THE HARBINGER OF DEATH
Mud. I see mud. Layers of it. Channels. . Tunnels. Walls. There’s mud on me. In me. Christ, it’s everywhere. Even the sky’s brown . . .with mud.
Where is this place?
I’m attempting to walk through the mud. Trudging. Bent double. Each and every step is harder than the proceeding one. It’s pulling me down. Claiming me.
I’m so tired. Over tired. Beyond even that. I am exhausted.
How old are you?
I’m sixteen . . . but I feel sixty. My limbs ache. It’s difficult to think. My mind is so numb. My eyes can’t focus. Vision is drooping. I feel like I’m dropping – but kept upright by . . . something.
It’s dark. Everything’s brown and dull green . . .the sky offering no relief. I’ve never seen a place so dark.
Wait! There are others here. And, and I know them! There, just ahead of me – do I look like that? – it’s William. Hey, hey – Bill . . Where am I?
He’s staring at me now, but his eyes are . . . dead. He’s only seventeen. Could pass for thirty. Where is this place? Where?
Shh! There’s a noise. No, a voice.
Something Best Left Alone
Outside, dawn was watercolouring the sky with deep brush strokes of orange and red. A faint glimmer of yellow heralded the actual appearance of the crest of the sun, and across meadows and fields accumulated dew rose into swirls of mist and slowly, ethereally vanished.
From beneath the protective overhang of a large fern leaf, a field mouse half extracted itself. Standing on its hind legs, pummeling the air with its front two, it sniffed the freshness of the virgin morning, and scampered over towards a dry stonewall.
Like a dare devil rock climber that shuns the need for pitons and securing ropes, the mouse scaled the wall. Each step was assured, every crevasse sniffed out for interesting morsels. As the temperature slowly increased, his fur ruffled as his body acclimatized, and before long he was in the grass beyond the wall, alert and warm. After a few seconds pause, he shot off in search for food.
Focused so intently on his task, the mouse was completely unaware that he had been spotted. In a nearby tree, an owl had detected his movements and was preparing to launch itself from its branch. With breathtaking grace, the owl spread its wings and glided down towards the field mouse. Some extra sense must have alerted the rodent, for suddenly he increased his running speed, heading blindly forward. All thought of food forgotten, he concentrated on survival, scampering as hard and as fast as his four short legs would carry him. The owl swooped low, but the mouse avoided its talons, and the elegant harbinger of death arced its way towards another vantage point.
The mouse did not pause in its flight. Circumnavigating weeds and plants, it traversed the moist earth at considerable speed, but still no hiding place was presenting itself. A sharp, piercing shriek cut through the air, and the mouse found another reserve of energy to carry on even faster. It knew its assailant was back. In the air, the owl was spearheading its way towards him, wings stretched back, claws extended forwards ready for the catch.
Across a slight muddy gap in the vegetation, the mouse saw a hole. Adrenaline coursing trough its tiny body, it made straight for it. Behind it, the owl was heart stoppingly close. With a triumphant craw, the owl closed the gap between it and its prey . . . further . . . further . . . further. . .
Involuntarily, the mouse cried in imagined pain as the tip of the owl’s claw touched its back . . . and then nothing happened.
Or rather something extraordinary did.
A rippling sensation flooded through his body, and he wanted to stop, but he couldn’t - his momentum was too great. A wall of air seemed to be pressing him back, and after only a few inches he found he could not walk anymore, let alone run. He felt incredibly weak and his mind was completely unfocussed. He then recalled why he was there. Nervously he looked up for the owl, but saw it just to one side, laying face down in the grass. Blinking to clear the grey mist that had suddenly formed across his vision, the mouse summoned up its courage and . . . crawled over to the prone body. The owl’s breathing was incredibly faint, but audibly painful. Its feathers were falling out around its body, and the skin it exposed was raw and callused. The mouse swiveled its head to look at his own back, and yelped as it saw the amount of grey streaking its way through its brown pelt.
Finding his breath becoming ragged and sharp, the mouse lay down next to the owl, no longer afraid. The owl creakingly turned its head, and for one minute hunter and prey were united in confusion and pain.
Then both of them died.
In a room as dark as its intent, a cowled figure studied a computer readout and turned to its colleagues. On a viewing screen inset nearby, the corpses of a mouse and an owl were visible.
“The barrier is too strong. We do not want to arouse suspicion through fatalities.”
The colleague nodded, “Agreed. However, the level must be maintained, otherwise the target could escape. Maybe we could establish an outer barrier.”
“They are primitive people. An electron charged outer shell would provoke phantasmagoria in their cerebral cortex. No one would go on any further. Fatalities would not occur.”
The cloaked figure patted its colleague on the shoulder. “Excellent. Ensure is it done immediately.”
In a wooded glade in England, a strange, sweeping path of light scythed through the air. It completed a full circuit in less than ten seconds, leaving a residual after glow of a dome. Travelers before that time would have seen a large, grand family estate - home to a proud and noble lineage of privilege.
Now all that stood there was a creaking, festering shell of a mansion . . .
It was during a particularly dull Geography lesson that Tom passed the note to Andrew. As usual, instead of being taught anything about physical locations, they were being treated to a GCSE-detailed explanation of something environmental – this time the causes of Relief Rain. Tim, for his part, could not have cared less about the causes – he just knew that the effects always leaked into his shoes and made his feet wet.
Andrew had read the note with the kind of theatrical furtiveness that only children and early teenagers can really pull off, and looked aghast. He screwed the slip of paper into a rough, tiny ball and turned his ashen gaze toward his friend. A small, slightly sly grin erupted on Tim’s face, and he nodded once . . . slowly. Visibly shaken, Andrew summoned a reserve of courage he clearly did not feel and nodded back, underlining the action with a brief, soulless smile.
Aware that Mr. Parks may well have noticed their mutual lapse in attention by now, Tim returned his attention to the front of the classroom – but the smile did not fade. With the adrenalin tingle that only really illicit and wicked thoughts can cause to course through the human body, Tim gently pushed down with the toes of his trainers and rocked back and forth on the hind legs of his chair.
The remainder of that particular school day had passed with the uneventful monotony that only hindsight can truly appreciate, and Andrew and Tim walked home amid the results of a large cloud traveling overland and up hill. As usual, Tim’s socks were soaked.
They made the initial part of their journey in silence: heads down, shuffling along slowly despite the rain, eager to say something, but neither quite sure how to broach the subject. For all his showmanship, Tim was just a showman. He knew that what he had suggested in the note was risky. Heck, he even knew it was downright dangerous. But he was young and needed to take risks. Needed to show his parents that they did not know everything. Needed to show them that sometimes, just sometimes, they were wrong.
Basically, Tim Thompson was yet another Jim Stark clone - a rebel looking for a cause.
Andrew, on the other hand, was Sal Mineo. Throughout history friendships have worked this way - so much a truism that the word cliché is demeaning. In reality, with Hitler and Mussolini, in fiction, with Baldrick and Blackadder, there has always been the brash yet inwardly troubled leader, and the subservient, seemingly cowardly/less intelligent partner. Some of these partnerships have existed through a need to be powerful, some from latent homoerotic desire, others from a desperate need for companionship no matter who delivers it, and many more due to an almost symbiotic need of one for the other. Whatever the root cause, this particular kind of couple is inherent in humanity - and Tim and Andrew merely another example of it in action.
As frequently happens in this type of relationship, it was the ‘seemingly cowardly/less intelligent partner’ that broke the ice.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Tim never broke stride, “No. In fact I’m pretty certain it’s a bad one, but at least it beats listening to my gran shouting at the TV all night.”
Andrew gave a little snort, “She what?”
Tim frowned, and shot Andrew a quick sideways glance, “She shouts at the TV - believes they can hear her. Next door can, but not the one’s she’s ‘talking’ to.” He paused. “It’s not just that though.”
Andrew slowed his pace even further, following Tim’s cue. It wasn’t often Tim spoke about himself, never mind his family - in fact for a best friend, Andrew suddenly realised he knew very little about him - so he kept quite, giving Tim what he had heard termed ‘his space to talk’.
They had stopped altogether now, the rain sheening their coats and trousers, plastering their short hair to the sides of their heads. Silence. What else had that programme said? ‘Verbal nods’. Turning to face Tim, Andrew gaze his best impression of an unforced cough. It was enough the break through Tim’s reverie.
“She thinks it all real. That world on the screen. To her, those characters exist. She’s always concerned about what happens to them. She reads interviews with the actors saying what’s going to happen - but to her they’re not actors. It’s the character talking. To her. I wouldn’t mind but . . . “
Silence. Rain. Hair gel slipping down into Andrews eyes and making them sting. Giving a very verbal ‘agh!’ Andrew wiped his eyes as Tim continued, oblivious to the cause of his memory jogger.
“That reality is more real than this.” Tim looked up, fixing his eyes directly on Andrew’s squint. “Three months ago I went into hospital.”
Andrew nodded, running his palm over his head, sending a mini-shower of water down his back. “Yeah, you were off school for ages.”
“Appendicitis. Caught it just in time.” Tim saw his friend’s face blanch and chuckled, humorlessly. “Oh, yeah - I could’ve died.”
And who would I have hung around with then? Andrew thought, but immediately dismissed the idea as selfish.
“All the family came to visit me. Even those I can’t stand. But she never came. Apparently visiting hours clashed with the soap operas.”
Andrew tilted his head to one side in sympathy. “Couldn’t they tape them for her?”
Tim shook his head, giving Andrew the kind of look that says, ‘You still don’t know what two plus two is, do you?’ and said, “How can you video tape reality?”
Andrew was about to reply with mention of his father’s video camera, but thought better of it, realising that Tim was simply trying to make a point and wasn’t that concerned if the argument was watertight. Plus the fact that he didn’t want to ridicule his friend after his first proper, serious conversation with him. So instead, he said, ‘Hmm.’
Abruptly, as if suddenly realising what he had been saying and to whom, Tim scowled, and set off walking again. So brisk was his stride that Andrew had to run to catch up with him, splashing through puddles and saturating the hems on his trousers.
Mrs. Thompson waved in complete ignorance as her son led the way down the garden path, that shy friend of his in tow. As they closed the wrought iron gate behind them, she turned and re-entered the house, sighing in reverie of times when she had spent nights away at her friend’s house as a child. Of course, times were more innocent then - her mother would never had thought of ensuring she had a mobile phone on her, had such things existed, in case of trouble. . but nowadays you couldn’t trust anyone. Of course, through having an itemized bill sent to her work place, she knew that her son often rang lines she didn’t approve of, especially one that involved an after football shower session, but as with the unsuccessfully hidden magazines and ‘used’ socks and underpants she found under his bed, she pretended not to notice and put it all down to adolescence. Besides, being caught up in her son took her mind off her husband, something she was always grateful for.
And then there was her mother.
As she entered the living room, her husband slouched in a chair attempting to clean his toe nails with a beef skewer -
- Oh please slip! Slip and -
she glanced down at her mother. Outwardly she appeared perfectly serene (in the way only truly old people can), but Margaret Thompson knew that inwardly things were not all that they should be.
It wasn’t just her blurring of fact and fiction, something she often found echoed in Tim’s diary, it was the lack of recall. She would wake up, stare vacantly at the world around her until something clicked into place, and then sit herself in front of the television until she fell asleep again. She, Margaret Thompson, had been called, ‘a nice lady’ too many times for tears, and she had heard her scream at Tim, calling him a mugger, on several occasions.
Frequently, the idea of putting her in a home had crept into her head - but she couldn’t. Too many discussion programmes had called that selfish, and despite everything she still loved her mother dearly and just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Of course, in reality, she was being selfish to the nth degree. By keeping her at home, in complete isolation from anyone she had anything in common with, acting as a daily focal point for her thoughts of lost aspirations and futility, she was taking her attention away from her husband - something she was always grateful for.
Ignoring her husband completely, Margaret went upstairs to Tim’s room and crouched down beside his bed.
Unaware of what his mother was discovering under his bed, Tin was glowing with the awareness that she was completely unaware of where he and Andrew were actually going. Having employed the eldest, yet still most successful bluff in history (the ‘Oh he’s staying at my house’ to both sets of parents), they were presently scrambling over the wooden fence behind the as yet unvandalised bus stop, gaining access to the dirt track and wooded field immediately beyond.
Tim cleared the rotting fence with ease, landing springboard like on the other side. Straightening up, he was just in time to see Andrew tread on a trailing lace and go flying into a clump of particularly spiky nettles.
Pulling him out by tugging on his backpack (full of all the essentials Andrew would need when he woke up in the morning at Tim’s house. . . yeah, right …), Tim ripped a rough handful of dot leaves from nearby and threw then at his friend.
As Andrew dutifully rubbed the leaves onto his already white-pimpled face and hands, Tim kicked his left shoe. “I’d tie that up if I were you. Don’t want you falling now, do we?”
Andrew gave a wan smile, his eyes brimming with unshed tears of pain from the nettle stabs, and stood up, resettling his pack on his back. “I really don’t think . . . “
“I know that!”
“ . . . that we should be doing this.”
Tim, much to Andrew’s surprise, took a packet of cigarettes from his pack and proceeded to light one. Before he could comment on his friend’s stupidity in smoking (hadn’t he been listening in PSE? Those things were bad!), Tim pointed the lit end at him, the smoke curling up into the increasingly twilit world around them. “Any more clichés you’d like to air before we go on, nettle boy? Hmm? Just to prevent one, I know what you’re thinking about this - ‘ he said, moving the cigarette in a little circle, leaving an electric-hob ring afterglow on Andrew’s retina - ‘ - and I don’t care. My lungs. My life. It’s not as if we’re going out with each other, is it?”
Andrew sniggered, his trepidation temporarily forgotten, “I’m no pouf!”
Tim took a quick, but deep drag on his Silk Cut, and savagely nodded his head, “Too bloody right. You wouldn’t be here now if you were!” Throwing the half smoked cig to the ground, he crushed it lifeless beneath the toes of his black trainers, and gestured with his thumb, “You ready to go on now?”
