A DOCTOR WHO STORY
Rose spoke out to the prisoners. ‘All of you. It isn’t over yet. We’ve got to stop the Hycrons and the Szaborgs, and somehow end this war.’
The prisoners cheered, half-ignoring her. They would not abandon this small victory.
Rose turned to Sabtino and Gafdint. ‘We have to go on,’ she stated. They nodded darkly.
Rose once again adressed the crowd. ‘Last chance. Anyone want to come with us?’
Only three of the prisoners came. ‘What are your names?’ asked Sabtino of the prisoners.
‘George,’ said a small man with glasses and slicked-back hair. ‘Keira and Kitty,’ answered two pretty twins in unison. They were nervous of Sabtino, and, indeed of all Hycrons, but they could see that these aliens meant well.
‘OK,’ Rose breathed deeply struggling to contain her irritation at these annoying humans. ‘You stay here. Sabtino — let’s go. There’s no point in trying to get their help. They won’t budge. They’re too attached to their little victory.’
Rose and the Hycrons moved onwards, down the passageway towards the promise of escape. After a moment’s hesitation, George, Keira and Kitty followed, hoping that what they were doing was good and that they would soon be home.
The Doctor stood in the centre of a raging nightmare. The Hycrons were firing madly, felling Szaborgs at a stunning rate considering the squids’ invulnerability to bullets or rays. The Szaborgs themselves simply marched on, seemingly oblivious to the destruction, chanting, ‘Eradicate. Eradicate. Eradicate,’ their hand-tentacles raised in preparation to suck Hycron faces into their waiting, grinding mouths.
Then, a brainwave hit the Doctor. ‘SILENCE!’ he bellowed. Both the Szaborgs and the Hycrons ceased their riotous fighting, gazing at him quizically.
‘ENOUGH!’ he added, and there was complete silence, as ordered.
He then spoke in a clear loud voice, adressing the Szaborgs. ‘What do you want?’
The Szaborg Leader stepped forward. ‘I am the Borg. I will answer your questions.’
The Doctor nodded.
‘We must have our spaceship back. Unknown Hycron modifications will cease. This is the BorgShip and we need it.’
‘Right, you want your spaceship back. Hycrons, what do you want?’ he turned to Nefrin.
‘I thought you knew what we wanted,’ growled Huka.
‘Yeah, well, the Szaborgs don’t, do they?’ asked the Doctor, rhetorically.
Nefrin cleared his throat. ‘I speak to the Borg,’ he called clearly, ‘and demand that you call off your forces until Hycron modifications have been completed. Then you may return home.’
Secretly he turned round and whispered to his companions. ‘We will complete the Hypernova Missile and set it onto timer. When they are nearly home and dry, it will explode and kill them, then destroy their homeworlds.’ Fenrof giggled. Jarkline covered a grin with a pincer.
‘Unacceptable,’ growled the Borg. ‘Modifications will not continue. The BorgShip will return to the Szaborg Homeworlds. You will not intervene.’
‘Oh really?’ cooed Nefrin cruelly. ‘Why’s that then?’
The Borg’s small red eyes flashed. ‘There is a Szaborg war fleet, waiting outside the beacon’s range. One wrong move and it will jettison millions of Szaborg pods.’ The monster’s gigantic mouth leered evilly. ‘Ten of us in each.’
The Hycrons were silent.
The Borg cackled. ‘You thought this was a fleet? You’ve seen nothing.’
‘Right,’ the Doctor told Nefrin. ‘Best thing is to give the ship to them.’
‘No way,’ Nefrin sneered. ‘The Hypernova Missile isn’t finished. It’s our only chance of ridding ourselves of these pests once and for all.’
‘OK then.’ The Doctor breathed a heavy sigh, then ran over to the Borg and said loudly, loud enough for the Hycrons to hear, ‘Kill them. There’ll be no opposition once they’re safely inside your stomachs.’
‘Excellent idea,’ rumbled the Borg, and then roared, ‘Szaborgs! Destroy all opposition! We will fight our way to the Experiment Shaft and take the BorgShip by force.’
Nefrin’s eyes widened. He was about to cry out when he saw the Doctor. The Time Lord was winking. And Nefrin smiled.
The Szaborgs charged forward, their tentacles whipping in hunger, greedy for life. The Doctor rushed towards the Hycrons too. Nefrin, who had an idea that the Doctor might want to speak with him, feinted a crushing blow. The Doctor played along, dropping to the ground with a faked scream. Nefrin crouched beside him and hissed hurriedly — ‘What are you playing at?’
The Doctor smiled vaguely. ‘Peace-mongering,’ he chuckled.
‘You call telling our enemies to kill us peace-making?’ Nefrin argued. ‘A bit one sided peace-making, don’t you think?’
‘It’s all part of the plan. I’ve got everything under control,’ explained the Doctor, not very helpfully.
‘How?’ persisted the Hycron Leader.
‘Never mind,’ the Doctor said, slightly irritated now. ‘I’d advise you to retreat to the Shaft.’
Nefrin cursed, undecidedly. Then he cursed again. Finally he said, ‘I don’t know your plan and I don’t particularly trust you. But you’re our only hope.’
He then lunged up. ‘HYCRONS!’ he thundered. ‘RETREAT TO THE EXPERIMENT SHAFT!’
The Doctor smiled. If he was very very lucky, he might just be able to save the day. He and the Hycrons fled in a rout back towards the entrance to the underground passageways, pursued by a wave of bloodthirsty, relentless alien squids, ready to kill.
