|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"
Chapter 12 Part 6
"The End Times"
by Jon Andersen
(MEF plus 93 minutes)
On the screen, the swirling energy miasma of hyperspace bleeds away into the darkness of normal space. The star Intolt is just a little brighter than it had been. To port is the tiniest crescent revealing the location of the gas giant that is the system's fourth planet. Above is the craggy bottom of the asteroid.
And something else.
"Captain, it's the third cybership!" Fayle calls out.
"Not for much longer," Rozchenko answers darkly. "All batteries, target anything that isn't ours and fire at will. BANSHEE, divert resources from all non-combat systems to recharging the jump engines and plot exit vectors."
The cybership rocks up and sideways, its shields flaring brilliantly as several dozen charged particle streams slam into it. Its engines flare, an action hardly perceptible to the human eyes watching on the bridge amidst the energy splash from the fusillades directed against it.
Chunks of metallic ore reduced to snap-frozen slag spin away from the asteroid. Its mass keeps it almost stationary, with only a slight spin.
Spinning on its axis, the embattled alien ship attempts to move behind the bulk of the asteroid, pumping energy to its shields and engines. Trying to tough it out and run instead of fight. Smaller and more manoeuvrable than its attacker, the tactic has a chance of working.
A turret on the underside of the _Banshee_ rotates towards the engagement and three missiles blast forth in tight formation leaving hazy streaks of ionized gas in their wake. Two kilometres out from the asteroid
they redeploy, going above, below and around, slamming into the cybership within seconds of one another.
Fitted with antimatter warheads, the first two collapse the already weakened forward shields. The third rips straight into the bridge, decapitating the ship and blowing out its spine. Convulsing in its final
moments, the cybership spirals towards the surface of the asteroid where it
...against the shields that have unexpectedly sprung up around it.
On the bridge, Rozchenko starts in surprise as the ship's weapons fall silent.
"Shields have gone up around the asteroid, and BANSHEE's cut power to the combat systems!" Fayle calls out, slamming her hand against the console.
"What are you playing at?" the captain demands angrily. "That asteroid's still in my sky."
"I'm afraid it's going to have to stay there a while, Captain," the AI answers. "It's just started generating an interdiction field."
"A what?" Melhado asks.
"An interdiction field," Rozchenko sighs, punching the arm of her chair the way Fayle had moments before. "Basically, it generates a false gravity well that in turn creates a hyperspatial mass shadow, which
prevents faster than light travel. Our R&D is still working on prototypes of the technology."
"All military vessels have standing orders to acquire the technology," BANSHEE continues brightly. "Also, at this range, breaching that thing's power core would completely destroy the ship."
"What is the safe kill distance?" Fayle asks.
"About a thousand or so klicks outside the field," BANSHEE answers. "And before anyone asks, it's going to take us a day at least on full burn to get clear. It extends past my functional sensor horizon, but I think it'd be safe to assume that its current position allows it to reach to
Intolt-7 and more than likely an hour's travel time beyond."
"Why didn't they just use it begin with?" Paellaon asks after a moment, as the rest of the bridge crew digest the bad news.
"Power build up probably," Rozchenko guesses. "Much the way jump engines have to charge before they can be used.
"Captain," Fayle says quietly. "I've just had a nasty thought. What if that thing's booby trapped? The cybermen have done it before."
"Already on it. Rerouting all non-essential power directly to main drives."
* * *
Cyber Command Vessel
Sunward side of Beachhead Asteroid
(MEF plus 91 minutes)
The comment throws Tangerine for a few beats, a complete non sequitor to the previous few minutes. There's pain, confusion, relief, intense curiosity coming off him in waves.
"Oh," she clicks. "The uniform? Sorry, I had to borrow it on short notice. I came here with Blue to rescue you."
"Blue. Your ship. Your marvellous, beautiful, fantastic ship."
Realisation dawns, but there are noticeable clouds on the horizon. She has little difficultly guessing what they're doing there. She decides there isn't time to worry about it.
"Where are the others? Are they being brought down here?"
The Doctor shakes his head. "No. They apparently managed to escape before the cybermen took the complex. The only people here are me and those two through that door. And the mainframe with your fellow AIs. How did you manage to get here?"
"I told you, Blue brought me," she answers, looking around. "How many more of these cybermen are there? This one makes six I've managed to short out, and the gun's half way down on its charge."
"Oh, I'd say at least ten," he answers cheerfully. "Probably a lot more given this is a command vessel, and they usually have a contingent of rather well trained warrior units to defend themselves with."
