He realised with a sudden jolt that he was having the dream again.
As always with these things it started in the same way. He was stood by a large post box, a handful of carefully labelled envelopes in his hand. The sky was grey, yet he was sweating, the collar of his shirt sticking uncomfortably to his neck. Nervously, an emotion he very rarely felt in conscious moments, he lifted the bundle to the paint-blistered hole in the box.
Next collection: as soon as you post.
The surreal sign had made him smile, once. Now, it was familiar, the norm in this setting and it did little to ease his mind. He knew he could force himself awake, but while he was not a superstitious man, he was more than aware that his subliminal mind might be trying to tell him something, so he dreamed on.
He took the top envelope and slowly re-read the name and address he had inscribed there. The writing was clear and crisp, written in biro so as to avoid any running in the rain, but the stamp was slightly askew. Closing his eyes, he slid the slim, white package into the post box. A tiny, echoing clang assured him the letter had been posted, and, as if he needed reassurance, a small LCD appeared where the normal slide in time card normally resided. In lurid green, the numeral ‘1’ flashed into being.
As he started to scan the second envelope, an airborne cry distracted him and he glanced up to his left. A flurry of black and white feathers later, the familiar sight of a magpie swooped down to land on the crest of the post box.
The man stared at the bird, and the bird stared back. Without even thinking about it, the man brushed the tip of his finger across his nose, a reactionary way of warding off the bad luck that a single magpie was supposed to bring. Unfortunately, he used the hand holding the envelopes, and they fell to the ground by his feet. Cursing slightly under his breath, he knelt to pick them up.
The ground was cracked, the grass at the side of the pavement overgrown and infested with weeds. With the type of care more normally associated with tending first aid, he collected the envelopes and stood upright once more.
The magpie was still there, its head cocked to once side. The man elected to ignore it, and returned his attention to posting the letters.
The pile was no longer in the order he had assembled them, and the name on the facing envelope made him start. With a meaningful glance at the magpie, he slid that particular envelope into his left hand jacket pocket. The magpie remained, its head now cocked towards its other wing. Sighing, the man shuffled his envelops like a half-deck of cards and extracted a further two, placing them reverently beside the first in his pocket. As soon as this action was complete, the bird emitted another piercing cry, and with a majestic, if brutal series of wing flaps, took to the sky once again.
The man watched its progress for a few seconds, and then split the pile in half. He knew what he had written, and therefore what each A5 envelope would say. He did not need to scrutinise them. As he shoved the letters into the post box in two separate clusters
he recalled how
when the dream had first come
he had simply strolled to the box
posted all the envelopes
and , turning on his heels
‘7’, ‘8’, ‘9’ . . .
had gone straight home and woken up.
‘10’, ‘11’, ‘12’ . . .
As consciousness regained him, the symbolism not neglected,
‘13’, ‘14’, ‘15’, ‘16’ . . .
he realised that with every dream
‘17’, ‘18’ ,’19’ . . .
he was attempting to prolong the inevitable.
‘20’, ‘21’ . . .
He also knew that he was not waking up.
‘22’, ‘23’ . . .
He was simply shifting onto stage two.
The Ivy League (Beginners Level)
Not for the first time in her life, she wondered just what the hell she doing. Her husband had been suspicious to say the least, but she knew how to pacify him. The question, however, remained: why was she even trying?
She was in a small (well, to her sensibilities it was small), rented limoseen, sat in the back all attempts at talking to her thug like, silent driver forgotten. She glanced at the driver’s mirror again, catching more of her reflection than his (which was a blessing). Why had she gone out and bought this long, flowing tailored pink dress? Why had she booked an urgent appointment at Merle’s Hair Dressing Emporium? Why had she swiped her plastic and booked the plane that had brought her to England?
With night surrounding her chauffer driven journey, she glanced at the envelope in the light from the cars inner lighting. The writing was neat (and slightly familiar), but the stamp was slightly off centre. It had been posted in England, the usual blue and white airmail sticker nestling next to Elizabeth’s slipped visage. The card inside was enigmatic to say the least:
Your presence is required at
Ivy League Mansion.
Time: 8.30 pm
Slipping the card back inside the envelope, she turned to stare out of the car at the passing darkened hedgerows. Maybe she was simply craving excitement. Perhaps, despite what she kept assuring herself day in, day out, she was not totally content with her life. Could there be unpacked baggage that she needed ‘time out’ to assess and come to terms with?
Quickly brushing aside any more Oprah-isms before they could form in her mind, she poured herself another glass of Champaign and valiantly tried to engage the driver in conversation again.
“Are we nearly there yet?”
In reply, the driver gave a grunt, pulled the limo to a slow, surprisingly gentle stop and gestured toward the front windscreen.
With a sudden thunderclap and almost instantaneous show of lightning, the whole view was exposed in a brilliance of white and black. In the back of the car, Peri coughed, and very nearly choked on her drink.
The vista before her was every single cliché she did not want to possibly imagine. Well, it was Halloween!
She had ripped the envelope up within two seconds of reading the address, and yet she was there. Her plane had arrived early (for a mind numbing change), and she had telephoned for a taxi to take her to Ivy League Mansion.
The cab company had appeared unwilling at first, but as soon as she offered to pay them double fair they assured her the cab would be with her in ten minutes. It arrived in three.
As she sipped her third glass of wine, she looked around the wood panelled hall and noted, not for the first time, that she must be mad for being here. This was no longer her life. Closing her eyes, she replayed the final few minutes of when it had been, and upon opening her eyes again downed the drink in one.
It had been fun. ‘Had’ being the operative word.
She recognised the handwriting on the envelope immediately. The abrupt nature of her departure had seemingly etched every detail of her time in that life in her brain with microscopic clarity. That writing had been on a note she woke up to once following the death of a friend. That careful, copperplate script had helped her understand further the various levels of aboriginal dialects soon after she had joined.
Had she really wanted to go?
With a violent curse of ‘rabbits!’, Tegan moved back into the main banqueting hall, helped herself to another glass of white wine and sat down near the log fire, awaiting the others that she knew would soon come.
And, of course, him.
The Real World (Bonus Game)
The sun beat down through the depleted ozone layer, and yet still Grav refused to take his ragged shirt off in the heat. Holding the controls on the bulldozer tightly in his grimy, calloused hands, he carefully scooped a layer of dry earth away from the ground, opening trench fifty-seven with the same dread he had opened the proceeding fifty-six.
Swinging the bucket to the side of the cut in the desiccated soil, she deposited the earth and killed the dozer’s motors. Swinging out of the cockpit, he landed with a particularly heavy thud on the ground and called several of the party over to him.
Through the shimmering haze, five tired, bedraggled men approached Grav and stood before him. Grav studied them all individually, and with a sorrow he did not betray noted the deterioration in their condition. These had been the elite from their year, and he had been their mentor. They were supposed to be fit, healthy and vital. They were sapped, drained and on the point of a collapse he knew would never over take them.
He himself felt the depletion in his own flesh, but he clung on to his will and avoided catching his reflection in any mirror. In this way he could convince himself he was still that reasonably good-looking man his passport showed. In this way his complexion was not sallow, his eyes were not red rimmed and his voice was not beaten and cracked.
Damn his voice! It was only that which reminded him of his denial.
Grav brushed his already sweat soaked shirtsleeve across his forehead, and addressed the archaeological party.
”Alright, as you all know we’ve not found the site we are looking for yet. However, having consulted with base I am assured that this trench will yield what we – “ Grav broke off of a coughing seizure grabbed hold of him. Waving off a helping hand from Mavet, he continued, “ – that we are searching for.”
The handful of archaeology graduates smiled (a hideous, dead smile) and each producing a trowel from their back pockets, crouched down in the newly unearthed trench and began scraping.
Grav turned away, and reached for his hip flask. Upending the water carrier, his temper broke as he realised it was empty. Angrily, he threw it away, his arm flaying wide – and connecting with the side of the bulldozer.
In the still, arid atmosphere, a metallic clang shot into the air.
High up in the air, a bizarre trio of people were mingling with an even odder collection of T-Shirt wearing humans. In most part, the T-Shirt brigade ignored the two youths and the elder man, though this appeared to stem purely from the embarrassment they felt at seeing a middle aged man in a crumpled black frock coat leaping up and down on a glass floor shouting, “It’s ok, I told you it couldn’t break!”
One of the youths, a thin, attractive girl with short, bobbed hair, was circling the square enclosure, visibly making mental notes about where she was. Strangely enough, no one was giving her figure hugging all in one spangly cat suit a second glance. Well, some of them were, but a sharp poke in the ribs soon ended that.
