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.