"We're on a ship?" Tangerine asks. "That makes sense of why their weapons didn't do any sort of structural damage back in there. Do you know where they've taken the mainframe?
"Probably somewhere secure near the heart of the ship," he answers. "We should probably be getting back to the TARDIS; Cybermen have a distress beacon set on a dead man's trigger, so I think we're going to be
noticed some time very soon."
"When they were inspecting the first one I took out they said the ion gun had knocked out its distress call.
"Having just avoided the short trip from stasis to conversion, I don't think we should be quiet so cavalier. Help me get the oth--!"
The ship lurches violently, the artificial gravity fluctuating for a moment. A second violent impact and the gravity cuts out for several seconds before coming back at half strength, then vanishing for good.
"What's happening?" she shouts, casting about for a hand hold.
"I imagine that's the human fleet the cybermen thought they'd taken care of proving their assumption wrong," he answers grimly, navigating the shuddering corridors with effortless motions. "We've got to get the other two back to the TARDIS before they blow us to very small, very dead bits."
A particularly savage bucking of the deck slams her hard against one of the stasis tubes. The strange green cocoon holding Mister M'Benga narrowly misses bouncing into her face. Clamping down her sense of panic, she grabs hold of the thing and pushes off, bouncing desperately off any surface that presents itself towards Blue's thankfully open door.
Something explodes in the corridor outside, dimming the lights. A second explosion follows moments later, much closer, then a third on its heels just outsider the chamber.
Dren. Dren. Dren.
The world vanishes in a searing burst of white.
* * *
(MEF plus 100 minutes)
"I think we're being herded," Davenport declares, coming to a halt. "We should have at least run into a repair crew by now, not to mention the search teams that must have been sent out following our rather noticeable absence."
"I imagine they probably want to take us alive," Jethro nods morosely. "At least the scientists, any way."
"I hope Linda's not being mistreated," Mariko adds. "We should go back for her."
"Then we'll all be caught," Petra counters the idea. "If we can jump system and get a message out, the company will at least have an idea of where to send an extraction team."
"Anyway," Chang Li comforts. "She's too valuable a resource to be wasted, and they know it. With the mainframe probably gone, you guys are all they have."
"The downside then being that the non-research personnel are most likely to be considered expendable," Jethro continues his usual dour assessment of the situation. "And I'll probably be vivisected as the only extant example of the Spartii process they have.
"I'm sure such pleasant thoughts can wait," Davenport curtails the discussion. "We have to assume they have a fair idea of where we're trying to get to and are acting accordingly. As must we."
* * *
(MEF plus 100 minutes)
The armchair is incongruous.
The rest of the room is whitewashed stone, with broad metal tube-framed beds covered by crisp white sheets. Pale blue curtains, currently retracted, hang on metal rails running above each bed. Smaller versions billowing slightly on the gentle breeze that comes from the illusionary nowhere the windows open onto. On the breeze is the faint sent of rose petals and pine trees and freshly baked bread.
On the other hand, the high backed chair is made from a dark green leather creased and worn thin with age. One of the carved wooden legs has been used as a cat's scratching post, and some of the seams are beginning to split. It smells of saddle soap and green ginger tea.
Legs folded up, chin on his knees, the Doctor looks out from the chair at the bed directly opposite, brows beetled in thought. A subtle sense of dread gnaws at him quietly as he regards the unconscious and bandage-swathed Tangerine. Not so much fear, as a sense of inevitable and cataclysmic change. The sort of feeling he experienced on the War Planet and at Logopolis and in Japan.
All focused on the young woman slowly but perceptibly regenerating the second degree burns inflicted by the dying cyber ship. Gene-seeded from Vivian Pincus — obvious from their similarly Eurasian features — but different enough to be her own person, genetically speaking. But beyond the simple question of test-bed genetics, to the far more nebulous certainties of her soul?
Something about Tangerine let her interact with the TARDIS in a way so very few have, in a manner quite different to the instinctive symbiosis shared between a Time Lord and his craft. Not that he or the TARDIS are any longer text book examples of their respective kinds; their biodata, their souls, contaminated by the universe shaping them into things their makers would never have guessed at. Perhaps never wanted.
Time Lord biodata had been grafted to human hosts in the past, an attempt to hide from a terrifying future inside the race that seems to hold a strange and perennial fascination for his people. Perhaps the web of Tangerine's homebrewed genetic matrix carries some small taint from that
event centuries past. It would make the most pleasing explanation, assuage him of his concerns in the matter.
But as much as he wants to leap to that conclusion, he can feel the wrongness of it.
