|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"
Chapter 12 Part 4
"The End Times"
by Jon Andersen
Psionic Warfare Research Facility
(MEF plus 70 minutes)
Second Lieutenant Warner Harnel looks at the sit-rep flashing up on his helmet HUD and grunts quietly in satisfaction. All the charges have been placed, and the shuttle is on station. All that remains is one final check. Even when the electronics say everything is fine, you always make that last check just to be sure. Engineering corps rule of thumb number five.
"Harnel to the rest of the team. Report your go status."
"Jackson to Harnel," Warrant Officer Sam Jackson calls in. "We've got the concussion field up and running at a hundred and ten. Ready to pull out on your mark."
"Roger that. Schmidt, are your crew done?"
"Affirmative Sir," Sergeant Hans Schmidt answers. "We're pulling back to the first mark."
"Jackson, your crew should join them. I want to blow those charges as soon as everyone's clear."
He turns his attention to the pilot sitting on his right. Like him, Ensign Karen Knopfler is wearing a full environment suit just in case something goes wrong and the shuttle is forced to ditch. Rule of thumb the first: be prepared.
"Tractor web targeted, Lieutenant," she announces. "Waiting for your mark."
"Very good. Signal the Hades and have the combat air patrol clear the area."
Time drags on after that, during which time he runs the computer simulation of the operation again, just to kill time. And then the all clear comes in.
"Ensign, fire up the web."
"Tractor web online and holding, Sir."
"Schmidt, blow the charges."
The monitor linked to the cargo shuttle's belly sensors shows a pale blue miasma around the top of one of the larger modules comprising the structure of the facility. A moment later, a ring of right briefly flares into existence around its periphery and the roof shudders, floating ever so slightly upwards.
"Good show folks. Knopfler, drop our load into the hanger ravine, then bring the shuttle to station over the medical facility so we can ship those matrices and get off this frigid rock."
* * *
Interplanetary space, sunward bound
(MEF plus 79 minutes)
It had taken surprisingly little time for the gardening droids to find what they'd been sent to look for and return to tell him. It had also garnered a
surprising lack of hostile attention, suggesting the cybermen might themselves be in a state of dormancy. Which in turn suggests either an automated process for providing the captives with nourishment or a designated warden being revived at appropriate intervals. There are other alternatives, all of them decidedly unpleasant.
Scant minutes after the scouts had been sent out, he and the two nano-possessed humans stand in utter darkness alleviated only by the faint red glow of their guides' photoreceptors against the front of the research mainframe. Instead of the energy field he'd half expected to find, it's
held in place by a number of U-shaped restraints bolted into the rock.
"Well, Doctor," faux-M'Benga begins casually. "Now you've found the mainframe, what do you intend on doing with it?"
"Destroy it," he answers solemnly. "I only promised not to harm your meme-infected cybermen, remember? However, allowing such a ruthlessly efficient war machine access to the information this contains is something I cannot permit."
"Noble words, but futile," the other counters. "There is nothing here with which to carry out your act of murder."
The Doctor starts to say something, but something niggles at the back of his awareness that halts the rebuttal. Instead he remains silent for a little longer before coming up with another answer. One that makes his voice taut. "I prefer to think of it as euthanasia. Life as a cyberman would be a living death I can inflict on no one."
"Does their non-organic nature make the grim expedience of this act any less repugnant to one of your fellowship?" faux-M'Benga challenges.
That's the second time he's used that phrase, the Doctor notices. Again, something he can't quite places his mental figure on niggles at him as he answers. "Actually, it's what I'm counting on."
"You're referring to the b--"
"You're a fine one to talk about acts of grim expedience," he snaps suddenly, the niggling solidifying into one of those unpleasant alternatives. "Running around in stolen bodies whose native awareness has been submerged or subsumed. Sacrificing the lives of everyone in the facility, if not the galaxy I might add, upon the altar of an idealized Cyber race."
