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


Chapter 3
"Silver and Steel"
by Tim Hollis


---


Linda and Doc Brian were first on the scene, responding to the Doctor's call. They rushed in to find Pincus lying on the floor, writhing in pain. The Doctor was still strapped to the bed.


       "Let me up, I can help," he said.


       Doc Brian crouched on the floor, inspecting the livid wound on Pincus's hand. Linda walked straight over to the Doctor and undid his bonds.


       "What happened," she asked him as he sat up.


       "Doctor Pincus discovered a robotic creature. It attacked her when she picked it up." He looked around. "It looks like its slithered off again, but keep your eyes open. It's silver, about this big," he held his hands open a couple of feet.


       "The one that got away," said Linda with raised eyebrows.


       "Help me get her to the bed," said Doc Brian. Linda and the Doctor helped him lift Pincus onto the bed.


       "I'll raise the alarm," said Linda, rushing out of the room. She returned a few moments later as a hooter started to blare in the back-ground.


       "That's rather annoying," said the Doctor.


       "But neccessary," said Linda.


       The Doctor and Doc Brian were bent over her on the table, Brian injecting something into her neck. The Doctor was exmaining the dark lines spreading across her hands and face.


       "Just as I thought," he said.


       "She's delirious," said Brian.


       The alarms had been sounding for a while and more people rushed in. The Doctor glanced up to see two young people, a man and a woman, accompanied by the man Pincus had been talking to when the body next door had gone missing.


       "Report," said this man.


       "Our guest tells us that she was attacked by some sort of robot," said Brian indicating the Doctor.


       "What have you done?" asked the young man. The Doctor took a while to realise the comment was addressed at him. He looked up.


       "The best I can for her."


       "You tried to kill her. Who are you, why are you here?"


       "Jethro, calm down," said the older woman who had helped to free the Doctor, Linda.


       "No. He tried to kill her." Jethro grabbed the Doctor's shoulders and hauled him out of the room and throwing him against the corridor. Linda, Raven and Hanrahan rushed out after them.


       "Jethro, stop it," said Linda.


       "He's an alien spy. Two hearts you said. He's trying to kill us."


       "I'm trying to help her," said the Doctor breathless as Jethro tried to strangle him.


       "This won't get us anywhere," said Hanrahan. "We can interrogate him properly later.


       "But he might be a threat to everyone," Jethro screamed as Hanrahan pulled him back. The Doctor collapsed onto the floor as another man came rushing up. He took a moment to look at the people around him.


       The two women were remarkably similar. There must have been about ten years between them, but they could have been twin sisters. Raven's hair was the same as Linda's, the way she stood was the same, her accent was similar enough and there was even something about here eyes. These things over-shadowed the physical differences between the athletic, olive-skinned young woman and the pale thirty-something academic. They both had a relaxed and non-threatening manner, but Linda's fitted with her appearance in a way that Raven's didn't.


       And looking round the others the Doctor noticed the same thing about the nervous but strongly-built young man who had attacked him, Jethro, and the thin and balding man calming Jethro down beside the door to the infirmary. The Doctor could see Jethro was frightened and confused and he felt sorry for him.


       The two women came over and helped the Doctor up while the two men continued calming Jethro.


       "Linda, take him back in there," said Hanrahan. "Don't let him out of your sight, we can't trust him."


       Before they left the corridor, the Doctor turned to Jethro.


       "I really am here to help," he said seriously. He extended his hand. Jethro nervously reached out and shook it. Everyone visibly relaxed.


       After the Doctor had been escorted back in, Davenport arrived. Raven and Austin took Jethro away to get some coffee while Hanrahan explained exactly what had happened. Davenport thought about it for a while.


       "Worrying behaviour. He shouldn't have been told about the two hearts thing. He seems to have taken a strangely aggressive reading of the first law, even if he thought our visitor was an alien."


       "Are you sure it will be safe to keep him running?"


       "Under different circumstances I'd shut him down and take a look at his coding," said Davenport. "Just to be on the safe side. But there's too much on at the moment, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. I will take a look later though. I am worried that he has formed too close an attachment to Austin, and maybe certain neuroses connected with that. It's natural for an AI to an extent, but I have never seen it go as far as this. Still, we are meant to breaking new ground here."


