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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"


Chapter 12 Part 1
"The End Times"
by Jon Andersen


---


The TARDIS
Intolt-7 Research Facility Hangar
(Military Entering Facility minus 4.5 hours)

The word 'wow' doesn't really seem to come into it.


       It's not the largest physical room she's ever been in -- the research complex's hangar still holds that particular distinction. But the chamber Tangerine finds herself entering is the most visually textured environment she's ever found herself in. Real world or Scape.


       Her steps leave only a muted echo in their wake as she moves further in and takes in the grandeur of it all. Everything major is made from a combination of stone and wood and wrought iron, things she's never seen outside one of THRAWN's complex scapes. Bookshelves and drawers line the walls that themselves are divided into two tiers via a wooden gantry running around slightly more than the chamber's circumference.


       A raised structure dominates the centre of the chamber, a hexagonal-like wooden console festooned with primitive levers, dials, switches and status lights. Sic girders erupt at equal points around the platform's base, curving upwards and inwards to hold a transparent cylinder in place that transfixes the heart of the console. Inside that cylinder are blue crystals, looking like the stalactites and stalagmites that sometimes formed on the planet's surface.


       Barely have her eyes alighted upon them, than the crystals begin to glow and move, rising and falling against each other. The spectacle takes place to the accompaniment of a strange and complex harmonic that thrums through her awareness, physically and physically. It takes a moment for the realisation to sink in.


       Blue is in flight.


       Where are we going? she asks, resting a hand against one of the girders and feeling the same living buzz as she had when she touched the surface of the box that was Blue's external form. Strangely, the idea of being abducted by an alien intelligence doesn't feel at all frightening. It feels... right.


       SAFETY, Blue answers. MY[OUR]... EXISTENCE... IS CONSTRICTED. A PILOT IS REQUIRED TO... EXIST.


       But the Doctor, your pilot, isn't here. I am.


       YES.


       A shiver runs up Tangerine's spine, an entirely physical response to the implications of that simple answer. She glances up and catches sight of an ancient display unit hanging above the console, the words 'temporal orbit' emblazoned on its monochromatic screen.


       You and the Doctor, she conjectures while moving away from the console towards the massive bank of draws in one of the walls, are linked telepathically, aren't you?


       YES. WE[I] SHARE A... SENSE.


       So, are all his race, all the Pilots, telepaths like me?


       Blue is silent for a moment, palpably tasting the flavour of the question. NO.


       No?


       NOT LIKE YOU.


       "Ah," she verbalises, pulling open a draw and discovering a pair of beady red eyes looking up at her. They belong to a creature small enough to sit in the palm of her hand, round eared and covered all over with fine white hair except for its tiny pink feet and long tail. Long strands of stiff hair sprout from either side of its busily twitching nose. After a moment, deciding Tangerine presents no danger, it turns around and disappears quite casually through a hole gnawed in the back of the drawer.


       What was it, Blue?


       A MOUSE. THE PILOT KEEPS MANY PETS.


* * *


TMV Banshee
5 kilometres west of Intolt-7 Research Facility
(MEF plus 10 minutes)

Captain Rozchenko looks around sharply from the repeater screen she's studying at the cry of alarm given by one of the gunnery control officers.


       "Paellaon, what is it?" she demands of the lieutenant.


       "BANSHEE's just targeted the research facility with one of the lateral particle batteries," he answers, pale grey eyes wide. "Major Baxter still has people in there."


       "BANSHEE, stand down!" she orders, tilting her head up towards one of the AV pickups.


       A faint shudder runs through the deck plates.


       "Oh crap," Fayle says somewhere to the left, watching the slender streamer of green energy boil through Intolt-7's thin atmosphere.


       "Sensors register a hit," Paellaon says quietly, then frowns as he checks his board. "Minimal discharge. I'm reading no damage to the base."


       "Sorry to have alarmed you," BANSHEE apologises. "A viral infection in the facility mainframe was compromising the integrity of the drone interface."


       "That's what the autodestruct is for," Rozchenko answers, relief and irritation in her voice. "You don't go terrifying the crew like that."


       "I'm sorry about that, Captain," the AI apologises again. "That system had been disabled by the viral agent. It hadn't counted on my being able to remotely target the drone."


       "Major Baxter to Captain Rozchenko."


       "What can I do for you, Major?"


       "My team's just reported in. They've recovered two survivors, both unconscious."


       "Have they secured the research information?"


       "That's the bad news: that entire mainframe's been removed. The cybermen beat us to it."


* * *


Outside Research Base
Intolt-7 Surface
(MEF minus 3 hours)

The Doctor casts a quick look at the cybermen encircling himself and the two humans being ridden by the nano-intelligence as they march away from the base. Four more cybermen behind them carry the AI mainframe across their shoulders as though they're carrying a coffin.


       Which they may as well be doing, he muses glumly, pulling the environmental jacket he'd managed to snag on the way out closer about himself. The meme might have worked, but they still want me and the knowledge I can bring them. If only...


