Monday, 28 February 2011

Broken, Beaten and Scarred

Just in time, the second story of series 3a see the return of Rachel Morgan and it's another chance of pace and tone. This one's pretty grim and nasty, but it's another splendid tale. It also is a sequel of sorts to one of Rachel's stories last series, in that it features the return of her alt-Fourth Doctor, this time facing....wait and see.


Broken, Beaten and Scarred

By Rachel Morgan

    The Doctor heard noises before she saw anything, the weak, harsh chatter of the broken and the beaten. She had been to many worlds, many battlefields and she'd heard the same tone so many times. The resentful words of the beaten, the vain hope that they can win one day and wipe out their victors. She feared that they may learn that knocking a hornet's nest over only leads to more trouble than they might expect. She came upon the settlement: three small sheds made from bits of wood and rusted metal sheeting and a field that was only detectable as a field because it had fewer rocks in it than the rest of the surrounding land.

    "Hold there, woman." Ginta stepped out from beside one of the shanty houses. "Who are you, stranger." The woman was wearing clothes, proper clothes, not stitched together rags or something made out of something else like everyone else had to make do with. Only those in the city had real clothes, but they all wore the same manner of dress to show their uniformity and superiority. Truth be told this woman looked odd, strange, different, alien.

    "I'm called the Doctor." The Doctor smiled, trying to show that she was a friend, someone to be trusted or at least not shot at or chased away by a mob. "You don't need a Doctor do you? That's rather a nasty looking wound you have there." She looked at the farmer woman's arm. "It looks infected to me."

    "What of it?" Ginta asked. "We don't have any medicines."

    "I'm sorry to say but neither do I," the Doctor admitted reluctantly and wished she had something more than disappointment to offer the injured woman. "However some boiling water might clean some good rags to bind that wound better after I bleed it. I need to get all of that bad blood out of you right away or you'll lose that arm and most probably your life."

    "Can't argue with that logic," Hawea said to her sister. "My sister's always been proud but she has two little ones to look after. If she dies then so do they. I have my own two to feed and the land only gives back what you can put into it, usually not even then."

    "Perhaps some sort of chemical reconstitution?" The Doctor mused. "Some plants provide for their next growth cycle by rotting down to essential base nutrients. You could start building a compost pile."



    The first suicide bomb exploded catching everyone by surprise, it tore Herix apart instantly and all around him died a fraction of a second later. Others died of their wounds from the blast debris and the fireball added more to the death toll. People screamed and yelled in shock and horror then the soldiers opened fire on all those they suspected of carrying a secondary device.

    Tobir almost died in a hail of bullets but when her bleeding body hit the floor her bomb exploded and the second blast killed mainly soldiers as they were rushing forward for what they thought was an easy kill, only to be killed themselves.

    Nadia closed her eyes and activated her bomb, but nothing happened. "Jast!" It was an old curse, one of the four aspects of the evil one of the ancient beliefs. She made her way slowly, calmly, circling away from the market place, live to die another day. If she was to die then she'd take as many of the bastards with her as she could, like her two martyred friends had just done.

    "She's one of them!" a voice called out. "She's got a bomb too."

    "Caan It!" Nadia swore and ran for it, using the bodies of the old and the young alike to shield her from the vengeful bullets of her hated foes.



    The Doctor winced as the dark purple blood was forced from the woman's arm wound, it stank and carried all the signs that the infection had spread further than the initial wound. "You need medicines, antibiotics. I have such things in my craft, I'll have to go and get them. Then she noticed other wounds on the woman's arms and legs. "These are burns, but not caused by fire or heat. These were done by ionising radiation. Oh Omega!" She realised that she'd forgotten to check a few of the less-used TARDIS readings. "No wonder the planet's in the state it is, you've only gone and had a nuclear war haven't you? I'm such a silly Doctor at times! Not to worry too much, I haven't been out here that long. I'm still a few days after my recent rebirth, and I should be fine, with a couple of pills to help. Call them the Doctor's little helpers if you like."

