The Planet of Death
Clarke in 5chool
The Planet of Death
Clarke in 5chool
As it crashed through the planet’s atmosphere, it bellowed in pain. Its hair curled and then burned as its horns melted. Atmospheric welts peppered its skin, certain organs battled to survive. And they did.
It had to go on, it had no choice. It was on trajectory. It had a mission.
It was the bringer of death to that which opposed it.
She remembered her life.
It had been good; to her.
Now she just longed to die.
Waking up just reminded her of what she wasn’t seeing. She wasn’t seeing the office she once ran. She wasn’t seeing her team. She wasn’t seeing what she then chose to ignore. Also, she wasn’t dressed well, smelling well, conducting performance development plans well.
She was, instead, in a well.
In a urine soaked doorway, huddled in her sleeping bag, she shivered.
So many had wished her dead when she had been working. Now, she wished they’d done something about it. A stapler in the head would have been preferable to this.
Life hadn’t been perfect back then, far from it. Hunger was raging, illness had been rife. But it hadn’t affected her, so she had never given it much thought.
The ground trembled again and she reached a decision. She’d had enough.
Shaking the sleeping bag free, she stood. She saw it. It was only a few streets away.
Keeping low to avoid the gun fire and the drunken gangs, she made her way closer. She saw a half eaten sandwich, and ignored it. Only a few hours before, she would have fallen on it and devoured it. Now, she didn’t care.
Let someone who wants to live have it, and god bless their soul.
She rounded the corner of a trampled terrace. It was here. Barely believing her eyes, despite having seen it so many times on television, while it lasted, she looked up at the creature.
It was huge.
Its hooves were massive. One step, just one would do it …
It saw her.
Although it was gigantic, it bent down to her level, its bones creaking.
Their eyes met.
Suddenly crying, she said, “Kill me. Please.”
The creature tilted its head. Then it snarled.
As it snarled, wisps of energy snaked from behind its teeth and sped toward her.
She panicked. Gas? No, she wanted a quick death! A stomp! A crush! A sacked!
She rolled and sprang to her feet.
Seeing a nearby bridge, she clambered over its railings and jumped.
As she fell, the creature roared.
Peri ran, but this time toward the monster.
With the Doctor imprisoned it was up to her, and her alone, to save the day. She heard the creature roaring in the distance and continued to close the gap. Striving to keep her balance she ran through litter strewn streets. Numerous times she slipped, her shoes sliding on oil, blood and even worse, but she carried on regardless. If the Doctor was right, this planet was about to die. She had to make contact with the army. She needed to make some noise – and for the first time in her life, her own voice wasn’t loud enough.
A blast of steam from a pavement vent caused her to scream in surprise. Drunken laughter echoed from a nearby, dank alley way, forcing her to continue running. After her last encounter with a drink fuelled crowd she had no intention of having another. Pushing her hair back from her forehead, she felt physically sick at the dirt that was left on her palm. She was tired, irritable, scared and filthy - fleeing for her life in a rundown post industrial metropolis.
All in all, a typical landing.
Initially thinking it was another blast of steam, Peri emitted a startled gasp. However, the sound came again. It was organic. She groaned. One of those from the alley way. As if she wasn’t running fast enough. As she weighed up the pros and cons of taking her shoes off to run faster on the grimy ground, she realised, far too late, that hers weren’t the only footfalls she could hear.
A rough arm snaked around her and Peri screamed again as she was lifted in the air.
In his cell, the Doctor slumped against a wall. He was sitting on his coat, anxious and bored. He’d counted the bricks, in all five dimensions, and was now contemplating the lives of those who had made them. Through the high widow, the sound of the monster’s growl drifted down to him. He closed his eyes, wishing Peri luck even though he feared this was a lost cause. Why had he insisted on bringing her here? A bleak, run down urbanized colony planet with all the charm of a Hunkrellshank He sighed. As usual, he’d been proving a point. He was in charge. He was the Doctor. They went were he said. He opened his eyes. What a fool.