Andrew grabbed the handles of his hold all with both hands and nodded. “After you!”
Tim returned the nod, “But of course!”
As the last glimmers of yet another day faded into recorded time, the two boys trudged up the narrow dirt track, heading towards the gap in the trees directly ahead of them.
Tim knew they shouldn’t be here, but it was long gone time for caring. Placing his pack on the ground, he took out his cigarettes again, and the mobile phone his mother insisted he always carried around with him. While he thought it a tad overprotective, as long as she paid the bill he was quite prepared to have it. After all, it was always nice to be able to chat whenever he wanted to, to whomever he wanted. . . about whatever.
As he had expected, he had two missed calls - one from his mother, one from Andrew’s. They knew they weren’t where they had said they were. It might have been the eldest scam in the book, but unfortunately that meant even their parents had used it themselves. Ah, well, that’s the beauty of Ring Volume Off . . . You can pretend you were too busy to get to the phone in time. Lighting another cigarette, Tim rammed the phone back into the pack, swung it over his shoulder and waved a hand expansively across the field towards the house that loomed ahead of them.
“Well, Andrew Cotton, are you ready to enter the House of Spooks and Ghouls?”
Andrew drew level with his friend, and stared at the enormous, run down, once grand gothic edifice before him. It was a house as seen in way too many horror films - too big, too many floors, too many gargoyles, and too many mental associations.
It was still evident that it had belonged to an enormously wealthy, and therefore powerful, nobleman centuries before. It had paid home to him, his wife, two children and their servants - with enough space left over to house everyone in the village around them without anyone actually ever meeting each other for years.
But now it was home for no one. Only things. Traces. Memories.
This is what the note had been about. Tim had dared him to join him in spending a night alone in this house. That house. The house. The place parents used to control unruly children with threats of taking them to. The place where even the demolition people would not go, leaving it to rot like a discarded turkey carcass on January 3rd. The place where even the skeptics refused to comment about. The place to where the second son a local wood cutter had crept one night to murder the entire household after a refusal of payment for labor. The place no one in his or her right mind entered, or even went near.
And they were there. Timothy James Thompson and Andrew Peter Cotton. First year GCSE school children. Suddenly, realisations of their own naiveté and insignificance assailed them both. They had never traveled abroad. They had never met anyone famous. They had never slept with anyone. They were kids. What on Earth were they thinking?
Tim tried to shake his sudden doubts, “Well?” he said, affecting bravado, “Are you ready?”
Andrew looked as uncertain as it certainly possible to look, but nodded his assent to carry on. Coughing slightly as a cloud of Tim’s cigarette smoke caught at the back of his throat, he hacked, “Let’s get on with it!” and set to move off.
“Err, Andrew . . .”
Stopping mid-step, Andrew steadied himself, and turned round. “What?”
“Err . . . Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not really as brave and all that as I like to make out, you know.”
Andrew smiled, “Don’t worry - I don’t think I’d like you if you were!” Tim looked momentarily stern, but caught the intonation just in time, “Besides. . .”
“I’m not as dim as I sometimes appear.”
The two teenagers stood silent for a while, and in the space of ten seconds aged years. Tim passed his cigarette over to Andrew, who initially shook his head. Tim offered it again, and Andrew smiled. “Ah, the peace pipe of friendship, kimosabi!”
Tim laughed - for the first time in years at a joke rather than at some one else’s expense or misfortune. Andrew took the smallest drag of the cigarette, and proceeded to re-enact the coughing dance of the lifetime non-smoker. As he stood, bent over, his coughing subsiding, he jerked his Cig-holding hand towards Tim. Tim crossed over, took the Cig, transferred it to his left hand, and gently, slowly, softly, linked his fingers through Andrew’s. Momentarily afraid that he had gone too far, momentarily scared he had let his guard slip to the wrong person, he was relieved beyond measure when he felt a tender, reciprocal squeeze on the skin of his fingers, and Andrew straightened himself, smiling the biggest, most open, honest, genuine and caring smile Tin had ever seen in his life.
In any other situation their gaze would have lingered too long, but here it was perfectly acceptable. Tim sighed. “I was going to ask if you wanted to hold hands in case you were scared . . . “
Andrew said nothing, but squeezed Tim’s hand again reassuringly.
“But now it’s happened this way, I’m bloody terrified!”
Andrew lifted his free hand towards Tim’s cigarette holding one. The Cig fell unnoticed as they stood facing one other, hands in hands. “Tim . . . I’ve been terrified for years. . . That this would never happen. That you’d hate me if ever I . . . But then I saw a programme on - “
“Sky One? ”
“”Yeah! ‘Aggression against what you fear you are is the best defense ‘, or something . . .”
“And also the biggest clue if you know what you’re looking for.”
“And I am what you’re looking for?”
“I don’t know. Yet. We’ve never exactly shared that much information about each other to say were best friends.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Andrew.”
“Don’t be. The mystery was nice.”
“Well, we’re at a haunted house. Where better to explore and solve a mystery?”
Linking arms over each’ others shoulders, their back packs knocking against one another with each step they took, Tim and Andrew started to cross the overrun lawn towards the house . . .
. . . when Andrew started to smell something burning.
“Are you smoking?”
“No, I’m not. Jesus - we’ve only know about each other in this way for a matter of minutes, and already you’re nagging me!”
“Nah, shhh. . . Sniff the air.”
“Ok . . . but I can’t . . . Oh my God!”
Looking down, a funnel of smoke was pouring out, up and from Tim’s left trainer. The Cig he had dropped so carelessly before had fallen into his one-size too big footwear, still alight, and slowly smoldered away. He hadn’t noticed as he was wearing two pairs of socks - the first layer now with a smoking hole. Landing down on his backside with a thump, he wretched the trainer off his foot, flung the glowing cigarette as far as he could throw it, and rubbed his sparking white socks into the damp, lengthy grass.
As Andrew helped him up, he re-shod his foot, reporting nothing burnt - apart from the trainer itself.
“Well, I told you they were bad for you!”
Tim gave him a reproachful look, and then had to concede an equatorial nod. “Maybe. I was only smoking through stress, anyway . . .”
No sooner were those words out of Tim’s mouth, than the most stressful thing that had ever happened to him before paled into nursery tale qualms.
The very air in front of them shimmered and became impassable. A glow, a deep, fluorescent golden glow became painfully visible. Both boys shielded their eyes with their forearms, wincing as their eyes recovered from the visual assault. The glow eventually subsided enough for the boys to lower their arms. . and there before them was a vision from Dante’s Inferno.
Impossible flames erupted from the sodden ground, faces of gnarled, grotesque distortions of form swirled through the air . . . Images of children aged before their eyes, falling into dust riddled skeletons. Rooted to the spot, Tim and Andrew could only stare in abject horror as these phantoms performed their satanic ballet of the macabre . . .
As one of the specters reached a finger of flame towards the boys, an ear shattering crack thundered around them, and an ember flew away from the ghost hand . . . hurtling toward Andrew . . .
Thousands upon thousands of miles away, in a chambre of stark opulence, two figures suddenly crossed over to a computer terminal, unable to believe their eyes.
FAIL SAFE MALFUNCTION . . .
FAIL SAFE MALFUNCTION . . .
FAIL SAFE MALFUNCTION . . .
1996 . . .
The fireball smacked into Andrew, hurling him across the field and slamming his back into the trunk of a large ancient tree. Flames engulfed his slight frame, rendering his clothes cinders and the heat tore through his flesh, burning through to the bone, a bubbling, congealing trail of human offal coalescing on the ground.
Tim started screaming . . .
. . . and inside his head, he never stopped.
Years passed for Margaret Thompson. She never regretted her actions the day after her son ‘went away’, after all she obviously deserved some kind of punishment. She had not seen the signs . . .Or rather she had, but instead of talking them had used them as a deflection shield against her husband. . her mother . . . herself.
She had let her son down.
She has watched from the living room window as the van pulled away, her son inside it. . invisible to world. To her. She had stood there for most of the morning, until her husband woke up and demanded his dinner. And she had sat on the sofa most of the afternoon, rocking slightly, cradling a bloodied beef skewer in her lap . . .
Tim started screaming . . .
. . . and inside his head, he never stopped.
. . . Angela Thorndyke, mother of convicted murderer, Margaret Thompson, lived for another fifteen years, and was a good friend and confidant to all who knew her. The other residents of the home sought her advice on many issues, and even the charge staff were not averse to seeking her wisdom . . .
. .. When she eventually did pass away, a special request had been added to her Will . . .
. .. Half of her estate was to go to ensuring the best care possible for her beloved Grandson, Timothy, whom she always wanted to reach out to, be there for, when he was ready . . .
.. . a quarter of the remaining estate was to go to fund a help line for those who couldn’t talk to their family . . .
. . .and the final quarter, bizarrely enough, was to be forwarded onto the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce . . .
Tim started screaming . . .
. . . and inside his head, he never stopped.
The leading figure slammed his fist down on the computer bank. This should not have happened! Luckily, if that was the word, this event was never reflected upon by anyone other than those immediately concerned. They could still use this location.
Turning to his colleague, he said, “Ensure this never happens again! We cannot tolerate anymore mistakes!”
The colleague bowed, and retreated to his terminal.
Tim started screaming . . .
. . . and inside his head, he never stopped.
. . . Until . . .
Something Large, Something Fierce . . .
Howard Allen knew that most people considered his PHD stood for Pretentious, Horrible Doctor, but he didn’t care. He’d struggled to get where he was, and as the years had sped by with an alarming rapidity he had found himself becoming increasingly frustrated and annoyed by how easy it had become for those following him. He’d learned the hard way. He’d been there, hands on from the word go, none of this, “Daddy will pay for my fees”, and, “I’ll do this until something better comes along” tripe. He’d had to choose a career and stick to it - on pain of parental disapproval and disowner ship. The years had kept on rolling, and Allen’s observations had hardened into resentment, anger and then blatant hostility. Most of the work placements they sent him treated him like a museum curio, listening attentively, but with that smug glint in their eye that stated, “I’ll listen, Granddad, but things have moved on. I already know more than you.”
Allen stopped clearing his workstation, and closed his eyes. Breath, Allen, he told himself, slow, deep breaths, and count to ten. At three he started coughing and gave up. At least his anger at the latest undergraduate was giving him to speed to put everything away quicker.
Only three more days of Mr. Thomas Weaver! Allen reminded himself. Three more days and he’ll be gone forever. Allen smiled, and then gave it up. It clashed with his face, and coincided with the less than cheery thought that in five years Weaver would probably be on three times his annual salary, and, more than likely, have published enough acclaimed papers to cover a modest sized living room.
Is it any wonder I’m so angry!
Allen stashed away the majority of his chemicals and slouched over to the water cooler. Drinking the tooth-shockingly cold drink, he calmed down enough to think more objectively about his current position. While Weaver might end up on three times his annual salary, he had to admit that his wage hardly left him scraping around for coppers. He was respected, admired and his opinion often sought after by other colleagues and scientists. On top of that, the location was remote enough, a pleasantly secluded old manor house in the middle of the countryside. Perfect for research. He’d even had the telephones removed to avoid any unnecessary interruptions. If the postal service was good enough for his father, then it was certainly good enough for him.
Without thinking about it, Allen poured himself another plastic cup of water. Realising he didn’t actually want it, he shrugged at his lapse into reverie and moved to leave his laboratory.
It was only then that he felt he was no longer on his own.
He didn’t know exactly how he knew, but the awareness was there. There was somebody else in his laboratory.
“Hello?” he said, with more of a tremor than he would have liked, “Weaver? Is that you?”
Nothing. No reply. No sound. No movement. Yet still Allen knew he was not alone.
Turning a full three hundred and sixty degrees, taking in all the benches, cupboards and recesses, he tried again, “Come along, Weaver. Even for an undergraduate this isn’t funny.”
Once again, silence.
Why am I scared? There is no one here. You are clearing up after a hygienically-challenged undergraduate after a particularly diplomatically charged session of stating A goes to B when all you really wanted to do was tell him to put it -
The voice was soft and in no-way threatening, but Allen was now scared. Really scared. He dropped the plastic cup he was holding, and it was with a mild, incurable scientific curiosity that he noticed it fell with an unnatural slowness before spilling its contents with molecular accuracy,
“W-what? Where are you?” His voice sounded momentarily blurred, and then as he saw the droplets merge into a more regular, ordinary flood, it returned to normal.
The answer to his question came quicker than he had expected, but before the hypothesis had been formed into a method, let alone crystallized into a result, the conclusion was that Howard Allen died quickly and violently at 18:30. And if anyone had the technology to analyze his retina for that legendary last image before death, they would have desperately wished it had never been invented.
Ace applied a bit more force and the paint finally started to wash off her hands. What a night! From a whim to a mission, from a plot to a revolution, she and the Doctor had liberated Terra Alpha from the despotic rule of Helen A. No, correction, they had helped the inhabitants to help themselves overturn her.
Turning off the tap, Ace had to admit things had certainly hotted up since she agreed to take the scenic route back to Perivale. The man she had grown to like while they hunted for dragonfire had changed. Perceptively. When she first encountered him, while in one of her usual sulks in the cafe on Ice World, he had appeared impish and mischievous, going into the unknown with a devil may care assurance that whatever happened it would sort itself out. A number of adventures had happened since they left Mel behind, and during them Ace had really detected a change in her companion. He’d hardened. Not against her, but the situations they landed in. He had started opening the TARDIS doors with a purpose. He had stopped checking the atmosphere readings to see if everything was OK. It was if he already knew they would be. Of course, it had all culminated in their recent visit to London in the early 1960s. There, Ace had learned that there was a darker side to the Doctor, a more manipulative one. One that didn’t appear to think twice about causing genocide. And yet the darker he became, the more she trusted him. If the Doctor knew what was happening, if he was in some way even orchestrating it, and she was surviving time after time, he obviously would never let anything happen to her. She had found a home in a house without an address, with a man without a name she knew, on planets and worlds she had dreamed may have existed but had never dared to wish she would one day visit.
Dorothy MacShane really was dead.