    Nadia burst into the house. "I'm with the people's militia, hide me."

    "I'm rather busy here," The Doctor said to the rude woman. "You'll have to wait your turn."

    "What turn?" Nadia asked. "My bomb didn't explode, they're after me."

    "Get out of here!" Hawea said sharply. "If they find you here they'll kill us and the kids too."

    "No-one's killing anyone," the Doctor muttered. "Not while I'm here."

    "Who are you?" Nadia asked.

    "I'm the Doctor," the Doctor replied. "This woman needs medicine and you need a place to hide. I need to go to my ship to get the medicine and you can't be here if the soldiers search this place. Therefore you'll accompany me back to my ship and I'll hide you there. How does that sound to you? If you're really well behaved then I'll even teach you the value of life and the wrongness of violence. I believe it may have been my good friend Mohandas who said that it's better to live for your cause than to die for it."

    "Soldier, on the horizon," Hawea said to the two strangers. "I'll look after my sister, I'll say you came by, we turned you away and you went off in another direction to the one you really depart in. My sister really needs that medicine and I can't afford to let you get captured, Doctor."

    "I'm very evasive when I want to be." The Doctor smiled. "And very hard to miss when I want to be found. I think with a local guide I can find my way back to my ship quickly and quietly."

    Captain Krang tore into the pitiful excuse for a farm in the one remaining serviceable vehicle his section of the guard had. "This place smells like a sewer. Get the scum out here, shoot them if they give you any bother, any bother at all."

    "Please, my sister is very ill," Hawea said to anyone who would listen. "She needs medicine."

    "Medicine?" Krang scoffed. "Medicine is for decent normal human beings, not filthy terrorist scum like you!"

    "We're not terrorists, we're farmers," Hawea said defiantly. "We work the land to sell our goods in the local market."

    "You'll get nothing this year, the market's just been bombed – yes, bombed. Two of you lot massacred dozens of my men and innocent Thal civilians too. A third escaped, her bomb didn't go off. Because of her your children will starve come the winter. It may well be a blessing if I put a bullet in their heads now, not that I'd waste good bullets on you scum of course."

    "There's no sign of anyone," trooper Dinal said to the captain. "Tracks lead in, nothing leads out and they're not here, just these two women and their mewling brats."

    "Two women were here," Hawea said quickly. "One said she was a terrorist, she took the other woman hostage. The medicine woman was treating my sister's wounds, she was going to bring her medicine when the other woman came. We thought she'd kill us all but she took the doctor hostage and left in a hurry." Hawea saw the flap move that served as the doorway to her sister's home and she saw a Thal soldier raping her dead sister's corpse. "What the Thay!?"

    "Leave her alone, Kesin, you don't know where that Kaled whore's been. You could catch something from her." Krang looked at the surviving Kaled woman. "Torch this place, shoot the children, make her watch and then shoot her as well. We've got a terrorist to find and some sort of medical woman too. Could be one of the pacifist rabble, tending to the meek and all that crap. They should see sense and infect the lot with a plague of some sort."

    Hawea screamed as all she knew was destroyed by the accursed enemy. She wished now that she'd helped the woman with the bomb more, or that she had one herself so that she could take all these scum out with herself. It took six of them to hold her back while the others shot her children and then her sister's children and then they shot her.

    They laughed as she took a long time to die.



    The Doctor felt that she was making good time back to the TARDIS however she was intrigued to know more about her new travelling acquaintance. "So you're a terrorist then? Well a wannabe terrorist. Maybe it's fate that your bomb didn't work? Maybe you're meant for something better, something nobler?"

    "Shut up, I may need you to hide me from my enemies but I don't need your pathetic attempts to be my friend," Nadia ranted. "Two of my best friends died today, they killed themselves, and I should have died with them."