He stretched his legs, causing his coat to scuff against the rough, cold ground. His coat. He laughed, dryly, remembering what Peri had called it just before landing. His Mr Furley coat. Obviously at the time he’d launched into a pointless, tit for tat sparing of words, lambasting first the use of American Pop Culture in his TARDIS and then the whole need for remaking a television show for another country’s audience, that Man About the House was quite adequate and hadn’t they learned their lesson with Sanford and Son. Inside, he had laughed, quite relived she’d stopped calling it his Partridge Family Bus coat. Right now, though, he wished he’d shown that, or just taken her to a studio recording of Three’s Company instead.
He smiled. Yes, that was it! Next time, if there was a next time, he’d do exactly that. He’d set the co-ordinates for ABC Studios, California, take her to…He caught himself. He was doing it again. Only if she wants to, he decided.
Outside, the creature cried out again.
“Yes, yes, yes!” he shouted, “I understand!”
In a corner of the cell, a loose bundle of rags and stretched, revealing a yawning human. “Understand what?” it drawled, sleepily.
The Doctor stared, “Considerably more than you! Go back to your stupor, there’s a good drunk.”
His cellmate simply grunted and rolled over.
To prevent a more maudlin train of thought, the Doctor returned to his musings on the stone masons.
Peri stopped screaming and bit into the exposed wrist of her assailant. As he cried out, she kicked back, breaking his hold. Her heel connected and she heard something fall and land softly. Unfortunately, she lost her balance and her own connection with the ground wasn’t so gentle. Gasping as her knees snacked into the slimy concrete, she blocked out the pain and immediately started to stand. She had to get away. She had to get to the monster.
“Please!” her assailant winced behind her. “Come with me, it’s not safe out here.”
“I know that!” she exclaimed, “You’re liable to get …” Peri paused. He didn’t sound drunk. In fact, he sounded … English. She sighed and took a risk. She turned round. What she saw was not what she was expecting.
Before her stood a slightly chubby man in a London business suit. He even had the bowler hat. He looked immaculate. Peri blinked. And he was smiling, despite rubbing his wrist.
“Hello,” he said, “I’m Clarke.”
“Hi,” Peri said, still unsure of the new arrival. “I’m Peri.”
“Welcome to the Planet of Death, Peri. If ever we meet again, please try not to knock my Beano to the floor.”
“Beano?” Peri followed his gaze and looked at the child’s comic that was already beyond repair. A greasy puddle had soaked into its pages. Amidst the blurring panels she could just make out a few pictures of a concerned looked ostrich.
“That was a first edition.”
“Err, sorry,” Peri began, but then smiled. A London business man, but one carrying a kid’s comic. The dime dropped. “Hey, you’re not English. You’re a Time Lord.”
Clarke looked intrigued. “Er, how …?”
“When you’ve traveled with the Doctor as long as I have, you get a sixth sense about it. As soon as someone talks abstract in a moment of danger they’re either mad, my mother or a Time Lord.”
Clarke frowned, looking crestfallen. “So much for undercover.”
Peri laughed, warming to him. “We’re light years from Earth and you’re dressed as an accountant. You think that’s undercover - here? If I was uncertain before, you’ve just confirmed it. So, Clarke the Time Lord, as you say, it’s unsafe out here and I have to get to that creature. What do you suggest?”
Clarke’s face fell even further. “Oh, I was hoping that the Doctor had already told you what to do.”
Peri clapped, the seriousness of the situation momentarily put aside. “Oh, brilliant, brilliant. A Time-Lord who doesn’t pretend to know everything!” She winked. “Tell me, have you got a TARDIS parked near here.”
Clarke nodded, clearly bemused. “Yes. But why?”
Peri gestured at her appearance. “Because I'm covered in dirt, oil and I don't want to know what else! I need a shower! Oh, and I need to tell you the Doctor’s plan.”
Clarke nodded excitedly. “I knew he’d have one! Yes, yes, yes. Clever old Doctor. Now, my TARDIS. It’s over there.”
When he pointed to a battered dumpster, Peri laughed again – enjoying the sensation after so many hours without it. “Oh,” she managed to say between intakes of breath. “How classy! Please tell me there's a side door and we don't have to climb in from the top.”