Drying her hands, Ace studied her face in the mirror. Had she changed? Physically, no. She might have been a little more tanned than before, but the Doctor would have put that down to solar winds. Her hair was still black, and tied into a pony-tail, and even though her badge infested jacket was strewn over a chair in the corner of her room, she still wore roughly the same clothing she had on her time off at Ice World. In Perivale.
Yet she felt a hell of a lot different inside. She was beginning to detect a glimmer of the confidence she liked to portray. She was starting to think about others, about consequences, and about how she could affect things around her. A feeling of worth and ability she had not truly felt since she had heard why the fire engines had roared past her that day. She was taking on the fascists now. She was avenging that death. While she was more than aware it would never bring Manisha back, it was the feeling that she was helping to prevent others Manishas from happening, holding back for others the pain and suffering she had carried around for so long inside herself.
With a jolt, Ace realised she had opened that door again, and shut it firmly. Throwing the towel into a heap on the floor, she scooped up her jacket and made her way to the TARDIS Console Room.
The Doctor smiled at her as she breezed in.
“Hello, Ace. Got the rest of that paint off, then?”
“Yeah. What’s in it? I thought it was never going to come off!”
The Doctor flicked a switch on the panel before him, and then replied, “Well, strictly speaking it’s not paint. I mean, it does everything that normal paint does, but I doubt you’d find it in B&Q.”
Ace frowned, “Don’t tell me it’s some kind of life form - and that I’ve gone and flushed three billion Paintazoids down the sink!”
The Doctor chuckled, a throw back to that eager Dragon hunter. “No, no no.” He said. “It’s a special paint guaranteed to withstand the vortex. It melds with the exterior shell of the TARDIS, erasing anything that might have blemished it.”
“But what if the TARDIS wasn’t a Police Box? A blue pyramid would look a bit silly!”
“Yes, it would, for a few seconds. And then the TARDIS would tell it off, say turn sandy yellow, and it would.”
“So, it is alive. In a way.”
The Doctor shook his head. “Nope. Just a simply chemical reaction to a programmed perimeter. Nothing more complicated than that.”
“Oh,” Ace said, desperately wishing that she had A) kept quite about the whole thing now, and B) tried to use turps on the TARDIS exterior instead. “I’m glad it’s simple. Anyway,” she said, stressing the eagerness in her voice, “Any idea where we’re likely to end up next?”
The Doctor threw his hands wide, looking for all the world like a pianist about to launch into a particularly heavy handed rendition of something by Barry Mannilow, and locked her gaze. “Come on, Ace. Do I ever know where the TARDIS will take us?”
Ace kept her mouth shut, but her eyes answered him perfectly.
Unbeknown to either the Doctor or Ace, as they continued talking about everything and nothing, a number of the settings on the console flickered and changed. The Doctor really did have no way of knowing where his TARDIS was taking him now.
For a few minutes, they traveled on quite peaceably. The Doctor showed Ace the function of a number of instruments (unfortunately those far away from the readouts that would tell him his destination had altered), and Ace, every so often, had to stop herself from simply staring around her at the impossibly large, white walled room she was in. Despite not wanting to admit it, she knew she was still a little in awe of the whole thing.
“One day, when I’m not quite so mere mortal as I am now, you’ll have to tell me how your people did this.”
“Fit all this in what looks like a police box.”
The Doctor nodded sagely, and in that instant Ace saw the wisdom that was within him. It a split second she saw the universe in his eyes, and beyond the question mark emblazoned tank top he insisted on wearing. The Doctor really was a Time Lord. An alien. Although she had always known it, it had never struck her as forcibly as now. Before her train of though could continue into another station, it was rudely and violently derailed. As sentences collapsed into clauses, and then into mere nouns and verbs that rolled down a grass verge awaiting the emergency services, the already bright white room blazed into a torrent of opaque whiteness that spilled forth from the central time rota, and flowed out across, toward, over and through them.
“Doctor!” Ace cried, “What is it?”
Although she couldn’t see him, she could hear the Doctor’s fingers darting over his beloved console, “I don’t know Ace!” he shouted over a hum Ace was only just aware existed, “I can’t see the instruments.”
Confused, yet determined not to simply stand still and do nothing, Ace called out, “Hello! Can you hear me? Are you trying to communicate with us?”
“I think it’s a localized time spillage,” the Doctor said, “I think we’ve passed through a barrier we weren’t meant to and it’s affected the TARDIS.”
“This light! It’s burning my eyes!”
As if response to her pained exclamation, the light faded as abruptly as it had come. The hum, too, vanished. Dazed, bemused and caught like two people in the aftershock of a particularly bright camera flash, the Doctor and Ace stood blinking away harsh, darting spot-lights that remained in their vision.
“What was that?”
Before the Doctor could reply in any way whatsoever, there was a cough from behind her. Before she turned to look, she saw the Doctor stare straight past her in disbelief. Slightly perturbed, Ace finally turned around. Standing there before her was what she could only describe as the archetypal Victorian Granddad.
“One question at a time, child!” the stranger snapped, then with slightly more warmth and humour in his voice continued: “I believe you wanted to know about the dimensions of my TARDIS!”
Charles Pemberton swiped his card through the security lock and, with the kind of tunnel vision you only develop through familiarity, made his way to his terminal. It was only when he had keyed in all seven of his passwords that he realised he had not seen any one else in the building.
Pemberton lived where he worked any worked where he lived. While Howard Allen was dying from the terror of confronting the misshapen thing that was attacking him, Pemberton was four floors above dreaming of his girlfriend seventy-eight miles away. Even as he slept he was aware that when he woke up, she would be asleep dreaming of him. That thought was always with him, and that notion is what always saw him through the twilight hours of his unsociable shift. However, unsociable or not, there was always somebody else there.
Curious, he crossed over to the intercom and buzzed for reception. When no answer came, he buzzed again. And again. By now genuinely worried, Pemberton went back to his PC and tried to focus on his work. After a few seconds he gave up. There was something wrong. Reception was staffed twenty-four hours a day by a team of bulldog faced, cheerless security guards who had all signed secrecy acts as thick as their forearms. Any one of them knew that if they did not answer the buzzer they faced a disciplinary charge - that was why they were always rotad on two at a time. Well, for that reason and the fact that everyone knew that one person in isolation on one of their shifts would probably go clinically insane after a fortnight.
Leaving his terminal switched on, Pemberton went out into the corridor. Through the dim artificial night lighting, the light spilling out from underneath Allen’s laboratory door was brighter than usual, and acted as a beacon. As he started walking towards the door, the automatic clock on the PC back in his lab read 18:30. As he discovered the body of Allen and vomited his evening meal over the floor, the clock read 18:30. As he shakily broke the rules and lit a cigarette, the clock still read 18:30. And yet the cursor flashed eagerly, awaiting new pixels. . .
“Doctor. Is he really you?”
The Doctor, Ace’s Doctor, nodded. “Yes, Ace. We are. I rather suspect he’s a side effect of the time distortion.”
The other Doctor grabbed his lapels and paused slightly, before agreeing. “I really shouldn’t be here. I suspect I’ll vanish in awhile. Just give the time lines time to realign themselves, and I’ll be . . .”
“He’s gone!” Ace exclaimed, staring at the space where the white haired old man had stood. Suddenly sulky, she pouted: “And just like you he never told me the answers!”
“That, my dear Ace,” the Doctor announced, shouldering his jacket onto his back in a flourish, carrying on as though his earliest incarnation had never even been there, “Is because I believe in you discovering things for yourself! And before you say anything, that’s not me being smug!”
“OK, I’ll access the TARDIS databanks one day and read up on dimensional transcendentalism.”
“Or transcendental dimensions.”
“Don’t worry. It’s interchangeable. Anyway,” the Doctor sighed, “We’ve arrived.” Checking the instruments, he paused before saying: “Though I think I should point out we’ve been kidnapped.”
Operating the door release mechanism, the Doctor strode towards the TARDIS’ external doors that were slowly opening inwards. Ace quickened her pace slightly and intercepted him. Detouring only to retrieve the Doctor’s hat from the stand, she went out first, ignoring the Doctor’s protests. However, as soon as he was sure she could not see his face, a look of pride crept into his countenance, and he locked the doors securely. As he swung his umbrella over his left shoulder, Ace jammed the hat onto his head, before sliding her arm through his. Thus linked, the two companions walked through a night filled meadow, whistling Cococabana in perfect harmony.
Pemberton had his eyes shut, tight. Leaning back flat against the outer laboratory wall, he was visibly shaking, clenching and unclenching his hands into tight, knuckle white fists. Following a relaxation technique he had heard of somewhere (probably in a pub), within the confines of his shoes and socks he pressed his toes together, and down, and then let them splay apart. Opening his eyes, he let his shoulders slacken, and then attempted to channel the tension out through the muscles in his arms and legs. While it worked, unfortunately for Pemberton his thoughts immediately returned to Allen’s . . . body? . . . and within five seconds he had lit another cigarette.
Inside his head, in a weird, macabre version of Punch and Judy meets Doctor Faustus, his mind was trying to rationalise what he had seen.
You’re a scientist, Charles Pemberton. Level headed. Detached. Clinical.
Yes, I know, but I am not a mortician, neither am I proficient in any field of pathology - and what was on that floor would make Quincy sick!
Realising his panic was rising again, Pemberton elected to face it head on. Taking a deep, too deep, drag on his cigarette, he clasped the handle of the laboratory in his clammy hand, and quickly pulled it open. Tentatively, as if fearing the violence of his door opening might have attracted the attention of . . . what exactly, he didn’t know, he entered the laboratory with one hesitant footfall after the other, gradually making his way over to where the body lay.
Suddenly lost for breath, Pemberton stared in horror at the patch of crusted and congealing blood that marked where Allen had fallen. Looking for the entire world like a crazed caricaturists exaggeration of what shocked surprise should look like, Pemberton did something he had not done in twenty years. And that had been in bed. As his urine coursed through the fine hairs of his inner thighs, he dropped the half smoked cigarette, which extinguished in the fresher parts of Allen’s lifeblood.
And then, just as he was beginning to feel that nothing else could possibly go wrong, it did. A shuffling, humanesque shadow fell across the edge of his vision, and as he turned to catch its owner, the owner made the introductions for him.
A powerful, savage, light-splitting sweep of the thing’s arm later and Pemberton was out cold.
After several minutes of walking in a comfortable silence, Ace and the Doctor reached the style. The Doctor’s flashlight had tracked the fence that surrounded the field they had landed in, and after only a few trips and stumbles they had located the layered wooden stepping structure. In the near distance, the large, sprawling grounds of a not unimpressive country house loomed up to greet them, it’s contours highlighted in a Moon washed grey. Even from this distance, Ace felt the place appeared creepy, but she strived to put that down to bad experience with large, seemingly deserted buildings.
Ace climbed the style first, throwing her rucksack over before her, and then turning back to take the Doctor’s umbrella as he started his ascent. She tried desperately not to laugh as he lost his footing several times, and threw his arms about in an attempt to prevent him ending up in an unceremonial heap. Here I am, she thought to herself, standing watching the all powerful Time Lord struggle with a few weather beaten planks of wood. Maybe there was something to be said for human achievement after all.
As if sensing her thoughts (boy, she wished she could shake the notion that sometimes she felt he actually could), the Doctor shot her a quick, reproving look and successfully conquered his latest adversary. Ace attempted a look of innocence, but the Doctor merely sniffed derisively and grabbed his umbrella back. As Ace threaded her arms back through into the handles of her backpack, the Doctor started out towards the house. Catching up with him, she asked, “So, Professor, what’s the plan? March up there, befriend everyone in authority, find out if anyone knows anything about localized time distortions and then tell off whoever caused it? Though, obviously, not necessarily in that order.”
“Oh good! I just though that maybe just once we might slip in unnoticed and ingratiate ourselves slowly.”
“Where’s the fun in that? As a friend of mine once said, ‘No-one wants to see you just walk through a door. It should be an entrance!’”
“That sounds like something you’d say.”
“Hmm, well. Anyway, Ace - if somebody redirected the TARDIS here, I want to know who. And why. And in my experience the ‘why’ parts are never completely benign.”
“Noticed that.” Ace commented slyly, before placing herself in front of her companion. Behind her, the red painted door of the country house towered a good few feet over her. “Well, we’ve arrived. Shall I knock, or will you?”
It really was a beautiful summer’s day. They had traveled to the glade in his second hand Astra that morning, the boot laden with enough food and drink to keep seven times their number happy. Slices of ham sat next to cling wrapped chicken legs, and every variety of crisp overcrowded bags already filled with cakes, buns and prepared sandwiches. He had chosen the music they were listening to himself. It was an easy choice. She liked Celine Dion. And today was her day.
The couple clambered out of the car and set up their picnic right at the river’s edge. As he struggled with some of the provisions, she was busy preparing the ground, covering it with a large, tartan blanket. They quickly covered it with plates and glasses, and after kicking off their shoes, sat cross-legged before one another and started to eat their meal.
It was perfect. The air was warm and light, with small, wispy insects darting through. The only sound was their conversation and laughter, excepting, of course, the constant backing track of pure, running water.
After they had eaten as much as they could, they cleared away their things and rolled the blanket back up. With shoes firmly reshod, they left the car behind and took a quiet, gentle stroll along the river.
It wasn’t long before they reached a picture post card looking bridge. She ran on ahead, her hair glowing as it streamed from her forehead and bounced in the rays of the sun. Laughing with pure joy, he sprinted over to her, enclosing her within his arms, and they kissed. Lovingly.
They were half way across the bridge, the rustle of a myriad leaves overhead. Slowly and solemnly, he took a small, red box from inside his jeans pocket, and crouched down onto one knee -
. . . it hurt . . .
and discretely coughed.
. . . my knee hurts . . .
His brown eyes filled with nothing but adoration, his clear skin shining with expectation, the young lover proffered the box toward her, the lid now hinged back.
“Mary?” he said, his voice calm, clear and resonant.
“Yes?” she replied, playfully.
“Mary, will you . . .”