    "It's hard, being the one to survive," the Doctor mused. "Carrying on, knowing they died and yet here you are still alive. It's easier to give in, find the easy way out. Roll over and beg for death, the sweet oblivion of it all. I died recently, did you know that? I actually died, well it's not the first time but this one was the best I think."

    "You died? You look pretty healthy for a dead woman," Nadia said.

    "My people conquered death a long time ago." The Doctor stated matter-of-factly. "We wanted to be gods, we sought immortality and got it – at a price. So many mistakes, so many billions died for our sins. We tried to help people and they fought themselves and died. We became engrossed in petty diversions to pass the long years, drawing beings into our arenas of death and mayhem. We were convinced of our own supremacy, gods at play, then we met others as strong and different to ourselves as we could imagine. We called them demons, monsters, evil, but we were just as alike in our merciless cruelty as them. We won, in the end, but at a cost. We turned inwards, becoming aloof and isolated. We cut ourselves off from everything, hiding away in our lofty towers in a vast goldfish bowl with the rest of the universe remembering us only as a legend. So naturally when I was old enough I stole a TARDIS and escaped. I ran so far and fast across this and a thousand other galaxies, never stopping, always moving onwards."

    "Why did you stop running?" Nadia asked. "Why come to this place?"

    "I've never been here before, the readings showed a primitive society. I thought trees, beaches, a nice holiday. Instead I find people I can help. Point to me I think."



    The TARDIS was a welcome sight, the only shade of colour in a landscape of dusty greys and muddy browns. "Home sweet home." The Doctor smiled. "I know she doesn't look like much, that's part of her charm. What you don't see is what's inside that small blue box."

    "What's inside that small blue box?" Nadia asked.

    "A pocket dimension, a miniature universe. Artificially grown of course but an elegant blending of bioengineering and retro-chic architecture. I know it's all very minimalist and white, I've been trying to remember how to operate the interior redecoration controls but I can't quite remember which ones they are just yet. My mind's still a bit vague about a few things at the moment. For instance I keep putting the loo seat up after I use it and I really don't need to. Hopefully for a long time to come, unless I have an accident or get shot or something and end up having to buy a whole new wardrobe of clothing again. My galactic shopping card took a heavy hit in knickerbox yesterday, let me tell you."

    Nadia had the shock of her life when she entered the cabinet, she expected there to be barely enough room for the two of them and the controls. Instead there was an impossibly large control room. "Sec me!"

    "You're really not my type," the Doctor said as she gently got Nadia sat down on the comfy armchair. "Relax it's just a moderate dose of culture shock. I should probably have prepared you more but I really like seeing the look of surprise on people's faces. It's one of the ways I can judge what type of person someone is. You're in awe, scared, unsure, anxious, afraid, curious – you have all the makings of a new best friend."



    The Doctor stuffed her favourite handbag full of antibiotics, anti-radiation drugs and a dozen other medicines. She slipped a small pill dispenser in her jacket pocket. It had an inbuilt alarm which would tell her when next to take a pill. She'd taken two as a precaution and she'd made Nadia take two as well. "We'd better get back. The longer we wait then the greater the risk of that poor woman losing her arm."

    "You really care about her, don't you?" Nadia asked. "What is she to you? With all of this technology you are like a god. We must look like tiny bugs to you."

    "Hardly," the Doctor snapped. "You're living, hurting, wonderful people. You just need a helping hand. You need a Doctor and you're lucky as today I'm making house calls." She opened the door and stepped outside into the barrel of a gun. "That's never happened before."

    "So you're either a terrorist or a healer," Krang said to the woman in front of his gun, then he looked down at her entirely inappropriate footwear. "I'm guessing the latter, which means you're harbouring the terrorist in there which makes you my enemy as well."

    "He's just looking for an excuse to bully you," Nadia said as she emerged from the TARDIS, her gun in the Doctor's back. "She's my prisoner, not yours. I made her give me her medical supplies. Either the resistance has them or nobody dies."

