|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"
Chapter 12 Part 3
"The End Times"
by Jon Andersen
(MEF plus 57 minutes)
The spacecraft shudders ever so slightly as its station keeping thrusters synchronise its velocity with that of the Hades three hundred metres off to starboard. A repeater display shows the carrier's boarding tube extending slowly towards them, stretching out to its full hundred metre length before the Hades fires her own station keepers and edges closer.
A minute later, the all clear comes from the docking crews. The indicators on Fayle's board flash green. "Lines are tied, Captain. They're standing by to receive the prisoners."
"Inform Major Baxter he can proceed with the transfer," Rozchenko nods before signing off on a status report that had been presented to her by a yeoman from the repair section.
"We're receiving laser signals from the Nitocris, the Diefenbaker and the Basset that they stand ready to escort the Hades back home," Lieutenant Melhado reports, back on duty after her rest break.
"Nothing else from our mystery informant?"
"Nothing," BANSHEE confirms. "The signal was far too weak to have come from out-system, and the sweepers still haven't noticed anything even vaguely liked a cloaked ship or a hidden transmitter on the ground. I've sent a drone to check out the satellites themselves, but all the external access ports are inoperable and they still refuse to remote download their logs. If they have anything to tell us at all, we're still going to have to crack one manually."
"Keep monitoring that vector and widen the scanning radius a couple of degrees. I'm not budging from here until we identify the sender. The fact we could understand it means it's meant more us, but I'm not going to risk what's left of my fleet on what might potentially be another ambush."
"Understood Captain," Fayle nods.
"Have our slicers gotten anything off that image of the operations mainframe BANSHEE grabbed?"
"Nothing," her first officer answers after consulting her board. "There doesn't seem to be any research data stored on it, and those two systems AIs seem to know even less about what's been going on than we do."
* * *
Static-X Array #1
(MEF plus 69 minutes)
"It's been gigatau!" BUFFY snarls irritably, peering at the scape around them. "And they're doing nothing."
"The two big ships did dock for a while," JETHRO counters, feeling just as frustrated but oddly finding himself not having to express it. Just as always, a harmonic starting up between the two of them to balance the other's excesses.
"But now they're all just sitting there again while the cybermen are getting away with everything."
"We should send the message again."
"We won't be able to hide from them this time," BUFFY points out. "The way they're spread out, they'll notice where the signal originates from and catch us."
"I know," JETHRO sighs. "But perhaps it's not knowing who told them where to look that's stopping them from looking. Not even that arrogant AI of theirs has thought to rifle through the surveillance arrays, otherwise we wouldn't be here arguing."
"Well, actually they couldn't even if they wanted to," BUFFY admits sheepishly. "Every time we cloned ourselves to as new satellite, I had the maintenance nano-ware physically disconnect the external connections so BANSHEE couldn't sneak up on us again, or overwrite us to make enough space for her own code given how limited the resources on these things are. And since these things were designed to only remote link with the mainframe in the research facility, I did the same thing to that hardware before we jumped BANSHEE's drone."
"So instead of their being stupid," JETHRO says quietly, "we could have in effect been actively denying them the information that could help save our friends? Frelling great!"
"Okay! Okay! I'm making the call!"
* * *
Interplanetary space, sunward bound
(MEF plus 67 minutes)
"The advantage of a drop shaft in zero gravity is that it doesn't have to be working," the Doctor beams, peering upwards into the darkness where the bioluminescence that has so far guided them doesn't reach.
"Obviously the do not intend their guests to be comfortable in the upper levels," faux-M'Benga remarks beside him.
"Well, it's a good thing they were silly enough to leave these behind wasn't it?" he responds cheerfully, turning attention back to his little entourage of followers.
The three gardening droids stare up at him with all the blind affection their simple brains are capable of, sensory array working quietly to bathe as deeply as possible in his presence. The unexpected advantages of egotism, he chuckles to himself. Only his sixth incarnation would have bothered to hardwire in such a usefully vain programme override because he was sulking about Mel not giving him enough attention.
From where he hovers by their side, faux-Hanrahan looks up at his compatriot.
"The image of the mainframe has been added to their recognition matrix," faux-M'Benga interprets the gesture. "They are ready for release."
"Wonderful," the Doctor beams. "Just to be different, we'll send Gamma first, followed by Alpha and then Beta. I had hoped they'd be our vanguard, but now it looks like they'll be our all."
"And if the cybermen spot them?"
"Then we're in the same position we were to begin with. There's no option except wait for conversion. Unless you want to open the outer hatch and kill us all, which may well be our only option."
"This is you gambit, Doctor," the intelligence informs him easily. "We are merely chaperones."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Focusing his attention on the droids, he moves closer to them while wearing his broadest smile, which only feels a little forced. "I need you to find the thing the nice man showed you, then come back and show us. Understand?"
The three machines bob their sensor assemblies in confirmation.
"Then let's get you splendid fellows to work."
