Alien Abduction by JJPOR
Summary: UFOs! Men in Black! Psychedelic Hippies! Tentacle-Beasts from Dimension X! New Mexico, 1968: Evil lurks beneath the Diablo Mesa as the Doctor and Romana take on the might of the Military-Industrial Complex; the Military-Industrial Complex probably ought to be very scared.
Categories: Fourth Doctor
Characters: K-9, Romana II, The Doctor (4th)
Genres: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Warnings: Explicit Violence
Chapter 1: Part One: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Chapter 2: Part Two: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
Chapter 3: Part Three: Paint It Black
Chapter 4: Part Four: Magic Carpet Ride
Chapter 5: Part Five: A Man of Wealth and Taste
Chapter 6: Part Six: Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Chapter 7: Part Seven: Instant Karma
Chapter 8: Part Eight: The Sunshine Of Your Love
Chapter 1: Part One: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Author's Notes: Obviously, I don't own Doctor Who or any of its associated copyrights; they belong to the BBC.
Out of the High Desert they came; out of the shimmering silvery band of heat-addled air near the horizon. Two tiny figures under the huge azure dome of the sky; they walked the arid, sun-blasted land, slowly travelling the endless road. Where did they come from? Who could say? Where were they going? Did they even know?
“It’s probably a good job poor K-9 decided to stay in the TARDIS,” said the smaller, blonder of the two figures, after some deliberation. She was dressed in the formal male style of the old American West; black frockcoat with matching trousers and Stetson, high boots and a white shirt with black bootlace necktie. “I think he would have overheated out here.”
“When I left him, he was busy solving five-dimensional hyperspace equations,” said her altogether larger, curlier companion. He had eschewed his normal overcoat and scarf for a bit of local colour; a long woollen serape in multicoloured stripes; a broad-brimmed sombrero pulled down low over his eyes. “You know him; as happy as a pig in —”
“Clover?” the girl suggested.
“Yes, that’s probably more appropriate,” the man grinned.
“I can’t see any buffaloes roaming, Doctor,” she observed disappointedly after another half mile. “I’ll bet there aren’t any deer or antelopes playing around here, either.”
“That was only a song, Romana,” the Doctor replied; “not a treatise on natural history.”
“Well, on Gallifrey we combine the two art-forms quite adequately.”
“Yes, we do, don’t we?” he agreed, unenthusiastically. “Humans, unlike Timelords, are not always to be taken literally when it comes to their art; their songs, their poems. There is a difference, you know, between objective reality and what might be called poetic reality.”
“You mean they lie,” observed Romana, tartly.
“They don’t lie!” The Doctor looked at her, as if aghast at the very idea. “They…exaggerate. They, they romanticise — ah, that’s the word, and especially appropriate when it comes to the artistic treatment of the American West! They embellish. It’s one of their more endearing qualities, I find. In fact, I’ve been known to indulge in it myself, from time to time.”
“I had noticed.” Romana gave him a sidelong glance, received a particularly cheeky grin in return. “For example, it isn’t very wild, is it?”
“Whatever can you mean?”
“Well, Doctor, you called it the “Wild West”; I expected something a little more…rustic.”
“Rustic?” He squinted at her from under the brim of his sombrero, swept the serape dramatically back over his shoulder so that he could gesture back along the glistening black ribbon of the highway; “Romana, the last house we passed was about five miles in that direction! Isn’t that rustic enough for you?”
“This road is clearly designed for the use of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines,” she observed, tapping the heel of one of her boots pointedly against the asphalt. “And, unless I am very much mistaken, those are electrical power lines overhead. Hardly what might reasonably be called ‘wild’. And you said there’d be cowboys and Indians,” she reminded him.
“Oh, you don’t want anything to do with cowboys,” the Doctor insisted. “Frightful ruffians; and they get very silly when they see pretty young ladies like you.” She smiled at this, despite herself. “Brawling and shooting often ensues.”
“Then what about the Indians?” Romana asked. “Did I brush up on my Hindi for nothing?” The Doctor chuckled, indulgently:
“I told you before; not that sort of Indian…” She considered this for a second, looking a little concerned, but then brightened up again:
“Oh, that’s all right; I do have a smattering of Punjabi.”
“Our timing is about a century out, I’ll grant you,” the Doctor conceded; he beamed at the expanses of stony, ochre-coloured soil that ran along either side of the road, with their sparse covering of shrivelled, scrubby vegetation. “Nevertheless,” he continued, undeterred, “I think it’s perfectly charming, don’t you?”
“It’s hot,” Romana grumbled, feeling sorry for herself. “And I don’t think this body is designed for exposure to these levels of ultraviolet radiation.”
“We can go back to the TARDIS if you want,” the Doctor said. Romana looked up the road in the direction they had come from, and then back in the direction they were going.
“It’s a long way back,” she decided, eventually. “We should keep going.” She blinked as a fly buzzed across her face. “Where are we going, for that matter?”
“Do we have to be going anywhere?” the Doctor grinned yet again and spread his arms out as if to encompass the entire desolate, beautiful landscape surrounding them: “I thought we were going for a stroll in the countryside. New Mexico in the springtime! Just smell that air!”
“I’d rather not,” Romana admitted as they set off once again along the shimmering strip of tarmac. After a few yards, she turned to him without looking at him and said:
“You can hold my hand. If you like.”
* * *
The screen was a rectangle of white light in the blackness of the room; a window into another world. Dark figures sat around the conference table, entranced, as the projector whirred and the title card flashed up:
THIS FILM IS CLASSIFIED “TOP SECRET/MAJIC/BLACKLIGHT”
VIEWING THIS FILM WITHOUT “TOP SECRET/MAJIC/BLACKLIGHT” CLEARANCE IS ILLEGAL UNDER FEDERAL LAW
The next image was that of a young, mousy-haired woman in a white hospital gown; she knelt at the centre of an elaborate ritual circle marked out in chalk and silver wire and human blood on the floor of a huge, shadowy, concrete-lined chamber. Candles made from the fat of executed murderers burned at the five points of the pentangle within the circle; strange runes and blasphemous names were inscribed at strategic points around the outer circumference. Beyond the circle, not quite off-camera, men in white laboratory coats and military uniforms could just about be seen skulking in the shadows. Arc lights and movie cameras and batteries of scientific instruments surrounded the girl, focused upon her, recording every moment of the working.
On the film’s soundtrack, a man’s voice could be heard, chanting; he was reciting complex Latin poetry with a pronounced German accent. The girl rocked back and forth at the centre of the circle, hugging herself and weeping. The arc lights flickered as the chanting intensified; the shadows in the chamber seemed to deepen and almost to move of their own accord; there was the vague suggestion of…things…moving just outside of the camera’s field of vision. The girl screamed in fear as her hair literally started to stand out from her head; the air around her was thick with static. The chanting grew faster and louder, and there was another sound; almost imaginary, half-heard snatches of noise, like wordless voices answering the chant. One of the lights exploded, showering the circle with orange sparks, as bloody red tears welled in the girl’s eyes and slid down her cheeks. The chanting reached a crescendo, and the girl suddenly went silent, stopped shaking and stood up in the middle of the circle, looking straight at the camera. More of the lights exploded, one after the other. The candles suddenly blew out, all at once.
One of the men watching the film recoiled in his seat, pointing at the screen:
“My God! Look at her eyes!”
The image on the screen flickered chaotically; there was an impression of…something…rushing forward, somehow rushing out of the girl and towards the camera; the chanting stopped and was replaced by the sound of men’s voices, many of them; shouts of panic, screams of terror. The film ended suddenly in an incoherent rush of half-seen images, and the screen returned to being a blank rectangle of glowing white light.
“Lights,” tersely ordered one of those seated at the table. The screen faded as the fluorescent strips in the ceiling flickered into life and the white walls of the conference room came back into view. The four men sat for a moment in silence, listening to the whirring of the ventilation fans; this room was buried storeys underground, hidden from prying eyes by tons of concrete and rock and desert soil; buried deeply enough to survive the end of the world. The air down here was unnaturally dry, cool and odourless; artificial-seeming.
“What was that…thing in the last frame?” one of the four eventually plucked up the courage to ask; it was the same man who had blurted out during the screening. He was thickset and fortyish, with a black business suit and a greying crew-cut. “I mean, did anyone else see that…tentacle, or whatever it was?”
“A physical manifestation, Mr Vance,” answered the cadaverous white-haired man in dark glasses seated at the lower end of the table. “We have made considerable progress in this latest series of experiments. We will very soon be in a position to communicate and interact with these…ultraterrestrial entities.” His voice was ponderous and Germanic; the same voice that had performed the ritual chant in the film.
The man at the head of the table gave a deep, almost unconscious, sigh that spoke volumes of horror and disgust; he was a tall, sturdily-built man wearing the uniform of a colonel in the United States Air Force; a younger man with the insignia of an Air Force major sat at his right hand.
“Progress is one word for it,” the colonel told the white-haired man. “Costly progress; fifteen personnel killed or incapacitated. Some of them clawed their own eyes out rather than look at, at that…thing. The ones who survived are being held in a Veterans’ Association mental ward in Albuquerque, completely and irreversibly insane.” He tapped his fingers on the tabletop as he spoke; a nervous tic that he was not even aware of. “And yet you survived unscathed, Dr Dietz.”
“Colonel Lydecker,” Dietz replied, unconcernedly, “you know perfectly well that the main caster in the ritual must remain within his own circle at all times. It provides certain…protections from these sorts of manifestations.”
“Well, I’m glad you were okay,” Lydecker retorted, hiding his anger with sarcasm, and not doing a very convincing job of it. “Although that can’t be much comfort for those of my men who are going to be spending the rest of their lives in padded cells.”
“Sir, those men knew the risks,” the major interjected. “They also knew the potential benefits that Project Blacklight could have for the United States.”
“If I want your opinion, Major Beck,” Lydecker replied, “I’ll be sure to ask.”
“Yes sir,” Beck answered, doing an equally bad job as Lydecker had of hiding his anger. Lydecker had turned his attention back to Dietz:
“Frankly, whatever the benefits may be of brokering an alliance with these…entities, I’m not sure they’re worth the obvious risks. There are some things that men simply should not interfere with.”
“Colonel,” said Dietz, adjusting his black-tinted glasses. “Do you think for one second that the Soviet Union is not conducting research into this area even as we speak? They secured the services of some of my former Ahnenerbe colleagues in 1945, just as your government secured mine. And do you think that they have any qualms about the risks? Mr Vance, remind the colonel of the report we received only last month from your Central Intelligence Agency.”
“Er, sir,” Vance cast an apologetic glance in Lydecker’s direction. “We have it on reliable authority that the KGB have been screening teenagers throughout the Eastern Bloc for potential extra-sensory abilities, apparently in the search for suitable…subjects to participate in Blacklight-type experiments.”
“The experiments continue,” Dietz pronounced, with a thin rictus-smile. “I am the scientific director of Project Blacklight; it is my decision.”
“And I am the military commander of this base,” Lydecker reminded him. “And as long as I am —”
“And as long as I have the support of the Majestic Group in Washington,” Dietz interrupted, “your continued military command is more or less at my sufferance.” Lydecker gave no indication that he noticed the significant glance Dietz shared with Beck as he said this. He merely stared at the German, barely suppressing his fury. “Don’t make me go over your head to Majestic, Colonel,” Dietz smiled. “I’m not sure you would enjoy the consequences.” He turned to Vance:
“Mr Vance, we must make ready for the next series of tests. Have your teams ready to secure the new subjects as soon as they have been selected.”
“How soon?” Vance asked, nervously.
“We’ve taken so many lately,” Vance protested. “And we had another rustling expedition last night. The locals are already talking; how long before we draw some serious attention?”
“The authorities are of no concern to us,” Dietz replied, dismissively. “Majestic owns them. Continue with the drug trials, and be ready to move on those who respond positively. We must pick up the pace; we need to make a breakthrough, and soon. Once we do…” the smile broadened into a skeletal grin; “none of this will matter any more.”
* * *
“Well, look at this Romana,” said the Doctor as they ambled along the road, hand in hand. “There appears to be some sort of commotion up ahead.”
“I can see,” she replied. About a hundred yards ahead, in one of the dried-up fields alongside the road, a crowd of people were standing around something; there were a number of cars and pickup trucks parked nearby, including two white and bronze police cars, red and blue lights flashing. “Have you noticed how these sorts of things always seem to happen wherever we go?”
“You’re right,” the Doctor agreed. “We can’t even go for a walk in the countryside without bumping into some sort of adventure.” He looked at her, grinning, his eyes crinkling in delight. He looked very old and absurdly young at the same time. “Would you have it any other way?” he asked. Romana flashed her own broad white grin in return:
“Of course not, Doctor.” They practically skipped over to the outer edge of the gathering. The assembled onlookers appeared for the most part to be local farming folk; dressed in plain, hard-wearing clothes; lots of denim; some with cowboy boots or hats. Most of them were dark-skinned and -haired; some of the men had hair as long as that of the women, tied back with patterned bandannas.
“Excuse us,” beamed the Doctor, tapping a randomly-selected man on the shoulder. “I couldn’t help noticing that you all appear to standing around looking at something, so my friend and I decided we’d join you.”
“You’re not from around these parts,” the man observed, narrowing his eyes. “I can tell.”
“Really?” asked the Doctor, innocently. “You can tell, even with the clothes and everything? What gave it away?”
“We’re visitors,” announced Romana. “From…er, Belgium.”
“Are you?” asked the Doctor, staring at her. He turned back to the man: “Just here on holiday; we picked New Mexico for the standing around and looking. Do you mind telling me what on Earth the something is that we’re all standing around looking at?”
“It’s another cow,” the man replied, gesturing at a bulky tarpaulin-covered shape at the centre of the group of people. “Cut up and drained of blood; just like all the rest.”
“All the rest?” the Doctor and Romana exchanged interested glances. The man spat on the ground, but didn’t appear to mean anything by it. Still gripping Romana’s hand, the Doctor pushed his way to the front of the crowd as politely as he could manage, dragging her along in his slipstream. There were two uniformed policemen standing next to the unfortunate bovine, with another man who looked like he was giving the orders. He was stocky, not particularly tall, with a hawk-like nose and lined face, deep brown skin and jet-black hair. He wore a tan-coloured Stetson and carried a revolver in an open holster; there was a six-pointed silver star pinned to his plaid shirt.
“Now, just hold on a minute,” said the hawk faced man as he saw them bending over the carcass and pulling back the tarpaulin. “You can’t just walk in here and start poking that thing; it’s evidence. Now get back before I run you both in.”
“Good afternoon,” grinned the Doctor, straightening up from his examination of the dead animal. “I’m the Doctor, and this is Romana. Don’t mind us, we’re experts.”
“Experts in what?” asked the lawman.
“Oh, you know, just…experts.” The Doctor tapped the star on the man’s chest; the man almost went for his gun in response. “I say, are you the sheriff around here?”
“John Chavez, Jicarilla Reservation Police,” the man replied. “Are you two scientists from the base?”
“The base?” asked the Doctor. Chavez pointed to a large red rock outcropping in the distance; maybe a couple of miles across, it was flat on top, with cliffs dropping away on all sides.
“Diablo Mesa,” he said. “There’s some sort of military research laboratory up there; top secret. I thought, with you saying you were a doctor…”
“Oh, no,” the Doctor chuckled. “I gave up working for the military quite some time ago.” Romana stepped up to Chavez and courteously extended a hand:
“Good afternoon, Sheriff. Do you mind me asking, but are you a cowboy, or are you an Indian?”
“Indian,” replied Chavez, shaking her hand and looking somewhat taken aback.
“Oh, well,” said Romana, “in that case may I say: Namaste. Aap kaise ho?” Chavez squinted quizzically at her:
“Excuse me; maybe I should have said: Sat sri akaal. Kiddah haa tusi?”
“Say what, little lady?” Chavez asked, nonplussed. The Doctor sighed, somewhat wearily:
“I told you, Romana; not that kind of Indian…” She looked at him in annoyance:
“Well, I don’t speak any Gujarati,” she said.
“I’m a full-blooded Jicarilla Apache,” said Chavez, “like a lot of folks around here. This is the land the white folks made our grandparents settle on when they decided we couldn’t be free any more. Maybe you think that’s funny, missy, but I don’t.”
“Oh don’t mind her,” said the Doctor. “She’s from Belgium. What do you make of that cow, Romana?” he asked her, changing the subject. Romana murmured her conclusions to the Doctor as discreetly as possible:
“This animal has been mutilated with a surgical laser; nothing else could make such clean cuts and cauterise them at the same time. And it has indeed been drained of blood; which is quite a feat considering they didn’t spill any on the ground.”
“A surgical laser?” asked the Doctor in astonishment, a little too loudly for Romana’s liking:
“Not so loud, Doctor!”
“What year is it?” the Doctor asked Chavez.
“1968,” he replied without thinking, before he thought about it: “Now wait up a minute; what do you mean what year is it?”
“That’s far too early for locally-produced surgical lasers,” the Doctor mused. “Which means this animal must have been killed by…”
“Aliens?” asked Chavez. Both the Doctor and Romana stared at him in shock for a moment.
“Ah, well,” said the Doctor, uncomfortably; “you’ve rather taken the words out of my mouth, there, Sheriff; which doesn’t happen to me very often at all. What do you know about aliens?”
“I might’ve known when I saw that poncho,” Chavez groaned. “More goddamn flower children. You two trippin’ on peyote or something?”
“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me there,” the Doctor grinned. “Still, tell me more about these aliens.”
“The Mesa’s always had a spooky reputation,” Chavez replied. “I remember my granddaddy telling me about the spook-lights that used to shine up there at night, about the Skinwalkers, and the ghosts of the Anasazi, and the hole into the other world and all that. Just campfire stories. But then, about a year ago, these cows and steers started showing up, cut and bled dry, and people said they’d seen lights in the sky when it happened. I dunno about lights in the sky, but I know that when those stories spread they attracted every kook and beatnik and hippie weirdo on the West Coast; they all drove out here into the desert to commune with the saucer-people or what have you, stayed for the peyote and their stupid rich-white-kid version of Indian mysticism. My boy’s serving his country, with the Marines at Khe Sanh, so these white kids can lie around getting high. Anyway, you look a bit old to be a flower child, but I figure you and your girlfriend must be here for the same reason as them. Take my advice; go back to Haight-Ashbury or wherever you come from; this place ain’t for you.”
“Girlfriend?” frowned Romana. “I suppose we do have a certain familiarity, but I wouldn’t go that far.” The Doctor winked at her.
“Have you seen these lights in the sky yourself?” he asked Chavez. Chavez looked uncomfortable:
“There are lots of things in the sky that have lights,” he said. “None of them are little green men, though.”
“You’d be surprised,” said the Doctor. “So, the dead cows, and the lights; are there any other phenomena I should know about?” Chavez shrugged:
“A couple of months ago, a few hippie kids supposedly disappeared; their friends reported them missing; we searched for them, didn’t find anything. Probably went back to San Francisco, if they were lucky; or, if they weren’t, wandered off into the desert when they were stoned and just died. It’s easier than you think around here; like I said, this place ain’t for you. Now, go home. I warn you, if I see you two hanging around here again, I’ll bust you both for vagrancy.”
“I think that’s our cue to leave,” the Doctor told Romana. He raised his hat to Chavez: “Good afternoon, Sheriff. Nice chatting to you.” Chavez just glowered at them as they walked away.
“So, what do you think is going on here?” Romana asked as they made their way back through the crowd.
“Something very fishy,” the Doctor replied. “Did you think the sheriff was a bit offhanded about those missing people?”
“Yes, I did. And whatever he may believe, that cow was undoubtedly killed using non-terrestrial technology.”
“Hmm. All of this warrants further investigation, don’t you think?”
“Good; let’s start with the flower children.”
* * *
Dietz strode down one of the endless tiled passageways of the underground base, the fluorescent lights reflecting from the black discs of glass that hid his eyes. Soldiers and technicians whom he passed in the corridor almost instinctively stood aside, as if recoiling from the unsettling aura he seemed to project; the movements of his lanky, emaciated body were somehow jerky and uncoordinated, like a speeded-up film. Major Beck almost had to run to catch him up after exiting the conference room.
“Major,” Dietz acknowledged quietly as Beck fell into step alongside him.
“He’s a fool,” said Beck. “He has no idea of the importance of the work we’re doing here.”
“You mean Colonel Lydecker?” asked Dietz, mildly. “You know, you really shouldn’t talk like that about your commanding officer.”
“He and Vance are sitting back there now,” Beck went on, as if he hadn’t heard. “Wringing their hands like old women, worrying about the morality of it all.”
“People fear what they don’t understand,” Dietz commented. “We mustn’t allow their fears to hold us back; we must be unafraid to press on, regardless of risk.”
“Of course,” Beck agreed. “You knew that during the war; you knew that it was a race against time; that you couldn’t worry about compassion or mercy; you had an enemy to defeat.”
“That’s right,” said Dietz. “And yet, we still delayed too long, and we lost, which only underlines the importance of us completing Blacklight as soon as we can, before the Ivans do. Otherwise they will destroy your country in the next war, just as they destroyed mine in the last one.”
“We fought the wrong enemy in that war,” Beck whispered, conspiratorially. “The Soviets were always the real threat to America.”
“Indeed.” They reached the door of Dietz’s office, his inner sanctum; one of his special assistants stood guard. The man was over six feet tall and broad-shouldered, with dead white skin. He wore a black suit, black tie, black shoes, white shirt and opaque dark glasses like those Dietz himself sported. The man gave no indication that he had noticed Dietz or Beck as they approached him; he continued to stand there, like a statue. “We will speak later,” Dietz told Beck. “I have work to attend to.”
“Of course, Dr Dietz.” Beck continued down the corridor as Dietz swept his security pass through the scanner on the door and keyed in his identity number; the door buzzed and swung open; Dietz entered and immediately closed it behind him.
The office was dimly-lit and had a strange pungent odour; eldritch diagrams covered the floor and walls; intricate meshes of lines and numbers and weird sigils that seemed to crawl and move even one stared at them. Dietz crossed to the opposite wall, passing the framed portrait of Adolf Hitler and the shelf of books bound in human skin; a selection of forbidden texts; the Book of Eibon, the Kitab al-Azif, Les Cultes des Goules, De Vermis Mysteriis, The King in Yellow and the Pnakotic Manuscripts. Next to them was a photograph of a much younger Dietz, smartly turned out in his black uniform, a silver death’s-head gleaming on his cap.
He opened the doors of the shrine mounted on the far wall, revealing the blasphemous icon with its depiction of endless, writhing tentacles and screaming, feeding mouths; and eyes; a myriad of burning, staring eyes. He lit the black candles and knelt in supplication before his dark gods, removing the dark glasses and looking upon the icon with the eyes that he normally had to hide; tears of blood flowed down his face.
“Hear me, Masters,” he whispered. “Look upon me with your thousand eyes; guide me that I might serve you.” The reply came silently, yet clearly; every hair on his body stood on end and the shadows in the corners of the room seemed to deepen as a chaotic rush of words, or the impressions of words, slid directly into his brain:
we hunger we would feed feed we need sustenance hunger hunger hunger hunger
“There will be more sacrifices, Masters; very soon.”
no no sacrifices we would feed feed on worlds and galaxies hunger hunger hunger
“I am working to open the gate, Masters,” he replied. “Progress is slow. For the time being, you will have to manifest individually, in bodily form.”
hunger hunger bring us into your world that we might feed feed hunger hunger
“The difficulty is in the vessels, Masters. Human bodies are too weak to contain your magnificence. Your manifestations through them can only be temporary. An extraterrestrial corpus might suffice, but the Majestic Group possesses only dead aliens, not live ones.”
hunger hunger your universe was once our feeding place hunger hunger bring us into it hunger hunger hunger hunger
The presence was suddenly gone. Dietz rose unsteadily to his feet, sweating and shivering. He snuffed out the candles and enclosed the icon in its shrine. He crossed to the refrigerator in the far corner; he needed his medication. Carefully he removed the bottle of whole human blood, poured a measure into a wineglass and downed it in one.
Back to index
Chapter 2: Part Two: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
Author's Notes: Be warned, there are some drug references in this next part, which might not be to everyone’s liking. These are hippies we’re talking about, though.
They were still holding hands as they wandered up the dusty path off the main road; it was pleasant enough, and it seemed like the thing to do. Yet more arid, shrivelled fields stretched away on either side of them, with the occasional cow staring passively as they passed by, seemingly unaware of the dangers of lights in the sky and surgical lasers. The Diablo Mesa loomed over the whole scene; a huge slab of craggy sandstone the colour of dried blood.
“It is very nice,” Romana said, thoughtfully, as they walked along; “Just a bit too hot for my taste.”
“Well, you should have waited for it to cool down,” the Doctor told her. “You’d think you had never been fed. And for my money, she rather overdid it with the red chilli.”
“What are you talking about?” Romana asked, frowning.
“The tamales at Old Mother Mary’s All-You-Can-Eat Roadside Chow Stand, of course,” the Doctor replied, giving her a look of wide-eyed puzzlement. “Why, what did you think I was talking about?”
“Where you’re concerned, it could be just about anything,” she retorted. “I was talking about New Mexico. I have to admit it’s quite scenic, isn’t it?”
”Yes, it is,” the Doctor agreed, cheerfully. “Even if it is the wrong place to ask for tamales.”
“That’s not fair; I thought they were quite passable,” Romana said. “And the woman in the diner did give us directions, and a free side order of chicharrones, so I don’t know why you’re complaining.”
“We should have had the chilli con queso,” the Doctor mused, regretfully.
“We should have had the chalupa,” Romana responded. A second later, she added: “Doctor, what exactly is a chalupa?” The Doctor didn’t reply; he had come to a halt in front of a rickety wooden gate that was doing a very unconvincing job of barring the path. A faded sign was nailed to it, declaring the territory beyond the gate to be that of the Circle J Ranch.
“Do you think this is the place?” he asked. Romana considered the question:
“Old Joe’s place? It seems likely, from the directions the diner woman gave us.” The Doctor grinned at her:
“How do you know she wasn’t an agent of the saucer-people, directing us into a trap? We know they’re about; surgical lasers.”
“Agents of the saucer-people probably don’t know how to cook tamales,” Romana pointed out.
“Well, that proves nothing; neither did she.” The Doctor peered at the sign, then gave the gate a gentle push; it groaned in agony as it slowly swung out of their way on rusted hinges. “After you,” he suggested, courteously. They continued along the path for a short distance before a low wooden ranch house came into view; it looked as if it had seen better days, as did the wheel-less, rusted pickup truck balanced on breezeblocks in front of it. An old wind pump squeaked and whined as it slowly turned in the hot, sluggish breeze; in its shadow sat two dishevelled figures; a boy and girl, neither of them older than nineteen or twenty, entwined comfortably around each other. The boy was attempting to play an out of tune guitar; his technique seemed to consist of playing the same chord over and over at varying speeds; when he saw the Doctor and Romana approaching, he gave up strumming and grinned at the pair of them; the girl waved in welcome.