He looked at her, deeply, and then frowned. The sky clouded over, the heavens divulging huge torrents of rain. Their clothes become damp and then sodden, clinging to their bodies in an unpleasant, cloying manner. And from the river came the sound of something rising from beneath . . .
“Why does my knee hurt so bloody much?” Pemberton asked, before he finally came to.
Like a deep-sea diver emerging from the depths, Charles Pemberton swam up from his unconsciousness. As the rest of his senses caught up with his hearing, he established his position (both physically and metaphorically) and dragged his body into the shadow afforded by the long lab bench he had fallen near.
His kneecap burned like fury, and with every slow shift of his body, he had to clench his teeth together to prevent himself yelping with pain.
Laying fully horizontal on the cool, lino-tiled floor, cold, clammy perspiration sheening his entire body (both through fear and through agony), he attempted to piece together a more rational picture of the creature and his current predicament.
It had a vaguely humanoid shape, but whether or not it was, or had been, Pemberton was not even prepared to start conjecturing. In the brief moments he been afforded to see it, he could tell there was evident decay going on, though once again he could not begin to speculate whether this derived from age or accident. The fact it was aggressive suggested either fear, or malice. Answers on a post card. However, the fact that someone had been murdered, and judging by the carnage, by something not dissimilar to the creature no trying to sniff Pemberton out, pointed quite conclusively toward the latter option for motivation.
And it was still there. Unsteadily wondering about. Homing in on him.
Fighting back the panic that was threatening to rise again, Pemberton focused on locating the creature through sound. He had no way of knowing how long he had been unconscious, though he realised it could not have been for that long as the centre’s night lighting was still operational.
Its breath was rasping, containing audible traces of blood and corrupted, loose flesh. It sounded as though its airwaves were perforated, allowing as much air to escape as it transported to its organs.
Valiantly, Pemberton resisted the urge to bolt. He lay still, bravely conquering the physical signs of fear. And as the creature turned the corner, casting its shadow over his prone form, he did something else he had not done since the age of six.
“Hello? Can anybody hear me? Open up, toe rags, it’s me and the Professor!” Ace turned her back on the door, and her attempts to get someone to hear her. “There’s no answer, Professor.”
“Hmm.” Her companion murmured, suddenly a blur of frantic pocket searching.
Ace alternated her weight from one leg to the other for several seconds, before venturing: “Shall I just Nitro our way in?”
Expecting his usual lecture on the responsibilities that come from carrying explosives, Ace was surprised when the Doctor did not deliver it. Instead, he was grinning, grinning like the day when she had seen him poring over a treasure map of Ice World’s lower levels. In his hand he held a small, squat, grey rectangular box with a new flashing lights inset into it.
“First things first, Ace.” He said, calmly, “I need to be completely sure that this is the place we need to be.”
So saying, he ran the ball of his thumb over one of the lights and the bulb glowed, responding to his pulsed request to function. Carefully, almost cat like, he passed the box over the doorframe and the surrounding walls and ground.
Ace looked at the device with a mixture of incredulity and awe. It was still a marvel how with the Doctor, it was usually the ordinary, the mundane, or the down right apparently insignificant things that led to solutions. The army could have been there with a war campaign sized arsenal of weaponry, and all would have been rendered inconsequential as the Doctor insisted on using one of his gizmos. Brain over brawn. The underdog over the tyrant. The meek shall inherit the Earth.
“Definite residual traces of time displacement.”
“Is that the same as time distortion?”
“Don’t quibble about my semantics!”
Ace chuckled, “I wouldn’t dare. Wicked, though. You’ve found it.”
“Hmm. Wicked? Maybe. . . I don’t like it, Ace.”
“Why? Because you don’t know what’s going on for a Dalek-slaying minute?”
“Ace, rumours of my omnipotence have been greatly exaggerated. I don’t always know what’s happening.” He paused, not sounded convinced himself. “Honestly. Anyway,” he continued, tapping the device against his chin, “Someone, or something, has brought us here. The thing is, do they want us specifically . . . “
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, someone wants somebody to be here. At this location. If it turns out not to be one of the million beings I’ve managed to annoy during my travels, or a fan who simply wants my autograph, then they obviously just want help, numbers. Or . . .”
The Doctor’s face was grave. “Bodies.”
The creature was within body heat distance of Pemberton by now, and the stench was becoming increasingly unbearable. Worse still was that fact the he could now discern actual physical characteristics in the misshapen lump before him. Eyes that has slid to where ears should have been, an arm half its natural length, the other scraping on the floor. The flesh was dank green and bloated, pulsing with water and an unnaturally heightened heart beat. H P Lovecraft would have adored you, Pemberton decided, and then scolded himself for his flippancy at a time like this.
Just as he had almost given up on surviving, just as he had consigned sex, literature, science and existing to history, the creature’s rancid mouth tore open, and a ghastly, unearthly scream permeated the air. It thrashed wildly, shuffling over to another section of the laboratory, Pemberton all but forgotten.
Slowly, Pemberton levered himself up to bench height, and then peered cautiously over the top. Fascinated by the spectacle, he continued staring long after reason should have dictated he make a run for it. The anguish of the creature was palpable, and Pemberton found himself actually start to feel a little sympathy for its plight.
And then the creature stopped screaming. In a moment that perception stretched to minutes, it froze; it’s limbs, if you could call them that, slopping down to rest on its tortured body. With a grotesque ripping sound, it then collapsed to the floor, immobile.
Seizing his chance, adrenaline giving his legs the power of movement, Pemberton jumped up from his secluded vantage point and sprinted to the corridor.
It was only when he stopped running that the full enormity of what he had just survived kicked in, and for the second time that night he threw up.
Outside, Ace and the Doctor had heard the creature’s screams, too.
“Doctor? What was that?”
“I don’t know, Ace - but I think it’s our cue to go in.”
Ace nodded, and waited for the Doctor to produce another device. None came. Puzzled, she was about to ask the Doctor how he was going to open the door, when with that level of impatience that made his vocal inflections so idiosyncratic, he exclaimed: “Come along, Ace. This is no time for subtleties.”
Her eyes gleaming, Ace swung her rucksack to the ground and unclasped its fastenings. Taking one of her customized aerosol cans from within, she bit the cap off, and carefully attached it to the doorframe, exactly half way between both hinges.
“Time to - “
The pair dashed around the side of the house, gravel crunching underfoot, and pressed themselves against the rough stonewall. As they started to get their breath back, the Nitro exploded, rending the door from its moorings and sending it crashing to the ground. Walking back to the entrance way through a billowing cloud of smoke and minor debris, Ace and the Doctor saw a faint silhouette framed in the obscured door way.
As the smoke finally dispersed, they saw a young man, dressed, as you would expect a laboratory assistant to dress, staring glassily toward them. Clearly in a state of shock, his breathing was rapid, but shallow, and his skin had a slightly waxy, grey sheen to it. His brown hair was ruffled quite badly, and his hands were visibly trembling.
“Quick, Ace,” the Doctor ordered, “help him to the ground.” Taking one of the young mans arms over his shoulder, he motioned Ace to follow suit with the other. The Doctor then gently tapped the inside of the youth’s knees with his foot, and without any resistance they soon had him resting on the floor, his back propped up against the remainder of the door frame. Lifting the trembling man’s feet up gently, the Doctor then motioned to Ace to slide her backpack under his heels.
“Well, done, Ace.” The Doctor said, beaming at her. “We’ll make a first aider of you yet. The classic shock recovery position!” Turning back to the youthful scientist, the Doctor lowered his voice to a more soothing level and, doffing his hat politely, said: “Hello. I’m the Doctor, and this is my friend Ace. I was just wondering, apart from exploding doors, have you noticed anything strange happening here?”
Charles Pemberton turned his unfocused gaze towards the Doctor, and started laughing.
It’s Your Initiative Test!
Several hours later, the Doctor, Ace and Pemberton were seated around a table in the canteen. The Doctor had made Pemberton relay his story a number of times, and every time Ace noticed how much calmer he became.
Clever old Professor! You’re not getting him to tell all that to get information. You’re helping him to cope with it!
Pemberton smiled at them both as he concluded, this time displaying a degree of warmth rather than nerves. Relaxing back slightly in his chair, he offered them both a cigarette. The Doctor shook his head violently, murmuring something about turning the pages of books yellow, while Ace politely declined: “No thanks, mate. I’ve got a bit of an addictive personality. If I tried one I’d probably never give up. And I don’t think he’d like that very much!”
Pemberton chuckled, “No probs. Only asking. Anyway, “ he said, lowering his voice, “Who is he? Your boy friend? Like the older man. Do you?”
Ace scowled. “He’s the Professor. Sorts things out. I help.”
“The dynamic duo?”
The Doctor forced a cough. “Er, when you’ve kindly finished discussing me, there’s a body I’d quite like to examine.”
Ace made to stand up. “Yeah, Professor. And we’ve one to find!“
Pemberton blanched at the prospect of going back in to Allen’s laboratory, his recovery still in progress to a certain extent. “Er, fine. I’ll just need to pop into my laboratory to collect something first.”
Pemberton laughed, humourlessly. “No, Ace. My other pack of cigarettes. If you think I’m going back in there without nicotine, you’re very much mistaken!”
Pemberton took them to his lab, briefly outlining the nature of the centre along the way. His limp was still evident, but fading gradually.
“It’s a distraction free research lab. There’s some kind of main project going on, but the lesser labs are let out to people like me doing a bit of independent research. There should be quite a few people here, but everyone seems to have disappeared. “
“Strange.” Commented the Doctor darkly. “A remote research facility that empties itself of everyone who works there - “
“Bar Allen and myself, apparently.”
“ - and then,” the Doctor continued, ignoring the interruption, “plays host to an alleged monster.”
Pemberton snorted, “There was nothing alleged about it!”
Ace laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “I know, Charles, but he just likes to be totally sure of his facts before he starts finding solutions.”
“Exactly! And then there’s the localised time distortions, don’t forget them.”
Ace sighed, “As if I could!”
“So Ace, what do thinks going on?”
They were just inside Pemberton’s laboratory, and both he and the Doctor stood staring at Ace. “Well,” she said, “Time manipulation, monsters, murder and disappearances. Hmm, sounds like business as usual.”
Ace considered this for a second, and then realised exactly what the Doctor was referring to. “Which means that we were brought here specifically.”
“Exactly. Someone has hired the baker to bake bread. What we need to find out now is whether they actually like the stuff.”
Finding himself loosing the plot a little, Pemberton crossed over to his bench and retrieved a fresh pack of cigarettes from a draw. Ace and the Doctor followed him, examining tools, paperwork and chemical stains along the way. Ace suddenly noticed the Doctor frowning over her shoulder, but turning around she could see only another low lying bench and a PC.
She whispered, “What is it, Professor? Charles hasn’t mentioned anything about things been weird here.”
“I know, Ace,” he replied in a similarly hushed tone, “but they are. Mr. Pemberton,” he said, fully addressing their new friend, “My assistant will remain here to conduct a few inquiries - “
“Quiet, Ace; while you and I go and investigate Allen’s lab.”
Pemberton moved off towards the door, while the Doctor motioned Ace over to a quiet corner. “Ace, I know you want to come with us, but there’s something I want you to do here.”
Ace scowled. “Like what? Knock together a safer version of Nitro-9? Professor, there’s nothing here. The action’s next door!”
“Shh, Ace. I know it is. However, there’s a little something in here that I’d like you to notice. Without me telling you. When you’ve found it, and you’ll know you’ve found it, come and join us.”
“You’re patronizing me, Doctor.”
“No I’m not. I’m after a second opinion. And that’s rare for a doctor.”
Ace was about to protest further when she caught the warmth in the Doctor’s eyes. Grudgingly, she acceded to his request, “Ok, Professor. You win. Where do I start?”
The Doctor tapped his finger on the tip of her nose, “That’s entirely up to you. But don’t be long.”
Ace watched as the Doctor and Pemberton left the laboratory. As the door swung to behind then, she stuck out her tongue, but quickly put it away - suddenly aware of how immature it was. Oh well, then, Doctor. You want me to confirm your something strange. . . . She laughed, realising how that might sound out loud. Ok, I’ll try . . .
Slowly, Ace started to examine the laboratory around her in detail.
In Allen’s laboratory, Pemberton was shaking. The Doctor paced up and down agitatedly for a few seconds, and then asked, “Well?”
Pemberton looked simultaneously confused and afraid. “I - I . . . “ His voice trailed off.
The Doctor raised his eyes despairingly, “Have another of your foul smelling cigarettes, Mr. Pemberton. Anything to get a complete sentence out of you!”
Shocked by the severity of the Doctor’ s tone, Pemberton lit up another cigarette without thinking, and shakily lowered himself onto a lab stool. “It was there, Doctor. I saw it fall.”
“And now it’s gone.”
“Yes. Look, I know it sounds lame, but I’m not lying. “
“To lose one body, Mr. Pemberton, can be put down to experience. To lose two, and in the same night, could be deemed habit forming.”
Pemberton snapped, leaping to his feet. Marching over to the Doctor, he pointed at him with his cigarette. “Look, Doc. I’ve seen things tonight I can’t even begin to believe in myself. A colleague, admittedly a cantankerous git of a colleague, has been murdered. A monster has hunted me. I’ve had doors explode in front of my eyes. And then, to cap it all, as if by magic, you two appear. I’ve no idea who you really are, but for some reason, some twisted, illogical reason, I trust you, despite your convenient arrival. And now you’ve got the infernal gaul to stand there and berate me for things I can’t even understand! I want to know what’s going on here, Doctor. To do that, I’ve got the feeling I’m going to have to work with you. However, please refrain from talking to me like I’m stupid for not knowing things I’ve never been taught!”
The Doctor sighed, “I’m sorry, Mr. Pemberton. I frequently forget how insufferable I’ve been told I can be. Of course we will work together. There are things going on that need to be solved, and we will solve them. To start, though, I really needed to see the body.”
Pemberton stubbed his cigarette out, and took the Doctor over to where he had seen Allen lay. “Shall we run some tissue samples on the blood. See if anything stands out in a cross reference to his files?”