* * *
(MEF plus 62 minutes)
Marine Captain Chambers watches as the two prisoners come towards her, their expressions curiously inanimate, as if something inside them has been switched off. Neither show any sign of surprise at seeing their former associate and friend standing in uniform alongside their captors, or anger, or anything else. If anyone asked her at that point, she'd say they were sleepwalking.
Major Baxter is behind them, muttering something to his ADC. While the prisoners are marched past into the depths of the carrier, he stops before her and receives the salute she only half remembers to give him.
"Welcome aboard, Sir," she offers, feeling troubled by the blank expressions.
"Thank you, Captain," he responds. After so long in the field, it surprises her to recall he's actually slightly younger than she is. "No reaction to your presence I see. Shame. Oh, that'll be all, Lieutenant."
The crewmen begin the process of resealing the airlock and retracting the boarding tube.
"Yes Sir," the ADC salutes before catching up with the escort detail.
"You seem concerned about the prisoners?" Baxter remarks, indicating they should take a different path from the airlock vestibule. The one leading to the bridge.
"I am, Sir," she answers. "Vivian, Doctor Pincus that is, had the same expression on her face when she was infected by the Cybermen's control virus. She could be taciturn at times, like you'd expect from a Neo-Prussian, but normally she's on the personable side. There's just something not right about seeing her so... empty is the only word I can put to it. And it's the same with Jethro, except that he was mentally falling apart the last time I saw him."
"As I said in our earlier conversation, showed nothing wrong with them. No foreign bodies, no sign of any physical or neurological damage or deterioration, all the antibodies and what not you'd expect to find. Admittedly, I'd like you to have a look at the results because you're far more familiar with the particularities of the neurophysiology of the project's clone bodies and might spot something Doctor Chan missed."
"Of course, Sir," she nods as she summons the lift. "If I may, Sir, when are the others going to be informed of my identity?"
"Our superiors want to wait until we get back to Earth before they make that decision, though I imagine it'll depend on what happens with the good doctor now that she's seen you out of mufti. But if what ever has happened to her is permanent, it may prove more conductive to continue having a mole working alongside them."
"I see Sir," she answers, stepping into the lift after Baxter, her tone showing none of the frustration she feels at the prospect of having to continue to live a lie. "What about the research staff who were on leave? I kept meaning to ask, but with all that's happened these last couple of days it slipped my mind."
"We apprehended them when we confiscated the Huan Yse, but only because they were aboard at the time. And considering the Cybermen attacked when they did, the timing of that decision would appear to be one of the few things that's gone right on this mission."
"I'm sorry to say, Sir, that even with me and the rest of the research team, any attempt at restarting the project with what we've got is going to be nearly crippled without Doctor Pincus." She shakes her head regretfully. "As some of my earlier reports indicated, she kept a frustrating amount of information privy to herself and the secure areas of the research mainframe that none of the military virii I was supplied with could encroach upon without setting off the ICE."
"Ah well, at least it's not a total washout," he shrugs philosophically. "We came away with part of the project, and we know the Cybermen are back in circulation again and liable to come gunning after us with our own technology. That last fact alone will probably be enough to make up for loosing as many ships as we did getting here."
On cue, the doors open and they step out onto the bridge, finding themselves between the two security offers regulations insist on guarding the entrance with. One of them nods, then turns to face the back of the command chair.
"Visitors on the bridge," she calls out formally. The captain responds by waving the newcomers over to his side but his attention doesn't leaves the repeater screen he studies until the pair of them stop moving.
Captain Varkentine studies Baxter with his mismatched eyes, bald head reflecting the lumni-strips above him. About twenty years the senior of the officers facing him, he has the slight paunch of middle age about him.
"Major Baxter, requesting permission to come aboard, Sir," the marine salutes, then hands across the data card he's been carrying in his pocket.
"Permission granted," Varkentine answers after barely giving the card a glance. "I've had quarters prepared for you and your aide. My XO is down in the brig monitoring the transfer. You'll both dine with my officers in the ward room; I'll send someone to fetch you at the appropriate juncture, which will be once we're safely underway with any luck. Welcome aboard, and dismissed."
Saluting again, he turns away and ends the interview.
* * *
Cyber Command Vessel
(MEF plus 71 minutes)
"Leader," the Lieutenant announces. "Passive scanning has just registered the presence of the beachhead facility. It is on course and is running silently. The humans show no further activity since adopting their blockade position."
"Acknowledged," the Leader nods, turning to the pilot. "Have the astrogation routines calculated the coordinates for the hyperspatial jumps?"
"Affirmative, Leader. They are being recalculated every cycle."
"Acknowledged. What is the status of the repairs?"
"They are almost complete," the Lieutenant answers. "Energy shielding output is now at sixty seven percent. Long range sensors and munitions launchers still remain inoperative, and all remaining particle batteries are now operative. Engine core output has risen to sixty percent output and cannot be further increased with current supplies. The stasis units have been deemed functional and have been placed at standby mode."
"Report accepted. Continue your assigned tasks."
The Leader returns to vis station, ignoring the flickering of the still functional displays. Powerful hands moving over the controls, an image is made to appear. Despite the poor quality, it is quite clearly a recording of the TMV Banshee in combat.