Next to the leaping man, the second youth, a good-looking man in Scottish highland dress, was staring increduluosly down through the glass at the ground many feet below. Unlike the energetic man, he was stoically still. “Are you sure now, Doctor? I mean, it’s only a sheet of glass!”
The man, the Doctor, stopped jumping, and looked momentarily affronted. “Sure? Of course I’m sure! You don’t think I’d be jumping up and down like this is I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure now, do you?”
Apparently not entirely convinced, Jamie rose tentatively on to tiptoe, and then rocked back again, his boots flat on the glass.
“Oh come on, Jamie!” the Doctor encouraged, “Jump!”
Jamie was about to try a slight leap, when a passing T-shirt coughed and pointed at a sign.
No Jumping on the Glass!
Shamefacedly, the Doctor wrung his hands behind his back, “Maybe the lady is, right, Jamie.” The lady walked on, obviously pleased that her self-righteous public service had been done. “You really shouldn’t egg me on like that!” .
Jamie was about to protest when another voice cut in.
“It’s not as big as I thought it would be!” the petite, black haired girl decried. “Actually, it’s a bit disappointing!”
“Oh, Zoe, Zoe, Zoe!” the Doctor replied, “What have I told you about time-perspective? Hmm? This was a major achievement in its day. Without structures like this, your city would not have been what it was!”
“’Was’, Doctor? Surely you mean ‘is’?” Zoe saw that all too familiar sinking expression on the Doctor’s face, the one that quickly vanished as soon as he realised he might have given too much away, “Oh, I see.” Zoe went on, “Time Perspective?”
“Yes.” The Doctor breathed, his one word acting as an entire conversation as his eyes stared into a distance that did not include the sky around Blackpool. However, as Zoe had expected it to, the look and the mood vanished in an instant and the playful, boyish imp was before her again. Resigning herself to never ask any questions about the future of the City (after all, the Doctor could have been referring to a time many generations after her . . . death), she left the wrought iron railings and joined her friends on the huge sheet of glass. Jamie was stood dead centre of the pain, his kilt tucked between his legs. Zoe stifled a giggle, realising that he was trying to protect his dignity from anyone looking up from below. Jamie obviously caught her meaning, for in a moment, the kilt was released, a row of lead weighs someone (Polly?) had sown into the hem keeping the material from stiring too much in the ever-present breeze
In an attempt to detract from his blushes, Jamie joined the conversation, “Aye, well, speaking for myself I think this is impressive. If we’d had something like this in Scotland, we could have looked out for miles to see the English approaching!”
A woman with a Yorkshire terrier clasped underneath her arm reacted to Jamie’s exclamation, and walked away muttering something about devolution. Jamie frowned, but the Doctor just clapped his hands together and hoped from one foot to the other on the glass floor.
“Anyway,” he said, his usual infectious humour to the fore, “This isn’t a field trip. This tower holds an emotional attraction!”
Seeing the blank looks he was receiving, the Doctor carried on, “For years families in the North of England came here for their holidays! This was their once in a year break from work, school and drudgery! Everytime they arrived, be it in horse drawn carriage, coach, car or train, they’d look out of windows and attempt to be the first to see this Tower!”
Jamie suddenly looked nervous, “Why, Doctor? Does it hold some sort of mystical power?”
The Doctor chuckled, “Well, in a way, yes – “
Zoe snorted, “Huh! Sounds a bit primitive to me.”
“No, no, no! Jamie, Zoe, it was, is, a symbol. It’s a sign of having a good time, of relaxing. Which is why I’ve brought us here! After all our recent adventures, I thought we could do with a rest. And . . .”
Jamie broke the pause that followed, “And what, Doctor?”
The Doctor beamed, “Some good old fashioned British Fish and Chips!”
Back In The Unreal World (Level Two)
They sat around the large, oblong table, each unsure as to how to break the silence. Some of them knew each other, but the majority were complete strangers.
The flames from the open fire gave the room a classic BBC Period Drama feel, and the portraits on the wall gave it all meaning. Seven huge oil paintings. Seven different images. One man. The tension in the air was tangible.
Suddenly, a chiming gong echoed around the room, but there was no gong visible. Some of those seated jumped slightly, others laughed nervously while the remainder rose their eyes heavenwards, as if they had been expecting such a theatricality.
In front of each guest , the nameplates, which until that time few had paid much heed too beyond their functionality, whirred, betraying the fact that they were infact welded to the table’s surface. The assembled throng shot each other enquiring glances, but quickly turned their attention back to the rotating plates.
As the mechanism slotted into place, where neat copperplate handwriting had appeared written on paper, a slender computer screen flickered into life, offering an anachronistic glow to the otherwise uniform temporal setting.
Some of those present reached into inside pockets to retrieve glasses, others simply read what was there in an instant. After everyone had read the electronic type, they took a drink, repackaged spectacles where appropriate and looked around to see who would be the first to make a move.
Across the table from Tegan, an apparently unassuming woman betrayed her aristocratic heritage and announced what the majority were feeling. “Well,” Nyssa said, “If the Doctor wants us to play games, let’s play them.”
A few guests murmured dissent, but a broad cockney accent stilled them, “Hey, the lady’s right. Whatever our own dealings with the Doc, we all know that deep down he always had a reason for doing things.” No one moved. “What do you think, Duchess?”
The lady addressed as duchess nodded empathically, “Ben’s right! We’re obviously all here for a reason, and if the only way to find out what that is is to play this parlour game, then lets’ get on with it!”
So saying, Polly rose from her chair. Re-reading the screen, a frown suddenly appeared on her face “Ben . . .” Glancing over at Ben she saw the same look mirrored back at her. “Which one?”
Giving no answer, the screen continued to display it’s message:
Stand beneath the portrait of your Doctor
All the Fun of the Fair! (Activity)
Zoe was regretting any comments may have made about the height of things in Blackpool being disappointing. As the carriage chugged up the steep, steep ramp, she clung onto the rail before him until the skin on her knuckles paled into a yellow-white. Beside her, Jamie was a vision of grins and expectations. Ahead of her, somehow having managed to obtain a carriage all to himself, the Doctor was looking animatedly at the view.
This is silly! Zoe reasoned with herself. This is simply a ride. Fun. Fun!? She laughed silently to herself, a note of terror audible only to herself.
The carriage was another foot nearer its apex.
Why is this thing so slow? If only we could chug-chug-chug, and not chug, this would all be over by now and I would walk away, pretend to have enjoyed it and –
The carriages stopped.
Suspended a number of feet Zoe did not want to even begin thinking about calculating above the ground, everything was suddenly still. She glanced at Jamie, who in turn glanced at her.
From the carriage in front, the Doctor’s voice carried on the wind, as if anticipating her anxiety. “Don’t worry, this is deliberate! It’s all geared towards heightening our adrenalin.”
Zoe smiled grimly, “Well they needed bother for me – eeeeee!”
Half sentence, the carriages chug-chugged just when Zoe would have finally settled for a chug, or indeed no chug at all, and they fell forward. As the speed of their descent hit her, she closed her eyes tight and felt her hair streaming out behind her.
Her final visual memory before all she could see was the soft red of her inner eyelids was of the Doctor waving his arms manically in the air and whooping with joy.
Zoe swallowed hard, feeling the carriage tilt forty-five degrees. Apart from the flying wind, the Doctor’s whooping, the rumbling clank of the ride and her own involuntary screaming the only thing she heard was Jamie:
Craig a tue!
Grav was half way through a much-needed cigarette when one of his colleagues called him over to the trench site. Although he walked there quite slowly, upon seeing what had been discovered he tossed the still lit cigarette away and leapt into the now deep excavation. This was it. Finally! Unfortunately, he was too tired to feel the excitement he would normally have felt. At least that was the story he liked to believe.
Clouds of dust earth obscured his boots as he landed and quickly knelt to see the find even closer. Grabbing a trowel from Fuller, he cleared a little more soil away before looking up, nodding to those around him. Under any other circumstances, his eyes would have mirrored the smile on his lips.
“Still entombed! No visible sign of decay in the caskets. How many are we looking at here?”
Fuller, being the nearest, replied. “Not entirely sure, Grav. Judging by the area left of here, these things are just stacked like packing crates. At the very least were talking dozens!”
“Excellent!” Standing upright, Grav let the trowel fall. “I think it’s time we let our sponsors know, don’t you?”
The other archaeologists nodded, and seated themselves on the ridge of the trench. Some smoked, some chatted, but most just sat. And stared.