As Clarke looked at the ground again, Peri groaned.
The Doctor flinched, connection with a fellow Time Lord having been made. Clarke. Here? But how? Of course! Different nexus points on their shared time lines. If he was lucky enough to meet him again, he’d had to choose his words extremely carefully. Hmm. Careful. Not his strongpoint lately. At least Peri was safe.
Jumping to his feet he jogged on the spot to kick start his circulation. The bundle of rags murmured in protest.
“Ah, sorry about that,” the Doctor said, crossing over to him. “You go back to Nirvana.” He knelt down. Something in the folds of the heap had caught his eye. Gingerly, he reached toward it. As he lifted the item free, he whistled in surprise.
“Well,” he said, quietly, “When you finally wake up I am not going to ask how you came to own this.”
The Doctor was staring into the deep, hollow sockets of a skull.
Peri walked into Clarke’s Console Room, already feeling at home. Despite a few additional features, this TARDIS looked much the same as the Doctor’s. Well, at least on the inside.
“Thanks for that, Clarke. Just what I needed. A power shower.”
He looked up and then blushed, averting his gaze.
Oh, of course! She was just in that dressing gown she had found.
“Oh, sorry” she said, pulling it tighter.
“No, no, no. It wasn’t you. I was on eBay!”
Clarke frowned. “What year are you from, Peri?”
“Ah! A long time before the Internet, let alone ebay. Ok, basically it’s a way of shopping without leaving your house. People put their unwanted stuff online and sit back. Others then bid against each other within a set time scale and by the close of play the highest bid wins. You can get some excellent bargains.”
Why couldn’t the Doctor explain things as simply as Clarke? Even though she enjoyed mall shopping, Peri liked the sound of this. “Cool,” she said, crossing over to look at the monitor.
Clarke moved aside. “It is rather, yes, and someone had put that Beano online, see, the one that was, err, yes, well, I’m not making an issue of that, it’s just that I was outbid. Snipered, as they call it.”
Peri squinted, “By someone called, Gnasher.”
“Yes, obviously a fan.” Seeing Peri’s bemused face, Clarke explained that Gnasher, silent “G”, was a dog in the Beano.
“So, this Gnasher, that’s not this sniper’s name?”
“Oh no. People rarely use their own name on the internet.”
Clarke explained. “Some to be cute, others to make it easier to be mean. The anonymity of the internet – a curse, a blessing and a worry.”
“Not so cool.”
“Ever development has its risks. Look at fire! Anyway, back to what I was saying. I know I could just go back in time and buy the comic new, but that feels like cheating somehow. This way it’s is fun, and he spoiled it. See, not being sexist – his profile says he’s a he. I was annoyed, not embarrassed by your, err, clothing. Honestly. Having said that, though, we’ll have to find you some new clothes. I fear the ones you were wearing have seen better days.”
Peri had to agree. “Actually, I had a quick look – I hope you don’t mind.”
Clarke waved a hand dismissively, “Not at all.”
Peri paused, not wanting to hurt her new friend’s feelings. “The thing is, I could only find suits.”
Clarke smiled proudly. “Great, aren’t they? Standard C.I.A. issue. Smart, practical, and …”
“Male,” Peri finished for him. “In case you hadn’t noticed I’m a woman.”
Clarke blushed again, clearly having noticed. “You come from the 80s,” he said, “Think Eurthythmics.”
“I was thinking more Laurel and Hardy!” Clarke turned a deeper shade of crimson and Peri’s heart melted. “But,” she continued, “It’ll make a change from clashing with the Doctor. Talking of which…”
Peri flashed him a sharp gaze, “Now don’t you start. It’s my language.”
Clarke nodded. “True. Cling onto it, though. You’ll be appalled when you see the state of it in your next century.”
“In what way?”
“It’s all Zs, innits, numbers and abbreves, sorry, abbreviations.”
Peri thought back to the language she and her friends had used while at school. That seemed like Salinger compared to this. “Sounds …”
“It is. Anyway, let’s bring each other up to speed, shall we? Me first, because I’m excited. I’m from Gallifrey’s C.I.A, which is …”
Peri interrupted, keen to keep things brief. “A Criminal Investigation Agency? We have that on Earth.”
