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


Chapter 4
"Hanging from the Silver Cliffs"
by Timothy E. Jones


---


Jethro stared at the com-link, watching the pretty lights of the touch display flicker and dance to the panic filled voices on the other side.


       "...We're going to hit, and still at a speed to flatten us," came Raven's matter-of-fact voice. She sounded calm, just like she was engineered to. But then, death wasn't a permanent arrangement for her.


       "Aim for the slopes of one of the fissures." That sounded like the stranger who called himself '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." Raven again. "But you'd better get strapped in. This is going to be bumpy no matter what happens."


       Now Lawrie's voice was drowning out Raven's. "Jethro! Jethro respond!"


       There was a brief pause. "I can't raise Central Control. The line's dead."


       "No it's not." Jethro said, but not for them to hear. He'd made sure they could not hear him. And removed any temptation to interfere with what was unfolding.


       "This is it! Brace for impact!"


       Some of the most horrid sounds in the universe came over the comm.


       Screaming, metal grinding against rock, metal grinding against metal, the smashing of plexisteel, crunching of bones...


       Jethro just stood there taking it all in until the comm went dead, the display faded away.


       He showed no emotion in any way.


* * *


The ship came to a rest along the edge of a ravine, teetering over a steep drop into oblivion.


       The outer shell was mangled well beyond recognition, the craft reduced to the cages around the crew areas. Inside, everyone was oblivious to their precarious condition. There wasn't a movement from anybody, no breathing, no twitching of a finger. Nothing. And even though power still flowed through the life monitors system, it didn't read any life signs from anybody.


       Including the Doctor.


* * *


The Cyber Lieutenant turned from the monitors. "Leader, a situation has arisen that requires your attention."


       "Proceed," the Leader instructed.


       "The cybermat aboard the human transport attempting to locate us reports that it has crashed ten point two six metrons south-east of this location."


       The Leader examined a graphic showing the location of the crash in three dimensions. Another screen showed the position of the small Cyberforce on the planet, moving towards the human facility.


       "Redirect two of the assault unit to investigate and observe. If it is possible to locate and isolate the Doctor, they are to do so and return here with him."


       "If he has ceased functioning?"


       "The Doctor is one of the few entities as useful to the cyber race dead as alive."


       "Understood."

((*))

Jethro ran out of Central Control. He looked troubled now, as he hurried through the corridors looking, looking for somebody, his mind raging with emotions he couldn't control.


       What had he just done? Who could help him figure things out? Doctor Pincus had been infected with some virus, she was unconscious, she couldn't help him. Davenport could be of the most help, but he had no idea where the man was.


       "Somebody help!" Linda's voice. She could be of some assistance, not as good as Davenport, but at least she could help him sort things out.


       "Linda?" he called out, looking in the general direction from where he heard her voice. The residential wing. "Linda, where are you?" He felt the bitter taste in the back of his mouth that meant his adrenaline level was rising. His digital existence had possessed no such reaction to adverse stimuli.


       He rounded the corner into the residential wing and staggered to a halt.


       "Doctor Pincus!" Jethro almost smiled. Doctor Pincus was holding the door to Linda's quarter's half open, despite the red glow on the panel next to it indicating it should be locked.


       "You are awake," Jethro continued. "Good, maybe you can help me--"


       She turned to face him. An obvious smear of blood could be seen on one of her arms. Her eyes had a strange, luminous quality that wasn't something a human or an AI should have been capable of displaying. Jethro stepped back and Pincus returned her attention to the door.


       "Why are you doing this?" Jethro asked the doctor. "Did Linda do something to anger you?" His tone was child-like, his experience and comprehension over-ridden by the emotions flooding through him.


       "The virus must have taken her over," Linda called from inside her room. Jethro wasn't sure. He tried to work out what was happening but parts of his mind had deserted him, bits that he relied on were now cut off. He couldn't rationalise what was happening, or how to stop it.


       A grinding noise brought his attention back to the doorway as the mechanism gave up the fight and disengaged, allowing Pincus to slam it fully open. Barely a second later, she tottered backwards when Linda's chair struck her in the throat. Such a blow should have severely incapacitated the woman, possibly even killed her.


       "Listen," Linda appeared in the doorway, "that is no longer Doctor Pincus."


       "Oh, did somebody do an identity overlay?" He could still understand that.


       "Err... Yes."


       "Because Vivian is my friend, and I don't want to hurt my friends."


       "You have got to understand, we have got to get - urkk!" Pincus was up again, her hand wrapped around Linda's throat.


       "You let my friend go," Jethro tried to loosen Pincus' fingers, but they were like a vice. But so were his, as he had recently found out.


       "Do... anything to... stop her. Anything!" Linda gagged out.


