The majestic sun of Klindex was high in the sky, and from its perpendicular perch, it stared down unblinkingly at the devastation of the forest.
The Dark One threw the paper aeroplane high in the air with a curse, and pointed a finger at it. There was a brief, sharp crack, and then pieces of white drifted down, momentarily framing the Dark One’s head in a ripped halo of fabric and light.
He needed to destroy Klindex. He needed to get revenge on the Doctor. He should break into the museum, and destroy the real Time Lord, who was obviously being held prisoner by the Szaborgs to sustain the life of the copy. But then the copy would die too. He would be left with no way of reaching Lilula, except to float across space, which would take years. By which time, no doubt, Lilula would be warned. They would call on their god…
The Dark One shivered deeply, and, just for a moment, he felt truly afraid. Sunradin. The very image rippled through his helmet, the one thing which could penetrate that cold prison.
He had to accept the doppleganger’s offer. Lilula would be obliterated. After that, he would find a way back. Definitely.
Diverting such thoughts for the present, the Dark One gazed mercilessly down upon the limp forms of Black Wolf and Sophia. It took him less than a minute to decide upon his torture plan. He would keep one half of this split soul, and force the other to run away. Not only did he have the satisfaction of toying with a life form and chasing another, he could also absorb the physical pain of Sophia’s spirit at being divided.
Smiling darkly, he made a mental note to find and visit Mount Ookan the next day, and fired a neural awakening pulse into Sophia’s mind.
Rose woke with a jolt. ‘What?’ she said dizzily.
The Doctor danced around the console, flicking switches. He cast her a grinning glance. ‘You’re in the TARDIS now. Safe and sound.’
‘But…’ Rose realised, and leapt to her feet. ‘No! I can’t keep doing this! We have to go back!’
‘Rose…’ the Doctor’s face seemed to slow and darken, like the gradual onset of thunder. ‘If you know what’s best for you, then you won’t object. All in good time.’
Rose reeled… and then froze. Perhaps the Doctor was partly right. She was getting hysterical. Slowly, she brought her bloodied hands upward to fix her head in place. She closed her eyes, and, without a word, dropped to the floor. Her body bounced twice, and stilled.
A malicious grin spread across the Doctor’s face. Smoothly, he brought a sneaker-clad foot forward, and let it hover above Rose’s shoulder, where her sword wound lay like a ripped worm of blood.
‘Running on adrenalin,’ the Doctor rasped, letting his perfect caring voice imitation drop, becoming a dark hiss like the whisper of clay. ‘Not any more.’
Smiling, the doppelganger retracted its leg and strode over to the console. He twiddled the dials, and the TARDIS gave a desolate groan, like the bone-numbing creak of an iceberg. It shot into the sky of Klindex, and then disappeared into the Time Vortex.
The doppelganger’s smile didn’t falter. ‘As the Doctor would say, allons-y!’
With a massive, shuddering gasp, Sophia jolted upright. Her head hurt so badly that she could easily liken the pain to a thousand needles being stuck through her eyes and ears. The latter pair of organs were swivelling sharply now, in much the same way as those of a wolf listening to the heartbeat of its prey.
Except Sophia’s prey had no heartbeat. As she listened, her pupils still recovering, she found she could not even classify her opponent as prey. It was too vast and cold and incomprehensible for her to even think of attacking.
Yet she had. She had been foolish enough to do so. Her memories sprinkled across her entire brain like the shards of glass which had embedded themselves in her leg.
Something turned towards her in the sightless void. Something massive and powerful. The name was amongst her shattered memories. She unearthed it: the Dark One. What creature deserved such a menacing title? More memories presented themselves, images of a shadow of despair, looming up, obscuring the sun, laughing at her powerlessness.
‘Run, Sophia Moonstone,’ the Dark One growled. ‘Use your Wolven abilities. The sensitive touch, feeling every blade of grass. The smell, gathering information, the proximity of fire, the closeness of death. The hearing, claustrophobic hammering from miles away, loving the fear of your quarry.’
The Dark One chuckled. ‘You and I are quite similar.’