The Doctor nodded, “If you could. Hmm, I wonder. . . “
“That creature. Did it touch anything?”
Pemberton thought for a second, and then shrugged, “I can’t remember. It must have done, though. Doors can’t open themselves.”
The Doctor rushed over to the door handle, and skidded to a halt. “Excellent, Mr. Pemberton. Thank you for redirecting me to the obvious. I’ll go back and collect Ace. We’ll leave you to your blood matching.”
Pemberton nodded distractedly. The scientist in him was taking over already. With a slide held between thumb and forefinger, he crouched down next to the tackiest remnants of Allen’s blood, and scraped a portion up for analysis.
“See you in a bit, Mr. Pemberton.”
“Eh? Oh yeah, Doc. See you soon.” Pemberton gave the Doctor a halfhearted wave of acknowledgment, and started over towards Allen’s microscope.
Ace had searched everywhere, and found nothing. There were no mini-aliens asleep in the test tubes, the Bunsen burners were not talking to each other in coded messages of attack, and all of the paperwork contained notes and equations she knew the Doctor would not expect her to understand. Yet.
Bored, she pulled a lab stool up in front of a PC and tracked down the installed games package. Selecting solitaire, she dealt a deck picturing a chunky, angular robot and proceeded to play. It was only after she released the ace of hearts that she saw exactly what it was the Doctor had seen as he stared over her shoulder -
Ace! She berated herself. You’ve been so dim. This is where the Professor was looking!
Suddenly galvanized into action, she leapt from her seat and bolted down the corridor.
Pemberton had analyzed the sample, and was busy cross-referencing it with the records of that taken from Allen’s inaugural medical. Bit mapping one on top of the other, he could clearly see a number of trace elements that should not have been there. Excited, he printed off the results, and was about to make his way to meet the Doctor when he heard a footstep behind him.
“Ah, Doctor, “ he said, turning round . . . only to stare into the face of a complete stranger. “Er . . . who are you?”
The new arrival extended his hand in greeting. Smiling broadly, he announced, “I’m Professor Tim Frazer. I’m the new director. Boy, am I glad to finally meet somebody here. This place is like a morgue!”
Pemberton returned the handshake, but him smile was grim.
The Doctor and Ace collided at the junction of the corridor.
“Ooof, Ace!” the Doctor exclaimed, disentangling himself from his companion.
“Sorry, Professor - I’ve seen it! I know what you told me to look for!”
The Doctor didn’t reply. Instead he simply raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“The clock on the PC. It’s stuck at 18:30.”
“I knew you’d notice.”
Full of her discovery, Ace carried on, “Yeah, and that means that the Time Distortion must have happened then. It fried the computers.”
“Yes, but you could still use the PC, couldn’t you.”
“Yeah, but what - “
“But that makes it even stranger. If this were a freak time bubble, we’d be going around noticing other examples of things having stopped then. And the computers would be totally frozen. There’s still a time frame here. Night follows day as the minutes follow the seconds. But whose time frame is it? No, no, no. This not only confirms my suspicions about the thing being orchestrated. But it also proves they, who ever they are, are fallible.”
Ace saw what the Doctor was driving at, “Because they’ve made a mistake.”
“Exactly! They forgot to erase all signs of the distortion. The worrying thing, though, Ace, is that if they’ve slipped up there, with such a basic, rudimentary piece of interference . . . “
Ace concluded the gloomy though process for him. “Who knows what else might have gone wrong. Somebody didn’t do their homework properly, did they?”
“It would appear not, Ace. And it looks as though we’re the ones who are going to have to find out what was set, and then mark it!”
Frazer was clearly incredulous. “You what?”
Pemberton inhaled deeply on his cigarette, and realising he had finished it, crushed it beneath the toe of his shoe. “I’m as in the dark as you. I came down to do some research, as per normal, and well, as I’ve said, it’ s just been crazy here. Allen’s been murdered, there’s some kind of creature in here - and then they turned up as the door exploded.”
“They?” Frazer asked, his eyes darkening. “Who’ s they? I thought this place was deserted.”
“It is, er was. As I was getting away from the creature, I ran towards the front door. It blew up. When I came to, there they were. They’ve been very helpful.”
“I bet. I don’t like it, Pemberton. It’s too coincidental. They have to be involved in this somehow.”
Pemberton shook his head confidently. “No, sir - I trust them.”
Frazer frowned, “Hmm. Maybe I’m not as trusting as you . . . “
As Frazer’s voice trailed off, the door to the lab swung open and Ace and the Doctor came through. Ace ran up to Pemberton, not noticing Frazer, while the Doctor made an immediate beeline for the new arrival.
Realising the Doctor was not beside her, and catching the direction of Pemberton’s gaze, Ace turned and saw Frazer. He was a strange looking individual - just less than five feet with most of his facial features just slightly out of proportion. As if conscious of this, he had an alarmingly big mustache covering the lower half of his face, and his hair rode quite a way down the back of his neck. He was wearing a green tweed suit with brown brogues. All he needed was the leather elbow patches and he would have been Ace’s caricature Open University lecturer.
Frazer strode forward authoratively. “You must be this Doctor, Pemberton was telling me about. “
Ace took a step forward, “And I’m the invisible woman, I suppose?”
Frazer ignored her. “Perhaps you wouldn’t mind telling me where all my staff are. And just how you managed to be in here?”
The Doctor smiled enigmatically, “I could rephrase some of that and ask you.”
Frazer twitched his mouth, ”What do you mean?”
“Well, aren’t you going to say ‘You’ve killed Allen, it must be you because you’re strangers and etc etc, blah blah blah. These parts of our landings are usually the more predictable elements.”
Frazer looked confused, but like a soldier obeying orders still marched ahead, “Well, you have to admit - it’s all a bit coincidental.”
The Doctor nodded, “True, true. But not quite as coincidental as a new director turning up just hours after the present incumbent has been murdered - in isolation, with very few witnesses, and no method of external communication. Wouldn’t you agree, Ace?"
Ace nodded, “Yeah! Too right!”
Pemberton lit another cigarette. “Yeah. Just how did you know?”
Frazer looked from one to other of his three accusers, his eyes wide with - fear? - anger. “How dare you? Are you accusing me?”
“Well, I’m not looking at anyone else, and courtesy usually means addressing the one you are referring to. Or am I out of touch with protocol these days?”
Frazer stood still for a few seconds, and then let out a weird, inhuman scream. Dashing for a lab bench, he grabbed a large boiling flask and smashed its base into sharp, jagged edges, brandishing it like a weapon. Ace noticed with revulsion that the fingers gripping the beaker were fused, and green - almost decaying. Deep crimson blood ran down from his wrist where a shard of glass had pierced his skin.
Pemberton’s cigarette fell from his mouth and smoldered unnoticed. The Doctor brought his arms up in a deflective gesture, herding Ace behind him. Ace reached into her rucksack, brought out a can of Nitro-9 and replaced herself at the Doctor’s side.
“Put that down, scum bag” she cried, “Put it down or I’ll let this go!”
Frazer, or whatever was, growled, but stood firm. The Doctor took the can from Ace’s reluctant hand, and placed it on the lab bench. “Not now, Ace. Hmm.” Turning to face their aggressor, the Doctor raised his voice, hardening it like steel. “Put that down! We are not here to harm you. Conversely in fact. Let me take a look at that hand.”
Frazer glanced down at this hand, and took in the tissue damage. A look of pained rage creased his face, and he shrieked. In a sudden flurry of movements, he ran towards the lab exit, cannoning into Pemberton as he did so. Unfortunately, in the collision, the beaker was still firmly in Frazer’s deformed hand and it bit through into Pemberton’s stomach. Collapsing in pain, Pemberton sank to the floor, curled into a moaning fetal position.
Ace dashed over to Pemberton as the Doctor looked on aghast. Frazer turned back to face them at the doorway, dropping the flask at last. In his other hand, he held Ace’s can of Nitro.
“You should not have come here!” he spat, slowly releasing the cap of the explosive.
They’re Covering Their Tracks!
Yelnem never went to the Convergence. Every Mujtah morning, while the rest of her family ran the gauntlet of preparation, she would glare at them over the top of her vid-screen, hardening the stare every time one of them gave her the expected, ‘So, you’re still not coming with us’ look.
“I just don’t believe in it!” Yelnem had exclaimed one plenishment time, “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Her mother had turned a lighter shade of purple at hearing this heresy, cuffing her daughter with a deft flick of her fourth arm. “You know not to say things like that. He has brought us enlightenment.”
“He has brought us ignorance!” Yelnem had screamed, “We are no better than suckling freggle-chicks, dependent on nourishment from another to live! Whatever happened to our strength? Our independence?”
Her mother had laughed, “Oh, such nonsense. Why do we need independence? We’re happy as we are.”
“Are we? Who says?” Her mother was temporarily lost for words, “I’ll tell you who - him!”
Her mother took a few sleps to regain her composure before replying: “He will forgive your blasphemies, daughter. “He will forgive your blasphemies, daughter. You may not, however, find me as accommodating!”
So saying, her mother had left their nestlig and gone to Total Convergence.
She never returned.
It was only now that she was dead that Yelnem realised how right her convictions were – but the confirmation brought her no solace. While she, and she alone, enjoyed the delights of the true Resting, side by side with her Instigator, she knew that her family were still burning – an eternity of flame that mocked the two slep destruction of her planet had caused to ravage their original carbon frames.
He had gathered the entire population together that day . . .and detonated the bomb remotely. As he slipped behind the stage, allegedly to bring forth symbols of righteous conviction, he eradicated the stupid and unquestioning loyal.
Yelnem, in the nexus of reality, could view the scene whenever she wished. But she chose not to. She did not like to be reminded of the price that her independence had cost.
Besides, that mechanical grinding tone just a few sleps before everyone burned always made her feel uneasy.
Ace threw herself at the Doctor, bringing them both crashing to the ground. As the Doctor’s hat struck a work bench door, they waited for the explosion . . . but it never came.
Instead, a carbon copy rendition of the inhuman howl they had heard upon approaching the house assailed their ears, and Ace found herself involuntarily screwing her eyes tight shut. The noise quickly subsided, to be replaced by the shallow, rasping sound of Pemberton’s breathing. A reverberating metallic clang informed them that the can had fallen to the ground, and with almost comedic double timing, the time traveling duo looked at each other, shrugged, and rose to their feet.
While intent on tending to the injured Pemberton, Ace and the Doctor could not help but take in the horrors of the sight before them. Frazer was on the floor, or rather something that bore the faintest resemblance to someone who had once been addressed as Frazer was folding into the polished tiles of the floor. Flesh, fabric and bone were visibly congealing and melting before their gaze, but any remnants of anger and frustration were rendered unrecognizable by the sightless, mangled mass that was his face.
Knowing that there was no immediate threat from the decaying mash of remains, Ace returned to tending to Pemberton. His shirt had been forced apart by the penetration of the beaker and while the wound was messy, it was not excessively deep, and Ace was pleased to realise that she could not see any evidence of glass within the incisions. Dashing over to the entrance, she tugged the fire blanket from its mooring case and cut a wad from it with her penknife. Taking a length of bandage from the shockingly inadequate First Aid box, she placed the blanket down over the wound, wincing as Pemberton audibly sucked air in over his teeth, and slid the bandage around it – feeding the strip beneath his back with extreme care. Finally, she made up for her inability to tie reef knots by securing the bandage with her Blue Peter badge.
With evident effort, Pemberton forced a smile. “Thanks, Ace. I’ve always wanted one of those. Mind yo – agh! – you, I never realised you had to be mauled by a monster to win one.”
Ace smiled gently down at Pemberton and winked, “You don’t. But to earn it, you have to defeat a few.”
“Ace?” the Doctor called, a hint of anxiety in his voice. “I think I know where that body went.”
“Oh yeah . . “ she replied, walking over to him. “Where?”
Before she could form any sort of reply, Ace glanced down at the floor. The mass of remains was moving . . . sliding apart, but never decreasing in mass. As they watched, two lumps of identical matter hissed and popped into life, Siamese-twin like until with a ghastly tearing sound they ripped away from each other and stood erect.
Unable to fully take in what was happening, Ace remained rooted to the spot. The Doctor looked on with a troubled frown. However, before they could get used to what had happened, events carried on before them. The Left Blob, as Ace called it, remained misshapen, a post-Frazer Picasso. The Right Blob, on the other hand, was evidently changing . . . and at some speed. In a matter of seconds, it had regained a vague, human shape . . . and within five minutes (even though the computers clung to their conviction that it was 18:30) a recognizable, solid person was glazing blankly at them.
The Left Blob, which until this time had remained impassive, cried out in rage, and stormed from the laboratory. The newcomer shrugged. “Now where you do think he’s off to in such a hurry?” he enquired.
Pemberton was dreaming again. Sedated by the Doctor, he had slid into the ether, only vaguely aware that Ace was glaring suspiciously at yet another new arrival, while the Doctor scraped a slide against the door handle where the monster . . . the second monster . . . had made its escape.
Monsters? There were no monsters. Only demons.
“I knew it, Ace!”
Demons . . .
“There was no other explanation!”
Demons . . .
“He’s another – “
He could not believe it. This simply could not be happening to him. Too much rested on this succeeding – and it had failed. Magnificently. The sun was heating the tarmac beneath his over-polished shoes, but the heat that was making the road surface tacky was failing to warm his demeanor. This was it then. He had failed. Just as his father had said he would.
Oh my god! Just how clichés is this? Son tries desperately to live up to his fathers unrealistic aspirations, yet finds himself short at every turn. Cliché, cliché, cliché-e! Such things happen only in dreams – and soap operas. Then again, I am dreaming . . . and I feel as though I’m in a soap opera . . . Unfortunately one from the league table inhabited by the likes of Eldorado and Albion Market rather than 1970’s Coronation Street. Cliché! Even the word sounds like a cliché . . . Mind you, how does something became a cliché? It happens so often it becomes familiar and true . . . Yes, clichés are true. As true as the fact I’m stood here, waiting for a predictably untimely bus, dreading walking through the family door and facing . . . yet another disapproving-yet-knowing glare from Mr. I-Passed-My-A-Level-Mathematics-When-I-Was-Fourteen-So-Why-Are-You-Still-Wasting-My-Electricity.