Rose, Sabtino and Gafdint rushed up the passage. The three humans nervously followed. ‘We head for the Experiment Shaft,’ Rose declared, turning briefly to meet the gaze of two aliens and a trio of her kind.
‘Why?’ Keira dared to ask. ‘And what is the Experiment Shaft?’
‘Because my friend is there and he’s in trouble. I can feel it. As for what the Shaft is, you can see for yourself.’
At that precise moment, Rose and her companions rounded a corner, to reveal a wide, low arch from which a strange red shimmer emanated.
‘This is it,’ breathed Sabtino. ‘The Shaft.’
Rose wanted to rush inside and run towards the Doctor. But then something stopped her. Because rows upon rows of men with squid-heads marched across the rock. Dozens of them. Rose breathed out. She felt an opressive malice, an oozing horror, that shoved and pressed against her heart, beating to a second rythm, an eerie, chilling melody, singing stark notes of primitive simplicity yet strange intimididation, a bodiless chorus soaking into her skin, her vision tilting, her heart and head racing. She remembered her nightmares, and recalled the same chill, the same primal, instinctive dread.
‘The Szaborgs,’ she said, matter-of-factly, yet feeling terrified.
All she could picture in her head was the half-revealed, shadowed face, crawling with worm-like tentacles, and the awful, horrible Horsehead Nebula, the image of evil, seared and branded onto her eyelids. She knew Sabtino was talking, but she couldn’t hear, the Hycron’s soothing voice was ringing, now growling, and hissing like the evil voice from her dream. Rose screamed and lashed out. Her arm connected, hard, with Sabtino’s side. Instinctively, Sabtino’s pincer jutted straight, smashing into Rose’s face. There was blood in her mouth. The face from her nightmares was mocking her. She didn’t want to, she so didn’t want to, but she felt herself plunging headfirst into the dreamscape of the Horsehead Nebula-
She thrashed around, wailing, attempting to stop her steady summons into the head of the beast-
Lashing, coiling tentacled faces loomed around Nefrin and his companions as the Szaborgs surrounded them in a final overwhelming attack. The Doctor and the Hycrons backed up against the Experiment Shaft.
‘Well, well, well, three holes in the ground,’ purred the Borg, shoving through its ranks of foul squid-men to face the doomed party triumphantly.
‘Very funny,’ snarled Nefrin, pulling up his plasma gun. The Hycron Leader cocked it and pointed it at the Borg’s swirling mass of worm-like protrudances.
‘Peace,’ chided the Borg, faking sympathy, but desperately failing. ‘Poor little Hycrons, doomed to die, in a few minutes they’ll be Hycron pie.’
‘Such games belittle you!’ barked the Doctor.
The Borg’s malicious eyes fell upon the Doctor. ‘You have betrayed us.’
‘Who said I ever joined you? I’m on neither side. All I want is for you squid-heads to take this stupid war to the skies, and never come back.’
‘Ah, a pacifist,’ hissed the Borg. ‘I hate them. Possibly even more than I hate enemies. What will you do when my unstoppable legions swarm across the world, destroying all both in the mind and out? You will die.’
‘Hate is all you have,’ replied the Doctor, quite calmly.
‘Stronger than love,’ growled the Borg. ‘All love gets you is a few kisses from some soppy member of the opposite sex. But hate... It is the art of destruction. The pleasure of pain. The beauty of death.’
‘No,’ the Doctor said, with force in his voice. He stared at the Borg, into those unfeeling red slits, and it was the squid that was first to blink. Furious, the Borg yelled, ‘I will not be outdone by a puny human brain!’ From its curling finger-tentacles a red shimmering beam leapt. It slammed into the Hycrons on either side of the Doctor. Screaming, they collapsed. ‘This is the might of rage!’
‘All right,’ replied the Doctor, sighing tiredly. ‘If you must, take your dumb ship. Then we can end this stupid war.’
The Borg ceased its crazy firing and observed the Doctor. ‘Really?’
‘Yes. There’s nothing to stop you.’
‘Yes there...’ began Nefrin.
‘Shut up,’ growled the Doctor.
There was a pause, a hiatus, in which the Borg looked around. Clearly the Doctor was being honest. The Hycrons were reluctant, but for some reason they seemed to trust the Doctor, even to the point of sacrificing their precious little ‘modifications’. This made the Borg feel slightly uneasy, as it suspected the Doctor had a plan.
‘No drawbacks?’ the Szaborg hissed, doubtfully.
‘No drawbacks,’ confirmed the Doctor.
‘Very well,’ The Borg said. It made for the edge of the Shaft. ‘Szaborgs, keep an eye on them, especially the Doctor. I will return the ship.’
‘Wait.’ The Doctor suddenly spoke up. ‘You don’t have anything to do with Rose’s nightmares, do you?’ An idea had come to him. A theory. If Rose said she had seen a Szaborg in her dream, then the creatures themselves might have caused the nightmares. For what reason, he could only guess. But he knew it was true. Who else could it be? The thought that some other force apart from the Szaborgs could be responsible was too sinister to contemplate.
The Borg was silent. ‘Who is this Rose?’ it growled.
‘She’s a human. A human girl, who travels with me. She’s been having nightmares about you.’
‘If we had anything to do with your stupid friend’s superstitious mind then we would have said earlier.’
