BATTLE IN THE MOUNTAIN
A DOCTOR WHO STORY
The Doctor was thrashing about in the grip of five burly Hycrons. Nefrin was standing before him. His plasma gun pointing at the Time Lord’s head.
‘Wait,’ cried the Doctor, a thought dawning on him. ‘Do you know about the beacon?’
‘What beacon?’ frowned Nefrin suddenly. I take that as a no, thought the Doctor.
‘The beacon that trapped me here. D’you think I’d come to this dead-end dump of an underground base of my own free will?’
‘Silence!’ thundered Nefrin. He slithered over to a lever, standing upright on the edge of the Experiment Shaft. With one of his huge, overgrown, bristling pincers, Nefrin seized the lever and yanked it to one side.
Immediately, a deafening humming buzz hissed into reality. It came from above. The Doctor looked up. Built into the ceiling of the rough-hewn rock hall was a stange, disc-shaped machine with a nozzle in the centre, pointing down.
And a bright beam sizzled from the nozzle. A long lancing lash of laser light, smashing through the air. The Doctor closed his eyes.
But instead of the expected explosion, a cool female PA voice recited, ‘Scanning. Scanning. Scanning.’
The Doctor flicked up his eyelids, and peered into the Experiment Shaft. He tried to get out his hyperscope but his captors forced his hands down. He groaned and squinted. Without the hyperscope, he could just make out the ovoid spaceship and a red churning field of data surrounding it.
‘Once the scan is complete,’ Nefrin said, ‘we will see whether this ‘beacon’ is invented or not.’
The Doctor gazed down.
‘If it is,’ added Nefrin, ‘you will be destroyed.’
‘Scanning. Scanning. Scanning.’
Rose returned from the darkness of her dream, shaking and crying out. The top half of her body snapped up. She panted and looked around. She could see nothing except blackness and small motes of dust floating through the dark air.
She told herself to calm down, but she couldn’t. So she sat there, feeling terrified, for a while.
At last she could move again. She ran a hand across her forehead. And then cried out. It was so hot that it hurt. She looked at her hand. It took a few seconds to adjust to the dark, but when finally she could make out the bare essentials of her palm, it was a shock.
It was burnt. There were angry red marks all over it. Rose exclaimed.
At just that noise, several previously invisible Hycrons slithered out from the darkness. Their semi-human faces wore grins of contempt.
But only for a split-second. For then they noticed. The bars of her cell were gone. They had vanished.
‘How did you do that?’ asked one of the Hycrons.
‘What?’ inquired Rose with genuine interest.
‘The bars of your cell are gone,’ said the Hycron. Rose could detect more than a little fear in its voice.
‘What’s your name?’ Rose questioned.
‘Sabtino,’ said the Hycron, then cursed. Something about the innocence of the human girl had produced her name.
‘Well, Sabtino,’ replied Rose, ‘One — nice name, and two — I have no idea what you’re talking about. The bars of my cell aren’t-‘
She froze. They were. She looked up at the Hycron. Sabtino looked back at Rose. The same thing crossed their minds, at precisely the same time. Rose was going to make a break for freedom and Sabtino was going to try to stop her.
And this was what happened.
Rose dived at the opening, using the element of surprise. Sabtino dodged to and fro in the exit, like a goalkeeper guarding the goal. Sabtino was right in the way of Rose, but realised too late it was only a feint. Rose sailed past her. The Hycron’s pincers clutched and snapped at empty air.
She had done it, she was out and away!
But then several pairs of sharp pincers dug into her. She cried out. And cursed. Stupid! She had forgotten the other Hycrons!
She lunged at one of them, but she connected with a solid wall of mottled blue. She fell onto her knees.
Back on the edge of the Experiment Shaft, Nefrin was monitoring a screen set into the rock wall, with a frown on his heavy, mottled blue face. Obviously the scan readings were not to his liking.
‘Well?’ called out the Doctor after a time.
‘Be silent!’ boomed Nefrin, his head swinging to face the Doctor momentarily. The Doctor saw his small yellow eyes, his wide, unclosable mouth agape with tiny teeth. He saw despair and frustration and long-held anger, a ferocious anger that threatened to consume all who met him in a cloud of raging flame.
The Hycron Leader returned to his work.
Suddenly, without warning, the ground shook. The Hycrons were ripped violently from the Doctor, to slide down the rock face, as the ground tilted and churned.
‘Beacon activated. Beacon activated. Beacon activated,’ rang the PA.
Nefrin whirled round and round, panicking, not knowing what to do. Then he cried, ‘What’s happening?’
