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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #22 - "Clockwork Orange"


Chapter 11
"Music for the Masses"
by Alan Taylor and Gregg Smith


---


Book Three: Wind-Up


"A CLOCKWORK ORANGE — The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my swordpen --"

— Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962


* * *


I step out of the elevator ahead of Cray, although I know he's still behind me, still pointing a gun at me. The important thing is that he hasn't fired it yet. The important thing is to keep him from firing it. Which means that I have to keep him thinking that I can help him.


       I'm thinking more and more like the Doctor. Luke's accused me of trying to be the Doctor, sometimes. Maybe he's right. Maybe I've never been more than a step or two away from being the Doctor though. I've always had to live by my wits, always had to stay one step ahead of the others, but make it look like a hundred steps.


       I step out of the elevator ahead of Cray.


       He makes me stop, then, pushes me into a corner that might be natural, might be man made. He tells the guard - the Doctor - to take the elevator back up to the main complex, and I see a hint of a wink before he vanishes in the cage.


       I feel a slight breeze behind me, and I don't want to know why.


       This far down, the air feels heavier, and the cave system looks more rough more like a natural formation than a man-carved mine. The ground is covered in concrete, but the walls are rough-hewn, and hung with electric lamps at three feet intervals. It smells of death.


       Cray pulls a pair of goggles from a peg, wipes them with a piece of rag and passes them to me. "A precaution," he says, as the elevator returns, and Horowitz emerges. Just the sight of him makes me feel uncomfortable, so I continue drooling in an effort to avoid conversation.


       "Come on," he says.


       We walk along uneven tunnels, twisting and turning, now stooping, now standing. My goggles are filthy; I can hardly see. They're on each side of me. Three figures in giant, thick goggles. Human moles.


       Horowitz is talking to me. I had almost forgotten him.


       "As a precaution," he's saying, "the elevator shaft is lined with explosives that can be remote detonated from either the main cavern ahead, or from the central command above."


       "As a precaution against what?" I ask. "So you can stop anyone tampering your precious little experiment?"


       "Not quite," he says, and lets out a low chuckle. "So that we can stop Hydra from escaping."


       "And Hydra would be?"


       In all my time as Guild Mistress of the Guild of Poetic Justice back on Kapone, I should have learned that the universe loves dramatic moments. We turn the final corner of the tunnel and I see Hydra.


       "I'm guessing that Hydra would be this."


       I look up at Hydra. I look down at Hydra.


       "It's quite big," I say.


       The cavern is maybe half a mile in diameter, and Hydra fills at least half of that space. My first impression is of a mass of snakes, millions of metal snakes, writhing over and through each other, seeking escape.


       As I watch, I feel that I am watched too. Two tendrils approach me, and pause in front of my face, one before each eye. I catch a glint of red light at the tip of each of them - laser light in a fibre-optic cable? - but I'm more concerned by the slowly rotating blades surrounding them. They look alive.


       "You're safe as long as you keep the goggles, on," explains Horowitz. "But take them off, even for a second, and..."


       I gulp, and the tendrils snake away from me. I release my breath, only now realising that I have been holding it.


       Horowitz takes my hand - a curiously friendly gesture, and leads me down in to the cavern. Cray stays behind.


       We're largely left alone as we walk, although there is a feeling all the time that we are being watched. I grip Horowitz' hand, and hope that he is right and that we're safe in our goggles. We walk down, and towards the centre of the cave. There's something there, something that is connected to all of the tendrils.


       "It's not a very big spaceship," I say, once I am sure that it actually *is* a spaceship. Horowitz glares at me, but says nothing. I think I'm probably getting on his nerves. I've got a point though. As spaceships go, it is pretty small. A one-man shuttle, maybe two-man, assuming that the crew were humanoid anyway.


       "We moved it here a few years ago," says Horowitz. "It's been growing ever since."


       It doesn't feel alive, not the ship. The tendrils do - they flow from the back of the ship, I see now, like a mass of medusa hair. The ship itself is static, solid. Dead.