‘Or you could just not be telling me,’ said the Doctor. He didn’t want to believ that this was true, that some other entity was behind his comapanion’s dreams.
‘We did nothing. The dreams are not ours. Their origin is unknown.’
‘But who else could it be?’ the Doctor cried.
‘We will descend,’ said the Borg. It turned its swirling emotionless face round, and levitated into the air. It glided forward, over the edge of the chasm, then dropped into the Shaft.
Nefrin turned on him angrily. ‘You gave it to them!’
‘When I said, “No drawbacks,” I had my fingers crossed.’
Nefrin grinned, and turned away. But the Doctor was concentrating. Concentrating extremely hard. His eyes bent on the faces of the Szaborgs. They were somehow wrong. Not just that they were disgusting and creepy and alien, but because they were wrong.
THAT WAS IT! No evolutionary process could have ever come up with that. Not in eons. They were thrown together, jumbled, unreal. ‘Hold on, hold on...’ moaned the Doctor, as his mind raced painfully, tearing back the sheets of lies that surrounded him, unmasking the truth. Then he had it.
‘None of this is real!’ he shouted, pointed an accusing finger at the rows of merciless squid-faced humanoids. His head racing unbearably, shaking, not knowing how it could be but sickeningly sure of it.
‘Doctor,’ growled Nefrin, shaking him. ‘The Borg ordered the Szaborgs to keep an eye on us. One wrong move and they’ll kill us.’
The Doctor swivelled round to face Nefrin. And saw it once more. The same wrongness, the same perversity, the same unreal features as he saw in the Szaborgs.
‘You aren’t real either!’ he cried. Nefrin regarded him as if he was crazy. ‘Of course I am,’ replied the Hycron.
‘No. No. No, no, no. No one is. I’m not even sure...’
The Doctor never got to finish his sentence. Because the tube that led from the spaceship to the crater glowed a ferocious red, the red of fire, of lava. The Borg gave a thwarted scream from the bottom of the Shaft. It was cut off by a huge explosion from the crater as fire erupted all round and the Szaborgs ships and most of the army was disintegrated.
‘You tricked us!’ bellowed the Borg at the Doctor. ‘You said that there were no drawbacks!’
‘It’s not a drawback,’ thundered the Doctor back. ‘It’s your own auto-defence mechanism! Forget about it! Your problem, not mine!’
‘Szaborgs!’ yodelled the Borg. ‘Kill them!’ The squids advanced. Nefrin and his Hycrons opened fire. Szaborgs were bowled over. And more, and more, till the room was clogged with tumbled squids.
‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ yelled the Borg, lunging up out of the shaft. It raised a hand, ready to suck Nefrin’s face in.
In one fluid motion, the Doctor pulled Nefrin’s plasma gun from its owner, swung it round, found the trigger, grabbed the Borg, and pointed the gun at the creature’s throat.
The Borg had time to utter one last command before it was silenced by the Doctor.
Unfortunately, this command was spoken into the speaker that dangled round the Borg’s neck.
Even more unfortunately, the speaker connected the Borg with all the pilots of the waiting Szaborg fleet.
Most unfortunately of all, the command was: ‘INVADE!’
Great panels hinged open with rusty creaks and clangs. From one such hatch, a green metal sphere sped, fifteen feet in diameter. Then another, then another, from all the hatches, until there was a rain of Szaborg pods, whistling through space, heading for Planet Earth, ready to unload billions of Szaborgs, enough to take over the entire planet.
‘Holy cow,’ cursed the Doctor, observing a scanner in the Experiment Shaft. It showed the pods streaking through the void, some of them disappearing into Earth’s atmosphere and vanishing, their heat shields going up, extinguishing the Doctor’s brief hope that they might burn up like most meteors do.
‘You asked for it,’ smirked the Borg. Without smirking. It couldn’t smirk, its mouth was held in place. The so-called ‘smirk’ was simply an overpowering instinct to believe that the Borg was smirking.
‘Stop smirking,’ said the Doctor.
‘I have good cause to smirk, even if I could.’
The Doctor was silent.
‘I suggest you leg it,’ said the Borg mildly.
‘OK, Plan B,’ ordered the Doctor.
‘What was Plan A?’ asked Nefrin.
‘What’s Plan B?’
‘Leg it,’ said the Doctor.
England. London. The Powell Estate. Rose’s flat. Jackie Tyler was making coffee.
There was a knock at the door. ‘Mum, it’s me. I’m here!’ called a voice at the door.
‘Oh!’ squeaked Jackie in excitement, and she rushed to the door, saying breathlessly, ‘Oh, love, you never told me you were coming home!’
She swung open the door without a moment’s hesitation. Standing before her was the looming figure of a Szaborg, its tentacles curling and lashing. Another three squid-headed men flanked this first one.
Jackie screamed, and dropped the mug of coffee she was holding. China lashed out, a dozen shards, striking the walls and floor. Dark brown coffee splashed out, staining the carpet.
‘Did you like my impersonation?’ the Szaborg hissed, its tentacled hand raised, its hand-mouth snapping with tiny teeth.
The Doctor (holding the Borg) Nefrin, Jarkline, Huka, Fenrof and five other Hycrons dashed across the hall towards the back exit.
The Doctor cried out as he saw Rose slumped on the rock. He lunged to her and observed her.
Sabtino was nearby. ‘She’s asleep,’ the Hycron said. ‘I think she’s dreaming.’ Gafdint, Keira, Kitty and George hovered uncertainly beside the female Hycron.
