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.