       "You know, you'll never make it off-world in time," he calls out to the Cyber Leader. When he receives no answer, he presses on. "Not like this. It took Raven and I hours with her at a full run to cover the distance between here and your base."


       "I am aware of the distance involved, Doctor," the cyberman answers at last, still trudging on. "You will now attempt to make the use of your time machine available to our evacuation in the belief you can over power us once we are inside."


       "I wouldn't say that," he answers a touch sheepishly.


       "It is the logical course of action for you to suggest," vi continues. "It is also rendered redundant by the humans' removal of your vessel prior to their escape."


       "Oh," the Doctor says quietly, thrown by the unexpected answer. "Well, I suppose that explains why you didn't demand I use it earlier."


       "Do not fear, Doctor," the faux-M'Benga says easily, neither he nor the faux-Hanrahan showing any ill effects of the bone-deep cold. "The cybermen know what they're doing."


       "I'm glad someone does," is his acid reply.


       "They had the foresight to have their agent download the engineering specs for the spartii cloning cylinders against the eventuality of not being able to remove the hardware," the big man shrugs easily.


       "How do you know that?"


       "We monitored the signal traffic in and out of the complex."


       "Of course."


       For another two hours the group continues to move on in relative silence, the Doctor's occasional attempts to learn their destination met each time by indifferent silence. Occasionally he wonders if Jethro's woken up to discover the base empty apart from the nano-intelligence regenerating the broken neck of faux-Pincus and the lone cyberman left behind to watch over them.


       Eventually they reach one of the vast fissures that scar the planetoid's surface, extending scores of kilometres in both directions. With him in her arms, Raven had barely made the running leap across. The presence of the massive mainframe is going make any attempt to repeat the feat impossible.


       "Halt," the Cyber Leader orders, raising one arm vertically as a signal then returning it to a horizontal position. Part of the wrist armour just beneath the blaster cracks open and folds down, revealing a small interface panel lettered in what the Doctor presumes to be some variant of a Mondasian alphabet.


       "Why have we stopped here?" he asks, watching the sequence of keystrokes made by the Cyber Leader before the panel folds shut again.


       Once again he receives no answer. Sighing, he finds a rock and settles down to wait and plan an escape. Sadly, he remembers that all the interesting stuff from his pockets is currently sitting in the cybermen's base, from which he and Raven had been far too eager to escape from.


       That does it, he decides. When I get out of this, I'm getting myself a Stattenheim. I'm sick to death of having to dig the old girl out of pits and avalanches and oceanic trenches and cargo holds, and of people just taking her wherever and whenever they feel like. How would they like it if someone kept doing that to their property.


* * *


Cybercommand Vessel
Hyperspace
(MEF plus 13 minutes)

The pilot turns to face vis Leader. "We will exit the conduit in three time units."


       "Has the beachhead altered their status?" the Cyber Leader asks, the repeater screen to vis left sparking fitfully.


       "Negative, Leader. They remain undetected."


       "Excellent. What is the status of the repair work?"


       A third cyberman turns from vis station as the pilot's attention returns to the wounded vessel's journey through the twisting energies of hyperspace.


       "Energy shielding has been restored to forty-seven percent output," ve reports. "Long range sensors and munitions launchers remain inoperative. Five particle batteries will be operative upon exit from hyperspace. Engine core remains at fifty-three percent output. The cloak remains inoperative within the human visual spectrum and cannot be further repaired with available facilities. Electronic counter measure systems are otherwise operating within acceptable parameters."


       "How many of the captured survivors have been converted?"


       "Seven, Leader. The rest have been terminated."


       "Report accepted," the Leader nods, dismissing vis subordinate and returning attention to the pilot. "Correct course by a further delta point zero one."


       "Affirmative, Leader."


* * *


Intolt-7
Eight kilometres south of the research base
(MEF minus 1 hour)

"I didn't know how you were going to do it, but I have to say that it's impressive," the Doctor remarks to the Cyber Leader with a suitably impressed tone.


       "We told you the cybermen would have planned for this eventuality," faux-M'Benga says smugly.


       "No one likes a show off," he counters as the ground shakes beneath them and the hollowed out asteroid the cybermen had arrived in months ago settles across the mouth of the fissure.


       A section of the massive heat-distorted rock surface pulls backward into the asteroid and disappears to one side, revealing a gloomily lit corridor that had obviously been crafted with laser-edged precision. It angles upwards at about thirty degrees, meaning he and Raven had obviously escaped through an upper hatch.


       The captured mainframe is first inside, deemed more important than the Doctor or perhaps just less vulnerable to any action he might consider taking if safely aboard first.


       "Enter," the Leader orders. The other cybermen prod their prisoners forward, foot steps echoing with a sullen menace as they disappear inside.


       "I hope there's an atmosphere," the Doctor protests, making a face at the stale smell of the air. "Otherwise I'm going to be completely useless to you."


       "You will be held in a contained environment as you were before," the Leader answers.


       "Where I'll be converted along with these two, no doubt," he answers flippantly.