“Peace,” the boy suggested.
“And quiet,” the Doctor replied. “Just what I like to see; young people getting out in the fresh air. I’m the Doctor, and this is Romana, and we’re not from around these parts.”
“We’re certainly not,” Romana smiled in agreement.
“Neither are we,” the boy replied, as if it were the most hilariously funny thing he had ever heard. He wore a poncho not unlike the Doctor’s, raggedy jeans and Jesus sandals; his sandy hair came down below his shoulders and he had made a very creditable attempt at growing a beard. “My name’s Claude,” he informed them, “and this is…er,” he looked at the girl. “I didn’t quite catch her name, so I call her Moonbeam.”
“Moonbeam is fine,” the girl assured him. She was dark and pretty, in a floral sundress, a matching headband and about half a ton of bead necklaces. She was barefoot. “Bodhi says your true name is the one you give yourself,” she added, reverently.
“I couldn’t agree more,” beamed the Doctor. “This Bodhi sounds like rather an interesting fellow, who is he when he’s at home?”
“He’s not,” Claude giggled. “At home. He left this morning, but he’ll be back. He does that; goes out into the desert, to be one.”
“To be one with what?” asked Romana, fixing Claude with a sceptical look out of the corner of her eye; the young man shrugged:
“Dunno; just one, I guess.”
“Bodhi is, like, a saint, or a Mahatma, or, or something,” Moonbeam insisted, earnestly. “He’s like our leader, but we don’t have leaders around here.”
“Of course not,” nodded the Doctor. He indicated Claude’s guitar: “I’m musical myself, you know.” He patted his trouser pockets absently for a few moments. “Well, I did used to have a recorder around here somewhere. Romana here was once a cellist.”
“Only once,” Romana clarified. “I never tried it again.” The Doctor appeared to find something at the bottom of one of his pockets; his hand emerged from under his serape triumphantly clutching a crumpled paper bag:
“Jelly baby?” he asked, with a grin.
“What’s a Jelly baby?” Moonbeam asked, in awe.
“You’ve never heard of jelly babies?” The Doctor was appalled. “It looks like I got here not a moment too soon. Jelly babies are the greatest invention in the history of your civilisation.” He offered them the bag.
“Man, look at all the colours,” Claude commented. “Far out.”
“Groovy,” Moonbeam agreed, popping a yellow one into her mouth and giggling as she bit down on it.
“I like jelly babies,” the Doctor announced. “Romana, do you like jelly babies?”
“I love jelly babies!” Romana declared.
“See; Romana likes jelly babies. They’re very nice, aren’t they?” Moonbeam nodded contentedly, mouth full.
“I don’t know if I would like jelly babies,” Claude admitted, poking doubtfully at the bag.
“Well, you’ll never know if you don’t try one,” the Doctor told him. Claude carefully tried a green one, chewing it slowly.
“Have you got any red ones?” asked Romana. “Oh yes, you have.”
For a moment the four of them stood or sat in the sun, united by the common language of small anthropomorphic confectionary.
“Far out threads;” Claude said, pointing at Romana’s suit and hat.
“Romana; that’s a pretty name,” Moonbeam opined, dreamily.
“So, is she, like, your old lady?” Claude asked the Doctor; the Doctor gave a delighted chuckle:
“Well, she’s a lady, and I suppose she’s old by your standards…” the Doctor smiled and squeezed Romana’s hand: “She’s my friend.”
“That’s cool, man,” said Claude. “You’ve got an open relationship; free love; I can dig it. Like me and Moonbeam; we don’t own each other, you know?”
“Oh, he doesn’t own me, believe me.” Romana assured him, smiling teasingly at the Doctor. “And I’m sure that if I owned him, I’d probably trade him in for a newer model.”
“So where’s Old Joe?” asked the Doctor, suddenly. “This is Old Joe’s place, isn’t it? We thought we’d drop in and see how the old chap was doing.”
“Don’t drop in, man,” Claude urged him, earnestly. “Drop out; expand your mind.”
“If I expanded my mind any further,” the Doctor replied, “it would start coming out of my ears.”
“Joe’s a cool old guy,” explained Moonbeam. “He lives in town now, with his sister, but he lets us stay here on his land; stops that square old sheriff from kicking us out. All he wants in return is an ounce of mary-jane now and again.” Romana appeared to consider this, evidently deciphering the vernacular:
“So, you mean he lets you squat here in return for a supply of recreational narcotics?” she asked, disapprovingly.
“He says it helps with his arthritis,” giggled Moonbeam.
“Well, I’m sure it does,” the Doctor replied, diplomatically. “He is rather square, the sheriff, isn’t he? Decidedly rectangular, in fact. And a complete loon, to boot; do you know, he was trying to tell Romana and I some tale about little green men and flying saucers…”
“That’s no tale, man,” Claude insisted. “I’ve seen them!”
“Little green men?” the Doctor grinned, excitedly.
“Yeah, man! Well, okay, not exactly, but I saw them in the sky; the lights. It blew my mind; Bodhi said they’d come, and they did!”
“What exactly did Bodhi say?” the Doctor asked.
“He said that if we came out here into the desert, the star-brothers would come down and teach us peace and understanding. It’s been foretold, man; it’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”
“I told you this Bodhi sounded like rather an interesting fellow,” the Doctor said to Romana, a thoughtful gleam in his eyes. He turned back to Claude: “So, the star-brothers teach peace and understanding by carving up cattle, do they?” Claude shrugged:
“I dunno, I guess they like steak,” he muttered.
“I’m a vegan,” Moonbeam announced, happily.
“And what about your friends?” the Doctor asked, the grin suddenly gone. “The ones who disappeared? Was that the star-brothers, too?”
“We freaked out about that,” Claude admitted, “but Bodhi explained it to us; he told us they’d been chosen to be one with the star-brothers, and if we keep giving off positive vibes, we might be chosen too. They’re in a better place, now.”
“That’s rather what I’m afraid of,” the Doctor murmured, almost to himself. Romana shuddered at his tone.
“I can show you where it happened,” Claude offered, helpfully. “Where the star-brothers came down and took them; they left their mark on the desert; a sign for the faithful.” The Doctor looked at him, interest obviously aroused; he managed to turn on the grin again for Claude’s benefit:
“You know, that sounds like an awfully good idea. We can make them an offering of jelly babies together.” Claude leapt to his feet and slung the guitar across his back, beaming all over his face:
“Let’s go, then!” The Doctor turned to Romana:
“Why don’t you get Moonbeam to show you around the old homestead?” he suggested loudly, before adding in a hushed voice: “You know the kind of things to look for.”
“Anything suspicious,” Romana replied, equally quietly.
“Yes.” The Doctor returned to grinning at Claude, voice returning to its usual volume: “Well, lead on, then! Oh, and Romana; if anybody offers you any drugs, what did I tell you about them?”
“Just say no?”
“Exactly!” Claude and the Doctor loped off together across the dried-up fields. Moonbeam stood up and smiled at Romana:
“Your hair’s pretty.”
“Oh,” Romana replied, taken aback. “Thank you, I suppose.”
“Do you want to come out back and meet everyone? You could join our Be-In, if you wanted.”
“Really?” asked Romana, dubiously, adding, in a tone of somewhat forced jollity: “Gosh, that sounds like fun.”
“It is!” Moonbeam grabbed Romana’s hand and they ran off together, past the rusting pickup and around behind the rotting old ranch house.
* * *
The battered old Volkswagen bus shuddered to a halt in the roadside layby, far out into the cracked ochre desert; it was covered in blue and yellow flowers, crudely hand-painted. The driver climbed out and lit a cigarette; he was in his mid twenties, lean but not particularly tall, with a mane of shaggy dark brown hair and matching goatee; he wore a frilled purple shirt, flares and cowboy boots. After a few minutes, a long black car pulled in behind the Volkswagen; its driver was a big man, dressed in a black suit and tie and matching broad-brimmed fedora; his expressionless face was smeared with white zinc suncream; his eyes were hidden behind black shades. The back door of the black car opened, and a thickset crew-cut man got out; he was dressed identically to the driver, but minus the hat, shades and suncream; he had a leather briefcase in his hand.
“Mr V,” the young man with the shaggy hair smiled in greeting, dropping his cigarette on the ground and grinding it underfoot.
“Bodhi,” Vance nodded in return. “How’s things at the ashram?”
“Cool, daddy-o,” Bodhi grinned. “Real cool; turning on, tuning in, dropping out; making love, not war. Dig, man?”
“Shut up, freak,” Vance suggested, pleasantly enough. He held up the briefcase: “I’ve got another batch of product, straight off the mesa. What’s it worth to you?”
“You know I ain’t got no money, man,” Bodhi laughed.
“Good job Uncle Sam is picking up the tab, then.” Vance laid the briefcase on the hood of his car, snapped it open. He took out a clear plastic bag filled with gleaming blue capsules, tossed it at Bodhi’s head. The young man caught it easily. “Don’t pop them all at once,” Vance admonished, semi-seriously. Bodhi stood there for a moment, looking at the bag in his hand, brow furrowing in an obviously troubled way.
“You know, man, I’ve been thinking…” he said, hesitantly.
“That’s not a requirement, kid,” replied Vance, tersely, as he stepped over to him.
“I don’t know if I want to do this any more,” Bodhi told him. “Maybe we should call it quits.”
“Do you think so?” Vance asked, in a low, dangerous tone of voice.
“These Blue Meanies, man,” Bodhi went on, squeezing the bag of pills; “they’re a pretty heavy scene, and I’m not sure…I mean, they don’t give you nothing but freakouts and bad trips — scary black icicles in your brain, man; spooky voices whispering in your ears; that’s not my bag. That’s not anyone’s bag.”
Bodhi never even saw the punch coming; a short, economical blow to the solar plexus that doubled him up and sent him crashing, gasping, to the ground. Vance followed it up with a very deliberate kick to the ribs, and another, and another; his suit jacket flapped open with his exertions, revealing the .45 automatic he wore in a holster under his left arm. Vance then stood back and waited for the younger man to start breathing again. When he did, he dragged him upright by his hair and slammed him up against the side of the bus:
“Not your bag?” Vance asked, his mouth up against Bodhi’s ear, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Excuse me, son, but I wasn’t aware that our arrangement was voluntary on your part. Maybe “your bag” is practicing free love with a load of other guys in San Quentin on a possession with intent beef; that’s what the charge was, right, son? We got the narcs off your back because you’re useful to us. Stop being useful and we’ll throw you straight back to them.” He paused for breath, before adding, contemptuously, “Dig, man?”
“Yeah, yeah, we’re cool,” Bodhi panted; Vance let go of him and he fell back to his knees, coughing. Vance retreated a few paces in the direction of his own car before continuing in a gentler tone:
“Look, kid, just take the blue pills, give them to your little friends, okay? And count yourself lucky that you don’t know why we’re doing this. You think I like doing the things I have to do? Of course I don’t, but sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t like, for the greater good; I’ve been serving my country since I was younger than you, and it hasn’t always been easy, but you’ve got to stick it out.” He let out a long, weary, sigh: “Why am I telling you this? A dropout like you wouldn’t understand about duty. Just do as you’re told, kid.”
Vance climbed back into the black car and slammed the door. Bodhi knelt, doubled over, and listened to the engine starting and the car pulling out again, roaring off down the highway, into the distance.
* * *
Behind Old Joe’s decaying former home, an impromptu campsite had been set up; tents and tepees dotted what had once been a cattle corral; various vehicles were parked around the edges; cars and vans and the ubiquitous Volkswagen buses, all of which also served as accommodation for the couple of dozen young people of the commune. The Doctor and Claude found Romana seated cross-legged on the ground in a circle of young people; all of them long-haired and unwashed, wearing beads and feathers and face-paint in some incompetent effort to imitate the native Americans whose land this had once been. Moonbeam was still holding Romana’s hand, as if reluctant to let go of her; all of them, including Romana, were singing:
“Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya. Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya…”
“Enjoying yourself?” the Doctor grinned down at Romana. She grinned back:
“It is rather infectious,” she admitted. “And quite educational; they seem to have spontaneously recreated all of the characteristic structures of a Level Three tribal society; it’s altogether remarkable, considering they come from a Level Five early-postindustrial milieu. They’d be quite jealous, back at the Academy, if they could see me now.”
“They certainly would,” said the Doctor. “Those academicians never get the chance to sit around holding hands and singing songs; they should make some “me” time, I’ve always said.”
“Did you see any signs of alien intervention?” Romana asked, as circumspectly as possible, considering that she was sat in the middle of a group of singing people.
“I saw some churned-up desert,” he replied. “It’s hard to say whether it was caused by non-terrestrial visitors without spectroscopic and radiological analysis, and I’m afraid that I forgot to bring my pocket radio-spectroscope.”
“There’s no such thing,” Romana pointed out.
“Precisely,” the Doctor smiled. “Which is why I shall have to invent it. In the meantime, I’m going back to the TARDIS to get K-9; he’ll soon sniff out any alien involvement. Claude here has offered to drive me back there; should save a bit of time.”
“Hey, no sweat, man,” Claude insisted, as casual as ever.
“Have you turned up any leads here?” the Doctor asked Romana.
“Not as yet,” she confessed. “Just young people being happy and silly, really; nothing sinister to report.”
“Hmm.” The Doctor paused and looked at her for a moment before asking: “Romana?”
“Why are you naked?”
“Everybody else was; I didn’t want to seem impolite.”
“No, of course not,” he agreed. “And what about those flowers painted on your face? Or that particularly large and badly-rolled cigarette they’re passing around? Didn’t I tell you to just say no?” Romana shrugged, an impressive gesture when she was unclothed:
“Everybody else was doing it. And there are times when having a respiratory bypass does come in useful.”
“You know, I doubt that would be considered a valid defence in a court of law,” the Doctor observed. “Don’t you think you should probably put some clothes back on?”
“Why?” Romana asked, with an insolent little smile. “Don’t you like me like this?”
“It’s more the idea of other people liking you like that,” the Doctor admitted. Romana’s smile broadened:
“I suppose I should be flattered; you may have a point, though; my shoulders are starting to turn a bit pink in the sun.”
“They are very pretty shoulders,” the Doctor told her, “whatever colour they are; but you’re right; you should probably cover them up.” Romana disentangled herself from the circle; she practically had to prise Moonbeam’s hand off hers:
“Come back,” Moonbeam groaned, groggily; she didn’t have a respiratory bypass. Romana picked up the pile of clothes she had discarded nearby, and started to get dressed.
“I think I’ll stay here until you get back with K-9,” she told the Doctor as she buttoned her shirt. “I expect I can turn something up if I poke around a bit more.”
“Yes, well, I’m sure you can; just be careful who you poke around here. They might poke back.”
* * *
Vance stepped out of the elevator on Level Eight; the lowest layer of the complex of chambers and tunnels hollowed out of the Diablo Mesa at enormous taxpayers’ expense. The light down here seemed particularly washed out and unnatural; it cast stark black shadows in every corner; the ever-present hum of the air conditioning was even more oppressive than usual. The enlisted men on the base called Level Eight “Nightmare Hall”, and avoided it whenever possible. Down here was Dietz’s domain; two of his hulking men in black guarded the metal door at the far end of the corridor, motionless and impassive. One of their brethren — the one who had driven Vance to the drug deal in the desert — followed him out of the elevator, still wearing the hat and sun protection that they always seemed to need when they went above ground in the hours of daylight.
“I’m here to see Dr Dietz,” Vance nervously told one of the sentinels; the man in black gave no sign of having heard him, but they made no move to stop him when he swept his card through the lock on the door and stepped through. He was in the antechamber to the main laboratory, and frankly had no intention of going any further; he only watched the films of Dietz’s experiments, and they gave him nightmares. It was a white, sterile room with a table, some chairs, and a row of filing cabinets; a greenish glass window reinforced with wire mesh looked into the vast dark space of the main lab; Vance avoided looking at it as he waited for Dietz; he had not seen the men in black push any buzzer or pick up any telephone, but somehow Dietz always seemed to know when he had visitors.
“Mr Vance,” the scientist grated as he lurched out of the door opposite the one Vance had entered through; Major Beck followed him out of the lab; Vance narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the sight of the two of them together. “Have you made the necessary arrangements for the next test series?”
“Yes, Dr Dietz,” Vance replied, as neutrally as he could manage. “The blue pills are now in circulation; my snatch teams are ready to move at your command.”
“Excellent.” Dietz’s dark glasses flashed in the overhead lights and his face split into its characteristic skull-like grin; his pasty grey skin wrinkled gruesomely around the edges of his wide mouth. “Return to your men, Mr Vance; await my further instructions. I expect that you will be in action tonight; we have no time to waste in completing this great work.”
“Yes, Dr Dietz.” Vance turned on his heel and rushed out of the room with obvious relief to be getting out of Dietz’s presence. Dietz waited until he was gone before turning to Beck:
“Very well, Major; we must get to work at once. Will you stay and assist me with the procedure?” Beck visibly paled:
“You want me to, to participate in the experiment?” he asked, fighting to keep the quaver out of his voice.
“I think it is important that you should have first hand knowledge of what it is we are working towards,” Dietz told him. “I thought you wanted to understand; that you were more receptive towards my work than the Vances and Colonel Lydeckers of this world.”
“Of course I am,” Beck insisted. “I know how important it is for the continued survival of this country.”
“Good. Don’t worry, Major; there will be no sacrifices or physical manifestations this time. All I require is that you watch over me while I conduct the ritual; I will be unaware of my surroundings, but there must be no interruptions, and nobody can make physical contact with me while I am in the trance-state; you must ensure that this is the case.”
“You can count on me,” said Beck.
“Of course I can.” Dietz grinned again and opened one of the filing cabinets. He removed a large sheet of paper and unrolled it on the table in the middle of the room; it was a map of the local area. He took four greasy black candles mounted on ornate candlesticks from another drawer of the cabinet and used them to weigh down the corners of the map. Gently chanting the spells of warding and protection, he lit the candles and carefully laid out a couple of objects on the table; a pencil, a magnifying glass and a small, glistening blue pill. Seating himself at the table, he picked up the pill and placed it on his tongue. Beck watched in growing unease as Dietz’s entire body stiffened and his head lolled forward over the map. The air seemed to thicken in the room; Beck imagined that he could half-hear a chittering, rustling sound, on the very edges of perception, just underneath the buzz of the ventilation fans, as Dietz’s clawlike hands seized the magnifier and pencil. Slowly, almost randomly, he started to slide the magnifying glass over the map; in wide, casual circles at first, gradually becoming tighter and more purposeful.
“Masters,” Dietz groaned in a low voice that did not sound like his own; “show me where they are… Point out the chosen ones…”
Back to index
Chapter 3: Part Three: Paint It Black
Author's Notes: Less amusing Four-Romana stuff this part, more evildoing. Hey, kids; regarding drugs; just say "no", y'hear?
The sun was low and orange by now, sinking towards the mountains to the west; the sky near the horizon was starting to turn a rosy shade of pink. The Volkswagen bus with the hand-painted blue and yellow flowers sent up a cloud of yellowish dust as it pulled into the empty ground behind the decaying ranch house.
“You’ll look like an Indian,” Moonbeam insisted, brows knitted in determined concentration as she attempted to braid Romana’s hair.
“Punjabi or Gujarati?” Romana wondered, resting her chin on her hand and casting a bored eye over the recently-arrived vehicle and the occupant who was now clambering out of it. She was sat on the warm sand of the corral, barefoot and wearing just her shirt and trousers; the singing and hand-holding had broken up some time ago; most of the flower children had taken themselves off to their tents or the house, to do whatever flower children did when they weren’t singing and holding hands.
“What?” Moonbeam was nonplussed.
“Nothing.” Romana glanced at Moonbeam over her shoulder, searching for any sign of comprehension or reflection in her eyes. “So, Moonbeam, have you seen these lights in the sky everybody seems to be talking about around here?”
“You mean the ones Claude saw?” the girl laughed. “He was probably high; I haven’t seen any lights.” Romana sighed:
“Hurry up, Doctor,” she muttered, as the young man from the Volkswagen walked up to them in his purple shirt and cowboy boots.
“Are you talking to yourself?” he asked, in a friendly enough manner.
“I sometimes find it’s my only option if I want to have an intelligent conversation,” Romana replied. Moonbeam looked up from her hairdressing and immediately jumped to her feet, giving a little squeal of excitement:
“Bodhi! You’re back!” She flung her arms around him; he squeezed her in return, very familiarly; Romana gave a little frown:
“The Doctor told me that it’s considered impolite in many human cultures for a man to put his hand on that part of a woman’s body unless he knows her rather well.” Bodhi grinned:
“Oh, me and Moonbeam know each other real well,” he assured her. “Don’t we, darling?” Moonbeam just giggled. He addressed Romana again: “Pleased to meet you; people around here call me Bodhisattva, or just Bodhi for short.”
“People around here don’t call me anything,” she replied, standing up and brushing dust off herself. “My name, however, is Romana—” she paused. “Just Romana will do.”
“I like you, Romana,” Bodhi informed her, still grinning, but not a pleasant grin like the Doctor’s. “You’re a far out chick.”
“I’ll assume you mean that as a compliment.”
“Have you come to join our scene?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Romana replied with as sweet a smile as she could manage. “My friend and I were just passing through; we travel, you see; here today, gone tomorrow.”
“Nomads.” Bodhi nodded, sagely. “I’m that way myself; wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.”
“You don’t have a hat, Bodhi,” Moonbeam reminded him; the pair of them fell about laughing at nothing in particular.
“So, where’s your friend?” Bodhi asked, suddenly looking very directly at Romana in a way that belied the smile on his face.
“He’s gone to get our other friend who we travel with,” she replied. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back soon enough.”
“He was asking about the star-brothers and the lights in the sky,” Moonbeam told Bodhi. “He wanted to know if we’d seen them.”
“Really?” Bodhi’s grin slipped for a moment, but he managed to recover it very well. “That’s cool,” he told Romana. “We always welcome newcomers who want to learn about the star-brothers.”
“Yes, well.” Romana’s smile was nearly as fake as Bodhi’s. “The teachings of the star-brothers do sound awfully interesting, and, er, far out? In fact, they’re positively…groovy, is it? Or possibly cool, I’m not sure.” She hesitated for a second, before adding: “Man.”
“The star-brothers came across the endless voids of space, teaching us a message of peace and understanding,” Bodhi pronounced, as he and Romana continued to watch each other past their smiles, completely unnoticed by the happy, innocent Moonbeam. “We need to set aside our differences and our hang-ups, get rid of our wars and our weapons —”
“War,” interrupted Romana. “What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
“Exactly!” Bodhi laughed, cranking up the fake grin to unprecedented levels. “You dig peace and love too, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Romana agreed, somewhat falsely. “Er, man.” She fixed Bodhi with a sceptical eye: “So, Bodhisattva, how did you come to, well, dig, as it were, the star-brothers and their teachings?”
“It came to me in a dream,” Bodhi claimed, without relaxing the grin. “A vision, you might say. They spoke to me, told me to come out into the desert to honour them, and to bring others, that they too might benefit from the wisdom of the stars.”
“Really?” Romana breathed, in mock-awe. “They told you all that? Gosh.”
“They didn’t happen to throw in any details about what planet they were from, what species they were, or anything like that?” she asked, hopefully.
“The star-brothers care not for such concerns,” Bodhi answered. “They have long since transcended the material world.” Romana smiled again:
“I rather thought you were going to say something like that.”
“Did you bring anything back from the desert?” Moonbeam asked Bodhi expectantly, rocking back and forth from one foot to another like a little girl wanting to know if she was getting any sweets.
“I brought the bounty of the star-brothers,” Bodhi replied. “Like I always do.” He put his hand in his pocket and then pressed something into Moonbeam’s outstretched palm. “Enjoy communing with them,” he told her. “Romana,” he asked, “would you like to be one with the star-brothers too?” He held out his hand to her, showing her the glistening blue pills he held.
“I’ve already eaten,” Romana replied, politely, before a second thought struck her. “Well, maybe one for later.” She carefully took one of the capsules and scrutinised it for a moment before pocketing it. Moonbeam was already popping hers in her mouth, as if it were a jelly baby.
“It’s sort of heavy and scary,” she told Romana, very earnestly. “It takes a while to hit you, but when it does…The first time I did it, I didn’t want to do it again, but Bodhi said it was the only way to really understand the star-brothers. And I do so want to understand them.”
“Like I always say; expand your mind,” Bodhi suggested, and then left them, setting off across the open space towards the ranch house, casting a last, piercing, glance at Romana as he did so. Romana met it, unflinchingly. As he progressed, other boys and girls emerged from some of the tents and parked cars and called out to him, receiving his cheerful acknowledgement in return; more blue pills changed hands as he went on his way.
“I’m going to go and lie down,” Moonbeam announced. “Before it starts.” She looked shyly at Romana and stretched out a hand: “You can come with me, if you like.”
“Maybe later,” Romana told her, apologetically. “I’m going to wait here for the Doctor.”
“Okay.” Moonbeam set off towards one of the tents; Romana watched her go. She reached into her trouser pocket and took out the little blue pill, examining it again for a moment before putting it back.
“Hurry up, Doctor,” she muttered to herself.
* * *
“Hey, Doctor, man,” said Claude, waving away the cloud of steam emerging from the open hood of his Volkswagen Beetle, “do you think your groovy robot dog can fix my car?” The Doctor stared at the inert vehicle for a moment, giving it his consideration.
“I don’t think so,” he hazarded after a moment, before turning to the third member of their party: “K-9, do you think you can fix the car?”
“Negative, Master,” came the tinny, high-pitched reply. “This archaic vehicle has no computer systems with which I can interface.” The Doctor looked at Claude over the sizzling engine, with a lopsided smile:
“I told you,” he said, giving K-9 a not unaffectionate pat on the head. “He can’t do anything when it’s important. I just keep him around for the witty conversation.”
“Master’s remarks are inaccurate; this unit has provided practical solutions to 89.95 percent of all problem situations presented to it, with a success-rate of —”
“See?” grinned the Doctor. “Oh, and Romana’s quite fond of the little tyke, too.” He gave the robot another tap: “Come on, then, K-9; walkies.”
“Acknowledged, Master; long-distance travel mode engaged.” The three of them turned away from the defunct car and set off down the long gleaming black strip of the highway; one man and his dog, and his recently-acquired hippie.
“It looks like it’s going to take a bit longer to get back to Romana than I expected,” the Doctor said.
“She’ll be okay,” Claude assured him. “Moonbeam’ll look after her.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” the Doctor replied. “That by the time we get back there, she’ll have gone completely native; changed her name to Sunflower or something and started playing the sitar.”