       "I can see why you keep it hidden," I say. "It's clearly not local. This is a local planet, for local people. You don't want things like this getting out. Not after Roswell, anyway. It's not Martian either, if you're interested. No self respecting Martian from any epoch would admit to being able to get in to one of those. I'm guessing that it's from beyond your solar system."


       Horowitz is nodding.


       "Can we go inside?" I ask.


       "Will it keep you from babbling?"


       I can tell that he's warming to me. We'll be best friends before the hour is up.


       The door is maybe seven feet high, by three feet wide. Suggests a roughly humanoid shape for the crew. I say as much, and Horowitz agrees. Then he shows me the pilot, and points out that I am stating the obvious. I stick my tongue out at him.


       There's only one chamber inside the ship. It's circular, about twenty feet across by ten feet high. The corners are smooth, rounded. Definitely constructed rather than grown though. There are four columns forming the corners of a square. The front of the room is clear - something similar to glass - looking out on the hydra tendrils searching. My eye is drawn to the pilot, though.


       He — I assume it is a he — sits in the centre of the room, in an elevated chair. He's heavily suited, and connected to the ship itself by a range of cables and tubes. As far as I can see, the alien is humanoid, maybe eight feet tall, and very broad. I'm thinking about some of the life forms I've seen on low gravity planets.


       "It calls itself Datura," says Horowitz. "We don't know where it came from, not precisely."


       "But you know what it calls itself?"


       "One of my... Adler. Adler made contact with it, first. We have a recording of the first hour after it bonded with him. It's alive in there, trying to communicate with us. It spoke through Adler. It spoke of wonders."


       "It comes from a world of milk and honey, joy and laughter and unlimited rice pudding?"


       Horowitz smiles dryly at me. "Not quite, Ms Morok. "But his world is a peaceful one. Everyone is linked together, into a single unity. They have their own minds, their own personalities, but they can share their thoughts, their teachings."


       "Sounds terribly extreme to me. Ever read any Orwell?"


       "I didn't think you'd understand."


       "If I don't understand, then tell me."


       "I can do better than that."


       He prods his pragmatic little gun in to my back and pushes me away from the centre of the room, towards one of the four pillars that support the ceiling. I realise there's a glass door set into it, and I guess, from the little push in my back, that Horowitz wants me to open it. I do so, step inside, and watch as he closes and locks the door.


       Then he crosses to the next pillar, climbs inside, and pulls the door to. I relax a little. I'm guessing that this isn't expected to be fatal.


       I wait. Nothing happens for a moment, and then gradually, I realise that I can see more than I think I can. I can see a lot of darkness, but I see flashes of light. I am aware of most of the complex. I can feel the Nevada desert outside, the heat on my back.


       I'm in a shop, and the walls are lined with tatty magazines, and cheap souvenirs.


       There are a number of people in the room, but I am focussed on a bleached blond woman who is older than she looks. I rear up, and quite naturally, pounce on her, working my way past the slight moment of discomfort. And then I am also Judith. And then I am still myself, and also a woman, and a little girl, and I am kissing my first boyfriend and he tastes like stale cigarettes but I don't care and I'm on a boat, on the ocean and...


       And I can feel the ocean beneath me, I can smell it, and taste it. I am the salt, the deep, dark water, the plants and algae that thrive within, I am the chirping of dolphins, the deep thoughts of ponderous leviathans. I am gulls soaring high above tiny islands, scouring the waters for the fish, looking up at myself, both hunter and prey.


       And then I am just Kirena Morok once more. Small, confined, me. But once I was an ocean.


       "That," says Horowitz as he helps me out of the cylinder, "is only a side effect. If the woman hadn't died, we would have remained in that state for as long as we wanted."


       I want to do that again.


* * *


Luke and John lay in the silent darkness, curled around each other on the floor of the infirmary, sharing body warmth and preparing for what was ahead of them.


       "He's had his hour,"


       "Yep. Where should we start looking for him?"


