The Eggs of Destruction by Primsong
Summary: The Third Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, searching for a possible Silurian outpost on the Isle of Wight, discover more trouble than they had bargained on when someone begins using the local population of seagulls as weapons.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Third Doctor
Characters: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Sergeant Benton, The Doctor (3rd), The Sea Devils, UNIT
Genres: Action/Adventure, General
Series: Tales for Three
Chapter 1: A Blustery Day
Chapter 2: Slipping Sideways
Chapter 3: Under Cover
Chapter 4: Soft Boiled
Chapter 5: Jetsam
Chapter 6: Sand and Needles
Chapter 7: Throwing a Curve
Chapter 8: Poached
Chapter 9: Nest Eggs
Chapter 10: Inner Seagullness
Chapter 11: Deviled Eggs
Chapter 12: Over Easy
Chapter 13: Scramble
Chapter 14: Empty Nest Syndrome
Chapter 1: A Blustery Day
Author's Notes: A/N: This bit of an adventure is placed just shortly after the events of âThe Sea Devilsâ on the Isle of Wight during a spot of exceptionally bad spring weather. While I've thoroughly enjoyed learning about the wonderful Isle of Wight, I've never had the pleasure of actually being there, so I beg the readers grace in any inconsistencies I may have missed or had to simply make up for lack of information.
âSea Devilâ being only a descriptive term assigned them by frightened victims, Iâve used their more official name, Silurian, when referencing them instead.
Chapter 1: A Blustery Day
"Well, I'm glad that's over for now," Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart said, pulling on his coat. "How an unimaginative plodder like that ever became an Admiral's assistant I shall never know"
"He had all of the forms and rubber stamps you said you needed," his scientific advisor noted mildly as he followed him out of the cramped little office. "Isn't that what you came for?"
"I admire Admiral Blankenship's efficiency, but that doesn't mean I have to admire his staff,” the Brigadier grumbled. “Of course, you had no difficulty with him. Those shipyards were smaller than I expected, but those plans you drew up seemed to go over well enough - though I'm the one whose budget is taking the hit."
"You said you wanted it to be unobtrusive."
"Yes. Yes, I did,” he nodded to the tired looking woman behind a paneled receptionist counter as they went past. “If we hadn't difficulties with classified military designs being leaked from Belfast…well, then I'd have had at least a good half of this afternoon off, if you must know."
"But if the Silurians did, in fact, leave an outpost anywhere…" The Doctor began as they made their way up the green tiled steps from the lower level.
"I know, I know," the Brigadier interrupted impatiently. "It has to be dealt with immediately. And yes, I know you saw that map when you were down there with those sea devils, but that doesn't mean it was up to date. You yourself have said they've been about for thousands of years."
"The coastline would have been significantly different in that event," the Doctor pointed out to the Brigadier's back as that individual pushed his way through the heavy door into the car park. The wind slammed the door back against the metal railing.
"Oh good Lord," the Brigadier sighed as he grabbed at the edges of his coat to quickly button them closed. The March-bare young trees that edged the car park clattered their twigs in the wind as bits of stray debris skittered over the pavement. There was a distant clanging sound as a gust snatched the top from a dustbin and sent it rolling along the sidewalk.
The Doctor forced the door shut again, coming up beside him, his own heavy cloak swirling around his shoulders. "Further north than expected," he said and squinted into the cold wind, not seeming very bothered by it.
"Why, this storm, of course. It was on the radio this morning."
"I didn't listen this morning, I was trying to find the papers for that…oh nevermind." His car was one of the only ones in the lot, other people apparently having had the good sense to either avoid the storm or to avoid thickheaded ministry men. He was inclined to believe the latter. They both climbed in and he started the engine, grateful he had insisted on taking his own vehicle; just the idea of being in a blow like this in the Doctor's ridiculous little lemon rattletrap… never mind his driving…
He directed them back towards the ferry ramps. "That jackanapes might have at least mentioned this. He probably lives right across the way or something. No consideration…" he grumbled. "My only comfort is he obviously doesn't rate a window."
"A window?" the Doctor asked, apparently only half-listening as he watched the town roll by.
"The more important the man, the more window glass he's allotted."
"Everyone wants the good view."
"Alternatively, it could be seen as a measure of trust. The Medosians always kept their criminals under glass so they can see what they're up to."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"It's a bit like being on a glass slide, under a microscope, Brigadier. An old-fashioned ones I mean, not neutronic. Without the flattening. Or possibly more akin to your own old Earth tradition of using bells on a leper."
"I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about," he said in resignation to what promised to be a very long car ride indeed. "Carry on."
The ferry ticket kiosk was lit and plainly occupied by what they could see of the interior, but as they waited there was no sign of the occupant being willing to come out and talk. He rubbed away a patch of condensation on the window and made some incomprehensible hand gestures at them, which did them no good whatsoever.
The Brigadier rolled down the window, gesturing firmly for him to come out and the man reluctantly emerged from his kiosk, yanking his hat down and hugging his coat closed against the icy wind.
"Th' ferry isn't running, sir. They've tied up on t' other side until this blows over! Besides, the radio says the roads down that way and over are flooding, some of them."
"No ferry? What about that other one?" the Brigadier called over the rising wind, gesturing to the west.
The man was already turning away to the shelter of his kiosk again. "What?"
Alistair leaned further out the window, squinting against the rain and cupped a hand to his mouth to be heard. "The other one! Isn't there a ferry out of Cowes?"
"Wouldn't expect it's running either, sir!" the man shouted back, turning to face him but still slowly retreating for shelter. "And Wootten's got construction on that bridge of theirs, bound to be trouble getting in with it like this!"
Reaching his doorway the ticket man gave a dismissive wave. "Look, why don't you and the missus just go find yourselves a nice place to stay the night?" he shouted, then with a polite nod he firmly shut the door.
The Brigadier sat back on the seat, dashing rain from his face, or at least making the motions to camouflage another reaction.
"What did he say?" asked the Doctor.
"Ahem…hm…hm… that we'll…miss it, even if the bridge isn't out," he managed and coughed.
"Aren't there any other ferries off this island?"
"Well," he was slowly regaining his composure, "The map we had indicated there was one from Yarmouth, can't remember the name of it, but that would be clear at the opposite end of the island anyway. If the road over that way is washed out, we'd have to take the long way 'round."
"It isn't that large of a landmass," the Doctor noted. "I did tell Jo I would help with that club of hers this evening."
"A club? Whatever does she need you for?"
"Judging some type of contest, I believe. I don't really remember the particulars - I admit I was a bit preoccupied at the time - but I did say I'd be there."
"And I had an engagement as well. Lord knows I'm not about to go back to that blowhard in the Ministry. Suppose we could give it a try; where did that map go?" He patted his pockets.
"I wasn't aware you had one."
"Here it is." Alistair fished out a rumpled piece of coloured paper and unfolded it, smoothing it out over the steering wheel. "Doesn't look like it would be too difficult. There's a road that follows around the perimeter."
"How many miles?"
"I've no idea. There's not much detail," he said, slightly apologetic. "It's printed on an advertiser from a chip shop." The wind howled outside the car as a stronger gust sent it rocking slightly. He handed the paper to the Doctor and released the brake. "As you said, though, it's a small island and we've plenty of petrol. Off we go."
Back to index
Chapter 2: Slipping Sideways
Author's Notes: A turn of events makes what was merely annoying into a bit of a disaster. Stiff upper lip and all that.
Chapter 2: Slipping Sideways
"There had to be a shorter way," the Brigadier grumbled, peering through the unfogged portion of the windscreen as the wipers clacked back and forth. The road was still winding along; every now and then they could see the wild surf frothing off to their left. The only people they'd seen had been covered in slickers and toting sandbags. "I think I should have taken that turn back there. What town was that?"
"You could consider stopping and asking for directions," the Doctor grumbled right back. He'd spent most of the ride in a silent ponder and seemed irritated to be brought out of it.
"You should know no man ever asks for directions," Alistair retorted, amused. "What would the women say if they found out?"
"Hypothetical women. All women."
"Not being willing to admit you're lost is hardly an admirable trait," the Doctor pronounced.
"Pot and kettle," muttered the Brigadier.
"Mumbling hardly suits you either. Ah look, 'Military Road'," the Doctor read as a small sign went past. "I suppose that suits you well enough. Drive on."
"Got to be some kind of civilization soon," the Brigadier said. He'd started out the day already tired and constantly wrestling the wheel against the buffeting of the wind hadn't been improving his mood. They'd been forced to slow to a crawl in places, the sheer force of the wind driving rain, airborne seawater and grit across the windscreen, whose wipers valiantly clacked away, vibrating in the gusts, making little difference.
"Most likely," the Doctor acknowledged. "Of course, this is nothing compared to some planets, this would be a balmy summer's morning on Gavitus, fascinating landscape and plant life though. I was there in their low season and that was quite dramatic enough. Everything grows sideways because of the wind, even the people..."
The Brigadier sighed, wishing he hadn't said anything out loud to set his companion nattering on and really wished he'd remembered to bring along a thermos of coffee. That big red enamel thermos, the one with a handle riveted on the side, the one that felt like a nice, heavy calibre shell when filled.
"…they adapt to their surroundings, you know, no matter what the environment is. Even their sound, it's like a long, drawn out shriek rather than silence, the wind being the way it is there, which camouflages them nicely even if I did find it a bit disturbing when…"
The Brigadier edged the car through a muddy pothole and gathered speed again as they headed up a hill. He tried to estimate the amount of gunpowder in a howitzer shell and if it were ground coffee instead, exactly how much coffee it would make.
The car came up over the top of the rise and something big and dark catapulted over the edge of the cliffs with an ungodly shriek and thudded off the windscreen.
It didn't help that the Doctor had just been talking about a shrieking alien creature and he had been considering howitzers. They both startled badly; the car skidded and fishtailed across the road then gave a hard, tilting jerk and plunged to a stop in the water-filled ditch.
There was a pause. Rain sluiced against the windows and they both watched as a little spurt of muddy water began squirting beneath the passenger door.
"What the hell was that?" the Brigadier growled, irritated with himself for reacting, and realizing at least one of them was now going to have to go out in this weather and it would probably be him. At least if it were well and truly stuck, his passenger would have to help too.
"Most likely a bird," the Doctor said, shifting away from the water. "Why don't you go on out and see how badly you've mired us, there's a good chap."
Mumbling an imprecation, Alistair pushed the heavy door open against the slant and climbed out into the gale. He squelched and slid around the back to survey the damage; it didn't look too promising. At least he'd turned away from the nearby cliff's edge, he consoled himself. Why couldn't that blasted bird have turned up some other place?
He was just turning back when, with a screech, a tremendous blow hit his shoulder, spinning him sideways.
Half-falling, he grabbed at the slippery bumper of the car, his arm plunging into the icy water of the mud-filled rut. He tried to roll under the car for cover, but with the tyres half-sunken it was no use, scrabbling along the side he staggered up, trying for the door.
The huge gull shrieked and came at him, bludgeoning his head with its wings, claw tips tearing at his coat. Reduced to frantically protecting his face, he staggered, trying to repel it long enough to get his bearings. It tore at the back of his hands. Where was the car?
A crack in the ground caught his foot and he fell heavily, the leg twisting under him. The terrible, stabbing pain only compounded something worse - that the muddy ground was sloping and that he was slithering down it.
He slid, dead grass giving little purchase, feeling the crumbling ledge vanish beneath his feet. The bird screamed and came at him; he instinctively ducked his head to protect his eyes, feeling its wings beating bruisingly around his shoulders, sharp gravel cutting into his clenched hands.
A loud, drawn out shrieking call came out of the storm, not the call of any seabird: the cry of a predator - and then the gull was abruptly gone.
"Brigadier!" the Doctor's voice was calling hoarsely, and then he was there, bodily pulling him back, dragging him up across the wet, rock-filled grasses, placing distance between him and that horrible, foam-thrashing void.
He knelt, whipping out his handkerchief and pressing it to Alistair's cheek. "Hold that," he directed shortly, "You've a nasty gash."
The handkerchief was a perfect match with the burgundy trim on his suit. "It'll be ruined," the Brigadier noted, even as he automatically pressed it to the cut. He clenched his teeth against the pain in his leg.
"The TARDIS is a marvel at laundering," the Doctor replied, deftly prodding at the leg and ankle. "Nothing broken, but…"
"Dash it all."
"You wanted it broken?" the Doctor retorted mildly.
"No, it's just going to be a damned nuisance. Where the devil did that bird get off to?"
"I don't know, but I would suggest we get further away from this cliff face before it returns. Hold still, this will hurt."
"What…" he broke off with a startled yelp as the Doctor made a quick motion and his kneecap popped back into place.
"You might have warned me." He gingerly bent the leg; his knee hurt but not anything like it had before. "What was that…that sent it off?"
"Me," the Doctor said with a grin. "My throat will never be the same again."
"Give me your necktie," he said. "Very likely a nest here somewhere. The sooner we're away the less likely it'll return." The Brigadier fumbled ineffectively at the knot at his neck to loosen it, allowing his companion to pull it off right over his head. The Doctor pulled something from his pocket and folded it around the troubled knee then neatly strapped it into place with the tie. He looked up at the late afternoon sky, dark with heavy, purple-black cloud cover scudding past. There was a town up ahead, he knew, but they didn't know how far it really was. "We passed a driveway just a bit ago," he said. "I think that may be our best option. Can you walk?" He offered a hand up.
The Brigadier nodded, took it and heavily managed to climb to his feet. He looked down at his leg with its makeshift knee brace. "That's my hat, " he stated. "You've strapped my hat to my knee."
"Yes. Good thing you had it, isn't it? I picked it up from the road." He stood close, ready to offer an arm on the way back down the hill.
The Brigadier just shook his head at his ruined headgear and started limping back toward the stranded sedan.
"Whatever are you doing?" the Doctor called after him.
"I've a change of clothes in the boot," he said shortly. "Always keep one on hand."
His companion watched as the he struggled to open the tilted driver's door to pop the boot latch while still holding the cloth to his face. Walking around the back, the Doctor pulled a small cylinder from his pocket. This he aimed at the boot's lock briefly, then opened it. There wasn't much inside; not finding a first-aid kit, he took up the small, neat case containing the clothing, tucked it beneath his cloak and shut the lid again.
In the meantime, Alistair had finally gotten the door opened and was angling to try to reach the latch only to have the Doctor tap him on the shoulder. "What?" he snapped. "Wait a minute, can't you?"
"That's not necessary, Brigadier."
Irritated, he tried to reach the latch again, even as he looked back. The Doctor was holding up the case, and had the audacity to even look slightly pleased with himself.
"How did… oh, never mind." Straightening up, he let the hard-won open door slam shut again. "You could have said something."
"I did." The Doctor considered his friend's face carefully. "I haven't another handkerchief. Let's see if we can't find someone better equipped, shall we?"
Back to index
Chapter 3: Under Cover
Author's Notes: Any shelter in a storm...
Chapter 3: Under Cover
In the car, the driveway hadn't seemed all that far back but it was another matter to walk it, especially as the Brigadier's knee, while better than he'd feared, still wasn't inclined to take it well.
"At least it's cold," he noted as he limped along, trying to face the challenge of the long, rain-driven road ahead of him with a properly unconcerned attitude. "Keeps the swelling down." Burrowing his cold hands into his pockets he then pulled them back out when the rough fabric made them complain of their scratches.
The Doctor didn't comment. Much of his attention was on the waves dashing and churning below the cliffs, or possibly on where any other gulls were the most likely to come from.
Alistair appreciated the subtlety of the Doctor, who adjusted his pace to keep alongside him on the windward side and quietly caught his elbow any time his leg threatened to give way, but offered no further sympathizing commentary. The man could be a regular spout of condescension, but at least he did know when to just buckle down. Well, sometimes. Occasionally.
The rain was still coming down with gusts driving it into them sideways; in spite of his friend's sheltering him from the worst of it, he was soon soaked to the skin, his knee throbbed and his jaw ached with clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. By the time they reached the building they'd passed earlier he was limping badly.
The building was one of those old stone and wood edifices that looked likely to have some sort of obscure historic plaque stuck on it somewhere. The neighboring field was scattered with a half-dozen holiday caravans haphazardly improved with wooden decks, all dark and empty in this off-season. A sign indicated the drive led off to a 'Compton Farm' but rather than attempt that long, uphill walk they edged down the slope to the muddy small car park, hoping to find some shelter.
The old building was built of well-weathered stone and timber, long and brown, and looked to be in well-maintained but as they made their way down into the yard, relieved to be out of the main force of the wind, they found no sign of life. The only vehicles were two battered cars that looked to be there only because they were in need of repair.
"Further up the road, then?" the Brigadier said, trying to keep a stiff upper lip about the whole thing, though at this point he was chilled to the bone and his leg throbbed painfully. "Or break into that house?"
"No need," the Doctor said. He paused to examine the mud on one car's tyre. "See? This one's been driven in the past day. There's bound to be someone about." As if to affirm him, a hound began gruffly barking and baying somewhere inside the building. "You see?" he added with a smile. "Unless our canine friend can drive, he most likely has an owner." The Brigadier didn't reply, his only thought about the car having been that it helped block the wind. He allowed the Doctor to help him over to the nearby building beneath the dubious shelter of the eaves but frowned as he was then sort of leaned against the siding and abandoned.
"A light," the Doctor said over his shoulder as he strode away, "Just a moment."
Unwilling to be left behind like an old umbrella that needed to drain, his companion hobbled stubbornly along behind him and so arrived at the door 'just a moment' behind. The Doctor shot him an annoyed glance, then turned his attention to the animal on the other side of the window-glass, a chubby beagle-mixed mutt who was generously smearing his nose about the glass in a vain, excited attempt to smell them. He smiled at the barking creature, then went to the door and gave it a firm knock.
A man's startled face briefly appeared behind the dog, then disappeared. There was a pause. The Doctor raised his arm to bang on the door again only to have it crack open, the same round, weathered face looking out at them with a worried expression.
"We've had a bit of trouble on the road," the Doctor called over the wind's moaning around the edges of the house and the dog's barking. "And my companion is hurt, do you have a phone?"
"No, no phone," the man said, but taking in the Doctor’s well-dressed appearance apparently decided they weren’t ruffians and backed up, swinging the door open for them to enter.
"Many thanks," the Brigadier said as he limped forward into a blessedly wind-free room. There was a small coal stove in the corner of the tiny room, a threadbare stuffed armchair pulled up beside it. A rumpled newspaper and half-eaten bowl of tinned soup sat in witness to their interruption of a private early supper.
"Down, Casey," the man was saying to the hound. "Be quiet, you." He hardly needed to bother, as the animal in question had already made a beeline for the Doctor and was happily snuffling around his knees. He gave the Brig a brief sniff as if only to fulfill his watchdog duties then went back to the Doctor wagging his thick, whippy tail so hard his whole body wagged with it. The man looked surprised but relaxed. "He don't usually take to strangers so."
"Well, I do get along with most animals," the Doctor smiled, kneeling to scrub at the dog's flappy ears. He ran a gentle hand along the dog's side where a peppering of recent cuts and scratches were evident. "How did he get these wounds?"
"Ah, now that's a strange tale," the man said as he went to build up the fire and reached for a dented tin first aid kit mounted on the wall. "Poor old dog, Casey had a run-in with a seagull this mornin'! Usually they leave one another alone, you know, live and let live. This one came at the dog when he was out, doin' his duty in the yard, you'd think it was a fightin' cock-rooster the way it went at him an' for no reason at all. I had t' pop it wi' my rake, I did, and we both hightailed it indoors."
The Doctor looked thoughtful. "A gull?" he said, exchanging a look with the Brigadier. "They do tend to be aggressive birds."
