|Doctor Who Tenth Doctor Internet Adventure #01 - "Sandtrap"
Chapter 7 — Part 2
"For Everyone There Is A Time"
by Jon Andersen
The Shadow Architect narrowed her eyes into what she'd heard her body servant refer to as a 'Death Stare'. "This," she said icily, "is unacceptable."
"It might be unpalatable," Consul Runako Bokassa replied calmly, "but that doesn't change the fact that your office violated the terms of your contract with our clients by not being completely forthcoming with all relevant information required to complete their assignment. That lack of information was directly responsible for the loss of a very expensive customised recovery vehicle and its specialised inventory."
"An extensive data record was recovered when the fugitive was neutralised by our clients," Bokassa said mildly, pushing forward another data wafer with a well-manicured claw-tip.
"Ah," the Architect sighed, pursing her blood red lips.
"Deniability comes at a cost, and my clients have asked me to express their regret that their previous services did not warrant the respect they deserved. Under the penalty clause, the Proclamation may undertake no overt or covert action to reclaim the items confiscated in compensation nor sponsor any such third party endeavours."
"Of course," the Architect smiled thinly as she pressed her thumbprint to the reader. There was no real option; you didn't get the primary partner of Mutters Spiral's most feared legal firm visiting you if they thought you could win. "Is there anything else?"
"Yes," he replied solemnly, presenting her with a third wafer. "A petition for affiliation with the Shadow Proclamation and immediate protection by the Judoon. Under Clause 3 of the Proclamation, you have the authority to temporarily grant the petition for 1 solar year before being required to bring it to a full session."
The Architect inserted the wafer into the reader. "Is this some kind of joke? That system no longer exists. No part of it was one of the 27; it was destroyed during the War in Heaven."
"The original system yes. This is a new one."
The Architect shook her head in disbelief. "That sort of stellar engineering... it's impossible."
Bokassa shrugged philosophically. "I would have said it was impossible to steal planets. The stellar cartography data's all there, along with all the legal documentation."
"I can see that..." she answered, scrolling through the data only to trail off as a cold sensation started curling in her gut. Her fingers clenched, tight enough to crack the screen. "My office will have the requisite documentation forwarded to you by the end of the day with all due discretion," she announced stonily. "Thank you, Counsel Bokassa. Please see yourself out."
She kept it in until the door closed, but once she was alone she let out a strangled scream and hurled the reader furiously across her office into the wall. The last thing the holographics showed before they fizzled and died was a plateau acting as a landing site for a number of ships; off in one corner was a gangly humanoid male stepping into a large blue box.
* * *
"Everybody gather round!" the Doctor called out to the humans clinging to him as the group arrived back in the TARDIS control room. "When I give the word, I'll need all you to work the controls I'm going to show you. Dan, pump that. Carrie, flip that and hold it down for 10 seconds. Marquez, work the zigzag plotter like this. Tina, spin this anti-clockwise. No, sorry, clock-wise. Everyone got it? Good."
He shuffled around back to where he'd started. "It'll take a few moments to dematerialise..." he did something to the confusing myriad of control surfaces on the console, and the column at the centre of it started moving up and down, accompanied by a dreadful wheezing groaning noise. He did something else, and the noise changed slightly, "...and rematerialise. Alright everyone, now!"
The four of them sprang forward to their appointed task. The Doctor had a manic grin on his face as the TARDIS shuddered and sparks started flying around them all. "Just a little longer; we're giving that nasty old Dune a right kick in the pants! And... we're done!"
The wheezing groaning noise had died away, ending with the dull thud of a car running into a very unyielding wall. Apart from the ever present background hum, it was still and silent.
"Is that it?" Carrie asked hopefully.
"Looks that way," the Doctor answered cheerfully. "Magnificent job, couldn't have done it without the lot of you. Well, I could, but it would have been a lot harder."
"So where are we now?" Dan asked.
"Where we always were: Isleworth," the Doctor answered breezily as he strode to those impossible wooden doors. Tina half-noted that there was no sign of the deluge or their hastily abandoned clothes. Honestly, she didn't mind so much: the uniform for the diner came with the job, and with poor old Kevin dead that might not be around much longer. Raulo's suit was probably much the same; she couldn't picture somewhere as classy as the golf club relying on people providing their own stuff. Dan had been dressed nicely, and that high strung Carrie too, but they both seemed to have found something they were happy with in that huge wardrobe.
"There was a little jiggery pokery with the exact spatial co-ordinates," he continued as he flung them open triumphantly, "but we should be right by the– oh."
"Madre de Dios!" Raulo exclaimed. He was quickly followed by Carrie's equally shocked "What have you done?"
"What's got everyone's panties in a–?" Dan started to ask, then tailed off with a faint chuckle in his voice. "Ah, I see."