The Doctor did not answer, nor show any sign of hearing Sabtino. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, ‘Rose?’
She did not respond.
A sense of dread welled up inside him. He placed a hand on her forehead, and jerked back instantly. It was absolutely flaming, too hot to touch. He gasped. That was no way any earthly temperature. That was the heat of fierce energy, of immense power.
‘What’s happening to you, Rose?’ he asked the air. ‘What’s got you? And will it ever let you go?’
She dreamed she was back in the vicinity of the Horsehead Nebula. Its terrifying face looming over her, intimidating.
‘Go on, Rose Tyler,’ the evil voice breathed. ‘Give me your imagination. Give me a host of monsters to make the universe shiver and recoil.’
Across her brain flashed pictures of all the aliens she had encountered. An endless list. The Autons, Cassandra, the Adherents, the Gelth, the Slitheen, the Daleks, the Jagrafess, the Reapers, the Gas-mask Zombies, the Anne Droid, the Dalek Emperor, the Cat Nurses, the Werewolf, the Krillitanes, the Clockwork Robots, the Cybermen, the Cyber Controller, the Wire, the Ood, the Beast, Karazt, the Cyberer, the Authority, the Eon Eater...
All these creatures flowed past her till she felt sick. And still she carried on.
‘Good. You have done well, Rose.’
Suddenly there was an immense crashing sound. ‘Szaborg pods have started landing,’ stated the Doctor worriedly. ‘Let’s go.’
‘But we’ve only just met you! Why should we trust you?’ cried Gafdint.
‘Do as he says,’ Nefrin commanded. ‘And sharpish!’
Groaning, the Hycrons jogged off behind the Doctor, who was sprinting towards an exit.
The Szaborgs marched relentlessly down the corridors and tunnels of the volcano-base, fanning out, covering all available exits, in search of their leader and in order to end the terrible intergalactic war that had been raging for millennia.
‘Eradicate. Eradicate. Eradicate. Eradicate...’
The Doctor and his party raced into a room, a sizeable, circular chamber, no different to any others in the base. He lay down Rose, who had been carried in turns, and nursed his badly burnt arms. The Hycrons’s leathery flesh had shown more resistance to the heat, so he was the only one who had sustained bad damage.
‘What can we do?’ he asked Nefrin hurriedly. ‘What the hell can we do now?’ as Szaborgs rounded the nearest corner and came towards their room with bloodthirsty speed.
‘LOCKDOWN!’ called Nefrin, and thick steel bunkers slid down from the exit, cutting the Szaborgs off with a satisfying SHUNK sound.
The Doctor was unconvinced. ‘What about the other door?’ he inquired.
Nefrin said, ‘They haven’t got that far into the network, and now they can’t. There is no way around this room, you’ve got to go through it.’
There was a loud BANG, as one of the Szaborgs whacked against the bunker. There was no visible effect, but the Doctor was sure that it had weakened, as displayed when another Szaborg threw itself against the defence. The bunker tilted slightly, and wobbled on the next impact.
‘How strong are those creatures?’ asked the Doctor, horrified.
‘Very strong,’ replied Fenrof, shaking his head.
The Doctor hesitated for a moment. Then he spoke. ‘We need to come to an understanding. And, as horrific as it sounds, none of you are real. None of you. You’re all some part of a sick, twisted game which I don’t know anything about. But I promise to get you out of it. Somehow.’
George, and several Hycrons, shook their heads doubtfully. Keira and Kitty exchanged nervous glances. Most were silent. The Doctor looked deadly serious. Nefrin scoffed.
‘If we’re not real, then how come,’ he swung a pincer lightly into the Doctor, who lurched back, ‘how come you felt that?’
‘I’m not saying you’re not real now,’ the Doctor answered confidently. ‘I’m saying that your origins are totally unknown. The same goes for the Szaborgs. I did a scan. No evolution could have produced your races in however long the Universe has existed. You are unreal, thrown together, almost as if someone had imagined...’
He stopped dead. ‘Imagined...’ he breathed, suddenly inspired. ‘Imagined...’
There was a pause. ‘OH YES!’ the Doctor exhaled, stingingly, a Eureka moment, painful pleasure coursing through him, the pleasure of comprehension.
Then he spoke up again, saying a dreadful, incredible, heart-stopping revelation that would turn the world upside-down.
‘It’s not the Szaborgs that are causing Rose’s nightmares — it’s her nightmares that are causing the Szaborgs.’
Awe-struck, devastating silence.
Outside the room in which the Doctor, the Hycrons and the humans were gathered, a blurred shape pressed itself into reality. Followed by more of exactly the same build, height and shape.
Slowly the surrounding hum of power became louder and louder, and, finally, when the buzzing reached its manic crescendo, the figures cast off their blurry, faded images and became as they were, standing in all their glory in the twilight of the underground base, their arms spread up, wide, triumphant.
Tall, intimidating giants of purest steel, their legs and arms plated, their hands gauntleted, their faces emotionless and rigid, curving industrial lines sweeping over their bodies, metal bars branching from the sides of their heads to the gleaming scalps, the large C logo standing bright on their chests.
They were Cybermen.
‘Rogue elements detected. Delete.’
Then there was a screech. A bat-like humanoid burst into existence, flapping its leathery wings, its huge claws flashing. A Krillitane.