Something snapped inside Sophia. ‘I’m not a monster,’ she hissed at the invisible threat.
The Dark One just laughed as Sophia blindly ran. ‘You will be, Sophia. You will be.’
Sophia crashed through the devastated forest, her usually smooth lope interrupted frequently by tree stumps and her own clumsiness. Flames surrounded her, but she could not see them. What has he done to me? she wondered, shivering, hoping with all her heart that she wouldn’t be blind forever. Her train of thought was broken as, once again, she stumbled.
In the blind, crushing darkness, smell and hearing together formed her single lifeline. She called on the power of her ears to seek out life forms around six miles away. She enlisted the aid of her seemingly normal nose to sniff the scent of fire.
Both of these senses told Sophia that there was a great concentration of life up ahead, beyond the border of the forest. Her panicked emotions giving way to curiousity, Sophia accelerated, her feet pounding again and again on the scorched, reeking grass, a complex, endless treadmill of dodging.
Smell told Sophia that she was out of the forest. The stench of burning wood and dry bark was behind her, and before her lay the unmistakable smell of a colossus of dull brick.
She had nearly reached the museum.
Spurred on by this, Sophia sprinted yet faster, all the while hoping that the Dark One was not following her. Then she dismissed that hope. Of course he was. She resolutely refused to shiver at the thought of an invisible, invincible enemy creeping up behind her.
And, before her mind could even begin to get worried at that prospect, something smashed into Sophia. Or, more accurately, Sophia smashed into something. The something gave a loud cry and fell away. She hissed at the invisible life form, as to vent her frustration at not being able to see.
It became more and more apparent to Sophia that many similar beings were standing between her and the museum. She pondered on that fact while she drove on through the cloying mess of bodies. Screams and sirens were slapping the air around her, but Sophia didn’t care about petty law. All she wanted to do at that point in time was find shelter from the horror that was chasing her.
And then it hit her.
The bodies were tourists. Hundreds of them, all clamouring away, jostling each other with hands and knees, eager to reach the museum. Up until now, Sophia had almost forgotten that the place they had visited was a tourist attraction. Of course! She hadn’t paid any notice to the signposts hanging upon almost every ceiling in the museum complex!
OPENING HOURS — MIDDAY TO MIDNIGHT.
Obscure shouts of protest and violence rang around her as Sophia pushed forward. It seemed like every tourist was now rounding on her from the horrible noises they were making.
And then, blissfully, they forgot her. They rushed forwards, shouting with delight, straight into the museum. Sophia attempted to join the flow, but was shoved by multiple hands. She lashed out blindly, her claws extended. A cry of pain told her someone had been hit. Guilt flushed her face — she hadn’t meant to hurt anybody — but was soon replaced with fear as dozens of invisible tourists broke off from the procession, jeering.
Sophia could smell their sweat, their heat and anger at being forced to wait, magnified by her attempt to push forward in the line. The first few tourists caught her glancing blows across the cheek. She thought she heard a furious scream of ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’
‘Sophia of Wolven,’ she replied, keeping her voice calm, flicking her clawed arms back and forth, deflecting blows, striking people only when absolutely necessary. She had to control her temper. She had to control her temper... had to… temper…
Something new arrived on the scene. Something muscular and powerful, bearing with it the stench of death. Sophia presumed it to be the Dark One, and gave a warning growl, edging backwards, holding out her claws. But it wasn’t him. It was slimy, and through the darkness behind her eyes it walked with an almost mechanical precision. It was causing fearful cries from the surrounding tourists.
Sophia smiled, ever so slightly, thinking, That’s all these crowds really do, isn’t it? Shout. Then even that small trace of humour was lost as a slithering, fleshy mass encompassed her face.
‘It’s all right, Sophia,’ the Szaborg Leader hissed, its voice sounding soothing to Sophia’s fading consciousness. ‘Just… go to sleep…’
Oh no, not again, Sophia thought, just before she plunged into oblivion.
A familiar voice shot into his head, systematically squeezing his brain back into life. The Doctor groaned, and tried to roll over. He couldn’t. His eyes opened, gently, wearily.