       Jethro looked around desperately. Just along the corridor, he saw something that he could use. A solid-looking, green fire extinguisher. He grabbed it off the wall. Linda had struggled round and Pincus' back was now facing Jethro. Shaking his head free of doubt, he raised the extinguisher up and slammed it down on Vivian's back. She staggered slightly and released Linda. The other woman fell against the wall and pulled herself round to Jethro's side. Pincus rounded on both of them.


       Quick as a flash, Jethro pulled out the little silver pin, aimed the hose in Dr. Pincus' face and pulled the trigger. A white spray jumped from the nozzle, forcing Doctor Pincus to jump back. She raised her hands to her face.


       "Why must you make me hurt you?" Jethro asked, just before punching her in the jaw. To his surprise, Doctor Pincus jolted backwards even further. He hit at her again and again.


       "You can't stop her that way!" Linda warned, she pulled at Jethro's arm and guided him back down the corridor, away from their attacker.


       "Where are we going?"


       "We've got to get the Doctor and Hanrahan back here--" She paused just long enough to shove a cabinet in front of the double doors at the entrance to the residential wing. She collapsed back against it, breathing hard.


       "That's what I wanted to tell you," Jethro confessed, as he gave her a hand. "I sabotaged the ship's engines. I heard them over the radio. They crashed to the North. I don't think they survived."


       "What?" Linda's eyes widened in horror as she instinctively backed away from Jethro. "Why?"


       On the other side of the cabinet, Pincus started trying to force the doors open.


       "I've been experiencing conflicting emotions." He looked down at the floor. "I can't control myself."


       "Since when?" Linda asked, looking nervously between Jethro and the cabinet.


       "I'm not quite sure when it started. I've been... I don't know. Mixed up inside, I think you'd say." He shook his head, gritting his teeth angrily, still staring at the floor as Linda put her hands on his face.


       "Lawrie was always getting things wrong, and the Doctor is dangerous, anyone could see that. I so wanted to please Austin, to help and protect him. Help and protect all of you." He looked up at her at last, pleading with his eyes. "I couldn't stop myself."


       "Oh no," Linda began to sound sympathetic, "you poor boy!"


       "I feel very bad for what I did. Should I be punished?"


       Linda ignored the last question for the moment. "Do you... do you know where they might have crashed?"


       "To within a degree."


       "We need to get an emergency rescue crew out there now!"


       The doors started to give and the cabinet shook


       "But first things first. Help me," she said, running over to the power junction box in the wall. "I need the power feed," she explained as she pulled it open and unplugged the safeties. She seized hold of a black and yellow cable and yanked it out of the wall. "If I electrify the door, we can stop her."


       "You can't kill her!" Jethro protested. "It's wrong to kill people. It makes you feel awful and sick."


       "It won't kill her. I think. It should knock her out. Long enough for us to help her."


       The cabinet fell forward. Linda jumped the last few feet and touched the bare end of the cable to the door. There was a loud bang accompanied by a bright actinic flash. After a few moments came the heavy sound of a body collapsing on the other side of the doors.


       "What now, Linda?"


       "Jethro, we all have to reap the consequences of what we do, no matter what the circumstances. You've got to understand that."


       "Linda I - I'm sorry."


       "Well, let's not worry about how it happened," Linda pulled Jethro towards her and embraced him, "let's worry about fixing it first, then worry about how it happened. Okay?" She kissed him on the forehead.


       "Okay."


* * *


The Doctor's eyes snapped open; he could feel the battered ship shifting back and forth underneath him. He glanced around until he spotted Raven a little distance away.


       "Don't move." She projected a hint of fear in her voice, but whether it was her own or for his benefit, he couldn't say.


       "Ledge?"


       Raven nodded. "The wrong movement could send us falling into the ravine. Another metre and we wouldn't be having this conversation."


       "What's our situation?"


       "You're the only other one awake. Hanrahan's arm is broken, and his chest is bleeding."


       "Why?"


       "There's a piece of metal lodged in his chest. I was about to remove it when you awoke."


       "What side is it on?" The Doctor moved slowly and precisely, so as not to rock the ship, until he was looking at the chair across from him." It shouldn't be hitting any vital at that angle. Is there a medical kit?"


       "It was badly damaged, and I've already used what there was of it."


       "On who?" He suddenly felt a throbbing headache, and his hand rushed up to feel it. He felt a gauze around his head. It was tightly wrapped, seemed like a good job. "Never mind."


       "Your forehead needed three sutures. Because you're not human I didn't know what drugs to give you, so I had hope you wouldn't wake up."


       "Where did you learn to do such a good job?"


       "The kits come with a dumb AI instruction module".


       "How is Lawrie?"


       "He's dead. We can still help Hanrahan right?"


       The Doctor sighed. "The best thing we can do right now is to keep him from bleeding. How far away from the research complex are we?"