Then, beside it, an Ood appeared. A human dressed in a business suit, startlingly similar to a Szaborg, tentacles red as blood piling from its wet grey face, red eyes glowing with malice, white gleaming electric ball held in hand.
With a whoosh of gas, a blue whirring human shot through an invisible portal, tinged with red and purple, shimmering and billowing, as if made of smoke.
In a grinding of clockwise rotors and cogs, an intricate masked figure shimmered into reality, its hands deadly blades, its real face a glass-encased mass of mechanisms. It was a Clockwork Robot.
Then, dread seeping through all who heard it, a metallic cry echoed through the base. A grinding, grating, forced scream of ‘EXTERMINATE!’ The air glowed, and a five-foot metal pepperpot shoved forward out of nowhere. Its lower half was a ridge of spherical knobs, and above it a ray gun and sucker arm hung. Upon its dome sat two flashing yellow lights, and an eye-stalk sprouted from a point a few inches below.
The Daleks, the Gelth and many other aliens were back, conjured out of the ether by Rose’s overactive imagination, and were all patrolling the tunnels of the Hycrons’ underground base.
For the Doctor and his friends, time was running out...
‘OK,’ said the Doctor, thinking fast. ‘Rose conjured you and the Szaborgs up from her imagination, using bits and pieces from aliens we’ve met. You’ve got the bent-over heads of the Slitheen. The Szaborgs bear a striking resemblance to the Ood. But, even with that revelation, we still don’t know how she did it. No human could do this. And there’s still one mystery to solve. What’s that?’
With sudden speed, he pointed a finger up, to the skylight, which opened right up onto the sky above the crater. Filling the view was the menacing form of the Horsehead Nebula.
‘Rose saw that in her dream too,’ explained the Doctor. ‘And I’m not sure...’
He was cut off by a gigantic roar from the skies. ‘I GAVE HER THE DREAMS!’
The Doctor’s head instantly jerked up. ‘WHO ARE YOU?’ he bellowed. His voice sounded pathetically small compared with the huge growling yell of a few seconds ago.
‘I AM THE HEAD OF THE BEAST!’ came the reply. ‘I AM SEPARATED FROM THE WHOLE, BUT I WILL SOON SEARCH FOR THE REST OF ME!’
The Doctor boggled. ‘HOW WILL ENCHANTING A PUNY HUMAN GIRL HELP IN YOUR COSMIC CAMPAIGN?’ he yelled.
There was a titanic laughing, cackling noise, like unearthly thunder. ‘I NEEDED AN IMAGINATION THAT HAD SEEN MANY HORRORS AND YET WAS UNDEFENDED. THEN I COULD CREATE ARMIES OUT OF ONE SINGLE MIND, AN INTERGALACTIC FORCE SO HUGE THAT IT ALONE COULD COVER THE ENTIRE OF TIME AND SPACE. ONCE THEY HAD FOUND MY BODY, NOTHING IN ETERNITY COULD STOP ME!’
The Doctor’s jaw dropped, then closed, then dropped again.
‘What’s it saying?’ questioned Sabtino, covering her ears.
‘It’s created an army from the brain of my friend. But that’s not what worries me.’ He made his voice louder, adressing the Horsehead Nebula once more. ‘WHAT CREATURES DOES THIS ARMY CONSIST OF?’
The Head of the Beast cackled again. ‘SOME OLD FRIENDS,’ it thundered.
‘What shall we do now?’ Jarkline asked the Doctor.
‘Somehow we’ve got to defeat the Head of the Beast. Once it’s down, its body will die too, and the army it’s created. But I suspect this army might be close by.’
‘It is,’ confirmed Nefrin, unecessarily. ‘The Szaborgs.’
‘No, not just the Szaborgs,’ the Doctor shook his head, terrified. ‘Creatures much, much worse.’
Nefrin suddenly came up with an idea. ‘What about the Hypernova Missile? Could it destroy the Horsehead Nebula?’
The Doctor was so excited that he leapt forward and kissed Nefrin on the forehead. ‘You’re a genius!’ he cried, gleefully. He felt like dancing around.
‘Don’t get too excited,’ said Huka glumly. ‘First we’ve got to fight our way to the Shaft, through about a hundred Szaborgs.’
The Doctor stood there with an ecstatic grin on his face.
‘Ah,’ he said.
‘Here they come!’ warned Gafdint, and round the corner of the open entrance five Cybermen came, marching, their metal boots crunching and grinding on the rock. ‘Hycrons will be deleted. Delete. Delete. Delete.’
Their Cyber Leader suddenly called, ‘Activate ranged deletion,’ and guns sprang up from the Cybermen’s hard glittering wrists. Red rays of energy lanced from them, with a whooshing, hissing sound.
‘DUCK!’ screamed the Doctor, and the group obeyed. Rays whizzed overhead. The group scattered.
Then, from behind the Cybermen, the Ood came, their cascade of tentacles glimmering with a perilous light. One of them let loose an electric ball with a simple uncurling of fingers. The sphere flew across the room and smashed into Huka’s face, the cord tightening and straightening. The Hycron screamed as his face turned to jelly, and his body electrocuted, white strands of energy hissing and crackling.
‘RUN!’ yelled the Doctor, and Nefrin called, ‘Undo lockdown.’ The bunkers slid up. The Szaborgs, who had been pushing with all their might on the other side of the steel panel, lost their balance and poured heavily forward, into the Cybermen and Ood. One of the squid-headed aliens was felled by a Cyberman’s gun, another two by the Ood’s balls. The Cybermen fired wildly at the fleeing group, but were bowled over by the Szaborgs.