* * *


The Doctor entered the meeting room with Linda, joining the two men waiting for news. She introduced him to Austin and Hanrahan properly and then she sat down next to Austin. The Doctor sat also while Hanrahan paced.


       "How's Doctor Pincus," asked Austin.


       "She seems stable," said Linda.


       "I've sedated her, done everything I can for the moment. There's little else I can do until your Doctor Jackson finishes his test."


       "Brian will do his best," said Linda. "Do you know what has infected her, Doctor?"


       "It's a neuro-tropic virus. It's travelling through her nerves."


       "You've seen it before?"


       "Several times. But this is different, more advanced. I've not seen this particular type of toxin before. A new mutation. I won't know how to cure it until I get a closer look at it. And it will take a while for it to spread fully."


       "Won't it be too late by then?"


       "If I attempt to remove it before it's run its course it may end up lying dormant and then breaking out into a new infection, even a new mutation, at a later stage. For the moment we have to play a waiting game. Keep her sedated and comfortable. There's something else we need to do, too. What sort of communications equipment have you got here?"


       "That's it," said Hanrahan sharply, stepping towards the Doctor. "I knew it. He's a spy."


       "Angus," said Linda calmingly. She stood between him and the Doctor.


       "Don't 'Angus' me, Linda. I am in charge now and we have to deal with this stranger."


       There was a cough from the doorway and the Doctor turned to see the newcomer. He had obviously been listening for a while, and his height and placid demeanour seemed to silence everyone in the room. He was much older than the rest, older even then Pincus who must be knocking fifty. Early sixties, the Doctor thought, with a high brow and a neatly trimmed grey beard. He was also dressed much less formally than the others. He did not wear the grey uniform with coloured patches to denote rank and job. Instead, like Pincus, he wore a brown pants and an open-necked tunic, though his was red instead of her blue. He had a long white coat, his hands jammed firmly in the pockets. He walked up to Hanrahan.


       "I hate to argue, Angus, but I think you'll find that corporate protocols actually put me in charge now," said Davenport. "After Doctor Pincus, I am the senior member of the team."


       "That puts you in charge of the project. But security always has jurisdictional control."


       "Unless there is a member of staff more senior and more experienced than the chief or acting-chief of project security. As I am to you. So, I have final say about what we do. And when."


       "Thank goodness for that," Linda whispered to Austin.


       Davenport offered his hand to the Doctor. "Professor Wallace Davenport."


       "Pleased to meet you. Professor of what," asked the Doctor.


       "Para-Psychology and Artificial Intelligence. I've also got degrees in Computational Mechanics and Brain Chemistry. I helped Doctor Pincus design the new generation AIs and I look after their mental well-being. Like her, I've been here from the start. I understand you're also a Doctor, Doctor," his eyes twinkled.


       "Yes. I'm even more of an all-rounder. We must talk later," said the Doctor with a warm smile, intrigued and looking forward to an interesting chat. "But there are more pressing matters at the moment".


       "Davenport, you're a psychologist. What do you know about dealing with threats like this," Hanrahan said, pointing at the Doctor.


       "I know a lot more than you do about dealing with people. And need I remind you that I am a war veteran? I have been in dangerous situations before, Angus. Rather more than you, I think you'll find, young man."


       "I am not the real threat," said the Doctor.


       "What reason have we got to believe that?" asked Hanrahan.


       "We know he didn't steal Jules body. You were with at the time, Angus."


       "So, what happened to the body?"


       "I don't know."


       "Do you think he's dead, Davenport?"


       "I don't know that either, Angus."


       "Does it really matter?"


       "Austin!" said Linda admonishingly.


       "He was nothing but a pain in the ass when he was around," Austin defended himself.


       "And we're better off now?"


       "I don't like your tone, Linda," said Hanrahan. "Nor yours Austin. Jules is one of the best."


       "Who is Jules?" asked the Doctor.


       "Julian M'Benga," explained Linda. "Our head of security."