‘Scan complete. Beacon existent and activated. Beacon activated. Beacon activated.’
‘Ha!’ cried the Doctor, as the ground shifted and shuddered. One Hycrons caught the tilt the wrong way and slid at a breakneck pelt across the smooth floor, to spin into the Experiment Shaft and disappear from sight.
Nefrin roared, ‘What does the beacon do, Doctor?’
‘It draws spaceships in,’ replied the Doctor. Then froze.
It draws spaceships in.
It. Draws. Spaceships. In.
The Doctor worked it out in a second. ‘It’s another auto-defence mechanism, only more subtle. Coming from the ship. It thinks that all craft will be of its own kind and able to help. And it brings them to it.’
‘And what does this mean?’ Nefrin thundered.
‘Well, first of all, it means that we might have to deal with a hefty spacecraft crashing into us.’
Nefrin somehow managed to stagger over the convulsing rock to the shaking screen. ‘It’s a spacecraft. No... wait... it can’t be... not that...’ Nefrin’s flesh turned a pale, sickly cake icing blue.
‘It has exactly the same bio-data as the ship down there.’ Nefrin indicated the Experiment Shaft. ‘And it’s not just one. It’s two... three... four...’ He turned even paler. ‘There are a dozen!’
‘So it’s a Szaborg fleet. And it’s heading this way,’ said the Doctor.
One moment, Rose was firmly in the grip of six burly Hycrons. The next thing she knew, she was hurtling away from them at the speed of sound.
‘Whheeeee!’ she whooped. ‘This is fun!’
She crashed into a wall, somewhat damaging her face. OK, not so fun.
She looked back at the Hycrons, including Sabtino. She saw that the ground was rippling, shivering, as if in agony. Then with a titanic ripping, grinding noise, the ground tore in two. A gigantic rent appeared in the floor, a black rift.
She saw Sabtino readying herself for a jump. ‘No,’ she cried. ‘Don’t do it! You’ll die!’
But the Hycron was disobedient. Sabtino coiled herself, then leapt. Her blue body twisted and slithered, and, for a second, Rose thought she would make it. But her mouth was rent in a hideous scream of pure unadulterated terror. She fell into darkness. Rose turned away, horrified. But, at the last second, a strong, bristling pincer shot from the chasm and grasped the edge with amazing resilience.
‘Come on!’ cried Rose. ‘Reach!’
Sabtino reached with her other pincer, grabbed the edge and pulled with incredible force. Her head appeared over the brink. But then her willpower faded. Sabtino slumped, and wouldn’t move.
Rose gritted her teeth, marched forward, crouched down, held Sabtino’s pincers, and pulled with all her might. For a few, agonising seconds, Rose struggled with gravity and the bulk of the alien. Then both surrendered and Rose dragged Sabtino from the void. Sabtino lay there gasping. Then Rose cupped her hands round her mouth and shouted, ‘Come on then!’
Another Hycron leapt. And made a much better job of it than Sabtino. The alien whirled through the air, then crashed heavily upon the edge. With a little help from Rose, the Hycron was standing upright, staring at its companions, daring them to jump.
Yet another made an attempt. Yet, to Rose’s horror, even as it jumped, the ground on the other side of the rift caved in. Tonnes of rock cascaded into nothingness as the ground violently writhed. Dozens of Hycrons plummeted to their deaths, screaming in their gravelly voices.
Rose turned away, putting her hands over her eyes.
The Hycron that had just jumped was about to make it when...
Another chunk of rock slid away. The piece that the Hycron had been about to land on.
The alien’s eyes widened. Before it had a chance to scream it toppled into darkness and was gone.
As suddenly as it had started, the tremendous turbulence ceased. And there was silence. The Doctor looked over at Nefrin. The Hycron Leader breathed out gently, believing it too good to be true. Even that small breath stirred dust.
‘It’s landed,’ the Doctor said.
‘What do you advise us to do?’ Nefrin asked.
‘A few moments ago, you were trying to kill me,’ the Doctor reminded him.
‘That was a few moments ago. If you’ll forgive me. We’ll need all the help we can get, in the battle against the Szaborgs.’
‘Er, excuse me,’ interrupted the Doctor. ‘What makes you think there’s gonna be a battle?’
Nefrin looked shocked. ‘Well, what else would there be?’
‘A renewal of Qucar’s pact?’ the Doctor guessed.
Nefrin shook his head, smiling thinly. ‘Qucar the Great is dead and buried, and there is no amazing leader to restore his law of peace.’
‘Maybe you should have a go,’ hinted the Doctor.