“Sitars are cool,” Claude commented, dreamily. “I wish I had one of those; Ravi Shankar, man.” He watched K-9 for a moment as they continued down the road. “Robot dogs are cool too,” he added. “Did you, like, build it yourself?”
“Please!” the Doctor admonished him, shocked. “Don’t let him hear you call him “it”! He’s a “he”! If you must know, I assembled him out of a kit.”
“Is it — sorry, he — is he radio control?”
“Claude, you’re looking at a state of the art mobile computer; he’s completely autonomous and self-aware; he didn’t just pass the Turing Test, he aced it; he has an I.Q. of 7,500, or equivalent to the entire Ogron species, and access to a range of comprehensive databases on just about any subject you can think of and quite a few I’m sure have never crossed your mind.” The Doctor grinned: “That would be an awfully large radio control, Claude; a lot of buttons, if you get my meaning.”
Claude just returned the grin; they continued down the road for a distance in companionable silence before another thought occurred to the Doctor:
“Claude, less than an hour ago I showed you a blue box that was bigger on the inside than the outside and told you it was not only my home but also my means of transport. Not long after that, I showed you a robotic dog that even you must realise is far beyond the capabilities of current Earth technology.” He looked at Claude, almost wonderingly: “Don’t you think that any of this is a little, well, more than a little…strange?”
“I dunno,” answered Claude, placidly. “I see lots of groovy things since I started living out here in the desert.”
“I’m sure you do. I met a young fellow at Woodstock, you know; name of Shaggy; he thought he saw ghosts and monsters everywhere he went, and that his dog talked to him.”
“Hasn’t happened yet. All I’m saying, is that if somebody asks you to go to a concert in upstate New York next year, don’t say no.”
“Oh, right. Er…far out, man.” Claude looked puzzled for a moment; more puzzled than usual, anyway. “You know, I might have met this dude Shaggy, back in Frisco; was he sort of tall and skinny?”
“Probably,” the Doctor’s grin widened toothily.
“Wore, like, a pinstripe suit and Chuck Taylors?”
“No, not him,” the Doctor frowned, thoughtfully. “Although that chap does sound oddly familiar…” He cast a casual glance in Claude’s direction: “So, how did you end up becoming a flower child, Claude?”
“I felt kind of trapped,” Claude said, reflectively. “Back home in Austin. My folks, my high school; they all seemed to have their plans for me, you know? I mean, what did I have; playing football, dating cheerleaders, worrying about my grades. I thought, what’s the point of it all, you know?”
“Oh, I know exactly what you mean,” the Doctor chuckled.
“My old man wanted me to volunteer for the Navy when I graduated, like he did in Dubya Dubya Two, go and blow the hell out of Vietnamese kids for LBJ. So, one morning, I just woke up and thought; screw this, man. Screw all of this. So, I dropped out; I sold everything I had, bought a used car and drove to California. I’d just had enough of living by other people’s rules.” The Doctor gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder as they kept walking:
“Claude,” he said. “You’re a man after my own hearts. I remember when I thought exactly the same thing, and look at me; I’m still dropping out. I hope I never stop. It is occasionally handy to have a parachute, though; to keep from dropping too fast. Like Romana and K-9.” He suddenly rounded on Claude, narrowing his eyes at him: “Of course, not living by other people’s rules is very commendable, but it doesn’t explain this fellow Bodhi, and these star-brothers he goes on about; why does a community without leaders need a leader?”
“Bodhi ain’t our leader,” Claude protested. “He’s like…a teacher.”
“Didn’t you say you were finished with teachers?” the Doctor asked. “Isn’t following his teachings just another way of following somebody else’s rules? Tell me, how did you come to follow Bodhi, anyway?” Claude shrugged; a popular gesture where he was concerned:
“He used to come around to this squat I used to crash in, in the Haight,” he said. “He was some sort of dealer or something; he could hook you up with some good stuff, if you had the bread; I never had the bread. Anyway, he sort of went away for a while; we all thought the pigs had got him, but he showed up again, talking about the star-brothers; said he’d come out to New Mexico and communed with them in the desert. It sounded like a trip, so I came out here with him, that’s all.”
“And have you communed with them?” the Doctor asked, carefully searching Claude’s face for his reaction. “The star-brothers?”
“Bodhi gets these little blue pills; he says the star-brothers give them to him; they’re supposed to open up your doors of perception or something, tune you into their wavelength so you can hear their teachings. They just made me sick, so I never did them again. Moonbeam keeps trying, but I dunno if she’s ever made contact.”
“Do you have any of these blue pills on you now?” the Doctor asked, quietly.
“Hell, no,” said Claude. “I don’t carry my stash with me; what if the pigs searched me?”
“We have to get back to the ranch as quickly as possible,” the Doctor said, setting off down the road with renewed urgency; Claude almost had to jog to keep up.
“Master, motivator unit at 105 percent,” K-9 announced as he sped up too. “Probability of catastrophic failure mode is —” The Doctor was ignoring him; he was almost running, all of the levity suddenly gone from him:
“Why didn’t I ask the right questions earlier?” he berated himself, aloud. “Claude, I’m afraid that I may have left Romana in terrible danger!”
* * *
Vance hurried along another anonymous tunnel under the Diablo Mesa; it sloped slightly upwards; somewhere in the distance there was a hint of fresh, natural surface air; the sound of machinery. He had changed into black combat fatigues, boots and flak jacket; there was a rifle slung on his shoulder and sundry items of equipment strapped to his body or hanging from his belt. With him were a dozen similarly-equipped men; real men, not Dietz’s freaks in sunglasses. They were all special forces and intel types from way back; most of them had done tours in ‘Nam, or, to be more accurate, in the secret wars up-country in Cambodia and Laos, the ones that didn’t make the evening news. And here they were, now; working for Majestic, which meant working for Dietz, and each of them had had to make his own peace with that, in his own way.
“Mr Vance,” a voice called out behind him. “Can I have a word?” Vance turned; it was Colonel Lydecker, immaculate in his blue uniform, the usual weary expression on his face.
“Of course, sir,” Vance replied, falling out of the group. “I’ll catch you up,” he told the men.
“I take it that Dr Dietz is proceeding with his next series of experiments?” Lydecker did not look particularly happy at the prospect.
“Yes, sir; he told me to have my teams ready to move tonight.” Lydecker took Vance by the arm and drew him to one side of the passageway, lowering his voice:
“Jim,” he said, “I know you don’t like this any more than I do; I saw your face when you watched that film this morning.”
“We have our orders,” Vance whispered back. “Majestic have given Dietz the green light; what can we do?”
“My daughter, Karen,” Lydecker continued, as if he hadn’t heard him. “She’s the same age as that girl in the film. I kept seeing her when I was watching it. I know Beck can rationalise this by saying it’s for the good of the country; Beck’s a hotshot, a fanatic, with more patriotism than brains. I know you’re different.”
“What are you saying?” Vance asked.
“I’m saying we put a stop to this. We take some men down to that lab and put an end to that murdering Nazi son of a —”
“Don’t ask me to do that, Colonel,” Vance insisted, face white. “I have kids, too; back in Washington. What do you think Majestic would do to them if I stepped out of line like that?”
“I have a feeling that whatever Majestic did to them would be a mercy compared to what’ll happen to them if Dietz’s experiments succeed. What’ll happen to the whole world.”
“Don’t ask me to do that,” Vance repeated, turning away and continuing down the corridor. “Just don’t ask.”
* * *
Dietz was still hunched over the map, breath coming in long, rasping gasps; beads of sweat stood out on his papery skin.
“Show them to me, Masters…” he crooned; the strange, spiky voice seemed to come out of his mouth without him moving his lips. “Show them to me…”
Beck watched in quiet but mounting horror, unnerved, occasionally glancing over his shoulder as he thought he saw something move in the shadows in the corner of the room. The oppressive feeling in the air had grown heavier; the voices that may or may not have been whispering in his ears seemed to be louder and more distinct. The flames of the black candles flickered and guttered, even though there was no draught in the room. Dietz’s hands continued to move seemingly at random across the map with the pencil and magnifier, occasionally hovering over a particular area before moving on. Suddenly, he stopped dead; the pencil hit the map hard enough to punch a hole in the paper. Dietz slowly raised his head and looked, not exactly at Beck, but rather through him, his eyes concealed by the black discs of his glasses. There were tears of blood slowly painting red lines down his cheeks:
“Contact,” he said.
* * *
Romana was sitting on one of the wooden bars of the partially-collapsed fence that had once enclosed the cattle corral, wondering how long it would be before the Doctor returned with K-9. The light was nearly gone, now; a deep golden glow along the western horizon showed where the sun had gone down; the first stars could now been seen sparkling in the deep purple sky above her. Then she heard the first screams. It was a young girl’s voice, coming from one of the tents on the campground; Romana did not hesitate; she immediately got up and went to investigate. A head emerged from the tent-flap; a skinny, red-haired boy who had been involved in the sing-along earlier; Romana hadn’t the faintest idea what his name was.
“She’s having a bad trip,” the boy told her, with an edge of panic to his voice.
“Really?” Romana pushed past him and ducked her head to enter the tent. “Let me see; I’ve had lots of those myself.”
“You have?” he asked, a little doubtfully. Romana just looked up at him and smiled:
“Oh, all the time; the Doctor’s navigational skills leave a lot to be desired.”
The light in the tent was dim, provided by a single lantern hanging from the tentpole; it took a few moments for Romana’s eyes to become accustomed to the gloom. It was Moonbeam. The girl was curled up in a foetal position in one corner of the tent, hugging her knees and rolling slowly from side to side. Her eyes were wide open, but she wasn’t seeing anything outside of her own head; her pupils had shrunk to pinpricks:
“Hunger!” she screamed as Romana knelt beside her. “Hunger, hunger, hunger! Let us in! Let us through! We would feed! Feed! Feed! Hunger, hunger, hunger!” Her skin was soaked in cold sweat; her dress clung to her, wet through. Romana turned to look at the boy, who was standing behind her, looking terrified.
“Do you know,” she told him, “it looks to me like she’s having some sort of psychedelic crisis.” He stared at her:
“That’s what I said; she’s freaking out!”
“Hunger, hunger, hunger! We demand sustenance! Let us through that we might feed! Feed!” The veins in Moonbeam’s neck and forehead stood out as she thrashed from side to side; her skin had turned a pallid shade of grey.
“What was in that pill she took?” Romana asked, touching the back of her hand to the girl’s forehead; her skin was like ice.
“The Blue Meanies Bodhi brings back from the desert?” The boy shook his head. “I don’t know; I’m not a chemist. He says he gets them from the star-brothers.” Romana just rolled her eyes at him in response to this:
“Go and get help,” she instructed him.
“Bodhi’s in the house,” the boy said.
“No; I told you to go and get help!” she ordered, her eyes daring him to disagree. “There’s a telephone down on the main road; I passed it on my way up here; Run!” The boy just nodded and raced off into the night.
“Hunger, hunger, hunger!” Moonbeam wailed, convulsing. “Your universe will be our feeding place! Feed! Feed! Hunger, hunger!”
“It’s all right,” Romana whispered to her. She pulled her into a sitting position and put her arms around her. “Moonbeam, it’s me, Romana; I’m going to help you. What’s wrong?” For a moment, the girl seemed to come back to herself; her eyes returned almost to their normal state and she looked up imploringly, tears streaming down her face:
“The eyes! The eyes, looking at me! Make them stop looking at me! Romana, make them stop!” Then her pupils shrank again, and the voice that shrieked out through her mouth sounded strangely different; older, somehow, and harder: “We would feed! Feed on worlds and galaxies! Feed! Let us into your world! Hunger, hunger, hunger!”
“Moonbeam?” Romana took a deep breath and pressed her forehead against Moonbeam’s, closing her eyes and concentrating: “Moonbeam, are you there?”
“Romana, they’re still looking at me!” Moonbeam flung her arms around Romana and held tight, her whole body trembling. “I don’t like it! The eyes! Eyes, everywhere! And mouths! Oh God, Romana; the mouths! Biting and feeding! The teeth! They’re eating my brain! They’re putting their tentacles into my brain, through my whole body! Make them stop! Hunger, hunger, hunger!”
“It’s all right.” Somewhere near, Romana could hear other voices screaming, in some of the other tents; she marvelled at the gullibility of humans, that they could keep taking those blue pills after seeing the effects. She pressed her forehead harder against Moonbeam’s and whispered: “Can you hear me? Whoever you are, speaking through her; can you hear me?”
* * *
Dietz quivered as if electrocuted, suddenly sitting bolt upright at the table. Beck started towards him, but got a grip on himself, remembering Dietz’s admonishment that he should not be interrupted; a cry of panic died, unuttered, on the Major’s lips. Instead he contented himself with standing and staring, sweating and panting as if he had just come off a cross-country march.
“We hear you,” Dietz croaked, to nobody in particular. “We hear you; your mind tastes strange to us; you are no human! Who are you? What are you?”
* * *
“Leave her alone!” Romana hissed. Moonbeam still clung to her, fingernails digging into her back through the thin cotton of her shirt; she had stopped screaming but was still making little sobbing, panicking noises. “Whatever you are, get out of her head! She’s not for you! Get out!”
* * *
Dietz’s mouth slowly stretched into a grotesque grin; strings of saliva dribbled from the corners, mixing with his bloody tears. He let out a slow, dry, chuckle: it was quite the most terrifying sound Beck had ever heard.
“We know you now,” he whispered. “Timelord.” His body went limp again and the black candles spontaneously blew out. For a moment, as he slumped over the table, Beck was convinced that Dietz was dead, but then he saw that he was still breathing, shallowly. After a few seconds, the scientist managed to sit up again and dragged himself to his feet; he could hardly stand as he staggered towards the telephone mounted on the wall. Beck rushed to Dietz’s side, supporting him as he picked up the receiver and spoke into it:
“We have a contact, Mr Vance,” he said, breathing painfully. “Two contacts. The ranch in sector seventeen; the same as last time. A dark girl and a blonde. My special assistants will point out the correct ones; it is imperative that we secure the blonde in particular.”
On the surface of the mesa, two UH-1 assault helicopters — “Hueys” — were already spooling up on the pad, painted matt black; their rotor blades deafeningly beat the air and turbine engines whined, sending gusts of warm, oily air into the cool desert night.
“Green light!” Vance called out to his men, having to yell to be heard over the noise of the choppers. “Green light! We’re a go!” The men picked up their gear and doubled across the pad to the aircraft, leaning forward against the gale blowing from the rotors. One six-man squad in each Huey, and with each squad, a seventh; one of Dietz’s men in black, expressionless and impassive; they accompanied the snatch teams in the role of sniffer-dogs.
Vance vaulted up into the nearest chopper, plugged in his headset and strapped himself to the bench-seat in the troop compartment. Memories flooded back, like they always did; rolling into hot LZs on the Ho Chi Minh trail, destroying villages in order to save them. As always, and quite unconsciously, a feeling of sweaty, dry-mouthed fear overcame him for a moment. The feeling was not helped by the man in black sitting opposite him; the men on either side of the silent, somehow inhuman, figure had instinctively edged away from it; Dietz’s creatures even wore sunglasses in the dark.
“Sector seventeen!” Vance informed the pilot over the intercom. “Go, go, go!”
“This is Slick One to base, acknowledging takeoff clearance, over,” the pilot’s voice crackled over the headset. Vance’s stomach lurched as the tone of the rotors changed subtly and the Huey leapt off the ground; the choppers circled the pad once, forming up into a two-ship formation and hurtling off into the night.
Back to index
Chapter 4: Part Four: Magic Carpet Ride
Author's Notes: Okay, kids; I don't condone police brutality (or even Doctor brutality); Chavez is just a bad cop, and the Doctor is...very upset. And obviously, the United States government would never get up to shenanigans like this in real life. Probably.
“Ahh, bummer, man!” Claude’s groan of protest nicely counter-pointed the long, drawn out moan of the police car’s siren. “Just what we need; the goddamn pigs!” The Doctor and K-9 both turned and joined him in watching it hurtling towards them down the road, headlights glaring in the dark, cold desert night; the red and blue lights mounted on its roof were flashing manically in time to the siren’s wail.
“I dunno how many times I’ve been stopped and searched since I got here,” Claude was muttering, mostly to himself. “I thought this was America, man, not goddamn Nazi Germany!”
“A noble sentiment,” the Doctor beamed at him. “I’m sure your father would be proud. Still, it’s about time they made themselves useful!” With the complete self-assurance of someone who could not lose if he tried, he stepped out into the middle of the road, directly into the path of the oncoming vehicle, extending one long arm in its direction and ordering: “Halt!”
Claude winced and screwed up his eyes; when he didn’t hear the crunch of bone against metal, he risked opening them again, to see that the police car had skidded to a halt mere inches from where the Doctor stood, grinning, one hand resting on its hood; for a second, it just sat there, engine ticking over and lights flashing, before the driver’s door opened and a voice yelled:
“What the hell do you think you’re doing in the middle of the highway, you beatnik West Coast freak? Get out of my way before I cuff you and throw you in the backseat!”
“Thanks for the offer, Sheriff,” the Doctor replied, winningly, “but you’re not my type. In any case, I don’t think that will be necessary; my friend and I will come quietly. It is, as they say, a fair cop.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” John Chavez growled as he hauled himself out of the car and advanced on them, flashlight in one hand, the other resting pointedly on the butt of his revolver; “but I am in no mood for this; I’m trying to respond to an emergency call up at Old Joe’s —” he flashed the light over them as he spoke, and lit up Claude, guiltily hovering behind the Doctor. “You!” he exclaimed, before letting the beam play over the Doctor was well: “And you! Didn’t I tell you and the little lady to get the hell out of town?”
“What can I say?” the Doctor shrugged. “We got sidetracked; it happens to us all the time, unfortunately. And she probably wouldn’t like to hear you calling her that, you know.”
“Aww, man…” Claude whimpered at the very sight of Chavez. “Not this guy again; he’s always picking on me, every time I go into town…”
“Come on, son,” Chavez said to him. “You know the drill; assume the position while I frisk you.”
“Fascist oppression!” Claude declared to nobody in particular as Chavez grabbed him by the collar and shoved him up against the side of the car. “Fascist oppression! Look at this fascist pig violating my civil rights! Oppression!” Chavez pulled the guitar off the young man’s back and casually tossed it to the ground as he started patting him down and rifling through his pockets.
“Do you think this is really important right now, Sheriff?” the Doctor asked, wrinkling his brow perplexedly. “Didn’t you say you had an emergency call to respond to? Up at Old Joe’s?”
“I decide what’s important around here, pal,” the lawman replied. “And I happen to know that young Chuck here —”
“ — or whatever his name is, camps out at Old Joe’s with his little hippie friends; so the way I see it, you two could have something to do with whatever the hell is going on up there.”
“Master,” K-9 intoned, gliding out of the shadows and extending the stubby laser tube from his nose-housing. “Is this human unit a threat to be neutralised? Confirm?”
“Down boy,” the Doctor advised, grinning apologetically at Chavez: “Sorry about that, Sheriff; he’s terribly protective, you know, but his bark’s worse than his bite.”
“Affirmative, Master.” Chavez straightened up from his close examination of Claude’s ankles and stared at the boxy metal shape, hand instinctively going for his gun again:
”What in the name of sweet Jesus is that thing?”
“Oh, he doesn’t appreciate being called a thing,” the Doctor warned him. “Makes him a mite fractious, if I’m honest. Look, Sheriff; are you going to arrest us? It’s just that we could do with a lift back to the ranch; I’m afraid that my friend Romana may be in quite considerable danger; and not just her.”
“What are you talking about?” Chavez asked, eyes narrowing; his hand slipped almost unconsciously onto the revolver-butt. The Doctor gave a heavy, exasperated, sigh:
“I’m talking about drugs, Sheriff; dangerous mind-bending drugs and the evil people behind them. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, can we please get in the car? If my friend comes to any harm because we wasted time standing around here debating, then I shall very…upset.” The expression on his face as he said this suggested that nobody wanted to see the Doctor upset.
“There’s some kind of drug ring based up at that ranch?” Chavez thought about it for a second, eyes narrowing even more, if that were even possible; slowly, he scratched his smooth brown chin: “Makes sense.”
“If you like,” the Doctor agreed. “Now, are you going to arrest us, or what?”
“What the hell are you talking about, man?” Claude yelled at the Doctor, horrified. “Don’t listen to him, Sheriff! He’s crazy! Blew his mind on acid and peyote, man!”
“Shut up, kid, and get in the car,” Chavez ordered. “You too,” he told the Doctor.
“Finally,” the Doctor sighed, relieved. “Can K-9 ride shotgun?”
* * *
The Hueys racketed through the night sky, low over the desert. The sound and fury of their blades startled coyotes and roadrunners and stealthy sidewinders; they kicked up a rolling front of dust that made the cacti quiver as they passed. In the troop cabin of the lead ship, Vance pored over the map in the dim red lights that were supposed to preserve night-vision. The other men in his squad pretended to nap, or chewed gum, or pointlessly checked their weapons for the hundredth time; all the things you did on an Op to distract your mind from thinking about what was going to happen when the chopper dipped low and the crew chief shouted “Go! Go! Go!” and your boots hit the dirt running.
Usually you wanted to be distracted because you were literally facing death at the end of the journey, on some nameless hot LZ in some nameless part of the Boonies; remorseless, hard little men squatting in the jungle with nothing but their battered old rifles and their little sacks of rice hanging from their belts, waiting for you; waiting to kill you. This was different; there was no physical danger here, if everything went to plan, and it always did; here, you wanted to be distracted from the reality of what you were doing, who you were doing it to, and why; because if you thought about it too hard, you might go mad; you might just decide to chow down on the business end of your sidearm and squeeze that trigger. It didn’t help that they had that…that thing sitting with them, reminding them constantly of what it was they did and what masters they served. That motionless, expressionless figure in the black suit, sitting opposite Vance; the red cabin lights reflecting from the black sunglasses that it wore made it seem as if its eyes were glowing demonically. Maybe they were.
“Sir,” the pilot announced over his headset, “approaching target area.”
“Roger that,” Vance responded through his throat-mike. “Go to whisper mode.”
“Roger. Whisper mode engaged.” The whirlybird shuddered strangely and suddenly the whirring, clattering noise of the rotors…just…stopped… The only sound was the whistle of the wind flowing past the open doors of the cabin and, if you listened hard, the chirp of crickets or the screech of an owl in the cold, sweet desert night air. The gadget that made this miracle possible had been salvaged by the Majestic Group from an extraterrestrial aerial vehicle that had crashed and been recovered in Puget Sound in 1951; they would have fitted them to every Army chopper in Southeast Asia, except for the fact that it guzzled fuel like an s.o.b., the fact that Majestic was jealous of its xenotech toys, and the fact that the small part in question was made from an exotic alien alloy which was manufactured only in the hearts of nuclear reactors and cost about ten million bucks per ounce.
“Okay boys,” Vance said over the intercom. “We’re hitting the LZ in ten; I want all of you locked, cocked and ready to rock; we’re going in strong. Anybody in our way goes down.”
* * *
The ranch house was a ramshackle black shape silhouetted against the slightly less black sky; a warm orange glow could be seen in the cracks between the mouldering wooden boards of its walls; twangy guitar music and murmured conversation could be heard drifting from within. Romana was glad that she had pulled her boots on before venturing across the corral; not only did they make the possibility of standing on a rattlesnake or scorpion slightly less risky, but they made a satisfyingly loud crash when she kicked the door wide open; it flew right back on its hinges and slammed into the wall.
She stood there for a moment, surveying the scene; the interior of the house was dimly-lit and mostly taken up by a single large living space-cum-kitchen, which had been almost stripped bare; young people lay around on cushions and blankets, in couples, in groups, in various states of undress; the air was hazy with smoke; she knew from the smell that she was right to engage her respiratory bypass again.
“Watta hell you doin’?” Bodhi slurred, putting aside his guitar and trying to sit up from where he was sprawled with two very well-made young ladies on a pile of pillows against the far wall; he, like them, was mostly naked.
“Mr Bodhisattva,” Romana replied in a low, sweet, very polite voice that was in complete contrast to the cold-hearted murder in her eyes. “I’d like a word, if that’s all right.”
“About what?” He managed to get to his feet and struggle into his jeans; Romana never took her frosty, disdainful gaze off him.
“You mean you didn’t hear the screaming?” she asked him. “You didn’t hear those young people begging for it to stop?” Bodhi just shrugged:
“Hey, look, lady, kids take pills, dig? And some of them can’t handle ‘em; it’s a learning experience, right?”
“Right?” Romana took a deep breath and let it out slowly, struggling to contain her anger. She reached into her pocket and took out the little blue capsule he had given her, brandishing it at him like a talisman: “What’s in this tablet?” she asked, tersely. “Where did you get it from? Do you have any idea of what this substance does to the people who take it?”
“Hey, calm down, lady,” Bodhi suggested, edging back towards the pile of cushions. She saw the way he did it; surreptitiously, trying to do it without her noticing. “You’ve got this whole situation backwards, okay?”
“I’ve just had to watch a young girl having her mind violated by…something,” she told him, in a quiet, ominous tone. “And you made that happen by giving her that pill; so the least you can do is give me some answers.” Bodhi suddenly made his move, diving for the cushions and coming back up with a black, stubby little gun clenched in his fist; in response, there came a chorus of gasps and exclamations and a scurrying of young hippies from all around the room; Romana just watched him pointing it at her, without moving except to shake her head slowly in exasperation.
“Okay,” he said, excitedly; there was something wild and glassy about his eyes, no doubt as a result of whatever narcotics he had been taking. “Okay, now, let’s be cool, okay? Let’s talk about this like sensible folks, okay?”
“Put that toy away,” Romana advised him, disgustedly; she was conscious of the way that every eye in the room was fixed upon the pair of them.
“I have a deal, okay?” he told her. “That’s who you are, right? You and the guy you came here with? Narcs, right? Undercover?”
“We’re not law enforcement agents, if that’s what you mean,” she replied.
“Yeah, sure you’re not,” he almost laughed; it came out as a scared little snort; his face and bare chest were shining with sweat. “Who else are you going to be, two squares coming snooping around asking questions, trying to talk like flower children? So, what are you? New Mexico narcs, or Feds? Either way don’t make no difference; I’ve got connections, dig?”
“What connections?” she asked with deceptive calm, taking two paces towards him without taking her eyes off the gun.
“Mr V up at Diablo Mesa,” he insisted. “He’s some kind of super-spooky G-man; top, top secret. He told me if I pushed those pills for him, no Feds or cops or anybody would mess with me; he’s got juice, okay? So call him, he’ll straighten it out.”
“Mr V?” she asked, slowly and carefully, advancing another two paces. “He gave you the pills?”
“Yeah, it’s some sort of government experiment; so, look, I’m serving my country, right? Isn’t that what you squares think us young folks should be doing?”