       "The man who was kidnapped from the regen tank," added Angus. "He was injured when our other dropship crashed during an exercise last week."


       "Your ship was destroyed?"


       "The engines failed and they couldn't get them back on line."


       "That's a bit suspicious isn't it?"


       "You're hardly in a position to talk, Doctor whoever-you-are."


       "Mr Hanrahan," the Doctor sighed heavily, "It seems entirely clear to me that this base is in the process of coming under siege. I expect your communications have been disrupted too, or will be shortly."


       "You know an awful lot for someone who claims he isn't involved," Hanrahan sniped.


       "And now one of your staff has been attacked by a Cybermat."


       "So you say. Wait, what did you call it?"


       "A Cybermat. Slightly different configuration from the last time I saw one, but still recognisably a Cybermat. If you can bounce low-level radio waves around the complex, that will disrupt their guidance systems long enough for your people to destroy them. It will also prevent them from gaining control of poor Vivian."


       "What is this nonsense? Cybermats? Everybody knows the Cybermen were destroyed ages ago," Hanrahan protested.


       "Do you know how many times I've heard that?" the Doctor shot back. "And yet they do keep re-surfacing. Like the proverbial bad penny."


       "Nobody has seen any signs of Cyber activity for generations. If some of them survived, they would have attacked after one of Dalek Wars, when Earth and the corporations were weakened. That would have been the logical thing to do. The Cybermen are dead."


       "That's what they said after the first Cyber war, and after their early assaults on Earth," said Austin. "My great-grandfather fought in the last Cyber war. He said they were nearly unstoppable. They were dormant for centuries after the first war, hiding, building up their forces. Maybe they're hiding right here. Goddess, what if we've built our facility on top of another Telos?"


       "Don't be so stupid, Austin," Linda attempted to silence him. "This world was extensively surveyed before the facility was constructed."


       "All the same, have we got any gold?" the engineer pressed.


       "Gold?"


       "It's their weakness. The glittergun, they called it. My grandfather kept his, hanging on the wall. He taught me how to use it."


       "Radiation will do the trick. Uranium-238 is particularly effective. But I think they'll have learnt their lesson about gold by now," said the Doctor. "If they got their claws on any damaged Dalek technology during the wars, they'll have soon figured out exactly how to get past that Achilles' heel. In fact, if the Cybermen have had access to any xenotechnology, they could well have evolved fairly significantly in a very short space of time."


       He turned to Linda with a grin. "You see, the Cybermen have always been limited by their genesis. They were created a certain way, and have found it virtually impossible to move beyond it."


       "Technology suffers from inherited defects," said Linda. "Like genetic flaws, passed down through the generations. We all know that. Especially us, given this project."


       "Well, being able to look at how the Daleks went about their form of bio-mechanisation might have given the Cybermen a few new ideas. And that worries me."


       "Angus, radio waves can't harm us," Linda turned towards him. "If there is a chance that they will disrupt these creatures or protect Vivian then it's worth it."


       "If there are any creatures to disrupt. Very well, I'll have Jethro set up the necessary signals. It's not as if there's anything else we can use the comms for."


       "Why do you say that," said the Doctor.


       "You were right, Doctor," said Austin. "Our off-planet signals have been on the fritz for the past day."


       "Ever since you showed up, Doctor," said Hanrahan.


       "The Cybermen are disrupting your signals. They may have detected my arrival."


       "So they're after you?" asked Hanrahan, scowling when he saw the Doctor nod. "We should have left you outside."


       "I wonder how long they've been here?" the Doctor mused, tapping his chin with his finger and completely ignoring Hanrahan's hostility.


       "I've had enough of this," Hanrahan fumed. "I'm going to check on Doctor Pincus."


       "He's never been that concerned about her before," said Linda after Hanrahan had gone.


       "I'd better check on Jethro and Raven, tell them what's going on," said Davenport, heading out towards Central Control. "I'll look in Lawrie, too," he called over his shoulder.


* * *


In the Cyberbase, the Cyber-Leader reacted as the information being fed from the Cybermats to the bank of screens in front of him suddenly stopped. He turned to his lieutenant.