Nefrin ignored him, only summoned another Hycron. ‘Jarkline.’
The Hycron named Jarkline slid up to her master. ‘Yes, master?’
‘Release the prisoners!’
Rose, Sabtino and the other, male, Hycron whose name was Gafdint were walking and slithering respectively along the rock when it happened.
‘Where is this?’ Rose asked Sabtino.
‘This? This is the Prisoner’s Complex. It is where Nefrin keeps his human captives, for interrogation and security.’
‘Human captives?’ Rose suddenly exclaimed. ‘This is wrong!’
‘I know it’s wrong,’ Sabtino said, ‘but we don’t have a say in the matter.’
‘What was happening back there?’ asked Rose. ‘You know, with the floor shaking and all that?’
Gafdint shrugged. ‘No idea. Something bad.’
‘Best find out. You two, go on ahead, see what you can find.’ The pair hurried off.
Rose got out her mobile phone and began to text the Doctor.
She smiled as she typed. She had to use full words, not text message speak, as the Doctor claimed he couldn’t understand it at all.
I’m in a bit of a situation. I’m travelling up the Prisoner’s Complex — God knows what that is — with two Hycrons. Could you please tell me what the hell’s going on? You’re bound to know.
See you soon,
‘Prisoners?’ The Doctor asked Nefrin. ‘Why release them? I mean, you should release them in the first place, but you’re not really the type to do that, so I wondered why...’
‘We will need them in the battle against the Szaborgs,’ Nefrin stated calmly.
Something in one of the Doctor’s many pockets beeped loudly. Nefrin looked on with interest. He foraged for a while in the particular pocket before producing a sleek, broad, irregular-shaped device with a square screen.
‘That’ll be Rose,’ he explained.
‘So it’s a communicator thing,’ Nefrin guessed.
The Doctor nodded vaguely, most of his concentration bent upon Rose’s message, which had recently popped up on the gleaming glass screen.
The Doctor sent her a quick reply.
"You’re right, Rose. God knows where you are. I might have some trouble finding you, but I’m sure it’ll be all hunky-dory in the end.
The beacon activated. D’you remember the beacon? It was the thing that drew the TARDIS to here. Well, it’s another auto-defence mechanism from the crashed spaceship. It just drew in a Szaborg fleet, twelve ships. Of course it takes massive power to drag a whole fleet to Earth, so there was some slight turbulence. Hope you weren’t hurt.
Anyway, the Szaborgs have landed, and Nefrin’s all like — ‘There’ll be a BIG battle,’ and, ‘We must prepare,’ and, ‘We’ll need all the help we can get.’ That’s why he’s releasing the prisoners, so they can help him against the Szaborgs.
By the way, how did you get out? He hasn’t even released them yet.
Love, the Doctor"
He soon received a reply.
"Szaborgs? My God. You see, when I was in prison, I had another nightmare. And I saw this face, this face covered in worms. And then a voice said, ‘We are the Szaborgs.’ Could this be connected with the Szaborgs that are arriving now?
I don’t know how I escaped prison, by the way. I woke up from my nightmare and all the bars had disappeared.
How can I help?"
The Doctor frowned deeply.
"Hello again. Nefrin will probably send some Hycrons down to get the prisoners up, after he’s released them. I want you to take them out. You see, he won’t send very many, probably only three or four. So your party can eliminate them. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KILL THEM. You can just knock them out for a while, then take the released prisoners up here, as soon as you can.
‘Release the prisoners!’ Nefrin boomed, triumphantly, not realising he had repeated himself.
Jarkline slammed up a lever.
Down in the Prisoner’s Complex, Rose put away her mobile phone and raced after Sabtino and Gafdint.
She soon caught up with them. ‘Well, how’s it going?’ she said brightly.
‘Fine, thanks,’ Gafdint replied.
But not for long. Sparks shattered the air a few feet ahead. Gafdint suddenly grabbed Rose and Sabtino and pulled them swiftly to the ground.
‘What is it?’ hissed Sabtino.
‘It’s the prisoners,’ Rose said. ‘Being released.’
‘How many?’ Gafdint asked, scared.
‘I don’t know,’ Rose responded. ‘The Doctor never made that clear. But I would guess... hmm... about sixty, from the number of cells.’
Sabtino whimpered. And others whimpered back. A chorus of tentative whining, as men, women, boys, girls and even babies walked or crawled from their cells. ‘Freedom,’ Rose heard a man say quietly. Then she realised that nearly everyone was whispering something along these lines. They were so glad to be out.