       They washed their hands and faces in a sink in the corner of the infirmary, and dressed quickly. They couldn't keep straight faces, both on top of the world.


       "He should have at least had time to find Kirena, so he'll probably have gone downstairs by now. Not sure how far, though."


       "Did you get a good idea of the layout of this place?"


       "Fairly comprehensive as far as the immediate area goes. Let me think for a second." Luke ran his hand through his hair, then smoothed his eyebrows. He sipped some tap water from a glass. He wanted something stronger to wash around his mouth, but kept silent about it.


       "There are two floors of offices and apartments upstairs, various laboratories on the level below us, and below that is where they... test the Hydra." He went to the door, quietly unlocked it and peeped outside. The corridor was deserted, so they crept out of the infirmary. "I think we should start one level down, and go from there."


       "Which way are the elevators?"


       "This way, but they only operate on every other floor. We'll have to take the stairs."


* * *


"So," said Kirena. "You want me to help you find a way to force people in to this machine so that you can build a benevolent universal mind. Sounds pretty screwed up to me."


       "I thought we'd decided on 'differently sensible'," said the Doctor, stepping through the door of the ship, and letting his jacket fall from his face. Cray was behind him, a gun poked in his ribs.


       "You say 'tomatoes' and I say 'tomatoes', Doctor."


       "Yes," grinned the Doctor. "And, by the way, you're supposed to pronounce the word differently the second time. Hello, I'm the Doctor."


       This last comment was directed towards Horowitz, who seemed slightly startled by the Doctor's appearance, although he kept his pragmatic little gun raised.


       "He's with me," said Kirena. "And he's probably the best person to decide if your plan has merit, or if you are — as I suspect — completely binkybonk."


       "Yes," agreed the Doctor enthusiastically. "You see, you seem to have got your hands on a big scary flying saucer from outer space here, and I'm something of an expert on big flying saucers from outer space, having been imprisoned in far more than my fair share over the years. So why don't you tell me where you found this one, what you intend to do with it, and why you're waving that gun at us when we're obviously willing to co-operate."


       "I think he's scared of me, Doctor," said Kirena.


       "Yes, well I can quite understand that. I bet you've not had your morning cup of tea, and I know how cranky that can get you."


       "Enough!"


       Horowitz stepped forward, gesturing with the gun. The Doctor and Kirena raised their hands.


       "I've taught you well," muttered the Doctor. "If you can't convince them, confuse them."


       "Yeah, and if you can't confuse them, just annoy them. It's fun."


       "Now," said Horowitz. "Tell me what you know about this ship."


* * *


The door sprang open, Luke almost falling into the corridor, John stumbling behind him. Krebs stood outside, pointing a pistol at them.


       "Out!" he snapped.


* * *


Luke and John filed out of the stairwell, shuffling into the corridor, every step covered by Krebs. Gunfire was echoing round the corner at the far end of the corridor.


       "Sounds like you've got bigger problems than us," said Luke.


       "Your problem now." Krebs stepped around them and backed into the stairwell, pulling the door half shut after him. He started to giggle as he aimed his gun squarely at John's chest. His finger tightened on the trigger.


       Luke sprang forward, shouldering the door onto Krebs. The German fought against the door and fired, but his arm was down and the bullet sliced into John's foot.


       Luke barrelled the door shut and forced his wait against it. Krebs smiled up through the window, shrugged and then fished some keys out of his pocket. Luke heard them turning in the lock, and saw Krebs run down the stairs. Standing back, he shook the handle up and down and pulled the door.


       "He's locked us out."


       "Or in," said Luke grimly.


       There was another burst of gunfire, and two soldiers ran into view at the end of the corridor. Luke flinched, turning to John who was crouched on the floor holding his bloody foot. But the soldiers were occupied with the thing they were fighting. Two more appeared, firing back round the corner at the end. Another was thrown past the first four, hitting the wall dead.


       Even from this distance Luke could see blood streaming from the dead soldier's eyes.


       Then the soldiers were running towards him. He pulled John across the corridor and through the nearest door.