Feel deep inside the forces of universal evolution at work again, altering things in response to his existence.
Feel something he hasn't since he collapsed in Antarctica that first time.
Getting to his feet, he favours her with one last glance before walking out of the ward, crossing the corridor and opening another door to be enveloped in a cloud of steam.
Julian M'Benga and Angus Hanrahan are each lying back in old enamel bath tubs in a stone and tile room full of the things. Their eyes closed, warm soapy water up to just beneath their necks, both men have looks of quiet contentment on their face. The two tubs between them are each filled with a viscous green slime upon which float a small mote of light.
"Well gentlemen, I hope you're feeling better?" he announces himself jovially, all external signs of his worries gone.
Angus cracks open his eyes, looking towards the voice; Julian still appears asleep. "Doctor, is that you?"
"I'm rather afraid it is," he continues smiling. "The numbness and lassitude you're both feeling is a residual side-effect from your encounter with the cybermen's stasis weapons. They should pass shortly."
"Where are Raven and Lawrie? Where is this place?"
"I'm afraid they're dead," he sighs. "Lawrie died in the crash, and you were so badly injured that the cybermen left you to die when they captured Raven and myself, so the personnel back at the base were able to rescue you. Raven underwent partial cyber-conversion before we escaped, while you, Julian, and Vivian were possessed by a nano-intelligence that had ideas about force-directing Cyberman evolution."
"I remember that. Being taken over I mean," Angus nods slowly. "Like some sort of waking dream. I'm assuming this nano-intelligence has been purged?"
"Yes." He reaches over and grabs the nearest of the glowing objects and shows it to the deputy security chief. "When I get the opportunity, I'll see if I can find where they come from. Until then, they're safely contained in a brief moment of crystallized time."
Angus nods again. "They didn't have any malevolent intent," he says after a moment. "At least, they didn't communicate any, but that's hardly proof of their intent, is it? Perhaps I was wrong about yours though?"
"Only perhaps?" he teases lightly, placing the captured intelligences in his coat pocket before going to check on Julian.
"In case you're wondering, after the pair of you were gooped, Tangerine showed up and rescued us from the cyber control ship."
"She did what?"
"Yes, I was rather surprised at that myself," he agrees pleasantly. "Particularly as she commandeered my ship to do it."
"Sounds like Tangerine," Julian croaks. "She's always been good at taking charge."
"Nice of you to finally join us, Mister M'Benga," the Doctor beams. "I take it I don't need to repeat myself?"
"Not at all," the big man answers. "I was listening the whole time, as I'm sure you're aware."
Julian opens his eyes, the gaze that meets the Doctor's reminding him so very much of Alistair's. "Do you know what happened to everyone else once they made it off the base?"
"I'm assuming they were taken aboard the ships that showed up to destroy the cybermen," the Doctor guesses. "Which, judging by the fact they succeeded in doing so, and by my knowledge of this era, probably means it wasn't your supply ship. Still, hopefully it means Vivian and Jethro have been rescued and are receiving appropriate medical treatment. We really
should pop back into the time stream and find out."
"Time stream?" Angus asks, sounding predictably confused. "Where are we?"
"Didn't I say? You're aboard the TARDIS, that blue box you recovered when you found me."
"But that's impossible!" Angus exclaims.
"Always try to do three impossible things before breakfast," the Doctor responds impishly. "Speaking of which: things to do, people to save."
* * *
Upeo Wa Macho Station
Mars La Grange Point 3
(Intolt-7 Incident plus three days)
Lieutenant Rebecca Li Bue sighs and checks her watch as she strolls onto the command deck, mug of coffee clutched in her left hand as ward against the boredom of the gamma shift. The four ratings already on duty look up at the sound of her entrance and leap to their feet - well, move upwards into a standing position with reasonable alacrity at any rate - and snap out a salute.
"Officer on deck," one of them calls out. Probably the tech-sergeant but she isn't paying close enough attention to notice. She salutes back lazily, returning them to their tasks.
"Anything to report?" she asks, relishing the bitter-sweetness of her drink sliding down her throat.
"No, Sir," the tech-sergeant answers -- Bauer, according to his name tag. "Just three scheduled departures since the beginning of the hour, and one arrival we handed of to Olympus Mons traffic control. The Asteroid Belt shuttle is due in about ten minutes."
Rebecca nods and moves towards the deck commander's station, settling herself in the comfortably padded seat and firing up the status displays. Everything seems fine, both on the station and off. Then she glances at one particular monitor and does a double-take, almost spilling her coffee. She taps the control instructing the system to verify its results; the answer remains the same.