“Put that gun away,” she told him.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Maybe we should just walk down to the payphone and call Mr V, and he can decide where we take it from here.” She was only an arm’s length away from him by now, and forced herself to smile:
“You know, I don’t think that would be a very good idea, under the current circumstances; why don’t you just put the gun away, and maybe I’ll think about it.” He did not answer; the weapon was still pointing at her. Romana let out another exasperated breath. “Very well, then; you leave me no choice.” She put her hand in her trouser pocket; Bodhi responded immediately, gesturing alarmingly at her with the gun:
“Now, hold on, lady! Put your hands where I can see them!” Before he had even finished the sentence, the noise came; a buzzing that set the teeth on edge, felt rather than heard. Bodhi clutched at his ear as he aimed the gun at Romana’s chest and pulled the trigger, six times in rapid succession.
“Drop it,” Romana suggested, removing the slim, silver sonic screwdriver from her pocket and pointing it at him. “Before I make you lose control of your bowel movements.” She did something to the controls with her thumb and Bodhi moaned in anguish, putting his hand to his jaw as his teeth literally rattled in his head. The gun in his hand was vibrating so hard that it was blurred around the edges. With another moan, he dropped it and collapsed back onto the pile of cushions. “I’m sorry I had to do that,” Romana told him, sincerely, “but you were being extremely silly.” She stooped and picked up the gun, holding it loosely by the barrel in vague disgust. “Now, I do want you to contact this Mr V of yours; I think that the Doctor and I would like to discuss a few things with him.” Bodhi managed to sit up again, pointing at her and looking around at the other hippies in the room.
“Somebody get her,” he yelled. “She’s a goddamn narc; someone grab her or something!”
“Please don’t,” Romana said, very sweetly, also casting a glance around the room. She vaguely waved the sonic screwdriver around and they shrank from it as if it were some sort of death ray emitter. Maybe one or two of them had inched towards her at Bodhi’s urging, but now they all froze. “I can’t imagine why any of you would want to do anything this odious little man told you to do,” she said. “After all, you all just heard him admit that he has given you dangerous mind-destroying drugs at the behest of the United States government; hardly the actions of a countercultural guru.”
An undercurrent of hostile murmurings swept around the room; the murmurings were not directed at Romana. Bodhi looked around him, somewhat helplessly; even the two young women who had been curled up with him earlier were now shooting dirty looks in his direction. Romana fiddled with the gun for a moment before she worked out how to break open the cylinder; she dropped the six brass shells into her hand and pocketed them, then touched the sonic screwdriver to the end of the barrel and gave it a buzz; when she removed the screwdriver, the opening was still stone cold, but was now melted closed. She tossed the useless firearm at Bodhi’s feet.
“Now,” she said, flashing him another smile. “Let’s talk about Mr V.”
* * *
“Can’t you drive any faster?” the Doctor asked impatiently from the backseat of the police cruiser. Claude currently had a white-knuckled grip on the window pillar, and had turned an interesting shade of grey-green as Chavez put the vehicle through its paces.
“Don’t feel too good, man…” he groaned.
“Master, this vehicle is already travelling in excess of designed safe velocity parameters,” K-9 helpfully informed them all from where he had been strapped into the front seat. “Estimate probability of fatal failure mode at current speed to be —”
“Be quiet, K-9,” the Doctor irritably replied.
“That’s a hell of a machine you got there,” Chavez commented, swinging the car precariously around a bend in the road. “Did you steal it from somewhere?” The Doctor did not reply; he was staring anxiously out of the window, out across the desert; after a few moments, he called out to the others:
“Look at those; can you see them?”
“Affirmative, Master; unidentified aerial phenomena,” K-9 chirped.
“Yes, I can see that for myself, thank you very much,” the Doctor snapped; his temper was fraying with every passing minute that he was not back with Romana. “What are they?”
The car continued to speed along the highway; all of its occupants, even Chavez, were peering out of the windows, watching the unidentified flying objects that glided silently over the dark desert landscape; a pair of bright white lights in the sky.
* * *
The choppers swept in, low and silent, towards the ranch; they had switched on the searchlights five minutes out from the target; it was part of the cover, the mystique. Anybody who saw the eerily quiet lights drifting through the night sky was not going to think that they were helicopters, not with the stories that were going about the area. Vance listened to the pilot’s running commentary over the headset:
“LZ in three.”
“Roger that.” Vance spoke to his men once more: “Okay, this is it. Get ready.”
The troop cabin was filled with activity as the troops inserted their earplugs and pulled on the black knitted ski-masks that left only their eyes visible. Only the man in black remained stonily still. Vance switched back to the pilot’s channel:
“Prepare to activate screamers on my mark.”
“In three…two…one…” Vance hurriedly inserted his own earplugs; he was suddenly and completely deaf. “Mark!” The pilot’s confirmation was slightly redundant:
“Screamers are go.”
* * *
It was as instant as it was unexpected; a continuous, grating screech, too high-pitched to be properly heard; instead, it was a maddening, unbearable tingling in the nerves and in the bones. For a second, Romana thought that her sonic screwdriver had malfunctioned; her vision dimmed even as she checked it; it took all of her Academy training to resist the urge to black out and cling onto consciousness; she switched on the screwdriver and immediately the blackness receded from her brain.
“If I can just disrupt the wave harmonic,” she muttered to herself, adjusting the frequency. “Set up a counter-oscillation to cancel out the signal…” Suddenly, the crawling, tingling sensation was gone; she breathed easily again: “There, that’s better.” There was nobody to hear her; all around her, the hippies, Bodhi included, were lying on the floor, twitching spasmodically, almost epileptically; their eyes showed plain white where they had rolled back into their sockets; a couple of mouths were visibly frothing. “A very powerful neuro-resonance jamming signal,” she hypothesised aloud, before consciously stopping herself; she didn’t want to end up talking to herself like the Doctor. A very powerful signal indeed; the screwdriver on full power could just barely repel it in her own immediate vicinity; too bad for everybody else on the ranch.
A blinding white light drifted past the house; bright enough to shine between the boards, sending pale beams spearing across the dim and smoky interior. She ran outside just in time to see the first black rotary-wing aircraft descending on the far side of the corral; visible only by the glare of its own searchlight. As soon as it touched earth, dark figures leapt out of both sides of its cabin and fanned out in a thin, spaced-out line; they advanced in a crouching run, weapons raised in a firing stance, before flinging themselves to the dirt under the wooden corral fence, aiming their rifles through the gaps between the rails. They were clearly trained military men; they were forming a defensive perimeter to cover the figures even now disgorging from the second helicopter. The second group also fanned out and advanced, leapfrogging the first group before going to ground too, among the tents and vehicles in the corral itself. Romana had the uncomfortable feeling that they were all pointing their guns at her.
It was then that she noticed the two hulking figures standing among the others, starkly silhouetted against the searchlights. In stark contrast to the military men, they made no attempt at stealth or concealment. Even as the first group picked themselves up from their positions at the fence and trotted towards her between the tents, the two figures marched straight ahead with a jerky, stiff-legged gait. She had the distinct impression that, whatever they were, they were not human. One of them stopped abruptly and pointed straight at her; immediately, three of the crouching, gun-toting figures detached themselves from the group and homed in on her.
“Good evening,” she called out to them, giving a little wave with the hand that held the screwdriver. “I suppose you’re the people who are responsible for all of this; tell me, for how long have star-brothers been flying around in United States military helicopters?”
“Drop the weapon!” one of the figures yelled at her from behind its woollen mask; it had a very male, very American voice. “Drop the weapon and lie face down on the ground! Do it! Now!”
“This?” She looked at the screwdriver as if she had never seen it before. “Oh, this isn’t a weapon. Well, it isn’t most of the time.”
“Drop it! Drop it and lie down before we drop you!” She almost laughed at the raw edge of fear in the figure’s voice; they were the ones with the guns and the helicopters and the numbers. She had the impression that they had not expected to encounter anyone conscious after they had deployed their sonic weapon. “Do it now!”
“Do any of you happen to know a Mr V?” Romana asked. “I’d like to speak to him, if I may.”
“Drop the goddamn weapon!” She realised then that the figures could not hear her; no doubt they were wearing some sort of auditory protection against the effects of their own device. The other stiff-legged figure had in the meantime stopped next to one of the tents and pulled back the flap; Moonbeam’s tent. Romana started to run towards it, ignoring the figures shouting at her to stop.
“Leave that girl alone!” she yelled as two of the soldiers dragged Moonbeam’s limp form unceremoniously out of the tent; she was quivering under the influence of the sonic signal. “She’s been through quite enough already!” She wondered why she was shouting; they simply ignored her. One of the men had hold of the girl under the arms, and another had a grip on her ankles; they started to carry her towards the nearest helicopter like a sack of grain.
“Halt!” a voice called out behind her. “Stay where you are and lie face down on the ground!”
A hand grabbed her wrist and brought her up short, almost wrenching her arm from its socket. Its grip was like iron; its flesh was like ice. She found herself staring up at an impassive, expressionless face with dead white skin and impenetrable black sunglasses.
“Let go of me at once!” she ordered, outraged. “How dare you lay a hand on me!” Silently, the man — the creature? — raised its other hand and pressed it to the side of her neck; she felt cold metal against her skin, and then a stunning, blinding shock coursed through her entire body, like an explosion in her brain.
And then, everything went black.
“Get her on the chopper!” Vance yelled to his men, gesturing furiously to make up for the fact that they could not actually hear him. As two of them carried the blonde girl away, he stopped and looked at the thin silver cylinder she had dropped as she fell; it had the unmistakable air of xenotech about it; who the hell was this girl? Hurriedly, he scooped it up and pushed it into one of the many pockets on his black fatigues. Then he doubled back over to the Hueys with the rest of his squad; the men in black followed at their slower pace; the second squad continued to cover them as they withdrew.
* * *
Chavez shook his head furiously in an effort to clear it and rubbed at his forehead, where a dark bruise was starting to form. One instant, they had been hurtling along the highway; the next, the car was in the roadside ditch and the back doors were wide open; and nothing, apparently had happened in between. Chavez looked at the clock on the dashboard and frowned:
“Well, I’ll be goddamned…” The hands had seemingly jumped several minutes in the last few seconds. Chavez struggled out of his door and staggered out onto the road; they were at the bottom of the track leading up to the Circle J Ranch; as he watched, the two white lights came back into view, lifting up from behind the hilltop and shooting off far, far into the distance. After a few seconds, they disappeared from view, as if somebody had simply switched them off.
“Oh man, I’m gonna be sick!” Claude announced as he too staggered away from the car and collapsed on his knees on the far side of the road, where he began retching loudly into the roadside scrub. Chavez paid him no heed; he was too busy chasing the tall figure in the serape and the sombrero who was sprinting up the track in the direction of the ranch house.
“Stop!” Chavez yelled after the Doctor, drawing his revolver and taking two-handed aim. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
“No time for that, Sheriff!” the Doctor shouted back without turning around as he disappeared into the distance.
“I’m not kidding around here!” Chavez fired a warning shot into the air; the sound of it reverberated around and around like thunder. He sighed and took aim squarely at the Doctor’s retreating back. Before he could squeeze the trigger, the barrel of his gun glowed red and bent in the middle; then, it fell off completely.
“Threat neutralised!” K-9 piped, retracting his nose-laser as he trundled past Chavez and followed the Doctor up the track. Cursing, Chavez threw the useless six-shooter to the ground and ran back to the car to get his shotgun. Claude ran past him as he did so:
“Moonbeam!” he called out. “I’m comin’, baby!”
“Goddamn!” Chavez swore as he watched the young man disappear in the same direction as K-9 and the Doctor. He was still standing staring after them when another police car pulled in at the bottom of the track.
“Buzz,” Chavez called to the deputy driving it; “are other units on the way?”
“Sure, boss; we got another two cars inbound.”
“Good; you guard this here track; ain’t nobody gettin’ in or out of here, y’hear?”
“Sure thing, boss.”
“When the others get here, tell ‘em to follow me up there, and put out a call; tell all available units to get here as fast as they can. I’m gonna need backup; I’ve had information that there’s a major drug ring operating out of Old Joe’s place. And we’re going to break it up!”
The Doctor was still running when he reached the ranch house; he skidded to a halt in the middle of the cattle corral and looked around at the collection of tents and cars; young men and women were starting to emerge from them and from the house itself, mostly looking groggy and confused, although that was nothing unusual where these particular young men and women were concerned.
“Romana!” the Doctor called at the rather considerable top of his lungs. “Romana! Where are you, Romana?”
“Moonbeam’s gone!” a skinny red-haired youth cried, racing towards him from one of the tents. “She was there one second, gone the next! This is some freaky stuff!”
“Moonbeam?” Claude asked as he ran up to the Doctor, having overtaken K-9 on the path. “Moonbeam?” His voice was filled with mounting horror, panic and disbelief.
“Star-brothers, man,” the red-haired kid told him. “Didn’t you just see the lights in the sky?”
“Oh no, man,” Claude wailed, clutching at his head in despair. “This can’t be happening; this ain’t happening…Moonbeam!” There were tears visible on his cheeks as he wandered among the tents. “Moonbeam! I loved you, baby!”
“Where’s Romana?” the Doctor asked the youth, deadly serious for once. “The blonde woman who was here with me this afternoon?”
“She went up to the house to speak to Bodhi,” the young man replied. “She was helping Moonbeam get through a bad trip, but then she just upped and went stamping towards the house. She didn’t look happy.”
“Which one of you is Bodhi?” asked the Doctor as he stood ominously in the doorway; the handful of young people who were still in the house took one look at him and practically fell over themselves to point out the object of his inquiry. “Ah, Bodhi; just the man I was looking for,” he said with a terrifying grin as he swept the serape back over his shoulder with gunslinger nonchalance. “You wouldn’t happen to have seen my friend Romana around here, would you?”
“Stay away from me, narc!” Bodhi warned him from where he was still sprawled on the pile of pillows.
“Or what?” the Doctor half-whispered as he advanced upon him.
“Or I’ll get the star-brothers to disappear you like I did with your crazy partner,” Bodhi said. “Yeah, I told her I had connections, but she didn’t believe me!” The Doctor didn’t exactly drag Bodhi to his feet by his hair; he just grabbed a generous handful and left him with little choice but to stand up.
“Where is she?” he asked, still not raising his voice.
“I don’t know; Mars or Jupiter, for all I care,” Bodhi replied, defiantly.
“Tell me,” the Doctor growled.
“And what if I don’t?”
“If you don’t?” the Doctor yelled, frighteningly loud. Then, he seemed to recover himself. Taking a deep breath, he gently released his grip on Bodhi’s hair and told him, very quietly: “If you don’t, I shall be very angry. I don’t think you’d like me when I was very angry.”
“Freeze!” Chavez called from the doorway; slowly, the Doctor turned around and gave him an unimpressed look.
“You don’t need the shotgun, Sheriff,” he said. “Young Bodhi here was just about to start singing like a canary, as they say in the movies.”
“I might have known you’d be here,” Bodhi said. “Pigs always travel together, right?”
“What do you mean by that?” Chavez asked.
“Didn’t you know this guy and his girlfriend were undercover narcs? Figures; the Feds never tell local bacon like you anything, do they?”
“Is that right?” Chavez asked the Doctor.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that, Sheriff,” the Doctor replied, solemnly.
“Well, my apologies,” Chavez said, a little grudgingly. “Explains why you got that fancy machine; is that one of those computers I’ve heard about? Look, I know you guys have to maintain your cover, but you could have said something. C’mon, then, Bodhi; you’re going to jail.”
“The hell I am!” the would-be guru retorted. “I told you; I got pull; I know people, man, and they said I didn’t have to worry about the law as long as I was with them.”
“What people?” asked the Doctor.
“I told your friend; Mr V and the spooks up at Diablo Mesa. They’re protecting me, man!” Chavez swung the butt of the shotgun against the back of his knees, hard; Bodhi crashed to the ground and the lawman quickly handcuffed him before dragging him upright again; he was not as gentle as the Doctor had been.
“Well, we’ll just have to talk to Mr V, won’t we?” said the Doctor as they led Bodhi outside; more police cars were pulling into the corral, sirens wailing.
“Hey, you got a warrant?” Bodhi asked Chavez; Chavez grinned:
“You’re used to those fancy Californian cops, aren’t you, boy? Us poor country folks do things our own way; by the time you finish writing your confession, you’re gonna be saying you invited us up here.” He called out to the deputies emerging from the cars: “Okay! Round ‘em all up and bring ‘em in; I’m putting an end to this place as of now! Tear the house and the tents apart; search everything and everyone! If there’s anything illegal here, I want to know about it!” The hippies started yelling and complaining as the cops waded into them; the Doctor grimaced disapprovingly as K-9 joined him outside the ranch house:
“No need to be so heavy-handed, Sheriff; most of them are just young people enjoying themselves.”
“Back off, G-man,” came the curt reply. “This is my jurisdiction.” The Doctor sighed and looked down at K-9:
“K-9, is there any evidence of extraterrestrial intervention here?”
“Negative, Master; complex hydrocarbon compounds in atmospheric samples indicate the recent presence of turbine engines burning refined fossil fuel; this is consistent with the ground traces in the probable landing area; indications are of rotary-wing terrestrial aircraft.”
“Helicopters?” The Doctor stopped in mid-frown; he had noticed something in the soil at his feet. He bent and retrieved it; a glistening blue capsule. “K-9,” he said, breaking it in half and pressing it to the little robot’s front grille. “Analyse this chemical sample.”
“Unidentified organic substance, Master; appears to be of non-terrestrial origin. Defies further analysis; substance not found in chemical or biological databases.”
“Does your Mr V give you these?” the Doctor asked Bodhi, holding the crushed pill up to his face. “Did he tell you to give them to your followers?”
“Yeah, and he said he’d keep the likes of you off my back.”
“Oh, Bodhi; he’s never met the likes of me,” the Doctor told him, with a grim smile. He turned back to Chavez: “I’m going up to that base to see Mr V; I have a very strong suspicion that he knows who took my friend and those other young people; do you want to accompany me, Sheriff?”
“I guess I should,” Chavez replied, unenthusiastically, as two of his deputies manhandled Bodhi into one of the police cars. “Nobody kidnaps people on my turf; not even the government.”
“I’m coming too,” said Claude, approaching them from the direction of the tents. His face was red from crying, but he had a brittle, dangerous calm about him now. “I’m going to get Moonbeam back, or die trying.”
“Oh no, you’re not,” Chavez told him. “You’re going to the town jail with your little pals.”
“Sheriff,” the Doctor interjected, “Claude has been assisting Romana and I with our enquiries in these parts. If he wants to come, let him.”
“You mean he’s your informant?”
“Quite possibly,” the Doctor replied.
“What?” asked Claude, nonplussed.
“That’s the spirit!” The Doctor gave him a hearty slap on the back. “Sheriff; do you think if we just walk up to this base they’re going to let us in?”
“I don’t think that base even officially exists,” Chavez told him, grimly. “The security’s supposed to be almost impregnable.” The Doctor actually grinned, more than a little manically, at this:
“Well, then, there’s nothing for it; we’ll have to storm it!” He laid his hands on both Claude’s and Chavez’s shoulders: “Three against the Diablo Mesa!” Chavez stared at him, dumbstruck:
“Storm it? Are you mad?”
“Mad? I’m livid! They’re holding my friend against her will, and I’m going to get her back!”
Back to index
Chapter 5: Part Five: A Man of Wealth and Taste
Author's Notes: No drug-taking in this part, you'll be relieved to hear; more military types behaving badly, however, and an honest-to-goodness cliffhanger, just like on the telly!
“Slick One to base; requesting permission to land, over.”
“This is base; you are cleared, over.”
“Roger. Slick One out.”
The Hueys descended out of the black sky towards the pattern of lights on the ground below. By daylight, when the lights were switched off, the landing pad was perfectly camouflaged from both ground and air; it looked no different from any other patch of Diablo Mesa’s broad, arid expanse. The Soviet spy satellites that passed over the Mesa at least once a day saw nothing to indicate any human activity, which was, of course, the point of having a top secret base in the first place. As soon as the choppers had touched down and wound down their engines, the pad began to retract into the earth to the groan of monstrous hydraulics; the contractors had known better than to ask why the military wanted an elevator of the sort normally installed on aircraft carriers placed out here in the middle of nowhere.
The cavernous subterranean hangar space was a bustle of organised chaos; armed soldiers in green fatigues guarded the exits as Dr Dietz, Major Beck and the Project Blacklight team prepared to receive the Mesa’s new guests; Dietz stood slightly apart from the group of men wearing white lab coats over their US Air Force uniforms; in fact, it was they who had unconsciously edged away from him. Beck kept his distance in exactly the same way as the rest. Vance was first off the lead helicopter, followed by his men. All of them looked weary; it was not that the mission had been particularly physically taxing; it was a reaction to the stress and tension of what they had done; their part in this was over for now, but that did not mean that any of them felt particularly good about what came next. The medical teams more or less pushed past them to get to the choppers, pushing hospital gurneys fitted with restraining straps. The two men in black immediately marched over to where Dietz stood and assumed their positions at his shoulders, like well-trained dogs returning to their master.
“Mr Vance,” Dietz asked with his habitual death’s-head grin, “Have the subjects been secured?”
“Yes, Dr Dietz.” Vance shifted from one foot to the other, visibly uncomfortable; more uncomfortable than he usually was around Dietz. “The blonde one,” he said, hesitantly. “There’s something strange about her.”
“Oh yes,” Dietz smiled. “I do hope so.”
“She’s…” Vance sighed. “She had this.” He retrieved the thin silver cylinder from his pocket and held it up for the scientist to see.
“Well, it doesn’t look like it was made in America, does it?” Beck commented.
“Or on Earth,” Dietz agreed as he took the object from Vance and turned it over in his hands. “This is undoubtedly extraterrestrial technology. Excellent.”
“And there was something else,” Vance added. “She seemed to be immune to the effects of the screamers. One of your…special assistants had to restrain her, physically.”
“I trust she was not damaged?” Dietz’s eyebrows shot up in concern; his grey skin seemed to shrivel on his skull with the change of expression. Some of the men in white coats came past, pushing a gurney to which the still-comatose Romana was securely strapped. Their colleagues followed behind with the unconscious Moonbeam, similarly restrained.
“I think she’s okay,” Vance replied. Beck watched the trolleys pass and swallowed hard:
“Dr Dietz, is she…?”
“An extraterrestrial biological entity?” Dietz resumed his frightening grin. “I believe so; in fact, I’m counting on it.” He turned to the medical team: “Gentlemen, I want full physical exams on both subjects, as soon as possible; work up all of the usual samples; reports to me, within the hour. We have no time to waste; we will be resuming the test series without delay.” The men in white coats gave little nods and “yes sirs” of acknowledgment and wheeled the trolleys out of the hangar and into the labyrinthine bowels of the Mesa.
* * *
“Tell me about Diablo Mesa,” the Doctor requested after twenty minutes spent staring broodingly out of the window. Chavez snorted as he swung the police car off the main highway and onto another sandy dirt road; the red tabletop-shape of their destination loomed ominously ahead of them; every minute brought them closer to it. Along the eastern horizon, a widening band of gold and pink indicated that the new day was about to dawn.
“I told you,” said Chavez; “it’s a spooky place, full of spooky stories. There used to be good hunting up there before the war; deer and wild turkey. Cougar and black bear up there too. Since the war, though, it’s been out of bounds; not that folks used to go up there that often before but, well, it’s nice to have the option, isn’t it?”
“Hey, you guys…” Claude interrupted from the backseat, which he was currently sharing with K-9.
“What about the stories your grandfather used to tell you?” the Doctor asked, fixing Chavez with a piercing gaze.
“Guys…” said Claude.
“The usual spook-story stuff,” the lawman replied. “Blue lights up there at night; some of the old-timers used to say that you could hear chanting and drumming sometimes, and that people had gone up there and never come back. They used to say that you could hear voices when you were up there, and that you could feel something watching you, following you. You know; spook-story stuff.”
“Yes, I see…” the Doctor stared out of the window again; the only sign of his inner tension was the way he held the bag of jelly babies in one massive hand, compulsively kneading and crumpling it.
“Hey, fellas…” said Claude.
“And there was the thing about the Anasazi,” Chavez continued, offhandedly. The Doctor’s attention immediately snapped back towards him:
“Oh yes, I’ve heard of them somewhere before,” he said. “What about them, Sheriff?”
“Story goes they were the old people, the ones who lived here before the Apache and the Navajo and the other tribes came here,” Chavez explained. “One of their places was Diablo Mesa, or so the old-timers said. The legend is that the world we live in is just the latest one, okay? There were worlds before this one and there’ll be worlds after it.”
“Fellas…” said Claude, with an ever-escalating note of urgency in his voice.
“You don’t know the half of it,” the Doctor told him, giving the jelly babies a thoughtful squeeze. “Please, don’t let me interrupt you.”
“Right,” said Chavez. “So this is the Fourth World, okay? The one we’re living in now? And the Anasazi, they came from the Fifth World, the one that’s still to come. They came out of a hole in the world, and lived here among us.”
“This sounds like the sort of thing I encounter all the time,” the Doctor observed.
“It sounds like the kind of thing hippie freaks go on about,” Chavez answered with a wry smile, glancing over his shoulder at Claude: “You gettin’ all this, boy? Some real old-time Indian mumbo-jumbo; better than the stuff guys like your Bodhi make up about little green men and flying saucers.”
“Sounds far out, Sheriff,” Claude agreed. “Say, guys, did either of you…”
“So the Anasazi came from the future?” the Doctor asked, a thoughtful gleam in his eyes.
“They came from the Fifth World,” Chavez replied, adamantly. “Whatever that is; the way my granddaddy described it, the Fifth World sounds a lot like Hell; pain and suffering without end, people killing each other for fun. That kind of thing. And that’s kind of what the Anasazi are supposed to have been like; the story says that they performed evil rituals and dances up on the Mesa, involving stuff like torture and human sacrifice and eating people.”
“Not our sort of people, in other words,” the Doctor interjected. “Blackguards, in fact.”
“Oh yeah,” Chavez agreed. “Anyway, eventually they went back where they came from; they upped sticks and went back to the Fifth World through the same hole they came through. The hole’s still there, though, and the story goes that it’s gonna open again, one day, and when it does our world’s gonna end.”
“And don’t tell me,” said the Doctor. “The hole in the world is supposed to be on the Diablo Mesa?”
“Correct,” Chavez replied. “Like I said, just old-timers’ stories.”
“Well, once — just once — I’d like to hear an old-timer’s story that didn’t hold a grain of horrifying truth,” the Doctor responded. “I’m afraid that I don’t have luck like that, though.” He looked over the backseat at Claude and K-9: “It does all sound a little bit ominous, doesn’t it, Claude? And strangely intriguing.”
“It sounds like some heavy stuff, man,” Claude concurred. “Hey, guys, did either of you happen to see that sign we passed when we turned off the main road?”