Clarke shook his head, and Peri let him carry on. “No, it’s the Celestial Intervention Agency. And no, you don’t. At least you shouldn’t. Yet. Anyway, I’m an agent in training. One day I hope to have a base planet, preferably Earth, to research, investigate, protect and do Time Lordy things on. In secret, obviously.”
“Won’t you miss Gallifrey?”
“Heavens no! Why do you think I applied to the C.I.A. in the first place? Being a Time Lord is fine, but to be one on Gallifrey is interminable. There’s so much protocol, so much bowing and scraping that by the time you’ve said hello to someone, or done something, its time to move onto the next ceremony.”
“I can see why the Doctor left.”
“Ah yes, the Doctor. Between you and me, he’s my …”
Clarke fell silent.
Clarke took a deep breath and then said, “I’m a bit of a fan. Obviously, I kept quiet about it at the Academy, but I attended all the courses and classes that would allow me to warrant an It detector in my TARDIS. I passed. It’s how I found you. I’m on holiday at the moment and thought I’d give it a spin.”
“An It detector?”
“Oh, yes. My TARDIS has an inbuilt It detector. Detect an It and you’re guaranteed to find the Doctor nearby.”
“What’s an “It”?” Peri asked, realising she was back to the role of asking a series of questions.
“No-one knows. That’s the point. To a T. Well, to an I and a T, really. It’s the un-catalogued, the unmet, the eventuality not yet experienced. Everything the Doctor actively seeks.”
Realisation dawned. “Oh, you have to be kidding me,” Peri said, “The Doctor has a stalker?”
“I prefer the term, ‘appreciator’.” Clarke said, indignantly.
“Yeah, well try his ‘legendary’ nut roast and see how much you ‘appreciate’ him then. Going veggie has been a hoot!”
“You don’t like him?” Clarke asked, puzzled. “Why travel with him, then?”
“Oh, ignore me. We get on fine, honestly,” She thought back over their time together. “Famously, in fact. It’s just ever since he regenerated we’ve fallen into a pattern of mutual sarcasm. It’s a hard habit to break.”
“I’m sure it is…”
“Hey, I just thought,” Peri pointed at the console. “That detector let’s you find the Doctor, but how did you know I was connected with him.”
Clarke held up his right hand and counted off three fingers. “You’re female, were wearing anachronistic clothing and were running.”
“Okay, good points,” Peri conceded. “My turn now. However, while I know I’m ‘out of time’ in here, I’m conscious of what’s going on outside. I’ll keep it to what happened since we landed. That’s what’s important; and what the Doctor would do. You never know, it could become a mid-term paper.”
Clarke chuckled. “I wish. To write a thesis on the Doctor.” He sighed. “However; still got to keep quiet about liking him. Don’t want to get the reputation for being sad, now, do I? Might go against the game plan.”
“Yeah, I guess. Well, it didn’t take the Doctor long to get himself arrested after landing. Thankfully, he feigned a fainting fit and was able to tell me what he’d already worked out. You see, he knows that creature, and it seems it’s on a mission…”
“Oh, I could count myself a Time Lord of infinite space were it not that I was bounded in a nutshell.” The Doctor tilted the skull to one side. “Yes, I know. Wrong act, wrong scene and totally misquoted. But that’s the beauty of Hamlet. It’s so mutable.”
“I wish you were mute!”
The Doctor turned on his heels, addressing the rising mass of rags. “Ah, the Kraken wakes!”
His cell mate shook off his looser layers revealing a grubby, disheveled individual, but one with fiercely intelligent eyes behind the alcoholic glaze. “How did you know my name?”
“Er, I didn’t. Just a wild, wild …guess.”
“A good guess. Been awhile since something good occurred on this stinking planet. For that reason, and that reason alone, I like you. However,” he said, looking at the Doctor’s hand, “I’d like you even more if you’d hand me back my son.”
For once in his life, the Doctor felt humble. And ashamed. And appalled. “This skull is, was, your son?”