A very human sigh escapes his opponent at the retreading of old ground. "We hold ourselves to a different code of morality than that followed by your order, but our agendas are largely the same."
"That's yet to be seen. Wouldn't you say so, Cyber Leader?"
* * *
(MEF plus 79 minutes)
"Leader," the pilot calls out for attention. "The observation craft has detected the humans commencing an active scan along the approximate trajectory of the beachhead facility."
"Will they be able to register the presence of this position?" the Leader demands from vis station.
"Negative. The planetary atmosphere will sufficiently occlude an object the size of the observation craft. The scans have locked onto the beachhead and are intensifying."
"Identify the vessel conducting the scan."
"The transponder signal identifies it as the destroyer, Leader," the pilot responds after a moment.
"The data we possess on this vessel indicates a close range scan will reveal the nature of the beachhead," the Leader declares. "The scan indicates a suspicion of that nature may exist. Order the observation craft to signal the beachhead, then return to this vessel. Once the device has
been detected, commence the hyperspatial jump."
* * *
(MEF plus 82 minutes)
There are only a few seconds warning, a hiss of hydrogen that no one else is paranoid enough to recognise let alone react to. It almost isn't enough time for BANSHEE, let alone anyone else.
Sitting unobtrusively in geostationary orbit above the research facility, what should have been Static-X Array #0 suddenly dissolves in a blossom of nuclear brilliance, becoming the epicentre of a titanic electromagnetic pulse. The spherical wavefront, running at the speed of
light, cuts silently through the fleet leaving chaos in its wake.
The concussive shockwave that follows is icing on the cake, bitch slapping the crippled ships and the dead husks of the surveillance satellites into new orbital paths, some of which lead deeper into Intolt-7's gravity well.
On the Banshee's bridge, bathed in the hellish hue of the emergency lighting, Rozchenko stumbles to her feet. Pinching the bridge of her bleeding nose, spitting blood, she calls out. "Status report!"
"Hiss. Snap. Pop," BANSHEE onomatopoetically indulges over her speakers. "Blibble."
"BANSHEE managed to start raising our shields before whatever it was hit us," Fayle answers the demand. "Though given her state, I'm guessing they might not have gotten all the way up, so it's a good thing her kernel is hardened. I'm reading nothing on our long range sensors. Nothing on short range. Nothing on internals. Status board is... not doing anything much. Going to have to reboot the system."
"Can we signal the rest of the fleet?" she demands as Paellaon identifies his captain's predicament and heads towards the med locker. "Actually, an image of what the hell is going on out there would be nice
too," Rozchenko adds, gesturing towards the blanks screens.
"What ever it was appears to have blinded our sensors and transceivers," Fayle answers her captain apologetically.
"Then look out the frelling window!"
Lieutenant Melhado promptly begins undogging an access port in response to the order.
"BANSHEE?" Rozchenko queries the now very groggy sounding voice.
"It hurts," the AI replies. "There's so much of me I can't feel any more, and what I can feel is wrong."
The sound of the blast doors leading to the rest of the ship being struck by something metallic draws everyone's attention. It's followed by a voice.
"Captain, this is Warrant Officer Yeltsin. Is everyone alright?"
"We're fine, Mister Yeltsin," Paellaon calls back. "Just some minor scrapes."
"Can you tell us what happened?" Rozchenko demands, settling back in her command chair so the lieutenant can tend her injury.
"Negative, Captain," the officer shouts back. "Commander August has dispatched damage control teams to inspect the ship. The deadman's switches have been tripped on a lot of systems, so he's guessing we've been hit by some sort of EMP weapon."
"What about you, BANSHEE?" the captain asks. "Any clues?"
"Um... no. The last thing I remember is... >skritch< The last thing is... the asteroid? Something to do with scanning an asteroid I think. I don't think I had time to do a proper memory dump. Sorry."