"They're going to ban you for life," Tina nudged the alien in the ribs.
"I'm sure they won't mind it that much," the Doctor joked as they all walked out. Tina assumed he'd meant to wind up somewhere on the green, and not at the bottom of a sprawling hole the size of a large Beverly Hills mansion. Looking around, she could see a number of rapidly collapsing tunnels that disappeared into the soil. And, being Florida, the ground was starting to become muddy. Oh well, it might end up being a new water feature.
"Who cares about him!" Raulo exclaimed. "I'm know I'm going to get fired."
"Doctor," Dan tapped the alien on the shoulder, "we've got company."
* * *
"I think you can turn that off now."
Meklit pushed herself away from the back of the jade tesseract and spat the sonic screwdriver out from between her teeth. She didn't turn it off though until she'd looked around and saw no sign of sand. "I can't believe his crazy plan worked."
Sidotti in turn pulled herself free from where she'd been sandwiched protectively beneath her partner. "It was basically our crazy plan too. Just different hardware."
"Speaking of which, look at this place." Meklit ran her hand over the chiton-like substance that comprised the seed ship's interior. It was metal, but not, sort of black/blue/silver and warm to the touch. Techno-organic occurred to her as the perfect descriptor. "With all that sand gone, it's quite–"
"–beautiful," Sidotti completed the sentence, also running her fingers across the surfaces. "I've never seen such colours!"
"What do you mean 'what colours'?" Sidotti queried in confusion.
"Just what I said," Meklit answered, eyes narrowing a little as she considered the significance of her friend's reply.
"Copper and gold mostly, some red." Sidotti smiled, wearing a teasing expression. "A lot like you when you're in season, actually. They're just beneath the surface, like a memory. I take it you're seeing something else."
"It must have something to do with you and synching with telepathic fields," Meklit shook her head. "It's all rather monochromatic to me. But you're still blue, I'm still red, and this thing," she thumped the jade tesseract, "is still green."
"It's a good thing he told us to get out of the way," Sidotti nodded towards it. Her calm acceptance of the Doctor was beginning to worry Meklit a little: it was like the Zotran had been infected with some sort of meme, the toxicity of which remained in question. With both the tesseract ships using teep fields, it was entirely possible. If they were communicating something harmful, did that mean she was herself infected?
"When you said 'hello' to the ship, what happened? Before the Dune got sucked out. Or in."
"Nothing," Sidotti shrugged, still moving around. "There wasn't a conversation that I was aware of, I just thought at it. Interesting."
"I think the colours are his thoughts."
"How can you tell?"
"It's just a feeling," she smiled. "A strong feeling."
"So why are you having these strong feelings?" Meklit decided to examine the problem. "Why was it you who found this thing–"
–this thing, and not the Doctor? He's the one it belongs to, he's the Time Lord, so why was it you who came across it, thus enabling this whole plan to occur?" Again she gestured towards the Pagoda. "We've no idea how he originally planed to contain or remove the Dune, or pull me out of there; it may well have been by using this." She left the unknown nature of his plans for the Dune and the ship unspoken. For now.
"Then why the act?" Sidotti asked, examining a circular bulge dominating one wall. "What does it benefit him to lie about knowing about it if he was always going to use it? I honestly think he was surprised by it."
"The problem is I do too," Meklit agreed. "He's dangerous and I don't really trust him, but I believe him. Which takes us back to why you? Why is his terrifyingly advanced ship showing you things before him?"
"Maybe they're fighting. Maybe the different tesseract techs interact in a way that affects his ship's link with that hyper-mind Time Lords were always rumoured to have and it was just simpler to hack a lower species like me."
"Damn, don't even joke!" Meklit scowled. "Just the idea of you being psi-hacked so casually sets my scales on edge. And I think you have. Ever since you found this thing, you're, well, just too relaxed."
Myriad points of light began to scintillate across the surface of the bulge. Gold and silver and some red.
"Did you do that? Make that display come on."
"You can see it?"
"I think so; there are touch panels. It just–"
"'Felt like the right thing to do'. Jag it Sid, we need to get you out of here before anything else starts 'feeling right'."
* * *
"What the hell happened!" the man Dan had noticed yelled down at them. He was wearing one of those passably decent suits expensive places tended to put their minions in, and a harried expression to go with it.
"Oh no!" Raulo groaned next to him, in that particular manner that instantly identified the newcomer as a boss.
"Hello Mr Young!" the Doctor called up cheerfully.
"You!" came the accusing reply. "And Marquez! I hope you've got a real good explanation for all of this..."
"It's a brilliant explanation!" the Doctor exclaimed proudly. "Do you have a phone?"
"What is it?" Young asked.
"Oh, about 'yay' big, electronic, let's you talk... Oh! You meant the explanation?"
"Yes!" he snapped irritably. "What is it?"