Kraken nodded, accepting the skull back with a kiss on its forehead. “In this day and age, you cling onto the good memories. Macabre? You wouldn’t understand.”
Kraken saw the earnestness in the Doctor’s gaze. “Why do I trust you?”
“Because I knew your name?”
“No, there’s something more. It’s in your eyes. You can see how desperate this situation is and yet I know, I just know, you’ve seen worse. And survived. No, no, triumphed. Who are you?”
“I am known as the Doctor.”
“Doctor? A healer, a curer. Doctor – can you save us? Can you save us from this monster?”
The Doctor placed his hands on Kraken’s shoulders. “Oh, my new friend. I’m afraid it’s not the monster, as you call it, I have you save you from.”
Kraken blinked, holding his son closer. “Then what?”
Dressed in one of Clarke’s suits, Peri held her breath and took the leap. Landing on the cracked pavement, she adjusted her bowler hat. Why had she put that on?
“You really need to get a back door, Clarke.”
“And you,” Clarks said, landing beside her, “Really need to get bigger feet.”
Peri glanced down at her grimy slingbacks. “Hey, I can’t help not being a size gigantic.” She stopped and laughed. “I don’t believe this! We’re turning into me and the Doctor.”
“The Doctor and I.”
“Exactly,” she said, pointedly.
Clarke, however, didn’t get the point. He was grinning again. “Wow, really? Cool!”
“Clarke, believe me, it wasn’t a compliment.”
“Oh,” he said, his face falling. He looked around, clearly striving to find something to change the subject. He soon found it. “Anyway, I see what you mean. All these posters. ‘The Monster brings death!’ Scary stuff! Oh, is that one photo shopped? Hmmm”
“Scary stuff, yeah. That’s what we thought.”
Clarke nodded, remembering what Peri had said in his TARDIS. “Until the Doctor spoke out and was arrested.”
“Exactly. He had time, just enough, to tell me to get to the monster before the army launched its attack. That’s why I was running. ‘Typical Brigadier mentality’ he’d called it.”
Clarke gasped and delved into his inside pocket. “Why didn’t you say that before?” Flipping through his note book, he stopped at a certain page. “Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart?”
Peri shrugged. “I guess so. The names did blur.”
“Then it’s back inside the dumpster, er, TARDIS. We should have done what I first suggested. We need to get the Doctor out. Peri, they won’t listen to that creature. They’ll kill it. ‘Typical Brigadier mentality’ means shoot first, shrug later. They don’t understand it. The Doctor does. I would, I could do this, but I’m … I’m…”
“Not the Doctor?”
“No. You’re not. Yet. But you know what? I think you’ve got the potential.”
“Yes. Honest. So,” she said, “Leg up?”
“Ah, yes.” Clarke knelt down, cupping his hands.
Climbing into the cradle, Peri said, “The next time you’re on EBay, invest in some step ladders.”
Clarke took Peri’s weight. “Oh, no way. You wouldn’t believe what they’d charge me in postage!”
As the sound of another drunken gathering grew, Peri asked Clarke to heave.
Kraken slept, clutching his son.
The Doctor detected Clarke’s TARDIS seconds before it materialized. As it solidified, he laughed. Concerned he may have disturbed his cellmate, he glanced in Kraken’s direction. Thankfully, he was still asleep, living in his dreams.
He looked back at the new arrival. A portable latrine? A toilet! Classic. They may mock my TARDIS, he thought, but at least it’s consistent.
Something clicked and a line of light spilled from the latrine.
And has a realistic door.
He heard a very familiar voice berate Clarke.
“Oh, Peri. How are you going to get out of this one?”
As the latrine’s seat lifted further and a bowler hat emerged, he had his answer.
“Clarke! Watch where you’re legging up, will you?”
Peri managed to get hold of the TARDIS outer ledge and swing her legs out. Now settled and seated on the edge of the latrine, she pushed the brim of her bowler hat back. When her gaze met the Doctor’s, she narrowed her eyes.
“Don’t!” she advised, holding her arms out. The Doctor took them and eased her out.
