00. I was a personality constructed on top of a personality on top of a personality, and they wanted to strip me down, peel me like an onion, to find the core of myself, the part of me that couldn't hide.


       And in the core, they found only Grace. They thought it was me that they were looking for, you see, but it wasn't. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They abandoned me and left me here. I don't want to be here. I want Brian. I want Great Danes. I want my life back.


       But its not going to happen.


       Conclusions Three and Four.


       Conclusion Three is that yes — it is all my fault. Somehow, in my efforts to understand Paracastrians, to help me save their lives, to hold back death — again — I rendered them vulnerable to some external influence. I doomed the whole race. Bloody Hippocrates would be turning cartwheels in his grave. I know this to be true, because. Because I think I am linked to them now. I think I understand them better, but I don't know. I can't be sure of anything. Hence conclusion four.


       Conclusion Four — my body is rejecting the implants. And not in a good way. They're buried deep in my cortex, I think, and as they fail, my mind fails too. Lucidity comes and goes. Fits and spurts. Nuts and bolts. Hammer and Tongs. Hee hee.


       Not a dignified way to go. Not dignified at all. Madame Curie would have thought it was so sad.


       Part of me wants to die now.


---
To be continued...



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