       "The Cybermats are no longer responding. Analyse and report."


       "At once, Leader."


       The Cyber-Lieutenant examined a series of displays and updates and then turned to the Cyber-leader.


       "The humans have utilised radio waves to disrupt the Cybermats."


       "This is the Doctor's work; the humans would not have arrived at the counter measure so quickly. They have been alerted to our presence. Has the assault unit been deployed?"


       "Affirmative, Leader. They have entered stealth mode and will arrive at the facility within a few hours."


       "Excellent."


       "The radio signals will disrupt our contact with the human subject undergoing cyberviral alteration."


       "Negative. The subject designated Pincus has latent psionic capabilities that will assist the process. Our remote mind-control will be stronger as a result."


       The Cyber-Lieutenant was quiet for a while. The Cyber-Leader turned towards him.


       "You wish to speak."


       "Leader, we should attack the humans in full force now. A direct strike would overwhelm them. We would capture the target immediately."


       "Such an attack would risk damaging the facility and the humans with the knowledge we require."


       "We would still have that knowledge through the humans' computer records."


       "Computer records are not as complete or productive as the information stored in the humans' brains. Conversion of the human scientists will give us what we require. We cannot risk damaging the artificial humans in storage, or the machines used to grow new ones."


       "We would only require the knowledge of how to build such machines."


       "We need to study the existing machines and artificials. Direct observation is more important than stored information."


       "We have been observing the humans' research for two months."


       "You question my command?"


       "Negative. I question the necessity of this mission, Leader."


       "The Terran military is moving on the human corporations and free colonies. Diplomatic unity between the human worlds prevented our success in the last phase of activity. Diplomatic unity between the human worlds resulted in their victories against the Daleks. A fully integrated network of human worlds would pose a greater obstacle to resurgence of the Cyber-race. The humans cannot be allowed to achieve Empire."


       "You over-estimate the humans, Leader. Cybermen are superior beings."


       "We must act if we are to benefit from our superiority."


       "Nothing can stop us. Nothing will ever be able to stop us."


       "Incorrect. Existing evidence indicates potential weaknesses. We must confront these."


       "We have evolved since our last phase of activity."


       "We have resolved many issues of our nature. We must not overlook potential areas of improvement. We need to move against the humans as soon as possible. We can increase the range and strength of our own mind-control capabilities. We can develop new and powerful psionic capabilities. We require the tactical advantage of these psionic units now. We have learned the advantage of new and different forms of technology. We have learned to use and adapt alien technology and our own nature. We grow stronger from this evolution."


       "Tangential evolution, Leader. Technology taken from inferior races."


       "Our recent changes have been tangential evolution. We are stronger because of them. We are superior to previous generations of the Cyber-race, but our numbers are significantly less."


       "This technology is a product of human development. It is therefore inferior. It cannot benefit us."


       "That is a fallacy. It exhibits emotion. Human inferiority does not render their developments useless or unimportant. Our superiority is a simple fact of our nature. You express it as a personal emotion. I question your competency."


       "Leader, I--"


       "This debate is a waste of computational resources. You will undergo neural re-structuring immediately."


       "At once, Leader." The Cyber-Lieutenant marched out of the darkened room.


       The third Cyberman in the base stepped away from the wall and approached the Cyber-Leader.


       "You are now second in command," the Cyber-Leader told the new Cyber-Lieutenant.


       "Yes, Leader. Communication has been received from hyperspace. The forward position reports the security reinforcements have been neutralised."


       "Ahead of schedule."


       "They were attacked before they could enter hyperspace."


       "By our vessel?"


       "Negative. They were attacked by a third party, the human military. They will arrive in place of the replacement security force we planned to control. They pose a significant threat."


       "If they are moving on the facility they will have an agent in this area. That could explain the incident witnessed in the regeneration area. We will neutralise that agent immediately."


       "Leader, the Cyber-Controller also orders the capture of the Doctor and his time-ship designated TARDIS as priority. Shall I update the assault unit?"


       "Negative. They must secure the dormant test subjects."


       "Leader, standing instruction two states--" the new Cyber-Lieutenant was cut off.