"Subsidence caused by global warming!" Dan called up. Everyone down in the hole looked at him and he shrugged with a smile. He worked at an ad agency; spinning stuff was what he did.
"Bull!" Young shot back.
"It's that, or aliens," the Doctor agreed with a wink in Dan's direction. "Which one do you think the people in charge are going to tell everyone?"
"More importantly," Dan continued, "which one is your insurance company going to believe?"
Young swore. "This is all your fault, Marquez! You had to go stick your nose into the weird shit... Thank God the Cup's over and done with..."
"Mister Marquez and my other friends here are why you have a golf course with a hole in it rather than a hole where there used to be a golf course," the Doctor defended Raulo, then injected a little steel into his voice. "Can I borrow your phone please?"
Muttering under his breath, Young lobbed his phone into the hole.
"Who are you calling?" Carrie asked.
"UNIT," the Doctor replied. "They'll smooth over everything for you in a jiffy."
* * *
"We'd like to offer you a job."
Marquez did a double take. "Excuse me?"
The soldier who at the beginning of the debrief had introduced herself as a Lieutenant Badhorse gave a little smile. "The organisation is in an expansionist phase," she explained. "We're looking for individuals with the right talents to become investigators."
"I already have a job."
"Yes," she nodded. "A job in which you've been over looked for promotion twice because you notice things people would prefer you didn't, and that makes you look like someone who isn't a team player. Your observational skills make you a team player here, Mister Marquez. You've got a clean security record, you're an American citizen, your SAT scores though not stellar were still respectable, and you're already investigating the possibility of a Reservist career in the Coast Guard. Plus, you have one additional qualification that many of us admire: you've met the Doctor and come out the other side. That counts for a lot with us."
"I– I don't know..." he stammered when it became obvious the offer was genuine. "I mean, Isleworth is just a golf club, sure, but I'm hardly likely to get killed looking after it. Or so I thought until yesterday."
"I won't lie, Mister Marquez," Badhorse continued. "You won't meet as many celebrities as you might at Isleworth, and it's not a life without risk. But it is one of worth, and one I think at least some part of you wants that." She smiled at him again. "We also pay more than what you're currently getting, once you factor in the tax and fringe benefits."
"Tell me more."
* * *
"Peter Gantrey died a hero," Carrie Underhill declared to the waiting cameras. "He stood up against those drug fuelled fiends that attacked the diner that night. He gave those of us who survived the chance to do so."
Steve grinned, muting the sound as the image changed to a picture of the deceased. "This is gold!" he crowed triumphantly. "You've got two more agencies looking to hook you up with their clients products!"
"Put them with Versace and Nike and whoever else there is," Carrie waved her manager off tiredly. Yet again she considered telling him the truth about what had happened that night, that it was all a lie and the old man had been killed by alien sand zombies while trying to run, and then his corpse had been further desecrated by the 'good' aliens who really had rescued them. Again she decided not to, because he'd either freak out about the aliens or about the cover-up before tying to milk it even more. As it was, he was over the moon that she — and the 'freak subsidence' at Islewood — was pushing Tiger Woods and his stupid improbable crash out of pride of place in the headlines. Come to think of it, Tiger probably was too.
All she wanted to do was play golf and be famous for that. It was the one pure thing in her life, her greatest passion. And now it was tainted both by the memory of the fear she'd felt that night every time she even looked at a sand trap, and the knowledge that she was lying to help salvage the reputation of someone she'd once admired.
Drug fuelled lunatics at large outside the prestigious Windermere community was, despite all that had happened recently, still more believable than aliens. But how could she condemn them when it still felt slightly unreal to her and she'd seen it all?
Rolling her half empty Corona around in her fingers, she stared out of the window of the hotel they'd escaped to. She'd been surprised to find out at the inquest that Tina was still working at the Diner, perhaps even more surprised to find out she was backing the story too, given her attitude on the day. Even though he wasn't obviously getting anything out of it, Dan's enthusiasm for the deception hadn't surprised her — unlike his showing up with a boyfriend.
She finished her beer just as Steve dropped down on the couch next to her. "Why so serious?"
"Near death experience, genius." She rolled her eyes.
"Well, how about a near-life one?" he asked, still pumped. "I've got an email here from a game studio. They want to licence your likeness for a new Wii golf game. Full motion capture deal."
"Is that where they put you in a wet suit with ping pong balls?"
"Yeah, why not. I could do with some unreality right about now."
* * *
The Doctor threw open the TARDIS doors dramatically and walked out into the desert.
It was by all appearances mid-afternoon underneath a wan blue sky. Pale ochre sand stretched out in all directions, shaped into dunes both meandering and epic. The wind droned in a melancholy fashion. Mercifully, the smell of rotting fish that came from riding possessed corpses was absent.