But they weren’t free for long.
Into the passage barged not three, not four but five muscular Hycrons, arranged in a V-shape, so that their leader was at the front, with two on either side.
‘You will come,’ said the leader, its voice cold as metal. It wasn’t a question.
‘Now’s the time,’ Rose hissed to her alien companions. ‘To choose a side. Mine or theirs. The human who saved your lives, or the overlords who have ruled your lives.’
Sabtino and Gafdint looked scared, and gulped, but neither questioned Rose.
‘Good,’ Rose said, grinning. ‘So let’s do it.’
Out of the crater stepped the brave party — the Doctor, Nefrin, Jarkline, and three other Hycrons (Fenrof, Huka and Lixa, male, female and female), to confront the Szaborgs.
Sure enough there in front of them loomed twelve imposing ovoid spacecraft, identical to the one inside the Experiment Shaft.
‘The prisoners will come at my command,’ Nefrin said, leaning over to whisper in the Doctor’s ear.
The Doctor nodded and gave a secret smile. Not if Rose had anything to do with it.
The six stopped walking and faced the Szaborg ships.
‘Let the Szaborgs come forth,’ cried Nefrin, ‘and let justice be done upon them!’
His shout echoed among the rocks, bouncing and hissing to and fro, until it lost itself in the wind.
‘Show yourself!’ added Fenrof.
And then, without any command, or even any other action or noise to order it, the panel on the front of the closest ship swung silently open. This single motion was quite sinister.
‘D’you know what that implies, for me?’ the Doctor asked Nefrin.
‘No,’ replied the Hycron Leader absently.
‘It implies that something’s gonna come out...’
And then, the first sign of life from the ships, something did come out. The most hideous twisted creature that the Doctor had ever seen.
It was like a man, dressed in a posh buisiness suit, with shiny shoes and a tie and sleeves. But its hands and head were the least like a man anyone could imagine. Its head was covered in worms. Long red worms, crawling and slithering all around the creature’s head. And its hands. Its head and hands were simply clumps of writhing worms.
Then the Doctor realised they weren’t worms, they were tentacles. Big slimy curling wet soft tentacles. Dripping with red stuff that definitely wasn’t ketchup. Then the tentacles peeled horrifically back, to reveal two gleaming red eyes, and a huge, snapping mouth that took up most of its face. Then the tentacles on its hands peeled back, uncovering two smaller mouths, embedded in its palms, hungry and drooling and glistening with blood.
An awful, twisted, evil voice resounded from the creature’s mouth. A terrifying, chilling, growling tone that set the Doctor’s teeth on edge.
It said in this ghastly voice:
‘We are the Szaborgs.’
Rose, Sabtino and Gafdint made for the five Hycrons. Their eyes widened in not fear, but surprise.
Rose made a small, simple speech.
‘If you want the freedom you were talking about, help us. Knock out the opposition.’
The Hycrons snarled. ‘Obey her,’ their leader hissed forcefully, ‘and you will suffer a slow, agonising death after long torture.’
The ex-prisoners looked around, not knowing who to believe. The Hycrons smiled confidently. Then a huge blue pincer swung out of nowhere and smashed the leader over the head. The alien authority grunted briefly, then slumped, unconscious.
It was Gafdint. Using the Hycrons’ over-confidence to his advantage, the alien had crept up and knocked out their leader.
‘Gafdint!’ cheered Sabtino.
And, suddenly, the Hycron spell was broken. The prisoners cried, ‘FREEDOM!’ in unison, and surged forward, pummelling their captors with fists and feet.
Rose and Sabtino joined the throng, crying with primitive, vicious joy, hitting the Hycrons with pincers and hands.
An iron tree trunk swept through the crowd. Rose reeled back, stunned. She, luckily, was unharmed, but many humans had been badly injured, and one had even been killed.
One Hycron had swept its pincers right in the middle of the mob. Rose exclaimed. It had been incredibly hard.
Shouting in rage, the mob descended upon the Hycrons. The aliens were completely smothered in a writhing, yelling sea of bodies. One of them went down. A plasma gun sped across the floor. Gafdint grabbed it and fired, three successive shots. The remainder of the Hycrons toppled over. The mob of ex-convicts cheered and danced about.
Rose, however, was horrified. ‘Why did you kill them? Why?’ she cried. ‘The Doctor will go mad at me!’
‘Knock-out mode,’ Gafdint explained, not moved by her anger. ‘They’re out cold.’
Rose breathed a sigh of relief. ‘I didn’t know it had modes,’ she answered, then produced her mobile phone and texted the Doctor.