       "I am aware of standing instruction two. The mission objectives will be adhered to, the facility will be taken. Capture of the TARDIS will be accomplished as a part of this. This debate is a waste of computational resources. Suggest alternative course of action for capture of Doctor."


       "The neural-conversion process of the human designated Pincus is nearing completion."


       "The cyberviral unit will have other tasks. I shall establish neural link with Pincus as soon as possible and instruct the identification and elimination of any Terran agents. Her knowledge of the humans will aid in the execution of that task. Capture of the Doctor cannot be allowed delay our plans. We shall utilise redundant systems: order our agent to arrange capture of the Doctor."


       "Should we inform our agent of the suspected activities of the Terran military and their agent?"


       "Negative. Transmit information necessary for capture of the Doctor only."


       "Without delay, Leader."


       The Cyber-Lieutenant activated the communication device used to contact the covert agent while the Cyber-Leader tried to establish contact with Doctor Pincus.


* * *


Davenport came back from Central Command and listened unnoticed to the Doctor, Austin and Linda's conversation for a while.


       "We have 22 of the new generation AIs in soft storage awaiting downloaded and body generation, two undergoing research in the labs and one being acclimatised to humans in general tasking," Linda explained to the Doctor.


       "Jethro?"


       "That's right," said Austin. "He's a basic AI, no psionic powers. We embodied him to cover our unexpected shortfall in personnel. Raven's telekinetic abilities give her a heightened degree of three dimensional spatial awareness so we have her on pilot duty when she'd not being tested, which is a test in its own way."


       "And how long does it take to grow a new body for an AI?"


       "A couple of days," said Linda. "We've refined the process considerably from when this project started. Basically, we save time by using a short lived matrix - the body only lasts a month before cellular breakdown occurs. The vats can create Alpha level clones too, but as you'd expect that takes far longer and uses up more resources."


       "What do you grow them from?"


       "A few basic materials and ingredients, but they are mostly generated through rapid cell duplication."


       "And how many bodies could you grow from the ingredients at hand?"


       "About 500, given we're halfway through the project."


       "So, you've got the facilities to grow a small army in a matter of days, each new body equipped with the brain chemistry for advanced psionic powers?"


       "Oh no. There are a limited number of tanks. It would take a few weeks going flat out to do that."


       "But we only have 25 research AIs, plus Jethro," Austin reminded the Doctor.


       "But the pattern for each AI could be duplicated."


       "Yes, that being rather the idea."


       "No wonder the Cybermen are here. They'd convert you and complete your research and development for their own ends. They'll turn your AIs into Cyber programs, and download them again and again into new bodies. Each body grown in a matter of days, then kitted out with Cyber technology. Exoskeletons, artificial organs and cerebral networks. Depending on the technology they've accessed they could even write the codes for the cybernetic components right into your generation tanks, turn bone and flesh into metal. We have to find them. Stop them before they start."


       "Destroy them?"


       "Well, I'd like to say hello first," he smiled disarmingly at the question. "Go through the normal pleasantries. 'Resistance is futile' and all that. Just to be polite. Find out how much they already know, what their plans are. Then take the appropriate action."

"You sound like you've done this before," said Davenport, alerting the others to his presence.


       "Countless times."


       "I've seen no evidence of these Cybermen, Doctor. But there is clearly something going on. I'm willing to trust you. Please don't let me down. I'll have Raven and Lawrie fly you around the area. See if you can spot anything. Linda, will you go along in command?"


       "Of course," said Linda. "I'd better let Hanrahan know, see what he says."


       "If you think that's wise," said Davenport. "Austin, tell Lawrie to prep the remaining dropship and take navigation details."


       "He's a little young for this. If there are Cybermen out there I don't want him put at risk."


       "He's fully trained for this kind of mission, Austin. Stop mothering the boy. Linda does enough of that. Once you've spoken to him pop up to Central Control and co-ordinate take-off. I'll let Raven know she's going out again."


* * *


In the infirmary, Doc Brain was bent over a microscope studying the samples he had taken from Pincus' blood. He was frowning and his mouth was hanging open. He looked up at the wall, staring blankly in confusion.