“Nice to see you, Peri,” the Doctor said. “This planet just gets darker and darker. But there are rays of hope. You’re one.”
“I say, I’m still in here!”
Peri smiled, “And that’s …”
The Doctor winked, “Another. I know. And he,” the Doctor said, pointing towards a sleeping figure, “Is what we little rays of sunshine are here to help.”
Peri looked at the huddled, rag clothed human sleeping in a corner.
“His name is Kraken. And what he is holding is his son.”
Seeing the skull, Peri felt sick.
“Oh, no, Peri. It’s a beautiful thing. It shows hope.”
“Ok, Doctor. If you say so.”
So saying, the Doctor reached into the latrine.
“Ah! Thank you, Peri … Oh, that’s not Peri. Oh my, who is this?”
Peri leaned in as well, helping Clarke out.
As Clarke emerged, he took in his surroundings. Smiling his thanks at Peri, he let go of her hand. It was only when he had both feet on the ground he realised that someone else still held his other one. He looked up.
“Oh, my! It’s you!”
Peri saw two expressions: the Doctor’s and Clarke’s. Clarke’s reminded her of a day when her friend had met Joan Jett after a concert. The Doctor’s … was unreadable.
“I can’t deny that. Yes, it’s me, Clarke. Nice to meet you again.”
Clarke dusted himself down, blushing profusely. “Again?”
“Yes,” the Doctor said, “We have had an adventure before. Obviously, I am not telling you this. Understood. You were exceptional, though. That’s why I knew you’d bring Peri back to me. If I can rely on anyone, it’s you, Clarke.”
“You mean that?”
“Yes. It’s just a shame she never got to put my plan in action first…However, I understand why you didn’t.”
Clarke was slack jawed. “But that means I graduate! That means I get my placement! Oh, my Lord Rassilon – that means you do know me!”
The Doctor smiled. “Yes, Clarke. I know you. Remember, I’m not telling you this. You graduate and you get to fest away on Earth. As I did for awhile.”
“Awhile? Oh, no. If I got there, I’d never want to leave Earth.”
“You will and you won’t.”
“Excellent! A permanent placement!”
“You could call it that.”
As Clarke grinned from ear to ear, Peri took the Doctor to one side. She’d been watching the exchange keenly. Normally, despite his bombast, the Doctor was careful about revealing future knowledge, and yet here he was delivery huge amounts of it. Why? Was it a Time Lord thing, or was he being genuinely careless? It was only as the Doctor said that last line that she saw the depth of his gaze, and the affection in there. It was the look of a relative that knows they will never see a loved one again. She understood. “He dies there, doesn’t he?” Solemnly, the Doctor nodded. “Then stop him from going. He’s, he’s just too nice to die.”
“Oh, I’d love to, but I can’t. If he hadn’t, countless more would have died, Peri. A whole village went in a day. That would only been the start. Clarke dies a hero. Believe me.”
Peri tugged his sleeve. “Hang on, but he’s a Time Lord. Surely he just regenerated?”
Nodding, the Doctor confirmed that he did. Many times in rapid succession. Each body dying faster that the one before as he fought off, and destroyed, the threat.
“So was what killed him.”
The whirr of something electronic made Peri turn around. Clarke was pointing a small, cylindrical device at his forehead.
“Clarke?” she asked, concerned.
Clarke winked, gestured toward the Doctor. “I’m erasing what the Doctor just told me. I can’t get complacent in my studies now, can I? I can’t keep a secret to save my lives.”
Peri moved to stop him, but the Doctor held her back. “He knows what he’s doing, Peri.”
Peri saw a bright blue flash of light from the device and then Clarke’s arm slackened. His grasp on the instrument loosened. Peri gently took it before it could fall.
Clarke stood motionless, his expression vacant.
“Doctor, he’s gone too far! He’s fried his brain!”
The Doctor crossed over to the immobile Clarke. “Nonsense, oh hyperbolic one. He just needs a few seconds to adjust. Actually, in this state he looks more like a student than before, doesn’t he?”
Peri wasn’t listening. Waving her hand in front of Clarke’s eyes, she asked, “Clarke, can you hear me? What was the last thing you remember?”