Grav turned his back on them. He knew there was no need, but a part of him still did not like it. Peeling back the sleeve of his shirt, he exposed a forearm of metal and plastic. While his hand was still flesh, the rest of his right arm was artificial. Indenting a small switch halfway down his ‘forearm’ a small light started pulsing. Rolling his sleeve back again, he turned to address the group, some of which, he noted with ashamed distaste had actually stripped their shirts off in the heat, exposing their own flesh/metal bodies.
“They’re on their way.” he intoned.
Doctor, Why? (Extra Lives Awarded)
In his chair, the Doctor continued to sleep. Occasionally, he would shift his position, murmuring inaudible phrases with a soft, Scottish burr. He hated this stage. . .
Inside Ivy League Mansion, the Doctor’s companions had arranged themselves beneath the appropriate paintings. Some, like Ben and Polly, were stood half way between two, others, like Susan, Jo and Turlough were directly beneath a specific image.
Beneath a portrait of a proud looking old man, Steven was growing impatient. “So now what?”
Half way between a picture of a blond, curly haired man and another showing the visage of a man with steely grey eyes, Mel shrugged, “Beats me! I suppose we just wait until –“
The gong sounded once more.
“- that happens!” Mel finished, apprehensively.
In the centre of the table, a column of iridescent blue light swirled into existence. A figure was visible within, but its definition was crude, almost spectral. Gradually the light faded, and the Doctor stood there . . . or rather a collage of the Doctor. Flowing white hair was brushed back from a young, pleasant face. A coat of alarming inco-ordination covered a frilly shirt. Baggy, unkempt trousers bridged the gap between waist and a pair of white trainers. Draped around the neck, trailing across the table, soaking up the gravy from half eaten meals, was an impossibly large scarf, and cradled on one bent forearm was a question-marked umbrella.
Seven voices then sounded. Seven distinct dialects, all-speaking at the same time, all saying exactly the same thing.
“Thank you for coming, my friends. I think I owe you all some form of explanation!”
So saying, the figure shimmered once more, the fire went out, and the room was plunged into darkness.
A few screamed.
Time to Leave
In the end, Zoe dragged the Doctor and Jamie back on to the Big One a total of four times. They went on other rides, most of which she could no longer remember the names of, and bought a number of pointless souvenirs. Just where the Doctor planned on putting his prized I Love Blackpool car sticker was a mystery.
It had been a full day, and Zoe knew she would treasure many memories, in particular the sight of the Doctor clinging on helplessly to a runaway donkey as his candyfloss flew back and caught Jamie full in the face.
The light was slowly draining from the sky, yet the sun still burned defiantly over the horizon, casting long, orange glows across the sea. As they meandered slowly back to the TARDIS, the Doctor’s Kiss Me Quick hat defying the wind’s attempts to dislodge it and send it hurtling beneath a tram, they ate their chips and chatted generally about the day.
“But why, Doctor?” Jamie was saying between mouthfuls of greasy fried potato. “There’s nothing wrong with the place. Why change it to look like AL?”
“LA, Jamie. I don’t really know. All to do with profit and ‘moving with the times’. Strange thing is, fifty years after they do change this, they realise their mistake and recreate the old Blackpool just down the road at Morecambe. Causes the most dreadful arguments and confrontations!”
Zoe was intrigued, “What happens?”
The Doctor paused mid step and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “They sign a petition!” he said.
Jamie looked confused, but Zoe saw the sparkle in he Doctor’s eye and started laughing. Finally getting the joke, in his fashion, Jamie joined in and the trio decided to catch a tram to take them the final distance to the North Pier. As the tram pulled away, a passing tourist glanced up in alarm as the Doctor let out a distraught cry and his hat finally gave up the ghost and flew away from his tousled black hair.
Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor once again wearing a Kiss Me Quick hat bought at the last minute from a man selling glowing yo-yos among other things, Zoe was helping Jamie extract the few remaining clumps of candy floss from his hair.
The Doctor steep led his fingers and glanced over the cylindrical column at his two companions. “So, where now?” he inquired, his eyes sparkling.
Zoe paused mid pluck, and said, “I wouldn’t mind seeing them building the Tower.” She announced, as much to her surprise as anyone’s.
“Really, Zoe?” the Doctor enquired, his head slightly tilted, “I didn’t think you found it all that impressive.”
Zoe held his gaze and with an impish smile said, “Really, Doctor. Have you never heard of Time Perspective?”
The Doctor rushed around the console, gave her shoulder a friendly pat, and then rushed back to the co-ordinate setter. “Ok, just a quick temporal jump. Shouldn’t be that tricky!”
Jamie groaned. “I’ve heard that one before!”
The Doctor paused mid switch flick, harrumphed slightly, and with an exaggerated flourish depressed a quick series of buttons. “We, Jamie McCrimmon, should have a little more faith!”
So saying, the Doctor affected an affronted air, retracted his 500 Year Diary from the top the time rotor and retired to his chair.
“Doctor –“ Zoe began but he waved her question away with a flick of his wrist. Knitting his eyebrows, he extracted a pen from one pockets, wrote a few lines in the diary, and plucking his I Love Blackpool car sticker from another pocket, used it as a book mark and slammed his diary shut.
As he rose, suddenly all smiles, all attempts at appearing cross forgotten, the familiar sound of materialisation sounded around them.
“Well,” he breathed, “I think we should get some hard hats from the cupboard. Building sites can be dangerous places!”
The already overbearingly humid climate rose a phenomenal number of degrees as the small spacecraft descended through the Earth’s atmosphere and landed amid a whirlwind of dust and cacophony of noise.
Grav waited until the air was still again, and crossed over to the craft. It was a plain affair, obviously built as a functional carrier and not some object of beauty - more of a flying box than the standard UFO images he remembered seeing in his childhood.
The rest of the team slowly advanced from the trench, which by now had been fully cleared, revealing countless dozens of coffins. The archaeologists stood in rough formation before the space vehicle, waiting in silence.
Suddenly, a cracking hiss permeated the area and a door in the box slowly rose upwards. Smoke and lights obscured the revealed doorway for a brief time, but as the cloud dispersed the lights started reflecting off a series of metal figures that were slowly emerging from the craft.
In total, nine metal figures strode purposefully from the box, each approximately eight feet tall. They possesed all the usual requirements of the human form, but instead of flesh and smooth contours they were artificial and angular. Their feet and legs were encased in what looked like stretchy cling film, and to all intents and purposed could have been holding thin, human legs – but as Grav knew only too well, there were powerful motors, pistons and hydraulics at work in there. As for the torso, while he knew that there were some organic componants left, a familiar array of motorised systems were at play there, too. Draped across each of their chests was a tapering bulk, a chest unit of sorts that allowed air into cool motor and feed what organic parts survived. This unit rested across their shoulders, giving them the air of wearing stylised shoulder pads.
Grav took a deep breath and looked into one of their faces, a face he knew he would soon wear as his own. It was here that his residual terror lay.
Square, box like, and blank – no attempt at replicating a nose, two small meshed circles for eyes, and strange, angled jug like attachments at the side the ‘skull’ mimicked ears. That he could cope with. It was the jaw. The transparent jaw. The jaw that showed an all too flesh composed chin moving whenever it spoke. The last recognisable vestige of humanity.
Grav swallowed hard, reminded himself of immortality, and waited for the tallest figure, its jug ears ‘painted’ black, to address him. He did not have to wait long.
“You have acquired the bodies?”
“Yes, Cyberleader. As you can see, the trench yielded a bounty for us, er, you.”
“Excellent! I see that these men are suffering from the human condition ‘fatigue’”
Grav nearly laughed, but controlled himself just in time. What do you expect? You’ve worked us half to death? Thrown us hear barely off your slabs, half processed! Of course they’re ‘fatigued’. “Yes leader, it is an inhospitable climate.”
The Cyberleader inclined its head slightly, “No matter. Once the Cyberconversion is complete, there will be no terrain in which they will not thrive.” Momentarily dismissing Grav, the Cyberleader turned to the motionless Cybermen behind him. “Patrol, collect the coffins and take them back to the craft.” As the Cybermen moved to comply, the Cyberleader addressed the team of archelogists, “You will assist them.”
So saying, the operation of taking the coffins from their resting place began. A chain gang constructed itself, the first part lifting, the next shunting, the final depositing the sarcophagi inside the space ship – Cybermen and half-humans working side by side to accomplish the task.
After an indeterminable time, one of the archeological party called a halt to the proceedings. “There’s something else here!” he cried. “Something strange!”
Take Your Doctor
Ben Jackson could not believe his eyes. The fire had relit itself seconds after extinguishing, and here he, here they were and . . .in front of him was the Doctor, the original version he had met while on shore leave. He blinked. Incongruously, sticking out of the top breast pocket of the Doctor’s jacket was the large red handkerchief he associated with the Doctor he had known for longer – the second Doctor?