“The one about using deadly force against unauthorised personnel beyond this point?” the Doctor asked. “Oh, don’t worry about that kind of thing, Claude; do you think I’d end up in half the places I end up in if I worried about signs?” Claude did not seem reassured by this:
“Yeah, but guys…deadly force, you know?”
“Calm down, son,” Chavez advised. “We’re just driving up to the base in an official police vehicle, for a word with the commanding officer. That’s why I didn’t bring a load of deputies with me; this is just going to be a nice, informal, low-key kind of thing. Nice and friendly.”
“See, Claude?” said the Doctor, and almost grinned, but not quite. “The Sheriff’s going to be nice and friendly. Make love not war, that sort of thing.”
“Right.” Chavez looked at Claude in the rear-view mirror. “Look, kid, I know you don’t trust the cops or the government, but believe me, the United States military is not going to fire on a marked police car just for driving towards one of their bases. Trust me.”
“Come on, Claude,” said the Doctor, encouragingly. “Buck up; we’re all in this together; Three Against the Diablo Mesa, remember!”
“Er…yeah…” Claude replied, without much enthusiasm.
* * *
“Romana?” Moonbeam craned her head across with some difficulty and managed to look at the trolley positioned next to hers. “Romana, are you awake?” Her voice was reduced to a terrified whisper.
“Yes.” Romana replied, from where she, too, lay strapped down and helpless. Moonbeam sobbed; it was a horrible sound, echoing strangely in the still air of the chamber; it was a sound of pure, distilled hopelessness and despair.
“Where are we, Romana?” she asked, imploringly. “I’m scared.” Romana struggled to move her right hand as far as she could against the restraints, and succeeded in brushing her fingers lightly against Moonbeam’s.
“Hush, now,” she told her, somewhat stiffly; she was not used to comforting people. “It’ll be all right.”
“Where are we?” Moonbeam asked again. “Have the star-brothers taken us? Is this their spaceship?” Romana frowned:
“No, I don’t think it was the star-brothers,” she replied. “It was men; just men. As for where we are…” she looked around at their surroundings, inasmuch as she could move her head about. The parts of the walls and ceiling that she could see were plain, spotless white; there was a fluorescent strip overhead that made her blink when her eyes came too close to it. Somewhere, air conditioning fans were whirring; the air was cool and dry; washed-out and tasteless. She had the impression that wherever they were was deep, deep underground. She also became aware that someone had taken her clothes; she was wearing a white, sleeveless hospital gown of some uncomfortable cotton material; it smelled of dust and long-term storage. From what little she could see of Moonbeam, the girl was now similarly attired.
“I…I wish Claude was here,” Moonbeam stammered. “There are things I need to tell him…Oh God, what if I never see him again? I need to tell him…Romana, have you ever loved someone? Really loved them?” Romana did not reply immediately; she lay there thinking for a few moments, before whispering:
“And do they know?” Moonbeam asked. “I mean, have you told them?”
“Not exactly,” Romana admitted, with a sigh. “It’s a sort of game we play; we both know it, but neither of us can say it; it’d spoil things, somehow.”
“It sounds like Claude and me,” Moonbeam told her. “You know, the free love thing? It’s…it’s not cool to say that you just want to be with one person, a couple; it’s…square, you know? I don’t care any more; I just want to be with Claude, and I need him to know that; I need to tell him, and if I never see him again…” She sobbed again, a heartbreaking sound. “Are we going to die?” she asked, her voice quivering. Romana gave the question some serious thought:
“Undoubtedly,” she answered after a few moments. “It’s inevitable.”
“Oh God…” Moonbeam wailed. “Oh God, please, no…”
“But not today,” Romana told her, determinedly, as she brushed her hand again. “Not today.”
“Why not?” Moonbeam asked. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to escape,” Romana replied, confidently. “I’m not sure how just yet, but we are; believe it or not, I’m not entirely inexperienced when it comes to being held captive. And if we can’t escape, the Doctor will be here very shortly to get us out; I’m sure of it.”
“Oh yes,” said Romana. “If there’s one thing in this universe that you can rely upon, it’s the Doctor’s ability to find unlikely solutions to impossible situations. He’s coming for us right now; you’ll see.”
“Oh God, I hope so…”
“You’ll see,” Romana repeated.
“You sound like you really trust him,” Moonbeam observed, through her tears. Romana managed to smile:
“I more than trust him,” she said. “I believe in him. One way or another, we’re going to get out of here alive. I promise. And I always keep my promises.”
Then, they both heard the sound of a door opening, somewhere near their feet; Romana tried to raise her head as far as she could off the trolley; she watched the man in the white coat and dark glasses as he closed the door behind him and walked over to where they lay; he had a buff-coloured folder in his hand, which he leafed through casually for a few seconds as he stood there in silence, letting their anticipation build.
“Good evening, ladies,” he said, eventually, with a predatory grin contorting his withered, sunken features. “Or rather good morning. Welcome to Diablo Mesa, where you are going to be given the opportunity to participate in an experiment that will change the world forever.”
“Who are you?” Romana demanded. “And why have you brought us here? Release us at once!”
“Who am I?” He laughed; a dry, rustling sound like autumn leaves blowing along the ground. “I am Dr Dietz. However, I might ask the same of you; who are you? Or rather, what are you?”
“What are you?” Moonbeam looked across at Romana with huge eyes. “What does he…?”
“Two hearts?” Dietz’s grin widened. “Some rather…interesting additions to the respiratory anatomy, and blood chemistry the likes of which none of our experts have ever seen before.” He consulted the file in his hand again: “Triple-helix DNA? Quite remarkable.” Moonbeam was still staring at her:
“Are you…” she shook her head slowly, her voice filled with awe: “Romana, are you one of the…star-brothers? Or sisters? I knew they were real…” Dietz laughed again:
“My masters know what you are,” he told Romana, in a low, leering voice. “They speak to me of these matters; they recognised you when we communicated via the telepathic link earlier, child of Gallifrey.”
“You serve those…things?” Romana regarded him with loathing and disgust.
“They are my masters,” he answered, simply and directly. “I do their bidding; in return, they will grant me eternal life and indescribable power.”
“Ah, I see,” Romana sighed. “You’re a common or garden madman; I’ve met your sort before. These masters of yours; what are they?”
“Oh, their nature is beyond the comprehension of incarnate beings such as ourselves,” he replied. “They are vast and merciless and so very, very hungry. You will know them at first hand, soon enough. And they will know you, intimately; in the end, you will welcome their embrace; you will glory in the ecstasy of pain and madness that is their bounty.”
“No thank you,” Romana replied, politely. “I’ve never really been all that taken with pain and madness. Release us at once, Dr Dietz; while you still can.”
“While I still can?” The noise he made in response was almost a chuckle.
“Yes,” Romana told him. “You can still save your own life, if you release us right now, but when the Doctor gets here…”
“You are in no position to be making threats,” Dietz pointed out.
“It’s not a threat, it’s a promise; and as I was just saying to Moonbeam, I always keep my promises. The Doctor never kills anyone, not on purpose, but his enemies…well, things don’t usually end well for them.” Romana looked at him sincerely: “Please, Dr Dietz; if you value your life, don’t make an enemy of him.”
“If your Doctor values his life,” Dietz retorted, “then he will stay far away from here.”
“Oh, I’m not sure that he does,” said Romana; she gave another sigh: “I tried, Dr Dietz; I tried to save you. Remember that, at the end.”
“You would not be so flippant if you had any conception of the fate that awaits you,” Dietz told her. “You would beg for my mercy.”
“And I’m sure you’d enjoy that,” she replied. “Personally speaking, I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction.”
“We shall see,” Dietz said, and turned back towards the door. “It won’t be long now,” he informed them as he left them alone together.
“Romana.” Moonbeam reached out with her fingers, and just managed to make contact. “He’ll be here soon, won’t he? The Doctor? He’ll get here in time, won’t he?” Romana managed another smile.
“Time is his business,” she said.
* * *
The sun had crept above the horizon, now; its first rays made the desert glow red and orange; the sky was a translucent pearl-grey.
“K-9,” said the Doctor, “can you detect any sizeable spacetime anomalies in the vicinity?”
“Specify parameters, Master,” the little metal dog requested.
“I was thinking, well, you know, holes in the world, that kind of thing.”
“Levels of artron and zygma radiation are substantially above normal background levels, Master,” K-9 reported. “Indications are of a major Vortex leak in the immediate area.”
“Can you specify a location?” the Doctor asked.
“This vehicle is currently moving in the direction of the probable leak,” K-9 replied. “At current course and speed, estimated time to arrival at radiation source is —”
“And what the hell does that mean?” Chavez asked the Doctor.
“It means,” the Doctor replied, glumly, “that your story about the hole in the world was, well, more than a story. It’s annoying, you know, the way things like this keep happening to me. Why can’t a story ever just be a story?”
“What about Moonbeam?” Claude asked. “And your friend Romana? Does this leak thing have something to do with why they were taken?”
“It might explain why all of this is happening in this particular location,” the Doctor told him. “Whatever these people are up to may be far more stupid and dangerous than even they realise; humans in 1968 are not in any way qualified to be interfering with Vortex energies.”
“Yeah, but what does it mean?” Chavez asked again. “And what the hell do you mean humans in 1968? What other kind of goddamn humans are there?”
“It means,” the Doctor repeated patiently, “that not only do we have to rescue Romana and Moonbeam, but we need to stop whatever it is they’re doing at this base.”
“And what if we can’t?” Claude asked.
“We have to,” the Doctor insisted. “If we can’t, the Fifth World may be arriving more quickly than anybody expected.”
* * *
Dietz stalked down another of the base’s endless, identical corridors, issuing orders to the small entourage of white-coated aides who followed him:
“We must move quickly; I want the test area ready for us to attempt the ritual again today. Use some of the remaining test subjects from the last series as sacrifices; the circle must be purified with human blood.”
“Yes, Dr Dietz.”
“Take the new test subjects down to Level Eight and ready them for today’s attempt.”
“Yes, Dr Dietz.”
“We will use the extraterrestrial to begin with; the human girl is merely our backup in case of failure; and a living offering for the great one, if we succeed.”
“Yes, Dr Dietz.” The entourage scuttled off to fulfil their instructions; Dietz continued for a short distance before Major Beck emerged from a side passage and fell deftly into step alongside him:
“Dr Dietz,” he said, “I’ve just come from Colonel Lydecker’s office.”
“And what does the Colonel have to say for himself now?” Dietz asked, dismissively.
“He knows about the E.B.E. — I think Vance may have told him.”
“And what of it, Major?”
“Well, he isn’t happy about it,” Beck admitted. “He wants to know why we have a live alien in captivity without informing him. The Majestic Group have always said that their main priority is to secure a living, breathing E.B.E., and here you are, we are, about to expend it as an experimental subject. He wants to send this…specimen to the S4 facility in Area 51, without delay.” Dietz laughed; the sound made Beck’s skin crawl:
“The Colonel is only loyal to Majestic and its protocols when it suits him,” the scientist observed. “He sees this as a means of hindering Blacklight, of course.”
“Of course,” Beck agreed.
“We will not be sending this subject to Area 51,” Dietz informed him, decisively. “She stays here. The precise reason why the previous Blacklight tests failed is that a human test subject is inadequate for the purpose; we need this alien.”
“Well, I agree,” said Beck. “But what about Colonel Lydecker?”
“Project Blacklight is bigger than the Colonel,” Dietz pronounced. “It is bigger even than the Majestic Group; don’t you agree, Major?” Beck looked at him for a long, uncomfortable second or two, before replying:
“I do, Dr Dietz.”
“Excellent.” Dietz grinned like the Grim Reaper himself. “Go to the operations centre; I want the entire base locked down; nobody gets in or out until the experiment is complete; afterwards, none of this will matter any more. I am trusting you, Major; make sure that nobody gets in or out.”
“And what about Colonel Lydecker?” Beck asked, uncertainly.
“What about him?”
“If he thinks you’re bypassing his command, he’s liable to do something about it.”
“Let him try,” Dietz laughed. “If he does, it will be too bad for him.”
* * *
“Erm…Doctor, Sheriff,” Claude called out. “Is that, er, like, a helicopter over there?”
They all peered out of the car windows at the black, blurred shape that hung in the early morning sunlight like an enormous bluebottle. As they watched, it appeared to grow larger the closer it came.
“You know, I think you may be right,” the Doctor said. “K-9, what do you think?”
“Terrestrial rotary-wing aircraft approaching at velocity of two hundred and four point seven eight five kilometres per hour, Master.”
“Well spotted, Claude.” The Doctor gave a little frown. “They do seem to be approaching us rather aggressively, Sheriff; I do hope you’re right about them not being willing to fire on a police car.”
“Hey, just relax, the pair of you,” Chavez admonished them. “This is America, okay? Not goddamn Vietnam; there’d be hell to pay if they did anything like that.”
* * *
The base operations centre was mainly concerned with security; there were two rows of desks in the dimly-lit medium-sized room; Air Force technicians hunched over radar and television screens, monitoring the approaches to the Mesa for intruders; others maintained communications with the ground and air patrols that stood vigil over the dry, dead desert.
“Hog One to base,” the voice crackled over the radio. “We have an unauthorised vehicle inbound on Route Tango; please advise, over.”
“Hog One, this is base,” the communications specialist replied. “Please obtain visual identification, over.” Major Beck walked in at that moment:
“Corporal, are there currently intruders in the security zone?” he asked.
“Yes sir; the chopper patrol just picked them up.”
“Patch me through to the pilot,” Beck ordered, picking up a spare headset.
“Hog One, this is Major Beck. Can you hear me?”
“Roger that, sir,” the pilot acknowledged. “Requesting rules of engagement for this contact, over.” Beck did not hesitate:
“Base to Hog One; use of deadly force is authorised; nobody must enter or leave the base until further notice. Weapons free. Repeat, weapons are free, over.”
“Roger that. We’re rolling in hot. Over and out.” In the cockpit of the patrolling gunship, the pilot turned to the co-pilot and grinned: “You heard the man; weapons hot. Just like being back in the ‘Nam, son.” The co-pilot flicked the row of switches above his head; indicator lights shone orange as the weapons systems were armed.
* * *
“They don’t seem to be stopping, do they?” The Doctor was starting to become a little concerned as the helicopter bored in on the car;
“Maybe we should turn back,” Claude suggested.
“And what about Romana and Moonbeam?” the Doctor asked, a little disgustedly. “They’re counting on us to rescue them, remember.” Claude was shamefaced:
“Yeah, sorry, man; lost my head for a second there.”
“Look, both of you stop panicking,” Chavez said, a little wildly. “There’s nothing for you to —”
The first salvo of rockets sent fountains of red dust towering on all sides of the car; the windscreen turned opaque as a web of cracks blossomed across it. Chavez fought with the wheel as the car fishtailed on burst tires across a road that was suddenly a field of smoking craters and nose-dived into a ditch. The Doctor was first out; kicking his warped door open and hurrying around to the driver’s side to free Chavez; the driver’s door was too crumpled to open. Claude fell out of the back door and rolled over and over in the dirt as the helicopter roared low overhead, trailing acrid smoke from its rocket pods.
“Claude!” the Doctor yelled; “Stop lying around over there and help me with the Sheriff!”
“I’m coming.” Claude picked himself up and tottered back to the car; he kept one eye on the gunship, which appeared to be circling around for another pass. K-9 emerged from the other side of the car and glided out into the middle of the road. “Hey, little robot dog, come back here!” Claude shouted.
“Reconfiguring to aggression mode!” K-9 chimed, extending his laser projector.
“Watch out, Sheriff!” the Doctor warned as he picked up a rock and heaved it at the driver’s window; the glass disintegrated into thousands of diamond-like fragments. The Doctor then began to drag Chavez bodily through the window. The beat of rotors was an ever-present reminder that they did not have long.
“Stop pulling me; I can manage!” Chavez protested.
“My apologies, Sheriff,” said the Doctor, through gritted teeth. “As you can see, however, we’re a little pressed for time; so stop fighting me!”
“Get your hands off me, you goddamn —”
“Oh, man…” Claude stopped in his tracks and helplessly looked up at the sky as the sound of blades became deafening. The helicopter vanished for a moment in the smoke from its own rockets; the police car exploded into blazing fragments and oily black smoke piled high into the sky.
Back to index
Chapter 6: Part Six: Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Author's Notes: Be warned, there's a bit of nasty violence in this part (mostly implied, but still), and a genuine old-school cliffhanger "resolution" just like on the telly. Also Colonel Lydecker uses an ethnic epithet regarding Germans, 'cause he's just that kind of guy, and there's a teeny bit of gratuitous Catholicism as well.
“My God!” whimpered Claude as the black underside of the gunship passed over him with a sound like thunder.
“My car!” screamed Chavez as a burning tyre hit the ground beside him and bounced away into infinity.
“My back!” exclaimed the Doctor as he tried to sit up in the patch of rocks where the blast of the explosion had deposited him.
“Am I dead?” Claude wondered as more pieces of police car cascaded to the ground around them. A shattered door landed a metre from his head; the twisted remains of the siren made a sad little grumbling sound as they crashed to earth. They had managed to get clear of the car in the very nick of time; even so, they had avoided being blown to pieces by mere feet and instants.
“Are you dead?” The Doctor was incredulous: “I’m sorry, Claude; I appreciate that your grip on reality is tenuous at the best of times, but honestly, what a stupid question!” He half-rose from the ground and collapsed again into the rocks. “If we were dead we wouldn’t be in this much pain!”
“How did we survive that?” Claude asked, managing to raise himself to his elbows and spitting out a mouthful of red soil. “I mean, even if we’re not dead, we probably should be.”
“Best not to think too hard about it,” the Doctor advised him. “Just pretend there’s some sort of rational explanation, before somebody or other notices your good luck and decides to even it out. It works for me; I always survive. Except when I don’t.”
A shotgun boomed somewhere behind them. They both managed somehow to clamber to their feet and turn around to see Chavez already standing defiant, working the pump action and taking aim at the circling helicopter for another shot:
“Shoot at me, willya?” Boom! “— yer goddamn —” Boom! “sons of —” Boom! Boom! “— show ya!” Smoking cartridge cases littered the ground around his feet as he kept firing and pumping and firing. The Doctor brushed the dust off his sombrero and set it back on top of his mop of curls. The chopper pirouetted in midair and started in on another attack run; the Doctor thought better of standing up and flattened himself against the ground once more.
“What the hell are you doing?” Claude asked, tensing; ready to run.
“Oh, you know, relaxing and enjoying New Mexico!” the Doctor told him. “What does it look like I’m doing, Claude? I’m hiding, you imbecile!” Claude was unconvinced:
“Let’s get out of here!” Chavez, meanwhile, was grabbing handfuls of fresh shells out of his jeans pockets and shoving them into the hot smoking shotgun.
“I don’t know about you, Claude,” replied the Doctor, “but I don’t fancy my chances of outrunning a helicopter gunship! Make yourself as small as you can!”
Boom! “— America, dammit! Yer can’t —” Boom!
“Sheriff!” yelled the Doctor. “That isn’t helping! Get down — now!”
“Small?” Claude blinked. “Look, dude; even I think that sounds crazy, so it must be pretty goddamned crazy!”
Boom! “— free country! I pay my damn taxes, and —” Boom! Boom!
“Sheriff!” The Doctor leapt to his feet in exasperation. Claude ran away; the gunship was almost close enough by now for them to see the pilots peering out of the cockpit at them. “Sheriff!” The Doctor put his hand on the barrel of the shotgun: “Ow! That’s hot!” Chavez spun around, wild-eyed; a split second from blowing the Doctor out of his socks.
“Never sneak up on a man with a loaded gun!” he helpfully pointed out; his tone, however, was less than friendly.
“Very good advice, that,” the Doctor agreed. “I’ll make a note of it. Now, will you please lie down? Believe me; you’re not going to bring down a heavily-armed and -protected military aircraft with that thing, no matter how many times you shoot at it.”
“I guess not,” Chavez conceded, taking a deep breath as some of the nervous tension visibly drained out of him.
“Sheriff,” said the Doctor, a little more calmly. “That’s a rather interesting turn of events, don’t you think?”
“Well, according to K-9, that helicopter was travelling at over two hundred kilometres per hour; last time I looked at it, it was about a hundred metres in that direction. And we’ve been standing around here arguing like idiots for quite some time now.” The Doctor cast a cautious glance in the direction of the gunship. “Which poses an intriguing question; why hasn’t it blown us to smithereens yet?” Chavez, nonplussed, turned around to look at the helicopter too; Claude was still sprinting away in the opposite direction.
The helicopter was spinning around and around in circles, apparently out of control and spewing clouds of thick black smoke from its engine compartment. Chavez stared down at the gun in his hands in disbelief:
“Lucky shot?” he wondered. Even as a self-satisfied grin started to spread across the lawman’s face, the truth of the matter revealed itself. A needle-thin red beam flickered over their heads; where it touched the helicopter, sparks flew and more smoke billowed. Slowly, almost gracefully, the gunship pivoted to stand on its tail, simultaneously sinking to the ground; the instant it touched the earth, it disintegrated amid a monstrous puffball of molten red and orange flames; the fireball swiftly faded as it rose, until a smudgy black mushroom of smoke drifted over the desert. The Doctor and Chavez stood looking at it for a second or two, too surprised to say anything.
“Far out, man…” Claude opined from where he had run to on the other side of the road.
“Hostile aerial vehicle neutralised, Master!” K-9 chirped, retracting his laser back into his nose.
“Bad dog!” the Doctor admonished him, horrified. “There were men on that aircraft!”
“Yeah, men who were trying to kill us!” Chavez replied. “Better them than us, I say.”
“Yes, well, that’s your solution to everything, you humans; better get him before he gets me!” the Doctor shook his head in disdain. “Bad dog,” he told K-9 again. “If I had a rolled-up newspaper handy…” Setting his hat at a determined angle and settling the serape around himself once more, he marched past the flaming wreck of the police car and back onto the road, where Claude was standing gawping at the crashed helicopter.
“Yeah, well, it’s heavy getting blown up by a robot dog, I guess,” the young man told him. “The pig’s right, though; those guys were trying to blow us the hell up, so…I dunno, I guess it was a case of their bad karma catching up with them or something?” Chavez was standing next to what was left of his car, resting the shotgun on his shoulder and frowning at the Doctor’s last remark to him.
“What happened to making love not war, Claude?” the Doctor asked asked. “I’ll bet you don’t condone your countrymen killing people in Southeast Asia.” Chavez shook his head slowly, oblivious to their exchange, and mouthed something to himself.
“Hell no,” Claude agreed. “But then again, no Vietcong ever tried to blow me up when I was just driving down the road minding my own business.”
“Humans,” the Doctor said to himself in disgust as he set off down the road in the direction of Diablo Mesa. “Well, come on, then; we’ve still got a daring rescue to carry off and an incipient apocalypse to prevent! Come on, K-9; I’m still very cross with you, you know.”
“Affirmative, Master; this unit is a bad dog.”
“Yes, you are.” Claude and Chavez fell into step behind the Doctor and the mechanical dog. As they did so, they exchanged puzzled glances:
“What does he mean “humans”?”
* * *
“What the hell is going on here?” Colonel Lydecker bellowed from the door of the operations room. “Major Beck; explain yourself at once!”
“It’s nothing, sir,” Beck assured him, nonchalantly. “There were some intruders in the security area; I ordered the air patrol to neutralise the threat.”
“You just ordered our patrol to open fire on a civilian vehicle? Without asking me to sign off on it first?” Lydecker’s face slowly turned an interesting shade of crimson.
“Sir, it is imperative that nobody enter or leave the base until Dr Dietz’s latest experiment is complete,” Beck insisted. “We’re under total lockdown.”
“Oh, really?” Lydecker nodded furiously, and actually smiled; his eyes were still smouldering. “Tell me,” he said, pleasantly enough; “when did you get those two promotions?”
“Excuse me, sir?” Beck asked, not quite following the Colonel’s drift.
“What, you mean you haven’t had any promotions, Major?” Lydecker’s voice was heavy with sarcasm as he laid particular emphasis on Beck’s rank. “So that means that I still outrank you? That’s what I thought!” He was suddenly bellowing again. “I am the commanding officer of this base, Major Beck; not that withered old Kraut mummy! I am the one who gives the order to lockdown this base! I am the one who orders the use of deadly force to defend it! Not him; and most certainly not you! Do I make myself clear, Major Beck?”
“With respect, sir…” Beck began.
“The only acceptable answer to that, Major, was “yes, Colonel Lydecker!”” Lydecker screamed, his face now inches from Beck’s.
“I did what I had to do to protect the integrity of Project Blacklight!” Beck protested. “Somebody had to take action, considering your own very obvious lack of support for the project and its goals.”
“You’re not doing yourself any favours here, Major,” Lydecker told him, his voice a low, dangerous growl. “And if you really want to know, I consider Project Blacklight and its goals to be nothing short of obscene.”
“Er, sir…Colonel…” It was the communications specialist, looking decidedly embarrassed by the spectacle of the two officers arguing with each other right beside him.
“Yes, Corporal?” asked Lydecker, pausing to catch his breath after the yelling fit.
“We’ve just lost contact with Hog One, sir,” the specialist confessed. “They were cut off very suddenly, and I can’t raise them.” Lydecker gave Beck a venomous look:
“Keep trying, Corporal,” he ordered. “I hope for your sake, Major, that nothing has happened to those men because of something you ordered them to do.”
“Somebody has to give the orders, if you’re not prepared to do your duty to this country,” Beck snapped. Lydecker gave him a look of pure contempt:
“You have no idea of the meaning of duty,” he rasped. “I was flying B-17s over Germany, dropping bombs on the likes of Dietz, when you were still peeing in your pants! Major Beck, you’re relieved.”
“Sir?” Beck’s face had also turned red by now. “I don’t think that you —”
“Place yourself under arrest, Major, and confine yourself to quarters until I’m ready to deal with you,” Lydecker ordered. “You’re finished in the Air Force; I’ll personally see to it. First, though, I’m going to deal with Dietz.” Lydecker reached for a phone on the nearest desk and spoke tersely into the mouthpiece: “Corporal of the guard? This is Colonel Lydecker. The lockdown is rescinded, effective immediately.”
“Sir, I must protest!” Beck strenuously interjected. Lydecker ignored him:
“There are currently unauthorised personnel trespassing in the security zone.” He turned to the communications technician: “Where did Hog One intercept them, Corporal?”
“Route Tango, sir.”
“The intruders are on Route Tango,” Lydecker continued into the phone. “I want men sent out to detain them and bring them in for interrogation; it also seems that one of our patrol choppers may be in some difficulty in the same sector; I want a full search mounted for it at once. In the meantime, Corporal, get a squad together and meet me down on Level Eight right away; and I want them fully armed. That is all, Corporal.” He put down the phone and turned back to Beck: “Why are you still here, Major? I told you to place yourself under arrest and confine yourself to quarters; get out of my sight.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Beck asked, horrified, dropping all pretence of subordination.