       "Perhaps," the Leader answers as the doors seal with a loud pneumatic hiss. "That is for the Cyber Co-ordinator to decide."


       Ahead of him, he notices faux-M'Benga tense ever so slightly in reaction to the Leader's words.


       "Your predecessor was going to convert me on the spot if I recall," he teases out the conversation as they reach the top of the corridor, where it levels out into something that looks like it might run around the circumference of the asteroid. Something not obviously apparent provides a weak illumination.


       "My predecessor was terminated."


* * *


Static-X Satellite #12
Intolt-7 La Grange Point 2
(MEF plus 13 minutes)

"That was close," BUFFY says, uncoiling himself from the archive pod and smothering the array's dumb AI. "I almost thought she'd have seen past the obvious distraction we set up with the virus attacks to get out of there."


       "She's vicious," JETHRO replies, extracting next to him. "And there's hardly any room in this scape to move."


       "That's because she's a military programme and these things were never designed to harbour two fugitive citizens," BUFFY shrugs.


       "They're really going to be miffed when they find out we erased ourselves from what was left of the Operations mainframe."


       "Technically we haven't. BANSHEE took a polis-wide snapshot when she came in, remember? They can boot our clones up and find out what we know."


       "Which isn't much," JETHRO shrugs in turn, surreptitiously altering the alignment of the scanner arc to focus in-system instead of out. It takes about a megatau before the scape, hastily configured to mimic the array's field of view, begins to show them what they want.


       "That's a lot of hardware," BUFFY remarks darkly. "They weren't taking any chances."


       The scape zooms in one of the ships, the name HADES emblazoned across its prow. "Someone who couldn't have been us has been proving them right," JETHRO points out. "That looks like battle damage those maintenance crews are repairing."


       "I think you're right."


       "Is there any way for us to see what happened while those virii had us walled up?"


       "Hold on, I'll pull up the logs." It only takes a few tau for BUFFY to snarl in frustration. "Damn, we're facing the wrong way. We're going to have to jump to another sat. Five looks to be our best bet; its track would have taken it over the complex while most of what went on went on, and it's sufficiently far away from those ships by now that they shouldn't notice us cloning ourselves across."


* * *


Beachhead Asteroid
Interplanetary Space, sunward bound
(MEF minus 30 minutes)

It must be something to do with the number of times he's been knocked unconscious in the past 24 hours, but the Doctor finds himself growing more aware of the cold than he's ever been.


       An actual, true, no-excuses holiday, he promises himself, knees bending slightly as his feet brush against the chamber wall and he halts his movement in the zero gravity. A little distance away, the nano-intelligence has placed its hosts in a meditative trance in the centre of the chamber's floor, illuminated by what had turned out to be tiny clumps of bioluminescent lichen that cling here and there to the rock.


       No invasions, no politics, no murders, no domestic dramas, no companions. Just myself, a warm beach and a hundred or so good books.


       Not that it'll ever happen, of course. Such things tend to gravitate towards him with a relentless inevitability, mockingly disregarding all his efforts to avoid them. A process of attrition, then. The universe wearing him down for the crime of defending it against itself. For cheating Death and Entropy time out of mind.


       "I assume you'll simply deactivate your remote hosting before the cybermen convert Julian and Angus," he opens the conversation, pushing away from the wall and adding a little backspin.


       "You do not have a high opinion of us, do you Doctor?" faux-M'Benga asks with something that sounds like regret. His eyes remain closed.


       "Do you expect me to? You've given them everything they need to become the dominant power in the galaxy, and that's not including the fact you've given them me."


       "That is unfortunate," the intelligence answers. "But the loses incurred here are ultimately for the greater good, as we've explained. With the removal of their xeno-consumptive directive, there is no further need for conflict between the CyberRace and the other sentient life forms of this galaxy."


       "You've overlooked the very emotive and powerful forces of fear and revenge," he argues while flailing one of his arms carefully to correct his trajectory. "And you're also overlooking their need to re-establish a home system and solidify borders around it, an act of aggression that's going to earn them the enmity of everyone afraid that they'll be next in line as a breeding colony.


       "Then of course, once it's discovered that they have access to high yield psionically-adept clones, the other races will start unifying against what they see as a rapidly rearming and dangerous enemy and start preparing a pre-emptive strike and it'll be another Cyber-War all over again only it'll be one they didn't start so logically you're looking at a return to their xeno-consumptive directive, not as a means of propagating the race but as a means of preventing its extinction."


       "You're doomsaying, Doctor," faux-M'Benga responds placidly. "Predicting a worse case scenario because you're unable to contemplate any other outcome."


       The Doctor touches down on the door leading out of the chamber, as cleverly disguised in the wall as the outer hatch had been. Frustratingly, the cracks delineating its presence are barely perceptible, much less vulnerable to anything he's capable of improvising.


       "I feel obliged to point out that worst case scenarios come true far more often than might otherwise seem statistically probable for anyone else when I'm involved." He turns slowly to face his fellow prisoners. "Now, I don't suppose I could borrow a few of you by any chance?"


---
To be continued...



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