“Pol,” he whispered to his right, “Why’s he he? I thought he’s died?”
Polly shrugged, “So did I, Ben. But then again, this is the Doctor we’re talking about!”
“Now children,” the Doctor began, grabbing their attention immediately, “You’re no-doubt wondering what all this is about?”
“You can say that again, Doc!”
“Quite. And less of the Doc, and more of the tor is you don’t mind. Yes, well. . . It’s a bit hard to explain. Hmph. Excuse me a second, will you, I need to concentrate.” As quick as a flash, the white haired old man produced a recorder from one of his labarynthian pockets and played a little tune. Ben stared in amazement.
Seeing the young sailor’s expression, the Doctor stopped playing. “I’m a hybrid!” he said, as if explaining everything quite plainly. Realising he hadn’t, he continued, “To a lot of my companions, I am one Doctor. To you, I am two. Susan over there will only see the original me, Victoria the second me and so on. You, however, stayed across an incarnation shift, therefore you need a explanation from us both!”
Before anything else was said, in a re-enactment of events from years past, the Doctor’s face blurred and shifted into the countenance of the second. “There!” he said happily, “Oh, I’m glad to be me again! He never could play the recorder!”
Ben groaned. “Duchess, please – pinch me!”
It was the same all over the room. Each of the Doctor’s companions was seeing the Doctor they had know, or, as with Ben and Polly both versions. Questions were being formed, hesitant re-introductions attempted, and then everything faded into silence.
The companions stood there waiting . . . Suddenly aware of what they were waiting for. An explanation. A full explanation. Not the usual burbled techno-babble, but a real, detailed analysis of why they had been chosen to be who they were.
However, as usual, the Doctor had other things on his mind . . .
. . . In his chair, the Doctor was mumbling again. “Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki . . .”
We’re Not in Blackpool Anymore
Having replaced his Kiss Me Quick hat with a regulation safety hat, the Doctor led his two companions out of the TARDIS . . .and onto a bleak and arid landscape.
Zoe squinted in the glare from the sun, “I gather we’re not in Blackpool anymore, then Doctor?”
The Doctor consulted a small device, and replied, “We are, but a few years after our last visit.”
Jamie coughed, the air hitting the back of his throat, “Well if this is LA, give me what was before any day.”
The Doctor shoved the devise away. “No, Jamie. This is after all that. Centuries after.”
“Even after my time, Doctor?”
“Yes. I’m afraid so, Zoe. Even your scientists could not halt the ozone depletion completely, and certain areas of the Earth became desert . . . like this.”
Zoe blanched, “The City?”
“I can’t say for certain, Zoe. I’ve never visited your City this for forward in time.”
Deciding she did not want to pursue this line of questioning any further, Zoe changed tack. “Well, while we’re here we might as well take a look around!”
The Doctor beamed. “That’s the spirit, Zoe! Jamie?”
“Aye, we might as well. Reminds me of Dulcis.”
The Doctor nodded, “Yes, I see what you mean. Come along. Let’s explore!”
A few hours later, the trio were hiding behind a rocky outcrop, safety hats still in place. The Doctor’ face was grim, Zoe’s was shaken, and Jamie’s was set in determination.
“What are the Cybermen doing here, Doctor?”
“I don’t know, Jamie. However, we are going to find out!”
The trench had been cleared, both of coffins and the other find. Grav was alone with the Cyberleader in the control room. It was the Cyberleader who spoke first.
“All members of your party have been drugged in preparation for their final conversion.”
“As I soon will be?”
“Correct. Soon you will be like us.”
Grav smiled. Immortality!
The smile faded. That jaw!
Immortality! Cling onto immortality.
“There’s something I still don’t understand.”
“How can you covert corpses? I know you originally replaced your own damaged tissues, but they were connected to living elements.”
“As will they be.”
“But how? They’re dead.”
The Cyberleader inched closer to Grav. “But you are not. Using Cybertechnology, we will graft individual limbs from each of you the corpses, revitalize the nerves and multiply the number of Cybermen accordingly.”
“You mean –“
“Each of you will be a part of several Cybermen. Yes.”
Grav felt his blood run cold. If that were the case, how would he ever feel the truth of his own immortality? With the sudden, and sickening realisation of someone blinded into stupidity by ignorance, Grav suddenly understood his error. He had sold his team into death over his dreams of longevity, his desire to be immortal. He now saw what was so blindingly obvious.
He would be immortal, but as a machine. He would not feel it. He would not embrace his desires conclusion. He would no longer have dreams. To all intents and purposed, he would die.
How on Earth could he have been so stupid?
Outside the spaceship, Jamie informed the Doctor and Zoe that the last of the Cybermen had entered the craft.
“They look different, Doctor.”
“Yes, I know.”
Zoe offered her opinion, “They seem more advances, less crude.”
“More difficult to defeat!” Jamie observed.
“Oh, now, not necessarily. You are more advanced that the cave man, but hemlock will still kill you.”
Jamie gave the Doctor a look, “Thanks for that, Doctor. When you’ve stopped considering ways to kill us, maybe you could turn your attention back to the Cybermen?”
“I am, Jamie. I am. First things first, though. I think we need to get a closer look, don’t you.”
Without waiting for a reply, the Doctor darted from behind the rock, but as he pell melled toward the craft, the large trench nearby grabbed his attention. “Jamie! Zoe! Come and have a look at this!”
Blindly obeying, Zoe and Jamie joined their friend by the large hole. “Well,” the Doctor began, “What do you think?”
Before either of them could answer, a cough from behind made them turn around. Grav stood there, cigarette in hand. “Well,” he said “A) I think you’re very sensible to wear safety helmets –“
“Why thank you –“
“Shut up!” Grav barked, pausing very slightly before continuing, “And B) I think you’d better follow me into the ship.”
Slowly, the Doctor rose, placing his hands above his head, his face a picture of universal woe. Jamie, and then Zoe rose, lifted their hands, attempted the Doctor’s expression, but gave up, electing to wear one of terror instead.
The Cyberleader was as pleased as any Cyberleader could be with the progress of their mission. The recent breakthrough in Cybertechnology meant that they could carry out the conversion as it had outlined to the human, Grav. Within weeks of such scavenging parties, the Cyberrace would increase in numbers dramatically, mirroring their peak of domination. The Cybermen would once again be a force to be reckoned with!
The Cyberleader also knew that Grav had just left the ship. It did not require attention. The human wanted immortality. He would be back. Even if he was not, as soon as the craft the Earth, he would be incineratd by the back blast.
Satisfied that its checks had shown everything to be in order the Cyberleader turned its attention to the small box of computer circuits retrieved from the trench. They would be analysed as soon as they returned to the main ship.
Crossing over to a specific bank of instrumentation, the Cyberleader started the ignition sequence for take off.
Just aboard the ship, the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie looked alarmed as the door to outside world slid shut and the tell tale sound of sparking engines sounded. Grav snorted, “What’s a matter? Never heard a space craft before?”
The Doctor’s face was grave. “Oh yes, sir, indeed we have – and considerably more than you! You must let us out of here!”
“Impossible! The doors hermetically sealed. It will only open again once we land in the mother ship.”
The Doctor’s exasperation boiled over, “You stupid, stupid man! Not only have you trapped me in a ship full of Cybermen – “
Grav blanched, “You know of the Cybermen!”
“Of course! Not only have you done that, but you’ve cut us off from our ship!”
The Party’s Over
They left the house in silence, each companion chauffeured by an Ogron. Dropped off where they were picked up, they travelled home with one word etched on their mind: sorry.
In his chair, the Doctor woke up violently. He always did at that point. He did not want to know what they were really thinking.
Unexpected Help (Press X)
The small craft journeyed back to the main Cybership quickly, smoothly and efficiently. Grav had handed the Doctor and his friends over to the Cyberleader, and he watched with amusement
- I might as well use the emotion while I’ve got it! –
as the scene played itself before him.
“Why are you here?” the Cyberleader questioned the Doctor.
“I could ask you the very same thing!” the Doctor rejoined. “It’s a bit barren for pickings, isn’t it? You can’t exactly convert rocks into Cybermen!”
“Indeed, Doctor, but we can humans. Even dead ones!”
Jamie looked on appalled as the realisation dawned on the Doctor’s face, “So, you’ve finally become grave robbers! Humanity isn’t even safe once dead! You’ve vilified the last remaining dignity any species has got! I’ve fought – and beat! – you before, but that all pales into piffle compared to this. I’m not going to let you get away with this!”