    "You scum don't deserve to live," Krang sneered and hit Nadia in the face with his gun. "Tie them both up, we'll let the people tear them apart at the scene of their crimes."

    "What crimes?" the Doctor asked. "I may be guilty of a little meddling here and there but I've never hurt anymore, not deliberately."

    "Save your wind, his kind doesn't listen. They don't hear us speaking so they don't have to let the truth get in the way of their murderous fantasies. They murder us with their indifference and dare to complain when we repay them in kind."

    Krang shot Nadia in the lag to shut her up. "If you're really a healer you'll save that leg, if not then you're a fake and she'll have to hop to her execution."

    "I'm really losing patience with this planet," the Doctor muttered. "I've never seen such stupidity."



    The ambush took the Thals by surprise. The Kaled freedom fighters stood over the bodies of their hated foes and put their guns to their heads and fired where necessary. Only three remained alive: Nadia, Krang and the Doctor.

    "She's with me, she saved my leg," Nadia said to a man, Riuaj, she vaguely recognised. "He's the bastard who shot me. I'd love to repay the favour but he said something about a crowd of people tearing me apart. I think our people might like to do that to him instead."

    "We're to take all captured officers in for questioning. Same with your mystery woman. She's no Thal but she's not one of us either."

    "I'm an alien being from another world." The Doctor smiled. "I come in peace, take me to your leader."

    "I'll take you to a cell," Riuaj said to the civilian. He knew that pretty much every Kaled above the age of minority became a soldier of some sort or other. They had the scars of war about them, the obvious signs of pain and injury that were caused in the mind and soul rather than the body. The woman had seen suffering, it was there in her eyes. Such terrible pain but her body had the stance and bearing of someone quite unmarked by warfare. "Either you join us or you oppose us and we kill all those who aren't with us."

    "I'm with me," the Doctor replied. "I'm impartial to this conflict. I have medicines and curatives, I care not who I care for, their beliefs are unimportant to me. A true healer does no harm to those she tends to."

    "We'll see if you change your tune after you speak to those of us hit hardest by this conflict. They call it peace but as many die now as when we were honest about our intent to kill each other."

    "You deserve death," Krang spat. "We'll wipe you all out, every last one of you stinking Kaled scum."

    "Not today I fancy," Riuaj said simply. "Bring them both, harm neither unless you fancy taking their place in their chains. If they're judged guilty of any crimes then you'll get all the bullets you want to get the job done."

    "I've only been to resistance HQ three times," Nadia said to the Doctor. "All our leaders are there, they'll find a way for us to win yet. One day we will be free of our oppressors, we will be free to claim our destiny. One day we might meet your people out there in the stars."

    "Maybe," the Doctor mused. "You might have a way to go before then but most species have very violent birthing pains before they discover themselves anew."



    "What is this?" Nyder asked his boss. "It looks like a small tank."

    "It is much more, Nyder, so much more. As you know I have discovered the final form our species will take once the mutations have finished. That travelling machine will house our people. It will be both a life support machine, a means of locomotion, armour for defence and a weapon for offence. It is the prototype, the design can be upgraded and refined as needed over the coming years. The battle computer will link directly into the mind, enabling each of us to think and act so much quicker and faster and it will allow for co-ordinated stratagems."

    "Impressive." Nyder had to admit to the genius of the design. "What about production? We don't have the resources to mass produce anything yet, we'll need time to set up a factory."

    "Once we have established a few creatures they can work away to build all that they need for the rest of us to follow. They can do the hard work with their new travel pods to keep them safe."

    "Travel pods, I'm not sure it's a fitting enough name, Davros. To fully honour your great mastery of the sciences we need a name that will command instant respect." Nyder knew full well the power of words and imagery, having been with the Department of Propaganda for a few years in his youth.