It was not as if the interview had gone badly . . . It had been a total disaster. He had tried too hard, come across as too eager, jumped in at the wrong points, left embarrassing silenced where there should have been intelligent dialogue.
He should have breezed it, and he knew it. He was there, he was clued up – GCSE had led to Degree with a two-year stop at A Level, and he was good. Just not, according to some people –
- good enough.
“Four years at University, and look at you. No job, no home, and no girlfriend. A classic example of a failed life!”
“But I’m only – “
“Excuses, always excuses. Why don’t you direct that vocal energy into your legs and get yourself sorted out lad?”
“I’m not making excuses, Dad – I’m trying to explain –“
“Don’t play semantics with me, Charles! ‘Excuses’, ‘explanations’ - maybe you should have done English as a degree. At least then you could have taught!”
“I can teach now, if I did the Post Grad.”
“What? Do you really want to end up in that dead end, soul destroying profession?”
“But you just said –“
“I said ‘at least’. Last resort. I expect more from you!”
And don’t I know it . . .
He stood, wallowing in reverie so much that passers by could consider him French, waiting, and waiting for the bus. Why had he commented on the assessers tie? Why had he made an issue of noticing his wife’s gilded photograph? Why had he not demonstrated his ability to explain the splitting of the atom to Junior School children? Why had he not stopped fawning, and displayed instead his charm (which he knew he had. Somwhere)?
Charles Pemberton kicked the side of the bus shelter, scuffing his shoe. Feeling in no way better from what he had hoped would be a cathartic outpouring of frustration, he fell back on his oldest friend, a.k.a the slowest form of suicide known to humanity, and lit a cigarette.
As the nicotine kicked in, and a small portion of the smoke cloud sadistically caressed his eyeball, the bus pulled in.
Typical! Absolutely typical. I’m going to have to stub this out, shove it in the packet, fumble for my change, and –
“No need to put that out, mate,” Came the voice of the mustached, tattooed bus driver, “There’s no-one else on – and I’m gasping!”
Charles proffered his thanks, and embarked the bus, duly handing over the correct fare. Surprisingly, the driver replied by giving him a twenty-pound note.
“Eh?” Charles exclaimed, saying in two letters what would take Steven King a chapter to attempt.
“A pleasure to have you aboard, guv’nor!”
Charles – Pemberton! – felt his facial muscled slacken in disbelief. Twenty pounds and a phony cockney accent? In Sheffield? Where were the hidden cameras?
Just as he was about to think of something to say, the driver’s face started to blister and breakout in violent weeping sores. Before long, his hair was where his mouth had been, and his teeth were rattling where he would normally be expected to present change. The soft hum of ‘pleasing’ music was drowned under the cacophony of the driver’s agonized wailing, a wailing Charles remembered he knew from the future.
Just then, in that split second we always experience between slumber and consciousness, Pemberton realised he was –
- “A Time Lord!”
Ace! That was Ace – the young woman that traveled with that strange, yet commanding, little Doctor. Pemberton tried to move, but the motion aggravated his wound and he gave up the ghost. He considered altering them about his return to consciousness, but something in their collective demeanour dissuaded him.
“He – Frazer – was, er is,a Time Lord.”
“And he is?” Ace said quietly, indicating the Frazer-born newcomer.
“He’s another Frazer.”
“I am?” said the still clearly bemused man, “And who’s he?”
The Doctor shot him a look, but remained silent in answering that particular question.
“Just like that old man was a version of you.”
“Is a version of me. Yes.”
“But is regeneration always like this? I mean, you’ve only mentioned it briefly, but I though it was a bit less, er – “
Pemberton closed his eyes, and sighed deeply. First of all everyone had vanished, and then he had been perused by monsters. The doors had exploded, these two strangers had arrived – and a new chief had turned up, only to turn into another monster. Which, in turn, had splintered into a monster and a man. And now Ace and the Doctor were discussing regeneration –and by the sound of it, they were not limiting the range to isolated organ regeneration as currently understood. I am an infant at university, Pemberton thought, somewhat sadly. Then again, he might as well take notes to learn from later.
(Unseen by any of them, the new Fraser sidled over to the door, slipped out into the corridor)
“So,” Pemberton began, his voice sounding strained and feeble even to himself, “You, or rather your race, can change your entire form from one body to another?”
With strained patience, the Doctor addressed Pemberton, “Yes. Exactly. But normally the precursor simply fades into their time stream. Or the Matrix. Never did get to grips with that one!”
Ace stood patiently waiting for further exposition, but it soon became clear that none was forthcoming. “So, what happened here?”
The Doctor’s face was grave, “What would happen if an old body was not allowed to pass over to its relevant time stream?”
“Whoah! A bit metaphysical for me, Professor – unless you mean –“
The Doctor smiled, clearly aware that Ace had reached the same conclusion as he.
”The localized time distortion?”
“Exactly! It’s allowing him to regenerate, but keeping the old body here. Here, there is no other time zone – simply 18.30 pm, actual date unknown!”
A cough from the floor alerted the Doctor and Ace to Pemberton, “It’s August 14th, Doctor. 1996. Or, at least it was.”
“Was, is, will be – all the same here, Mr. Pemberton. Have a cigarette while the realization sinks in.”
Ace knelt beside Pemberton and took his cigarette packet out for him. “Are you sure this is a good idea in his condition?”
The Doctor snorted, “He’ll be fine. Or at least should be. He goes on to cure cancer. Eventually.” He paused. “Provided we get out of here.”
Pemberton inhaled deeply on the cigarette, and coughed. Loudly. After a while, he recovered the power of speech. “Wait a second. This is all going a bit fast for me.”
Ace smiled, “I know what you mean!”
The Doctor, unusually, was in the mood to be patient. “In what way?”
“Well, putting aside everything that happened before Mr. Split appeared, you’re saying that we are trapped in one specific time.”
“So how are we able to move? Breath? Anything?”
The Doctor smiled indulgently, “Because this has been orchestrated by a greater power.”
Ace frowned, “Those who want us here?”
“Maybe, maybe not. No, this kind of localized time bubble is only possible with Time Lord technology.”
“Oh,” Ace sighed, “Them again! Do you know, your people don’t half cause a lot of trouble, you know!”
“Tell me about it.”
“So,” Ace continued, “The Time Lord’s have set up a time bubble, locking one of your race within.”
“It would appear so, yes.”
The Doctor leant on the handle of his umbrella, “Oh, Ace – you’ve just said why yourself.”
The Doctor nodded.
Ace re-trod the structure of her sentence, and the clouds parted, “I said, ‘locked’, didn’t I?”
The Doctor nodded again.
“So, this place has been hijacked. Hijacked to be – “
“A prison for a particularly warped individual.”
Before the Doctor could reply, a light, polite but precise voice sounded behind them. “Er, I think that must be me, I’m afraid.”
Pemberton, Ace and the Doctor looked toward the door. There, with his hands held tightly behind his back, was ‘the New Fraser’. “Yes, I’ve recovered my memory now. Terribly sorry about this, but I, I, I & I really must be left alone, you know.”
So saying, he stood aside, and through the door burst a collection of hideous, misshapen abominations, all growling, all dripping . . .all heading toward the stupefied trio.
“Thanks for being such a patient midwife,” Frazer smiled, “but I’m not allowing you to tip me out with the bathwater. Me – kill them!”
Ace wanted to shout out for the Doctor, but could not. The air was hardly at her vocal chords before the nearest creature smashed her to the floor. Pemberton, his cigarette still lit, slipped into horrified unconsciousness.
Eyes locked, Frazer and Pemberton stood firm.
The Doctor spoke first, “You’ll regret you ever did that, ‘Frazer’”
“Oh, will I? And who will be here to make me face my regret?”
Frazer laughed, “So, sorry, Doctor – but you’re dead!”
The Doctor felt the creatures presence before its physically grabbed him by the shoulders. Wincing in agony, he sank to his knees, the creatures ‘fingers’ biting into his flesh.
“Goodbye, Doctor . . .”
“ . . . Don’t you mean au revoir?”
On his knees, the Doctor looked up . . . to see himself in the doorway.
“Oh, hello, Doctor.” Said the Doctor from the floor, “What are I doing here?”
The doorway Doctor laughed, “Well, apart from an appalling display of excruciating grammar, nothing. In the words of text messagers everywhere U R NT HERE.”
Despite being pinned down by the creature, the prone Doctor smiled. “Oh yes!” he grinned, before simply fading away.
Ace was about to ask something, when she felt her arm looped by the Doctor’s Umbrella. “Come along, Ace!” the ‘new’ Doctor hissed, “I think the diversion worked. And you, Pemberton. Quick as you can!”
As the creatures blindly stumbled towards Frazer for explanation, Pemberton dragged himself painfully to his feet and left the laboratory. As the door swung closed behind him, he heard a by now all too familiar cry of rage from within.
In a storage cupboard several corridors removed from the laboratory, the Doctor was administering to Pemberton’s wounds as Ace tried to work out exactly what had just gone on.
“So when did you switch?”
A safety pin clamped between his teeth, the Doctor briefly turned away from Pemberton. “Hmm?”
“When did you, how did you . . . ?”
The Doctor slid the metal prong through the fabric of the bandage and secured the clasp. “When did I become we and then a separate I again?”
Ace beamed, “Exactly!” the smile faded, “At least I think so.”
Pemberton, rising to his feet with more strength than before, said, “Well, I was there and it certainly looked like a switch to me.”
“Ah! I forgot. You’re not time sensitive, are you? Well, Ace is getting there . . .”
Ace was growing impatient, “Look, what do you mean? Just for once can we have an explanation that’s not covered up in an initiative test, or a sentence so convoluted that by the time I’ve understood it were somewhere else entirely?”
The Doctor’s grey eyes became distant, then snapped back into focus, “’Somewhere else entirely’. Ace, you are a genious.”
“Oh, good. Er, what did I say?”
“Let’s leave this cupboard, and I’ll explain.”
Pemberton was in no hurry to reaquaint himsellwf with the creatures in the lab. “Er, are you sure that’s such a good idea? I mean, they are still . . .”
“In the laboratory I shouldn’t wonder.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I can’t, but do you really want spend the rest of your life in a storage cupboard? Believe me, I wouldn’t – not with your habit!”
Before Pemberton could protest, the Doctor had opened the cupboard door, and was ushering them into the deserted corridor. After carefully closing the door to, the Doctor addressed his two companions.
“Ok. Have either of you ever wondered if your presence remains in a place you’ve visited?”
Ace asked, “Do you mean like in a ‘forever England’ sort of way?”
“Exactly! Told you you were a genius. Well, Frost was nearly there.”
Ace grinned, “First World War poet. A bit sugary at times. I preferred Owen.”
“Sorry, Doctor, you were saying.”
“Frost was very nearly there. Unfortunately he was only thinking within limited dimensions.” He paused, as if he had made everything abundantly clear. Seeing the glazed looks before him, he stopped mentally congratulating himself on being a wonderful teacher, and carried on, “Ace, in the poem, why would that piece of Earth be ‘forever England’”
“Because he was nationalistic.”
“Because he was killed in a foreign land.”
“And never reclaimed!”
Ace nodded, slowly, “So what you’re saying is that it could only be so with his physical body there as a reminder to the ‘foreign’ soil that he was English?”
Pemberton, a cigarette in hand, noted, “I’m glad we can excuse this xenophobia as art.”
The Doctor shot him a dark look, “We can never excuse xenophobia, Mr. Pemberton, merely attempt to understand its root cause and address it.”
Pemberton let out a cloud of smoke, “Whoah! I was merely offering a sentence to prove I am simply still here!”
“Sorry, Mr. Pemberton, but with a managerie of cast of Time Lord bodies mutatingnot so very far away, I was concentrating more on an explanation than your ego.”
To diffuse the tension, Ace touched the Doctor’s arm, “I really think I know what you’re driving at, Professor. I had a strange dream once, where everywhere I’d ever been, I still was – if that makes any sense.”
“That’s the analogy I’ve been striving for. Mr. Pemberton, did you follow?”
“In Ace’s dream, everywhere she had visited, her presence was still there. She had left a residual trace of her body.”
“But that’s –“
“Exatcly what we do everyday of our lives, only when you work within limited dimensions you can’t see it.”
“Oh come of it now. What are these limited dimensions? And why has no-one ever really seen this ‘residual trace’?”
“Without meaning to sound smug, Mr Pemberton, what else do you think you saw in that lab? Think, please. When cinema began, no-one ever expected the films produced to have sound. Or be in colour. From our perspective that sounds odd, but onlt because we know. As you eloquently stated earlier, surely you don’t want me to criticize you for not knowing things you simply haven’t been taught? Now that would be as patronizing as I’m probably sounding right now.”
Pemberton sighed, “Ok, so what dimensions? Do you mean space and time?”
“Eureka! Now I finally understand what Susan was so frustrated about that night. Yes, you must apply free moving time and space to Frost’s poem.”
“So that even if his body was removed from that plot of soil –“
“It would always be there because at one point in time it had been there!”
Ace nudged Pemberton, “Nice one, mate. You actually got a full explanation out of him.”
“I know, but boy do I feel out of my depth.”
“Oh,” Ace said, breezily, “You get used to that.”
The Doctor had been looking behind them during this little exchange, but he refocused his attention on Ace and Pemberton. “Come on, let me show you something.”
“Ace, you take my left hand; Pemberton, the right. Ok. Close you eyes. Good. Relax. There are no monsters here. I said there are NO monsters, Mr. Pemberton -
relax. Good. Now then, open your eyes.”
Ace complied, and frowned as she saw nothing the corridor, the Doctor, Pemberton, Ace and . . .
“Hey, hang on a minute!”
Pemberton was confused, “What? I can’t see anything.”