The Doctor let go of the captive Borg as he grabbed hold of Rose, cursing as her hot skin burnt him. The Borg made to smite the Doctor over the head, but dripping jaws seized the creature from above. The Doctor looked up, to see the Mighty Jagrafess hanging wetly from the ceiling, obscuring the skylight, tossing Cybermen, Ood and Szaborgs alike away, devouring them.
‘RUN!’ shouted the Doctor again, and this time there were no distractions. The group sprinted forward, those who had plasma guns firing at the Szaborgs who blocked their way, heading for the nearby Shaft.
As they jogged, Nefrin panted a message to the Doctor. ‘The... Missile isn’t... finished... hasn’t got full... range... can’t reach the... Horsehead... Nebula...’
‘Too late to worry about that now,’ the Doctor cut in. ‘Keep running. Just... keep... running...’
They had no such luck. As soon as they were inside the Experiment Shaft hall, creatures attacked from all sides. The Krillitanes swooped from the ceiling where they had been hanging, shrieking their alien cry, divebombing the Hycrons, their claws clutching, their teeth tearing, eyes burning with malice and terrible glee.
Harassed by the bat creatures, the Hycron group made slow progress, crawling towards the Shaft.
Nearby, the Szaborgs were battering down a door, which was being held closed by two Daleks. As the Doctor and his party passed by, the Daleks swivelled, beams of blue-white light soaring from their guns. At this distraction, the Szaborgs smashed the door open, tentacles raining down on the Daleks, sucking and pulling. One of the Daleks was consumed, but the other rained bolts on its opressors, killing them, mowing them down. While its attention was on the squid-men, Nefrin fired with his plasma gun. There was a huge explosion. When the fire and dust cleared, the Dalek was a pile of dust. Now free, the Szaborgs swarmed across the hall, but were met by a vicious aerial assault from the Reapers, who had recently been called into existence.
Then huge green dripping colossi loped into the hall — the Slitheen. From the other side came a whole host of Clockwork Robots. Ticking menacingly, the droids advanced, their clockwise attachments sweeping sharply, their empty eyes focused on the Doctor and his group. The Slitheen ran forwards too, their incredibly long claws clicking together, their big green lips moving, droning small malicious phrases.
Now the Doctor was completely cut off from the rest of the group, who were locked in vicious combat with the Krillitanes and the Slitheen. Already Gafdint and Jarkline had fallen — if he didn’t get a move on the rest would also be doomed.
He moved to the edge of the Shaft. The Clockwork Robots clicked and turned towards him, their blades ready to cut flesh. Quickly, quickly. He held out the sonic screwdriver and buzzed it into the chasm.
CRACK! A small section of the Szaborg ship broke off, the piece that contained the Hypernova Missile. It flew up over the edge into the Doctor’s arms. ‘I’ve got it! Let’s go!’ he called to Nefrin, trying hard to ignore what the Hycron Leader had said, about the range not being full. He would find a way, he thought. He always found a way.
Nefrin shot down the last of his opressors and looked around grimly. Three of his Hycrons were lying dead — Jarkline, Gafdint and Fenrof. The human George had also died. He looked wider around. Everywhere, destruction, death being dealt by alien hands.
He saw the Doctor, fighting with strange clockwork men and women in ball gowns and intricate masks, grabbing their weapons and shining a weird blue tube in their faces, which made them slump in limp, dead piles.
‘Quickly!’ cried Nefrin. ‘Back to our room! Or any room!’
The Doctor nodded, kicked a Clockwork Robot over and dashed towards Nefrin. A Krillitane dived at Nefrin, who was being attacked by a Slitheen. He dodged and the bat collided harshly with the upright lizard. Roaring in confusion, the two creatures rolled over and over, biting and clawing at each other.
The party sprinted over to the nearest exit, the Doctor carrying the Hypernova Missile cradled in his arms. It was mind-boggling that such a comparitively small object had the potential to destroy worlds.
The Doctor, Nefrin, Keira, Kitty, Sabtino (carrying Rose), Huka and several other Hycrons lolloped along. They entered their targeted archway and disappeared round a bend.
As the Doctor ran, an idea ocurred to him. A brilliant idea. A revolutionary idea. Thoughts whizzed about in his mind, banging into each other and the sides of his brain, painfully. He somehow recalled Rose sending him a text saying that she had somehow made the bars of her cell disappear. Maybe, just maybe, that was because she had fallen asleep while holding onto the bars.
Maybe they had followed her into the nightmare. Maybe, right now, they were floating around in space, somewhere near the Horsehead Nebula, which was in all probability about to summon its army, find the rest of itself, and destroy the netire of reality.
Unless he could stop it.
He also remembered Nefrin explaining to him that the Hypernova Missile was incomplete and lacked full range. Well, what if he gave her the Missile, and, using the sonic screwdriver, managed to accompany her into the dream, to tell her to use the Missile, now near the Nebula, so that its plan would never be completed, and all the aliens would vanish...
High up above Earth, away in the darkness of space, the Head of the Beast roared its victory. ‘ARMIES! TO ME!’ it boomed, its immense voice somehow carrying across the void, reaching Earth even through the endless space that separated it from the Nebula.