"For scraps and such, but I've never had a one go after my poor old Casey like that, did y' now?" he said, reaching out to give the dog a pat, then handed the first-aid tin to the Brigadier. "Ross Davis," he added, "Groundskeep an' repairman."
The Brigadier took the tin gratefully and sank into the armchair to pick through it for anything usable. "Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart," he replied, "and that's the Doctor. Thank you for allowing us in out of that weather, Mr. Davis, we're very grateful."
"Doctor?" the man said, glancing over at the wet but elegant man who was still kneeling, scrubbing an itchy spot on the dog's chest to the apparent delight of them both. "I should've given the kit to him, then. Surprised to see anyone out in this blow, even shut down all the ferries, I expect."
"Yes, it appears so," the Brigadier affirmed, prodding at his cheek with a frown. "You wouldn't happen to have a mirror?"
"I'll take care of it," the Doctor said, leaving the dog with a final pat. He gave his hands a quick scrub in the man's small sink then crossed the small room to do his own poking through the bandages.
"Must be useful to have a doctor with you," Ross observed as a quick, neat dressing was applied.
"Sometimes," the Brigadier said dryly, ignoring the Doctor's faux-injured look at the comment.
The Doctor re-packed the first-aid tin. "Tell me, Mr. Davis, is there any chance you might have a place we could stay, just until morning? I'm afraid our car may need towing to get it back onto the pavement."
He scratched at his short beard with one hand while scratching the hound's head with the other. "Seeing as there's no going anywhere, I suppose I've a place you could stay the night ," he said slowly. He considered the Doctor's damp velvet. "Might be a bit less than you're accustomed to," he added hesitantly. "But there's room enough for you and your man."
He snapped the tin shut. "I'm sure it will suffice, as long as it's out of this weather," he replied, drawing himself up.
"Oh, that much it can be."
The Brigadier gave the Doctor a long look as the groundskeeper reached for his coat and began buttoning it up. He levered himself back to his feet. "Your man?" he asked quietly but firmly.
"Oh, you're no fun at all, Brigadier," the Doctor said, giving a slight pout of disappointment as Davis was ordering the dog away from the Doctor to its small bed by the fire, then taking up a small torch. He turned to follow their host, raising his voice again. "And I really must correct one small assumption, this good man with me is not my manservant, I am his. You shall have the honour of housing an Ambassador, you know."
"Eh?" The fellow looked confused, then embarrassed. "So sorry, your, uh, eminence? Oh…" He trailed off in confusion and took refuge in the wild weather out of doors.
"Doctor," Alistair warned.
"What?" His advisor grinned and then gallantly offered a supporting forearm, which he refused.
They followed the dim, wide shape of the man as he led the way out into the gathering darkness, down the length of the long, old stone building with its darkened windows and then over to an older caravan that stood alone at the end.
"Needs repair," he explained as they followed him up a trio of creaking wooden steps that had been built against it. "So I've a key!"
Pulling said key from his pocket, he inserted it in the lock and put his shoulder to the door, which stuck until he added a kick to pop it open in a little squeal of protest. He kicked the accumulation of wind-driven debris from the threshold and went in with his guests following, grateful for the renewed shelter from the elements.
They considered their musty, creaking accommodations, the Brigadier flicking a wall-switch up and down to no effect. Their host went to criss-cross a few sticks and bits of kindling on the iron grate in the little metal stove, reaching to pop the handle on the flue then patting his pocket uselessly. "Sorry, damp. I've some matches back t' the main house, I'll fetch 'em. They rent to the grockles in the summer, caravans I mean. Not many regular hotels and such out this way, most stay back in Newport… Here, just let me move those…" he muttered, hefting a pile of ratty cardboard boxes off the Formica table and shuffling them to the back wall.
“What manner of person is a grockle”? the Doctor asked glancing around the room.
“Ey, uh, visitors. Summer holiday folk.”
“Unusual but oddly appropriate.”
"Well, we appreciate your willingness to put us up, Mr. Davis," the Brigadier said politely, watching with some slight trepidation as the Doctor fished some smooth, oblong object from his pocket and knelt to aim it at the wood in the cold firebox. He winced slightly in anticipation of some type of explosion but the only result was a neat, thin line of flame suddenly popping up along one of the sticks. The Doctor efficiently rearranged the kindling and added a couple small logs as it spread rapidly, cracking and hissing at the resins.
The man turned from his stacking the boxes in surprise. "Ey? That was quick."
"Just a lighter," the Doctor said, pocketing it quickly. "Yes, thank you. I'm sure we'll be perfectly comfortable here."
"Maybe," Ross nodded doubtfully. "The bedroom is in there, hand-pump at the sink, loo works but not the bath. I was going to get to fixin' that window there, once weather was better…" he gestured to where a large mossy brick sat on the puddled sill, presumably blocking a crack.
"Not a problem," the Brigadier assured him, surreptitiously flicking at another switch.
It was noted. "I've a lamp," the man suddenly blurted. "Oil. I'll bring that." With no further elaboration, he turned, yanked the door back open and disappeared into the gloom.
"Sit down; give that knee of yours a rest, Lethbridge-Stewart," the Doctor said, pulling one of the metal kitchen chairs over to the fire. "I'll see what the rest of our accommodations looks like."
Alistair sank gratefully onto the chair, uncomfortable as it was. He gingerly stretched his legs out, glad to see his knee was doing better than he'd expected. Of course the way he'd been feeling recently, he wouldn't have been surprised if it had simply fallen off. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes for a moment, just appreciating the heat and listening to the Doctor bumping about in the other end of the caravan.
"What are you doing in there?" he finally had to ask.
There was a pause and the Doctor reappeared at the end of the tiny hallway. "The so-called bedroom isn't really quite habitable, I've closed up the door to it for now. The bath has possibilities though."
He looked mildly surprised. "Why, for bathing, I presume. You may not realize it but you're head to foot mud, old chap."
"I thought that man, Davis, he said it wasn't working?"
"That was before I got here."
The Brigadier had to smile at the smugness, glad to hear there was something to keep him busy for a while. "I see. Carry on, then."
A different thumping, this time at the front door, heralded the return of Mr. Davis, an unlit oil lamp in one hand and a slightly soggy quilt bundled in his arms. He laid out his offerings and after a pat at his pockets produced a small box of matches, a tin of biscuits and a hard round cheese to go with it. "Sorry I haven't better," he began, striking a match to light the lamp.
"We're grateful for your hospitality, Mr. Davis," the Brigadier said sincerely. "This will be plenty, I'm sure."
"Yes, indeed," the Doctor put in. "The quilt is especially welcome. We'll take good care of it."
The man nodded, then straightened and wiped his hands on his trousers self-consciously. "Well, now. I'll bid you good-night, then, sirs."
"Good-night," the Brigadier returned, the Doctor gave him a nod and saw him out, closing the door after him.
"The offerings of the humble?" the Doctor asked softly.
"As I said, it's plenty," the Brigadier returned, as an exceptionally strong gust slammed the little caravan sending it into a chorus of creaks and muffled booming. He looked at the now-dark windows where the light of the fire and lamp showed the water peppering the glass and running down it in cold rivulets. "More than enough."
Back to index
Chapter 4: Soft Boiled
Author's Notes: Breakfast seems a little strange this morning...
Chapter 4: Soft Boiled
Exhausted more than he'd cared to admit, Alistair hadn't the energy or inclination to argue when the Doctor insisted he wrap up in the quilt by the fire and get some sleep. There really wasn’t anything else to do anyway, an unusual circumstance for him; he was soon soundly asleep in spite of the tremendous noise of the passing storm on the thin caravan roof. He slept so soundly he wasn't even aware of the complaints of pipes being forced into place or the alien curse from the Doctor when the shower's hot water finally kicked in and dumped its first rusty load of warm water on his head.
By the time the storm's slow passing brought relative peace to his dreams, it was nearly daylight and the Doctor was singing, finishing up his own make-do bathing and laundering to be ready for another day.
The Brigadier blinked awake, registered the fire still warm and tended in front of him, and slowly sat up.
The Doctor's head popped around the corner from the hallway. "Ah, good morning, Brigadier! Just in time. It's all heated up again and ready to go."
"The bath, of course."
"Heated? I thought there wasn't any power," he said, obediently staggering up, still clutching the quilt around him. He looked down at his knee expecting it to be the swollen up like a sausage but it wasn't. "And what's happened to my knee?" he said, belatedly registering that the muddy pantleg was also neatly rolled up.
"A bit of Temdovian style acupressure, you could say," the Doctor said lightly. "I thought you might want the use of your leg sooner rather than later. Speeds the healing and brings down the swelling something marvelous. Of course Temdovians are notoriously clumsy, probably why they had to come up with it. As to the power, I just rigged a simple wind-powered generator to the hot-water heater; this storm's given it more than enough twirling."
"Simple, right…" the Brigadier mumbled. He almost asked what a Temdovian was and thought the better of it. Some things were just better left for later. Hot bath. That he could understand.
By the time the Brigadier emerged from the hot bath, dressed in his fresh set of clothing and feeling much more alive, he found Mr. Davis had arrived. The man was setting a large brown crockery teapot on the table, half-wrapped up in a towel that had been pressed into service as a tea-cosy, and what looked like a bowl of eggs.
"Ah, there you are," the Doctor said pleasantly, then turned to observe as Mr. Davis lifted the lid of the teapot to examine the contents, which were steaming brown and hot with a pair of cheap tea sachets floating near the top. Apparently satisfied, he replaced the lid. The Doctor smoothly took it from him and poured them each a mug with the grace of a butler, handing the first one to Alistair.
He sniffed the steam appreciatively, then tried a sip. The tea was strong and bitter, though the heat was welcome.
The man was considering his damp hair. "Thought the bath was broken on this one," he said with some vaguely confused surprise. "Glad to see you looking better this morning."
"Thank you. How is your dog?" the Brigadier inquired politely.
"Casey? Aw, he's fine, right fine. Healing up nicely, thanks." He peered into the pot, rearranged the towel around the bowl of eggs then glanced back at up at them. "Glad we could help. Radio says there was a strange sort of accident up on the downs yesterday, good to know nothing like that happened to the likes of you."
The Doctor cast about briefly for any sign of sugar and then set his cup aside. "What do you mean, strange?"
"Why, a man gone off the cliffs. Jumped to his death, he did, or so they figure."
"Visitor who lost his way?" the Brigadier asked.
"No, no. Local man. No one else about on the downs in that weather; his was the only car and they said it was just left standing there by the road."
The Brigadier and the Doctor exchanged a glance. Alistair lifted his tea and sipped from it. "Hmm. Terribly sorry to hear it. Most unfortunate."
"Near any of those nesting gulls you mentioned?" the Doctor asked.
The man harrumphed to himself a moment, but couldn't offer any more details. "Radio didn't say. Maybe just trying to see the ocean and got too close, we've had folk do that, well, visitors anyway.… " He turned his attention back to the bowl of eggs. "Afraid I can't offer you much in the way of breakfast" he said. "With this weather…."
"I'm sure it's fine," the Brigadier responded quickly. "Bound to be better than some of the rations I've faced in the past."
"Gull eggs, that all right? Some folks won't abide them, because of the colour, though they taste well enough with a bit of salt …"
"Colour?" the Brigadier asked.
"Red," the man supplied.
"Red? I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you mean."
"Reddd," the man repeated, drawing it out as if that would make it plainer. "The eggs."
The Doctor turned from where he'd been turning his cloak nearer the fire for drying. "The yolks," he explained as he rejoined them and patted the teapot as if to see if it were still hot. "Gulls have a red egg yolk. More of a deep orange, really."
"True, true," the owner of the teapot agreed.
"Ah," the Brigadier said. "Yes. Well, I can see where that could be a bit startling to someone who wasn't expecting it."
"I gathered them earlier this morning, they have them now, y' know, from now til summer."
"Do you often eat seagull eggs?" the Brigadier wondered, not only to be conversational; he hadn't really ever thought about them as a food source before.
The man considered him with surprise. "No, no," he shook his head. "Hen's eggs are finer, and gulls only have 'em in the spring, but the road was most likely washed out. We used to fetch them from the cliffs when I was a lad, my mum hadn't much to feed all us growing lads. You know how it is. Four mouths and hunger enough for eight stummicks and all of us with only what work we could find. Needs must." With this abbreviated history out he abruptly stopped and gestured at the bowl of eggs again. "Anyway. They're, eh, just soft boiled."
"Thank you," the Doctor said and gave him a small bow that the man awkwardly tried to return before making his way back out the door into the breezy, wet morning where a wagging dog waited for him.
"It isn't unusual," the Doctor noted waving a hand at the eggs while settling onto a vinyl-backed chair that had probably once matched the Formica. "The province of the poor, in some cases, and the delicacy of the wealthy in others. Common effect with any food that's difficult to harvest." He shifted to put his long legs nearer the fire and waved a finger to indicate the Brigadier should do likewise.
"You hinted at him to feed me, didn't you."
"Well, we could both use a bite, don't you think? I couldn't let your pride get in the way."
"My pride?" the Brigadier said in disbelief, watching as the Doctor produced two spoons and handed him one.
The Doctor ignored him, picking up an egg and expertly tapping it to open the top, then gesturing at the bowl. "Well, eat up."
He picked one up and tapped the shell. "I left Benton watching out for things, he's going to be wondering what happened to us."
"Oh, I walked up to that farm earlier on and put in a call," the Doctor said airily, rapidly finishing his egg. "Told him we aren't likely to be back today."
"And why aren't we?"
"Why, that Silurian outpost, of course. We still need to find it."
"Right." He spooned up some egg and considered the dark colour, then tasted it. It tasted like…well, egg. Slightly relieved, he finished it and chose a second one.
"Also called for a tow," the Doctor continued. "Though with all the damage they've had from this storm, I expect it'll be a bit of a wait. What is it?"
This last was directed at the Brigadier, who was frowning and prodding at the inside of the second egg he'd opened. "I don't know, very odd," he replied and pushed it across to the Doctor. "Take a look."
The Doctor pulled it over and peered inside the opening. Looking greatly intrigued, he gently poked the dark, fibrous netted ball inside then plunged a hand into his coat pocket to rummage around. Extracting his sonic screwdriver, he paused to make a few delicate adjustments to the settings then poked it down in the opening. There was a tweeble noise and he adjusted a setting again.
"Well?" the Brigadier asked impatiently. "It's all in a mass. Is it some kind of mutation?"
"This isn't a natural seagull egg at all, Brigadier. I don't think it's even of Earth, at least not originally. It's an incubating nodule… waiting…" he scanned it again and squinted at the readings that came back. "…apparently, for an avian host."
The Brigadier closed his eyes a moment and rubbed his forehead. "Did you just say what I thought you said?"
"That this is a nodule for…"
"Doctor. My breakfast has just turned out to be an alien being. Is this correct?"
"Well…essentially, yes. More like a potential being, like a seed. I'm sure the others are fine, the odds of there being two in the bowl are quite small. Go ahead."
"I'm…not hungry anymore, thank you."
The Doctor carefully peeled more of the shell away, revealing a red-orange fibrous, spongy mass. "I've seen something like this before. They would have amazing staying power in this state; who knows how they came to be here on Earth in the first place, but I suppose that's a moot point now."
"I don't care how the blasted things got here," Alistair grumbled, feeling there was somehow something inherently unfair about it, then suddenly looked up. "You said avian. Does this have anything to do with those birds out there," he waved an arm vaguely towards the ocean, "acting as they did?"
"Very likely. This sort of thing would quite easily take over a gull," he replied almost absently, teasing a fiber out of the egg-shaped tangle in front of him and carefully manipulating it with his fingertips.
"Oh that's fine news, isn't it? Possessed seagulls." The Brigadier's eyes darkened at a the next logical step in that progression. He leaned forward. "They won't do that to people, will they? How much of a…"
"No, no danger to any human," the Doctor interrupted, waving him back. "Minds are more complex, body chemistry is wrong."
He sat back, not entirely reassured, and drummed his fingers on the table. "Well, that's some comfort I suppose. Still, rabid seagulls going after the populace…"
"This isn't a disease, Brigadier. It's a one-on-one subsuming of the common avian's neural network to an alien equivalent." He gently pried the ball apart, trying to see the darker maroon center. "Interesting colouration, don't you think? I wonder if it's the minerals."
"What do you mean, equivalent?"
He glanced back up. "This sort of thing," he said, tapping the mass, "isn’t a dominant life form. Very likely more instinctual than reasoning and possibly utilized for food as well. In fact, it's entirely probable that they were left here by some exploratory visitor years ago."
"Yes. Rather like accidentally leaving behind some chickens. Or chicken seeds, if you will." He seemed mildly amused at the thought.
"Damn irascible chickens," the Brigadier said, looking out the small window towards the cliffs. He fingered the cut on his face. "How many do you think we're dealing with?"
"Hard to say. Can't be many if that man was surprised that his dog was attacked, though I wonder now if that accidental death he mentioned…"
"That occurred to me as well."
"… precisely. We may have found ourselves unexpectedly on the beginning of a tide, Brigadier. I expect any eggs the infested birds lay will mutate into additional nodules. Most likely placed among the unaffected ones like a cuckoo might."
"And it's nesting season," Alistair said in dismay. "How will we be able to tell which ones are real eggs from false? We can't break all of the eggs on all of these cliffs…"
"Simple candling would show the difference…" the Doctor murmured half to himself, prodding at it again.
The Brigadier bopped the tabletop in frustration, setting the bowl of eggs wobbling slightly. "And we can't candle every egg on those cliffs either! There must be a million of the little devils."
"Thousands, anyway," the Doctor said absently, still preoccupied in spite of his companion's vehemence. He reached for the remaining eggs and carefully began cracking them one at a time, setting them back in the bowl as they turned up normal. As he had guessed, there was just the one odd one.
He wrapped the poppy-coloured object in his newly-washed handkerchief and pocketed it. "Well, if you're done with your breakfast, let's see what we can find out."
Back to index
Chapter 5: Jetsam
Author's Notes: Perhaps someone else has been there first.
Chapter 5: Jetsam
The Doctor stood with his hands tucked in his pockets, watching the debris-strewn ocean frothing below the cliff and the seabirds bobbing along with them. Behind him he could hear the Brigadier returning the gruff farewell of the towing-man as the yellow recovery vehicle geared up and lumbered away down the hill, leaving them with the muddied but otherwise drivable sedan. He turned an eye to the clouds. The morning was already growing late. The grey skies seemed merely wet and breezy after the violence of the previous night. Turning, he strode back to the waiting car.
"Should be easy enough to find a place to stay in that town if we need to. It's hardly peak season," the Brigadier was saying as he went around to the driver's side.
"The nearer to the promontory the better. If the Silurians are about, that's the most likely place to be looking. It should be an ideal nesting site for those gulls as well."
Settling into his seat, Alistair glanced out at the waters dashing on the cliffs and briefly stroked his moustache. "If you're thinking there's more of those possessed birds about, shouldn't we put in a call for some type of bird specialist?"
"Only if they're familiar with alien birds," the Doctor said, climbing in and pulling his door shut against the cold. "This wouldn't be their natural state, Brigadier, it's more a scientific puzzle than anything directly related to biological ornithology."
"Then it sounds like we need some sort of bird scientist, then."
"I'm more than capable of dealing with the problem," the Doctor pointed out, slightly offended. "Though once the puzzle is solved, we might have a use for your men in dealing with it."
"All right," the Brigadier conceded with some resignation. He started the engine with some frustration. "There's got to be a more efficient way to find out about these creatures," he continued. "You can understand my having a concern about violent birds potentially attacking the populace. And of course we still need to find your outpost."
"I hardly claim ownership of it."
As the car edged onto the road and accelerated towards Totland, the Doctor sank back into thought and the Brigadier mused over whether or not he could rationalize calling in backup anyway. A plague of vicious seagulls sounded both serious and silly, so he'd have to prove it first - otherwise the bureaucracy might think he was just making up an excuse to take his men on a holiday considering the location they were at.