"Secondary interface OS is booting up now," Fayle reports. "You should start feeling a bit more together in a few moments BANSHEE."
"Oh I hope so. I want to go hurt someone over this. A lot."
"Brace for impact!" Melhado's voice suddenly flies out of the open access way shortly before she does. Everyone reflexively obeys the shouted order as she slams the access closed.
Two seconds later, a massive shudder passes through the bones of the ship, then all is again still. The lack of klaxons set off by the collision is unnerving to the point of being creepy.
"It was the Hades, Captain," she answers. "It was dead in the water. And from what I had a chance to see, so is the rest of the fleet."
* * *
(MEF plus 82 minutes)
Petra is the first out of her cell, launching herself into the sudden weightless gloom towards the bio-luminous watch dial worn by one of the guards. Haste and the considerable amount of time that has elapsed since her last training course in zero-gee puts her aim off sufficiently that instead of grabbing his waist she ends up slamming the webbing of her left hand into his larynx. Physics steps in, twisting them around -- her side-on against the wall, him head first into the floor.
Jack and the other guard hear the noise of the conflict, both making 'what the?' types of sounds. There's the sound of a sidearm being drawn and a terse "Wilson, sound off!" hissed out worriedly as she similarly arms herself and feels for the arming switch.
Two whines fill the darkness, scaling quickly upwards into inaudibility, and she hurriedly pushes away from the wall, away from the sounds of the remaining guard moving towards the same luminescence that had guided her.
"What's going on?" Jack calls out, sounding rattled. "What's happening?"
"Shut up and stay put!" the guard orders, voice echoing. "You, lady, sound off."
The wall on the other side of the cell vestibule makes its presence known before Petra can decide how to react. A heartbeat later, a flash of green illuminates the space as the guard panic-fires, just missing her foot. She shoots back out of the same hind-brain reflex, but something cold in her head guides her through it, notices how far off her first shot had been and moves her hand slightly so the second catches him somewhere in the torso.
The silence lasts several seconds.
"Yeah," she answers and twists away from the wall. Nothing happens, so she again aims for the first guard's watch. "I got him."
"What the frell happened?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," she answers, hands finding the guard's head and smacking it into the floor again before she steals his watch. "Some sort of power loss I'd guess. Pretty bad if the back up
systems haven't kicked in by now."
"I hope they fix it soon," his voice grows closer. "I can't hear the air pumps anymore, and I doubt the brig door can be manually opened from the inside."
"Nice shooting by the way," he congratulates her from slightly to the right.
"Mister M'Benga was a good teacher," she uncomfortably shrugs the praise aside. "Too good perhaps."
"They're going to be really pissed at us for killing one of our guards, yeah? I didn't mean to do it, but from what I can feel, these things don't have a stun setting like the stuff the company issued us with." She fires off a third shot, using the brief moment of illumination to orient herself. Then, she carefully makes her way towards the second guard's gun.
Her fingers close around the butt just as a massive vibration passes through the ship and the floor -- or wall -- comes up to meet them for a brief moment.
"Collision," Jack replies expertly after a moment.
"Happen a lot to you do they?"
"Whatever. Help me find the door."
"Not likely to open from the inside, remember?"
"That's why we're going to use this--"
"The second gun, boofhead. I'll overload the cell and blow the lock."
"Nice idea, but they're bound to hear it."
"And they're bound to find us if we stay here. We have to find the others and get the frell out of here before whatever's happening stops happening."
* * *
Interplanetary space, sunward bound
(MEF plus 81 minutes)
Almost as soon as the words have left the Doctor's mouth, the darkness is suddenly alleviated by a soft pastel blue glow emanating from glow rods embedded in the ceiling. Below each rod is a strangely familiar sphere. The two nano-possessed humans turn around in time to see the distinctive silver form of a cyberman fade into existence.
"I am not the Leader," ve intones redundantly as more cybermen begin to file into the circular chamber. Ignoring the captives, they move straight to the mainframe and begin removing the restraints.