‘DDDDDOOOOOOCCCCCCTTTTTTTTOOOOOOOOORRRRRRR!’ screamed Nefrin, as, suddenly, an invisible force yanked him off the ground and flung him up. The celing exploded as many Hycrons thundered up through it.
Right across the world, the armies of monsters sped into the air inexorably, nothing stopping them, answering the call of their master. Out of the whole of the Doctor’s company, only he and Rose remained. Keira and Kitty had been imprisoned by an unreal race, so they themselves were not existent.
‘The Head of the Beast summons its legion,’ the Doctor said grimly. ‘It begins.’
Up in the perpetual dark of space, the Head of the Beast stirred, unwittingly uttering exactly the same words as those that had passed the Doctor’s lips but a few seconds ago.
The Doctor fiddled with the sonic screwdriver, setting it to 4567 — Dream Connector.
He sighed in satisfaction. Everything was ready. He brought down a fist on Rose’s head, not gently. He didn’t like doing it, but it was the only way to temporarily get her awake.
Even at this disturbance, her head simply tilted up slightly. ‘Yes, Doctor?’ she inquired, weakly and sleepily.
He didn’t have the time to answer. He pressed the Missile into one hand, his hand into another. Then he shone the sonic screwdriver above her.
Seeing no reason why he should disturb her fatigue, Rose closed her eyes and re-entered the dream.
The Doctor and the Hypernova Missile vanished.
The Doctor and Rose appeared in the dream, facing the Horsehead Nebula.
‘AHHHHHHHH...’ came the evil voice of the severed cosmic head. ‘I UNDERESTIMATED YOU, DOCTOR. STILL, YOU ARE FAR TOO LATE. LOOK BEHIND YOU.’
The Doctor smiled. ‘I’VE FALLEN FOR THAT TRICK FAR TOO MANY TIMES TO BE DECEIVED BY IT AGAIN, MR HORSEHEAD.’
‘YOU’LL REALLY KICK YOURSELF IF YOU DON’T.’
The Doctor grinned. ‘I’m far too gullible,’ he chided himself, and turned round.
His grin immediately faded.
There stood rank upon rank of Cybermen, their metal flesh gleaming with a strange light. Behind them loomed the imposing figures of the Emperor Dalek and the Beast. The latter being a little bit too free for the Doctor’s liking.
‘IF YOUR LITTLE GIRL FIRES THAT THING AT ME, I WILL SET THOSE THINGS UPON YOU TWO BEFORE IT EVEN HITS HOME.’
Rose looked terrified and overwhelmed.
The Doctor was unimpressed by the Horsehead Nebula’s argument. ‘SO, BASICALLY,’ he yelled, ‘YOUR OFFER IS MY LIFE SPARED IF YOU CAN DESTROY THE UNIVERSE. CONSIDERING THE CIRCUMSTANCES, THAT YOU’LL PROBABLY KILL US ANYWAY, AND THAT I DON’T CARE MUCH FOR MY OWN LIFE, I THINK I’LL SAY...’
His hand slammed down on the big red button that was spread on top of the Hypernova Missile.
‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ thundered the Horsehead Nebula. ‘ARMIES! DESTROY HIM! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!’
‘Looks like the Grand Finale to me,’ said the Doctor, as the invisible stream of insanely destructive energy trailed painfully slowly across space. The Cybermen advanced in a tidal wave of floating steel giants, crying, ‘Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.’
‘Yeah,’ Rose managed to say.
‘You do realise this is the end, don’t you?’ asked the Doctor.
‘Yeah,’ repeated Rose, smiling. ‘Sorry I was so dumb. Letting that thing into my mind. Creating armies of aliens to kill you. Being asleep all the time so I couldn’t admire your heroics...’
‘Rose,’ the Doctor said gently, taking her hand, ‘that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say. It couldn’t have been more not your fault. I should have realised sooner...’
‘Oh, shut up,’ she grinned, and threw herself at him, burying her face in his neck, arms wrapped round his back.
The Cybermen marched relentlessly onward, impossibly terrifying.
The Beast swung its gigantic claws.
The Emperor Dalek summoned its hordes of Daleks.
Everything slowed down.
‘DOCTOR!’ cried Rose, suddenly panicking.
The Doctor suddenly noticed an ‘Accelerate,’ button on the side of the Missile.
‘Good old Nefrin,’ he grinned, and pressed it.
Light and flame exploded
everywhere. ‘NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! THE HYCRONS WERE MEANT TO BE MY ARMY! THEY ENGINEERED MY DOWNFALL — CURSE THEM AND CURSE THEM! AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’
There was a second explosion and the Head of the Beast was obscured in blinding light.
The monsters, Hycrons, Szaborgs and all the rest, vanished with a distinct lack of puffs of smoke. Before he went, the Doctor thought he saw Nefrin winking at him. Then everything was silent.
‘Good thing, you made them, Rose, eh?’ the Doctor said.
Rose stirred in his arms. ‘What happened, Doctor?’ she said, puzzled by the silence and the fact that Cyber bullets were not melting her head.
‘Little piece of Hycron technology. Over-confident alien intelligence. Clever brain like mine...’ he tossed the sonic scredriver up, and watched as it began to float away. ‘Sorted.’ He jumped after the screwdriver and caught it.
‘That’s great!’ Rose exclaimed, her face breaking into a huge grin.
The Doctor rolled his eyes. ‘Humans,’ he said. ‘Honestly, sometimes I wonder about you. You’ve got a thing about stating the obvious, like saying, “You’re very tall,” or “I seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot hole.” ‘
‘How are we breathing?’ Rose asked him suddenly, worried. ‘I thought space was a vacuum.’