"I would suggest we go into the village and find a local tea shop or pub," the Doctor abruptly said.
"I could do with a spot of something myself," he agreed as they followed the curve of the road in towards the town, the neatly kept small yards and steep roofs of older homes coming into view through the still winter-bare trees.
The Doctor smiled. "That wasn't entirely the point. I've found that any alien inhabitation, no matter how well hidden, will eventually give itself away just because of its strangeness. Now the Silurians are not aliens, of course, but this world has changed so much since their era they're bound to stand out from the usual pattern of things. They won't match well. "
The Brigadier glanced over at the Doctor's own ruffled appearance, but managed to not comment. After a few moments he pointed up ahead of them. "How about that one?"
"A good choice," the Doctor agreed, measuring the dark, well-aged appearance of the small café in question, the small details in the décor, the notices that indicated frequent, local use. The sedan pulled to a stop at the curb and they got out.
"As I was saying," the Doctor continued as they made their way to the entrance, "If the Silurians have an established outpost here, by now they may appear in the local folklore and legends. A bit like the bunyip."
"Sometimes I can't tell if you're just making things up to confuse me," the Brigadier noted and pushed open the door. The wooden door opened to the small jingle of a bell, the thick scent of tea and coffee, pickles and fish, tobacco and old paper swirling out to meet them. "I refuse to ask what a bunyip is."
An ancient upright piano that appeared to have once had a spindle mounted inside it filled a good part of one wall, its stained ivory keys evidencing many a customer's amateur tune. Beside it sat a low table with chess pieces on it and couches with deep indents in their stuffing. Bits of flotsam were mounted on the walls and perched on dark wooden shelves, old books and objects d’art scattered about. Notices, advertisements, comics and articles plastered the walls on all sides in layers, some so old they were almost illegible; the whole thing reminded Alistair of a literate jackdaw's nest.
He glanced over the notices, picked a small map out of a rack of free tourist brochures and tucked it in his pocket while the Doctor engaged the proprietor in talk. Perusing the headlines of the local paper, he found most of them were predictably about various damages the storm had produced. One small article mentioned a local woman having to beat off an unusually aggressive seagull in her seaside home when it came after her child. He hmmmed to himself and fished in his pocket for change.
"…All sorts of shipwrecks in these waters, you know," the bearded proprietor was saying to the Doctor as he wrapped two fat sandwiches in waxed paper. "Books about them. They found the remains of an old one, the Pomone, just a few years ago, in fact. Sent most of the interesting bits over to that maritime museum in Portsmouth." He paused to smear at a spot on the counter with a bar-towel.
The Brigadier dropped the coins into the man's hand, brandishing the paper by way of explanation. "I think I read about that," he commented.
The man appraised him briefly. "Navy man?"
"No," the Brigadier smiled briefly. "But I know some."
"Tell me," the Doctor continued, pulling the attention back to himself. "Would you say there are any unusual legends or superstitions for the area around these Needles?"
"Oh, the locals have a few tales of ghost ships and drowned folk and such, of course, but it's not pervasive. Giant fish-men who catch people in the caves, that sort of thing," he chuckled. He popped the sandwiches into a paper bag and handed them over.
"Fish-men?" the Doctor said, raising a brow.
"Children's nonsense," the man said, brushing it off. He counted out change. "I’d rather have mermaids, hey? Now, the wreck you're talking about, that wasn't right on the Needles but near enough. That was the Ever Loyal. Got caught on the shoals, out near Alum Bay, everyone was talking about it because the tangerines it was carrying kept washing up on the shore." He grinned. "Right colourful. I expect the coastguard station will have the information you're wanting."
"Thank you," the Brigadier said as the man began to turn back to his tasks.
"Just one moment," the Doctor said, pocketing the sandwiches. "You mentioned caves…"
He turned back again, giving the Doctor a long look. "Oh, well, they're not proper caves if you're thinking of pirate stories and such, just deeper chines and the like. Talk of secret passageways down near the Needles too, but I've been down that way and there's nothing to see. We have some right old barrows though!" He suddenly smiled and leaned forward on the counter. "If you're looking for a bit of fairytales and ghost stories, that is. Now fess up to me, are you looking to do a film? We had a chap here some time back who was asking after the same sort and he said he was going to be filming something about the old things coming back to life or some such. Master Film Company, that's what he was from."
"Was he now?" the Doctor said thoughtfully. "Dark hair, bit of a goatee?"
"Ah, you know him? You part of a film? I wondered, seeing how you're dressed."
"Well, we've met," the Doctor conceded.
"He had a shine for the barrows, asked after the old artillery and other bits, just like you. Asked about hauntings. Might have a jump on your film idea, hey? Look, if you don't mind, if there's any call for someone to be in your picture, you know, just an extra, I'm willing. Just give me a ring. I've got three lads as well, good boys, they'd love a chance at being on the telly."
"I'm sure they are. Thank you, I'll keep that in mind," the Doctor said politely. "Good day, now." He turned, the waiting Brigadier falling in with him as they left the small shop.
"So the Master was looking about those tunnels he referred to?" he asked, tucking the folded newspaper beneath his arm as if it were his swagger stick.
"Certainly sounds like it, doesn't it? We need to find out where this supposedly unimpressive tunnel or cave is. I highly expect that's where we'll find our missing Silurian outpost as well."
"If he was wanting to 'bring it back to life' that may mean it was inoperative at the time."
"And if it isn't?"
"I may be able to make contact with them, see if I can gain their peaceful cooperation," The Doctor looked straight ahead, pacing along on his long legs. "If they're involved in a research outpost they may be scientists."
"Scientists or not, they'd still be considered hostile invaders, Doctor. The men who died back at that naval base have barely been laid to rest. I'll be obligated to take them prisoner as potential hostile combatants."
"Intelligent beings," interrupted the Brigadier as they reached the car. He unlocked the doors. "I know. But they've proven themselves hostile to us more than once and between plagues and outright murders I haven't any more sympathy for them than for any other intelligent enemy, human or not." He got in the car steeling himself for the backlash, but the Doctor didn't reply; instead, he was unusually quiet.
"We passed the coastguard's headquarters on the way, let's see if anyone's about," the Brigadier finally said and put the car in gear.
The clerk they found at the coastguard office seemed a little overwhelmed when the Doctor showed up by his counter, but being soothed by the familiar military cadence of the Brigadier's inquiries, was soon willing enough to help. The records book was theirs to peruse, and once he had the book before him it didn't take the Doctor long to ferret out what they were looking for.
"I've found it," he announced. "The Ever Loyal, classed as a small merchant vessel. Foundered on an unmarked shoal just south of Alum Bay. We're quite close then."
"I wonder if that unmarked shoal is still there," Alistair noted cynically.
The Doctor snorted. "Most likely not, though they'll explain it away with the ocean's shifting from this storm, of course. Let's see… here's the summary. Carrying citrus — that would be the tangerines then - and museum cargo. Nearly all of the items of antiquity were recovered, having been well packaged for shipment but no one can explain why it wrecked or why the crew were all incapacitated…. It was finally blamed on an ancient museum urn breaking open and the fumes of whatever was inside causing them to hallucinate. Thankfully a visiting chemical specialist was on hand who was able to diagnose the problem and all have since fully recovered."
"A visiting specialist?" the Brigadier said. "What are the odds he had a goatee?"
"Fairly high, I expect. And among the supposedly lost items were the broken urns. See, we find this." He tapped an entry with his finger.
The Brigadier peered at it. "Annuz-nerkus urns. No doubt you're now going to tell me why that's supposed to be significant."
The Doctor looked slightly annoyed. "Yes. ‘Annuz-nerkus’ is Sumerian. I expect the museum curators merely transcribed the writing they found on the pottery, they didn't know what it contained, probably thought they were funerary urns. It would literally translate 'sky's egg, omen of destruction'."
"That doesn’t sound promising."
"It confirms what I already suspected. These 'eggs of destruction' were left by alien explorers in the past and became associated with the gods, pressed into service for temple ravens, owls and the like. Controlled experimentation. Unfortunately, they seem to run on the aggressive side."
"Hence the 'destruction' tag."
"And their use as heralds of war. Controlled and contained they wouldn't be a problem, but left to multiply?"
"Well, here's what I found." The Brigadier replied. "I was looking through that newspaper I picked up at the shop."
"What is it?" the Doctor asked, scribbling something down on a scrap of paper and flipping the records book shut.
"First, there's this woman here who had to beat one of them off her child. Then here, the man that Davis chap mentioned, the one who went off the cliff, he wasn't the only one." He folded the paper back and handed it to him. "See here. The article talks about him and how it's being considered a suicide but under investigation, etcetera, then down here…"
"'This is the third unfortunate death the Isle's famous cliffs have claimed this year to date," the Doctor read. "bringing fresh life to debates regarding the fencing off of portions of our scenic inheritance.' Third? When was the first occurrence, I wonder?"
"My thoughts exactly."
"What is this - Isle of Wight County Press. All right, let's give them a ring, shall we?" He turned to the phone book that sat by the black pay phone in the corner. "Though I expect it will coincide closely with the date of that wreck."
Alistair glanced out the window where a trio of crows picked at something flattened on the pavement. "Doctor, do you think this could spread to other types of birds?"
"Only if someone introduces an incubated nodule to one deliberately," he said, flipping pages rapidly. He glanced back over at the Brigadier and his eyes were dark. "And yes, I realize if this is a deliberate act that may be what they are planning."
*A/N: Should anyone wonder, the 'Pomone' was a real ship, the 'Ever Loyal' is from my own imaginings - though there *was* record of a shipwreck carrying tangerines that had them all over the beaches there.
Back to index
Chapter 6: Sand and Needles
Author's Notes: The Brig gets a look at the Needles while the Doctor gets a look at something not quite so attractive.
Chapter 6: Sand and Needles
The Brigadier turned the wheel, following the signs to Alum Bay as he chewed on half of one of the sandwiches the Doctor had bought in the shop. His companion had rapidly inhaled his own, and was now eyeing the other half where it sat on its waxed paper between them. He chewed faster.
"I've been thinking," the Doctor mused as they drove. "The people who used these infested birds as oracles had distinct periods in which the oracle was silent. What factor was silencing it?"
"Didn't feed them enough sacred mice?" the Brigadier grumbled around his food. "How should we know?"
"You really shouldn't talk with your mouth full. Increased activity was linked to troubled times, usually just before…" He lifted a finger thoughtfully. "Unusually bad weather."
"You think this storm…"
"No, I don't. The variations were more lasting, the sort of thing linked to sunspot activity. That would affect crops, bringing a shift in the wealth and power structures of the tribal community, which led to conflicts."
"So…" he swallowed, picking up the other half of the sandwich to the Doctor's poorly veiled disappointment. "…sunspots cause wars."
"Well, it's only one factor," he conceded.
"And this has exactly what to do with these seagulls?"
"One step at a time, Brigadier. You're a terribly impatient man, did you know that?"
Alistair blew out his cheeks in annoyance but managed to not respond. He started in on the rest of his sandwich; it helped.
"Knowing what makes it active might help up to know how to send it back into hibernation again."
"And how in the world do you test something like sunspot sensitivity?"
"Merely hypothesizing. Whatever it is setting them off, it's obvious its levels are high enough now," he stated, indicating the Brigadier's healing cheek.
"The Master may have merely guessed they would be aggressive, or the Silurians may have known of them from earlier in Earth's history. Either way, they've plainly decided to take advantage of it as a way to additionally harry the human populace, if they can get it to multiply quickly enough."
"So what are our options in curtailing that part of the plan?"
"I’m not sure yet." The Doctor considered. "If we could capture one we could observe its behaviour.”
"Catch one? Are you mad?"
"So I've been told at times," he replied, in good humour because he had a puzzle to worry at. "No, I suppose you're right, it may be something quite simple instead, even a type of fish for all we know. Though I'll not rule it out entirely if nothing else surfaces."
"If you do decide to catch one, let me know first. I want to watch you try. I have absolutely no desire to observe them again myself."
Between weathered signs pointing the way to the park and the aptly named Alum Bay Road, it was a simple matter to locate what they were looking for, though a small painted sign declared the park closed for repair there was no barrier blocking the way. The Brigadier guided the car past it and soon an empty car park opened up before them.
Being a long-established British holiday destination, the well-worn small pleasure park stood as it always had near the top of the famous cliffs, though the carousel and other structures were silent, closed up against both the weather and the season. In spite of the Brigadier voicing his doubt that the Silurians would have kept their activities so near such a routinely populated place, the Doctor declared it as good a place to start as any, especially as there was a way to reach the lower beaches. They bundled into their coats once again.
"Always meant to come here," the Brigadier said conversationally over the sound of the breeze and nearby waves. "One of those holiday places you hear about but never get around to." He looked around the damp, cold surroundings. "Not that I can see the charm in it at the moment."
Looking out towards the distant Needles the Doctor suddenly made an exclamation. "Marconi!"
"That's why this area looked familiar. Somewhere about here was where that Marconi chap and I were setting up to test that radiotelegraph he'd come up with. End of the previous century I think. Though the weather was a bit better then. Splendid fellow, if rather impatient at times, gave him a few pointers."
The Brigadier paused to stare at him. "Are you saying you are behind the invention of the radio?"
"Good heavens no! Why would I do a thing like that? Only a bit of wire laid and a some small pointers regarding his antennae over an ale at the hotel; he was quite on the right track already."
As with the road, the way to the bay shore was well labeled and they began their walk down the sloping footpath toward the sea, watching the skies for any strangely behaving gulls. The damp-darkened sands were streaked with mineral colours, the ever-resilient heather and gorse rippling from the salt-scented wind in waves of its own.
The Doctor paused and knelt, rubbing some of the lighter sand between his fingers. "This is nearly pure white silica. I wonder if that's part of what attracted them here, purely aside from any strategic attributes…"
Lethbridge-Stewart snorted at him in mild disbelief. "I hate to tell you this Doctor, but nearly every beach on Earth has sand."
The Doctor smiled up at him. "Silica, Brigadier, not just sand. Useful for making glass, pottery….and microcircuitry, among other things." Standing, he dusted his knees. He looked as if he were about to say something else, but changed his mind.
They went along well enough at first, but upon seeing the long series of wooden steps leading steeply downward ahead, the Brigadier hesitated. The Doctor, likewise aware of his friend's weak knee, seemed to have reached the same unspoken conclusion.
"I'll head on down and see what I can find. Perhaps you could keep a lookout above. We don't really know what we're looking for yet, so anything is fair game."
"Right," Alistair agreed.
"Just watch out for those birds if you get near the edge," the Doctor added a bit cheekily as he strode away. "I don't want to have to catch you!"
Moving faster now that he was alone, the Doctor rapidly trotted down the steps, making his way to the shallow shoal and its lone pier. He worked his way along the lower edge of the cliffs towards the Needles to the south, pausing now and then to poke at the taupe and gold coloured ridges or to nudge beach debris, of which there was plenty after the storm's passing. Seabirds bobbed in the waters and circled on the updrafts near the cliffs, but none seemed inclined to be anything but curious about him.
As he neared the far end he noted a part of the cliff face that had recently crumbled; a tumbled heap of orange-streaked sand splaying out over the pebbly strand, several feet high at the top. Just beyond it the promontory rose up in shadowed jags of calcite-rich rock. He eyed the surrounding ridges and cautiously approached it. Picking his way along the shallowest part of the collapsed heap he paused to gather up a small piece of rock. It was smooth, pearly and more pink in colour than its companions; it matched, he realized, the rock right around a tunnel-like crevice or shaft, which had appeared before him now as an oblong maw in the cliff face.
He hefted it in his hand thoughtfully. “Interesting… and ah, that’s more like it,” he said, suddenly striding forward to pluck an angular black bit out from among its the surf-tumbled smooth companions. It was pottery, a broken shard with a fragment of ancient writing pressed into the clay. “Very promising,” he murmured. “Somewhere about here, then, allowing for the tidal movement…” he turned, scanning over the cliff carefully.
Considering the crevice in the cliff he narrowed his gaze with a frown. It was partially obstructed by the recent storm damage that, to his eyes, had been brought on by a fairly obvious recent and deliberate widening of the cleft. The concealing ridge that had previously hidden it from view had fallen away from the newly weakened the cliff face.
And there was movement inside that tunnel.
Slipping the curious rock and bit of pottery into his pocket, he moved quickly to flatten himself behind a small outcropping near the tunnel's entrance, watching gratefully as the incoming waves foamed over the pebbly sands, erasing the most obvious signs of his tracks. After a pause there was another shuffling movement. He heard a hissing breath, barely audible over the sound of the breeze-driven waves.
All too familiar, a strangely reptilian profile came forward, its bulbous eyes moving to cautiously take in the cold daylight. The Silurian awkwardly emerged from the partially obstructed cleft carrying a metal rod which it briefly prodded into the pile of debris in a businesslike manner before removing a red box from its belt. Stooping, it set this strategically along the heap then retreated back the way it had come.
The Doctor leaned forward for a better view. The box blinked. Seeing the telltale signs of a flashing detonator counting down he wasted no time jumping for the sheltering crevice himself. Turning slightly sideways he rapidly followed the padding creature up the sloping, rough path inside.
A distinct whump followed him; the Doctor braced himself against one of the walls as bits of gravel and dust rattled down. A whoosh of cold followed, clearing the air as the crevice was more fully opened once more to the sea. The Silurian was hissing something to itself ahead; he adjusted his stance in case it turned back to check on its handiwork but there was no need. The footsteps shuffled forward again and after a pause, he followed.
The cleft had by this time turned into a regular machine-hewn tunnel, still curving slightly upward and south into the depths of the promontory. A metallic sound alerted him to a doorway which opened and shut in the gloom ahead. Carefully approaching it himself, he found a grey metal door in the wall of the tunnel, a typical military design apparently borrowed from the artillery battery nearby. The tunnel continued beyond it. Considering a moment, he briefly explored beyond the doorway but it merely went on sloping upward into darkness, silent and featureless, as well as growing smaller and more smoothly rounded. The sound of the distant ocean echoed softly around the walls.
Returning to the doorway he paused at the sight of more small pottery fragments and half-kneeled to finger them. Choosing a couple of the larger bits, he slipped them into his jacket pocket then turned his attention back to the door. An experimental hand to the latch found it lifted easily; he slipped through.
In the gloom ahead the short hallway opened on a narrow natural cavern that had apparently been improved upon with electricity and an assortment of non-human technology by its current residents. The Silurian he’d been following, apparently the junior member of the trio he could see, was giving his report of the tunnel clearance.
“The air-flow is functioning,” the voice hissed, finishing his report with a bob of the head. “ The opening is back to full capacity.”
“The damage will no doubt be attributed to the storm by the humans,” nodded the taller Silurian. “You did well to clear it so quickly.”
“Wasted opportunity!” the older, third one creaked in frustration. “It is a shame we could not have used it for cover to attack, now that is lost.”
The younger one quivered in agreement. “Yes! While they are in confusion. Why do we wait?”
“There will be other storms,” the older one said with some resignation. “And we will need more weapons than we have so far. You forget that they have weapons now as well. Still no news from the sea base?”
“No,” the tall one admitted. “Still none. The transmitter is working.”
“Then why haven’t we heard from them? Fix it!”
“I have!” The tall Silurian’s eyes locked with his superior’s challengingly.
“Fix it again,” came the threatening hiss of reply. The other two looked away from their leader and bobbed their heads submissively.
“We could clear this island,” the younger one muttered. “They are only humans. They can do nothing to stop us.”
“Nothing to stop you? Is that truly what you believe?” asked the Doctor, stepping out from the tunnel.
Unaware of anything being more amiss than usual, the Brigadier huddled in his coat while watching the wheeling sea birds suspiciously and trying to stuff the feeling that he was being rather useless.