Grav noted that instead of simply dismissing the Doctor, the Cyberleader actually appeared to be listening to the strange little man. Appearances obviously were deceptive!
“And just how do you intend to do that, Doctor?”
“Don’t be silly! For a logical brain, that’s pretty dumb. As if I’m going to reveal my super plan to you now!”
“You couldn’t anyway, Doctor.”
“Oh, and why not?”
“Because you have not got one.”
“Oh.” The Doctor’s face fell, “Well, for a logical brain that’s pretty . . . logical.”
The Cyberleader continued as though never interrupted. “Yet! You will be converted in order to prevent this ‘super plan’ from forming.”
“Oh my! Are you sure that’s wise? I might give some form of weird feed back into your systems, you know. You can’t convert a Ti-“, the Doctor broke off, looking sheepishly at Zoe and Jamie.
The Cyberleader’s voice cut through any realisation of the near revelation the Doctor had come close to. “We have converted a member of your race before, Doctor. Indeed, my memory banks tell me that it is I.”
The Doctor’s face hardened into granite. “In that case, you are an abomination, sir! You should covert me now – because I will not permit you to hold the secrets that you might hold.”
The Cyberleader turned to a stationary Cyberman to its left. “Take them to the others.” It commanded, “ All of them.” It added, deliberately swivelling to take Grav into its sensors. “They are to be processed upon arrival.”
With a plethora of “Oh me”, “Oh my’s” the Doctor and his party were bustled away, Grav at their heels.
To while away the time until the Cybermen came in for them, the Doctor removed his hard hat, placed it on the floor in front of him, ushered Jamie and Zoe into a three cornered circle and dealt a pack of cards between them. Holding a single card between thumb and forefinger he aimed it at the hat, and flicked. The Queen of Diamonds caught the brim of the hat a glancing blow, and fluttered to the floor near Jamie’s foot. Jamie smiled, held his first card (the Three of Clubs) in a similar manner, and flicked it. It sailed straight into the hat, landing face up. The Doctor’s face crumpled into a frown, and he snatched the cards back from them before Zoe even had chance to play. Ramming the hard hat back onto his head, the Doctor fell into a sulk.
Zoe shrugged and looked around her. Grav sat hunched against a wall some yards away, the members of the archaeological expedition next to him. It was a like a mausoleum where the corpses were allowed to be alive. Just.
Zoe had hoped she had seen the last of the Cybermen. Twice is one lifetime was enough for anyone, she had decided as they had left London after a recent encounter with the Cyborgs. But no, here they were again. And now they were rifling graves.
While she knew it was an old book, and had many flaws and contained many strange elements of grammar later rectified in the generation before her, Zoe had always had a morbid fascination with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. It was this element of reanimation she found so disturbing with the Cybermen. She could cope with all manner of varying alien life forms, because that’s what they should be, they were natural . . . but the Cybermen? The Cybermen were living embodiments of Mary Shelly’s opium induced nightmare crossed with high science. And the last bit scared her the most. Science taught logic, and wasn’t she the most logical person she knew? She shuddered, forcing herself not to colour in the numbers on her blatant conclusion, and turned back to the Doctor.
He and Jamie were playing Pontoon, the Doctor’s sulk, as always, not lasting overlong, and as he caught her eye he threw her a couple of cards. She glanced at them briefly, “Stick” she announced.
“Ok,” the Doctor said briskly, “Show me what you’ve got”
Jamie had busted by seventeen, reminding Zoe that she really must help him with his maths, while the Doctor had twenty. Zoe smiled, and turned her two cards over, revealing the Queen of Hearts and the Ace of Clubs. “Pontoon?” she inquired sweetly.
The Doctor looked for one second as though he was to sulk again, when he clapped his hands together excitedly. “Again?”
From his corner of the room, Grav broke through their game. “How can you play stupid card games at a time like this?” he asked, all attempts at keeping the weariness out of his intonation abandoned. “Immortality is near!”
“I’ll ‘stick’ at mortality if you don’t mind,” the Doctor replied, still dealing cards, “At least I know my thoughts will be thoughts, and not computer generated impulses.”
“But will they? Surely a piece of the human mind survives. Look, even the Cyberleader said he remembered being one of your race!”
The Doctor frowned, not at Grav but at his poor hand, and then chuckled as his twisted his desired card. “You appear to suffer from selective hearing, Mr Grav. If you were a Cyberman already, you’d be able to play that scene backing your neural processors – but as your not, Zoe, as the next best thing Cyber logic would you do the honours?”
Trying not to allow the shudder than coursed through her at the Doctor’s words show too evidently, Zoe closed her eyes and brought the scene back into her mind, “The Cyberleader said, ‘We have converted a member of your race before, Doctor. Indeed, my memory banks tell me that it is I’”
The Doctor twisted again, bringing the number of cards into his hand four. He beamed at Zoe, “Exactly! ‘My memory banks’. Not my brain. Definitely not my heart. Protocols. Data input. Facts, facts, facts, as Mr Gradgrind might say. He might know he was a, er, one of my people, but he cannot recall how it felt to be so.”
Instead of the reaction he had expected, the Doctor was hocked to see Grav nodding slowly, a thin, humourless smile playing across his lips. “Oh, Doctor. Something tells me you’ve probably met many a fool like me before.”
The Doctor hummed a quick acknowledgement, twisted, cried “Aha!”, displayed his five-card trick proudly and then focussed again on Grav. The frivolity of the cad game was obviously behind him. “Indeed, Mr Grav. Men, women and even children stupid enough to believe they would actually be granted something worth having by these creations, yet all the while selling off the greatest gift of all. Oh, yes, I’ve met many like you. Though most don’t realise their error until much later in the game.”
Grav actually felt a look of hope etch itself across his face. “Do you think there’s hope for me, then?”
The Doctor looked at Jamie and Zoe, and then back at Grav. “There’s always hope, Mr Grav.”
“Even though I’m partly Cybernized?”
“One bridge at a time, Mr Grav. One bridge at a time. Just ensure your communication links inoperative will you?”
“Aye, you’d better had – else the Doctor’ll get his Sonic Screwdriver onto you!”
Suddenly fully aware of why nothing of real import had been discussed up until this point (who knew who, or what, had been listening!), Zoe masked her unease with unobtrusively forced charm. Addressing Grav, she asked, “Pontoon?”
Grav smiled, with, for the first time in months, a glimmer of real warmth in his eyes. Quietly, he shuffled across the floor to join them. Without being asked, he held out him arm to the Doctor. “Make sure I’m okay to play, will you?”
The Doctor smiled a huge smile, pumped Grav’s hands with gusto, and gave his artificial arm a quick sweep with his Sonic Screwdriver.
“You were never not safe. For a logical brain, they were being a bit slip shod there, not using you to listen in. Maybe they feel they’ve already won? Ha ha ha! Let’s play!”
As he was included in the deal, Grav understood that the Doctor’s last two words were not directed simply at the game.
Loading Error (Please Retry)
They were onboard the main Cybership now. As Zoe noted the huge, barren scale of the structure, the Doctor smiled grimly as Grav re-took his place as confidant, and traitor, by the Cyberleader’s side. Unlike the Cyberleader, the Doctor knew how double duplicity worked in reality, and not simply on pre-programmed circuitry.
Jamie stood squarely by the Doctor, as ever his friend’s protective shadow. Somehow along the way they had mislaid their hard hats.
The Cyberleader turned to face them after entering a serried of commands into the control system. “The conversion is underway. The new Cybertechnology is being tested, and proving successful. You will join the process soon.”
“Why thank you, Cyberleader.” The Doctor mocked, “Perhaps you’d like to tell us why we’re not there already?”
“Of course. We want to ensure everything is in total working order before we process you and your friends. Having you under Cybercontrol we be a fitting irony.”
The Doctor scoffed, “You understand irony about as well as Alanis Morissette! It’s always puzzled me. For a race so logical, so bound in a plus b equating c, you still feel the need to gloat as much as the next megalomaniac.”
“None sense, Doctor. We are simply demonstrating the futility in opposing us. The Cyberrace will always triumph in the end.”
“Not while there’s breath in my body!”
“Which will not be for much longer.”
The Cyberleader turned its back on the Doctor’s party, and beckoned a Cyberman over to it. The Doctor noted that the Cyberman was holding a cluster of small computer circuits. From a cursory glance, the Doctor detected that they were rudimentary chips, programmed to do simple, basic, repetitive commands. What commands, thought, at this stage, he could only guess at.
The Cyberleader indicated the chips. “Place the unknown artefacts into to analysis console.”