       "Outside communications range," she answered pessimistically. "I tried establishing contact before we crashed."


       "Is your suit still working?"


       "Yes. Why?"


       The Doctor pointed through the fractured cockpit wind at the snow which had started falling. "Let's try to work our way outside, carefully taking Hanrahan with us, metal projectile and all. The cold is his best chance of being around to harass me in the future. "


       "What will the cold do?"


       "Slow his circulation and metabolism so that he doesn't bleed as quickly. Hypothermia can be surprising beneficial to the human body under the right circumstances."


       "I see." Raven looked back at her flight board and her expression brightened. "There's a transponder signal registering here. RS-1212. It's the last drop ship, the one kept in mothballs for emergencies. They must have heard our may-day after all."


       "They'd better hurry then," the Doctor answered with a nod as he moved to Hanrahan's side. "If that meteor was the beachhead of a Cyber invasion, they've probably noticed we're here and sent someone to say hello."


       The ship chose that moment to shudder violently.


       "Oh!" Raven began to show a little more fear.


       "I say we get Hanrahan off the ship so we'll be all but ready to load him onto the rescue ship."


       "Agreed."


       "Carefully though. You might be able to levitate, but unfortunately the gods of genetics didn't grant either of us that boon."


       "Okay."


       The Doctor raised his eyebrows at Raven's unique mixture of indifference and trepidation. He positioned himself next to Hanrahan. "I need you to lift him, so I can guide him out of that escape hatch."


       Closing her eyes, Raven focused her powers on raising the injured man out of his chair, allowing the Doctor to scoop his arms under him and take the weight.


       "Open the hatch, I don't think we have much time left!"


       A resounding groan of stressed metal underscored the order.


       "What about...?"


       "I'm sorry, we have to leave him. I know you're hurt, and it's okay if you let it out," the Doctor smiled encouragingly. At the same instant the ship began to slide, almost throwing them off their feet. "But /after/ we get off the ship!"


       The explosive charges that blew the hatch out of its frame only served to push the dropship the final step towards oblivion. As a result, Raven and the Doctor didn't so much leap out into the bitter cold as the ship abandoned them to it.


       Even as the thin envelope of psychokinetic energy cushioning the impact of their landing evaporated, the young woman managed to turn in time to see the back of Lawrie's head, lolling to one side over the back of the chair, vanish from sight as the fractured stone bearing the weight of the ship gave way with a tremendous exhalation of sound attenuated by the thin atmosphere.


       Raven was silent as she raced to the ravine's edge and watch the ship vanish into the darkness. Seconds later, the stygian gloom is broken by the blossom of an explosion that soon subsides into a faint glow.


       "We're safe," the Doctor said as he came up behind her. She didn't resist as he gently turned her around into an embrace, her suited head resting against his shoulder. "Just let it out. Let it all out."


       At that Raven began to wail.


* * *


"The dropship just went out of range of the our sensor net," Davenport observed the holographic display occupying the middle of Central Control.


       "I wouldn't worry about that too much," Linda flashed a fake smile.


       "What I'd worry about is the fact that Pincus has become some kind of bio-mechanical zombie."


       "We're safe as long as she's in stasis. And so is she," Davenport flashed an equally fake smile.


       "We still don't know what happened to Jules, we're down to ten actual people, the reinforcements are still in hyperspace and there may be an army of Cybermen out there." Linda's voice had grown louder and louder until she was almost shouting in Davenport's face.


       "My dear, I had noticed."


       "But you're not doing anything about it." Now she did shout. "Maybe Hanrahan *should* have taken control!"


       "Please don't argue," Jethro said quietly. Linda and Davenport both looked at him. He looked away, began to rock back and forth in his seat.


       "Hey, what's up Jethro?" Davenport looked down at the AI. "You've been moody since Pincus had her little episode."


       Jethro didn't respond.


       "Jethro?" Linda stared at him as he rocked back and forth, chewing his lip. "Do you want me to tell him?" She turned towards Davenport. "He said he's been experiencing conflicting emotions for a while now."


       "Conflicting emotions? What kind?"


       "All kinds," said Jethro quietly.


       "I see." Davenport walked over to the young artificial, took the seat opposite him. "Are these emotions about anyone in particular? Austin, perhaps?" Jethro nodded but wouldn't meet Davenport's eyes. "And have you acted on these emotions?" the psychologist continued. "Have you done things on impulse?"


       Jethro didn't respond. Linda sat next to him, put her arm around his shoulders.


       "He sabotaged the ship," she said.


       Davenport's calm fell away. "He did what?"


       "That's why it crashed," said Jethro, rocking even faster. "I'm sorry."


       Davenport stood up and walked away, checking the remote sensor display again. Linda squeezed Jethro's shoulders and then stood up as well, joined Davenport in front of the computers, out of Jethro's earshot.


