Sweetness and Light

by vegetables [Reviews - 0]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Drama, General, Humor, Mixed, Series

The Doctor was frowning at her spoon, and the spoon was frowning at the Doctor.

“This doesn't make a lot of sense,” she said. She scowled and whacked the spoon off the cavern wall, then scowled again when that failed to make any difference.

“What’s wrong?” said Lip, half listening, his senses turned towards hearing more chocolate insects.

“Something’s distorting the reading, like there’s lots of places here all at once,” she said. “I can see that time’s all twisted, that nothing’s now quite as it should be. But there's something else; a mess on top of a mess. Like an ugly wig on a hideous man.”

She thrust her spoon out ahead of her. “It's getting stronger the further down we go. In fact, I think the source of it might actually be just here.”

They stumbled out into a large cavern, and whipped their torches round the space. At the centre of the space was a pile of bones, and at the top of the bones was a candied man.

“Ah,” said the Doctor.

The Kandyman turned towards them both, his spiral eyes picked out in the torchlight. He dropped the bone he was holding, and chuckled in his curious way. As he did so, there was a burst of hideous sound and light, which both throbbed their way around his curious face.

“Visitors!” he said in his strange, high voice. “You’ve come to my lair, I see. I hope you haven't come expecting laughter. I'm afraid I'm not so jolly anymore.”

“You're a killer,” said the Doctor softly. “Innocent people have died because of you, and I’m not sure I'm able to let you live.”

The Kandyman just laughed in response. “I am!” he said. “I don't deny it. There's no twist in the tale, no punchline. I'm just a monster, and I'm so alone—”

“Oh God,” muttered the Doctor, “he’s gone depressed.”

“I’d be depressed as well,” said Lip. “Made out of candy, stuck in a cave all day. And with a voice like that. I thought he’d have a scarier voice.”

“It's a terrible voice,” moaned the Kandyman. “An awful sound for an awful man.”

“Caught up with you, has it?” said the Doctor. “The executions with sweets, and your delight in them? I didn't think your maker would have put guilt into you, but I was wrong. It's all through your being, like a stick of rock.”

“Executions?” said the Kandyman. “But I've never executed anyone.”

“Yes you have! That's what you do! You can't go round as a toaster and claim you've never seen any bread before!”

“You must be thinking of someone else,” said the Kandyman in his sing-song voice.

“Oh, yeah, one of the other candy robots blasting about the universe,” said the Doctor. “I'll just get out the list. Or I won't, because there's only one Kandyman. Built by an insane genius, and made to kill.”

“Um,” said Lip.

“Not now, Lip,” said the Doctor.

“It’s just—” Lip trailed off. “If there's only one Kandyman,” he said at last, “then what’s that over there?”

The Doctor followed Lip’s gaze to the side of the cavern, where the shattered candy shell of a robot lay. Its entire lower half was gone, and its body was blistered brown where the heat had ripped it in two. But it was clearly the remains of something that looked exactly like the thing before them now, sitting confused on the top of a pile of bones. Silently, the Doctor looked round more of the cavern. There were bones everywhere, in great piles that covered the ground. But there were also bits and pieces of things that had clearly once been Kandymen, colourfully standing out from the human remains.

“I've just realised something important about the man who made the Kandyman,” said the Doctor.

“That he was insane?” said Lip.

“Not that! Place he lived, he’d be insane not to be. No, he was working for a dictator. And when you do that you have to show you’re indispensable, prove you're too valuable to make an example of. So you embellish things — make out you’ve done more than you have — like you’re in the world’s deadliest job interview. And you say you invented a whole new robot, when what you’ve really done is just taken one off the shelf—” she sighed “—and turned him into an executioner. He’d have made up a cover story, of course. He’d have even believed it, in the end. Believed he’d built a whole man out of sweets, when all he’d really done was turn himself and a robot mad.”

“The Kandymen worked deep below the ground, in the factories,” said the robot who had never been an executioner, “there's no reason anyone in charge would have needed to know about us. The Dictator’s lot weren’t much interested in what happened down there, so long as happiness prevailed. If one of my kind had been taken to the surface, repurposed, then it's possible no one would have known there were many Kandymen– especially when you’d risk your death by mentioning it.”

“That's as maybe,” said Lip, “but you still said you were a monster, and you're sitting on a pile of my people’s bones. I don't much care if you did or didn't kill on a distant planet if you're here right now and eating all my friends.”

“Your friends?” said the Kandyman. “But these were my friends. And it's my fault they're gone; it's my fault they’re dead. We worked in a balloon factory, making gifts. People always looked so happy, when someone gave them a balloon!”

“Because they’d be killed if they did anything else,” said the Doctor.

“It wasn't such a bad place to work,” continued the Kandyman, ignoring her, “but the actions of the regime weighed heavily on us all. One day in the depths of the factory I found a– a sort of rip, I suppose, all swirled and multicoloured like a lollipop. It whispered to me, about a world on the other side: a place made of sugar, where a man made of sweets could live. Where us workers wouldn't just pretend we were happy.”

He looked down at the yellowing bones. Tears were streaming from his eyes, now, making him even stickier than he had already been.

“I told them in secret, the whole of the factory. My friends and colleagues; people of all ages. And one night when we got the chance we just ran through that rip, before anyone in charge could have stopped us. And I thought we'd end up in paradise, but instead—”

“—the journey killed everyone,” finished the Doctor. Stripped the people of their flesh; burned the robots down to bits. Now you're the only survivor.” Her eyes were dim. “And that's a terrible thing to be.”

“I’ve been here so long,” the Kandyman wept. “Eating the remains of people who I loved. I’d never have thought I’d have sunk this far; I didn't think I'd do so much to survive. But I want to live, so much more than I thought I would. Even like this, alone in a cave and stuck on these bones. So I am a monster, in the end, even if I haven't done anything to the living. I can be sad, though!” He laughed through his choking tears. “At least down here, I'm allowed to be sad.”

“Oh, Kandyman,” said the Doctor. “Mate. It's not—” she mulled her words. “People who don't know, who’ve not been put in that position. Where you have to choose to die, or do something you never thought you would. They can judge you, think they’d never do the same, if they were put in your candy shoes. But the fact is they don't know, and not knowing’s a privilege in its way. You’ve done awful things to survive, but you’ve never actually hurt anyone. And I don't think someone can call you a monster, when they don't know what being desperate’s really like.”

“And do you know what that's like?” said the Kandyman, turning to look at her. “Doctor?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor. “Yes, I do.”

“Um,” said Lip again.

“Having a moment here, Lip,” said the Doctor. “Me and my candy friend.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Lip. “But we came down here in the first place because loads of people had gone missing, and we’ve no idea if he's telling the truth. I don't really care what his story is if he's been eating the bones of my friends.”

“Missing?” said the Kandyman. “I wouldn't know about that. You're the first people I've seen since I ended up in this place.”

“You would say that, though,” said Lip.

“He would,” agreed the Doctor. “But he's telling the truth. His legs are all smashed in, see? He can’t move. Unless all those missing people climbed up the bone pile and let him munch away, there isn't really any way he could have killed them all.”

“Huh,” said Lip. “I suppose that makes sense. But if he's not responsible for all those people going missing—” he turned and looked at the Doctor “—then who or what actually was?”