       "I don't believe it," he said. "I just don't believe. I've never seen anything like this."


       He blinked his eyes and looked back into the microscope. He lifted his head again, shaking it.


       "Impossible," he said, reaching over for his coffee.


       Suddenly someone grabbed him around the neck, a vice-like grip on his throat. He tried to pull away only crushing his windpipe further. His coffee fell to the floor, and his microscope and research equipment. He tried to cry out, scream, beg, say something, but he couldn't speak, he couldn't even breath. He started to blackout and his legs went numb. The last thing he saw was the pattern of silver-black lines across the hand and arm wrapped around his neck.


* * *


Raven joined the Doctor in the dropship hanger. Her face was blank and he couldn't tell what she felt about this mission, with him still a mystery and the threat of Cybermen. But she was an AI, maybe none of it really registered with her. Maybe she'd just do what she was told. He wanted to get to know her better, understand her nature and intelligence. But there was so much else to do.


       The other AI, Jethro, came out of the dropship carrying a box of tools. He eyed the Doctor suspiciously but would not meet his or Raven's eyes.


       The Doctor followed Raven through the doors of the drop ship and the rear section of the ship with the engine access and various compartments, into the cockpit to join Lawrie. He was siting at the navigation station beneath the large front windows. Raven sat next to him in the pilot's seat.


       Raven and Lawrie were wearing envirosuits, the Doctor had his silver coat on over his curious green and brown clothes. There were four seats in the cockpit, two at the controls and two further back and above. There were controls built into the arms of back two chairs and screens suspended above them. Raven directed the Doctor to one of these and he started fiddling with the buckle on the seatbelt and the control pads on his chair.


       "What was Jethro doing back there," Raven asked Lawrie.


       "He wanted to help me. I let him flush-out the power coils."


       "I thought you two didn't get along," said Raven.


       Lawrie shrugged. "You know he wants Austin to notice him. I think he's after my job, actually."


       "He seems to actively mimic Austin," said the Doctor.


       "Of course. All the artificials mimic someone. They latch on to a particular individual after a short while, and emulate them to some extent, even down to tinkering with the cosmetic appearance factors of the clone matrices. Jethro emulates Austin and Raven emulates Linda. The same accent, the same mannerisms, the same moods and sometimes the same opinions and behaviour." Lawrie said all of this while sitting right next to Raven. Her attention remained fixed on the pre-flight checks.


       The Doctor leaned over and smiled at her. "Well, all intelligent creatures emulate someone to some extent."


       "Monkey see, monkey do," Raven replied cynically. She did not look up.


       Davenport walked in and clapped Raven on the shoulder. "Look after yourself, dear. And look after our mysterious stranger, too."


       She put her hand over his and smiled at him. "Of course."


       After Davenport came Hanrahan in an envirosuit, pushing past and taking the command chair next to the Doctor. "Right then. Let's get going."


       The Doctor glanced up at Hanrahan. "I thought Linda was coming," he said.


       "I told her I wanted to command this mission."


       "How much of an argument did she give you," asked Lawrie.


       "None. She knows the chain of command," Hanrahan said looking pointedly at Davenport. "Raven, Lawrie, I want you to take a different route. North towards the arctic area rather than along this parallel."


       "Why," asked the Doctor.


       "These areas you were going to check were regularly covered by our orbitals before they went down, this one wasn't. Also a meteor came down there a couple of months ago. Nothing seemed suspicious at the time but if the Cybermen have landed then that's the best bet."


       "You've changed your tune," said Davenport, just as surprised as the Doctor that Hanrahan was going.


       "Well if we're going to do this we may as well do it properly. I still don't think you'll find anything and I still don't trust the Doctor but may as well do the best we can."


       The Doctor smiled thinly. "Glad to have you aboard then, Mr Hanrahan. Mr Davenport, I suggest we maintain radio silence until we find what we're looking for. The Cybermen will be monitoring the signals, and we don't want to alert them. We'll check in every half-hour, make it look routine."