"Hi there Doctor,
We’ve taken out the Hycrons, and not killed any.
Her thumb hit ‘Send’.
‘Well, my friend,’ boomed Nefrin cheerfully, ‘I regret to announce you’re doomed. Bring on the prisoners!’
The Doctor smiled as he secretly read Rose’s text. Ha! Peace or destruction, was the choice he was about to offer Nefrin. Without his extra soldiers, he would be easily beaten by the Szaborgs. Either this or he would strive for peace. This was his ultimate goal.
‘P-R-I-S-O-N-E-R-S!...’ called Nefrin.
Then the Szaborg laughed. A cruel, hissing, grinding laugh. ‘The Szaborgs will obliterate you, Nefrin,’ it growled, ‘and no power on this Earth can stop us.’
Nefrin’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. His plan had fallen apart.
The Szaborg screeched, in an unearthly, too-high shriek.
The Szaborg army arrived.
The front panels on each spacecraft fell open. Then a column of Szaborgs emerged from each. Marching silently, menacing, a terrifying legion of emotionless squid-faced warriors, bent on destruction.
Nefrin and his companions backed off. The army was simply too big to fight.
Then their chant started. The terrible, endless chorus of, ‘Eradicate. Eradicate. Eradicate...’
Then the original Szaborg ceased its march. ‘Let the head of the beast come forth!’
And, finally, the Doctor saw what Rose had seen in her nightmare, that long dark day aboard the TARDIS.
Glittering in the night sky, a terrible, bleak monument, a desolate statue, an omniscient god, standing tall, proud and potrayed in a cloud of swirling purple framed by the darkness, looming in all its twisted glory, was the Horsehead Nebula.
Its cold face fixed upon Earth.
Nefrin turned to his group. ‘We will fight to the death,’ he said.
For a moment, the Doctor thought he had misheard. ‘What?’ he asked, horrified.
‘We will fight to the death,’ Nefrin repeated.
And the Doctor cried out despairingly. ‘NOOOOOOOOOOO!’ he screamed. ‘You can’t do this! After all that!’
But Nefrin wasn’t listening. ‘Plasma cannons!’ he ordered.
From the side of the mountain erupted several streams of crackling purple energy. One of them missed, but the other four hit home. Purple explosions racked the Szaborg army. For a moment the squids paused.
Then they were marching calmly towards the Hycrons, chanting their alien catchprase. ‘Eradicate. Eradicate. Eradicate. Eradicate...’
‘Again!’ yelled Nefrin, and the jets spouted once more from the rock face. Szaborgs were flung everywhere, yet still they continued. And they were invulnerable. Once the crackling of plasma ceased, the Szaborgs simply resumed their march. When they were flung away, they merely got back up again.
‘Plasma guns!’ yodelled the Hycron leader, and two dozen Hycrons all crawled up from the crater. They fired immediately. These smaller, more precise weapons seemed to work better on the Szaborgs, but it still took around ten shots to fell one. And they were coming closer...
One of Nefrin’s group, Lixa, lost her nerve and charged forward, plasma gun in pincer, firing wildly. One, two, three Szaborgs down.
But then Lixa made the mistake of running on.
Lixa took it down.
And then the Hycron smashed into the line of squids. KRACCCK! She barrelled over one Szaborg, two, three, four, and then the fifth raised its hand-tentacles to her face.
And started to suck.
The tentacles wrapped greedily round the small blue face, obscuring it in seconds. Then the mouth sucked, an unstoppable force that stretched the flesh of the Hycron to breaking point...
‘NO!’ cried Nefrin.
Then the whole of his companion’s body was wrenched from the ground and into the Szaborg’s hand-mouth, contracting impossibly, squeezing and screaming.
Nefrin, the Doctor, Fenrof, Huka and Jarkline backed off, horrified.
The head of the beast hanging threateningly in the sky tilted, and sang its eerie chorus that Rose heard in her dreams. ‘Death to the living,’ its evil voice hissed. Two red Szaborg eyes flashed in the dark. It started to rain.
‘The might of the Horsehead Nebula will consume the galaxy, planets falling like dominoes, the Szaborg legion will swarm across the stars...’
As the Szaborgs advanced in their silent march, and the rain cascaded down, he put his head in his hands. He was getting very old.
He had to face up to the fact that this time he had nothing. This time there was no aid anywhere. Rose, the human who brought light to his heart, was lost and far away. A mighty invasion force was ready to march across Earth. The human race would be torn down and would never rise again.
He had to face up to it.
He had lost.
TO BE CONTINUED...