       "Try to keep your weight off it," he whispered to John as he looked back outside. The soldiers tried the door to the stairs, fighting with the handle and then firing at the lock. The door was solid.


       And finally Luke saw what they were all running from. A tall, slight man with a prickly, blonde widow's peak, wearing simple blue overalls and carrying a black walking stick. Blood was spattered across his sleeves and there were two ragged black hollows beneath his lined forehead. He walked swiftly down the corridor, neither the gaping holes where his eyes should be nor the few bullets buried in his torso hampering his progress. He propelled a struggling, screaming soldier in front as a shield from the others' bullets. And he was chewing on something. The human shield was missing one eye, while the other dangled free from its socket on the man's cheek. Luke's stomach turned.


       "That must be Adler," he muttered to himself, as Adler reached round his shield and plucked the remaining eye free. He swallowed it, tossed the body down the corridor and sprang towards the other soldiers.


       "Bugger," said Luke as the body cracked against the door he was peering through, sending him staggering back into the room. The body crumpled in the breach with a twisted neck, hollow eye sockets staring up at Luke. The dead man's helmet rolled away from his webbing. He was wearing full combat gear, though Luke noticed no grenades or spare guns, or anything really useful.


       And outside, Adler swung his walking stick round and lashed out with it, one moment a circus performer, the next a kendo fighter. He grappled with two more soldiers, using them as shields from the others' bullets.


* * *


"I've only been to Sitlan once, and that was a long time ago, but this seems like Sitlani technology. They're a very pleasant race, bipedal, and with opposable thumbs. Or to be more precise, they were. But I'll get on to that.


       "Very like humans in a number of ways. They had squabbles over land, they had squabbles over beliefs, and they even had squabbles over skin colour, but over time they settled their squabbles and started looking at what a horrible mess they'd made of Sitlan. That was when I visited. They'd developed a whole subculture devoted to the worship of ecology, which was nice, but horribly unfocussed. You've got no idea how tedious it is to listen to a three hour poem about flowers and then to be informed that you've heard a great politician. Although some of the imagery was beautiful.


       "I spent maybe a month there, for a number of reasons, mostly to do with mislaying my travelling companions, and a slight misunderstanding involving the Prelate's mother in law. Quite charming people, and perfect hosts. Bedding in prison cells. Even Tegan was impressed, and she was very hard to please at the best of times.


       "The odd thing about the Sitlani was their extreme longevity, coupled with a tiny birth rate. They had mislaid the genetic marker for ageing, you see. Never grew old. So they could afford to take a very long term view of things. Almost annoyingly patient. So, to avoid the inevitable stagnation of the gene pool that would inevitably occur, good old Mother Nature had found a way to speed things up. Almost every time two Sitlani touched each other, there would be a little sharing of DNA, and they would both evolve a little. The longer the contact, the greater the evolution. And the Sitlani were a very tactile race.


       "The result was that oddly enough, the Sitlani evolved faster than other races. Much faster. In fact, about three thousand years ago, the last two known Sitlani achieved non-corporeality and emigrated to higher planes.


       "Which brings us back to this fellow.


       "He's been here a while, that's for sure. Sitting there like a spider in his web. Given the state of Sitlani technology when I was there, and extrapolating a bit, he's definitely in some sort of neural amplifier, presumably with the goal of networking and creating a hive mind, with himself as the controlling influence. Not terribly original, I would suspect. Now, it should be compatible with humans, because of the similarities between the Sitlani minds and human minds, but it would still need a Sitlani mind to control it. Humans just aren't there yet, mentally speaking.


       "Which brings me to my conclusion, which is a bit of a shame really. It can't work. Not ever. It needs a Sitlani mind for control. And the chap over there in the space suit can't help with that because he's dead."


* * *


"We have to get back upstairs."


       "We won't get past the soldiers, or the man they're fighting." Luke looked around.


       They were in a morgue, six dead bodies lying on medical trolleys. All still had their eyes by the looks of it, and there were tubes poking out of their jugulars and into machines on low tables at the head of each trolley.