"You don't seem particularly bothered to find us here," the Doctor challenges, stepping around his fellow captives.
"You have been constantly monitored since your capture," the Leader answers, striding into the chamber flanked by the last two of the silver giants. While they carry snub-nosed carbines with which to Doctor isn't familiar, ve holds a bulbous device in one hand. "Your activities have been recorded for later study by our strategists. Contain them."
Following the casually imperious gesture, vis escorts bring their weapons to bear on faux-M'Benga and faux-Hanrahan. There's a hiss of something that sounds like compressed air and each weapon spits out a
little globule of swirling green that encapsulates its target. Both of them stop moving.
"What have you done to them?" the Doctor demands angrily.
"They are in short-term stasis to prevent any further violation of this facility by their nano-devices," the Leader explains simply. "If you resist, you will be placed in a similar state."
"You seem awfully well prepared for them," he remarks, investigating the green stuff. It gives slightly as he prods it.
"It was intended to restrain the synthetic humanoids, but the alteration of our strategic and tactical profiles negated its usefulness until this juncture." Its the sort of statement that requires a shrug from its speaker.
Because the cyberman can't, the Doctor does it instead.
"So, what now?"
"You will prepare yourself for matter transmission."
"Transmat where?" he asks, realizing why the sphere's looked so familiar -- certain physical similarities have to expected when exploiting similar technological innovations.
"Our command vessel. "
"I'm guessing from the sudden surge of activity you're no longer worried about the risk of detection?"
"The human threat has been neutralized by superior cyber-technology," the Leader answers bluntly. "Further attempts to pursue us will result in a similar outcome."
"How nicely predictable of you."
The device in the leader's hand chimes. "The command vessel's transmat is online. Transmission begins now."
A tingling sensation envelops his perceptions. The world dissolves. The Doctor dies.
* * *
Departing Temporal Orbit
(MEF minus 4.5 hrs)
Blue mentally quivers, in that very particular way the embodied mind of Tangerine's fellow AI Marakesh does whenever he psychometers something unsettling.
What's wrong? she asks, watching the lights on the console change their pattern slightly, while solid state components turn and clunk of their own volition.
UNDERCURRENT. A RIPPLE. FUTURE REACHING BACK, the time ship answers.
A multidimensional sense brushes across Tangerine's perceptions in accompaniment to the reply, the underpinnings of the universe as Blue swims through them. It takes her breath away, literally, because the sheer enormity of trying to process it makes her body forget how to breathe.
I[WE] APPOLOGIZE, Blue announces and the sense vanishes. \\YOU ARE NOT THE PILOT.
It's alright, Blue, I'm fine, she sends, sucking in a great gasp of air. What do these... ripples mean? What's causing them?
SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED TO THE PILOT. I[WE] MUST GO THEN. WE MUST GO.
You're the expert, she answers while unslinging her rifle and checking the power cell again. She's never known enough to fear losing it. Memories, the essence of personality, lost like tears in the rain she's only seen in other peoples' minds. We do what you have to.
Not that there's any difference in the practical outcome -- she's still helping Blue help her Pilot. It's just going to be somewhere different, or some when different. Somewhen quantum, a time that's made itself noticed and thus changed the universe. Perhaps everyone else is dead, or perhaps this moment is the first point an intervention can be made without them dying and random destiny has lured them to it.
The central column stops moving
Can you feel him?
YES. HE[WE] IS NEAR.
Without consciously thinking about it, she reaches out and touches a control in sudden but unsurprising familiarity. A miasma of light forms in a ring above her, resolving into a nearly hemi-spherical view of what lies beyond Blue. Giving the console a gentle stroke, she looks up at the
Staring straight back at her is a cyberman.
Tangerine hits another control, again without bothering to worry how she suddenly knows, and runs for the too-slowly opening doors.
To be continued...
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