       "I'll be in Operations. Best of luck," said Davenport as he stepped out of the forward room and down the corridor into the rear of the ship. After a little longer than the Doctor had expected, he appeared outside waving cheerfully. Lawrie waved back and activated the door controls, closing them. Raven powered up the engines and the ship lifted off the ground, talking to Central Control through her headset. She checked clearance and asked them to open the hanger doors.


       The doors opened slowly and freezing wind rushed in. The Doctor watched as Davenport wrapped his jacket around him and blew into his hands, retreating into the warmth of the complex. Raven pushed the ship forward and out. She skimmed across the rocky ground before going higher and increasing the speed.


       They headed north.


* * *


Linda locked her door and sat on her bed. She pulled out one of cases from beneath the bed and lifted it onto her lap. She opened it and reached inside and opened a secret compartment at the bag. From this she took out a palm-sized box and a long, thin rod of silver. Then she picked up the other case and went to a similar secret compartment in that. Out of there she took another palm-sized box and a pair of earphones and a microphone, thin curls of metal with dangling wires.


       She connected the two boxes together with the metal rod and put this contraption onto the bed beside her. She plugged the headphones into one box and the microphone into the other. She tapped at a series of keys on the box connected to the headphones, listening to the noises this produced in her ears, then did the same with the other box.


       "Here we go then. And I think I've got a few surprises for you guys," she said into the microphone, testing the volume and feedback. Finally, she checked the encryption channel was right for the time and date and activated the high-speed subspace communication.


       "Captain Chambers to Marine Space Corps Command. Recognition Green Epsilon. Guys, this is Linda and we've got problems."


       "M-S-C-C network receiving. Report, Captain." The words were strained over millions of light years and took a few moments to reach Linda Chambers. She thought about just how far away her backup was.


       "This is all priority. Things are hotting up here, better let Major Baxter know now. Security Director Julian M'Benga has been officially classed as missing, presumed dead. The chain of command is completely shattered. Davenport has taken control but he doesn't know what he's doing and Hanrahan is challenging him at every turn. It's better than we could have hoped, assuming things don't get worse."


       "Worse?"


       "Things have gone to hell here and I'm worried about what will happen next. I need backup"


       "The entire ninth fleet is on its way to secure the system. What's happened Captain?"


       "This guy turned up from nowhere. He could be a spy from one of the other corporations, I don't think so. He's not quite human. I will transmit a picture of him I took while he was unconscious. He calls himself Doctor. Does that mean anything to you guys?"


       "We will analyse his likeness and cross-reference with the files. Anything else on him?"


       "Not yet. But there's something else. Doctor Pincus was attacked by some sort of robot creature. She's been infected with a neurological virus. I don't know if she'll survive."


       "Her experience and knowledge is very valuable. Do what you can to help her."


       "Of course. I like her."


       "Don't get too attached. Is this robot connected with the stranger?"


       "Not as far as I can tell, though I didn't even see it. But he seems to know what it is. This is where it gets good. He thinks that it's an indication of alien presence. A dangerous presence."


       Linda bit her lips and thought about what she was going to say. She decided to say it anyway.


       "He thinks that Cybermen are here. He says they survived the war." Linda paused, waiting for a response. "Guys? Did you hear me? I said that the Cybermen may be back and they may be right here. Now, from what I've heard they are about as bad as the Daleks. From the way he told it they could be worse. This was supposed to be a chicken run, an easy little infiltration. Guys?"


       Linda started fiddling with her communicator. "Are you there? Is anyone there? Grok it. Look, if you guys can hear me I am really starting to worry. I'm not equipped to single-handedly fight a war against some bio-mechanic invasion fleet. I'd need a couple more guns for that. Command? We didn't prepare any contingency plan for a situation like this. I need the fleet here as soon as possible. Guys?"


       Linda sat back and closed her eyes. Had they heard her? How far into her report had the line gone dead? How had the transmission been cut off? The corporation? The others in the facility? Maybe Jethro. Or the Cybermen?