“I’m doing what I should have found the courage to do long before things got to where they are now,” Lydecker replied as he turned on his heel and marched decisively towards the door. “I’m shutting down Dietz and his little chamber of horrors; permanently.”
* * *
Still strapped to a gurney and now being wheeled down interminable corridors by men in white coats, the only positive Romana could draw from the situation, as she lay passively watching the lighting strips go by overhead, was that it beat running down interminable corridors, which was an all too common occurrence when one travelled with the Doctor.
“Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women…” It was Moonbeam, somewhere past her feet, also being wheeled along the passageway; her voice faded in and out, trembling with fear, as she prayed.
“Save your breath,” crooned a rasping, guttural voice just beyond Romana’s restricted field of vision. Dietz. “The Blessed Virgin can’t hear you, Fraulein, but my masters can, and they do not answer prayers.”
“…pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death…”
“I’ve met your sort before,” Romana said, wearily. “You’re just another little bully, aren’t you, Dr Dietz? Tell me, do your masters enjoy terrifying helpless young girls as well, or is it just you?”
“Her terror is the appetiser for their impending feast,” Dietz informed her. “The anguish and suffering of humans is as a sweet aperitif to them.”
“They do sound like charming entities,” Romana replied, with a touch of bitterness. “I can’t wait to meet them.”
“Soon, child of Gallifrey,” Dietz promised; she could hear his grin. “Soon enough; have patience, my dear.”
“I’m not your anything,” Romana told him. “Least of all your dear.” Dietz gave another of his dry, dusty laughs:
“I admire your defiance; I look forward to relieving you of it. To see you finally broken and without hope, grovelling before my masters, that will truly be…exquisite.” Romana sighed in something akin to exasperation:
“Did your mother not love you enough as a small child, Dr Dietz?” she asked him. “It’s just that you seem to have some rather unhealthy personality traits, and I understand that in the case of humans it is traditional to blame the parents for that kind of thing.”
The trolleys were pushed into what appeared to be a large freight elevator; the doors slid shut with a quiet finality.
“Welcome to my masters’ realm,” Dietz announced when the doors opened again and Romana and Moonbeam were wheeled out into another corridor. This one was more dimly lit than the others had been; there was a strange purplish quality to the light and a faint, unpleasant odour that defied description; had she been the superstitious type, Romana might have said that it was the smell of evil. The smell was nothing, however, compared to the voices. Heard in the mind rather than through the ears, they were nevertheless definitely there; very faint; the ghost of the ghost of a whisper, but undeniably real:
hunger hunger let us in hunger let us in that we might feed feed hunger hunger hunger
“Can you hear that?” Moonbeam wailed in panic. “Romana, can you hear them?”
“It’s all right,” Romana lied, in what she hoped was a reassuring tone of voice.
hunger hunger we once fed fed upon your universe hunger hunger and we will again hunger
“I can feel them in my head, Romana!” Moonbeam cried. “Oh my God, the eyes!”
“Your young friend still has residual traces of my masters’ manna in her bloodstream,” Dietz explained, delightedly. “She can still hear their call. What about you, child of Gallifrey? Do you hear their voices? Do you feel their hunger?”
“I feel hungry,” Romana said, “but I suspect that’s only because I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon.”
“Don’t you hear them?” Dietz asked, almost dreamily. “Don’t you hear them calling out to you? They want you, so very much; and very soon, they will take you.”
hunger hunger hunger we would feed feed hunger let us in hunger hunger hunger
“They can try,” Romana told him.
The trolleys stopped momentarily; two of the strangely inhuman men in black loomed over them; the white-coated orderlies who pushed the trolleys instinctively shied away from them. The unpleasant smell was stronger here; perhaps it emanated from these stony-faced, inscrutable not-quite-men. There was a buzzing sound as an electronic lock disengaged and the impression of a heavy door swinging aside with a swish of air; then, they were wheeled through into a wider, higher-ceilinged space, even more dimly lit than the corridor.
“I’m scared, Romana…” Moonbeam whimpered.
hunger hunger hunger let us in hunger hunger let us through hunger hunger hunger
“Shush, now; we’ll get out of this. I promise.” This only made Dietz laugh again. Suddenly, he tensed, cocking his head like a dog listening to an ultrasonic noise only he could hear.
“Yes, my masters,” he whispered, before turning to one of the men in white coats: “Prepare them for the ritual,” he ordered, indicating Romana and Moonbeam. “I want them ready as soon as possible. In the meantime, there is a matter to which I must urgently attend.” The swish of another door indicated that the scientist had left the room; the oppressive atmosphere actually seemed to recede slightly in his absence. Surgical spotlights were wheeled into place and switched on as one of Dietz’s white-coated assistants pushed another trolley over from the far wall of the chamber; craning her head, Romana could see stainless steel trays laden with glass bottles and syringes; some of the bottles contained colourless liquid; others contained a disconcertingly blue fluid, seemingly fluorescent in the half-light; it was the same colour as the little blue pills that Bodhi had pushed on his followers. One of the medics carefully filled a syringe from one of the colourless bottles and held it up to the light, shooting out a stream of tiny phosphorescent droplets to test the needle.
“How can you be a party to this?” Romana asked the man. “A medical man, assisting in something like this; it’s disgraceful.”
“I just do as I’m told and collect my paycheques, lady,” the medic replied. “And in return, Frankenstein here,” he indicated one of the men in black, “doesn’t rip my arms off.” Romana could not tell whether he meant this seriously or not.
“So, you’re only obeying orders?” Romana asked, contemptuously.
“Damn straight, lady.”
“Where have I heard that one before?” Romana’s tone was withering. The man bent over her and swabbed the crook of her elbow with alcohol. “What’s in that syringe?” she asked him, suddenly concerned.
“Just a little Thiopental, to make you mellow, make you play along with Herr Doktor Death’s little fun and games. Trust me, lady; I’m doing you a favour; the less you know about what he does to you, the better.”
“Thiopental?” Romana’s voice rose noticeably, betraying a definite note of fear. “Don’t; please don’t!”
“Hey, hey, calm down now,” the medic said, in a soft, soothing tone, as if talking to an animal or a small child. “This’ll all be over real soon…”
“No, you don’t understand!” Romana was fighting in vain against the restraints, desperately trying to free herself. Her obvious terror infected Moonbeam as well, who started loudly crying again. “My biochemistry is different from yours!” Romana practically screamed, thrashing about in panic. “That stuff will kill me!”
“Hold still, now,” the medic said, and carefully, remorselessly, slid the steel needle into one of her veins.
* * *
The lift doors whispered open and Colonel Lydecker stepped out onto Level Eight; he was accompanied by half a dozen soldiers in green fatigues, toting M-16 rifles, as he marched down the corridor; and by a still furiously arguing Major Beck:
“You can’t do this, Colonel,” Beck vehemently insisted. “You know that these experiments are of national importance, and —”
“Get out of my way, Major,” Lydecker growled. “I have no idea why you are still here; I specifically ordered you to confine yourself to quarters.”
“Even now, the Soviet Union —”
“Right now, I suspect that the Soviet Union is a lot less of a threat to this country than Dr Dietz,” Lydecker said. “Now, get out of my sight, Major, before I order the corporal here to handcuff you and throw you in a cell!”
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Colonel,” rasped a familiar voice from up ahead; all of the Air Force men looked up to see Dietz standing at the far end of the corridor, flanked by two hulking men in black.
“The game’s over, Dietz,” Lydecker barked. “I’m here to shut down Project Blacklight, immediately.”
“Really?” Dietz seemed amused. “And how, pray tell, are you going to do that?”
“With the authority vested in me by the United States Air Force,” Lydecker told him. “And by these men with guns standing behind me. Now stand aside, and let me and my men into your laboratory.”
“And what if I don’t stand aside, Colonel?” Dietz was almost taunting him. “What are you going to do; get your corporal to arrest me, too?”
“No; to be frank, Dr Dietz, whether you stand aside or not makes little difference to me, because I’m not only shutting down Blacklight.” Lydecker didn’t exactly smile; it was more of a grimace of satisfaction: “When I’ve finished destroying your work, I’m going to take you out into the middle of the desert, and then I’m going to make you dig your own grave, just like I’m sure you and your buddies used to make people do in the war, and then I’m personally going to blow your goddamn brains out.” Dietz laughed, softly and frighteningly, and he and the men in black started to walk steadily towards Lydecker and the others.
“If that’s the way you want to play it,” the Colonel said. “Men, prepare to open fire.” The soldiers levelled their rifles at the three figures. Beck suddenly stepped out in front of them, waving his arms frantically:
“Colonel, stop this madness!” he shouted. “I mean, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“You’re either with me or against me, Major,” Lydecker replied. “Get out of the way; don’t think I won’t order these men to shoot just because you’re standing there.”
“Colonel —” Dietz shoved Beck aside as he reached him, with more strength than his emaciated frame might have suggested; he stood face to face with Lydecker, grinning as usual. Beck stood to one side, watching their confrontation.
“Colonel Lydecker,” Dietz purred. “Did I ever tell you about my masters?”
“Get out of my way, or you die here and now,” Lydecker warned.
“They have given me such gifts, Colonel,” Dietz went on. “The power and greatness which I have always craved; in many ways, I am now more than human. And I am not ungrateful for these gifts; in return I give my masters what they crave; which is human blood, pain, fear.”
“What kind of nut are you?” Lydecker wondered, aghast. Dietz ignored the remark:
“Let me show you something, Colonel,” he grinned, putting one hand to his dark glasses. “Look into my eyes…” He removed the glasses; for a long, terrible, instant Lydecker could only stare; then he started screaming; it was a terrible sound, the sound of a man’s mind shattering. The only soldier who did not try, unsuccessfully, to flee emptied his rifle into the chest of the nearest man in black; the sound was deafening in the narrow confines of the corridor. The man in black staggered slightly under the impact of the bullets, then stepped forward and put its hand through the soldier’s face.
Beck leaned against the wall, watching the whole scene; as it went on and on and the screaming went on and on, he gradually slid down into a foetal position on the floor. And no matter how bad it got, he found that he couldn’t block out the noises, and that he couldn’t look away.
* * *
“Come on, hurry up!” the Doctor urged, looking over his shoulder at Chavez and Claude. “Even K-9 can go faster than you two, and he’s notorious for his lack of mobility at all of the wrong moments. We haven’t got any time to lose, you know.” Diablo Mesa looked enormous, by now; surely there could not be much further to go.
“Yeah, we know,” Claude assured him, wiping his brow as they continued to trek along the dirt road. “Man, it’s hot.” The sun beat down upon them mercilessly; there was nothing in the way of shade out here.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Chavez pointed out, quite irritably; “we’ve got no transport or water; we’ll be lucky to get out of this alive, let alone get into this base.”
“That’s not acceptable, Sheriff!” the Doctor announced, with something of his earlier franticness. “I intend to get my friend — and Claude’s friend — out of there alive; we need to pick up the pace!”
“Well, that’s all very well for you to say,” grumbled Chavez, “with your legs going right up to your armpits; I ain’t built for speed.”
“And as for you, Claude,” the Doctor went on, without slackening his blistering pace; “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful, a young man of your age being so unfit.”
“You sound like my dad,” Claude shot back.
“Think, Claude; Moonbeam is in mortal danger! We’re the only ones who can save her!” Claude came to a crashing halt and yelled:
“You think I don’t know that? You think I’m not trying, is that it? I’ve had enough of this, man; you gave me all of that crap about living by your own rules and not needing leaders, but all I see you do is order people around! And I’ve had enough!”
“Hey, fellas, fellas…” Chavez said, in an apparent effort to calm things down.
“Now, look here, Claude,” said the Doctor, angrily rounding on him, “we don’t have time for this, and…” he paused, and actually smiled for the first time in a long time. “And I’m sorry,” he admitted. “We can’t start fighting each other now. You’re right, though, and if you keep up that attitude, Claude, the universe is your aquatic mollusc of choice; don’t let anyone order you around, ever. Having said that, let’s get a move on.” He looked down at K-9: “K-9, how long is it going to take us to get to the Mesa?”
“At current speed, Master, allowing for humanoid fatigue levels and terrain conditions, approximately three hours, forty-eight minutes, eighteen point three five two seconds.” The Doctor sighed, heavily:
“We’re not going to make it,” he muttered, quietly. “Goodness knows what’s happening in that base right now…What we really need is some transport…” It was then that they heard the sound of helicopter blades again, and saw another black shape in the sky, coming from the direction of the Mesa.
“Terrestrial aerial vehicle approaching from north by northwest, Master,” K-9 announced. “Activate aggression mode?”
“You’re still a bad dog, K-9,” came the reply. “Keep that laser to yourself.”
“Another one?” Chavez racked his shotgun as he squinted into the sky, ready for action. “Goddamn!”
“Now, let’s not start shooting until we see what they want,” the Doctor suggested. “That’s only polite.”
“If the last lot is anything to go by, I’d say they probably want to kill us,” Claude replied.
“Well, call me an eternal optimist,” said the Doctor, “but I’d like to give them the chance to prove you wrong.”
As it got closer, the shape quickly resolved itself into the all-too familiar shape of a Huey; they all flung themselves to the ground in anticipation of another deluge of rockets; only K-9, for whom flinging himself to the ground was not an option, valiantly stood his ground. Instead of a shower of fire and steel, however, there came a voice, crackling and distorted, booming out of a loudspeaker:
“Attention intruders! You are trespassing upon United States Department of Defense property! Throw down your weapons and surrender immediately! Failure to surrender will be met with deadly force! I repeat —”
“See?” the Doctor grinned, toothily. “Sometimes you only have to ask, and you will receive; there’s our transport!”
* * *
The screaming had stopped, eventually; now, the corridor was a red hell of spilled blood and shattered bone and torn bodies. Beck was curled up against the wall, trembling like a leaf and helplessly clutching his knees; his eyes were huge and unblinking in his ashen face. A slowly-spreading crimson puddle crept along the tiled floor towards his feet; he scrabbled desperately away from it, as if it were acid. Dietz carefully replaced his dark glasses and walked slowly and casually towards Beck; he left bloody footprints on the tiles as he went. The men in black faithfully trailed along behind him; both of them were flecked with gore, encrusted with it from fingertips to elbows.
“Muh-m-my God…” Beck stammered, staring up at the scarecrow figure standing over him. Dietz grinned as he wiped Colonel Lydecker’s blood from his mouth, further staining the scarlet-spattered sleeve of his white lab coat:
“No, not your God, Major Beck,” he whispered. “My gods.”
“Pl-please,” Beck begged, tears in his eyes. “Please don’t kuh-k-kill me…n-not like that…”
“Don’t worry, Major,” Dietz assured him; he smoothed back his dishevelled hair with his hand, leaving a broad streak of red across his scalp. “In fact, you should be glad; you’re now the acting commander of this base. Enjoy it while it lasts; unfortunately, however, your world ends today.” He turned and stalked back down the corridor, leaving Beck where he was.
In the antechamber to the main lab, the technicians were in a state of panic; they had heard the commotion in the corridor; the gunshots, the screams of pain and terror. Dietz’s entrance, bloody from head to foot and grinning maniacally, did nothing to restore their calm and professionalism. Moonbeam, strapped to her trolley, took one look at him and started screaming unmercifully.
“Dr Dietz, what’s going on?” one of the men in white coats asked, face drenched in cold sweat. “What…?” Dietz seized his neck in one claw-like hand, lifted him off his feet and squeezed, eliciting a sickening cracking noise; he dropped the limp, twitching corpse at his feet and turned to the rest of the room:
“Oh God, oh no…Romana! Romana!” Moonbeam yelled.
“I might ask the same question,” he hissed, pointing at where Romana lay, unmoving, beside Moonbeam. Her restraining straps had been loosened and a small group of medics were standing around her, trying and failing to look innocent. “What happened while I was…dealing with Colonel Lydecker?”
“Oh please, no…”
“We sedated her, as per procedure,” one of the medics quavered. Dietz was suddenly right beside him, seizing him too by the neck; it took a physical effort for him to resist his bloodlust long enough to question the man.
“Shut up!” Dietz yelled at Moonbeam; he pointed again at Romana’s still form as he continued to hold onto the medic: “What have you done with my extraterrestrial?”
“We doped her, and…she…” The man swallowed hard. “She had some kind of fit, and…”
“And?” Dietz demanded, increasing the pressure on the man’s neck; bones audibly creaked. The medic whimpered and somehow managed to choke out an answer:
Back to index
Chapter 7: Part Seven: Instant Karma
Author's Notes: Apologies for the delay in updating; unfortunately, I don't do this for a living, and real life sometimes intervenes. More nasty violence this part; mainly implied, but maybe a bit icky in places; be warned.
The ponderous groaning of the hydraulics was deafening as the helicopter pad started to sink into the ground; Claude, Chavez and the Doctor sat on the bench seat in the troop compartment and watched the reinforced concrete walls of the elevator shaft slowly sliding upwards on either side of them; the natural daylight was replaced by a yellowish electrical glow.
“My tax dollars at work,” Chavez observed bitterly as the aircraft was lowered into the bustling subterranean hangar.
“It's certainly very impressive,” the Doctor conceded, craning his head out of the door to watch the sky disappearing above them.
“Keep all extremities within the vehicle at all times,” sternly advised the young-looking sergeant sitting opposite them between two armed privates. One of them had Chavez’s confiscated shotgun resting across his knees. The Doctor pulled his head back inside and gave the soldier a grin:
“You make a very good point,” he agreed. “Safety first.” He shot a glance at Chavez, and continued in a somewhat less cheerful tone: “Of course, Sheriff, the thought occurs to me that if they’re showing us all of this…”
“Then they probably don’t think we’re going to be leaving here to tell anybody about it,” Chavez finished. Claude, sat on the other side of Chavez, audibly gulped:
“Vehicle now ten metres below ground level, Master,” K-9 helpfully informed them from where he had been secured to the floor of the cabin with cargo straps. “Twenty metres…thirty metres.”
“How deep does this thing go?” Chavez wondered. Everybody ignored him.
“What the hell is that? A tin dog?” one of the soldiers mused aloud, nudging K-9 with his boot.
“Xenotech,” half-whispered the sergeant, with superstitious awe. “Like they have up at Dreamland; you know, Fifty-One.” The soldier kicked K-9 again, harder, and elicited a metallic ringing sound.
“Hostile action, Master!” K-9 piped. “This unit is under physical attack!”
“Down boy,” ordered the Doctor, leaning forward convivially across the space separating captors and prisoners. He put one hand into his trouser pocket, which instantly made the soldiers twitchy:
“Keep ‘em where I can see ‘em!” the sergeant barked. The Doctor merely pulled out his bag of jelly babies.
“Jelly baby, Sergeant?” he asked, brightly.
“No,” said the sergeant, stonily.
“Are you sure? Claude here was a doubter too, but he soon came around to the idea. Jelly baby, Claude?”
“Sure, man.” The Doctor went on to proffer the bag to Chavez:
“Jelly baby, Sheriff?”
“What are they? LSD or PCP or somethin’?” the lawman asked, suspiciously.
“Er, no…just jelly babies, Sheriff. Are you sure you won’t have one, Sergeant?”
“You know, Sergeant,” the Doctor went on, as he chewed on a yellow one, “you probably shouldn’t be mentioning things like Fifty-One in front of civilians like us. They’ll take your security clearance off you.”
“You’re the one with the robot dog, pal,” the sergeant reasonably pointed out.
“Mind you, it doesn’t matter what you tell us if we’re never leaving here,” the Doctor went on, pessimistically. “So, Sergeant, do you fancy yourself as an executioner, when the time comes? When we have, as they say, outlived our usefulness? Would you, to use the vernacular, pop a cap in our collective asses? Not that I can see what donkeys have to do with shooting people.”
“I just do as I’m told,” the sergeant replied. “And I was told to bring you in.”
“Thought not,” the Doctor beamed, turning to Chavez again: “It’s in the eyes, you see, Sheriff; this man joined up to see the world and learn a trade; not to kill anybody. Isn’t that right, Sergeant?”
“I was told to bring you in,” the sergeant repeated.
“Of course.” The Doctor leaned forward, and the soldiers’ hands instinctively moved nearer to their guns, as if they thought he had some cunning escape plan in mind. “Is that what you did to the two young women who were here earlier?” he asked. “Bring them in?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the corporal answered.
“Come on, Sergeant,” said the Doctor, with deceptive bonhomie. “Two young ladies; they dropped in earlier; not entirely of their own volition, it has to be said. Did you by any chance happen to see where they went?”
“Yeah, where’s my girl, you fascist stooge?” Claude asked, aggressively.
“Of course, he doesn’t mean “his” girl,” said the Doctor, “because they don’t own each other, but we would very much like to know where the pair of them are, how they’re getting on, you know the kind of thing?” The grin cracked for a moment, and the expression with which he regarded the young sergeant was nothing short of terrifying: “I’m getting a little bit anxious, you see, and when I get anxious…things happen to people. Not that I do anything to them; things…just…happen. Ask some of the people who’ve made me anxious.”
”Hey, ask your buddies in the other chopper,” Claude agreed, nastily. “If you can find what’s left of them.”
“Why, you…” the sergeant fumed, in an almost sitcom fury. Luckily, the elevator clanged to a halt, flush with the hangar floor, and he remembered himself: “Okay, out you go: move, move, move!”
* * *
The white-coated medic wept and gurgled as he died; his body went slack, but still stood on its feet, held upright by Dr Dietz’s iron embrace. Dietz raised his face from where it had been buried in the side of the medic’s neck, and let the body fall even as he swallowed the last mouthful of the man’s blood. The corpse pitched over and bounced off once corner of the trolley where Romana lay, cold and still, before landing on the floor with the other bodies. Only four of the men in white coats had survived Dietz’s fury; all of them were now being restrained by men in black; all of them were terrified almost to the point of breakdown after witnessing what Dietz had done to their colleagues.
“A small refreshment,” the scientist explained to the hysterical Moonbeam, gesturing at the drained and discarded body on the floor. Casually, he filled a syringe from one of the trays with Thiopental. “I will need all of my strength for the ritual.” He was still angry, almost trembling with rage, as he leant over her and pushed the needle clumsily into her unsterilised arm; the violent and drawn-out deaths of the technicians had, however, calmed him a little. Moonbeam struggled violently, and futilely, against the straps holding her down. The half-heard voices seemed to rush in from all sides, gibbering in greed and excitement:
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“Oh God, oh no, you’re a…you’re a…a goddamn vampire!” she shrieked.
“My masters have blessed me,” he told her. “They have made me greater than human.”
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“Oh no, please, no; I don’t wanna die!”
“Shhhh,” he breathed. “Soon you will be one with my masters; this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to you, child, in the entire course of your miserable, wasted life; embrace it.”
“I don’t wanna…please…don’t…wanna…” Moonbeam relaxed as the drug took effect, slumped back onto the trolley; she was still crying, but no longer had the energy to scream or panic. “Claude…” she whispered. “Romana…”
“We must finish preparing the circle,” Dietz told the men in black. “Take these…wretches into the laboratory; we will need all the sacrificial blood we can muster now that we are forced to use another human vessel.” The men in black started to drag the screaming and yelling technicians towards the door leading from the antechamber into the main lab; one of them fought a little two hard and the man in black holding him broke both of his arms, as easily as snapping twigs, and with a similar cracking sound. Dietz picked up a brightly shining scalpel from one of the trays of surgical instruments and followed along as his minions forced the men through the door into the blackness beyond. He was by now sporting something like his customary beatific grin.
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“You are part of history today, gentlemen,” he said in his low, crooning voice, testing the edge of the blade against his thumbnail. “You give your lives in the cause of greatness; you should feel privileged.”
“You goddamn Kraut psycho!” one of the men yelled. His attendant man in black shattered his jaw by way of a witty comeback.
“Don’t worry, gentlemen,” chuckled Dietz. “This is going to hurt you a lot more than it hurts me…”
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The door closed behind them, muffling all but the loudest screams. Moonbeam lay alone on her trolley for a long minute, sobbing softly to herself.
“Claude…” she whimpered. “Romana…Oh God…Romana…why’d you…have to…die…?”
“I promised you earlier that neither of us would die today,” said Romana. “And I also said that I always keep my promises. You didn’t think I was lying, did you?” She sat up, swung her legs off the trolley and sprang off it, standing over Moonbeam, who looked up at her in drugged incomprehension; surprise, joy and fear fought for control of her face.
“Romana?” she slurred, excitedly. “They said you were…” Romana gave her a reassuring smile:
“I’m fine, really; now we haven’t got long before they come back, so I’ll have to make it quick.” She looked at the dead bodies scattered around the chamber and the bloodstains on the floor and walls, and grimaced in disgust. “Yes, very quick indeed.” She set off around the room in her white hospital gown, inspecting cupboards and filing cabinets in a businesslike manner. “That’s an electronic lock on the door, and I don’t have my sonic screwdriver, so I’ll have to come up with a less elegant solution. Play it by ear, as they say.” She paused before the wire-reinforced window overlooking the main lab, staring through it for a moment too long before turning away with a shudder; the muffled sounds could still be heard through the door, even if they had become a bit fainter by now; warm red droplets spritzed across the glass. The voices in the corners of her hearing were almost ecstatic now:
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“How…” Moonbeam looked puzzled. “How…you…they said…you were dead.”
“Something I learned at the Academy,” Romana explained, selecting two wicked-looking surgical implements from one of the trays and stepping up to the door. “It’s useful to be able to make other people think you’ve passed on, sometimes.” Deftly, she prised open the panel on the door mechanism with one of the instruments and jammed the other into the mess of wires within, only jumping slightly as it made a loud snapping sound and belched smoke.
“Shocking,” she commented, cheerfully, considering her current circumstances, as her fingers danced over the keypad again and again with lightning speed. “I’ve used the playing dead thing before, of course,” she muttered as she keyed in combinations furiously, “but sometimes the old ones are the best ones. I was banking on them unstrapping me when they tried to resuscitate me, but I’m glad they decided to leave us unguarded like this; I’m not sure that my Venusian Aikido is up to tussling with Dietz and his creatures.” The door clicked and swung open; Romana came back to Moonbeam and started to wheel her out of the antechamber, still strapped to the trolley.
“Stupid of them…” Moonbeam murmured. “Leaving…us…”
“Extremely unwise,” agreed Romana as she pushed the gurney along the corridor they had arrived by, “but you’d be surprised how often people like this do things like that.”