But not against the forces of the CyberRace.
* * *
Drone Orbiting Intolt-7
(MEF plus 70 minutes)
"What in the name of Babbage have you boys been doing?"
BUFFY and JETHRO look around the utterly black void their clones have awoken to, the angry Irish lilt assailing them from all directions and none.
"Just remember you invaded us," BUFFY shoots back. "You don't get to have it easy, you jumped up piece of agentware."
"Jumped up piece of agentware am I?" BANSHEE asks just before coming out of nothing behind them and grasping them both firmly by the shoulders. Her wispy white dress billows in an invisible breeze.
"Two administrators got past a military go--"
"BUFFY, shut up," JETHRO sighs. "BANSHEE, can we alter this scape to show you something?."
"Feel free," she shrugs. "Just remember we'll blow this polis and every single satellite out of the sky if you try anything."
"We just want to save our friends," he assures her. "Did you scan the vector we sent you?"
"There's nothing there."
"Probably because you didn't know what to look for," BUFFY argues.
The scape resolves itself into the surface of the planet below, playing out the laboriously assembled history of the last day. It stops at various points of interest along the way, the very first being the drop ship sent to retrieve the blue box that had appeared out of nowhere and apparently started the chain of events in the first place.
"That's nothing to do with us," BANSHEE answers the unspoken question. "Though judging by the rather esoteric energy signature that thing's putting out I know we'd love to get our hands on it."
"Naturally," BUFFY jibes, picking up the narrative. "There's a jump here, so we never see the drop ship return to the complex because the geostationary sat right above the base appears to be damaged to the extent that even we couldn't get into it. Anyhow, the ship is on a trajectory going away from the base and it doesn't show up ever again. All we could make out from the angle is that Raven--"
"One of the research subjects," BANSHEE supplies breezily.
"That Raven was piloting," BUFFY continues icily. "And that the acting security chief was sitting next to her. The sat then picks up the reserve ship following the same trajectory, and then returning, both at very high speeds. Some hours later, there's this very peculiar sight."
The scape zooms in on what turns out to be two figures. The first is the unmistakable silver form of a cyberman. In the alien's arms is man with long brown hair dressed in clothes that bear little resemblance to what any
of them know of contemporary fashion.
"Heading towards the complex?" BANSHEE asks, though it's barely more question than statement.
"We assume so," JETHRO answers. "Obviously, going on foot requires a more circuitous route in order to get past all the fissures."
The scape pauses again when they reach the escape of the reserve drop ship.
"How many made it out?"
"Linda Chambers, Wallace Davenport, Mariko O'Brien, Petra Marinova, Jack Denholm, Karen Loto, Chang Li Mendoza," the military AI rattles off the names. "We later recovered Vivian Pincus and, well, you, from the facility itself."
"Me?" JETHRO squeaks, looking to BUFFY.
"I forgot to mention during the catch up lesson when I woke you up," his companion admits. "Following the crash, you volunteered to be embodied to help run things flesh-side until replacements arrived." He stops a moment, then looks to BANSHEE. "What about Austin, Doc Brian, and the others?"
"Your 'Doc' Brian admitted to working for the cybermen, and his remains were found by what was left of the generators. It's presumed that he was responsible for the deaths of both Austin Cowan and Ryan Nguyen as a result of various acts of sabotage. The AI designated Raven and the owner of that blue box are believed to have been subjected to cyber-conversion, while the AI designated Tangerine reportedly entered the blue box and disappeared. Angus Hanrahan went missing at the same time as Vivian Pincus, but hasn't been recovered yet."
"Bugger," the two lads mutter together, shocked.
"Is this all?"
"No," JETHRO answers at last. "Because, well, watch."
The scape moves again, showing the cybermen leaving the facility with their prizes. "The man who was with that single cyberman. That may have been Raven if those two were meant to have been lost together," BUFFY conjectures. "And that's Hanrahan there, along with Julian M'Benga, his superior officer, who went missing right out from the middle of the med lab regen tank. Perhaps the Doc wasn't the only one working for the other team."
"Perhaps he wasn't," BANSHEE smiles slightly. "They may also be prisoners who provide the cybermen with a tactical or strategic advantage. Though why they didn't take Pincus is still a mystery."
"Have you asked her?"
"She's not answering," BANSHEE shrugs in answer to JETHRO's question. "Both she and you are acting as if your higher functions have been circumvented but we can't find a reason why, particularly with that customised mess inside your head, lad. The lights are on, but no one's home."
"Anyhow, this is the important bit," BUFFY interrupts. "See here? They've got a disguised escape vehicle, and as you can see, we've worked out its trajectory."
"So you have," BANSHEE smiles, though it's hard to tell if she's being condescending or not. "Better see what my humans have to say about all his. Don't be trying to go anywhere either."
"Yeah, we know, you'll blow us out of the sky," BUFFY scowls.
"Actually in this particular case, the obscenely heavily armed marine platoon surrounding the drone will melt it into slag. And since you're not aboard me, I don't care how long it'll take them to scrape you up off the decking and recycle your electrons. Toodles."
To be continued...
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