Part 3: Skypigs

by Soldeed [Reviews - 17]

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  • All Ages
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  • Action/Adventure

"Oh, you liked it the way it was, I expect," the emaciated old man said derisively, looking down at the Doctor and Jasmine from his high chair. "All pretty trees and flowers. You probably think it's all spoiled now."

"My dear sir," the Doctor began, "I can assure we're entirely neutral observers to this whole affair. Perhaps you could explain..."

"Don't be nice to him!" Jasmine burst out. "You! You've ruined this whole planet. You've turned the most beautiful place I've ever seen into some kind of poisonous concrete hellhole. And you're sneering at us? Are you some kind of lunatic?"

"Jasmine!" The Doctor gave her a reproachful look. "I don't know where you learned to speak to people like that, but I'm sure it wasn't from me." He gave the old man a benevolent look. "I'm quite certain this gentleman has an entirely sound explanation for everything he's done."

The man peered down at the two of them suspiciously, but the ensuing silence stretched out into seconds and formed a vacuum that had to be filled.

"There's no harm in telling you," he began. "It's all done now. There's nothing anyone can do to reverse it. My name is Temore. I am the greatest scientist on this planet."

For a moment Jasmine thought the Doctor was snorting with laughter, but he was just coughing a little, a handkerchief pressed firmly against his lips.

"Have you ever considered, you tourists," Temore went on, "What it's like growing up an Agrathan? Oh, you love all the sights, don't you? You like our unspoilt countryside, our clean air and rivers, our wide open spaces. You compliment us on them. But secretly, you think you're better than us. You, with your technology, your money, your power. You look at my people living their simple pastoral existence, and you say how quaint and picturesque they are, and deep down you laugh at them. My race has allowed itself to settle for being waiters, porters and hoteliers for rich aliens. Can you conceive the humiliation of that knowledge to a young man who dreamed of being something more? No, you think the planet was pretty the way it was, and you think I should have just learned my place and got a job as a tour guide.

"So I thought it might be. I'd completed my schooling and had nowhere else to go, but one night I had a strange, vivid and unusual dream. No naked ladies, no exams that I'd forgotten to revise for, but a dark man, with features I could never remember, with words of thunder that caught in my mind and couldn't be shaken loose. Science. Mathematics. Concepts the like of which had never been touched on in my studies. I woke, and laughed at myself for dreaming something so nerdy. But where other dreams would fade away and be forgotten, these facts and figures stuck like something learned and known. I looked into them, and found they were not only true but that they were known to no one else, only me.

"Soon after, I dreamed him again, and then the following week again. It wasn't long before I grasped the secret that, piece by piece, he was imparting to me. Time travel. The dream of every scientist in the galaxy. The power to identify what went wrong in our history and change it, to make our present better.

"I knew what the problem was. Life for our ancestors was too easy. They strolled around the wilderness, untroubled by predators or enemies, pulling up tasty roots and plucking fruit from the trees. So they had no incentive to form organised, settled communities and that's why we never had any technology of our own. That's why I invented the Skypig.

"You understand? A menace, something to scare those ignorant, lazy transients into action. When people see fire-breathing black metal demons in the sky above them suddenly the nomadic lifestyle doesn't seem so attractive. They have the incentive to gather themselves together and to make themselves strong. They build citadels, then towns, then cities. They make weapons, and develop the technology they need to make new weapons. It wasn't hard to find a few like-minded individuals to help me, and the pigs themselves were very straightforward to construct. I made them slow, and vulnerable, so the people would discover that when they banded together and used their intelligence they could defeat them. Of course I also made sure that after they were brought down they would self-destruct, and take anyone nearby with them. Didn't want them to lose their air of mystery.

"And it's worked. Look at these screens. Agrathus is no longer some backward little nonentity where the super-rich of the galaxy can get away from their real lives for a week or two. We have a population of billions, a thriving industrial base, a powerful, well-equipped military. We are known and respected across the quadrant. Are you going to tell me now that I've ruined my planet?"

Jasmine felt an almost physical sickness at the sight of Temore's self-satisfied visage scanning the screens in front of him.

"Your people are choking in squalor and drowning in their own filth." The words tumbled out unstoppably. "They live their lives crouching in concrete bunkers, sheltering from your Skypigs."

"Interesting, that," mused Temore reflectively. "A Skypig would be destroyed in seconds by these modern rockets. I must admit, I'm not sure if the authorities genuinely don't realise the truth, and just keep panicking and opening fire on flocks of passing birds, or if they've been intentionally maintaining the illusion. Shrewd thinking if so. There's no more potent means of keeping the populace docile than a mysterious enemy. Makes them content with what they've got. Stops them questioning the status quo. You see, there haven't been any real Skypigs for centuries."

"That's not true! It can't be! We saw a firebomb falling on the city."

"Sometimes the rockets malfunction, and fall back to explode on the ground. The Skypigs get the blame. Again, I'm not too sure if it's deliberate or not."

Jasmine grimaced in disgust.

"And you're proud of this world you've made?"

Temore smiled down at her indulgently.

"Oh, yes. It's wonderful."

"But not for long, I fear," said the Doctor quietly.

"Ah, is that so? And who's going to put a stop to it, may I ask? You?"

"I don't have to. You have all this knowledge, but no understanding. You can't change history."

"I already have."

"You can't change history," the Doctor repeated. "A true time machine has the power to travel freely up and down its own timeline. Wherever it comes to a stop, it becomes part of the history of that moment. The machinery I've seen here is a crude and stupid variation on the theme; it cant move smoothly along the timeline, it can only jump clear of it and then smash its way back in at another point. You can't change history, you can only destroy it."

"Oh, change it, destroy it, what's the difference? My world is as I want it. That's what matters."

"What matters is that the cosmos has been twisted out of shape by your interference. Reality is like the branch of a tree, it will bend a certain way and then snap, and we are well past snapping point. You, sir, have brought about the complete destruction of your world, the annihilation of an entire corner of our universe, unless my young friend and I can find a means to prevent it."

With formality, he retrieved his stick from Jasmine, and turned to go.

"You're not fooling me, you know," said Temore slyly.

The Doctor walked away, and with a shrug Jasmine followed.

"You think you can trick me into helping you undo what I've done?" Temore called after them. "You're wasting your time. I know what I've done. I've built a new world. I've shaped it in my own image. I'm the saviour of my race."

"Just ignore him," said the Doctor as Jasmine caught up and walked at his shoulder. "Little enough point debating the matter with someone who's soon enough going to be dissolving into unreality."

"But shouldn't we... I don't know, put him out of action in some way?"

"No, he's already done all the damage he can. We have to focus on undoing it." He halted when they arrived in the shabby living area in which Inchel still lay tightly bound, and turned the head of his stick thoughtfully in his hands. "Would you mind showing me the way to your Tardis? There's someone with whom we should really discuss the matter."

"Is there? Who?"

____________________


Clustered interestedly around the fallen Skypig, the Doctor, Jeff and Anna looked up, startled, as a wheezing, groaning sound and a flashing blue light filled the clearing.