"My name is the Doctor, last of the Time Lords. I seek parlay under the terms of the Shadow Proclamation!"
One of the dunes turned to face him.
*Parlay is granted,* it thundered. *You may speak.*
"Great Dune, part of you was apprehended on the planet Earth, attempting an act of genocide," he declared seriously. "Amongst many other crimes."
*We are aware of the actions of this subset,* the sand-face replied non-committally.
"You are also aware of the punishment awaiting your subset?" he asked.
*We are greater than our parts.*
"Weeeellll," the Doctor drew out the word. "There's a train of thought that you are your parts and they you. To whit, that any subset can carry out only those actions assigned to it by the Great Dune. And it's a train I'm reliably informed some of the greatest minds of the Proclamation are currently on."
The ground trembled angrily. Even though he was safely protected behind the TARDIS's force field, it made the Doctor feel a little nervous. After all, it was essentially an entire self-aware planetary body he was facing here. And that was something he always found wise to respect the destructive capacity of.
"However, there may be a way out of this for you. Well, alright, there actually is a way. One way. A single, one time only way to stop you from being turned into the galaxy's biggest Christmas decoration by a herd of very angry rhinoceros-headed space police. And it's not like you can run away."
The face waited expectantly for him to elucidate.
"Reparations," he declared after a suitably dramatic pause. "Pay it forward. Your existence as the Great Dune of the Tiron Rift is at an end, and we both know it. But I can give you a new life, one of worth that will astound the galaxy."
There was a very pregnant pause that felt like it was measurable on a geological scale.
*What is it you wish?*
* * *
The Jade Pagoda drifted lazily away into the void, pirouetting about its main axis. After a little while, the doors swung open and a glittering cascade spewed outwards as the tesseract depressurised.
Once it had emptied itself, the Pagoda began to spin faster and faster, rotating as it did so about all three axii until it resembled a slightly luminous green ball. There was a bright flash and the Pagoda erupted into a stellar accretion disc.
The disc also spun, irregularities and eddies clumping into larger and larger shapes. One near the periphery resolved into a gas giant surrounded by a thin tracery of rings, its surface painted in magentas and apricots and copper and deep ochres rent by titanic storms. Another closer in became a dusty rust-red world, with vast plains and jagged mountains clawing at a candy floss coloured sky. A third came into existence too close to the new born sun and wound up tidally locked, its surface scoured black and red by a constant flow of lava.
Smaller bodies began to percolate. Four of them clustered around a vacant centre; after a moment however, they became the moons of a world — rendered gleaming white by its clouds and the pale seething oceans feeding them — that materialised out of nowhere.
"I just saw that and I don't believe it," Sidotti breathed rapturously, her legs dangling out the TARDIS doors. "He just created a new star system in under an hour."
"I don't want to believe it," Meklit said from behind her. "No one should have that sort of power."
"Too many people have the power to destroy on a similar scale," Sidotti shook her head. "What's wrong with someone being able to do the opposite?"
"That sort of power puts you amongst the gods," she protested. "He talked the Dune into committing suicide to fuel it. This is... It's the ultimate weapon."
"It's an apology," the Doctor interjected, drawing the attention of both of them. He took off his glasses and slid them into his coat pocket. "Once, a long time ago, my people fought wars across the heavens against incalculable evil and because of that we were worshipped by some as gods. It didn't work out so well for the people doing the worshipping and we withdrew. But evil returned, and that war shook the heavens to their very foundations; my people fell defeating it. The Zotrans were collateral damage, and they weren't alone."
"And the Dune? Is it collateral too?"
"The Proclamation was going to sanction it," Sidotti defended him, fully aware that she would have been backing her friend on this a week ago. He was scary and dangerous and a power absolutely unto himself. But how could she not defend him when he was giving her scattered species an entire new home system? "You told me yourself that Kaage had seen the writ, and is it any different from our exercising our own licence to sanction, since we're involved?"
Meklit made a grudging sound and walked off, only to stop and come back. "Now we've committed this, I need to make some calls." She laid a hand heavily on the Doctor's shoulder. "Come and show me how your comms works."
Sidotti chuckled. Though she might be deflected, very few things ever stopped her partner once she was on the warpath.
As the other two moved off, Sidotti reached over for her new headset. It was made of the same chitinous black material as the rest of Ardheredh, with two arms that slid over her temples and a third that cradled the back of her skull. Putting it on was an interesting experience, like slipping into a warm bath.
//It looks just like I was told it did.//
She was left with the impression that the information provided to the seed ship had been particularly detailed. Just like before there wasn't the sense of touching another mind; rather it was like being part of something larger. She liked it. She understood why Mek had so many husbands.
//We're going to have to work out a way to introduce you to the others.//
She was left with the impression that it was something that could be accomplished. That the people of this new Zotra would be Great together.
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