He got a shock when Sophia’s bright face blazed at him. ‘Doctor!’ she hissed again.
‘It’s all right,’ he replied. ‘I’m awake,’ he added, not really thinking about what he was saying, but rather concentrating on the motion of his pupils, taking in every detail of the room, filling in his memory blanks once more. The Doctor wondered yet again how many drugs of sleep and amnesia the Szaborgs had pumped into him. Four? Five? Or a lot more? He felt sick trying to think about it, but repressed his nausea and observed Sophia.
She was chained like him, but she had been forced to occupy a makeshift stone slab of a bed, rather than the Doctor’s comparitively comfortable Tortucle. ‘What…?’ the Doctor drew in a sharp breath. ‘They got you too… I thought you were in the TARDIS…’ More memories flooded his mind. ‘I told you to stay away from here!’ he exclaimed.
‘Nope.’ Sophia’s face was dull with anger. ‘Even if you had, I wouldn’t have done it. You know me, Doctor.’
‘Where’s Rose?’ The Doctor couldn’t help worrying about his other companion, but as soon as he said it, he knew he shouldn’t have. Sophia’s countenance flashed perilously.
‘Oh, so you don’t care about me, only Rose, then, hmmm?’ she retorted.
The Doctor’s face folded in on itself with anxiety. ‘No, no, no, shh, sorry, I didn’t mean that. I could just… see that you’re safe, that’s all.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Sophia’s voice rose once more. ‘Well what do you call these bloody spaghetti things roaming around? They keep sticking needles in me.’ She frowned. ‘And, in case you can’t quite grab what that means, I’d sort of like them to stop.’
‘Not much chance of that,’ came a shallow, creaking hiss. The Doctor twisted round as best he could, and laid eyes on the Szaborg Leader, on the opposite side of the Tortucle to Sophia, its tentacled mouths all open, wearing fleshy, sinister smiles.
‘No!’ he cried instantly, noticing the large syringe in the Leader’s hand. ‘Get away from Sophia… and me, for that matter!’
‘That goes double for me!’ Sophia put in, trying to fold her arms but desperately failing due to her cruelly restrictive chains.
‘Calm down,’ the Leader growled. ‘This lovely syringe is not intended for either of you.’ As if to stress its point, the monstrous creature delicately twirled the syringe in the air with the aid of its dextrous hand-tentacles, and propped it decoratively against one of the shattered dream cabinets.
The Doctor’s eyes darted back and forth suspiciously.
‘I have some footage for you to observe,’ the Leader explained. ‘It comes from the twin eye-cameras of your double, Doctor.’ The Szaborg’s smile widened, something the Doctor hadn’t thought possible.
‘What are you planning?’ the Doctor hissed.
‘Oh, nothing much. Just a bit of light entertainment. My kindred and I will enjoy the sight of your face.’
‘Aaaaargh!’ A sudden cry from Sophia disrupted the Leader’s sinuous threat. With great difficulty, the Doctor turned once more. Sophia was clutching in vain at her right leg with one clawed hand. ‘Oh, let me out of these chains, will you? I’ve got pins and needles!’
The Doctor couldn’t help smiling slightly.
The Leader completely ignored her, instead choosing to stride over to the screen, and switched it on with one flick of a tentacle against the polished glass. Fuzzily, the Doctor watched as his captor scrolled through menus and dials, and soon lost track of the computer’s activity. He had almost tumbled back into his artificial sleep when a soft, teasing call emanated from the general direction of the Szaborg Leader. ‘Oh, Doctor…’
Pulling up his eyelids once again, the Doctor saw the screen was ablaze with the vibrant colours of the TARDIS. He strained himself upwards. The glowing interior of the time ship looked the same as ever. One thing that did not, however, was its occupants. For a start Rose was lying unconscious on the grilled floor. Secondly, the fake Doctor instead of the real one was flinging his fingers all over the controls, grinning not from excitement but wicked anticipation.
‘Watch,’ the Leader reclined against a wall, ‘and learn.’
TO BE CONTINUED…