The Cyberman complied, and a screen in the wall glowed into life. After a few seconds, the word ‘loading’ flashed repeatedly, and then shortly after a small, animated creature appeared in its place. Jamie was frowning in concentration, while Zoe had the dawn of revelation in her eyes. The Doctor, too, had a similar expression, and in the corner of his eyes, he saw mild amusement crack Grav’s wizened countenance.
A tiny, cycled ten-second piece of musack blared from the screens’ inbuilt speaker system, and the phrase, “Wanna Play?” swam into being above the pixelled creature’s head.
The Cyberman turned to its superior. “What is its meaning, Leader?”
The Cyberleader turned around savagely, “You, Doctor – explain this!”
The Doctor was laughing, “It’s a game! A computer game.”
The Cyberleader stood rock still, “A game? Games are meaningless. Therefore, this artefact is meaningless. Remove it and try another circuit.”
The Cyberman did as instructed, and another game appeared. As the next circuit was tried, another game was revealed, and so on, and so on, until all the chips had been run. The Doctor could not contain his delight.
“Who’d’ve thought it?” he chuckled, “The Cyberfleet hurrying home to be the first to play Resident Evil MCIV!”
The Cyberleader marched across to the analysis console, and switched it off. “Why were these items left in a place of burial?”
The Doctor shrugged, “To say you were once human, you don’t understand your old selves too well, do you? Look up Egyptology in your data banks.”
“Leader, the Egyptians on Earth used to bury ‘personal belongings’ with their dead for comfort in what they believed to be an afterlife.”
“Understood. Therefore these artefacts are indeed meaningless. How is conversion going?”
“On course, Leader.”
“Excellent. I will supervise the final stage myself. You will remain here and guard the Doctor. Grav, come with me. It is time for your conversion.”
Unnoticed by the Cybermen present, Grav exchanged a glance with the Doctor’s party, and obediently followed the Cyberleader from the control deck.
Alone with the Cyberman, the Doctor wandered over to the analysis console, flicking his large red handkerchief over the dials.
“What are you doing?” The Cyberman enquired.
“Dusting. You really have let this place slip you know. What would your leader say if fluff got into your systems and prevented you firing at a Dalek ship, hmm?”
“We are not at war with the Daleks. Why should we wish to fire on them?”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot! Wrong century! Ah well, in that case, you might as well forget about the dusting. I’ll just go and rejoin my friends, shall I?”
The Cyberman did not reply, but simply waved its gun toward Jamie and Zoe. “Ok, ok, I’m going.”
“What was all that about, Doctor?”
“Nothing really, Jamie,” the Doctor confessed, his handkerchief clasped firmly in his fist. “It’s just I’ve been waiting ages for that version of Resident Evil, and I’ll be blown if I’m leaving it here!”
Zoe glanced at the Doctor’s hand as he transferred the handkerchief back into his top pocket. Several of the computer chips were clearly wrapped up in the fabric. Shaking her head slightly, she marvelled at the Doctor’s characteristic ability to indulge in a deadly game of cat and mouse, only to obtain something trivial. If nothing else, at least it had broken the tension in her mind!
If it were possible for the air in a Cybership to be tense, it was certainly tense in the Cyberconversion Chamber. The room itself was vast. Huge and plainly vaulted, row upon row of gantried walkways rose higher than sight, each row circular, and each level housing at least two dozen conversion booths.
In the lowest two levels, the archaeology field trip was strapped into apparatus and feeding tubes, all semblance of their humanity erased. They were Cybermen. Grav’s sell out was complete.
Standing near the base unit, the Cyberleader noted the completion of the process and keyed in a fresh series of instructions. With a series of hydraulic hisses, the clamps holding the newborn Cybermen in position retracted, and the beings shook as they attempted to take their first tentative steps. Linking each level of the conversion rows was a series of rung ladders. Within seconds of being activated, the Cybermen were clambering down these ladders with a neat, orderly precise procession, dozens of them, all created using the new hybrid technique of fusing one part living tissue to the remaining dead flesh. Their metallic feet clanged on each rung, then echoed around the vaulted room as they finally reached the floor. Unconsciously following orders in the best Nazi tradition, the lined up in neat files, rank after rank. As each ranked reached an optimum number, the Cybermen clambering down the stairs would automatically create a new section to group in. Over and over, over and over, the room filling to near capacity: The March of the Cybermen!
The Cyberleader indented a switch on the base unit, and opened a channel to the main Control Room.
In the main Control Room, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe were sat cross-legged on the floor. The Doctor had issued them all with a small ball of string, and they were all busy playing Cat’s Cradle when the Cyberleader’s voice crackled through the control deck.
“Bring the Doctor and party down into the Conversion Chamber.”
The Cyberman pressed the respond key. “Understood.”
Gesturing with its gun, the Cyberman ordered its escort to their feet and toward the door. Marching behind them, the Cyberman issued directions in curt, monosyllabic exclamations, and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe duly followed as instructed. Before long, they reached a large doorway (they were all large here) and the Cyberman passed by them. “Follow!”
Still struggling to free their hands of entwined string, the Doctor’s group crossed the threshold into the conversion chamber. The Doctor quickly looked around for Grav, and was dismayed when he could not locate him. Where they too late?
Jamie and Zoe, on the other hand, stood routed to the spot, awed into dumb observation at the spectacle before them. The last few remaining Cybermen were climbing down the runged ladders, joining their comrades on what was, to all intents and purposed, a huge parade ground.
In front of the assembled mass of Cybermen, the Cyberleader stood, its back to the group of fresh conversions, its eye less sockets fixed on the Doctor and his group.
“See, Doctor,” it monotoned, “The Cyberrace increases in size and strength once again! Soon, everything will be like us!”
“Yes, yes, yes!” the Doctor said, a fervent note of fanaticism in his voice, “I see now. With the new technology you can simply take raw material from any battlefield in the galaxy. You can turn others’ defeats into Cybervictories! You don’t even have to engage an enemy. You simply wait, circling the scene like carrion birds, waiting to take the scraps and process them into this new Cyberarmy!”
Jamie had heard the Doctor talk like this before, and was thankful he knew it was a bluff routine. If he didn’t, he would have been having serious doubts about his friend by now.
“Exactly, Doctor. At last you understand the might of Cyberlogic!”
The Doctor rounded on the Cyberleader, and although dwarfed in stature by the metallic giant before him, aided by the reverberation offered by the Chamber, he was every bit the greater presence in that room. “Pah!” he scorned, “I see nothing but a once great race reduced to Cybernetic vultures! Your ancestors would turn in their graves had they been afforded one, instead of this barbaric conversion! If the Mondosians could see what has become of their nobility! I’m sorely tempted, for the first time ever to break the laws of time and bring them here, now, to witness you, their dream, stalking the cosmos like a plague of filthy grave robbers.”
“Our ancestors were weak, diseased. They saw their future in us.”
“They saw a future – not this abhorrence!”
“Enough, Doctor. You are trying to appeal to a nature which you know does not exist. You are being futile. Irrelevant. Like the Mondosians.”
The Doctor picked up on Cyberleader’s’ semantics immediately. “So you no longer class yourself as descendants anymore? You talk as if they were a different species entirely!”
“They were, Doctor. We have converted so many races, yours included, that there can be no lineage between them and us any longer. We use their technology, we augment it, we are Cybermen.”
“At least your not into racial purity.”
“We are, Doctor. We take the different and covert them into us. They become like us. Pure Cybermen. Our will becomes theirs. Those who refuse conversion die. Those that see the logic in our ultimate victory become like us.”
“Even the dead?”
“Why waste material, Doctor? Those bodied would merely rot and decay. We can provide new life, a new purpose.”
“I will defeat you, Cyberleader. One day, perhaps even this one, our confrontations will reach their final end.”
“A hollow and meaningless threat, Doctor. Patrol One, seize them!”
A group of Cybermen broke formation and marched upon the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie. Jamie tried to resist, but the metal fingers that bit into his arm were too strong and he gasped out in pain. Zoe screamed as she saw the Doctor knocked unconscious by a swift jab to the back of his neck, and then she too fell into unconsciousness as the same blow was applied to her.
“Zoe! Doctor!” Jamie cried in vain, before he too was sent hurtling into the black void.
Jamie found that he could hear things again, yet there were no images. Suddenly realising he still had his eyes closed, he carefully allowed them to flutter open just enough to allow the scene before him to be viewed, but not enough to visibly betray his consciousness to the Cybermen. A sharp pain in his ankles, wrists and neck when he tried to shift the weight in his body told him to was pinned to something, and as he was upright it did not take him long to deduce that he had been placed in a Cyberconversion booth. What about Zoe and the Doctor? Where they in booths as well? Jamie mentally kicked himself. Given that the Cybermen did not keep humans as pets or ornaments it was a sure fired bet that they were. If only he could break free . . .