"UPEO, scan external grid alpha-twelve," she instructs, drawing the attention of the others.
"Commencing scan," the station's AI responds, his rich Bantu accent soothing as always. "The object appears to be a small storage module of esoteric design and construction that does not match anything on file. It is also radiating an energy signature vasty incom-- Warning! Several capital ships have materialized in the space previously occupied by the module!"
"Drek! Initiate the defence grid and send an alert."
"Grid initialised," UPEO answers. "Alert sent. There is one active transponder, identifying the ship as the TMV Banshee ; all the others have power signatures below minimal operational capacity."
"Hail them. If they don't answer, target their bridge."
"Channel open, Lieutenant," another of the ratings announces. "Receiving response."
"I am Lieutenant Bue, commanding the TMS Upeo Wa Macho. Please identify yourself."
A dark, scowling face appears in the holotank at the centre of the command deck. "And I am Captain Rozchenko, commanding officer of the TMV Banshee and acting commander of the Ninth Fleet. Stand down your defence grid."
"All the correct confirmation codes have been received from them and verified," UPEO advises.
"Then stand down," Bue orders. "My apologies Captain; your arrival and the manner of it were far from expected."
"That's alright, Lieutenant," Rozchenko waves the comment aside. "However, what I need you to do is put out a call to all the military emergency response units in the system - I have badly damaged ships and a lot of injured people in urgent need of assistance."
* * *
(MEF plus 110 minutes)
"What just happened?" Jethro asks, looking around with a justified degree
of confusion. "Where'd the corridor end up?"
"That's a very good question," Wallace remarks, surveying as is everyone else the rather baroque chamber their little group has so strangely, so suddenly, found themselves standing in.
"There was this strange nois-" Jethro begins, only to have Karen interrupt him.
"I knew I recognised that sound!" she exclaims. "It's that sound we heard when the Doctor's blue box took off with Tangerine."
"I do believe you're right," Wallace nods, stroking his beard for a moment.
"You're not suggesting that we're in that box?" Jack asks disbelievingly. "That's nonsense. This place is almost five times the size."
"Psychic powers and sentient software were nonsense a few hundred years ago," Vivian chides the young man gently. "We already know the Doctor wasn't human, so there's no reason to think the technology his people have access to isn't significantly more advanced than ours."
"But still, it is mind-boggling," Petra shrugs, flexing her grip around the butt of her pistol.
"And it presents three possibilities," Wallace decides. "First, and perhaps most probable, is that Tangerine has managed to figure out how to use the alien technology. Second is that the Doctor has somehow managed to summon his box to effect his escape from the cybermen. Third, and least likely to my thinking, is that another member or members of the Doctor's race has interceded on our behalf."
"You've left out the fourth and equally probable prospect that the Doctor has been converted and the cybermen have used his box to complete their mission objective of kidnapping as many scientists as they can," Jethro adds as optimistically as ever.
"Fortunately, that wasn't the case even though it was their intention," the Doctor's voice cheerfully interrupts the conversation from above and behind them. The group turn to see the alien traveller standing
on a balcony that hadn't been there when they first looked.
"Doctor!" Vivian exclaims, an immense sense of relief evident in her voice. "Please tell me I wasn't imagining everything that's happened to me since we found you."
"I'm rather afraid it's all true," he nods. "And I'm glad to see both you and Jethro survived your encounter with the cybermen intact. I see some of you didn't fare so well."
"Austin and Ryan were murdered by Doc Brian," Mariko explains, anger in her voice. "He sold us out to those monsters."
"I am sorry to hear that," the Doctor sighs, his regret quite genuine as far as they can tell. "For all their cold inhumanity, the cybermen always seem to hold a strange allure to some people. Still, things could be worse. For example, your friends there could have been amongst the
The group turn, many of them crying out in pleasure at the sight of Julian and Angus entering through a door that hadn't been there less than a minute ago. Both men, dressed in clothes of unusual style, appear hale and hearty in stark contrast to how they'd looked the last time anyone there had set eyes on them before their disappearances.
Amidst a flurry of hugs and handshaking, Wallace turns back to the Doctor in time to notice a second door forming beneath his balcony. "What about Raven and Tangerine?"
"Raven was killed by the cybermen," he answers sadly. "And Tangerine was badly injured rescuing Julian, Angus and myself from them. But before we fill in each other's gaps, there's a couple more people who have to join us."
As he speaks these last few words, the door swings open to reveal two people in military uniforms standing in a small antechamber.
"Linda you already know. This is Major Charles Baxter, her commanding officer."
To be concluded...
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