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.”