Noting a pair of coin-operated telescopes mounted at the edge of a pathway, he made his way over to them and, randomly choosing one, inserted a coin while wishing to high heavens he'd thought to bring along his own trusty field glasses. Not that he knew he would need them on this trip, but when did anyone know what would be needed in this line of work? A mental note was made to commandeer a spare set to keep in his glovebox as soon as they got back. Maybe two.
The telescope digested his coin and whirred its obscuring flaps out of the way. He looked at a blurry sky. Adjusting the focus, he worked at swinging it to provide a more useful view, in spite of being heavy and disinclined to stay anywhere he pointed it.
He'd just begun to focus with a somewhat indulgent touristy curiosity on what little he could see of the lighthouse at the end of the rocks when the telescope made a little grinding sound and the flaps closed over the glass again. Muttering, he shoved another coin in the slot. The view stayed dark.
He smacked it firmly then shoved his weight into it, giving it a good shake, a technique that he'd often found success with on recalcitrant and shoddy military equipment and occasionally men. There was a metallic noise somewhere inside the coin slot and the flaps obediently whirred back out of the way again.
Looking through it he found the shaking had completely lost the view of the lighthouse; instead he was looking as a small column of steam. He frowned; it was rising up from what appeared to be distant buildings he hadn't noticed before. Pulling away, he craned around the scope, squinting to compare it with the natural view, then quickly looked again.
It was coming from the old artillery battery; it had to be that, there wouldn’t be any other collection of buildings on the neighboring promontory. The battery that was supposed to be abandoned and closed.
A huge, heavy gull slammed into his back scratching and beating around his head. He ricocheted off the swinging scope, instinctively ducking beneath its metal case, stumbling over the footrest that ringed the post and fumbling for the handgun that wasn't there. His weak knee twinged, but that was the least of his worries at the moment. He hadn't even seen it coming. Screaming, the creature flew up and circled to dive murderously at him on the other side, trying to get at him to tear with beak and claw as he scrabbled for a rock, any rock, of throwable size. The beak clacked off the metal, snapped at his arm.
"Get away from him!" unexpectedly came a woman's voice. "Get away!"
Back to index
Chapter 7: Throwing a Curve
Author's Notes: When in need, anything can be a weapon.
Chapter 7: Throwing a Curve
“Skrawwwwk! Graaaak!” There was a thud and the gull was abruptly smacked into the pavement. It lunged up viciously snapping only to be smacked again.
The Brigadier was somewhat astonished to see a grimacing young woman wielding what appeared to be a trash-picking stick like a bat. She swung it again as he rapidly half-rolled, half-scuttled himself out of the way of both stick and bird.
“Away…!” she continued, going after the bird like a mad rug-beater.
The bird hissed; white down tumbled across the windy pavement. It flapped up in an arc then dropped straight at him again, evading the woman with the stick. He reflexively shielded his face and punched at it, feeling its claws scrape over his forearm. It went past and came around again with a teakettle hiss.
“In here!” she was calling, yanking open a nearby wood enclosure. He followed unquestioningly, running to duck beneath the low plywood roof. It was the shelter that hid the metal rubbish bin, which unfortunately took up most of the space both in size and aroma. They both coughed as they shoved themselves on either side of it, yanking the heavy door shut after them. There was a thud as the gull bounced off of the door violently enough that some feathers blew down past them.
Trying to ignore its screaming, the Brigadier turned to the woman squashed on the opposite side. “Good start. Any idea how to get rid of the blighter?”
“Yes,” she said decisively and half-hoisted herself up to rummage around inside the smelly metal tip, pulling open bags of garbage. She lifted her head to take a breath and submerged into the thick odor again, this time popping up with a triumphant gasp for air and something in her hand. “Perfect!”
“What is it?”
“Tuna fish. It’s an old tuna-fish sandwich.”
He fought the urge to curl his lips with revulsion. “And how exactly do you propose to use this find?”
“If we can throw it far enough, the bird will chase it. It’s worked before. How’s your throwing arm?”
He eyed the edge of the slope outside their shelter, judging the distance it would take to keep it from merely falling to the pavement. The gull screamed and bounced off the wood above them.
“Not good enough for that.” He considered what other resources they had. “That rubber strap there, can you unhook it?”
She looked up at the dangling long, black rubber strap that helped hold the doors on windy days. “I think so. Here,” she said, briefly mashing the sandwich into a ball and tossing it to him. He inwardly winced, but caught it. The young woman jumped up and down on her toes, finally managing to pop the hook off of the wood at the top, the black strap tumbling down over her shoulders. She held it up. “Now what?”
“Slingshot. Toss me that strap. And here.” He tossed the mashed sandwich back at her as the strap came flopping in his direction. “Find a paper bag or something to contain it a little more firmly.” Taking the strap in hand, he squeezed his way along the front of the tip.
A series of small thumps heralded the hopping pursuit of their tormentor along the roof again. Moving quickly, he reached up and hooked one end of the strap on the front corner. There was a hiss and the seagull’s head snapped madly at him through the small gap. He pulled his hand back; the hook held. Ducking back as far as he could he edged back again, the clacking, snapping beak disconcertingly inches from his face. With a determined effort he managed to stretch the strap to the opposite corner, clicking its hook through a metal loop on the tip with an echoing bwonnng.
“Got it,” the girl was saying. He looked up to find the sandwich ball now neatly transformed into a somewhat round brown-paper covered projectile.
“Well done. Hold that a moment, will you?” He hoisted himself up for the part of this plan that he hadn’t wanted to think too deeply about: that the only way to shoot it would be from the center. Huffing, he swung over the lip and crunched down into the rubbish, stomping the unidentifiable contents until he found reasonably sound footing. Leaning forward he firmly gripped the strap and began pulling it back. It was stiff, but reasonably flexible; leaning, he worked it as far back as he could then dug in his heels, trying to steady it.
“Now. Hold that sandwich right here. A little further over. Good. Hold it right there…”
He shifted his hold until he could fold the squashy ball somewhat in the apex of the fat rubber curve. She pulled her hands back out of the way and watched, apparently both impressed and amused.
“Come on…” he muttered, his arms trembling from the strain of holding it back as he adjusted his aim. Where was that blasted…
The gull dropped in front of the wooden partition clattering and scraping at it then flew up to the top again. It shoved its head into the slot along the front opening, viciously hissing at them upside-down.
A brown glob shot past just as it jerked to the side; a glob that took its strong fishy scent with it in a long arc, bouncing and rolling briefly along the gravel and scrubby grass opposite the walk then rolling off with increasing speed down the slope towards the cliffs. The gull shot after it, vanishing over the edge of one of the clefts with a shriek of gullish greed.
“Thank you,” the Brigadier replied with a properly restrained smile of acknowledgment. Inside he was practically clicking his heels; he really hadn’t been sure if the makeshift thing would release its smelly payload out the slot or if it would merely explode inside their pillbox with them. He wished the Doctor had been there to see it.
They waited, but after a few moments there was still no sign of it returning. The Brigadier edged back out of the rank smelling shelter, scanning the sky. The only gulls visible continued wheeling on the updrafts without any apparent interest in the people below. The young woman followed him more slowly then turned and stuck out a hand.
“Sylvia Fleming, Countryside Ranger,” she pointedly introduced. “And as I was about to say before all that, you are aware this park is closed?"
“We manage the parks and reserves around here, which puts you rather in my jurisdiction.”
He looked away, then became occupied with brushing bits of gunk from his pant leg and rubbing at his sore knee. "Ah, I see. I thought it was rather quiet. Why is it closed?"
"Storm damage,” she said, not fooled by his naivety.
"I thought it might be the gulls." He glanced back up at her wryly.
She rolled her eyes at that and gave a short, humourless laugh. "I admit it’s strange, isn't it? And we've had several like that lately, or maybe it’s a problem with the same one over and over again. If that’s the case, I can't wait for nesting season to be over with for that one, I can tell you. Worse that it’s those Black-backs, they’re already pretty big and mean for gulls."
“Good to know it isn’t just me. And pleased to meet you, Miss Fleming,” he added with a belated courtesy. “Bri… Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. And no, I’m not just holidaying, I’m involved in some scientific research. Speaking of which, what's on the other side of that ridge there?" he waved a hand towards the promontory. “The beach doesn’t wrap around in any way, does it?”
"Not at all. It’s sheer cliffs," she said. "Birds love them, but they’re only accessible by watercraft unless you’re a bird or fish."
"You’re an odd one, though I suppose that might be par for the course with you scientists.”
He was still watching the cliff edge from the corner of his eye. “How could you be so sure that bird would chase after it, or not come right back?”
She shook a bit of something sticky from one of her sleeves. “Like I said, I saw it work before. Not me, personally, I mean. Just a few days ago we had an older woman here eating her lunch at the park and one of those things went after her. Usually they just want food, being gulls, so when it turned mean she tried getting rid of it by throwing her lunch off the cliff.”
He considered this with interest. “And it worked.”
“Chased right after it. Of course I don’t know if it would’ve gone back to her looking for seconds or anything, she ran right back to her car and drove off at that point.”
“Understandable,” he nodded.
“Not that I’m condoning throwing things off the cliff!” she amended hastily, as if suddenly remembering her Ranger duties. “Not to mention the littering, it’s hazardous; there can be people down below. Speaking of which, I saw you arrive earlier and there were two of you; where's your father?"
His eyebrows quirked. "My father?"
"That older gentleman who was with you. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions…" she fumbled to a stop, seeing the growing disbelieving amusement in his face at the idea.
"The Doctor,” he said, carefully restoring neutrality, “my associate, is still somewhere down on the beach."
"No… well, I suppose he might be."
It was her turn to quirk eyebrows at that. "Well, look. No matter what he does for a living, the park is still closed for a reason and most of it because of the beach." She frowned toward the beach path. "I was down there earlier, checking the damage."
"To the pier, to the bird's nests, to the cliffs, what did you think? Erosion is only to be expected from a storm, of course. There's a minor fall down towards the end, I do hope your friend has the good sense to stay away from it; there could be more to come down."
“I’m certain he wouldn’t get himself too near anything that looked dangerous,” the Brigadier assured her while completely doubting it himself.
The Doctor stepped forward into the dimly lit chamber and paused, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. “No reason to be alarmed,” he said quickly. “I just want to speak with you a moment.”
Three Silurian heads whipped towards him in astonishment, quivering as they scented him, trying to see what he was. The one he’d been following reached for a small, rounded weapon that lay atop the blinking control panel, but even as he shifted to duck for shelter if necessary, both of the other Silurians reached out to grasp the potential assailant.
“Stop!” commanded the heavier set one, older and darker than his overly-eager compatriot.
“No, hold!” the taller one was hissing excitedly.
The third, obviously the smallest and youngest of the trio, lowered the weapon disc reluctantly. “It is an intruder!” he protested. “And it may not be alone!”
“I assure you, I’m no invader,” the Doctor said, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. “I merely followed you in to see what you were up to.”
“I saw no one,” the youth growled.
“Well, you’ll have to be more observant next time, won’t you? It’s just as well. I was looking for you.”
“How did you know of us?” asked the taller one.
“Why do you seek us?” the older one demanded at the same time.
“I’ve met your people before,” the Doctor replied equitably. “And I have news that I believe you should hear.”
They stared suspiciously at him, obviously unsure what to do with this unexpected appearance among them. “What proof do we have that you are not only the first of many?” the older one finally grated. “Or that you will report to the humans of our work here?”
“I assure you…,” he said, stepping forward.
“I shall kill him,” the younger one interrupted impatiently. “There will be no worry of his telling then.” His hand swung back to his belt, pulling up the energy weapon once again. He stepped closer to the Doctor, who still hadn’t moved beyond the entrance to the chamber.
“No, do not kill him,” the older one commanded the younger with a staying gesture.
“Thank you. Very kind,” the Doctor noted mildly, though his eyes were sharp.
“He is dangerous! ” the younger protested. “You are fools!”
The Doctor clucked his tongue at this. “Tsk. What are you so worried about? Look at me,” he said, raising his hands innocently as he came closer to his potential assailant. “I’m alone, and there are three of you. And I haven’t any weapons with me, unlike yourselves.”
The youth wasn’t mollified. He held the disc-shaped weapon up in an unsteady clawed hand. “He shows no fear. He knows of our weapons. He has planned an attack on us!” He abruptly stepped forward and shot.
Back to index
Chapter 8: Poached
Author's Notes: Picking up whatever seems handiest.
Chapter 8: Poached
The weapon glowed, crackling dangerously.
The Doctor immediately dropped to the side, bits of gravel and sand blasting from the wall where he’d been. Even as the other Silurians reacted, the youth tried to shoot again. His intended target wasn’t inclined to hold still; in one fluid movement he’d ducked under the outstretched arm and before they could register what had happened, the young reptilian was spun around and standing with the stranger’s arm firmly across his throat, his own disc-weapon aimed at his head. He gargled in surprised protest.
“Now,” the Doctor’s voice spoke pleasantly from behind him. “Shall we continue with this useless exercise in violence or shall we have a nice visit like reasonable, civilized beings?”
The youth gargled tremulously again as the others bobbed their heads. “Release him,” the elder one finally said. He gestured at the Doctor. “He will allow you to live. We will listen. I apologize for his rash behaviour, his blood runs too warm of late.”
“Thank you, that’s more like it,” the Doctor agreed. He tossed the confiscated weapon to the elder Silurian as he released the youth, who staggered slightly, gasping and rubbing at his neck unhappily. “I’m the Doctor. And I know of a lot more than mere recognition of your weapons, my good fellow; I told you I had news.” He directed his speech to the elder with a nod. “As you’ve guessed, I’ve met others of your kind before and spoken with them. I have only the greatest respect for your people and personally bear you no ill will.”
The reptilian face was guardedly cautious but not dismissing. “How do we know you speak truth? You may be here to spy on us.”
Instead of answering, the Doctor pointed a finger at their control center where a small series of lights blinked. “You’ve turned your communication signals to full strength I see. Have you been able to pick up any of your leader’s signals at all? How many days has it been now?”
“No, there’s been no word…” the younger Silurian began.
“Quiet!” commanded the older one with a hiss. “I told you to let him live, not to answer his questions.”
“But he is correct,” the taller one put in more quietly. He turned his bulbous eyes curiously towards their unexpected visitor again. “You recognize what this is, yet it is not of human technology.”
The older one turned to eye the Doctor with suspicion in his turn. “And why do you speak thus of our leaders?’
“Oh, a rhetorical question, I admit.” He casually stepped up to the control console and tapped it thoughtfully with a fingertip. “And yes, I do recognize what its purpose is,” he smiled at the taller Silurian. “I’m something of a scientist myself, as I surmise you are.”
The Silurian was intrigued. “You are a human scientist?”
He rubbed his chin. “Oh, I tinker a fair bit.” He pointed at one of flashing light displays. “Speaking of which, you urgently need to calibrate that sensor. The readings aren’t matching up properly; I expect your exon-hydrothermic couplers may be close to overload. You’d better care for it soon or your power will go into fluctuation.”
“It has done so many times,” the Silurian scientist lamented. “Our last array of discs were ruined, but I am unsure how to proceed. It will require additional research.”
“Oh, it isn’t that difficult. Here,” the Doctor said, quickly kneeling to pop open a panel and pointing inside. He gestured the scientist over to him. “You see those two coloured bits there? They’ll need a third to share the load coming in from…that over there…see how this box here has slots for additional…”
“How did you know of our exon-hydrothermal power?” the older one demanded.
The Doctor glanced up at him. “Well, it’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? You’re working with extreme heat and pressure near the sea floor, and you haven’t access to any of the power sources the humans are using at this time.” He turned back to the scientist, who was now leaning over him and nodding. “Now the slots here are hexagonal for a reason…. Look, this would be much faster to do than to explain. You don’t mind, do you?” Without waiting for discussion, he plunged his hands into the control panel’s base, carefully threading past some cables. “Just a moment,” he added politely.
The three Silurians hovered around him unsure whether they should be stopping or encouraging him as he modified their equipment. The Doctor sat back on his heels a moment and patted his pockets, pulled out a small tool and reached back in to tweak something, yanking out a handful of cables and connectors then rapidly and carefully putting them all back in again.
“There,” he said, slipping his hand back into his pocket. He shut the panel and stood up, dusting briefly at his knees. “That should stop any power fluctuations. I can see you’ve already had to discard some of the auxiliary power cells because of it. It won’t leave you much room for error if it happens again. A shame I couldn’t have been here to help calibrate it sooner.”
The Silurian scientist was closely examining the readouts. The commander stepped up and peered at them as well. “What he claims, is it true?” he hissed.
“I will kill him if it is not,” the younger one offered helpfully and was ignored.
“The fluctuations are balanced.” The scientist sounded excited. “Readings show all energy waves flowing evenly. We could not have stabilized this so quickly, not without much research of the old writings. This Doctor,” he gestured, “shows by this that he is not an enemy of the Silurians.”
“I already told you I wasn’t. But as I said, I still have grave news to bring you, and it does relate to why I asked about your leaders. You yourselves admit they haven’t answered you and your equipment is not at fault. As you have very likely feared, your people are out of communication because they and their machinery have been destroyed.”
“It is not possible!” cried the youngest and lunged forward, firmly stopped by the elder one’s hand to his chest.
The Doctor looked at them all with some sadness. “Isn’t it? I’m sorry, but I saw it myself. It’s why I came to seek you out when I recognized signs of your activity here. They have already been defeated in their attempt to establish a land base against the humans, their invasion was a failure. Many lives were lost on both sides of the conflict.”
“He deceives us,” the youth protested again, but weakly.
“The retaking of this world has begun and cannot be stopped by mere humans,” the older one finally surmised, though his confidence was obviously shaken.
The Doctor considered his words. “You think so?” he asked, leaning against the control panel and cocking his head at them. “Those mere humans, as you call them, have made great strides in their development.”
“Their weapons are merely projectile,” the tall scientist scoffed.
“I said they’d made great strides, not that they’d arrived anywhere. And looking at yourselves, unwilling to even consider giving them a chance at fairly sharing this planet, I can’t say the Silurians have either.” He held up a hand at their hissing. “I had rather hoped you had heard something on your equipment, to tell the truth, as that would mean there had been survivors. I still have hopes that your people will be able to find a peaceful solution or at least a workable compromise with the humans.”
“It is our world!” the youngest said with a note of desperation. The others bobbed their heads in accord.
The Doctor shook his head. “And theirs. They also have a significantly higher population. Surely peace would be wiser than annihilation.” There was a pause as they digested this.
The scientist finally spoke. “Even if we wanted to, we haven’t the authority to make such decisions here. We have our work to complete. That is where our duty lies.”
“But your work is for nothing. Can’t you see that? And worse than nothing; lives are being lost at every turn.”
The elder suddenly made a dismissive gesture. “We will be victorious,” he said, more to the others than to him. He turned back to the Doctor. “And there are more of us than you know.”
“Hm,” the Doctor said noncommittally. He suddenly straightened up, giving the control panel a decisive pat. “Well. I’ve delivered the message I came to deliver, I suppose what you do with it is up to you, isn’t it? I’ll be off then.”
“You cannot leave, you know of our work,” the younger Silurian stated.
“I give you my word I’ll not be leading any humans into that tunnel,” the Doctor said. “As I have repeatedly told you, I bear your people no ill-will. My human companions believe me to only be taking in a bit of sea air. So not only would it be sadly unlike the honour of your people, keeping me here would only excite suspicion in them and they’d come looking for me. Isn’t that so, commander?”
The older one bobbed his reptilian head in reluctant assent. “Let him go.”
“I will escort him to be sure of his leaving,” the scientist volunteered.
“Very well. Farewell, Doctor. We will keep your message in mind.”