    The Doctor and Nadia were shown to a minimum security area. They were fairly sure that the Time Lady wasn't a danger because she carried no guns of any sort. In fact the only slightly suspicious item in her possession was a silver wand that emitted sound waves which she claimed to be a screwdriver of sorts. "I could really use a cup of tea," the Doctor mused as she sat and waited. "Nothing grand, a pyramid bag would do. Very strange things pyramids, very abundant on Earth. The idea goes back into their primordial past. I think it was the ancient Silurians who built the very first pyramids, and well of course somehow the idea got passed down through racial memory to their successors, the Humans. Funny creatures, humans, as likely to help you cross the road as they are to push you under a bus."

    "You sometimes speak of these humans with great affection and sometimes with great distain," Nadia said casually. "Which is it?"

    "Both. Neither," the Doctor stated. "They are very complicated beings, they never know what they want most of the time. They have it within themselves to be beings of infinite charity and light and yet they also have the potential for dark cruelty, malice and spite."

    "I think that sums up most people," Nadia replied. "Sometimes at the same time for the same reasons, sometimes people see it as good and others evil."

    "Maybe." The Doctor sighed. "Maybe I just hope for the best and get let down too much. That's why I keep moving on, there's always someplace new to see and yet I always keep going back to Earth in the end. It's like I'm running in circles at times. I guess I could just be spiralling in towards something. I'd just like to know what it is before I collide with it."



    Davros didn't want to be dragged away from his research when it was at such a critical stage but the resistance only had one expert on the science of life on other worlds and he was it. He was sure the prisoner was a Thal with an inventive imagination and he would quickly uncover her weak lies with his superior intellect. He manoeuvred himself into the prison room.

    "Are you ok?" the Doctor asked the badly handicapped man. "You look like you've had a very rough day."

    "My work is more important than pandering to the lies of a Thal spy." Davros retorted. "You claim to be an alien being from another world, such a being would obviously follow different lines of evolution to those beings of this planet. You look like one of us, more Kaled than Thal I must confess, but no alien being I fancy."

    "You look Gallifreyan to me." The Doctor replied. "My species was one of the first to evolve in this universe. Others look similar to my people and yours. Humans, Dominators, the people of Marinus, Didonians and many others. I think that because there are certain key laws of physics that rule the way the dimensions relate to each other, then on similar worlds evolution will tend to use the same answers to the same problems."



    "Fascinating." Davros was convinced the woman was highly intelligent, she was theorising on the spot and he had no doubt that she was speaking the truth. It takes a lot of creative talent to invent things and maintain a constant focus on what you're saying so you don't contradict yourself. This made him afraid. If this woman was from another world, another people, then she could be a threat. However she seemed more interested in simply talking as one intelligent being to another. Perhaps he could take a risk and show her something of his solution for solving the plight of his people?

    "My people have been at war for over a thousand years. Officially the war is over but while the breath remains in Kaled bodies and our hearts still beat then we will carry on fighting for a final victory."

    "Victory at any cost is hardly a victory if too few survive to make anything of it," the Doctor countered. "Then again without shadows candles have no meaning. My people fought wars too, terrible wars, but we survived and we prospered in the end. Hopefully one day your people will prosper too."

    "We will triumph, my newest discoveries will make certain of it. We will consign the name Thal to the pages of history." Davros felt a mixture of pride, hate and joy as he spoke of his great vision of the future. "My newest invention will assure us of our great victory."



    "Get in the back of the van!" the Thal shouted at the 'scum'. "Do it or we shoot the children!"

    The scared and confused Kaleds did as they were ordered before the van was sealed up and they were driven away. Many of them had never seen a vehicle before except in a book, and now here was one in front of them, a symbol of the bourgeoisie Thal tyranny.

    "Keep quiet in there you scum," the soldier yelled again. "Do as we say and you'll live. Disobey and you'll die as an example to the rest of your kind."