In her booth, Zoe was not even trying to feign unconsciousness. Helpless and virtually immobile she watched helplessly as Cybermen walked past her position on the gantry, every so often one of them adjusting dials and apparatus on the construct around her. She could feel the needles in her neck, wrist and ankles pumping something into her body, but she doubted it was morphine based. Why should the Cybermen ‘care’ if the process caused pain? They could not feel it, and after a while their conversion victims would not be able to either. They would be off collecting new samples to convert. Zoe suddenly felt a violent urge to vomit. She could never do that. She could never bring herself to capture another being knowing full well it was to be put through the pain of Cyberconversion. She mentally shrugged, her logic kicking in. Of course, she would not be capable of such things, but her Cyberself would not even think about questioning it.
Realising the futility in screaming, Zoe felt her anger and frustration well up behind her eyes, and fall in a series of hot, salty tears . . .
In his booth, the Doctor was fully awake, but his eyes were clamped tight shut. There was an air of serenity about him, a cool aura of almost smug awareness and knowledge. Slowly he opened one eye, scanned the ledge as far as his restrained position allowed him to, gave a brief, throaty chuckle and closed his eye again.
“Yes,” he said, “That should just about do it! But who do you want to be?”
Jamie had slipped back into the embrace of unconsciousness without even realising it . . . or maybe he had been drugged? In her booth, Zoe had cried herself into oblivion. . . or maybe she had been drugged. In any case, they were both surprised to find themselves standing together in a black wasteland with no discernable ceilings, walls or floors.
And if that surprise was not enough for them the sudden sighting of the Doctor sat on the floor with a strange box in one hand, his other hand waving frantically, a Cyberman crouching beside him with a similar object in its hands was enough to convince them they had slipped back into the Land of Fiction.
But, of course, they had not.
Need A Walk Through?
The Doctor had risen from his chair, completely awake but looking haunted. Pacing his room, he picked up several items he had collected on his travels, smiling grimly at some recollections, amiably at others.
Should he re-dream? Would that provide the catharsis he felt he needed? Was he, indeed, actually ready for it?
He knew change was in their air. Not a regenerative change, but an outlook change. The more he acclimatised to his new body, the more he became aware that it was travelling down a new route, a new destiny. In his room right then, he was not completely convinced he appreciated what the signposts were telling him.
Conversion Error (Run New Program?)
The Cyberleader opened a channel to the re-awakened tombs on Telos. He relayed the achievements to the Cybercontroller, and listened to the reply. Once the conversation was over, he terminated the link and once again surveyed the platoon of silent, motionless Cybermen before him. They awaited the instruction to act. It would soon come.
In the black world, Jamie and Zoe tried to call over to the Doctor, but both found themselves to be lacking in vocal capability. The Doctor gave them a reassuring wink, and patted the Cyberman on the knee. The Cyberman nodded an unspoken ascent, and pressed a small red button on the box in the lap . . . a box Zoe now recognised at a joystick.
In the Conversion Chamber, unseen by the Cyberleader, one of his freshly converted Cyberman was swaying slightly. Almost carefully, it inclined its head to either side, and then broke rank, moving slowly away from its comrades.
In another grouping of Cybermen, the same think happened to another new born. It moved to join its none-conforming counterpart.
While one Cyberman moving alone might have gone unnoticed even to Cyberhearing, two pairs of metallic feet on the floor of the Chamber would have been detected even by a human with a colossal build up of ear wax. The Cyberleader turned, taking in the events before him.
“Return to your previous location.” It ordered.
The two Cyberman stopped walking forward, but made no effort to move back into rank.
“Obey your instructions. Return to your designated place.”
The two Cybermen looked at each other, and then at their Leader. “No.” they chorused in unison. “We want to play.”
The Cyberleader tried to process an understanding of what it had just heard, but of course could not.
“Return to your positions, or you will be deactivated.”
“No thank you.” The Cybermen said, not moving one way or the other. “We want to play. You will play with us.”
In the void, the Doctor laughed at his parodying joke, and in the Chamber the unusual sound of a Cyberman laughing echoed, rebounded and carried through every cubic molecule of air.
The Cyberleader raised its Cybergun and blasted one of the Cybermen full in its chest unit. Smoke and gungy organic material spilled forth, and the Cyberman fell first to its knees, then flat on its face. As it twitched in its death throes, the final organic elements in its make up withering away, it uttered a final, guttural phrase: “Ouch!”
The other Cyberman raised its weapon, and in a wholly mutinous gesture pointed it squarely at the Cyberleader. “He only wanted to play!”
The Doctor frowned, furiously waggling his joystick. Above his head, the phrase ‘New Character Selected’ fizzed into existence . . . and in the ranks of the new Cyberarmy, another fledgling Cyberman broke free of the line, and marched up to confront its Leader.
The Doctor looked at the Cyberman squatting next to him, and uttered something that neither Zoe nor Jamie could detect. After the Cyberman had nodded, the Doctor rose to his feet, brushed a layer of none existent dust from his knees, and crossed over to join his companions. His mouth opened again, but the words they heard were inside their minds, not their eyes:
Time to return to the real world, eh?
Zoe came to in her booth, and stifled a scream as her vision swam back into focus, revealing the blank mask of a Cyberface barely inches in front her head. The Cyberman gave three swift, yet gentle twists of its head, pressed a metal forefinger to her lips, and started to press buttons in the lash up the held her. Confused she sought a view behind the eight foot giant Cyborg . . . and saw Jamie, resigned bemusement on his face, his fingers trying to ease sensation back into the portions of his body wracked by pins and needles. Before she realised what was happening, she found her limbs had movement again . . . and a tremendously generous helping of tingling blood re-circulation.
The Cyberman proffered a hand to help Zoe step down from the slightly raised area, and she blindly accepted the offer. As she joined Jamie, the Cyberman leant close to her ear, and momentarily Zoe feared the worst again – this was a trap, Jamie was some form of illusion . . . and then the Cyberman whispered, if ever a Cyberman could utter something that could be deemed a whisper: “Does this mean I have rescued the Princess? Can I face the Dragon now?”
Combating the urge to point out the he was supposed to be ‘the dragon’ in this situation, Zoe nodded her assent, “Yes,” she replied, “You can face the Dragon, but only after you’ve delivered us to our friend.”
The Cyberman had been facing the other way, but he turned to face Zoe upon hearing this, leaning forward at the waist, towering over her diminutive form, “Doh! Of course after I’ve re-united you with the Grand Wizard. He will give me the Mighty Staff of Truth with which I can later expose the hidden Shadow Devils!”
Zoe’s face was a picture of shocked confusion. Jamie came to her rescue, “Aye, of course.” He said, improvising blindly, “He’ll also tell you what to do when you finally meet the Piper, too!”
“The Piper? This is a new challenge! Come, I will take you to the Wizard, he will explain all!”
Falling in behind their bizarre new ally, Jamie and Zoe certainly hoped he would!
Something had clearly gone wrong with the conversion process. The Cyberleader had shot down nearly two dozen errant Cybermen, but at each one fell, another came forward, time after time requesting the need to play.
“You are a rogue unit!” the Cyberleader observed once again, “You must be terminated!” The Chamber filled with a brief burst a blue staser fire, quickly followed by the sound of the gunshot, and the latest questioning Cyberman fell to the ground.
The Cyberleader recognised the voice immediately. “Doctor!” it said, “What is happening?”
“Independent thought. Free will. Maybe there is hope for you lot after all!”
The Cyberleader pointed its gun at the advancing trio. “But not for you!” Pulling its trigger finger back, the familiar blue circles of electric fire pulsed from the gun, but instead of connecting with the Doctor, the blast met with the body of a Cyberman as it quickly placed itself in front of him. Zoe screamed, and Jamie looked at in horror as the Cyborg collapsed. The Doctor took advantage of the delay he knew this act of self-sacrifice would ensue as the Cyberleader attempted to rationalise it, and knelt by the stricken silver giant. The creature was holding its hand out toward him, as though actually asking for it to be held. The Doctor took the hand unquestioningly.
“Will the Shadow Devils be defeated, Grand Wizard?” it asked, its voice rasping through its cracked and bubbled respiratory plate.
The Doctor nodded solemnly, and looked the Cyberleader strait in the eye. “Oh yes, my friend. Totally!”
The Cyberman issued a brief series of choked sobs, released its grip on the Doctor’s hand and effectively died.
Straightening up, the Doctor marched across to stand before the Cyberleader. “Give up.” He commanded. “Even you must be able to see this has failed.”