Clarke blinked. When he spoke, his voice was slightly slurred. “Big Eggo. A huge nest. But the nest is flooded. No ruined. Beano, ruined. But why was the ostrich in a dressing gown? In a TARDIS?” Clarke blinked again, grinning. “No, that was you, wasn’t it? Hello Peri. Doctor. So, haven’t we got a plan to put in action?”
Peri hugged Clarke and when she pulled away the Doctor pinned a cat badge to his blazer lapel.
“Thanks, Doctor. The cat that walks through time, eh?”
“Indeed. Now, let’s stop this devastation from turning into a Greek Tragedy!”
The Doctor took a step toward Clarke’s TARDIS and stopped.
Peri laughed. “After you.”
He gave her that look.
“Ok, Bradford and Bingley, we’re here.”
Having made a secret pact to take Kraken back to a time where his son was still alive and never speak of it again, the Doctor, Clarke and Peri emerged from Clarke’s TARDIS. It was back to being a dumpster.
The landscape they found themselves in was a battle zone.
“Doctor,” Peri gasped, “This is …”
“Yeah. It’s bad enough back there, but up close …”
Peri stared aghast at a scene that even Hollywood couldn’t recreate. Flames licked, tasted and devoured the skyline. Steam rose from overheated metal structures. Helicopters circled overhead, spraying ineffectual water over the inferno. Armored vehicles populated most open spaces. Many were firing indiscriminately into the air. The continual background chant of wailing, moaning and crying coupled with the heat. And there, rising above it all, was the creature.
Peri gaped. She has seen many different life forms since joining the Doctor, but this was something else. Muscular, it towered over everything. Each step connected with the ground like thunder. It looked battle scarred. Its flesh was covered in sores, some still weeping. A number were evidently the result of recent bullets, but the majority looked like burns. Craning her neck to look at the twisted, demonic face, Peri noted two blackened stumps of bone protruding from its forehead. It had even had horns. Once. All around its body circled small, wispy trails of mist. What were they? Whatever they were, they were thicker near its mouth.
A barrage of tank fire snapped Peri back from her observations. The Doctor stood behind her, resting a hand on her shoulder.
“I hate the smell of napalm in the morning.
As one, they ran forward – toward the monster.
“Well, well, well. What have we here? Two estate agents and a clown?”
As Peri regained her breath, the Doctor strode toward the military man. “You should coco. No. This is Clarke, that’s Peri and I am known as the Doctor. We’re here to save you. All of you.”
Peri observed the army guy. Where ever they went in the TARDIS, whatever time or planet, the military looked the same. Not in the detail, but the look; the demeanor. She could imagine that face behind a knight’s visor. Equally, she could imagine it looking down the barrel of a laser gun.
“Very impressive, I’m sure. What we really need, though, is a vet. Someone to put that thing down!”
Peri adjusted her hat. And, she realised, they all liked the simplistic, direct solution. The Doctor evidently thought the same.
“That, my single minded imbecile, is the worst possible thing you could do.”
“What did you just call me?”
“Nice work, Doctor,” Peri said. “Insult the person you need to help us. The one with a gun.”
The Doctor waved his arm dismissively. “Sometimes an insult can cut through days of pleasantries.”
Clarke agreed, “It can certainly curtail a ceremony. It got me a detention, though. It was worth it. Anyway,” he said, taking a decisive step forward, “That’s irrelevant. This man knows what he’s talking about, I suggest you listen! Insult or not!”
“Well, he certainly got my attention. Seems you have a fan club, Doctor.”
Peri stifled a giggle.
“My name’s Brigadier Lythgoe. And you have two minutes to persuade me not to launch that missile into the head of that demon!”
The Doctor exhaled loudly. “Thank you. Okay. This planet is dying, isn’t it? Industry collapsed, infrastructure beyond repair. The poor get poorer and the rich no longer exist. Just you, the army, fighting a metaphysical war in the only way you know – blood, sweat, bullets and tears. All genuine, all honest and yet all totally misguided.”
“Nice words. You have one minute, left, Doctor.”
“Why do you think that thing is here?”