“That’s all I ask,” the Doctor nodded. He gave a small bow and turned back to the hallway he’d entered by, the tall scientist coming up beside him as he went.
“You say you saw this…defeat,” the Silurian put in more quietly once they were back out in the tunnel.
“Yes. I tried to warn them but they wouldn’t listen to me. They chose violence.”
The ocean whispered around the tunnel as they crunched their way down to the beach. The Doctor paused in the crevice opening, the wind stirring his hair. “I’m sorry.”
“I wish to speak with you more on this,” the Silurian hissed. “I will be at this shore in the morning.”
“Then I’ll be here as well.”
“Farewell, Doctor.” With a last nod, it slipped back up the tunnel, leaving him alone on the beach where the incoming tide was still at work in smoothing the debris from the earlier blast into soft mounds and dimples. After a moment, he walked away.
Pacing up the gravelly strand toward the cleft with its wooden stairway, he glanced up at the sky. Finding it clear of dive-bombing birds, he turned his consideration to the items in his pocket: the chunk of rock from the tunnel, the pottery shards and now a small metallic cylinder with empty connectors at either end. He twiddled the metal object then stuck the pieces back in his pocket, glancing curiously at a large gull up ahead that hunched on the sands, gulping something out of a shredded wad of brown paper.
“At least you’re acting like a proper gull,” the Doctor told it as he went by, on guard for any sign of sudden aggression. “Carry on.”
It merely looked up at him suspiciously, dragging the wet paper further up the beach and then finally lifting off with heavy beats to carry its gullish treasure where it could consume it in peace further up the multicoloured cliffs.
Up above those same multicoloured cliffs, the Brigadier and Sylvia stood near the top of the path, huddled slightly from the cold breeze as they squinted out at the lighthouse toward the Needles.
“So, what exactly are you here to research?” she was asking. “Because so far all you’ve done is gape at the lighthouse, which seems suspiciously holidayish for someone who claims he isn’t on holiday.”
He turned from the grey ocean view to consider her skeptical look then crossed his arms, looking back out toward the horizon. “We’ve talked with people who say there are local legends of strange sea creatures near here,” he said. “It may sound strange to you, but we believe there may be some credence to it…”
Glancing over at her, he saw she wasn’t being dismissive, or mocking; in fact, she looked slightly alarmed. Something in her face made him edge out onto a limb. “Yes. Unusual ones that some say may even stand upright and show some intelligence. Man-like but not men.” He paused, then added, “Of course you can’t believe everything you hear…”
“No, no. I mean, of course you can’t but…”
She hesitated several beats then spoke quickly. “I mean…What if someone said they’d really seen them? I mean, themselves? Would you think they were just making it up?”
“No, I wouldn’t. I like to think we give every person’s story a fair hearing. What would they have to gain by making it up?”
She didn’t reply at first, apparently thinking this over. He waited a little then commented, “Besides, I’ve seen them myself. Though not here, another part of Britain.”
Her eyes widened. “Did you?”
“Tall chaps. Big eyes. A bit fishlike, but not quite, more reptilian perhaps,” he said conversationally, as if discussing the general appearance of milkmen or schoolmasters.
She hugged her arms to herself. “I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
He allowed a small smile at this confirmation. “Well, now you’ve met some who will, and I mean that entirely seriously. The Doctor will want to hear about it, if you’d be willing to tell him. Speaking of which, I see him; there he is, down there.”
“I suppose I could tell him,” she said doubtfully. “If he wanted me to. And no one says who I am.” She walked with the Brigadier as he made his way down the sloping path towards the dark cloaked figure who was now fairly rapidly making his way up the long wooden steps. “He’s pretty spry for his age, isn’t he?”
“You could say that.” Alistair noted dryly and lifted a hand in greeting as the Doctor reached the top of the steps and strode up towards them, putting something into his pocket as he came. Approaching them, he gave a briefly appraising look at the Brigadier’s rubbish-stained condition.
"You look like you’ve been having an adventure of some sort.”
“Where have you been all this time?”
“Sorry for the delay,” he replied without any apology at all. “I was just down at the southern end, along the cliff wall."
"You went down there? " Sylvia interjected. She looked angry with him. "That was stupid, you could've been buried by a fall."
"My dear young woman, I am more than able to assess the likely stability. I wasn't in any danger, at least not from any fall."
"What the devil?" asked the Brigadier in an aside.
"Yes, you could say that. Three of them, in fact." He turned to the girl beside him and smiled winningly. “I’m the Doctor, and you are…?”
“Sylvia Fleming,” she said, coloring slightly at his sudden shift to courtesy.
He gently lifted her hand and bowed over it in graceful, courtly manner. “Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Fleming. I see you’ve already met my associate. I trust he’s been behaving himself?”
The Brigadier gave him a warning look. “Doctor. ”
“You must admit you’re looking a bit more unsavoury than usual, Brigadier.”
“Brigadier?” Sylvia said, accusingly pointing a finger him. “You said you were just a researcher.”
“He is,” the Doctor put in smoothly going along. “Though his background is admittedly military he’s been quite helpful to me on many occasions.” He gallantly tucked her arm into his and began walking with her back up the slope, leaving the slightly annoyed Brigadier to follow. “Are you very familiar with this area, my dear?”
Sylvia looked up at him, slightly flustered by his charm. “Yes, I was born here on the Island…and, and it sounds like I’ve seen something you’re looking for.”
Back to index
Chapter 9: Nest Eggs
Author's Notes: Pondering the problem, whether you are human or Silurian, just doesn't seem to solve it quickly enough.
Chapter 9: Nest Eggs
“So, they’re…you’re saying they’re like local wildlife?”
“Not wildlife at all,” the Brigadier corrected mildly. “More like foreigners, you could say. We appreciate your confirming their being here for us.”
“You called them Silurians?”
It wasn’t really a question; Sylvia had already said it before as she stood there, still busy digesting what she now knew of that basic fact. The Doctor had not only been understanding of her hesitant description of the creatures she had seen, he was almost too understanding. Understanding to the point that what she had presented as a possibly frightening, mysterious sighting of an unknown monster had been accepted, considered and brushed aside as quite mundane. She might as well have been talking about the mystery of how toast came from bread for all the impact it seemed to have on him. She didn’t know what to make of it.
Thankfully, her personal adjustments to Silurian existence weren’t slowing anything down. The two strange men she’d so recently fallen in with were well-occupied with pondering the nearby promontory with its artillery battery, standing in the wind and squinting at the barely visible lumps of stone building structures perched along the cliffs.
"The headland battery's been closed down, no one up there now since they shut down that rocket programme," Sylvia offered, following their gaze. "Fine with all the caulkheads, I can tell you that. Every time they were going to be testing one everyone had to be warned away, as far back as Tennyson's monument. Huge plumes of steam, very dramatic looking though it didn't sound like much."
“Corkheads. Other Rangers?” the Brigadier guessed.
She laughed a little self-consciously. “Sorry, no. Native islanders. And it’s ‘caulk’ not ‘cork.’ Come to think of it I really don’t even know why we call ourselves that, something to do with boating probably. It doesn’t sound too flattering to visitors, does it?”
“Merely unsinkable,” he assured her.
"Probably from cooling the exhaust tunnels with water," the Doctor was musing. "I expect they’re using the old rocket exhaust tunnels and extending off of them. And you could even call yourselves Vectonians, you know. The Romans called this island Vectis. I wonder what the Silurians know it as? The Silurian access probably goes all the way through by now from their own underwater structure up to the battery."
“So that’s what I saw in that telescope,” the Brigadier noted, smiling slightly at the absently mixed topics. “Steam from the tunnels.”
“Did you really? Interesting. They must be increasing their activity.”
Sylvia shook her head. "But there's no one there, or there shouldn't be. It was closed down two or three years ago," she repeated and wrapped her coat more tightly around herself as the wind picked up again, this time pelting them with fat drops of cold rain. “And Vectonian just sounds strange to me. How about just ‘islanders?’” She burrowed her chin into her chest as more rain came down. “Look, why don’t you come with me - I’m on rotation this week, over in the maintenance cottage. It’s just over that way, there’s not much but we can at least get out of this cold wind and have some tea.”
“Thank you,” the Brigadier said. He was feeling more chilled than he cared to admit.
The Doctor glanced at his friend, noting his lightly chattering teeth, and made another of his gracious little bows towards her. “That would be quite kind of you,” he agreed.
The ‘cottage’ as Sylvia had described it was an unassuming older structure, a low house that served as an on-site storage and general residence for whomever was on duty at the park. The building was relatively plain with a corrugated metal storage shed for the grounds maintenance sitting next to it, painted thickly brown against the salt air’s corrosion. The entire effect wouldn’t be considered postcard worthy, but it had some slight charm, mostly, the Brigadier thought just then, in that it had weather-worthy walls and a roof.
"If we can capture them, we could use that metal shed as a temporary lockup,” he noted in an approving undertone as they entered the small house, shaking off the rain.
"They're intelligent beings, scientists; you can't treat them like animals," the Doctor reproved as Sylvia flicked on a light and went ahead of them to start some water heating.
"Where else would you have them, Doctor? Inviting them to tea at the table?" the Brigadier said pointedly. "Too many of our people are dead thanks to that lot, and I can't risk anyone else being hurt. If I might use the phone, Miss Fleming…"
"Of course! Just over there, by the kitchen," she said, pausing to pull off her coat. She snagged it on one of the hooks on the wall and pulled open a small cupboard.
"Thank you." He glanced back over his shoulder. "I could arrange for reinforced transport to be standing by once we have them in custody."
The Doctor drummed his fingers along the top of one of the wooden chairs. "That’s not so easily accomplished. And then what are you going to do with them if you do catch them? You can't just lock them up forever," he pointed out.
"Damned if I know," the Brigadier growled back over his shoulder as he headed for the phone. "I'll leave that up to Geneva."
The Doctor looked troubled. Sylvia tentatively came over beside him, fidgeting with a box of biscuits. "Is it true they've killed people, then?" she wanted to know.
He looked at her then turned, looking out the window towards the sea. "If you mean their race, the Silurians, yes. As acts of war, really, not entirely uncalled for. But this particular outpost? I don't know; the crew they left here may be considered entirely innocent." His tipped his head, indicating the Brigadier where he was dialing. "How would you like to be blamed for every death incurred by other members of the human race?"
She frowned. "That would hardly be fair. Of course. But… if they're dangerous…"
"Everyone is potentially dangerous," the Doctor said. "Including myself. And nearly everyone also has the potential to make room for others to live peacefully alongside them. I would rather give these creatures a fair chance. Most people of intelligence would rather live in peace given the option and that includes Silurians."
"But if they have killed people?" she wondered.
He glanced over at the Brigadier again, then plucked at one of his cuffs, smoothing the velvet down over it. "Then human justice will have to be served, no doubt."
The Brigadier completed his telephone calls and came to the table to find the biscuits were half gone and the Doctor was staring out the rainy window in some kind of reverie. Their hostess had gone off to change into clean clothing while the water hissed to a boil on the stove.
At the thought of sitting down for tea, Alistair brushed self-consciously at his stained clothing. “I’m afraid our little adventure with that bird made me less than presentable,” he noted apologetically as Sylvia came back into the room.
“I don’t mind, but there’s a washer if you want,” the girl told him. “It’s pretty old, but it works. We can run them through the mangle, I’m sure there’s some spare clothing you can wear while they dry… if you don’t mind looking like a park ranger yourself for a while, that is.”
He looked relieved. “I don’t mind a park ranger’s uniform at all.”
She laughed at his expression. “What, did you think I was going to offer you some kind of frilly housedress? Oh, go on. You’ll find what you need in that linen press by the washroom over there.”
He nodded his thanks. She watched him go then went to pry open a mottled red tea tin. Extracting a pair of tea sachets, she popped them into the steaming pot. That done, she turned back to the older man to find he’d pulled some bits of broken pottery from his pocket and was now carefully holding them up near the lightbulb one at a time. She watched as he sniffed them, then rubbed at them curiously.
“What are those?” she asked, wondering if she really wanted to know. All sorts of odd things could wash up on the beaches.
He glanced over at her, preoccupied. “Pieces of clay. From an extremely antiquated clay vessel, actually. I’d like to run a few simple tests, if I might have the use of your kitchen.”
“Of course! I mean, as long as you aren’t setting things on fire or anything.”
He smiled at that. “I doubt anything so elaborate will be required.”
By the time the Brigadier had returned from his brief cleanup and was settled at the table in a trouser and shirt set that was a little too short for him the Doctor had apparently found what he wanted from the clay. Leaving the kitchen, he’d moved on to the table where he opened the little metal cylinder he’d obtained from the Silurian control panel, poking at its innards with the tip of a butter knife.
Alistair self-consciously tugged at one of the short trouser cuffs. “If we keep running into these gulls I’m going to need an entirely new wardrobe,” he said.
The Doctor glanced over in brief appraisal. “That should be simple enough. You’re nearly always in uniform.”
He puffed a breath through his moustache and after a moment observed, “At least it was me, and not someone’s grandmother here on holiday.”
Instead of replying, the Doctor put down the butter knife and fluffed his hair with his hand thoughtfully. He reached for the biscuit box, shaking a handful out. As soon as he put it down, the Brigadier promptly slid the box back across the table in an attempt to get at least one or two before they were gone.
"Something is lending itself to the bird’s aggressiveness, and we know historically that the infested ‘oracular’ birds weren't always this uncontrollable," the Doctor noted, eyeing the biscuit box in the Brigadier’s hand significantly.
Alistair extracted a couple and resignedly allowed the remainder to be pulled back across the table again. "Maybe it's because they've gone and used seagulls," he said shortly. He rubbed a hand over his eyes; he was tired and being cooped up with the Doctor developing hypotheses was hardly his idea of a good time. "How do they get that stuff into the birds anyway? Or will I regret asking?"
"Incubation," the Doctor replied, shaking out the last biscuits. "I said they were incubation nodules. The target species must be induced to settle onto the nodule and incubate it, most likely for several hours. That's why it isn't going to spread to other species without deliberate interference."
"Ah," the Brigadier said, relaxing slightly now that it hadn’t turned out to be anything graphic. "So these infected eggs being laid…"
"Will have developed into nodules. They don't hatch out a host, they attract one by imitating an egg."
"Well, that's some good news at least; not likely to find pigeons sitting in the gulls' nests," the Brigadier noted, crunching his own biscuit. He’d still been more than a little worried that it would spread among the cities.
"No, though it could be accomplished in a laboratory setting."
He stopped chewing. "You just had to say that, didn't you? I'll settle for hoping it's horrendously difficult for them. Gulls are not exactly known for their mild manners."
The bird shrieked and struggled to free itself from the reptilian claws that pinned its wings, its strong feet scrabbling and yellow beak snapping. The creature that held it made a hissing sound of pain.
“Move quickly!” its captor demanded.
“Nothing. It has not yet been absorbed,” the other Silurian, a taller one, said, prodding the firm nodule in its jumbled false nest of twigs. “Another day, as I said was to be expected.”
The older Silurian hissed again and moved to cram the screaming gull back into its close cage, shutting the wire door on it only after repeated attempts. “Your formula is not working,” he accused.
“We cannot lower the mineral levels any more quickly without stopping its heart,” the taller one protested. “Three are dead already. It will absorb by tomorrow.”
“Then you will be the one to bring in the next one, tomorrow.” The commander snapped the latch and pushed the lever that lowered the cage top, trapping the unfortunate gull against the egg in the nest.
“I am still needed to monitor the energy levels…”
“You will bring in the next one. We must seed the nesting grounds with more or it will have all been for nothing.”
The two Silurians watched the struggling bird as it bounced vainly inside the cage. They’d chosen the largest, strongest birds available when they’d begun this experiment, thinking they’d have the greatest disruption to the human population. The grandiose plan to move on to modifications that would affect all of the local animal life now seemed a far-off fantasy; they would be happy if they could only obtain more gulls. The creatures were easy to lure with food, but difficult to hold. At least there was hope that what they had accomplished so far would continue to spread.
The commander looked out the chamber’s doorway where the late afternoon light could be seen creeping only warily beneath the grey cloud cover that had blanketed the sky since morning. The old artillery walls were wet and cold; his people were in need of encouragement to continue on in this lonely outpost. Encouragement was part of what he was supposed to do as the leader, of course, but what about when he needed some himself? He tried to recall the vision of a world once more theirs and theirs alone, the words that had seemed so ringing and compelling at the time.
The rainy sea shimmered in shades of slate and grey, dotted here and there with bobbing dark flecks that were sea-birds. "The plan has been a success,” he stated firmly. “The avians will multiply. Soon all avians will be fighting for our new dominion with us, helping us free the land from the humans."
"The Triad will be pleased with our progress,” the scientist nodded. “If they ever hear."
"They will be pleased.”
“They have not contacted us since before the first scheduled invasions. The Doctor said…"
The commander turned from the doorway and fixed his reptilian gaze on his companion, his neck rills lifting slightly in challenge. "He makes you question our victory. Have you forgotten this Doctor was only a human trying to discourage us?”
“I still do not agree. Remember that he was also not afraid of us. He reminded me of the Master-man, ” the scientist said more quietly. “I have wondered if he knew of him as well.”
Their eyes turned back to the angry gull where it still screamed and snapped upon the nest. The Master-man was the one who had first told them of the ancient urns that they’d captured, as their leaders had directed them to. He was the one who told them of the mineral feedings that would allow the violent creatures to spread. “We shall fill the skies with their ancient omens of war,” he’d said. The commander’s head shook with irritation; they had followed their directives, but no one had thought it would take so long, or be so difficult and impractical.
Unable to easily lure the crows recommended as having the greatest impact, they’d thought the ready supply of aggressive seagulls a good substitute, but now their doubts were far outstripping any hopes they’d gained in the process.
The Triad’s message he’d been given had told them to obey whatever the Master-man said. Why had his leaders given that man such power? His own small team had balked at taking orders or even direction from a human, and now the achingly slow pace of the supposedly destructive spread seemed to only confirm it had been the wrong thing to do.
So much time wasted. Hours and days that could have been spent on their weapon fabrications, struggling to reestablish the technology their kind had once known. At least the weapon works were moving forward well, as well as a wonderful weapon with its wide beam would soon cut a wide swath across this human-befouled land. Now that the power fluctuations that had been plaguing them had been solved by that Doctor…
He turned to acknowledge the younger Silurian who entered the chamber, accepting his gesture of respect.
“The Thermophosphron will soon be functional,” he said. “We are very near success!”
“That is well,” the commander said. “Continue your work. Victory is assured.”
He looked back out at the grey afternoon sky. Their resources were secure and well-gathered. No matter if the Triad were delayed, or if that Master-man had been right or not. Whether by the violence of native avians or by the wide-range molecular heat vibrations they would soon unleash upon any living thing upon the land, the human’s days were numbered.
Back to index
Chapter 10: Inner Seagullness
Author's Notes: This should be interesting on the requisition forms.
Chapter 10: Inner Seagullness
"What were they thinking, using birds as weapons?” the Brigadier wondered aloud. “It’s more the sort of ridiculous thing the Master would come up with. You know, like squirting daffodils and blowing up small village churches.”
“That’s occurred to me as well, especially as we know he was here about the time that ship was scuttled.”
The Brigadier turned his dark eyes to the Doctor with sudden concern. “Do you think he was really responsible?”
The Doctor gave a small shrug and paced back to the window. “I doubt he personally scuttled it, if that’s what you mean, but he was almost certainly involved. The Silurians don’t generally make a habit of sinking and looting ships.”
“Well, no matter how it started the problem is we still don’t know how to stop it. That has to be the priority.”