       Luke recognised the process: they were being embalmed, presumably to see how what affect it might have on Hydra. Some of what he had heard Krebs saying earlier indicated the use of cadavers as well as live subjects in the experiments, and it would tie in with the little mystery that brought him here in the first place. There was a bench against the far wall, with fresh equipment and assorted jars.


       "I came through this area earlier. There's a rear access to all these rooms, a corridor leading to a slope. That goes down to the lifts... erm, elevators and the stairwell on the next floor." He pointed at a set of double doors on the far wall.


      

Luke rushed across the morgue and tried the doors. Locked, and a

glance around showed no keys in sight. Adler was right outside the other door, wrestling with three soldiers. He looked at the abandoned bodies on trolleys, then the freshly dead soldier by the door, and then back at the doors. He examined the jars on the bench, and then grinned at John.


       "Help me," he said, standing at the end of the nearest trolley and gripping the feet of the corpse. It was young woman, no older than twenty- five.


       Together, Luke and John hefted the girl's body onto the floor. The two tubes at her neck were wrenched free — blood spat from her jugular, and formaldehyde spurted out of the tube that had been in her carotid artery. They wheeled the trolley to the centre of the room near the double doors.


       Luke ran back to the open door and scooped up the dead soldier's helmet. He glanced up to see Adler and one of the soldiers trying to strangle each other. Another soldier was wrapped around Adler's shoulders, pulling backwards uselessly. The third was dead at Adler's feet, the black walking stick impaled through his chest and split down the middle.


       "Get a hose," he said to John, waving in the direction of the clean embalming equipment. He returned to the locked doors, fishing in his jacket.


       John unravelled a clear plastic tube and hobbled to Luke's side. Luke had poured the a small pile of white powder, a deodorant and preservative, out of one of the jars, onto the floor at the foot of the centre of the double doors. He scooped a little hollow at the centre, then pulled out his petrol lighter, sparked it up and placed it at the centre of the hollow. Then he took one end of the tube and poked it into the powder. He covered the lighter and the powder with the helmet, anchoring it under the lip of the door and pinning the hose down. He gave the free end of the hose back to John.


       "Get on the bed and get ready to blow." Luke grinned at John and then stood behind the trolley. John sat on the middle of the bed and put the plastic hose to his lips.


       "Now," Luke said quietly with a glance in Adler's direction. The blind man was struggling with the last of the soldiers. There was a wrench of bones and the soldier fell limp in Adler's arms. Adler pulled the soldier's head up and reached for his dead eyes.


       John blew into the tube. Beneath the helmet, the powder was sent spinning into the lighter's flame and ignited. The explosion sent the helmet spinning into the air and shook the door, splitting the lock but not breaking it completely.


       "Off," shouted Luke, and John jumped down and ran to the door.


       "Back!" shouted Luke again, and John dived to one side as Luke thundered through the door with the trolley. The force was enough to rend the damaged lock open, and John ran through after Luke.


       "On!" said Luke again.


       "I like a man who knows what he wants," said John as he clambered back onto the trolley.


       "I prefer a man who knows what I want." Luke heaved the trolley to the right and started down the corridor, pushing hard with his feet and sprawling across the end, driving his shoulders into the handle bar. They passed other doors, Luke ignoring them and focusing on the wall at the far end. Despite the weight of the trolley, and John on it, determination drove him on, running faster and faster.


       "He's out," said John, looking over Luke's head and back at the doors to the lab. Adler was standing just outside, looking at them with his head cocked to one side. He started to walk after them. "He's following."


       Luke tried to reply but found he couldn't speak.


       Luke had worked his way up to a good speed by the time they reached the end of the corridor. He swung to the right, round the corner into a much shorter corridor. At the end of this, he swung to the right again, and then jumped aboard as the trolley rolled across the top of the access slope and began its descent.