“It will take longer with you. Ace has traveled with me through space and time. Her time sensitivity is greater now. What can you see, Ace?”
Ace’s eyes were flicking busily from one spot to the other, “You, me, Frazer, Charles . . . over and over again. Wait, I don’t know these others, they must be the -“
“Other scientists who have mysteriously vanished. Well, Mr Pemberton?”
Charles jolted as his senses realigned to what the Doctor was showing him or rather allowing him to see. “Yes, yes they are . . . But . . .”
The Doctor tightened his grip on Pemberton’s hand, “But what?”
“I, I can’t be sure, there’s such an overlap, but they all . . .”
“Doctor,” Ace exclaimed, “I think I see what he means. Look at that third image of the bloke with painted black hair. Next to the fire extinguisher.”
“I see it, Ace.”
“Now look at his sixth moving image.”
“Three down! There, his arm . . .”
Pemberton nodded, “Is splitting. Doctor . . .”
“They’re all the same, Professor. Every single one. They’re all bursting open!”
“Yes, Ace. I’m afraid they are.”
“But what? How?”
“The Time Lords must have passed their severest decree possible on this sad individual. They made him immortal, Ace. No escape even through death. Successive, diminishingly stable regeneration. That’s why these ‘monsters’ , or past lives, appear the way they do! They a trapped mid-regeneration. A hodge podge of DNA that was never meant to breath unsupported, but thanks to Time Lord ‘ingenuity’ is, sorry, are ‘alive’ anyway.”
“But where did they go?”
“No-where. They, or rather he, is still here. But at 18.29. The TARDIS must have knocked the bubble forward one minute, which here is an eternity.”
“And in 18.30 they don’t exist any longer?”
“I don’t think any were supposed to exist in 18.30, Ace. I think Frazer himself brought us here. What better weaponry can you possibly have against a time bubble that a time machine?”
Ace gave the matter some thought, “So, he thought that by jump-starting time, even by a minute, he could break free.”
“It would appear so, Ace, yes.”
“But it didn’t work.”
“No, Ace he’s still as trapped as ever he was. I have a nasty suspicion he may have a Plan B, though.”
Suddenly, a thought struck Ace. “Hey, just a minute! How could he bring us here? Do Time Lords possess that much mental energy?”
The Doctor shook his head, “Not individually … well, “ ha paused, “Not in one time frame individually.”
Realisation shone in Ace’s eyes, “But with so many of him here….”
“Whatever level of mental power he had is magnified, augmented and increased beyond measure. The prison is a spiders web, but one where the spider has learned how to draw in the flies.”
Pemberton laughed nervously, “Come in my parlor he he he….”
Instead of berating Pemberton for his black humour, the Doctor simply murmured, “Exactly, Mr. Pemberton, exactly.”
It was left to Ace to break the silence, “SO, what do we do?”
The Doctor looked distracted for a second, but quickly composed himself. “What do you normally do with cob webs, Ace?”
“Dust then away?”
“Yes … I think it’s time the dusters were brought into play here. Here, we’ll take Charles back to the TARDIS. He doesn’t need to be here any longer. Just one thing, Charles.”
“What’s that, Doctor.”
“No smoking in the console room!”
Charles was about to laugh, when he actually heard what the Doctor had said, “Console room?”
Ace smiled, and winked at the Doctor. The Doctor returned the conspiratorial wink.
As the overlapping images faded, the Doctor’s party started to make a move.
Before long, Pemberton was half walking, half running along the corridor to the non-existant main door, flanked on either side by Ace and the Doctor.
Just as they turned the final corner, a voice could be heard behind them. “Er, and where do you think you’re going?”
Turning round, the trio saw Frazer slowly walking toward them, a misshapen pre-Frazer behind him.
“We’re leaving. Whatever you’ve brought us here for, we’ll have no part in it.”
“Oh, so you realize it was me that got you here … Rare, intelligent insight … I can’t allow that to escape, Doctor, you can not leave.”
“It’s a free cosmos, splinterhead!”
“Oh, Doctor, are all of your companions so eloquent?”
The Doctor’s face was grim, “I thought her succinctness was direct, to the point and refreshing. We are going to leave.”
Frazer appeared to be considering the possibilities open to him. “OK, Doctor, a deal.”
“Ace and Pemberton can go … provided you stay for awhile!”
“No way, Professor! I’m staying here with you!”
In the darkened room, the two figures surveyed the scene.
The taller figure turned to address to other. “There’s only one way to solve this now!”
Ace was adamant.
“I’m not leaving you, Doctor. We have no idea of what this scumbag is capable of.”
Frazer smiled, clearly recalling some of the things he had been capable of.
“See, he’s sick – twisted, not just physically like that thing behind him!”
The Doctor was solemn, “Ace, go.”
“Take Charles back to the TARDIS. I’ll be along later.”
“Now wait a minute –“
“Ace!” the Doctor almost shouted, “Just go!”
Although stung by the harshness in his tone, Ace trusted the Doctor enough to realize there must be a reason behind his request. Evidently still far from happy, but resolute in her faith in the Doctor, she turned to Charles and said, “Well, come on then. If you thought you’d seen your fill of bizarre things already tonight, you’re in for a surprise!”
Just as Ace was about the start leading the way, the Doctor coughed to catch her attention. Turning back to the Doctor, Ace saw him holding the TARDIS key.
“You might need this, Ace.” He said, smiling mischievously,
Ace laughed, and took the proffered key. “Cheers, Professor.”
The Doctor playfully pinched Ace’s nose, “No, thank YOU, Ace. I promise, I won’t be long.”
“No worries… Come on, Charles.”
As Ace and Charles left the building, remnants of shattered door frame audibly crunching underfoot, the Doctor squared up to Frazer.
“Well, you wanted me here. Why?”
Instead of answering straight away, Frazer simply smiled, or rather leered, and closed his eyes …
… in various sections of the over large house, the past selves of what was now called Frazer swiveled, hearing a voice. As one, they let out a collective howl, and started to shuffle towards the nearest exits they could find . . .
The Doctor’s grey eyes were steely. “What are you doing?”
Frazer focused on the Doctor, “Nothing, nothing at all. Now, where were we?”
“I want to know what you want with me.”
“Oh Doctor, I’d’ve thought that was obvious. I want your TARDIS.”
“So that’s your Plan B, is it? I must admit, it’s not that original.”
“Original or not, Doctor, I will have it.”
The Doctor snorted, “Oh, will you indeed. And while we’re on the subject of you, just who are you? What can you possibly have done to warrant this level of incarceration?”
Frazer’s face will impassive. “Do you really want to know?”
The Doctor gave a slight, but sharp inclination of his head. “I not only want to, I need to. I need to know the depth of your depravity.”
“Depraved is such a subjective term, Doctor…. But very well. Contact?”
“Contact? I can only mind link with other incarnation of myself.”
“Not so, Doctor. My, shall we say, unique lifestyle allows me to enter anyone’s mind .. I often do it as a voice … It amuses me to feel their terror as my words speak in the pathetic brains.”
“Well, that’s plain sadism, so maybe I’m not being overly subjective in using the word depraved for you.”
Frazer suddenly glared at the diminutive Time Lord. “You want to see how depraved I am? What I have done? Who I truly am? Very well!”
Closing his eyes again, Frazer intoned the word “contact” again, and the Doctor felt his mind being invaded. Like a collapsing damn, the waters of Frazer’s lives poured through him, swamping him, obliterating his own identity bar for one tiny fragment he kept hold of …. He had to keep that focus, he could not drown, he would not be swept away.
Stabilizing, the Doctor started to make sense of the images in his brain. He saw a soldier from the First World War struggling through a water logged, mud soaked trench, desperately searching for a friend … But he never found him. He found death in the form of an earlier Frazer.
The focus shifted, and the Doctor was on a world far, far away – society caught in the grip of a fanatical leader who promised them hope, prosperity and eternal life … but in the end he simply wiped them all out, destroying the planet – escaping in his TARDIS just in time.
He saw death, countless examples of death. And then he saw Ace, and Frazer started laughing …
In the grounds outside, Ace and Charles were making their way to the TARDIS when a vicious sounding roar came just to side of them.
“What the –“
“Shhh!” Ace admonished, holding a finger to her lips. The pair stood rooted to the spot, listening for any further sounds. They did not have to wait long. A dragging, shuffling sound carried over the air, and in his mind Charles was immediately back in the laboratory, cowering from …. Jolted back to the here and now by a sharp elbow in the ribs from Ace, Pemberton saw the self-same monster advancing toward them. Well, it looked like the same one, but how could he be sure … of anything anymore…
“Come on!” Ace shouted, galvanized into action, “Run!”
As another misshapen mass lumbered from behind the enormous house, Clarke and Ace pelted down the gravel drive and toward where Ace remembered the TARDIS landing.
“Ace!!” the Doctor cried, and was about to rush out to help her, when Frazer spoke.
“They have out run me, Doctor.”
Angry, his eyes dangerous, the Doctor whirled round to face Frazer, “If any harm comes to either of them!”
“What, Doctor? You’ll shout at me? Tell me off? Talk me to death? Looking in your mind, you don’t seem to do anything manually, do you …. Even your attempt at Genoicde was done remotely….”
“I will defeat you.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt you will try, but I’m not overtly worried.”
“What if I was to leave right now? Just go.”
“No, it’s not in your nature, Doctor. You’re a meddler, an interferer. A righter of wrongs ….”
“You’re wrongs can never be avenged. You attempt to pigeon hole me, well let me tell you what you are. You are an abomination, not just to the Time Lords, but the whole of established creation, life. You are the shadow that living beings create, the darkness that haunts us all, there but you are not truly alive. Not in any real sense. You play with life, and you take it because you envy it. How utterly ironic for someone now immortal – forever dead, forever the harbinger of death!”
“Please, spare me the morality.”
“I’ll spare you nothing. Goodbye.”
The Doctor started to make his way to the broken doorframe.
“I’ll simply follow you, Doctor.”
The Doctor paused, mid-step, but did not turn around. “How? This is your prison.”
“Oh, Doctor, you saw the vision, you SAW your friends being chased by the previous bodies of me …”
“How? How have you managed to venture beyond these walls?”
“It’s all thanks to you, Doctor.”
The Doctor finally turned round upon hearing Frazer’s last remark. “Me?”
“Yes, well more specifically your, sorry, my TARDIS.”
“Your arrival did more than jump time here on by sixty seconds, it widened the parameter of my goal. It now extends to the TARDIS.”
“Of course, the temporal energies attracting one another …”
“Yes, Doctor. I now have a bridge out of here, a bridge I intend to cross. I would say with or without you, but I know I need you to pilot the TARDIS … initially.”
“Where do you intend to go?”
Frazer raised an eyebrow, clearly bemused that the Doctor had not worked this out for himself, “Why, were else but Gallifrey, Doctor?”
“So, you want revenge? How petty.”
“There’s nothing petty about revenge, Doctor. I will make them pay for this imprisonment. And when they have paid, in their blood, I will be free to continue.”
“Continue? Continue what? Killing just to sate your hunger for suffering? Murdering people, obliterating words simply because you can.”
“You seriously expect me to help you when you spout such rubbish?”
“You have no choice, Doctor.”
“Why, what are you going to do? Get one of your past blobs to drag me to the TARDIS?”
“I won’t do anything, Doctor. You will help me simply to see what I intend to do. Your curiosity will compel you. You will accompany me, all the time struggling to think of ways to thwart me.”
The Doctor’s face clouded, and Frazer chuckled to himself. “You see, Doctor, I saw a lot in your mind.”
“Yes,” the Doctor said slowly, “But not everything.”
Ave and Charles were running across grass now, the TARDIS clearly in view. The creatures had not stopped pursuing them, and despite their lumbering gait had managed to keep a close distance between them and their prey.
Panting, Charles pointed to the TARDIS, “A Police Box?”
“It’s more than that, Charles … so much more. Come on, we’re nearly there!”
The last few yards seemed to take forever, but before long they were at the TARDIS, Charles resting against it’s solid … humming? … frame as Ace fumbled for the key. Inserting it into the lock, she gave it a sharp twist and the mechanism clunked, allowing them access.
Ace went in first, Charles close behind. As Ace rushed over to the central console to close the doors, Charles looked around him in amazement. Catching his dazed expression, Ace laughed, “It can be a bit of a shock at first.”
“Oh, go on, you can if you want. I won’t tell him.”
Charles was confused, “Can what?”
“Have a cig. You look at though you need one!”
His hands shaking through exertion and bewilderment, Charles extracted his cigarette packet. “Thanks, Ace.”
“No worries. Anyway, you’ll need to be calm for what happened next.”
“W-what do you mean?” Charles asked, mid drag.
“We’re about to play Bomb the Blob!”
Charles’s face paled, and he rapidly drew more nicotine into his lungs. On the TARDIS scanner, he could clearly see at least six degenerative forms encircling them.
The Doctor and Frazer were stood in a state of silent confrontation. Eventually, the Doctor conceded defeat.
“Very well, I will take you back to Gallifrey.”
“A wise decision, Doctor.”
“I just hope that they manage to sort you out once and for all before you get a change to enact any of the deranged notions you have swimming around in that head of yours.”
“I doubt they will. They’re like you, Doctor – all words and passed bucks, no direct action and therefore no direct responsibility.”
“Well see…” the Doctor murmured mysteriously, before gesturing for Frazer to join him on the walk to the TARDIS.
“Does he have to accompany us?” the Doctor asked, indicating the ever present ex-Frazer.
“Oh yes, Doctor, he’s my insurance that you don’t simply run away.”
“You sound like you don’t trust me.”
“Well, at least we finally have something in common. Come on.”
Ace had raided her bedroom of all her prepared cans of Nitro-9 and was busy explaining to Charles how to use them.
“You just take the cap off and bung it in their general direction.”
“That simple, eh?”
“Yeah. The Doctor always says it’s easier to destroy than create.”
“You respect him a lot, don’t you.”
Ace nodded, saying, “I trust him with my life.”