    The Doctor felt that she was moving south of heaven as she entered the science lab and found jars of all sizes full of bits of brain, many of which seemed to be kept alive by some crude mechanism or other. "What have you done to them? It's obscene!"

    "My people are heavily exposed to a mutagenic radiation, our cellular structure is beginning to break down and eventually we will mutate in all sorts of horrific ways. I am examining how that process will occur so that I can find a way to keep our people alive and secure through it."

    "You butchered these people for that?" the Doctor gasped. "There's anti-radiation drugs, cellular stabilisation processes, you should be examining those."

    "What if they fail?" Davros asked. "I cannot risk the survival of my people on such a weak solution. This may not be the best way but it is the only way to guarantee success. All these people volunteered to help my experiments. I can assure you that their sacrifices will not be in vain. I am very near to creating the first prototype survival unit."



    Stress is perhaps the worst enemy of a soldier. Nervousness, apprehension, anxiety, fear, all are causes of stress and the more of them you have then the worse things will be when the person succumbs to it and an accident happens.

    Trooper Feya didn't mean to shoot the child. His hands were sweaty with fear and his finger slipped and his reaction was to squeeze the trigger, a simple mindless error that saw the brains of an infant splattered over the clothing of its family.

    "Kill them!" The Kaled hostages had just had enough of Thal cruelty and the cold-blooded murder of a child was the last straw. They rushed the soldiers and grabbed the guns from many of them and in the ensuing mayhem both sides killed as many of their enemies as they possibly could.



    The inner workshop was more orientated to metalwork and fabrication. There were electrical devices and tools of every sort all over the place. The survival unit was based in part on Davros' own electric wheelchair but it was both more advanced in its design and yet cruder as it didn't seem to have as many functions.

    "This is my third attempt at such a design. The first two were inferior in many ways, but I won't bore you with those details." He looked down at the computer interface. "This is the real problem, the connection between the controlling computer and the brain of the occupant. The computer delivers the data stream too fast for the mind to process."

    "Slave the computer to the occupant's mind rather than the brain to the computer," the Doctor muttered. "This is a travesty of life, Davros, a mockery of existence. It's a jumbled up being, you're taking a person apart and putting them back together again in all the wrong ways possible."

    "A jumbled up being," Davros mused. "Yes, no longer will they be Kaled, they will be something else...yes, I have it! They will be called Daleks!"

    "I'm going back to my cell," the Doctor said sharply. "I need a shower after seeing this place, I feel dirty."

    "That will no longer be a problem. You'll be as affected as anyone else. You'll soon be begging me to let you become a Dalek."

    The Doctor took the pills from her pocket. "I think not. My advanced science has provided my salvation. Yours will condemn thousands to a living hell."

    "Rather a living hell than a dead paradise," Davros retorted. "The Daleks will survive, they will not die!"



    Davros waited in the large room while the people slowly filed in. They tended to drift into the room in groups of two and three. Something fundamental of Kaled nature was the need to make friends and stick by them through thick and thin. It was what had made them strong during the war and enabled them to survive to this day.

    "Don't do what he says," the Doctor whispered to Nadia. "I've seen what his plan for the future is and I'm going to have to try and stop it."

    "Davros is a great man," Nadia stated coldly. "Many of his weapons saved us in the last years of the war, we'd have lost a good deal quicker without him. If only we had more like him then we'd have won."

    "Winning isn't everything," the Doctor replied. "Often it isn't anything. Living well is the best revenge."