‘Another automatic thingymafobby from the TARDIS,’ explained the Doctor, but broke off and glanced at a strange device strapped round his wrist. ‘Although... it’s kind of running out. We’ve got about fifteen seconds left.’
‘We’ll we’d better get out of here, sharpish!’ cried Rose.
‘Another classic example of human behaviour,’ noted the Doctor drily, holding up the sonic screwdriver. He turned and cheekily waved at the gaseous remains of the Horsehead Nebula. ‘Bye bye Horsey. We’ll miss you.’ He pressed the button, and the Doctor vanished.
‘Hey? What about...’ began Rose, as she vanished too.
‘Me,’ finished Rose, a little lamely as she registered she was once more lying down in the Hycron base.
‘You don’t think I’d leave you?’ teased the Doctor.
‘Of course not,’ said Rose, shocked at this possibility, then reconsidered. ‘Well, maybe,’ she admitted.
The Doctor laughed and led her up, on the long journey to the crater, and, more importantly, the TARDIS.
As the TARDIS span across the wastes of space, Ligmant and his group of demons looked on happily from their vantage point on a particularly high mound of dried lava on the dark side of the moon.
‘Isn’t that the spaceship of the guy who helped us kill the Cybermen?’ a demon inquired.
‘The Doctor,’ corrected Ligmant.
‘Yes. Isn’t that him?’
‘Yes. And we’re going to give him a little surprise.’
With that, Ligmant took off, its powerful wings propelling it easily through the inky dark, lurching towards the TARDIS.
In an arching, immeasurably high hall that served as a dining room, the Doctor and Rose were eating strange fruit called Nastapukars, looking out through the windows.
‘Won’t Earth notice that the Horsehead Nebula’s been destroyed?’ Rose inquired.
‘No,’ the Doctor replied instantly. ‘It takes two thousand years for light from Betelguese to reach Earth. Right now you’d see it as it was at 6BC. Who knows how long it would take for you to see the Horsehead Nebula.’
‘You must know,’ Rose pressed.
‘The demons seem to be settling in well,’ the Doctor said, pointing out their mini-civilisation they had built in the centre of a certain moon-sea.
A huge horned head pressed itself against the durable exo-glass, calling, ‘SURPRISE!’
‘What were you saying?’ asked Rose innocently.
A few minutes later, Ligmant and three other demons were sitting round the huge table in the dining room, consuming Nastapukars at the speed of sound. The Doctor and Rose sat next to them, the latter eyeing them warily, recalling when this same demon had tried to kill her.
‘Doctor, we need your help,’ Ligmant said. ‘There’s going to be a solar flare soon, and it’ll reach even the dark side of the moon. We don’t know what to do. Can you help us?’
‘Hmmm...’ wondered the Doctor idly, rubbing a multicoloured Nastapukar pip between his thumb and index finger. ‘I don’t know about that. I was thinking about taking Rose to the Final Quasar, at the edge of the universe, rather than the moon,’ he said.
‘You could drop in on the way,’ proposed Ligmant.
‘Still, you could...’
‘I don’t think so.’ The Doctor stirred. ‘You demons have got to become a bit more self-sufficient. Find out a way yourselves. I’m sure some ingenious mind will solve all your problems for you.’
Ligmant was silent for a time. Its fellow demons cast uneasy glances at their leader. Then it spoke up. ‘I will try,’ Ligmant replied. ‘But I cannot guarantee that the humans will not suffer.’
The Doctor stiffened. ‘Then I cannot allow it,’ he answered instantly, producing the sonic screwdriver and frowning over it.
Ligmant looked worried. ‘I’m sure this is the only way.’
The Doctor sighed. ‘So long as you don’t mass-murder, I’ll allow you. But excess killing is evil. If I discover that you have — I’ll be after you.’ He put away the screwdriver, slipping it into his coat pocket.
‘Thank you.’ And without a further word, Ligmant and its demons flitted out of the room, somehow negotiating the passages and halls of the TARDIS that led towards the exit.
The Doctor stood next to the console in the main room of the TARDIS, flicking switches and pulling levers. Rose perched beside him rather uncomfortably, watching his activity with interest and also total incomprehension.
At last Rose broke the silence. ‘I don’t trust Ligmant,’ she said flatly. ‘What if the demons kill loads of people. And it’s all very convenient that they didn’t tell us their plan. For all we know they plan to kill everyone on Earth and migrate to it. I don’t like it one bit.’
The Doctor turned to her, slightly exasperated. ‘We’ve got to trust them. If they kill people then we’ll pay them back. That’s the only thing I can guarantee.’
Rose agreed, albeit uncomfortably. ‘So what’s the Final Quasar, then?’
The Doctor was incredulous. ‘You’ve never heard of the Final Quasar? Oh, you haven’t lived.’
Rose grinned expectantly. ‘Go on then, what is it?’ she asked, biting her lip in excitement.
‘It’s the edge of the universe. The Ultimate End. The Beginning of the Void,’ the Doctor explained. ‘It’ll be further away from Earth than we’ve ever gone before, even further than that Ood-infested rock. You can go further, but no organism has ever mapped the Beyond, as the Time Lords used to call it.’
‘D’you reckon it’ll be dangerous?’ Rose asked.
The Doctor’s eyes were alive with perilous joy.