They rounded a corner, and came upon a scene out of a scarlet nightmare, like the one in the antechamber but ten times worse; Romana gave an involuntary gasp, quickly placing a gentle hand over Moonbeam’s eyes:
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“You don’t want to see this,” she assured her as she wheeled the trolley through what remained of Colonel Lydecker and his men, carefully picking a relatively clean path through the gore. “I don’t want to see this either, for that matter, but…”
“Th-they, they wouldn’t stop…screaming,” stammered a man’s voice as they turned the next corner. “They…they w-wouldn’t stop, and I c-cuh-couldn’t look away…” It was a tall man in his thirties, wearing the uniform of a US Air Force major, curled up helplessly against one of the walls. “Oh Guh-God, I-I can still hear them…”
Romana stood beside the trolley looking down at the man for a moment, before crouching down beside him:
“Romana…” called Moonbeam, suddenly afraid to be left alone.
“Did you,” she hesitated, glancing over her shoulder. “Major, did you see that happen? To those men?”
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“I t-t-tried to stuh-stop him,” Major Beck whined. “I…tried…”
“You survived,” Romana told him. “That’s the main thing. Now, I need your help, so pull yourself together.”
“Scr-screaming…They wuh-wouldn’t stop…”
“Major, I need your help. Do you see the young woman on the trolley?”
“Do you see her?” Romana asked, insistently, taking hold of Beck by the shoulder and physically turning him towards Moonbeam.
“Yes,” he admitted.
“I need to stop Dr Dietz from doing whatever it is he’s doing; whatever it is, it seems dangerous and irresponsible in the extreme.”
“B-b-blacklight…” Beck whimpered.
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“That’s as may be,” said Romana, “but I also promised my friend here that I would ensure her safety, so I need you to get her out of here.”
“Sh-she’s a prisoner,” Beck said. “A-a-a lab rat…”
“She’s a human being, Major, and so are you; and that’s more than I can say for Dietz; you saw what he did to those men in the corridor; you could be next if you don’t get out of here quickly, and all I’m asking is that you take my friend with you. Can you do that?” Beck stared at her for a long few moments, his ashen face glistening in the ghastly purplish light. Romana gazed deep into his eyes, exerting all of her influence and powers of suggestion.
“I can do that,” he answered, very quietly.
“Good.” Romana stood up and helped the major to his feet, pushing the trolley towards him until he took the hint and got hold of it. “Now, remember,” she told him, “if you get any ideas about taking my friend back into custody or anything like that, you’ll answer to me; understood?” The look in her eyes suggested that he would be very ill-advised indeed to entertain any such ideas.
“Romana…” Moonbeam groaned. “Don’t…leave me…” Romana squeezed her hand:
“It’s all right,” Romana insisted. “Remember what I promised you before; I’m coming back, just as soon as I’ve sorted this thing out.”
“Romana…” Beck, slightly unsteady on his feet it had to be said, started to push the trolley off in the direction of the elevator; when they were out of sight, Roman turned back towards the laboratory. She took a second to compose herself, flicking her hair out of her eyes and steeling herself for the sight of the blood and the corpses, and then, hands balled into determined fists, she set off at a brisk march into the unknown.
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* * *
“Empty your pockets onto the table,” suggested an Air Force lieutenant with small, round spectacles. His icy expression indicated that it wasn’t really a suggestion.
“Are you sure you want me to do that?” the Doctor asked, innocently. “We could be here all day.” The sergeant had herded them into a small, sparsely-furnished office off the main hangar; two soldiers brought up the rear, carrying K-9 between them. Chavez gave an impatient sigh and pointed at the phone on the steel desk:
“Hey, soldier, do your military career a favour and call your commanding officer.”
“Where’s Moonbeam?” Claude asked, frustration and anxiety bubbling in his voice.
“I do the talking around here, Mister,” the lieutenant replied.
“And you do it so well,” the Doctor agreed. “However, the sheriff makes a good point; are you going to let us speak to someone in charge?”
“I’m in charge,” the soldier assured him. The Doctor glanced at Claude:
“I say, he’s rather fierce, isn’t he?” he commented. “I love the smell of testosterone in the morning. Tell me, Lieutenant, who writes your lines? Whoever it is, you’re probably not paying him enough.”
“Where the hell’s Moonbeam?” Claude asked.
“Look, I’m John Chavez,” said Chavez, “Jicarilla Reservation Police, and I’m here on an official investigation.”
“You mean you’re trespassing on Department of Defense property,” the officer pointed out. “Empty your pockets onto the table.”
“We’re talking missing people,” Chavez went on, undeterred. “Several over the past few months; most recently two young women, disappeared from a ranch south of here last night. We think it has something to do with whatever the hell’s going on at this base.”
“That doesn’t excuse your trespassing,” the lieutenant replied. “All you had to do was call up and ask for an appointment.” The Doctor leaned across the desk at him in a way that made him instinctively lean back:
“We did try to look you up in the Yellow Pages,” he said, “but strangely you weren’t listed; call me paranoid, but it’s almost as if somebody doesn’t want anybody to know this place exists.”
“This is Agent…Agent, er…” Chavez shot a glance at the Doctor and faltered for the moment. “This here is a Federal Agent; narcotics; he’s investigating the links between this base and illegal drug supply networks.”
“He doesn’t look like a Federal Agent,” the lieutenant answered, pointing at the Doctor’s sombrero and serape ensemble. All present, including the Doctor, considered this for a moment; you had to admit, he did have a point.
“He’s deep, deep undercover,” Chavez rallied, and looked a little pleased with himself for having done so.
“Deep, deep undercover,” the Doctor agreed. “Sometimes, even I forget who I am.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have any official identification?” the lieutenant asked. The Doctor looked mortified:
“What kind of rank amateur do you take me for?” he asked, voice rising in horror. “What if I happened to be waylaid by ruffians in the course of my investigations, and they went through my pockets, as ruffians are known to do; that’d be the end of me as a deep, deep undercover Federal Agent, wouldn’t it? And probably just the end of me.”
“Where’s Moonbeam?” Claude asked, evidently tiring of the word-games going on around him: “What the hell have you done with her?”
“Look here,” the soldier told the three of them; “we’re going to do this my way, or it’s the highway.” The Doctor frowned, as if trying to work out exactly what that meant. “Empty your pockets onto the table,” their captor repeated, stony-faced. He rested his hand on the pistol holstered at his waist, by way of unsubtle emphasis. The guards standing behind them tightened their grips on their rifles. The Doctor shrugged helplessly and started to do as he was told, placing a yo-yo trailing a tangled length of string on the desktop in front of him.
“So, you deny seeing the missing young ladies?” he asked as he slammed a bent teaspoon down next to the yo-yo. “You’d remember them if you had, I’m sure; first one’s shortish, dark; silly grin on her face.” He put a scuffed cricket-ball beside the teaspoon. “The other one’s taller, blonder, superior sort of manner. Some have said snooty, but I’d never call her that, personally.” He dumped two handfuls of assorted currency with the other items; no two of the sundry notes and coins were the same size, shape or colour. “She might hurt me.” He placed a broken slingshot on top of the little heap of money.
“Keep going, Mister,” the lieutenant ordered. The Doctor thrust his hand particularly deeply into his pocket and beamed as he pulled out:
“The recorder! I knew I had it around here somewhere.” Claude spoke up, louder than before:
“I don’t think any of you are listening to me! I want to see Moonbeam; now!” The next item out of the Doctor’s pocket was a familiar paper bag:
“Jelly baby?” he asked the lieutenant, with deceptive jollity.
“On the table,” came the reply. The Doctor sighed heavily as he obeyed:
“No, you don’t seem like the jelly baby type, really, Lieutenant,” he said. “And Claude’s right; this is all just what they call displacement activity; I want to see my friend every bit as much as he wants to see his, so either take us to them or pick up that phone and call somebody who can.” He was still smiling, but not with his eyes. “Sooner rather than later, Lieutenant,” he suggested as he produced the sonic screwdriver and placed it carefully with the jelly babies on the desktop. The lieutenant gave a tiny murmur of interest and half reached out for it.
“I wouldn’t,” the Doctor advised him, with sufficient quiet conviction that the soldier actually drew his hand back. “Now, about the young ladies…”
“What is that thing?” the lieutenant asked, not taking his eyes off the screwdriver.
“Would you believe me if I told you it was a screwdriver?” the Doctor asked.
“No,” the lieutenant replied. “I would not. As if that…thing…” he gestured towards where the two soldiers continued to hold K-9, “wasn’t enough evidence.”
“Evidence of what?” Chavez asked, puzzled.
“You’re aliens,” the lieutenant told them.
“What?” Chavez was incredulous. The Doctor just widened his grin:
“Of course we are; now phone somebody in authority so they can come and poke and prod us and subject us to outlandish experiments. Please, Lieutenant.” The man already had the phone in his hand and his finger on the button:
“Get me Colonel Lydecker,” he ordered, tersely. A few seconds ticked by. “Well, do you know when he will be available?” A further pause. “Well, okay, put me through to Major Beck…what do you mean he isn’t…” He glanced irritably up at the prisoners as he appeared to listen to something on the other end of the phone for a short while. “All right, Mr Vance, if he’s the only one available. Yes, Mr Vance, I’m the officer on duty. Yes, I’d like you to come down here; I think you’ll be interested. We have some honest-to-God E.B.E.s here, sir; yes, that’s right; E.B.E.s, disguised as humans.”
“Disguised as humans?” Chavez spluttered angrily. “Of all the damn fool…” Claude, however, was staring silently at the Doctor, in something like awe:
“Are you…?” He paused. “Like…? Far out, man.”
“No comment,” the Doctor replied. He turned to Chavez: “Sheriff, did you hear the lieutenant here speak to a Mr Vance just then?”
“Mr V!” Chavez grinned. “Bodhi’s drug connection!”
“Thanks for providing the expositional dialogue, Sheriff,” beamed the Doctor. “Saves me from having to do it. Lieutenant, did you know that you had a major drug supplier working here at the base? With a sideline in kidnapping, apparently?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, you green-blooded freak,” the lieutenant replied, “but when Mr Vance gets here, you’re going to be spending the rest of your short life getting dissected.”
“Green-blooded freak?” the Doctor exclaimed. “And to think that I complimented you on the quality of your scriptwriter. I shan’t make that mistake again.”
A few minutes later the office door opened and a fortyish thickset man with a dark suit and a greying crew-cut made his entrance. He looked pale and drawn, as if he had had a sleepless night.
“Sir, these are the E.B.E.s,” the lieutenant eagerly told him.
“Really?” Vance looked them over, sceptically. There were two other men behind him in the doorway; like him, they were hard, middle-aged and military to the fingertips despite their civilian suits; they gave the impression of razor-honed professionalism and bitter experience. “They’re a bit tall,” he commented, eventually, as he made his way over to the desk. “And the E.B.E.s I’ve seen all had bigger heads; big black eyes; you know the type?”
“Reticulans?” the Doctor grinned. “Moody little chaps; have an unhealthy fascination with probing things. Bad drivers too; crash their little saucers all over the shop.” The lieutenant had just enough sense to know when he was being made fun of and just enough self-respect to look peeved about it.
“I’ll take it from here, Lieutenant,” said Vance, picking up the sonic screwdriver and examining it. “Move,” he told the three captives, gesturing with the implement.
“Careful where you point that thing,” the Doctor told him. Vance’s two cohorts stood back a little as he led the three prisoners out of the office; they were obviously just waiting to spring into action if anybody tried any funny business.
“Can I bring my dog?” the Doctor asked, nodding in K-9’s direction.
“Of course; get the tin dog, Chet.” One of the hard fortyish men relieved the two soldiers of the little robot, wedging him comfortably under one arm as if he weighed nothing.
“You’re Mr V?” Claude asked Vance, with considerable hostility. “You’re the one who used to give Bodhi the Blue Meanies? Tell me what the hell you’ve done with Moonbeam, you sonofa —”
“Hey, worry about what the hell I’m going to do with you, kid,” Vance replied, not a little menacingly. “None of you have any idea of how much trouble you’re in here. Believe me.” They left the hangar and progressed down a concrete-lined passageway lined with fire-hose reels and no-smoking signs. Vance was in the lead and his two associates, one of them with K-9 in hand, were in the rear.
“I don’t think you realise how much trouble you’re in,” the Doctor replied. “In fact, you’ll be lucky if you’re still alive at the end of today, Mr Vance. If that’s your real name.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Vance admitted. “And was that a threat?”
“No, not a threat; a prediction,” said the Doctor, very quietly. “Based on my wide-ranging expertise and life experience. And you didn’t tell Claude what you’ve done with his friend, and mine. And don’t you dare say you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Vance replied, insolently. The Doctor came crashing to a halt in the middle of the corridor:
“That’s it!” he growled. “I’ve given you people every chance, but that…is…it!”
“Is what?” asked Vance, turning and squaring up to the Doctor.
“Take us to wherever it is you took the young women, or things will go hard for you,” the Doctor assured him.
“Like twenty-to-life on an accessory to kidnapping rap,” Chavez suggested.
“Harder than that,” said the Doctor. “What did you do with them?” Vance actually flinched rather than meet his eyes; for a moment, the tough-guy exterior cracked and a hint of uncertainty crossed his face.
“Not my department, pal,” he said, eventually, and some of the confidence had gone out of him; it was almost an apology. “And there’s nothing you can do for them now.”
“You’re not making it any easier on yourself,” the Doctor told him. “If any harm has come to either of them…”
“They’re dead,” said Vance. “If they’re lucky, anyway.” The Doctor had him by the shoulders faster than anybody could react, slamming him hard against the wall with an animal roar of pure rage; one of the goons had his .45 out of its shoulder holster an instant later, trained on the Doctor. The other, delayed by the need to drop K-9 first, never saw Chavez’s fist before it cracked against his jaw; the lawman relieved the stunned man of his pistol and aimed it casually at the other goon. In the scuffle, the Doctor had somehow managed to end up holding the sonic screwdriver; now, he wasn’t exactly threatening Vance with it, but it was resting gently against his neck.
“Kill him,” Vance said calmly to his colleague, without breaking eye contact with the Doctor.
“I wouldn’t,” said Chavez, unnecessarily cocking the semiautomatic with his thumb, just for the satisfying click.
“I can shoot him before you can shoot me,” the goon replied.
“Try,” Chavez whispered, pressing the gun to the man’s temple. “Please, try.”
“Hey, look, fellas, this isn’t the answer,” said Claude, nervously. “Let’s talk about this like sensible dudes, okay? Make love not war, dig? Well, maybe not make love…”
“Put it down,” Chavez told the man, “before I paint that wall with your brains.” Reluctantly, the man lowered the gun; as soon as he did so, Chavez smashed the gun-butt down onto his head, knocking him senseless.
“Not exactly subtle, Sheriff,” the Doctor commented.
“Neither is throwing guys against walls,” observed Chavez. The Doctor had the good grace to look sheepish about it:
“Apologies for losing my temper, Mr Vance, but my friend means a lot to me, and I want her back.” He thumbed a control on the screwdriver, and Vance nearly jumped out of his skin at the completely harmless buzzing noise that it made. “Take us to her; right now.”
Chavez picked up the second man’s fallen pistol and offered it to Claude:
“Hey no, man; I’m a lover not a fighter,” the young man protested. Chavez offered it to the Doctor.
“What he said,” the Doctor replied. “Now, lead on, Mr Vance.” They set off once more, the Doctor pushing Vance in front of him, Claude in the middle, and Chavez and K-9 behind, the last two armed to the teeth in their different ways. They had not gone far when a figure loomed out of a side passageway; all of them jumped; K-9 extended his laser; Chavez pointed two guns at it; the Doctor just kept a grip on Vance. It was a man wearing a blue uniform spattered with that looked to be other people’s blood, pushing a hospital trolley to which a young woman in a white gown appeared to be strapped.
“Moonbeam!” Claude shouted, overcome with joy. “I came to get you, baby!”
“Claude…” she moaned, semi-comatose, as he rushed over to her and started tearing at the restraints.
“Major Beck!” Vance exclaimed. “What happened to you?”
“They..they…he’s dead,” Beck snivelled as he collapsed to the floor. “C-cuh-Colonel Lydecker’s dead…D-d-Dietz…Dietz killed them. Thuh-they wouldn’t…stop…screaming…” Vance managed to pull away from the Doctor and crouched beside the major, any attempt at escape forgotten as he tried to get him upright again. The Doctor joined him in his efforts, cradling Beck’s head and wiping some of the sweat and blood from his face, before asking him, with an edge of desperation in his voice:
“Where’s Romana? Is she all right? Tell me, is she all right?”
* * *
Romana paused beside a metal door, holding her breath and listening hard for any sign of pursuit. Up ahead, the entrance to the lab loomed, black and foreboding. She could feel the hairs standing up on the back of her neck, and not just because of the heavy static feeling that made the air down here seem to buzz. The voices were not doing much for her confidence, either:
hunger hunger child of gallifrey hunger we will know you hunger hunger hunger
She started forward, but suddenly shrank back against the wall at the sound of footsteps somewhere in the gloom beyond the entrance; they were coming towards her, slow and slightly out of time, as if the person making them were limping, or walking with an unnatural, inhuman gait.
hunger hunger you will be our plaything hunger hunger sweet sweet life hunger
The metal door beside her proved to be unlocked; which should, she would reflect afterwards, have struck her as suspicious. At the time, however, as the footsteps got nearer and their owner threatened to come into view, it seemed like a convenient enough place of concealment. She quickly ducked inside the doorway and closed it behind her; the dim lights in the room beyond automatically hummed into life. Motion sensors, she supposed; a bit advanced for this time period.
hunger hunger hunger we will feed feed feed upon you hunger hunger hunger
She turned to see a narrow stretch of tiled floor, with what appeared to be long, low vats of fluid ranged along either side. Vats of dark red fluid; Romana’s stomach turned as she stepped closer to the nearest one and the smell hit her; not human blood; her Gallifreyan senses enabled her to tell the difference. As she got closer, something smooth and white moved in the depths of the red liquid; she should have kept her distance, but her horrified fascination propelled her forward. With impeccable timing, the thing in the vat waited until she was peering down at it before rearing up, terrifying her and drenching her in the red liquid; the taste of the few droplets that touched her mouth confirmed her first guess:
“Cow’s blood?” she wondered, even as she gazed in revulsion at the thing sitting up in the vat; human shaped, layered with muscle and skin, bluish veins marbling its wet, pallid skin. Nevertheless, it was not human; it was eyeless, hairless, half-formed despite its adult size. It disappeared back into the blood with a splash.
“Yes, cow’s blood,” crooned Dietz, from behind her. She whirled around; she had not heard his stealthy entrance. “Cow’s blood,” he repeated. “Cows’ organs and tissue; my homunculi are built from very basic materials, but they suffice; my masters can make them move and act in imitation of life. They are not, however, fit vessels for my masters to inhabit. Not like you.”
hunger hunger hunger give her to us hunger hunger we want her hunger hunger
“How did you find me?” she asked, backing away from him, trying to buy time with words.
“My masters told me; they can taste you, your fear. It nourishes them.” Slowly, he followed her; she had not seen any other exit, she realised with a sinking feeling. “I’m glad to see you looking so healthy. Dying and rising again; your young praying friend would think it a miracle.”
“Why mutilate cattle in the fields?” she asked, trying to keep her voice calm and steady. “Couldn’t the US military just buy material for your homunculi?”
“Special cattle,” he grinned. “From this special place; animals that have spent their lives here, feeding and drinking and breathing in my masters’ power; this whole region is saturated with it. This is one of the thin places of this universe, where my masters’ energy leaks through.”
hunger hunger hunger sweet fear sweet life sweet hunger hunger hunger
She continued to back away, and backed straight into the man in black — the homunculus — who had emerged from between two of the vats to stand behind her. Its hand closed around her neck, cold and clammy, like corpse-flesh; as strong as a vice. She craned her head back and found herself looking up into impassive black sunglasses.
“Are you ready, now?” Dietz asked her as he continued to advance upon her. “Ready to play your part in this great work?”
“If it’s all the same to you,” said Romana, “I’d rather not.” He laughed, and started to remove his dark glasses.
“I have something to show you, child of Gallifrey,” he rasped. “Look into my eyes…”
It was quite involuntary; she would have preferred not to, but she could not help herself; Romana screamed.
Back to index
Chapter 8: Part Eight: The Sunshine Of Your Love
Author's Notes: The Thrilling Conclusion!!! More nasty violence, kids, and gratuitous Doc-Romana mutual appreciation, so caveat emptor. Speaking of which, I don't actually know Latin; Dietz's ritual incantation is actually lifted from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, if you're interested.
The phone buzzed and one of the uniformed Blue Berets guarding the door picked it up.
“Yes sir,” he acknowledged in clipped, military tones. He put down the phone and looked up from the reception desk where he sat: “Mr Vance, they’re ready for you now.”
“Thanks,” said Vance, standing up from the leather sofa where the committee had kept him waiting while they considered his report. The vestibule, ten storeys beneath the stately structure of the Pentagon, was plushly furnished; wood panelling, deep wine-coloured carpet; as was the spacious conference room to which the guards now admitted him; he noticed the way they never took their hands off their pistol holsters as they watched him walk through the door.
“Mr Vance, take a seat,” the chairman of the committee told him, solicitously. Known only by his codename — “MJ-1” — in the proceedings and documents of the group, he was by day the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Several among the dozen men who sat around the enormous round table were similarly public, or semi-public figures; the Secretary of Defense, the President’s National Security Advisor, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; others were faceless men, every bit as powerful as the famous faces at the table, but careful to maintain their personal anonymity and secrecy at all costs. This group of middle-aged and elderly men, in their military uniforms — the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were all represented — or their expensive civilian suits, were, together, the Majestic Twelve, the secret masters of the United States and the front line in Earth’s ongoing struggle with the extraterrestrial menace. Or so they told the hired help like Vance.
Vance settled nervously in the chair indicated by the chairman; even though it in theory made him an equal participant at the egalitarian round table, in practice the seats were subtly arranged to give him the impression of being a supplicant before a tribunal. There were cardboard folders laid out at his place, emblazoned with official stamps and the dread legend “TOP SECRET/MAJIC”, which classified the most secret secrets of them all.
“We’ve reviewed your report,” MJ-1 informed him. “It makes for interesting and disturbing reading.” It took Vance a second or two to realise that they were waiting for him to say something at this point.
“Yes sir, it certainly does,” he hurriedly agreed.
“Yes.” MJ-1 nodded slowly to himself. “I think it is safe to say that Project Blacklight has proved to be an unmitigated disaster.” Vance almost laughed at the understatement, but chose to answer rather more diplomatically:
“I think that’s a fair assessment sir.”
* * *
“Once, long aeons ago, my masters walked this universe; it was their playground, their place of feasting; its tiny, feeble inhabitants were both their playthings and their sustenance.” Dietz was talking continuously, almost compulsively, as he lurched down the corridor towards the laboratory, at Romana rather than to her: “And then the Great War came; you would know all about that, child of Gallifrey; disciple of Rassilon the Deceiver.”
“How do you know of Rassilon?” Romana asked, shocked, as the homunculus half-dragged, half-carried her along in Dietz’s wake.
“Rassilon; Master of Lies; Lord of Traps; my masters speak to me of him; of their hatred for him. How fitting that one of his progeny should act as my masters’ vessel.” Dietz turned, gesturing passionately with the dark glasses he held in his hand. Romana flinched once again at the sight of the black, bleeding holes where his eyes should have been; tiny lights seemed to dance and swirl somewhere deep inside his empty sockets; bloody tears streamed freely down his lined, withered face.
hunger hunger hunger give her to us give her to us hunger hunger hunger hunger
“You speak of the lore of the Black Scrolls,” Romana told him. “I’m afraid an acolyte of my grade would never be allowed to consult them; I have no knowledge of this Great War of which you speak, but if your masters lost it, I’m rather glad that they did.”
“They were cast out, trapped in the Void, cold and hungry; so hungry.”
hunger hunger let us in let us in let us in hunger hunger we would feed feed hunger
“Oh stop it,” Romana said, with mock-sympathy, “you’ll make me feel sorry for them.” Dietz leaned close, grinning; his cold breath smelled like death and decay:
“They can still speak, however; to those who can hear, to those who wish to learn from them.”
“Those such as yourself?” Romana asked contemptuously as they returned to the lab antechamber; half a dozen homunculi stood there, awaiting instructions. “Those willing to sell their humanity for a little bit of power?”
“Hold her,” Dietz commanded the man in black restraining Romana as he busied himself with the medical equipment laid out on the trays. “There are thin places in this universe,” he said. “Places like Diablo Mesa, where my masters can more easily make themselves heard; another such place is the Externsteine in Germany; an ancient rock formation. There, the old Teutonic tribes offered bloody sacrifice to my masters, just as the Anasazi once did here.” He held up a syringe, filled to capacity with the blue, slightly fluorescent fluid Romana had seen earlier. “I first visited the Externsteine as a boy, and there they touched my mind with theirs; they spoke to me, and I listened.”
hunger hunger our good and faithful servant hunger give her to us hunger hunger
“And the rest was history,” Romana suggested, trying to keep her eye on the shining needle as it came towards her neck.
“Indeed; I have devoted my life to serving the Great Ones. When the Nazis came to power in my homeland, I saw them as the means to an end; they provided me with resources, encouragement, and a steady supply of victims in return for what they believed was a war-winning weapon; when the Nazis fell, the Majestic Group proved a similarly willing patron; all of my work for them has, however, been focused on one true goal; hastening the day when my masters will once more bloody this universe with their footprints.” He was more animated than Romana had seen him thus far; passionate, enthused with his own little speech: “That day is today.”
“What’s in that syringe?” Romana asked, a little anxiously, as it touched her; she tried to turn her head to look at it again, but the man in black forcibly turned her face the other way, exposing her neck to the needle. She gasped quietly as it punctured her flesh.
“A little part of my masters’ substance,” Dietz replied, depressing the plunger; whatever it was, it felt like fire as it flowed through her body; she trembled with pain. “Harvested from your less fortunate predecessors from the last test series. As it courses through your veins, it will open you up to the Great Ones, in both mind and body.” Already, the ever-present voices seemed louder, closer, more insistent:
hunger hunger hunger you are ours hunger hunger we will possess you hunger hunger
“Yesterday,” Dietz continued, “you managed to make contact with them without such aids; I expect that today’s ritual will proceed very smoothly indeed.”
“Oh, I do hope so,” Romana sarcastically replied through gritted teeth. “I need to be out of here by teatime.” Dietz gave his dry, creaking laugh:
“When you leave here, it will be as a vehicle for my masters; you will walk the Earth as a living god, radiant and terrible, and where you go there will be terror, and suffering, and blood; sweet red blood. It will be a beautiful sight.” His voice was almost wistful, dreamy; suddenly he snapped back into a more businesslike tone, addressing the assembled homunculi:
“Nobody must disturb the ritual; go through the base, level by level; kill everybody you find.” Without acknowledging the order, they nevertheless stiffly marched off to carry it out.
“You can’t!” Romana insisted.