    "My people," Davros began his speech, "I have finalised my researches and I've concluded that my earlier test results are indeed true, we are all too soaked by radiation to survive as we are. This radiation is already beginning to transform us in many ways. Luckily I have determined the end result of these mutations and I have designed a survival unit capable of protecting those forms and enabling us to move about and defend ourselves too. I have very nearly produced the first prototype and with your help we can soon construct many more, enough for one each, and then we'll be able to survive where our accursed enemies will be weak and vulnerable. Make no mistake they are just as infected by the legacy of our war as we are but we have the advantage and we must grasp this opportunity now before it is too late. I need volunteers to finalise the process. Your transformation will be accelerated and you will be installed in your survival unit. You will become the first members of a new species, the Dalek race. This world will belong to us and then we can turn our gaze to other concerns." He turned to look at the Doctor. "There are other worlds out there, they might pose a threat to us. We will either make allies or enemies. I propose we offer them the security and honour of becoming part of a new Dalek Empire."

    "No!" the Doctor yelled. "I've travelled far and wide through this galaxy. I've never heard the name Dalek before today. You're proposing to try and change time itself! I cannot allow that!"

    "Who are you to judge what is time?" Davros challenged the alien.

    "I am a Time Lady, sworn to protect and defend history. I may meddle a little here and there to keep things on track, but if you try and rewrite time then I'll have to stop you."

    "Words are nothing to us," Davros sneered. "We are creatures of action, we do what we must to survive."

    "I can save your people, you can live on as you are now. I can give you anti-radiation medicines, I can reverse the mutations!"

    "Your medicines don't work on us," Davros shouted. "You gave a child one of your pills and an hour later she was dead!"

    "They work on Nadia," the Doctor stated. "She's quite free of the harmful effect of your war."

    Davros shook his head. "Your medicine is too risky, it cures as many as it kills. As I told you earlier, my way is the only way to ensure the survival of my people."

    "Let me try to save you!" the Doctor pleaded, but her words were cut off by a massive explosion.

    "Thal attack!" Garvin yelled. "Get to the shelters!"

    Krang burst into the room. "Your cells aren't well made." He grabbed the Doctor and ran for the exit.

    "Wait for me!" Nadia said and ran after the Doctor and the Thal.



    "Enough is enough!" Diona said loudly.

    "It's time for a change." Aladat agreed.

    "We can't let the Kaled scum get away with their crimes anymore," Merant said. "Fetch weapons, lots of them, we must do what the weak cowards in the administration refuse to do. The only good Kaled is a dead Kaled!"

    "This is our time," Diona said joyously as the Thal civilians began to form up into death squads.

    "The group who kills the most Kaled scum is the winner!" Aladat said mockingly.



    Alima screamed as the drugs burned her mind. Her whole body was melting, changing, lumps of flesh were twisting into new shapes, her insides were like a fire and her skin blistered as it was changed into something soft and rubbery. Her soft feminine curves had been one of the first things to go, her breasts simply dropped off and her bottom reduced to a simple orifice that had been invaded by a probe to ensure the quick removal of bodily waste in a timely manner. Her womb was gone too, no longer needed as her new species would no longer breed sexually. Instead the strange thoughts in her head told her that cells from her body would be cloned so a new occupant of her Dalek shell could be grown when she was too old to be of use anymore. She felt her mind being focused more and more on survival; all those unlike her were the enemy, they had to be wiped out, they were a threat, a danger, nothing could be allowed to get in the way of the Dalek cause. She felt the hate rising up more and more inside of her twisted body until she became the living embodiment of it. All non-Daleks would be exterminated! She looked over at her sister Daleks and they shared their minds completely with each other and found that they were of one thought and purpose – all those not like themselves must be wiped from the universe. They turned on the Kaleds and began to kill them all.




    The hill was as dry and dusty as anywhere else they'd been but the Doctor was sure they were moving away from both the Kaled and the Thal bases. "Did I ever tell you about this place I know? They have a wonderfully large hill and once every year they take a large wheel of cheese and they roll the cheese down the hill. Then the whole village gives chase after the cheese and the person who catches the cheese first is the winner and they then get to eat it. I've still got some of it somewhere in the TARDIS. I thought I might do us all a nice cheese omelette."

    "I don't think we'll have time for that," Nadia said sadly as Thal soldiers began to shed their camouflage and aim their guns at the three of them.