       Linda Chambers, Marine Captain and war veteran, checked the mini-blaster strapped to her shin, and then the bigger version nestling in a hidden pocket in her jacket. It had been over ten years since she'd seen active combat, in the last Dalek War. She'd been little more than a kid then, rushed through officer's training and onto the front line. She was much more experienced now. Much more capable. And much more afraid. Two years playing the deep-cover role of a sedate academic research had softened her. She wasn't ready for this. She'd forgotten all her training.


       She put the powerful but light blaster back inside her jacket and stood up. She walked over to the door and pressed the button to unlock and open it. She was thinking about other things so it took her a few moments to realise that somebody was blocking her path out of her room. They couldn't have heard anything but she wondered how long they had been waiting. She realised who it was.


       "Vivian?"


       Vivian Pincus did not respond. Her eyes were closed.


       "Doctor Pincus? Are you okay, Vivian?"


       Pincus opened her eyes. They were white and glowing. Linda recognised the inhumane nature of the person that was staring at her. Her instincts and training kicked in and she punched the button by the door. She somersaulted back into the room as Pincus reached out for her, landed in a firm kneeling position in the centre of the room with her blaster already out and pointing in the right direction.


       The door slammed shut quickly, but not quickly enough. Pincus had reached out and her elbow was now shut in the door. The door crushed her skin and she started to bleed but it did not seem to affect her. Her hand groped around. Then her other hand appeared in the small gap and she started to force the door open. Linda pulled the trigger of her blaster.


       Nothing happened. It had been fine when she'd checked it. She checked it again and couldn't see any problem. She fired again and still nothing. She pulled out the power cartridge. It had been drained. Sabotage. When? Had she been discovered before this? She looked up again as the door began to creak open.


* * *


Twenty minutes into the flight and the ship was circling back on itself, checking a series of fissures from a different angle. The Doctor and Hanrahan were watching the screens that hung from the roof above them showing footage of the rocky ground as they flew over it.


       "We're due to check in with Central Control in a few minutes," said Lawrie.


       "I think we should hurry this up," said Hanrahan.


       "I thought you wanted to be thorough, " said the Doctor.


       "I do," said Hanrahan after a short pause. "But I don't think we'll see anything down there we wouldn't have seen on our last fly-past. We should check the meteor sight now. Raven, take us further north. These co-ordinates." He typed something on the keyboard in the armrest of his seat and a series of numbers appeared on Raven's display. "That's where the meteor came down. We should check that now."


       "Whatever you say," said Raven sharply. She pulled a sharp turn and the ship swept up the jagged cliffs. Suddenly the ship began to shake. The pitch of the engines changed to a low wine rather than the strong thumping that it had been.


       "What the hell," said Hanrahan, gripping the sides of his chair. The Doctor undid his seatbelt and stepped forward to stand between Lawrie and Raven. He bent over and looked at the monitors.


       "Have we been hit?" he asked.


       "I don't think so," said Raven.


       "Look, there," the Doctor pointed to the power readings on the dashboard.


       "We're leaking fuel," said Austin. "It's been backwashed into the engines, they're flooded."


       "Nothing's responding," said Raven.


       "It wouldn't be. All the power levels have dropped to zero. Hang on, I'll switch in reserves." Lawrie punched buttons on the console in front of him and the displays changed. The power levels started to rise. "That's it."


       "Still nothing from the main engines," said Raven.


       "No, they're gone. Try the orbital positioning jets, see if you can slow our descent. I've got communications back, I'll radio the base."


       "There we go," said Raven. "Orbital jets working. I've slowed us but we're still going down. There's not enough power to get us back up. We're going to hit, and still at a speed to flatten us."


       "Aim for the slopes of one of the fissures," said the Doctor. "Bring us down steady like an old runway landing, do you see? A safer landing than straight onto rock."


       "Yes, Doctor. Got it. But you'd better get strapped in. These is going to be bumpy, whatever happens."


       "Jethro!" Lawrie was shouting into his headset, trying to raise the base. "Jethro, respond!" He turned to face Hanrahan and the Doctor. "I can't raise the base. The line's dead."


       "This is it," shouted Raven. "Brace for impact!"


       The frosty ground flashed past the windscreen and then everything went black.


---
To be continued...



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