The Cyberleader swayed a little unsteadily on its feet. “This does not make sense.” It said. “Cybertechnology cannot fail.”
“I’m afraid it can, Cyberleader. You’ve assimilated one rogue element too many, this time. It’s over!”
“Then so are you!” Swiftly the Cyberleader brought its gun to bear on Jamie and Zoe. “You will witness the death of your Earth friends before I terminate you, Doctor.”
The Doctor did not even flinch. Instead, smiling smugly, he replied, “Oh, I don’t think so. I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve.”
Brutally hitting the Doctor in the chest, the Cyberleader sent him crashing to the floor, winded. In two quick strides, the impassive creature placed itself before Jamie. As it raised its gun arm, a Cyberman stepped forward and positioned itself in front of the young Scotsman. Unfazed, the Cyberleader swivelled its attention Zoe, only to find another Cyberman blocking its line of fire.
“You will return to your positions!”
“No!” the Cybermen said, disobeying their leader. “We still stay here! We will protect the Prince and Princess.”
The Doctor was back on his feet by now, carefully massaging the welling bruise on his chest. “It’s touching, really, isn’t it? I think there’s some else who should share this good bit of news.”
Crossing over to the main base unit, the Doctor expertly activated the communications relay to Telos.
”Step away from the Communicator, Doctor.” The Cyberleader instructed.
The Doctor placed a finger on the end of his nose, gave a quick impromptu mime about indecision, and than shook his head vehemently. “Never! Any way, who’s going to stop me?”
The Cyberleader raised its gun once more, its sights finding the familiar image of the Doctor. “Another meaningless question, Doctor.” However, before the Cyberleader could fire, a huge, metal fist clamped down over its own, and pulled at the gun. Striving to free itself, the Cyberleader was thrown momentarily off balance as two of its number grabbed his opposing arm. Disorientated and desperately trying to compute some level of understanding, the Cyberleader felt the weight of the gun leave its grasp, and its other arm pinioned in the grasp of yet another two Cybermen.
Zoe and Jamie ran to the Doctor’s side. “What now, Doctor?”
“A little bit of mimicry, I think!” Giving them both a mischievous wink, the Doctor pressed the final button that would open up the link to Telos. Across the room, a forceful, hydraulic palm wrenched the vocal capacitor from the Cyberleader’s throat, and a lone Cyberman broke line and crossed the distance to the time travelling companions.
“Your voice would be recognised, Doctor, even though disguised. Tell me what to say.”
The Doctor beetled his brows as he tried to think of the right wording.
Zoe broke the brief silence, “Tell them the new process is void. It causes rogue units,” she paused briefly, “No offence.”
“And tell them we were here,” Jamie added, “That ought to convince them things have gone wrong.”
”Yes!” enthused the Doctor, “And tell them to set the – “ he broke off, suddenly looking crestfallen.
The Cyberman laid a hand on the Doctor’s shoulders, “They will terminate us anyway, Doctor. There is no need to request autodestruct.”
Zoe glanced imploringly at the Doctor, “We can’t just let them destroy themselves?”
“Some would say we were already dead,” the Cyberman said.
“Besides which, Zoe, if this ship survives and another Cybership finds it, they could discover what’s gone on here in detail, and this Cyberarmy would be used for its original design once more.”
“Yes, you go!” the Cyberman commanded, “You live. We belong dead!”
The strangely resonant phrase echoing in her ears, Zoe fled the room hot on the heels of Jamie and the Doctor.
A Cyberman had joined them as they left the Chamber, taking them to the scout ship along the quickest routes.
Before long, distant explosions sounded from areas all over the vast Cybership. As they traversed the corridors, the detonations came closer and closer, the temperature in the ship rising, massive, ugly creaking snaps signalling the impending disintegration. Despite the urgency of the situation, the Doctor insisted on being taken to the main control room again. After several tense minutes of button pressing, he looked up at his companions. “Well, “he asked, “What are you waiting for?”
They set off again, several side corridors filling with smoke, the tell tale crackle of flames pressing in on them. The Cyberman brought them to the docking bay after a brief detour to avoid a fallen roof, and before long the four escapees were in the shuttlecraft. The Cyberman programmed the route back to Earth for the Doctor’s party, and then made to leave the ship.
“No.” Zoe shouted, “You can’t go back out there! Doctor, tell him!”
The Doctor remained silent, but the Cyberman showed no such hesitation in speech, “Zoe, remember what the Doctor said. If anyone finds me, even when I have been deactivated or generations, they can recharge me and discover what’s gone on here. This must remain hidden, and not just from the Cybermen. I understand what drives people to uncover past truths – probably more than most.”
Jamie gave an involuntary shudder, “Grav?”
“Yes, my friend. Now, please – go!”
Giving them no time to argue, the Cyberman who had once been Grav left the ship and returned to the disintegrating mother craft. The door hissed shut, air tight to the vacuum of space, and without a word the Doctor hit the ignition sequence.
The companions travelled back to Earth in silence.
In the blackness of space, the Cybership ripped soundlessly apart, eradicating its secrets, ending once and for all the new Cyberprocess of Frankenstein Science.
Credits Where Credits Due
Wearing fresh safety helmets, Jamie, Zoe and the Doctor stood staring in amazement at the emerging structure before them.
Zoe was impressed, “All this was done with manual labour? No anti-Grav devices?”
“Indeed Zoe. Hard work in a place where leisure would reign as pleasure – the fun and games capital of the North West: Blackpool!”
Jamie pulled his sheepskin waistcoat tighter to him to beat off the chill wind that blew in from across the sea, “Talking of games, what really happened on that Cybership, Doctor? You never fully explained that.”
“Yes!” Zoe concurred with her friend, “Explanation time, Doctor!”
The Doctor was still contemplating the endeavours surrounding the Tower. “Hmm? Oh yes, indeed. Over a bag of chips?”
”But – “
“It’s only a short temporal shift, no problem at all! What?”
Surprisingly they made it. In a tram stop near the sea front, the bulk of the Tower behind them, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe were eating a large portion of fish and chips.
“So, you see,” the Doctor was saying, “When the Cybermen tested those computer programs, the conversion process was underway. Somehow the games fed into it and corrupted the procedure.”
Jamie screwed up his sheet of greaseproof paper. “Sounds a bit like the Daleks when you introduced the Human factor to them, Doctor.”
“Yes, Jamie, it does.”
“Similar, I agree, but not the quite the same. In any means, there’s not that much separating the two species, you know, bar the Cybermen’s mass assimilation drive. Maybe that’s why they’ve never fought each other.”
Jamie frowned, “But in the Cybership, you said they would.”
The Doctor shoved a particularly chip into his mouth and attempted to appear all knowing and smug. Unfortunately, the chip was particularly hot, and he had to spit it out quickly, taking a huge gulp from his bottle of coke. Seeing that Jamie was still waiting on a reply, the Doctor shrugged.
“I bluffed Jamie. It’s just one of the games I have to play.”
Back From the Dream
The Doctor made his way to the TARDIS console room, clearly troubled.
At the single door, he paused momentarily, collecting himself. Where would Mel like to go? I know . . .
Gathering himself into his usual state of being, the Doctor entered the Console Room . . . to find Ace stood at the central dais, a joy pad connecting her to the databanks.
Ace. Of course. She had just joined him. She was the major signpost. There was no turning back.
“Morning Ace.” He called over. Ace pressed pause and smiled over to her new friend. “This is wicked, Professor – Resident Evil something or other. Don’t you just love games?”
The Doctor attempted a smile, but realised it was not working. Thankfully, Ace was back on the game and did not appear to have noticed.
“Sometimes, Ace.” He murmured quietly. “Sometimes.”
At Ivy League Mansions, an Ogron bowed low and opened the door to its latest visitor – a very important guest of honour.
The new arrival glanced around the fixtures and fittings of the hallway with interest, noting a pleasing uniformity in period. Seeing the glow from the open fire reflected on the banqueting halls heavy, panelled oak door, he entered the room and seated himself at the large, oblong table.
An ashtray was already there before him, and he duly extracted a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. Realising that he was not quite ready for a nicotine fix, he turned to admire the cut glass goblet that was half filled with a sparkling, fixing Champaign. Lifting the vessel, he caught a brief glance of his face in the refracted light.
As a shudder went through him, he rolled back the arm of his shirt, struck a match against a rough patch on his artificial arm and rested the cigarette in the slit that resembled his mouth. At least his jaw, that jaw, was still there to help him inhale . . .
In his chair, both Jamie and Zoe having retired to bed a long while ago, the Doctor realised with a sudden jolt that he was having the dream again.