“One of them. I could possibly stop the spread if I could pin down the catalyst that makes it come out of dormancy. The gull's natural-born avarice should most definitely be factored in,” the Doctor said, pacing back again. “And some sort of condition of war, perhaps, seeing as birds chosen for oracles were stirred up during wartimes.” He paused and looked down at Alistair. “What other factors are involved in oncoming war? Surely you ought to be able to help me out here, Brigadier. You're one of the most warlike men I know."
"I certainly hope you didn't intend that as a compliment."
"And peace," the Doctor continued as if he hadn't heard, "comes after war and we find the oracles are back in stasis. What brings about peace in a tribal situation?" He paced back toward the window.
"The death of the rival chieftain and his supporters, I suppose."
"No, no. That just removes the after-effect, the reactive agents." He looked back at the Brigadier's blank expression and tried rephrasing it. "Like scooping out the extra soda after the vinegar is done fizzing. What's the soda reacting to that's no longer there to be causing that further reaction?"
"Soda and vinegar?" the Brigadier snorted. "We're talking men, Doctor, not household chemicals. Unless we're talking about seagulls. I think I'm losing you, but it wouldn't be the first time."
"Or we're talking chemicals that potentially affect both men and birds," he replied. “Something that makes them susceptible. Could be anything, a pollen in the air, something in the food…"
"Speaking of food," Sylvia put in, returning from where she'd set the clothes to washing then worked on gathering items together in the small kitchen. She was carrying a wood tea tray, a stoneware plate of sandwiches and the pot of tea now balanced on it.
"Thank you," the Brigadier said very sincerely appreciating both the food and the interruption. She nodded and fetched three mugs down from a cupboard. "Most generous of you, Miss Fleming."
"Yes, indeed," the Doctor added a bit belatedly. "Many thanks."
"I needed to use this bread up soon anyway," she demurred, pulling out a seat to join them. "My nephew visited a few days back and he had such an appetite… oh, plates! Just a minute," she got back up. "All that reputation about growing lads eating their own weight every day? He proved it!" She fetched the plates and sat back down, handing them around as they both helped themselves to the food. "Nothing like it to revert him to a cave man, too," she added. "He had plenty of good vocabulary until suppertime, then it all turned to grunts. I told him his inner caveman only came out when it was time to eat."
The Doctor, who'd been in the middle of taking a bite, suddenly waved his sandwich emphatically. "That's it, Brigadier!"
"What? What's it?" Alistair was trying to politely identify the filling, though the Doctor obviously hadn't been put off by it.
"If we could overwhelm it with a reemergence of the naturally proper gull thought and behaviour…"
"As if any of those damn gulls could be considered proper…pardon me, Miss Fleming."
"Yes. Precisely!" The Doctor stood and paced a couple steps, then spun on his heel and paced back, tapping the sandwich in his hand before abruptly popping it into his mouth. "We just need to find the trigger for their inner seagullness," he enunciated around it.
Alistair took an experimental nibble, not quite rolling his eyes. "I suppose that would almost sound profound if it weren't ludicrous. Seagullness?"
The Doctor paused, just as obviously trying to be patient. "Let's say you've taken it into your head to write some sonnets on that wall there."
"Or invectives, if it suits you better. You're writing with that pen in your pocket."
"He is?" added Sylvia, intrigued.
The Doctor waved a hand for patience. "Now, someone else comes along after you."
"If you like," he nodded amenably. "I don't like your invective-filled sonnet and decide to write over it."
The Brigadier sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. "I'm still waiting for this to have a point, Doctor."
He held up a finger. "Soon. Now, I take up a good thick brushful of stove blacking and inscribe something more sensible over it as an improvement.” He picked up another sandwich half and waved it in the air for illustration. “Which writing do you think will be the more visible and lasting? The stronger one of course," he answered himself, and gestured at the window. "So what does the natural seagull desire most?"
"Food," the Brigadier said without hesitation. "But we can't starve an entire colony of seagulls, not with an ocean's worth of fish…"
"Starve them? Good heavens no, Brigadier. Haven't you understood a thing I've said? We need to gorge them; excite their feeding instincts into a properly fevered pitch."
"Wait. Are you suggesting we feed the gulls?"
"And this is supposed to cure them?"
"Feeding an entire colony?" Sylvia put in in disbelief. "On purpose?"
"Well, I can't guarantee the results but I think it's fairly promising in its probability. We'd only need to reach those actively nesting." He glanced down at the sandwich in his hand and took a bite out of it.
The Brigadier frowned. "If that's the case why aren't they cured the first time they snatch some poor devil's sandwich?" He absently took a bite of his own and paused as he tasted it, quickly chewing and swallowing.
"It's not enough. That's merely daily subsistence to a foraging avian. We need something to bring out a rabid avarice. Overload their greed circuits. It also explains why the one that attacked you back on the road reacted to my predator call. Self-preservation is another base instinct.”
“But we obviously don’t want to frighten them all to death,” the Brigadier observed. He tapped his healing face. “Though I admit at the moment the concept is appealing.”
“Hence feeding them. From what I can tell of the nodule specimen we picked up, if we boost the bait with a temporary neural absorption blocking enzyme…in quantity…" The Doctor finished his sandwich and fell to scribbling chemical symbols on a napkin.
"A load of spiked seagull garbage." The Brigadier shook his head. "This should be interesting on the requisition forms."
“We can treble its effectiveness with this. Magnesium. Tremendously common element, combined with the enzymes to…” he stopped, then suddenly whirled towards them. “Milk of magnesia!” he said.
The Brigadier tried not to blink. “Milk of magnesia.”
“Yes, I believe that’s what you call it here, isn’t it? Water suspension of magnesia hydroxide. Suspension of powder of brucite. Come now, Brigadier, you must know what I’m talking about,” he continued impatiently. “It’s used for digestive ailments. An infusion could easily be distributed by spraying the food and even the common nesting areas.”
“Yes, of course,” the Brigadier managed. “I was just trying to imagine explaining this on the requisition forms. It’s going to appear our entire organization is abruptly suffering severe constipation. En masse.”
“Ew, did you have to say it that way?” Sylvia asked. “It wouldn’t hurt the birds, would it?”
“Oh, no,” the Doctor said, “It’s very beneficial for avians, contributes to their eggshells and such.” He twiddled the query away with his fingers and turned back to the Brigadier who was looking slightly glazed with what was being asked of him. “Especially if we also boost the calcium content to increase absorption. Come now, Brigadier. You have the entire resources of a government entity at your disposal. The castoffs of the combined canteens alone may be sufficient to the task.”
“Er, yes. I was thinking we can send out a query for fishery castoffs as well.”
Sylvia shook her head at what she’d gotten into. “I’m going to go hang up that clothing,” she said.
Alistair poured a cup of now-lukewarm tea and watched the rain running down the window while he thought. Somewhere in the back of the cottage Sylvia opened the back door and threw out a bucket of water, letting a cool rain-scented breeze sweep briefly through the room.
"Doctor,” he said suddenly. “If they’re at that artillery battery, what do you think is the likelihood they'd be armed? With something more than those little hand things?"
"I must admit it's a distinct possibility. I'd thought so since I realized the area they'd chosen was a source of naturally pure silicate."
He snorted into his tea. “I still don’t see what the blazes has to do with it. They aren't making glass bullets, are they?" The Brigadier looked slightly amused with himself at the thought.
"No; but many of their technological items, including the handheld devices they used on the naval base in that attack are silica based."
The smile vanished instantly. "So it could even be their main munitions factory?"
"It can’t be ruled out, though we don't really know. I think it’s a smaller effort, it may merely be a scientific research base," he hedged.
The Brigadier took a breath. “We need to investigate that battery. I can call for backup.”
“I’d like to take a look around without your clumsy soldiers swarming all over it first,” the Doctor said with a frown.
“Very well,” he agreed shortly. “But once you’ve had your lookabout, I’m notifying UNIT. This is potentially a national security issue.”
The Doctor sighed, knowing there was little that would sway him on that front. Instead he pulled the little pieces of pottery from his pocket again and set them on the table. “I’ve done a bit of testing on these shards. That’s why I made the suggestion I did regarding the addition to the bird’s foodstuffs. The level of magnesium in their food supply may be the key to how they’re being managed.”
“Shards of what?”
“You remember the urns we read of, from that museum collection?”
“You found them? Those whatchacallum destruction egg ones?”
“Bits. What I wanted to know was what the nodules were suspended in, as it may have been a factor in keeping them dormant for so long.”
“The inner surface of every piece is coated with magnesium.”
He put down his cup. “Magnesium again. If it’s a recurring factor, do you think they’re using it for explosives, then?”
“Your mind is unfailingly militaristic. It’s a very common mineral element, used for much more than incendiary weapons,” the Doctor said, slightly irritated. “Though yes it is also has the ability to ignite, that isn’t what we’re talking about here. It was probably a thickened suspension that filled the urn, possibly a paste to induce dormancy. If the Silurians have found a way to artificially lower the level of magnesium in the nesting gulls, they would be susceptible to the influence of the nodules. ”
“Well, that’s something.”
“And lowered magnesium causes aggressiveness! Which reminds me, I also found this: dolomite,” he said, nudging the bit of pinkish pearly rock he’d picked up on the beach onto the table. “I found it over by the crevasse they’re using as a vent for whatever they’re doing.”
The Brigadier dutifully considered the plain little rock, observed that it looked like a plain little rock and looked back up for enlightenment. “And this is significant why?”
“It isn’t naturally occurring here. Dolomite is a result of a tropical climate, like Earth’s past, not as it is now. It starts out as calcite, of which this island obviously has plenty, but would need magnesium, salt and heat to be changed to this form. And the colour of the cliff-face around the vent indicated it was the activity directly correlating to that vent that was causing it.”
“So. Magnesium again?” he guessed, feeling like an echoing sounding wall and still not really knowing what mattered. How Miss Grant could do this day after day he had no idea.
“Well, it isn’t common rocket exhaust at the very least.”
There was a slam of the back door and Sylvia came around the corner looking a bit windblown and wide-eyed. They both looked at her.
“Sorry,” she gasped, “I was just finishing hanging the wash…one of those gulls came at me. I’m all right.”
The Brigadier stood decisively. “We need to investigate that battery.”
“Not yet,” the Doctor said quickly. “There’s not enough daylight left.”
The Brigadier looked at him sharply. “Yes, there is. Don’t play games, Doctor.”
“Oh, very well.” He looked mildly annoyed, then sat back and looked up at him as if measuring him up. “There’s a little more research I want to carry out first before risking any sort of confrontational encounter.”
“I wasn’t planning on a confrontation.”
“You can’t help but be confrontational, Brigadier. It’s in your nature.”
“And it’s in yours to be obscure! Will any of this research of yours endanger anyone?”
The Doctor’s voice rose to match his. “What a strange mind you have, Lethbridge-Stewart. I mention scientific research and the first thing you think of is violence.”
“Just a straightforward answer, if you please!”
“Doctor…” he growled warningly.
“I mean no, it’s exceedingly unlikely anything violent would commence,” he clarified acerbically, rising from his chair. “Though of course I can’t rule it out in entirety.”
“Which is why I need to be prepared for it!”
“Keep them away until I’ve had a chance to see what we’re up against!”
“And what if what we’re up against kills someone in the meantime?”
“Brigadier! ” he glared.
“Doctor! ” the Brigadier glared back, puffing through his moustache in irritation.
A hand with a deck of cards on it suddenly stuck between them. “Cards?” Sylvia offered with false perkiness from where she’d been watching the back and forth. “I mean, if you aren’t going anywhere right away it would pass the time and keep things civil.”
The Brigadier and the Doctor looked at one another.
“I play a mean Pontoon, unless you’d rather play Rummy?” she asked pointedly.
“Forgive us,” the Brigadier said, turning to her. “By all means, something more civil would apparently be quite a good suggestion.”
“Yes,” the Doctor said, suddenly giving one of his elegant bows in her direction. “Forgive us for allowing our differences to overcome the etiquette of polite society. We’ll do what we can to make amends. Brigadier, would you like the honour of choosing the game?"
Alistair found the sudden formality almost ludicrous and returned the bow in proper English schoolboy fashion. “No, no. By all means, I insist you choose first, sir.”
The Doctor suddenly flashed a bright smile. “I say, have you ever played Arcturian Moon Poker?”
Back to index
Chapter 11: Deviled Eggs
Author's Notes: Nothing like starting off the day with some time by the sea.
Chapter 11: Deviled Eggs
There was light coming through the window.
The Brigadier squinted over at it and vaguely tried to figure out how late in the morning it would have to be at this time of year to be light. The cottage’s sagging bunk-bed mattress squeaked in protest as he tried to lever himself up and out, then stretched in an equally difficult effort to re-form his back into a back shape instead of a lumpy mattress shape.
A glance at the upper bunk confirmed what he’d figured when the Doctor had so graciously accepted Sylvia’s invitation that they sleep there the previous night instead of finding a decent hostelry in Totland; it was obvious he himself had never intended to try laying on the thing. He also hoped his companion hadn’t taken apart anything vital in the kitchen during the night; a cup of hot tea was an absolute necessity.
Making himself as presentable as he could, he opened the door to discover his own clothing folded just outside it, cold from the clothesline but dry enough to wear. While dressing, he paused to listen. It was quiet, he thought. Going out, he found the little cottage deserted; a hand to the teapot found it barely warm. There was no sign of either the Doctor or the girl.
Swigging a mug of lukewarm, bitterly over-steeped tea, he shrugged into his coat and seeing his sedan was still safely where he’d left it, headed for the collection of small buildings nearby. A cold wind was scudding clouds high overhead though it was relatively calm below and the air was scented of heather and salt. The sky was clearer than it had been since their arrival on the Island and, he noted, also clear of dive-bombing birds - at least for the moment.
Keeping half an eye on the sky, he strode towards the entrance to the beach-path, remembering the Doctor’s earlier fascination with the various sands and rocks. Unless he was skulking about the buildings for some reason he couldn’t fathom, it seemed the logical place he would have gone.
As he came around the bend and paused to appreciate the view of the mildly choppy ocean below he did a double-take in surprise. There was the shape of a person bobbing in the grey-blue waters below. Alarm briefly washed over him thinking it yet another unfortunate victim sent over the cliffs by the birds before he realized the figure was quite alive and swimming with strong, even strokes. Walking more quickly down the path he recognized their young hostess, Sylvia, swimming in the ocean.
“What is that woman thinking?” he muttered to himself. “It must be positively freezing. ” He pulled his own coat more snugly around himself in sympathy and slowed his pace as it was obvious she was in no distress.
A dark shape arose from the waters behind her.
“Miss Fleming! Watch out!” There was no way she would be able to hear him. He started down the pathway again, his chest tightening this time with legitimate dread that he was about to witness a drowning or worse, realizing even as he did so that it was in vain; he was too far away to do anything even if he’d been armed. Waving his arms as he went, he tried to give some sort of visual alarm but she wasn’t looking towards him, and as yet didn’t seem to be aware of the bulge of reptilian head that was rapidly growing closer to her, cleaving easily through the small waves.
There was movement off to the side and the Doctor, cloak flying, abruptly catapulted into view. He moved quickly to the water’s edge, gesturing. The Brigadier had no idea what was being said or signaled, but whatever it was, it was effective. The creature in the water suddenly stopped then, after a moment, sank back beneath the waves. The young woman was leaving the water as rapidly as she could, though he was pleased to see wasn’t panicked about it. Already she was making her way close to the shore, wading in from the waves as she picked a path over the smooth rocks peppered among the coloured sands.
The Brigadier stopped to catch his breath at the top of the series of wooden stairs, vastly relieved. It was plain she wasn’t in any danger, not with the Doctor right there and in some sort of shared understanding with that reptile. He watched as the Doctor spoke to the girl briefly and turned her towards the steps, his own attention turning back to the ocean where only the slightest swirl in the nearby water betrayed the presence of their Silurian visitor.
Still looking slightly shaken but pink-cheeked with both cold and exercise, Sylvia mounted the wooden steps at an even pace, pulling a long tee-shirt over the top and shorts she was wearing as she came. She didn’t seem surprised to find the Brigadier meeting her partway and even looked grateful for his company.
“He said it was coming to meet him and I just happened to be there then,” she said as if continuing a conversation that had been left off. “And he apologized, said something about them maybe having an underwater tunnel he hadn’t been aware of.”
“Underwater tunnel?” The Brigadier frowned slightly at this. “And a pre-arranged meeting. About what, I wonder?” He also wondered more quietly to himself what else the Doctor had been up to during the night if he was meeting Silurians at the break of dawn. It might have been better to have him stay in the cottage and take apart the kitchen after all.
Sylvia glanced back down to where they could still see the reptilian creature on the water’s edge, the Doctor apparently conversing with it. “Is he…do you think he can be trusted?” she asked.
“What? The Doctor? Absolutely,” the Brigadier quickly assured her. “I admit he may be a bit obscure and difficult at times, but there aren’t many men I’d rather have beside me in tight spot.”
“And is this a tight spot?”
He glanced down at her as they walked back up the path. “Is there something in particular that’s concerning you?”
“I mean, well, are they going to hurt anyone?” She slicked saltwater out of her short hair and pushed a strand back from her face. “Shouldn’t we be letting the authorities know?”
“The ones that really need to know have already been notified.” He kicked a bit of wayward gravel into the heather and when after a few more paces she hadn’t pursued it any further, looked over at her again. “Aren’t you cold?”
“Yes, but I’m used to it,” she smiled. “I swim every morning if I can, I always have. Starts the day off like nothing else. Makes me feel alive!”
He had to return her smile. “I see. Well, if it can produce such energetic enthusiasm in the early hours perhaps I should institute morning sea-swimming for my men.”
“Ooh, just don’t blame me if they don’t like it,” she declared with mock concern and laughed.
As they neared the top, the Brigadier glanced back down towards the beach where he could just make out the distant pair still standing by the surf’s edge. “I expect he may be a while,” he noted.
“And he’s all right, alone with that? You aren’t worried about him?”
“If anyone can carry on negotiations with something non-human, it would be him.” A gull cried out above them, answered by others of its kind. He glanced up at the wheeling sea birds above the cliffs. “I expect there’s no reason for us to wait out here.”
She followed his gaze and nodded in agreement. “How about a hot breakfast while we wait, then? I’ve porridge, anyway, and I think there’s still some raisins to go with it.”
“That would be more than adequate,” he replied gratefully. “Lead the way, Miss Fleming.”
From his watchful position further down the beach, the Doctor had seen it arise behind Sylvia with considerable alarm himself, not because he feared for her safety at the hands of the reptilian creature behind her, but rather because he feared she would turn hysterical and either strike out at it or lose her coordination and be swept away and drowned.
When there was need, he could cover ground at a very fast clip indeed, but even so it seemed forever before he was in any kind of hailing distance. He was vastly relieved to see the girl kept her head, and was reminded of his own assistant in the way she came to the shore with that look of youthful determination that she would not allow herself to appear afraid although she was.
Pleased to catch a glimpse of the unmistakable figure of the Brigadier up above, he offered a few brief comforting, apologetic words then released Sylvia in that direction. Knowing she would be in safe hands he then gave her no more thought, turning his attention instead to the approaching visitor amid the waves.
The Silurian arose from the sea with grace, clear waters running from its auditory rills, which were folded neatly back against the cool breeze. It was tall even for its kind and he had to tilt his head back to meet its eyes as it waded closer.
A vibrating, uncomfortable trilling sound greeted him. “We should not have met in the open daylight; we have been seen. It is very unusual.”
He offered a greeting gesture. “Well, sounds like we’re both a bit out on a limb then aren’t we? When I found you last night, you said you’d been sent out to capture another seagull. Did you?”
‘The avians are very strong,” it hedged.
“Not being too cooperative then? Can’t say that I blame them. You must admit this business of tampering with the birds hasn’t been too effective for the amount of time you’ve put into it.”
“They are only a beginning. An experiment.” It bobbed its head emphatically and the Doctor squinted as he was consequently sprinkled with salt water.