       Following the design of the old mine the base had been converted from, the lifts could not be accessed on the level Luke and John were now leaving — an area that had once been home to showers, offices and a canteen. The slope ran directly under the main corridor where Luke had first seen Adler, a circumlocutory route to the lifts now used for transporting the unconscious, the dead, and heavy equipment.


       Luke lay across John's feet, out of breath and with sweat streaming down his face. John reached back and Luke took his hand.


       The trolley rattled on, picking up speed with the downward momentum. The wheels had a mind of their own and John and Luke found themselves slapping against the walls if they drifted too close, pushing the cart away and onwards. Luke glanced over his shoulder, saw Adler at the top of the slope. He let his feet trail down and then kicked for extra momentum. Another glance backwards, and now Adler was running after them. He ran lightly, his arms and feet arcing gracefully in time with each other.


       The bottom of the slope was visible now, the loading area with access to both the stairs going up and the elevators going in both directions. A shadow suddenly appeared, a shaft of light opening up and flooding across the dark floor. One of the lifts had just arrived.


       "Nearly there," said Luke breathlessly.


       The door to the stairwell was open, Krebs already in one of the lifts.


       "Get back upstairs," Luke said as they thudded across the bottom of the slope and onto the flat of the loading area. He was starting to get his breath back.


       "What about you?"


       "I'll be fine, just go." Luke pushed John off the trolley. "And close the door."


       John hit the ground, wrenching his already injured leg. He hobbled the few feet across the floor and stumbled through the doors. He looked back at Luke, then glanced at the bottom of the slope. Adler appeared, slowing to a steady walking pace and staring after Luke. John shut the door quietly, unsure of what to do.


       The trolley hurtled across the loading area. Krebs stared out of the lift, open mouthed and punching furiously at the buttons inside. He pulled out his pistol and began firing at the trolley, bullets sparking off the floor and the metal bars at the front.


       Luke had pulled himself onto his knees. He was gripping the sides of the trolley as firmly as he could, smiling grimly. The doors of the elevator started to shudder shut.


       "So kind of you to wait," Luke shouted as the trolley shot through the doors and slammed into Krebs. The scientist's pistol clanged to the floor, catching under a wheel.


       The trolley had carried Krebs across the floor of the lift, pinned him against the back wall and drained any hint of colour from his already pallid face. Luke released his grip and slipped off one side, the trolley rolling to the centre of the lift. Krebs was winded and slid down as the pressure on his chest eased, gurgling and clutching at his ribs. He fell hard as Luke pulled the trolley round, pushing it between the lift's doors. They creaked into the rear of the trolley, warping the metal bed and halting its slow progress. Their path blocked, they started to part again.


       Luke was winded too, struggling to get his breath back as he looked out at Adler. Up close, he could see the monster had been shot twice across the chest, once below the diaphragm and twice in his right leg. The wounds seemed to mean nothing to him.


       Luke realised that, in all his travels with the Doctor, this was the first being he had classed as a monster based on actions rather than appearance. Some strange, disconnected part of his consciousness registered a little shame at that. He needed to be more cosmopolitan, if he was going to carry on encountering strange alien beings. If, indeed, he was.


       "I have such sights to show you," said the blind man as he walked towards the lift. He set about slowly and deliberately licking blood from his fingers.


       Luke shook his head and concentrated on the peril at hand. He shoved the trolley out, towards Adler. Adler caught the trolley with one hand, hauled it off the floor and against the wall as if it were a child's toy. He didn't even break his stride.


       "I want to eat your eyes."


       "You really should try a more balanced diet. Ears, noses. The odd tongue."


       "You are not one of Jeremiah's servitors. Who are you?"


       "Oh, just a man," Luke said with an exaggerated flounce. He noticed that the button for the lowest level was already illuminated. So, Krebs wanted to go down. He glanced back at the Nazi and then pushed the button to close the doors. Nothing happened. He frowned.


       "All this running, Just-a-man, all this exertion. Why do you fear the future?"


       "I've seen the future, and you're not it." Luke pushed the button again. Still no response.