Although it was clear that was a window of opportunity there for him to enquire further, to glean more information about his two new friends, Charles realised that right then, it was not the right thing to do. Simply stating, “Well, I think the feelings mutual on that one, Ace” he patted his lab coat pocket to ensure he had all the cans Ace had given him, and looked out of the scanner again.
“So, are you ready?”
Charles grunted his assent, and Ace crossed over to the door release mechanism.
The creatures swarmed around the battered blue police box, howling their frustration at not being able to gain entry. One was pounding what could be loosely termed its fists on the panels of the craft, leaving clumps of decomposing flesh slithering down the recently applied paint.
Suddenly, there was a sharp click - the sound of a lock being undone. As one, the creatures turned to stare at the source of the noise. Slowly, very slowly the right hand door in the TARDIS opened. Before any of the creatures could surge forward, there was a brief flash of light as something metallic flew through the air. A soft thud was then heard as the metal object landed at the feet of one of the creatures.
Instinctively, the creature tried to back away, but it was too late… too slow. The metal canister ruptured, exploding outwards – and Ace’s lethal Nitro-9 cocktail shredded the creature instantly. Its colleagues bellowed their rage, the air around them obscured by smoke and flying flesh. The started to advance on where they knew the TARDIS was, but a secondary explosion tore through the air, and another creature was obliterated.
The Doctor had stopped walking the second the screaming started.
They had been making good progress, albeit silent progress, when Frazer suddenly stopped dead. His earlier body seemed to sense something was wrong, and lurched over to the now inert figure of its future self. The Doctor watched on in fascinated horror as Frazer threw his head back and an unearthly whine started to issue from his mouth.
“They’re killing me!” he shrieked, “I am being erased!”
Despite the evident pain in Frazer’s expression, the Doctor smiled, “So, not so immortal after all. Well done, Ace!”
In amidst the smoke and confusion, Ace and Charles were skirting around the formless shapes, striving to get close enough to cause maximum damage, but still remain out of harms way. In the corner of her eye, the smoke not too dense there, Ace saw one of the creatures lunge toward where she knew Charles was. “Charles!” she cried, and fearlessly lunged at the creature, thrusting her hand out in a flying rugby tackle. As planned, she fell short of the creature, but her hand connected, forcing the can inside the creature’s putrid body. Quickly scrambling to her feet, she located Charles and pulled him from the smoke cloud. Mere seconds later, a further explosion assailed their ears, and the creature that Ace had sunk her bomb into vaporized.
From there new location, they threw more and more cans of Nitro-9 … only stopping when the howling ceased.
As they stood there, reclaiming their breath, both could hear the soft splattering of fleshy membrane falling to the ground all around them, and as the Nitro cloud dispersed, all they could see was a mound a tiny, bubbling organic tissues.
Just as Charles was about to light up another cigarette, an impassioned cry of pure rage came from behind the TARDIS and another creature lunged toward them.
“Quick, Ace! Another can!”
“I’m ahead of you, Charles! GET DOWN!”
Throwing themselves to the ground, trying not to consciously acknowledge what they were actually face down in, they covered their ears as the sound of two exploding canisters ricochet in the air.
Ace was the first to look up. The creature was dead, it’s entire body splattered all over the TARDIS exterior.
“The Professor’s not going to like that” she observed, the sparkle of after battle glory shining in her eyes.
Charles laughed uncontrollably, reacting to the release of tension. Rolling onto his back, he finally lit his cigarette and as he blew smoke rings above his head, Ace suddenly found herself wondering if the Doctor would let Charles accompany them on their travels.
Frazer had taken the loss of previous selves badly, and had crumpled to the ground. Even though he abhorred everything Frazer stood for, the Doctor couldn’t bare to see a living creature in pain, and crouched down next to the heavily perspiring Time Lord. The earlier body tried to intervene, prevent the Doctor from kneeling there, but the Doctor shot the creature a harsh stare, and the being paused mid-lumber.
“Frazer, are you alright?”
In a voice wracked with pain, Frazer managed to say, “Why should you care, Doctor?”
“Because you are, in some sense of the word, alive. I care about life. You really didn’t see as much of my mind as you thought you did.”
“Can, ahhhhh, we save the recriminations for a later time, Doctor?”
“Of course, we need to get you to the TARDIS.”
“But I can’t walk, my legs ….”
The Doctor was about to start helping Frazer to his feet, when a glow suddenly started to appear around his body. Standing up, and slowly backing away, the Doctor watched as the process of regeneration started again. The destruction of his previous mid-incarnations has obviously been too much for him to withstand. However, something didn’t seem right. The process of change was slow, and regeneration was usually a quick, brutal event. Frazer was in trouble.
“You!” the Doctor barked at the former Frazer, “Carry him! We have to get him into the TARDIS immediately!”
When the creature didn’t move, the Doctor walked over to it, and stared directly into its remaining eye. “If you don’t help him, he, and you will die. He needs the state of Temporal Grace that only exists in the TARDIS. Pick him up!”
Another pause ensued, but jerkily the creature did bend down to lift the still physically fluid Frazer in its arms.
“Right,” the Doctor commanded, “Follow me.”
Ace and Charles were back in the TARDIS console room, eating a range of sandwiches that reminded Charles of a picnic he had once had. Mary! Charles nearly choked as her face swam into his mind’s eye. Mary … whatever would Mary have made of all this? Monsters, Time Lords, Time Travel … and him destined to cure cancer. It had certainly been an interesting ride … so far.
“Hey,” Charles heard Ace shout, “It’s the Professor!”
On the scanner screen, the Doctor could clearly be seen marching purposefully toward the TARDIS. Ace hurriedly operated the TARDIS door release, and waited for her friend to enter the room.
“He’s not alone.”
“Hmmm?” Ace mumbled, and returned her attention to the scanner. Sure enough, just behind the Doctor she could see one of the human-parody creatures – carrying what looked like Frazer. But he looked different. He looked … blurry.
Ace instinctively reached for another can of Nitro-9, but the Doctor’s voice halted her.
“That won’t be necessary, Ace.”
Ace spun around, “But he’s –“
“Ill, Ace … very, very ill… and all thanks to you.”
Ace was incredulous, “W-what?”
“You killed his previous selves, well some of them …and the feedback, or feed forward, triggered off another regeneration … One that is not working.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think –“
The Doctor smiled broadly, “Don’t apologise … you’ve saved me some hard talking. We’re taking him back to Gallifrey.”
Charles frowned “Is that where he comes from?”
“Originally yes, but he has traveled widely. Despicably. He wanted revenge, but I think the Time Lords will have other ideas now. They will know how to deal with him.”
At that moment, the two Frazers entered the TARDIS. The creature laid the pulsing body of Frazer on the floor, and then stood immobile. Instantly, the TARDIS ability to heal stricken Time Lords started to work on Frazer’s ravished body, and the glow increased, the process of physical realignment back on track.
“Close the door, Ace.”
Ace looked hesitant, but the prospect of seeing another planet urged Charles to operate the lever he had seen Ace use earlier. “If he needs to go back to face justice, Ace, we’ll have to take him.”
The Doctor acknowledged Charles for the first time, “You plan on coming with us, Mr. Pemberton?”
“Well, if you’ll have me.”
“Hmmm, I don’t know about that … what do you think, Ace?” The Doctor saw his answer in her radiant smile. “Well, welcome aboard, Charles. For this journey, anyway …”
The Doctor set the co-ordinates for Gallifrey. “ How is Frazer doing?” he asked, more to himself than his companions. However, all three of them focused their attention on the prone body …none prepared for the event that was about to happen.
Frazer’s body stared to convulse, at first in mild spasms but within mere seconds huge, painful tremors made his limbs thrash around him. He started to howl …
“Shhh, Charles …”
The former Frazer twitched into motion … or rather it didn’t. It started to flow. The whole structure of its form started to break down, running down over itself … toward Frazer. The viscous liquid swam onto Frazer’s seizure ridden body …and into it. Gradually, the motion slowed… until finally it stopped altogether. On the floor of the TARDIS console room, a misshapen parody of a human form lay inert.
Ace ran over to check for a pulse, even though the tactile sensation of touching the creature’s skin made her want to be physically sick. In a blinding moment of self-analysis, Ace scolded herself. Wasn’t that gut reaction dislike the root of the hatred that had led to Manisha’s death? No, no… this was a reaction to the evil within, not the physical appearance. Satisfied that she had not fallen down the path she had vowed never to venture down, she reported, “I think he’s dead.”
Charles shrugged, “Well, that puts an end to that … and Gallifrey, I suppose.”
“No, he still needs to be returned to Gallifrey. Even a being like him deserves to be buried on native soil.”
“No Forever Gallifrey, Doctor?”
“No, Ace, Gallifrey must inter it’s own.”
All further conversation was halted by the sound of an inhuman screech from the floor. Amazed, Charles, Ace and the Doctor ran to the other side of the TARDIS console room as the creature that was Frazer rose, and started to advance toward them.
“Doctor!” Ace cried, but for once the Doctor was speechless.
The Enemy Within!
The creature ignored them, and moved towards the TARDIS inner doors. Ace glanced over towards the Doctor, but his face was impassive. “Professor?” He did not respond. “Doctor. What -?”
And then the impossible happened. A tunnel of pale blue light shot down from the TARDIS console room ceiling, and slammed soundlessly to the floor. It was fully opaque at first, but gradually its density thinned and a figure was clearly visible within.
Before the light faded completely, the Doctor ran a series of tests on the panel nearest to him, frowned deeply and then stared at both Ace and Charles. His look was grave.
The light was gone now, and the figure slowly took in his surroundings. He was a smartly dressed, middle-aged man, his face calm but set. Black hair swept back from his forehead, and his eyebrows narrowly avoided meeting in the middle. Ace took in the pressed suit, polished shoes and neatly pressed tie, and found her initial fear fading. Somehow, she knew the intruder was not going to harm her. But what was he doing here.
“Hey. You can’t just barge in here. What’s your game?”
The figure faced Ace, as if noticing her for the first time. He smiled, a bright, open and genuine smile, but said nothing. Instead he moved over to the TARDIS console and started to run a program. Ace waited for the Doctor to stop him, but to her surprise he was slowly edging away from the stranger, towards her. When he was directly next to her, she asked, “Who is he?”
The Doctor shushed her quietly, bit replied, “I’m not entirely sure.”
“How about partially?”
“Let’s wait and see.”
The three looked on as the man looked toward the scanner screen expectantly. Realising it was not on, he selected the switch seemingly at random, and the screen hummed into life - displaying s schematic of the initial corridors and rooms the TARDIS housed beyond its internal door.
“That’s - “
“The TARDIS. Yes, Ace. I know.”
Charles’ eyebrows apexed, “You mean that is in here?”
Ace tapped him lightly on the shoulder, “Yes, but I’ll show you later. Hopefully.”
The man keyed in a short series of codes, and the screen started to show a regular blip. As Ace watched, the dot moved across the screen, down one of the corridors. The man stared at the dot intently, but did nothing. Then, as the dot entered what Ace knew to be a minor laboratory quite close to her room, he galvanized himself in a blur of activity. From the corner of her eye, Ace could see the Doctor simply stare as the intruder ran his fingers over the console. However, as the man slowed down his activity, she saw a slight, but grim smile cross his face.
Following the direction of his gaze, she turned to look back at the scanner screen. The room where the creature had gone was flashing a piercing, eye straining white. It then shimmered, exploded outwards, and was gone. According to the schematic, the room was now a corridor linking two previously unconnected zones of the TARDIS.
Ace tried to say something, but the Doctor was no longer next to her. He was before the intruder, and they were shaking hands. Releasing their clasps, the two figures closed their eyes and Ace senses rather than heard and faint warbling noise, like a muted fax machine. After a few seconds the sensation was gone, and the Doctor was facing her again. Behind his back the figure was fading out of existence, waving a mute farewell to them all. Without thought, she returned the wave, but he was gone.
The Doctor was smiling mischievously. “Well, Ace, Charles, that seems to be that? Where would you like to go next? You do still want to stay, Charles?”
“Err yes. …Anywhere . . . “
“Good, good, good. Well, that wasn’t as bad as I feared. What about you?”
Ace sighed, “I don’t know. I was expecting Gallifrey. A big show down. And you spitting your dummy. What did I get? A column of light, a London commuter and a computer graphic. Wow!”
The Doctor cocked his head side ways, “Now, now, Ace. Let’s not get cynical. Sometimes the easy endings are the best.”
“Oh yeah, I agree. So where is it?”
“The simple ending? In words even I can understand, what the hell just happened?”
The Doctor did not reply immediately. Instead he produced a large handkerchief and flicked it as the buttons the intruder had touched. Without looking up, he said, “He committed suicide.”
Ace nodded, “Oh, right - You what?” Both Charles and Ace looked dumbfounded.
“That man, the London commuter as you termed him, was his first incarnation. Evidently, someone on Gallifrey has enough decency left.”
Ace smiled, the light beginning to dawn. “So, what you’re saying is, someone let his earliest incarnation know that he would turn evil, and he could not cope with it.”
“I wonder who it was? It wasn’t you, was it?”
The Doctor frowned; “No, no, no,” he said, perhaps a little too hastily, “Quite impossible.”
“Oh, well. A bit grim, though - having to kill yourself to save people.”
“Hmm” the Doctor murmured, avoiding her gaze.
The Doctor ‘hummed’ again, and re-pocketed the handkerchief.
“Would you do that? If you knew that you would turn evil, could you do what he did?”
The Doctor seemed about to say something, but his eyes became unfocused and he stared vaguely over her shoulder. He looked a million light years away.
He came to suddenly, but his countenance was hard. “Who’s to say I haven’t?”
And with that he left the console room, leaving Ace and Charles in no doubt that he wanted to be left alone.
As the TARDIS took them to wherever the Doctor had set the coordinates for, Ace realised once again just how little she really knew the man she was traveling with.
It really was proving to be the scenic route.
As for Charles, he rubbed his fingers through his hair, and wondering what on Earth he was going to Mary later on asked, “Is there anywhere I can smoke in here?”