“Yes. But it may be an experiment based on a false hypothesis. What result would it give then?”
“What do you mean?”
He pointed out to where the waves were beating against the distant Needles. “If those waves were sentient and discovered they would be dashed apart by that lighthouse, do you think they should still go forward?”
The Silurian’s eyes turned briefly in that direction. “Once more you speak of defeat.”
“I have to; I want to save lives, yours as well as the humans. If the invasion your leaders have been planning has already been defeated, why dash yourself on the rocks?”
“You believe they are defeated.”
“I told you I don’t just believe it, I know it. I witnessed it myself. Indeed, I believe in some ways they were defeated from the moment they chose to place their trust in the Master and his schemes.”
The reptilian scientist quivered a moment, then grew thoughtful. “We know of this man, this Master. He was brought as an advisor with one of our leaders when he came here.”
“He never mentioned me?”
The Doctor brushed his windblown hair away from his face and considered this. “Unusual. It must have never occurred to him that we would meet.”
“You know him.” It was not a question.
“Oh, a professional association, you could say,” the Doctor replied vaguely waggling his fingers.
“Is he not also a scientist?”
“He supported us in our cause, in the return of the Silurians.”
“The cause of genocide against the human race, you mean? He would. Suffice it to say we don’t agree on that being the wisest course in this matter. If you really want to live peaceably and demonstrate you are an intelligent and truly evolved race that was superior to the humans, you wouldn’t be looking to violence for your answer.”
The Silurian made an impatient gesture.” These apes, they are inferior to the Silurians.”
“Technologically, perhaps,” he conceded. “For now.” He stepped back to prevent a wave from sloshing up over his shoes.
The Silurian had obviously been looking for something more definitive in the way of a reaction. “They show no understanding of higher intelligences than themselves,” it continued, though whether it was trying to convince him or itself was hard to say. “Those we have met treat us as animals or seek to kill us as monsters.”
“And wiping them out by violence and plague is the answer to that?” The Doctor shook his head. “Do you realize you’re treating them as if they were a disease to be eradicated all the while complaining that they treat you the same way? If you would only talk to one another as equally sentient beings there wouldn’t be any need for all that. Both races have strengths that could be used to help one another in partnership if you would only be willing.”
“You speak with wisdom.”
“If you truly believe that, then will you speak with your commander, stop the needless wasting of lives on both sides by reining in your forces here?”
“Forces?” The Silurian hesitated, looking out at the sea. “The commander told you there were many of us, that we would win this battle by our force of numbers. He did not speak truthfully, but out of fear.”
The Doctor nodded. “There’s only the three of you, isn’t there? I thought as much. Why so few?”
“We were sent to this outpost only to observe, at first. Then the battery, as you name it, was abandoned. The end of that same year the man you call the Master came, advising we use it for our weapons.”
“I can see why. Perfectly logical. It has everything you need already in place, right down to the refined silica, high pressure, high temperature processing…”
The reptilian head bobbed in affirmation, apparently impressed. “You are familiar with our technology.”
The Doctor smiled modestly. “I merely know what to look for. Go on. What happened to the others?”
It hesitated again, extending and folding its rills in indecision. “They were called to the North to join in the initial attack. We are all that was left behind,” it confessed.
“Stocking the weaponry as a backup. And spreading the infected birds as a side project.”
“Yes, the birds.”
“And that hasn’t worked out for you quite as expected, has it? Magnesium is the key, of course,” the Doctor noted. “But I assume you’ve already discovered this.”
“The Master spoke of it, but I formulated the rest. The feed lowers their natural magnesium.” The scientist sounded proud of this discovery.
“You do realize that could stop their hearts?”
“Yes, if lowered too quickly. My commander has not been understanding on that limitation but the process it has been successful. The shells are permeable and the avians are more opened to its influence.”
“And more aggressive and unstable,” he pointed out.
Rebuffed, it shook its head slightly, irritated. “Why did you ask to speak with me?”
“I had hoped to reason with you. You do realize I find it my moral duty to stop you from spreading this any further, as well as to see an end to your weapons manufacture. You could help me in this, work with me and save us both a lot of trouble.”
It pulled back stiffly. “My duty must be to my commander, whether he listens to your advising or not. My services must be for my people.”
“Then I greatly regret that we are opposed. I would rather we could learn from one another without these petty power plays interfering.”
“Agreed,” it looked out towards where the waves dashed into foam against the rocky outcroppings. “Farewell for now, Doctor. You give me hope that this human race could be lived and shared with after all, if it produces such men as you.” It turned and without further words rapidly made its way back into the deeper water, sinking from sight.
“I can’t decide if that’s an honour or not,” the Doctor muttered to himself then sighed and turned away.
A/N: The character of Sylvia is based on an actual friend who lives on the Isle of Wight, and yes, she really does go swimming in the ocean every morning — crazy lady…
Back to index
Chapter 12: Over Easy
Author's Notes: The Doctor provides something new while UNIT arrives with something old.
Chapter 12: Over Easy
The Brigadier hung up the phone just as the cottage door opened to admit the Doctor, obviously unharmed by his encounter with one of their reptilian adversaries. “That was Captain Yates,” he said by way of greeting. “That fool in the Admirals’ office has been mucking about with the red tape again.”
“Can’t say you’ve ever let that stop you before,” the Doctor replied without concern. He strode into the kitchen and flipped a small lever on a new pipe between the sink and the stove. There was a gurgling sound and water spurted into a small pan that waited over the burner.
“They’ve located a source for that magnesia you wanted and Benton is rounding up scraps from restaurants and fisheries. That man is wanting permits signed just to bring it onto the Island…What are you doing?”
“Making tea, of course,” the Doctor said, watching as the rising level of the water bobbed a small fishing float in the pan, causing a counterweight to tip. A small scoop balanced on top of a breadbox tipped forward and a fat spoonful of tea leaves spilled into the water.
“Aren’t you supposed to heat the water first?”
“A small oversight.” He poked a newly added button on the stove and flames shot up around the kettle to an alarming height nearly singeing his eyebrows. He lowered the flame without comment.
The Brigadier cleared his throat. “As I was saying, he’s making it fiendishly difficult to…”
They were interrupted by a shriek of surprise and a loud rhythmical whumping noise from the little laundry room. Both of them jostled through the narrow doorway to find Sylvia backed against the wall as the old washing machine slammed violently back and forth, waddling forward across the floor towards her. The Brigadier tackled the waddling machine as the Doctor jumped to unplug it from the wall. It thudded slowly to a halt.
“Sorry about that,” the Doctor noted. “The balance must be slightly off.”
“What was it doing?” Sylvia said, wide-eyed. “It’s never done that!”
“Spin cycle. I added it last night.” He was already down behind it, doing something to the motor assembly.
“Spin cycle?” the Brigadier said blankly.
“But it doesn’t have a spin cycle,” Sylvia protested. “It just drains and then you wring everything.”
“It has one now,” the Doctor smiled over the top of the washer. He came around and popped open the lid to adjust the agitator. “There you go. Should work more smoothly, though I recommend you get some bolts to attach it to the floor next time you’re in town.” He went back into the kitchen.
“It doesn’t have a spin cycle,” Sylvia repeated.
“Sorry,” the Brigadier apologized. “I should have warned you what happens when he’s left alone for too long. Hopefully he didn’t decide to improve anything else. Excuse me.” He followed the Doctor back into the little kitchen where he found him watching the tiny bubbles bobbing the tea leaves in the pan.
“Boiling,” he said.
“That is a simmer, ” the Brigadier corrected.
The Doctor looked up at him with mild irritation. “I wasn’t referring to the temperature of the water, Lethbridge-Stewart. I was just observing that boiling would be a very simple way to neutralize any existing egg nodules once they’re located. High temperature breaks down the neural filamentation.”
“It shouldn’t be difficult to stop the experimentation on the gulls, the Silurians aren’t happy with how that’s turned out anyway. The additional magnesium plus the neural absorption blocker in the bird’s feed should cure any actively infected adult gulls. All that would remain is how to assure any developing nodules in the nests are neutralized.”
“By boiling them.”
“Yes, later on. First we just need that feed to get here.”
Alistair leaned back against the sink. “As I’ve repeatedly tried to tell you, that’s the sticking point. That chap under Admiral Blankenship is insisting we register all of our activities on this island through him and his office staff. The shipping permit for offloading the feed has been blocked until it’s under the authority of an Islander. He’s even managed to find some regulation or other to set it up so all funding and approvals have to be under the control of a resident of the Isle of Wight or he won’t allow it. Yates has a ferry arranged at the other end, but if it gets here and just sits offshore, completely aside from what it would smell like if delayed...”
“An Islander?” The Doctor reached for a partial box of sugar cubes he’d found, dropping a few into a cup.
“Looking to mine a promotion or line a pocket for himself or one of his cronies, no doubt. We simply don’t have time for this idiocy with those birds…”
“Hm. Miss Fleming is a native to this Island,” the Doctor observed, moving on to poking around inside one of the cupboards for a tea-strainer.
“And how she manages under such inept governance…” He suddenly stopped, realizing what the Doctor was hinting. “But of course! Why, she’s even native born, isn’t she? A corkhead.”
“Right! And I’ll keep that card up my sleeve in case the bounder decides to split hairs on the matter. Exactly the strategy we need.” He turned toward the phone then swiveled back even as he reached to pick up the receiver. “She’d be all right with that, don’t you think?”
“You might ask her,” the Doctor said, tilting his head towards the doorway.
“I’d be all right with what?” asked Sylvia, who had been listening there. “What do you need a native for?”
“Ah,” the Brigadier fumbled slightly. “To help us complete this programme.”
The Doctor made a little pleased noise as he finally located the strainer and began pouring tea. “Your expertise is needed for seagull containment,” he offered.
“Well, I’ll help of course. I mean, short of hanging onto their legs. What would I need to be doing?”
The Brigadier considered. “I assume you heard something regarding the situation? Essentially once the chicks have hatched out we’ll need you to ring us up. I’ll give you the number. Our department can provide the money and very likely some manpower to go with it to help your park rangers. We’ll authorize you with the funding so you can hire whatever additional help you need to remove any unhatched eggs to be destroyed.”
“Wait. You’re putting me in charge of it? But…”
Alistair looked her right in the eye and shifted to his most persuasive. “We need you. We do. You have a unique perspective on a problem that would be best not shared with the general public. We’ll provide a cover story for any media or people asking questions, some type of rare infection affecting this year’s eggs perhaps, which wouldn’t be that far removed from the truth when you think about it. I’ll arrange things with your supervisor. You’ll be fine.”
She gave a little gulp. “I suppose…I could manage that.”
“Of course you can,” he assured firmly and shook her hand. “Thank you, Miss Fleming. We have the highest confidence in your abilities. Right, Doctor?”
“Oh, yes,” the Doctor said abruptly, duly nudged on the need for reassuring words. He added another sugar cube to his cup. “No doubt you’ll be more than able to handle the job. It may even seem easy compared to dealing with holiday tourists at a park.”
"It'll feel like murder killing those things, that’s the only part I don’t like," she admitted. "I couldn't even put down sick pets, had to have someone else do it."
"But it isn't, " the Doctor said more emphatically. He stirred his tea then gestured with the spoon. "Though I appreciate your sentiment they're akin to seeds, not animals. They only start the process of a neural and physiological change in the host, they haven’t any real sentience of their own. I would suggest simply gathering them up until they can be neutralized. High heat would be sufficient, such as boiling, though I don't recommend eating them."
"Eww, I should think not. Well then" she said with a relieved smile. "All right. Gathering and boiling eggs. I can do that."
He gave her a little bow. "Thank you, Miss Fleming. We'll know it's in good hands. Go ahead and make your call, Brigadier."
In the early afternoon the relative quiet of the windswept car park was quite suddenly interrupted as the growling engines of a straggling line of military vehicles arrived flanking three refrigerated lorries. Flocks of birds lifted into the air as the line rumbled to a halt on the damp, sandy gravel.
Benton climbed out of one of the leading jeeps and gave a half-wave, half-salute as he recognized the Doctor and the Brigadier coming across to meet them.
“Good to see you made it all right,” the Doctor greeted him as the Brigadier went to speak to the men who were parking their vehicles and gandering at the ocean.
“Yes sir, been quite a day but I think we’re good to go. I’ve got the particulars here…” he pulled a fat packet of folded papers from his coat.
The Doctor took it from him and unfolded it, glancing over it briefly. “Thank you. That tonnage should be more than sufficient for the need as well.” He handed it back. “Obviously not all here, I’m assuming they’re distributing near the nesting sites?”
“Right. We’ve got some men ready to go at Ventnor, Niton, a small attachment at Atherfield…” he paused to read the paper the wind was flapping in his hand. “Shanklin, Yarmouth, er, something I can’t read…”
“What about here?” the Doctor interrupted.
“Oh yes, and here!” the Sergeant assured him heartily.
The Doctor tucked his hands in his pockets, nodding at the list in Benton’s hand. “Do you even know where ‘here’ is?” He smiled at the guilty look on the man’s face. “I thought as much.”
Benton rallied and returned the smile with a shrug. “Well, I’ll find out! Totland, wasn’t it? I just remember those Needles over there; my family brought us out here on holiday when I was younger but it’s different when you aren’t the one driving you know. Sorry, I’m a bit rummy on sleep.”
“Well this is the heart of the matter, so I’m glad to see you at least brought plenty.”
“The refrigerated lorries were a god-send. I can’t imagine what this would smell like if we hadn’t had them, though when that chap tried to tell us we couldn’t truck it in we were quite prepared to just anchor it all on a barge offshore if that’s what it took.” He turned, catching sight of a hand-wave from the Brigadier
“Sergeant!” the Brigadier called from over where he’d been speaking with the drivers. “Come with me, I want you to meet someone.”
Benton stuffed the papers back in his coat. “Yes sir,” he called back. “Excuse me, Doctor.”
“Oh, I’ll come along,” he said. “It seems best for you to be personally acquainted with the person overseeing this operation as she’ll be UNIT’s contact locally. The new Head of Ornithological Laridae Oology Ministry for the Isle of Wight,” he added impressively.
“And what would that be when it’s at home?”
The Doctor winked. “She’s in charge of anything to do with seagull eggs.”
“Well, that puts it in fancy dress now, doesn’t it? Did you see the post today? One lad nearly had his eyes put out by one of those birds of yours. His father wrung its neck. Is that what happened to the Brigadier?” he drew an imaginary line on his face where Lethbridge-Stewart still bore a healing gash.
“Yes, except for the neck-wringing part.”
Benton whistled. “Glad to hear it. I mean, that it wasn’t worse!” he quickly clarified.
They met up with the Brigadier who started to lead the way towards a plain little building on the side before pausing as a petite young woman wrapped in a warm coat met them coming the other way. She smiled a bit nervously, her eyes flickering to the military jeeps and lorries.
“So, they got through all right then?” she asked.
“Yes indeed, thank you Miss Fleming,” the Brigadier said. He turned and indicated the tall young man beside him. “Sergeant Benton, this is Miss Fleming and she will be overseeing the coordination of this operation. I want you and your men to give her your full support and cooperation.”
She extended a hand and he briefly grasped it. “Pleased to meet you, Miss.”
“I’m a bit new to all this,” Sylvia admitted, speaking more to the Brigadier. “I’m afraid that Ministry man you had me talk to wasn’t on his best manners, but it looks like it’s all worked out.” She looked back at Benton. “Can I get you any tea or anything? I haven’t much, but…”
“Thank you, Miss, but we have a canteen truck with us. We’re fine” he assured her. “Maybe we can offer you something?”
Sylvia laughed at this. “I admit I’m grateful to find I don’t have to play hostess. There’s quite a lot of you to feed, isn’t there?”
“It’s not necessary. We are ready to feed quite a lot of birds, though.”
“When do you start?” the Doctor asked, looking up to where several gulls were already hovering curiously nearby.
“We’ll start distribution as soon as we receive reports of the others being in their places,” Benton said. “Should be within the next thirty minutes.”
“Good idea. Prevents them from just following the trucks and eating some other bird’s share,” the Doctor noted. “Well done, Sergeant.”
Benton’s chest lifted a little at the praise. One of the drivers behind signaled for attention. He turned and gave them a little acknowledging salute. “And it looks like it may be time.”
“Why don’t you take Miss Fleming with you?” the Brigadier suggested. “I’d like her to know what locations are being covered.”
“Of course. This way, Miss,” Benton said, politely offering her an arm that she accepted with a smile. The two of them walked back to the car park where the men were already backing one of the lorries to the walkway for easier unloading.
"That should take care of the gulls," the Doctor observed.
"Yes,” the Brigadier nodded. “Now to deal with the perpetrators."
Back to index
Chapter 13: Scramble
Author's Notes: Into the frying pan...
Chapter 13: Scramble
The approach to the old artillery battery was simple enough; they came upon a line of sectional wire fencing acting as a barrier with signs attached indicating the property was closed. They naturally ignored the warnings the block lettering proclaimed: it was a matter of moments for the Doctor to pick the padlock on the thick chain and push a section of fencing aside for their car.
The sedan’s tyres crunched over the gravel as the Brigadier rolled it to a stop near one of the artillery buildings, two UNIT jeeps following. It was here, one step back from the older structures on the promontory, that the new structures had been placed during the rocket testing programme, the longer buildings opposite the squat silo-like structures that housed three deep wells; the testing sites themselves. The Brigadier was determined to bring the matter to a close now while he had the manpower to back him and no chance for bureaucracy to stop him.
The sea wind whipped their hair and made the soldiers all automatically reach up to clamp their caps on more firmly as they cautiously climbed out, but otherwise everything was still. The promontory and its structures appeared deserted, strangely innocent for something hiding the manufacture of deadly weapons.
The Doctor headed unhesitatingly for the stone structure near the northernmost silo.
“Two at the entrance to the building, two with me,” the Brigadier told Benton briefly, settling his holster into place, glad to finally have the backup to go ahead with shutting this outpost down; he’d been chafing impatiently ever since he’d become aware of it being used for munitions. “Spread the rest of the men around the perimeter. Be careful, we have to assume they know about us and are armed, though there’s only a small number they can still be deadly. They may have information, the goal is to capture rather than kill.”
“Yes sir.” Benton turned to signal to the men as his C.O. quickly followed the Doctor’s wind-whipped cloak towards the building.
“You seem very familiar with it,” The Brigadier noted as he came up alongside him.
“I’ve been here before.”
“I suspected as much. Last night?”
“Mm. Yes, though it was dark. I was thinking of when that Marconi chap was considering stringing his antenna along the cannons over that way. Of course he’d had a bit to drink before that. Come to think of it, it was dark then as well.”
The Brigadier didn’t know whether to believe him or not. “Which way, then?” he settled for asking as they came to a tee. He’d followed the Doctor’s lead inside a stone archway and found a doorway on the main level and steps into an arched tunnel-like hallway below. His guide didn’t comment, but trotted down the steps without pause.
The dim hallway had the look of something older that had been poorly modernized with a layer of concrete and plaster. Industrial green paint had been painted halfway up and the effect was both unflattering and strangely familiar. In fact, he realized, it matched the colour of the paint in UNIT’s canteen. He heard the pair of soldiers trailing them pause, then follow.
The Doctor slowed and made a quieting gesture, tipping his head to indicate another doorway just ahead. The Brigadier looked back at the two men and signaled each to take opposite sides, then nodded to proceed.
Testing the door’s handle and finding it unlocked, he quietly unlatched it. It swung inward revealing a long, somewhat low hallway that led towards the rocket tube and its small observation room where a heavy metal wall with thin strips of thick observatory glass separated the control panels from the old rocket tube itself. The door to the tube was open and they could see a bright white glow coming from down inside. To the side of it, a Silurian stood silhouetted at the panel, its back towards them.