       "Do you know what's wrong with him?" she asked.


       "I think so. I already had my suspicions. The way he attacked the Doctor suggested some conflict in his programming. I should have shut him down then. His behaviour has been slowly changing for several months now, and the new raft of sensory stimuli provided by his embodiment may have been the last straw. He's been getting more and more attached to Austin, showing certain irrationalities. If his programme was--"


       "Becoming more human?"


       "To an extent. But beware of misrepresenting his condition. As advanced as our AIs are, they still have trouble with certain extreme emotions, and can find it impossible to resolve internal conflict. He is suffering from an artificial personality disorder, as a human may suffer from a personality disorder, yes. But in him the effects are more pronounced. Impossible for him to resolve. But simple for us to deal with. We just euthanase him and run one oh his older backups. The one from the beginning of the year should be enough."


       "It's that simple," said Linda with a degree of contempt.


       "It's for the best, you know that. It won't hurt him. If his Programming has become corrupted, we have no choice."


       "But maybe it hasn't. Maybe his processes have been tampered with by some outside force. Whoever took Jules, maybe."


       "It's not his emotions that are the problem, conflicting or not. They're natural. Even AIs that never leave their polises can have emotional problems: nervous breakdowns, the odd crisis of conscience. If they didn't ever have such problems, we could hardly call them intelligent. It's that his safety protocols failed that worries me. Emotional overload should have tripped his shut down routine. At the very least, he should have reported his mental condition to me. We have to presume his code has degenerated completely. Over-written itself. And that is most troubling, because if it is as you say a condition bought on by an external factor rather than his programme being unsuitable to wetware installation, then just imagine what such tinkering could do to the far more intricate psyches of the research AIs. There's no telling how long this could set the project back if we have to debug their code by hand."


       "Look, Wallace, there's no use worrying about it now. We've got more important things."


       "You're right; we need to finish prepping this place for either incoming casualties or incoming enemies. In the meantime, I want Tangerine to look after him; being a telepath and having modelled herself on Vivian's personality, she's probably going to be the most steadying influence we could hope to bring to bear on him."


       "I'll set it up." Linda walked over and took Jethro by the hand. "Come with me, now," she said. "I'll take you to Tangerine. She's woken up after that telepathic distress call the Doctor put out, and she needs some company."


* * *


The Doctor shivered as he knelt in the snow, keeping fresh ice on Hanrahan. He knew that this was the best he could do until he got him onto the rescue ship. He could hear a slight, mechanical roar in the distance, just to the south. But he had a sense that the Cybermen were also approaching, everyone would have to move fast when the rescue ship arrived.


       "What do we do now?" Raven asked.


       "Wait and pray. Hope that the rescue ship gets here in time. Hope that the Cybermen don't decide to pay us a visit in the mean time."


       "I'm afraid,"


       "It's okay to be afraid, just don't let it control you. Rather, you control your fear."


       "But what will happen if the Cybermen reach us first?" Raven looked around towards him.


       "I honestly don't know," he answered. "But I doubt they'll be willing to share bodily warmth." He grinned and blew into his hands. Raven grinned back. "If it's any comfort," the Doctor continued, "the explosion that forced us down was internal, so they weren't shooting at us."


       "Not a great deal of comfort, Doctor. There's no way those engines could have failed, Austin and Lawrie... all systems on the dropships are checked regularly. The only way they could have failed like that is sabotage."


       "Ah. Which probably means there's at least one mole in the complex. Working for the Cybermen, I imagine."


       "Well, I don't think they were after the insurance." Raven grinned again. Then she frowned. "Does becoming a Cyberman hurt?"


       "I wouldn't know," he lied uncomfortably. "But I'd rather be dead than experience the emotional greyness that being one entails. Nothing matters to them, Raven. Nothing and nobody but their racial imperative to survive at all costs."


       "Isn't that the imperative of all life?" she asked quietly.


       The Doctor paused, contorted his lips back. "Well, yes. But also to enjoy life itself. To accomplish something, to grow and change. Living and survival are not the same things. And there are worse things than death."


       "Perhaps I won't mind being a Cyberman," Raven remarked reasonably. "It's not like I've much to miss." Suddenly she swung around and stared at the rock face to the east.


       The Doctor looked around anxiously. He couldn't see anything new.


       "Raven?" He knelt up and put his hands on her shoulders. "Raven, what's wrong?"


       "Part of my engineered psionic talent is an enhanced spatial awareness; it's why I was roped in as a dropship pilot. I don't necessarily have to see or hear something to know it's there. I am able to... sense movement, objects, changes in wind resistance and air channels."


       "I'm not going to like where this is leading, am I?"


       "No. There's something here with us..."


---
To be continued...



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