“To finish the job. It smelled the decay here and came to pick our bones clean.”
“Quite visual for a military mind.”
“My father was a poet.”
“He was a dreamer. A fool. He died penniless. Unknown.”
“Will die doing something. I may not achieve anything, but at least it’ll be more beneficial that finding an allusive rhyme.”
“It’s not the rhyme; it’s the process behind it. And the subtext in the lines. That is a creature unknown to you, certainly. But a poet, your father, would be looking beyond that. What makes it a monster? Is it a monster? Could it be something else? A metaphor?”
Lythgoe smiled, thinly. “You’re all the same. All words and no action. I, on the other hand, take action. Perkins? Fire!”
“NO! That creature is here to help you.”
“Help? How? It’s breathing fire, it’s stomping around …”
“But has it actually killed anyone?”
Lythgoe looked shocked. “Err, no, no it hasn’t …”
“In fact, what happened to anyone near where one of its legs landed?”
“They… Oh my god. You’re right! You’re bloody right! Jenkins! Stop the launch!”
From the missile launcher, Jenkins’s voice crackled through Lythgoe’s walkie-talkie. “Negative, Sir. Missile launch instigated and target locked. I cannot abort. Repeat, I cannot abort.”
The Doctor took a step back. “Then it really is too late.”
Peri watched as a following a brilliant flash of light, a colossal explosion announced the launching of the missile. She followed its course as it headed toward its target. Within seconds, it connected with the creature. The impact stopped it in its tracks. The detonation ripped a massive hole in its head. Countless of those wispy trails flooded to the wound, entering it.
They were trying to heal it!
The Doctor had been right. As always. The creature was a nurse. Not just a physical one, but a social one. It has been sent to cure this planet. And the planet had just thrown its medicine down the sink.
The Doctor looked crestfallen as the nurse fell first to its knees and then fully to the ground. The impact shook everything.
Including, it seemed, Lythgoe. He grabbed the Doctor’s arm. “Doctor, what do we do, now?”
The Doctor’s expression was grave. “I honestly don’t know. Take samples, try and salvage something. Even dead, it can help. But it cannot cure. You’ve just prolonged the death of this planet. You haven’t helped to save it.”
“So, I haven’t made a difference? Just like my dad?”
“Oh, you’ve made a difference. Just try and think like your father for a second to see if it was a good one.”
The Doctor motioned Peri and Clarke to him.
Awhile back, Peri would have demanded they stayed and tried to help in some way. However, her time with the Doctor had shown her something else. The bigger picture. Unhappy but resigned, she tagged along with her friends.
As they walked away, Peri could clearly hear the sound of Lythgoe sobbing behind them.
Clarke had taken them back to the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Doctor had popped inside to ensure things were okay. They were now saying goodbye.
The Doctor took Clarke’s hand, shaking if firmly. Peri noticed him slip something into Clarke’s pocket. “And all I call say about that is, all of this, is thank you. I just hope it hasn’t put you off.”
“No-way, Doctor. If anything it’s made me more determined.”
“Excellent. It doesn’t always end like this.”
Peri agreed. “Yeah, sometimes it’s worse.”
The Doctor was about to say something, but Peri saw him hold himself back. Smiling that gentle smile of his, he said, “Yes. Sometimes it is. Anyway, shall we go? Your choice.”
“Indeed. Will you be okay, Clarke?”
“Yes. Actually, I think I’ll say here for awhile. I've still got some holiday time left. Hey, in my TARDIS I have as much as I like, really. I think I’ll get in touch with Lythgoe. Give him a hand.”
The Doctor smiled. “Very commendable. Well, good luck. I hope we meet again.”
Clarke winked at Peri, “I think It’s a certainty, Doctor.”
Peri laughed, amused at the Doctor’s quizzical expression. Fondly, she watched Clarke walk away. After a few steps, he felt the extra weight in his pocket. Reaching inside, he pulled out a mint, first edition of the Beano. On it was a post-it note: Regards, the sniper.
He looked back, clearly delighted.
“No postal charge!” Peri said.
Smiling, she followed the Doctor into the TARDIS.