Following the Doctor’s lead, they dashed forward into the room. “Put your hands up!” the Brigadier snapped. The men behind him lifted their weapons, guns at ready. They’d been at the earlier attack on the Naval base and had no hesitation in their willingness to shoot.
The creature spun about, lifting its head. “Doctor,” it said in surprised recognition. “What is this?”
“It’s what I warned you of,” the Doctor said. “Power down that fabricator immediately.”
“There are still too many structural imperfections in the emissive centers,” it protested. “I cannot interrupt the process without damage to the…”
“Damage no longer matters,” the Doctor directed in a tone that brooked no argument. “It’s over. Shut down the modulator pressure and open the ventilation shafts.”
“What are you doing here?” a second hissing reptilian voice demanded. They all turned as a stockier creature climbed up from where it had been down inside the old rocket tube. Entering the control room with belligerence it looked to its subordinate. “Why did you not sound warning?”
“They came too quickly,” the first one, the scientist, responded from where it still stood, hands obediently in the air.
“I am in command here,” the new Silurian announced to the men. “You are intruding. Put down your weapons and surrender.”
The Brigadier’s eyebrows went up at this brave posturing. “I’m afraid not. Hands in the air, if you please.”
With a hiss, the Silurian snatched an object from its belt and raised its hand, a red glowing disc within it, then just as quickly gave a convulsive urk and collapsed to the floor. The Doctor stood over the fallen reptile, rubbing his own hand where he’d had to chop at the thick neck. He bent and removed the disc-shaped hand weapon from its grasp even as it started thrashing back to its feet.
“Sorry about that old chap,” he told it, pocketing the weapon. “Can’t let you shoot my friends. Now, you were saying, Brigadier?”
Lethbridge-Stewart damped a smile. “Hands in the air,” he repeated. “Without weapons this time. Stand over there, thank you.”
The commander reluctantly moved as requested. “My scientist advised me you were trustworthy, Doctor. I can see this was mistaken.”
“I was very clear that your pursuing this path of violence and war was not an acceptable option. I have no desire to see you or your people harmed, but your weapons manufacture here has to stop.”
“Do not defy them further,” the scientist pleaded. “Machines may be rebuilt, lives cannot.”
“You prove yourself a coward,” it hissed.
“Speaking of which, where are the rest of them hiding?” the Brigadier asked.
The Doctor glanced over the gauges on the control panel. “There’s only one. He’s probably down in that pit there. Someone is still maintaining the materials feed.”
“Call him up here.” The commanding Silurian stared back at him defiantly and didn’t respond. The Brigadier calmly took his own handgun from its holster and unwaveringly aimed it right between the creature’s eyes. “Do you understand this, then?”
“Brigadier…” the Doctor began to protest.
The commander understood. He lifted his hands higher and turned to issue a vibrating whistling sound. The Brigadier’s eyes narrowed suspiciously at the meaning of such a signal, but in less than a minute a dark reptilian hand had appeared at the top rung of the rocket pit and the rest of the younger Silurian followed.
“That really wasn’t necessary,” the Doctor reprimanded and was ignored.
“You,” the Brigadier was saying to the newest arrival. “Drop that weapon at your belt. Hands up. Over there.”
The younger one puffed in angry disbelief and began to reach for its weapon with a more hostile intent, but at a sharp buzzing hiss from its commander, slowly followed suit. One of the men swung the heavy door shut.
“Keep them covered,” the Brigadier told the soldiers. He looked over at the Doctor. “Is this the only machine running or do we need to be shutting down the other two silos as well?”
“No, this is the only one. I checked the others last night. They’re supplies storage, and some of the finished product. But this one has been modified from mere production of smaller units to potentially be used as a single, more powerful amplifier of that energy. A wide-scope thermatic energy cannon.”
“You have spied upon us as well?” the commander spat.
“We should have killed him when we had him,” the younger one growled.
“And what about those damn birds?” the Brigadier wanted to know, peering into the corners as if he half-expected to find some there. “Where are they kept?”
“In the forward structure, by the cannons,” the Doctor said briefly. “We’ll have to free them later.”
“I’ve already released them,” the taller one said quietly.
His commander turned on his subordinate at this, neck rills rising in anger. “And you disobey me as well? I will have your eyes clawed out for this.”
The Doctor and Brigadier exchanged looks. “Well, that sounds a bit nasty,” Alistair commented softly.
The Doctor addressed the tall scientist, ignoring the others. “Will you help me shut it down or do I need to do it myself? You know the details of this particular weapons fabricator better than anyone here and there’s no need to take any chances at it overheating.”
“What happens if it overheats?” the Brigadier asked, wanting to be prepared.
“It will fuse,” the Doctor said darkly. “And the power will concentrate on the block with no outlet.”
“I will help,” the scientist suddenly agreed. It stepped forward and, after a nod of acceptance from the Brigadier, began adjusting settings on the controls while the Doctor stood close beside, watching. “The process will take some time.”
“Traitor!” the commander suddenly cried. He lunged forward, swinging his locked arms so that the Doctor was knocked staggering to one side, his own scientist to the other. The younger one followed his cue and added to the confusion by rushing the UNIT men. One got off a shot, but missed and they fell to wrestling the creature into submission, not daring to shoot more in the enclosed space.
The commander violently slammed all of the controls on as high as they could go then snatched up the energy weapon that had been discarded by the youth. He dropped it straight down onto the panel melting and fusing several of them into place before suddenly being spun off to the side and then harshly flipped onto his back.
“What have you done?” the Doctor shouted at him angrily, jumping for the panel where the scientist was already knocking the glowing weapon aside. The panel was too hot to touch.
“It is my duty to avenge my people!” the commander gasped, struggling to regain both its breath and footing. “I will fulfill the vision of a human free earth.” The tirade was suddenly stopped where it knelt as the Brigadier’s handgun was pressed threateningly to its temple.
“You can’t allow it to go into overload!” the Doctor protested, yanking off his jacket and using it as a heat shield as he tried to force the controls. “The explosive capacity alone…! Would you level this entire island for your pride?”
“Yes! A triumph for the Silurian people!”
“The venting levers are jammed,” the scientist was hissing fearfully. “I cannot get them to open.”
The Doctor pushed past him, moving so quickly he was literally swatting the Silurian’s hands aside as he pushed switches on the heat-deformed ventilation controls. Outside the doorway a teeth-rattlingly deep irregular humming was building. The steady light began to pulse. “It’s building too high, too quickly,” he gritted.
The Brigadier was horrified. “But you said that would blow up the island!”
“And worse.” The Doctor looked grim as he hit the controls then set to trying to pry open the top. “It will force open the geothermal faults they’ve tapped for power. A seismic fault would be opened in the ocean floor. The results could be catastrophic to all of Europe!” He rapidly patted his pockets, pulling out the butter knife from the cottage. He blinked at it as if he’d expected something else, then used it to pop a section of the cover off. Sparks shot up from the opening. He squinted into it, then poked his hand straight down inside, yanking out a smoking wad of wiring.
“What have you done?” the younger Silurian demanded from where the UNIT men held it by the arms. “You would let them succeed in destroying our work here! The machine will be unusable! We cannot give up. I will open the vent by hand!”
“We cannot!” the older one snapped back with a hiss, but the youth did not heed him. Already the heat in the room was rising, the glow below in the tube pulsed thickly with the increasing hum. The young Silurian yanked itself free from the men’s grasp and ran for the entry to the tube.
“Stay back!” the Doctor cried. “No! The manual controls will have fused, you can’t open them!”
With a defiant snarl, the creature yanked open the metal door, jumped forward and swung down the rapidly heating ladder rungs into the tube to reach the machinery. “No! You will not stop usss!” it shrieked.
They gasped as a wave of heat and steam roiled up from below, swirling into the room.
“No, too late!” the scientist cried out.
“He’ll be killed!” the Doctor said in dismay. “The young fool! No…!” he added as the
Commander suddenly shoved his weight sideways into the Brigadier’s legs. Jumping up as his captor staggered, he ran after, apparently intending to rescue the lost youth. In a heartbeat, he’d vanished over the side of the roaring, pulsing tube.
The Doctor reached out a quick hand, blocking the Brigadier from reflexively stepping forward in pursuit. A single reptilian hand began to come back up over the edge. There was a loud crack and a terrible sizzling sound; the tube suddenly billowed full of an acrid steam.
“It’s too late!” The Doctor lunged forward to slam the heavy door closed again as the others reeled back, coughing and shielding their faces. “It’s too late.”
Alistair turned to him, his eyes hard and dark. “Can’t you do anything?”
“Only one thing.” He dashed back to where the control panel spat bits of spark and acrid trails of smoke. Pulling a metal cylinder from his pocket as he reached for the jammed venting controls, pulled open the side panel and thrust his arm straight into the mess of wires to yank out a similar cylinder, forcing the one he had into its place.
The pressure in the sealed rocket tube was abruptly reversed. There was a mighty groaning shriek and with a roar that made them all clamp their hands to their ears as the glowing hot steam in the tank along with the entire contents of the tube, burning machinery and all, were abruptly reverse-blasted out the exhaust tubes into the bay.
The glow beneath was dimmed. A cracking sound heralded the newly dug tunnels crumbling in the intense heat, falling inward with an earth-shaking rumble, and then there was silence.
Back to index
Chapter 14: Empty Nest Syndrome
Author's Notes: A look behind and a look ahead.
Chapter 14: Empty Nest Syndrome
With a rattling of small bits of stone, the rumbling finally subsided. Gravel and sand shifted and steam hissed in the shocked silence that followed.
“Good God. They must have been vaporized.” The Brigadier’s voice was subdued in dismay.
The Doctor turned to the lone remaining Silurian who still stood near the controls and bowed his head in a gesture of sympathy. “I am sorry.”
The bulbous eyes looked back at him and the sharp mouth wavered. “They carried out their duties. They died in honour.” Its rills flared slightly then folded tight back against its neck as it gave a small sorrowful sound that needed no translation.
A more distant rumbling was heard, successive deep sounds of the earth shifting that made the men look about uncertainly, as if afraid it would begin where they were as well. “What is that?” one of the men asked, voicing what they were all thinking.
“It sounds as if those tunnels you told us about are falling in,” the Brigadier guessed.
The Doctor nodded. “Precisely, and it’s just as well. We were fortunate in this case that their tunneling apparently hadn’t had time to be properly reinforced. That collapse has saved us a nasty fire, magnesium is not easily extinguished once it’s aflame.”
“They were designed to collapse in such an event,” the Silurian’s hissing voice put in. “The tunnels were to be hidden after our work was done.”
The Doctor turned to meet the creature’s eyes. “Very wise and completely understandable. Forgive me the intimation that there was any shoddy workmanship involved. Would that your engineers could put as much effort into works of peace.”
“You gave us warning. I have given much thought to this peace you speak of, Doctor, though my commander did not agree. I cannot see how it can be done, but I can see it is as you said, that the Silurians are as much to blame as the humans.”
“Wisdom begins with understanding,” the Doctor said, tipping his head towards it in a gesture of respect. He looked down at the broken controls. “I regret that it had to lead to this first.”
“I also… regret.”
“All right,” the Brigadier was saying behind them, suddenly all business as the smoke and acrid-tasting steam began to clear. “Let’s get this cleaned up. Doctor. Was there anything in that ejection that would be harmful to the populace once it was in the air?”
He answered in a distracted fashion, his attention more on the control panel in front of him. “No; most of the particulate matter should have vented into the bay. Though the silicon tetrachloride would produce hydrochloric acid when it contacts water, so I’m afraid you may have rather a lot of dead seaweed washing up.”
The Brigadier nodded then turned to his men. “Take that one into custody,” he said, indicating the Silurian.
“What?” the Doctor looked up in surprise. “What do you mean? One disarmed Silurian isn’t dangerous,” he protested.
“Doctor,” the Brigadier stated warningly, “That creature may have valuable information for us on what to expect. There may be future incursions planned we don’t even know about yet.”
“You can’t just arrest to interrogate…”
“And it was directly involved in that nonsense with the birds. Do I have to remind you that innocent civilians died because of it?” He turned back to the men where they hesitated. “Bind its hands. Gently, unless it offers resistance.”
“I will not resist. But you will learn nothing from me,” the Silurian said.
“Why does the Earth always produce such irrational races?” The Doctor sighed and rubbed at his forehead with frustration. “The two of you are well suited to one another in stubbornness. Is there no other way?”
Lethbridge-Stewart lifted his chin firmly. “I have to do what I believe to be best for the security of Britain.”
“I suppose you do.” The Doctor looked back towards the yet-steaming rocket tube behind them and his shoulders sagged slightly. Turning back to the Brigadier he spoke more quietly. “Very well,” he said, “Seeing as I apparently shan’t be able to stop you from taking him into your custody I’ll just have to hope you will at least insist he is well treated. As you said, I’m sure he still may be of use for information. We’ll just have to hope it does in fact work out for the best.”
The Brigadier squinted at him, a little suspicious at his sudden capitulation but grateful to not have to argue with him any further in front of the men. “Right. Of course I’ll personally see to it that he is treated with dignity.” He turned to where they were waiting, the reptilian scientist between them. “Go ahead then. Take him in.”
As promised, it hadn’t resist their binding, though whether it was out of honour, shock or simply being too demoralized by what was occurring it was hard to say. The men took it outside to where one of the emptied lorries was pulling up to serve as a temporary retaining cell and secure transport.
The Doctor insisted on their taking the time to make it as comfortable as possible. “He’s not an enemy combatant,” he reminded them sternly. “He’s probably more educated and civilized than you yourselves.” The Silurian said nothing, sitting sadly on the bench inside as the metal doors were finally banged closed and padlocked shut.
In the meantime back inside, the soldiers had set to work with their customary military efficiency. The Doctor, returning, quickly pointed out a few items and portable components to be kept for study, helping to disconnect and sort some of the more delicate pieces. Most of it was simply boxed up for transport, slated to be crushed into scrap to prevent it from landing in the wrong hands.
“I want this place back as it was before those creatures moved in,” the Brigadier directed. “We can’t leave anything alien to attract attention.”
“They aren’t aliens,” the Doctor reminded him a bit testily. “They’re just a much a part of Earth as you yourself.”
“All right. We can’t leave anything non-human then, if you prefer,” the Brigadier snapped back impatiently. “Look, I’ve got quite enough to do at the moment, I would rather you just left me to it.”
“But of course,” the Doctor said formally, his eyes sharp with anger. He turned and swept back out the arched entry. The Brigadier watched him go with some concern, then turned back to answer the questions of one of the men.
Coming out into the muted afternoon light the Doctor quickly crossed to the lorry where it stood, a guard on either side. “The Brigadier wants to see you,” he called to them in a businesslike manner. “Probably something to do with proper transport of a dangerous alien like this back across on the Ferry this evening.” He waved a hand. “Go on, I can watch it until you come back.”
“But…” the men hesitated. One of them held out his rifle for the Doctor to take.
The Doctor shook his head at them. “I don’t need that. The prisoner is hardly going to be able to escape a locked metal lorry, is he? Now hurry up! I have other things I need to do as well and the Brigadier is hardly in a mood to be kept waiting.”
“Right. Thank you, Doctor.”
He nodded and took up a good imitation of their own serious guarding stance outside the truck, watching as they hurried through the stone arch. As soon as they were out of sight, he casually walked around to the front of the lorry and climbed into the cab.
The soldiers stood at attention as their officer strode firmly past, trying to not to call any attention to themselves. Lethbridge-Stewart was furious. He had seen all the signs that the Doctor was up to something and he kicked himself for neglecting to warn his men against any shenanigans. He thought he might try some kind of secret negotiation with the Silurian, but he hadn’t thought he would have the gall to just completely abscond with it.
“Sergeant!” he yelled as he came up the steps. Benton’s head popped round the side of the doorway, a radio to his ear.
“Sir. It’s the Doctor.”
“Is it? Well tell him he needn’t… Give it to me,” he said, biting off his words and snatching it out of the other man’s hand. “Doctor!” he said sternly into the radio. “Where the blazes are you?”
Without listening to the reply he shot words at Benton over his shoulder. “I want you to commence a search for that lorry…”
“We don’t need to, sir,” Benton replied.
“Because it’s right here, sir.”
The Brigadier turned to find the lorry was parked once more beside the jeeps, the Doctor just coming around from the front. He looked at the radio in his hand. “Who the devil is this then?”
“Lieutenant Smithers over at Blackgang, sir.”
He handed it back without comment and stalked towards his wayward Scientific advisor.
“Glad to see you at least had the decency to bring the lorry back,” he said as he came up to him. He didn’t even check the back compartment; he knew it would be empty.
“You’re one to speak of decency,” the Doctor said, though he hadn’t much heat in the words. “Come now, Brigadier. You know what those blaggards in Whitehall’s ministries would do if they caught wind of a Silurian at their mercy. Anything is better than leaving them to that torture they label science.”
“You give me little enough credit,” the Brigadier said, offended. “I wasn’t going to release anything about it to Whitehall.”
“These things have a way of getting about,” the Doctor replied, unconvinced. “Besides, you can always tell them how you’ve made a valiant effort to recapture it after it unaccountably escaped, can’t you?”
“I am, am I?”
“Of course. You have all that funding going into that ship, you know. It’s designed specifically to explore the ocean floor for evidence of Silurian civilization. You’ll justify the expenditure and your men can have a nice sea voyage to put the bloom in their cheeks.”
“That ship won’t be ready for several weeks, and you know it.”
The Doctor ruffled a hand over his hair disingenuously. “Come to think of it, that’s right. I suppose we’ll just have to regretfully allow this particular one an unforeseen and generous head start. Perhaps next time they’ll grant you your funding requests without so many delays.”
“You aren’t fooling anyone, trying to make me think this is to my advantage. And there’s more of these things out there,” he said, “Aren’t there?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “There’s bound to be other small colonies in hibernation.”
“So you still need to answer for why you deliberately released someone who might have been able to tell us where they were, how many.”
The Doctor looked down and plucked at one of his cuffs, carefully smoothing it. “And what would you have done then, killed them while they slept? Really, Brigadier. I expected better of you.”
Alistair frowned at the accusation and shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Of course not. But we should know more about them if they’re going to keep popping up like this. What if it shows its gratitude to you by going off to stir up another nest of those things?”
The Doctor looked back up with an unexpected half a smile. “I suppose that’s a possibility, a chance we’ll have to take. Perhaps. Or perhaps he’ll locate more of his people and bring with him his own hard-earned lesson of peace being the better course of action. We have to allow that chance. As I told you, he was a scientist, Brigadier, not an enemy.”
Lethbridge-Stewart looked out to where the sun was finally dipping beneath the clouds, shining along the waters and brightening the famous cliffs. Sated seagulls circled innocently in the light, bobbed harmlessly among the waves. The island was safe, Britain was safe - at least for the moment. He glanced back over at his friend. “I wish I could share your optimism,” he admitted after a moment. “And I suppose there’s some satisfaction that we didn’t start the mess; we were only fighting in defense.”
The Doctor nodded. “You’ll manage. Someday the two races may yet find a way forward.”
Uncomfortable with the concept that he somehow might be a part of such a heavy responsibility, the Brigadier turned his gaze back to the waters. No, he couldn’t find it in himself to share any real hope for a non-violent agreement, but it was satisfying to be able to point out that his own people were not always the aggressors. In spite of misgivings on the current situation, he could honestly say the human race was not without heart, they weren’t without some sense of justice and moral right and wrong.
And blast it all, part of him wanted the Doctor to know that, wanted to prove it to him, like a child wanting approval from a parent. He couldn’t decide if he should resent that or not. He squinted as the sun lowered; the light reflected into their eyes. All the future lay before them to work it out, even as somewhere beneath those waves their past slept.
“I just hope you’re right, Doctor. I hope you’re right.”
Back to index