       "Your life is a waste of energy. You have nothing to live for. Your existence is meaningless."


       "That's never stopped me in the past." He stared past Adler, at John's anxious face poking out from behind the stairwell door. "And, perhaps for the first time, I don't think it's true."


       "Putrid flesh thing. You are blind. Give me your eyes, let me show you what lies beyond your simple little world. If you could only see, there is so much more. What is a human..."


       "Something that isn't an animal and isn't a machine. And that's more than enough for me."


       He glanced past Adler again, shaking his head slightly. As Adler walked ponderously towards the lift, John was coming out from the stairwell.


       "What is a human but a being blinded from the essence of reality? This is a stinky world, a cadaver animated by empty and wasteful dreams, a faecal aberration only fit for the fire and flood of purification. You're best rid of it. The dying of the light is the freeing of the soul."


       "Ripping out people's eyes is one thing, but this sixth-form poetry is pure evil," muttered Luke with wide eyes as he looked at the lift's doorframe. Krebs' pistol was lying across the channels where the doors slid shut. It had been dragged there when Luke pushed the trolley out. The doors wouldn't close with something in the way. He grinned back up at Adler, a few feet from the lift and still coming.


       "Well, it's been fun, but I really must be going." Luke blew a kiss, then he kicked the gun and it skittered out of the way. The doors began to slide shut.


       And then they stopped as Adler leapt forward and caught them. They had closed only part way and he stood fully between, his arms outstretched, his blood-drenched hands flattened against the edges. He was smiling.


       "Think of our world, Just-a-man. What is there to keep you here? Let me help you on your journey to glory and paradise. Paradise is real. I've seen it. I can take you there."


       There was a metallic groan and some squeaks as doors started to part again, and then some creaking from outside that must have been the echo. Adler's arms trailed out, towards Luke. He gripped Luke around the throat, and then worked his fingers up to pull the skin on Luke's face tight. Luke grabbed Adler's wrists, pulling at him, but the other man was too strong.


       Luke felt Adler's breath on his face, stumbled in the monster's grip. He looked into the bloody sockets in Adler's face as it came closer. He tried to shut his eyes, but his skin was pulled too tight, red arcs forming where Adler's ragged fingernails opened dug into flesh and the stubble of a night spent in this grotesque place.


       "All those little eye dears in your head, my boy. Let me free them from you. They're so wasted in there." Adler opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out. His teeth had been filed to sharp points. Adler bent close and Luke felt the monster's tongue moistening his cheek. And then Adler reached out with it and licked Luke's left eye. The contact lasted just a second. But Luke felt the rough surface as it brushed over the defenceless jelly of his eyeball, felt the fingers constricting his throat, thought about the blood at corners of Adler's mouth, and his nerves trembled and exploded. He writhed and pulled back, his mind screaming and his whole body shivering.


       Adler grinned widely, loosening his grip. "I like you, Just-a-man. I think, after I have taken your eyes, I will let you stay with me a while. Hold still." And then his face fell. He started to turn, his fingers drifting away from Luke's throat.


       John was coming up behind him, hobbling as fast as he could. The young actor started to roar as he charged. Luke pulled away and stepped aside just in time as the trolley thudded into Adler's back. The blind man was rammed against the far wall. Krebs pushed himself away, scrambling to his feet and round the trolley, trying to put as much space between himself and Adler.


       Luke, his left eye clamped shut, punched the button to close the doors again, and then dived through into John's arms. Krebs was behind him, clambering over the trolley towards the door. He caught the back of Luke's jacket with one hand, still clutching at his chest with the other. The doors halted as sensors picked up his arm in their path.


       Luke turned and looked into Krebs' eyes. They were full of fear, and his breath was rasped.


       "Nein! Help me," he said, his voice choked and blood trickling in the saliva on his lips.


       Luke pushed the injured Nazi away, back into the lift, into Adler's arms. Krebs sprawled over the trolley, still clutching his chest, trying to push himself away from the monster. Adler wound one hand around Krebs' neck, pulled the terrified man's head back with the other.