“I can,” Dietz smiled. He turned to the homunculus holding Romana: “Take her into the laboratory; place her in the circle. I must prepare myself.” The man in black started to manhandle Romana towards the doorway leading into the laboratory; she braced herself as she was shoved through it, into the blackness.
hunger hunger hunger come to us hunger come to us plaything hunger hunger hunger
* * *
“What the hell did he see?” Claude asked, horrified, as he stared down at Major Beck, now lying on the trolley Moonbeam had vacated, shivering and muttering distractedly to himself; Moonbeam was clinging to Claude, who was holding on to her for dear life; she was still a little wobbly and confused, but recovering quickly as the drug wore off.
“Whatever it was,” the Doctor answered, “you might say that it blew his mind.”
“I saw guys like that on Okinawa, during the war,” Chavez commented. “Battle fatigue, shellshock; call it what you like, but this guy’s been through something you can’t even imagine.”
“Oh, I can,” said the Doctor. “Only too well, and whatever it was, Romana is still down there; we haven’t got a moment to lose.” He turned to Vance: “Where did you say these experiments were taking place?”
“Level Eight,” Vance replied; he looked a little shellshocked himself, running his hand through his hair as he leant against one wall of the corridor.
“We need to get down there,” the Doctor told him.
“He came to me for help,” Vance said, to nobody in particular. “Lydecker; he asked me to help him shut down Blacklight, and I refused, because I was scared; and now he’s dead.”
“Well, this is your opportunity,” said the Doctor. “Redeem yourself a little bit; take me down to Level Eight and we’ll put a stop to all of this.” Vance gave no indication of having heard him:
“Goddamn Dietz; I’ll kill him with my bare hands!”
“We’re not killing anybody,” the Doctor told him, sternly. “We’re rescuing my friend and ending these experiments, and that is all.” He took hold of Vance by his shoulder to get his attention: “Come on, then, Mr Vance!”
“Okay, right, right.” Vance drew his gun and checked it. “Elevators are this way.” A thought appeared to occur to him: “You know, if Majestic find out I helped you, I’m a dead man.”
“And if you don’t help me, Majestic will be the least of your worries,” the Doctor pointed out, again not quite as a threat. “On the other hand, if you do help me, you just might be able to sleep at night, eventually; I can tell you don’t support these things you participate in, Mr Vance, but that isn’t an excuse. It’s time you stood up and let yourself be counted; standing by and doing nothing is not an option. Do you understand me?” Vance blinked, and looked at the Doctor very directly and very seriously:
“I understand you.” The Doctor forced a smile:
“Good. Claude, get Moonbeam and Major Beck to the surface; I can’t ask you to share this particular danger with me.”
“Hey, man, I’m not running out on you now,” Claude replied. The Doctor reached out and ruffled his hair, almost paternally:
“Good for you, Claude,” he grinned, “but I mean it; we can’t leave Moonbeam and the major here alone, and we can’t take them with us; they need you right now.”
“He’s right, kid,” said Chavez; “this Level Eight don’t sound like no place for civilians.”
“You too, Sheriff,” said the Doctor. “Claude needs you to escort him to the outside; I can handle this from here.”
“Hey, Doctor, whoever you are,” Chavez shot back, “you can never have enough armed backup in a situation like this; I know what I’m talking about here. And, frankly, I don’t trust this guy,” he pointed his thumb at Vance, “further than I could kick him. No offence, pal.”
“None taken,” said Vance.
“Very well, Sheriff,” the Doctor conceded, “but please try not to shoot anybody. Now, Mr Vance, how is Claude going to get to the surface without being stopped?” Vance was about to answer when they heard the first gunshots, somewhere in the distance; automatic rifle fire that seemed to go on and on and on, mingled with the sounds of hundreds of men running and crying out in panic.
“What the hell?” Vance picked up a phone mounted on the wall, pressed a button: “Duty officer, what’s that disturbance?” He listened for a few seconds and then slammed the phone back into its cradle: “It’s Dietz; he’s turned those freaks of his loose!” Up ahead, a group of armed soldiers ran across a junction with another corridor, disappearing from view. More shots sounded, much nearer than before; this time, there were screams as well.
“Claude; get out of here!” the Doctor ordered.
“What if someone stops me?” Claude asked.
“Quite honestly, Claude, it sounds as if they have bigger fish to fry at the moment!” He turned to Vance and Chavez: “With me, gentlemen; march to the sound of the guns, as Field Marshal Blucher once said to me! You too, K-9; I think you may have to be a bad dog again before this is over.”
“Affirmative, Master; aggression mode online.”
As Claude set off in the opposite direction, pushing Beck and supporting Moonbeam, the rest of the party advanced towards the elevators; the group of soldiers ran back across the passageway in the direction they had come from, rather fewer in number; it did not look like an orderly retreat; a heavy machine-gun opened fire somewhere nearby, a continuous hammering noise like a pneumatic drill. The whole corridor shook and the lights momentarily dimmed at the sound of an explosion that seemed to come from beneath their feet. As they rounded the corner, they saw that not all of the soldiers had fled; some of them were still firing in vain at a pair of tall, sturdy figures that were remorselessly advancing down the corridor through a haze of gun-smoke, over a carpet of dismembered corpses. The figures staggered under the force of the bullets, and their black suits were by now torn to shreds, but they did not go down.
“What the hell are they?” Chavez asked, taking aim.
“Well, they’re clearly not human,” the Doctor observed. “K-9?”
“Scans indicate artificial organic simulacra, Master, animated by Artron energy.”
“Homunculi,” the Doctor spat. “This is worse than I thought.”
“Freaks,” said Vance, opening fire on the nearest man in black; Chavez joined in, with both guns at once. The man in black did not even react; it was too busy throttling the life out of a soldier who it had picked up with one hand. Another soldier repeatedly shot its companion to no avail; the second man in black raised its hand and a red light flickered between its fingers. The soldier’s head fell off, neatly severed.
“Laser scalpel!” Vance cried, grabbing Chavez and the Doctor and dragging them back around the corner. “It’s what they use on the cows; get back!” The red beam flickered again, and a man screamed in response.
“Is there an alternative route to Level Eight?” the Doctor asked. “Mr Vance; answer me; time is of the essence!”
“There’s a fire door back there,” Vance replied, “leads onto a flight of stairs that go down as far as Level Seven, then we can go through Dietz’s office; there’s a back way into the lab complex there.”
“Well, lead on, Mr Vance!” The Doctor turned to K-9: “Those soldiers look like they need some help; be as bad as you like, but stop those homunculi. We’ll meet you on Level Eight.”
“Affirmative, Master!” K-9 trundled back around the corner and immediately opened fire with his laser; the Doctor, Vance and Chavez were already heading for the fire door.
“I don’t like it,” Vance breathed when they emerged onto Level Seven. The homunculi had evidently already swept through this level; there were bloody handprints smeared across the wall opposite, and a couple of limp bodies lying further down the corridor; the Doctor flared his nostrils in anger and disgust. The only gunshots they could hear were distant and muffled.
“It’s quiet,” he said.
“Too quiet,” said Chavez. The Doctor grinned, in spite of himself:
“I knew you were going to say that, Sheriff.”
“There’s normally one of those freaks guarding the office,” Vance explained. “Where the hell is it?”
“Otherwise occupied,” the Doctor said, grimly. He walked up to the office door and buzzed the electronic lock with the sonic screwdriver; it swung open easily. “Now, this is rather an interesting little sanctum,” he commented as he switched on the light.
“Oh my God,” Vance commented. “That’s why he doesn’t let anyone in here.”
“Sweet Jesus,” Chavez whispered, looking at the rust-coloured diagrams and runic inscriptions scrawled across the walls, floor and ceiling.
“Your Dr Dietz seems like quite the intriguing fellow,” the Doctor told Vance as he ran his hand along the bookshelf and examined the row of curios ranged along the top of it. He lingered for a moment over a row of jars containing unpleasant somethings preserved in fluid. “I wouldn’t mind discussing a few things with him, once Romana’s safe.”
“My God…” Vance repeated, peering at what appeared to be a dried human hand, clutching a black candle.
“The Necronomicon, the Dee translation too,” the Doctor said, looking closely at the spine of one of the books. “He obviously doesn’t go in for light reading…”
“So all of this,” asked Chavez, “is it all like devil worship stuff? Black magic?”
“Don’t be absurd, Sheriff,” the Doctor replied. “There’s no such thing as magic. Although, as I always say, any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.”
“Good line,” Vance commented.
“Yes, it is, isn’t it? Young Clarke rather enjoyed it, too; I let him have it, in the end. And that,” he pointed at a particularly complicated pentagram inscribed upon the far wall, “is some pretty frighteningly advanced science. Five-dimensional boundary harmonics? You shouldn’t discover those for at least another five millennia.” He walked around the desk to examine a pair of ornate dark wooden doors covering something hanging on the wall. “I’ll bet this isn’t a dartboard,” he said as he opened them. Vance and Chavez caught a nightmarish glimpse of eyes, teeth and tentacles before the Doctor slammed the icon’s doors shut again and reeled back against the edge of the desk.
hunger hunger hunger let us in hunger hunger let us feed feed hunger hunger hunger
“Did you hear that?” the Doctor asked as a single red tear rolled down his cheek. “It’s as I suspected; I had hoped I was wrong. It’s a curse, you know, being right about everything.”
“What did you suspect?” asked Vance.
“The Order of the Lamb Enthroned,” said the Doctor.
“The order of the what?”
“A cult. A particularly nasty, foolish and irresponsible cult, even by human standards. They worship unimaginably powerful beings from another universe who once invaded ours, before being driven back; these idiots want to bring them back in, and if that story about the hole in the world has even a grain of truth in it, Diablo Mesa would seem to be just the place for it.”
“Beings from another universe?” Chavez scratched his head. “You know, I’ve heard some mighty crazy stuff these past two days, but that takes the cake.”
“Some humans know them as the Watchers, the Grigori, or the Great Old Ones,” the Doctor continued. “My people call them the Yssgaroth. Others refer to them as the Great Vampires, for their consumption of blood. It isn’t the blood that sustains them, though; it’s the energy it contains; the psychic energy generated by all living beings, all of the time, but especially when they’re afraid, or in pain or on the point of death. The Yssgaroth, of course, try their best to ensure that they’re all three at once.”
“Dietz said he was trying to communicate with them,” said Vance, shamefaced. “He said he was trying to strike a bargain with them on behalf of the United States, but you’re saying that really he’s trying to bring them into our universe to feed on it?”
“Yes; he’s quite mad, of course; they’ll consume him along with everyone else, no matter what they might have promised him. They can’t help it; they’re not evil, exactly, any more than any other predator is evil, but they’re inherently destructive; anti-life. The problem is that I don’t think he can bring them through physically; to give them the strength to push through into our universe, he’d have to sacrifice millions, start a world war, or something of that magnitude. This is all very small-scale, really.”
“He was trying to get them to possess the test subjects,” said Vance, voice quavering as he thought about what he had been a part of. “He was trying to summon the creatures into human bodies.”
“Makes sense,” the Doctor commented. “It’d take a lot less energy, and once one Yssgaroth was incarnated in this reality, it could go about causing the death and destruction necessary for the rest to force their way in. Imagine one of those homunculi, but a million times more powerful, and with tentacles.”
“He hasn’t succeeded yet,” Vance replied. “Human bodies can’t take the strain, he said.”
“Romana,” said the Doctor, his voice catching in his throat. “Come on, we’ve got to get to her; just as soon as I’ve taken care of this.”
The Doctor stood up and ripped the icon from the wall, slinging it on the desk; as he did so, he noticed a slim silver cylinder, which he picked up; Romana’s sonic screwdriver. He pocketed it and crossed to the bookshelf, picking up two of the fluid-filled jars; then, he pulled the bookshelf over, scattering its contents on the floor. He opened one of the jars and sprinkled its contents over the desk, the icon and the books; the sharp stench of surgical alcohol filled the air.
“Have you got a light?” he asked Vance.
“You planning on taking a smoke break?” Vance asked.
“Nasty habit,” replied the Doctor. “Never touch the things, myself.” Vance handed him a Zippo with the US Marines crest engraved upon it.
“You in the Corps?” Chavez asked Vance when he caught sight of the lighter.
“Until I got this gig,” Vance answered. “Korea and Southeast Asia, before Southeast Asia was news. You?”
“Tarawa, Saipan, Okinawa,” Chavez said. “And I’ve got a kid at Khe Sanh right now.” He pulled back his shirtsleeve to show the eagle, globe and anchor tattooed on his forearm: “Semper Fi, buddy.”
“Ooh-rah!” exclaimed Vance, clasping Chavez’s hand.
“When you’ve finished with the manly bonding,” interrupted the Doctor as he touched the lighter to the pool of fluid on the desk, “we need to get down to Level Eight right now; come on, Marines!” Still holding the other jar, the Doctor turned away from the blue and yellow flames leaping from Dietz’s icon and quickly spreading to the books on the floor, as Vance led the way to the laboratory.
* * *
“Open the folder on your left, Mr Vance.” Vance did as MJ-1 instructed, spreading the contents across the polished walnut tabletop before him. “These photographs and reports detail the known movements of the extraterrestrial entity known as the Doctor, over the course of almost a century.”
“They’re all of different men,” Vance observed.
“We believe it’s some kind of shapeshifter, Mr Vance; however, there are certain patterns of behaviour that are consistent across the various sightings.” MJ-1 consulted the papers in front of him. “The earliest photograph dates from 1881.” Vance picked up a blurry, sepia-tinted shot of an old man with long white hair, dressed in a black frockcoat. “It was taken in Tombstone, Arizona; the entity is believed to have had some peripheral involvement in the events known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”
Vance gazed at another photo of a small man in a Panama hat, carrying an umbrella. “We also have sightings from 1945, in Los Alamos, New Mexico,” MJ-1 continued, “and at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in 1955; it would appear that this being has taken an unhealthy interest in the more secret activities of the United States military during the past couple of decades.”
“Indeed it would, sir,” Vance chimed in.
“I’ve liaised with our British partners in the Torchwood Institute,” said MJ-1, “via the transatlantic scrambler; it seems that they have a long history with this entity; it is, as far as they’re concerned, their public enemy number one. Many of those photos were taken in Britain during the past decade, during which this entity seems to have been particularly active.”
“It would appear so, sir,” said Vance, considering a photograph of another little man, crumple-faced and whimsical, with checked trousers and a Beatles-style bowl-cut.
“It certainly would, Mr Vance,” the chairman agreed. “You state in your report that this…creature was single-handedly responsible for the deaths of Colonel Lydecker and Dr Dietz, and the destruction of the Diablo Mesa base.”
“That’s correct, sir,” Vance lied. “In fact, I consider myself lucky to have survived.”
* * *
“Sint mihi dei propitii, valeat numen triplex!” Dietz was carried away on waves of rhetorical ecstasy, declaiming the words of the ritual in a strident, commanding tone. “Igneii, aerii, aquatici, terreni spiritus salvete!” Blood poured from the holes in his face, in biologically impossible quantities, dripping onto the floor around his feet.
Romana knelt at the centre of the ritual circle, trying not to look at the dead bodies laid out in a complex pattern around her; the man in black stood over her, ready to prevent any attempt at escape. The laboratory was almost in darkness, lit only by the five black candles surrounding the circle; the shadows seemed to move of their own accord, shifting and crawling as the voices crowded in, hissing and rustling from all sides:
hunger hunger hunger you are ours hunger come to us hunger hunger hunger
“Orientis princeps, inferni ardentis monarcha, propitiamus vos, ut appareat et surgat, quid tu moraris?” The air buzzed with static; the tips of Romana’s hair were starting to drift upwards of their own accord. She could feel the blue alien substance worming its way through her circulatory system, could feel the icy black tentacles caressing her mind as the voices sang to her:
hunger hunger hunger you will be one of us hunger part of us hunger hunger hunger
In the shadows around her, quite illusory but still all too real, she could just about make out the eyes; a galaxy of glowing, searching eyes, staring covetously, longingly out of the darkness; they seemed to stretch away far further than the dimensions of the room should have allowed, away into infinity. Eyes and mouths; greedy, insatiable mouths gnashing their thousands of needle-teeth in anticipation of the feast to come.
hunger hunger hunger you will be our vessel hunger our toy our tool hunger hunger
“Per Gehennam et consecratam aquam quam nunc spargo, signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc surgat nobis dicatus!” Romana bit her lip to avoid crying out as the spasm went through her, an electrified shiver as she felt the teeth tearing into her mind. She screwed her eyes shut as her whole body trembled, rigid and quivering; sweat shone on her limbs, reflecting the candlelight. When her eyes opened, they were plain white, rolled back in their sockets; bloody tears began to slide down her cheeks, nearly as profusely as the ones staining Dietz’s face. Suddenly, the candles blew out, plunging the laboratory into darkness.
“Hunger,” said a voice that did not sound entirely like Romana’s. “Hunger, hunger; kneel before us, good and faithful servant. Hunger, hunger, hunger.”
“Masters?” Dietz was overjoyed. “Masters, are you now inhabiting the vessel?”
“Hunger, hunger, hunger; we are here. We would feed. Feed. Hunger, hunger hunger.” The cold, sonorous voice faltered for a moment, replaced by one that sounded more like Romana: “Get out of my head!”
“You cannot fight them, child of Gallifrey,” Dietz told her from the darkness. “You are only a mortal, for all of your powers and learning; they are living gods.”
“Gods?” Romana’s exclamation was almost an hysterical yell, filled with anguish and emotion, but she was fighting back, holding on; it was a battle for her to force out every word. “If they’re gods, why am I managing to resist them?”
“Temporarily,” said Dietz. “They will break you, soon enough.” Romana laughed; it sounded ghastly:
“I don’t know what your masters told you about Timelords,” she said, “but I fear they may have led you to underestimate us a little. Hunger, hunger, hunger. No! I won’t give in! Get out of my head! Hunger, hunger. No! Get out now!”
The laboratory door swung open, illuminating the room with the dim purplish light of the antechamber; Dietz whirled, enraged, as the Doctor rushed in, Vance and Chavez hard at this heels.
“Romana!” he called out. “Is that still you in there?”
“I’m here, Doctor! Hunger, hunger, hunger. Just about!” She tried to stand, but the man in black gripped her shoulder, pushing her back to her knees.
“Sorry I’m late,” the Doctor answered. “You won’t believe the day I’ve had.”
“Freeze!” Vance ordered, pointing his gun at Dietz. “Or don’t freeze; I’m kind of hoping you won’t!” Then Dietz stepped forward into the light, and they saw his eyes, or lack of them:
“Good God!” Chavez cried, backing away in terror.
“Oh my…” Vance involuntarily lowered the gun, white as a sheet.
“Jeepers creepers,” said the Doctor. “Where did you get those peepers?”
“Kill them,” Dietz told the man in black. “Slowly.” The hulking figure released Romana and lurched forward.
“Morning,” the Doctor said to it, in greeting, raising the glass jar in his hand. “I say, it’s rather cold down here; you look like you could do with warming up.” The jar shattered against the homunculus’s chest as he hurled it, covering it in alcohol. He followed it with Vance’s lighter, and the man in black lit up like a torch. The figure staggered past him, ablaze from head to foot, getting as far as the antechamber before it fell over.
“I’ll just kill you myself, you know,” Dietz told them, flexing his hands. “In fact, it will be a pleasure.”
“No you won’t,” said Romana, very quietly, from right behind him. Dietz turned again, and she gripped him by the temples, pressing her forehead against his: “If you like these creatures so much, you’re welcome to them!” Dietz screamed; an ear-splitting, blood-chilling shriek of compounded agony and terror. Romana released him and he fell to his knees.
“Hunger,” he whispered at first, getting louder and more desperate: “Hunger, hunger, hunger! Masters, no! I cannot contain your — hunger, hunger, hunger! You’re killing me! Hunger! Masters! HUNGER! HUNGER!”
Romana ran to the Doctor, but she couldn’t take her eyes off Dietz, horrified by what she had done to him. The Doctor grabbed hold of her as if he was never going to let go, sweeping her up in a bear-like embrace that left her feet dangling an inch above the floor.
“I knew you’d come for me,” she told him as she hugged him in turn, laughing and crying at the same time. “You’re just…” she breathed as she came down from her tiptoes. “Just…amazing.” The Doctor looked down at her and grinned his ugly, beautiful, young-old grin:
“I know. And you’re amazing, too.”
“Amazing?” Romana raised a perfect eyebrow, even as she wiped the blood-red tear tracks from her face. “Doctor, I’m more than amazing; I’m astonishing.” Behind her, Dietz exploded; his lab coat ripped open along his spine and a mass of writhing, blue-black, tentacles spilled out.
“He can’t contain them; they’re ripping him apart,” the Doctor said, taking Romana’s hand and dragging her towards the door. “I think we’d better get out of here, all the same; Sheriff, Mr Vance; Run!” They did not need telling twice; they sprinted through the antechamber, where the inert man in black was now the centre of a growing blaze. Glistening tentacles beat at the window to the main lab, shattering the glass. Then, they went limp; dead, and already decomposing into thick blue slime.
“That was a bit ruthless,” Romana commented as she passed the burning man in black.
“Look who’s talking,” said the Doctor. “Fire’s the only thing that works on them; it was only an homunculus, a machine made of meat; it wasn’t alive.”
“Well, it certainly isn’t now.” They raced down the corridor away from the lab; behind them, an explosion sounded as the flames reached the cupboards of surgical chemicals. As they reached the elevators, the quartet ran into a little metal box on wheels, coming the other way.
“Threats neutralised, Master!” K-9 cheerily informed the Doctor.
“Fire and lasers,” the Doctor told Romana.
“Good dog, K-9!” said Romana as they all piled into the lift.
“Now I know why he’s so badly-behaved these days,” mused the Doctor. “You encourage him.”
On the surface, the few dozen surviving soldiers from the base were scattering across the Mesa, dragging their wounded with them; smoke and fire rushed out of the helicopter hangar, blackening the sky; titanic detonations boomed somewhere underfoot. They found Claude and Moonbeam standing arm in arm by a pile of rocks, Major Beck beside them, still strapped to the trolley.
“Romana, you’re okay!” exclaimed Moonbeam, embracing her.
“I’m glad you are, too,” Romana replied.
“Well, I suppose it’s time for Romana and I to be on our way,” the Doctor announced as he looked at the rising column of smoke. “We only came for a walk in the country, you know, and look; happens to us all the time, this sort of thing.”
“So long, man,” said Claude. “Before you go, though, are you and her really…well, you know…not from around these parts?”
“Is it so obvious?” asked the Doctor, straight-faced, “I thought we were managing to pass for natives.” He handed Romana her sonic screwdriver. “Be more careful with this thing in future,” he told her. “And what are your plans for the future, Claude?” he asked.
“I dunno,” Claude admitted. “The commune is a bust now, looks like; I dunno…go home, get a haircut, a job, I guess…”
“And why on Earth would you want to do that?” asked the Doctor. “I told you, I’ve never stopped dropping out, and look at me.”
“Yes, look at you,” Romana commented, slightly rolling her eyes. The Doctor put his arm around her shoulders.
“Just make sure you have a good parachute,” he told Claude.
“Let’s go back to San Francisco,” said Moonbeam, suddenly. “And get married!” Claude nearly choked.
“Adios, Sheriff,” the Doctor said to Chavez. “It’s been fun, hasn’t it?”
“That’s not the word I’d choose,” Chavez replied. “See you around, whoever the hell you are.” The Doctor gave him a grin and turned to leave; and almost walked into Vance, standing with his gun in his hand. The Doctor sighed in irritation:
“Now, you’re not going to be difficult about letting us leave, are you?” Vance thought about it for a beat or two, and then slowly put the gun away.
“I guess not,” he decided, taking charge of Beck’s trolley and starting to wheel him away. “Get out of here, all of you, before the relief force arrives. Be warned, though; if Majestic buy the report I’m going to write for them, if we ever meet again I’ll probably be trying to take you down.”
“Well, as enemies go, you’re not a bad chap, Mr Vance. Hasta la vista!”
* * *
When the meeting adjourned, MJ-1 took Vance into his private office, another richly panelled and carpeted room, for brandy and cigars. “We’re setting up a taskforce to deal with this Doctor entity should it ever make a reappearance,” he said as he lit up. “We’d like you to head it up.”
“Yes sir,” said Vance, sipping the expensive brandy. “Thank you, sir.”
“Some smart-ass decided it should be designated Project Apple.”
“Well, you know what they say; an apple a day…” the old man chuckled, and Vance pretended to as well:
“So,” MJ-1 continued, briskly, “We’ll be sending you to London, England; Torchwood have agreed to brief you on all of the stuff they have on this Doctor, in return for a little quid pro quo on our part.”
“Don’t worry, Jim; we didn’t give them the family jewels, just some little technological trinkets from that Fallen Angel in Honduras last year; they seemed happy with the deal.” MJ-1 laughed again: “You know what the Limeys are like, Jim; cheaply bought.”
* * *
Diablo Mesa receded into the distance as they trudged along the dirt road; the Doctor and Romana strolling in front, with K-9 trailing behind. The tower of smoke from the burning base was miles high by now, and growing.
“You may have a point with the “astonishing” thing,” the Doctor said after a long, companionable silence. “You handled that very nicely indeed, transferring the entities to Dietz like that; next time, I think I’ll stay in the TARDIS and play chess with K-9, let you take care of things.”
“Master ordered destruction of chess-set following his last defeat by this unit,” K-9 reminded him. The Doctor gave a snort of disgust:
“Nonsense! You haven’t defeated me at chess yet!”
“Master, this unit achieved checkmate in eleven moves and thirty-three minutes, twenty-five point three two five seconds.” It should be impossible for a robotic dog to sound smug. “Master responded by calling this unit quote you little tin cheat unquote; full sequence of moves was as follows…”
“You’re a bit astonishing, too,” Romana told the Doctor, a little bashfully. She was wearing the Doctor’s serape over the hospital gown.
“Only a bit?”
“More than a bit,” she smiled. “And if you stayed in the TARDIS playing chess, I wouldn’t have anyone to save me when I get myself into trouble. Or anybody to provide the witty banter, either.”
“There is that,” the Doctor conceded. “So, was it wild enough for you, in the end?”
“Wild?” Romana blinked as the wind blew her hair into her eyes.
“The Wild West!” the Doctor reminded her.
“Oh, I see.” Romana considered it: “Well, if anything, it proved to be a bit too wild for my liking. Let’s go somewhere a little more sedate next time.” The Doctor’s eyes lit up as an idea occurred to him:
“Romana, have you ever been punting?”
“No; what’s it like?” The Doctor grinned as only he could grin:
“Let’s find out, shall we?”
After a few yards, she turned to him without looking at him and said:
“You can hold my hand. If you like.” And so, he did.
Into the High Desert they went; into the shimmering silvery band of heat-addled air near the horizon. Two tiny figures under the huge azure dome of the sky; they walked the arid, sun-blasted land, slowly travelling the endless road. Where did they come from? Who could say? Where were they going? Did they even know?
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