       As the doors began to close for the final time, Adler smiled at Luke.


       "Ah," He sighed, stroking Krebs' hair. "I can sense my little brother here has many wondrous horrors to show me. But I will see you again, Just-a-man." Adler bent forward, bearing his teeth. The Nazi began to scream. Luke didn't look away. As the gap in the door shrunk to nothing, Adler's head fell over Krebs' face, the monster biting down with a growl.


       Luke closed both eyes now, and began rubbing the one Adler had licked. He shivered as he felt John's hand slip around his neck. A moment of fear, and then he relaxed in John's embrace, his eyes drifting to the floor.


       "I hope there's nobody down there." Luke turned and kissed John, hugging him tight. "Thank you," he said quietly.


       "No, thank you," John replied. He nodded at the lift, "you know how to push your luck, don't you."


       "It's infinitely extendable. You should get out of here."


       "I'm not leaving you. I'm never going to leave you."


       Luke smiled. "And I'm never going to leave you. Let's take a look at your foot, and then we'll find the Doctor."


* * *


"Dead?"


       "Well, yes. I'm terribly sorry. I don't know precisely how he died, but I would guess that it was probably shock. Mental overload, unable to control it, I'm sure you get the idea."


       Kirena nodded. "Oh yes," she said sagely. "I had figured as much. In fact, Doctor, I was about to tell Horowitz as much when you arrived."


       "Now, Kirena, nobody likes a smart alec."


       She ignored this comment.


       "So, if the Sitlani is dead, what's the machine doing?"


       "Presumably it's still trying to build a network of minds, much as it would be doing if he was alive. It'll never work, though. It's terribly dangerous. I wonder where the 'off' switch is."


       "But it did something," said Kirena. "I was in one of those cylinders there, and I felt something."


       "One way receiver, I'd imagine. You can touch the mind but you don't become a part of it. Terribly clever. And very useful for diagnostics, I would imagine. Now listen to me." This last comment was directed to Horowitz.


       "I'm listening," said Horowitz.


       "I think I've made it clear that you're out of your depth with this machine, and that I have some expertise. You've probably realised that no matter how many subjects you feed to this contraption you're never going to achieve more than a bigger pile of corpses. I also think I've made it clear that I think you ought to be stopped, and I don't really see us coming to any sort of compromise on that point. So I have a proposal, and I don't think you'll have too much of a problem with it.


       "I'll let myself be implanted. As I see it, there are three possibilities. Obviously my preferred option is that I shut everything down. I think I can do that. Failing that, I can bring things under control, and stop this machine from killing any more innocents. That's probably your preferred option. I'm not particularly keen on it, but it beats my third option."


       "And that is?"


       "Well, death, I would assume. Rather like everyone else before me."


       Horowitz pondered this for a moment.


       "You see," whispered the Doctor to Kirena, "because I've been to Sitlan, I have probably picked up some Sitlani DNA somewhere along the line. For all I know I may even be half Sitlani."


       "On your mother's side?"


       "Stranger things have happened. I reckon I've got a fairly good chance of stopping this thing dead."


       "And if it kills you?"


       "Kirena, how long have you known me?"


       "Long enough."


       "And how many times have I been killed so far?"


       She started counting on her fingers, as Horowitz reached his decision.


       "Take him outside," he said to Cray. Both men replaced their goggles, and Kirena did the same, before Cray opened the door.


       Two of the Hydra tendrils were waiting already, poised at the door in anticipation.


       The Doctor stepped forward to meet them, eyes wide open.


       Kirena watched as the twin tendrils snaked towards the Doctor, almost curious at his unflinching defiance. And then, as one, they plunged into his eye sockets, the 'squish' as his eyeballs burst barely audible, the blood from his tattered eyelids streaming down his face. They drilled in to him, and once they had a hold, they lifted his limp body from the floor, pulling him back outside and into the sea of tendrils beyond.


       Cray closed the door behind him.


       And then they heard his scream.


---
To be continued...



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