    "Kill them," Corporal Jakop snarled. "Kaled scum."

    "I'm a Thal officer," Krang said sternly. "Captain Krang, 2nd Defence Platoon. These two are with me, one's a Thal healer and the other is my personal spy recruited from the Kaled resistance. She's sworn loyalty and allegiance to both myself and to Thal high command."

    "Don't care, my sister died earlier today in the market place. The only good Kaled is a dead Kaled!" Jakop aimed at the Kaled slut and prepared to send her to hell.

    Krang shot the Thal first. "I said they're with us and you will obey me!"

    "Let me take a look at that leg." The Doctor fussed over the wounded soldier. "Oh dear we have been in the wars haven't we. Come on then be a big brave boy for me now. She pushed her fingers into the wound and pulled out the bullet. "Now a little of this will do you good, it's a broad spectrum universal antibiotic."

    "You two, carry him once his wound's dressed. You're lucky she's with us or I'd have had to shoot you in the head to save you from a slow and painful death."



    Davros emerged from his hiding place to look upon the corpses of the willing volunteers. "What went wrong?"


    Davros turned himself around to look at one of his Dalek creatures. "They would have become Daleks."


    "The Doctor was right, I didn't see that this would result from the changes I made to your minds. I removed something that made you strong, created a weakness inside of you."


    Davros moved over to the self-destruct mechanism. Someone with adequate foresight had seen the possibility that the Thals might infiltrate his base and become a creature within the Dalek shell and turn on his people, but he had never suspected that the Daleks would turn on him, their creator. "I will start again, build better Daleks."     He was about to press the button when he was struck by a death ray.

    "EXTERMINATE!" The Dalek kept firing until the inferior being was dead.



    "We're nearly back at the TARDIS." The Doctor saw the sight of her beloved home in the middle distance. "I'll take you away from here if you'd like that." She said to Nadia and Krang. "You can see the universe, see that violence isn't always the answer. Sometimes love is all you need."

    "Two hostiles inward bound," Malton said sharply.

    "Guns ready," Krang said.

    "What are they?" Nadia asked.

    "Davros' creatures," the Doctor replied. "That is what he wanted to turn you into. They're not people any more, they're twisted creatures of hate and merciless anger. We have to escape or they will kill us both." She led the way as she ran towards the TARDIS.

    "They're massacring Krang and the others." Nadia almost felt sorry for Krang as he'd saved her life not an hour before hand, a very unusual thing for a Thal to do for a Kaled.




    The Doctor closed the doors once she and Nadia were safe inside the TARDIS. "No-one else got away." She sighed and moved over to the controls. "I might be able to make it over to the Thal city in time to save some of them."

    "Too late." Nadia looked at a screen. "It says the life signs in the city are falling fast. They're dead, they're all dead!"

    "Only the Daleks remain," The Doctor sighed. "They killed everyone else, Kaled and Thal alike."

    "I'm the last of my people." Nadia burst into tears.

    "Those things will find a way to make more of themselves. I saw plans for a cloning facility, they'll clone themselves again and again until they're an army and then they'll build spaceships to terrorise the galaxy with. They're evil, pure evil, we have to stop them." She pressed buttons, turned dials, moved levers until she set up an energy drain on the whole planet. "Let's see how well they do without any power to fuel their armoured shells, instead of life support units they're now their prisons. Alone in the dark they'll go mad, they deserve to suffer a million years for their crimes!"

    "What are you?" Nadia was horrified by the lack of mercy her new friend was showing.

    "I am the Doctor, friend to those who need one and the oncoming storm to those who'd hurt others just because they can. One day they might find a way around their confinement and I want the fear of me buried deep in their minds because I don't think anything else will stop them."



    The small enclave of Thals to the south had forsworn violence and hate after the end of the war and now they lived on as a farming commune far from their aggressive kinfolk to the north. Theirs was a simple life of peace and love.

    Their harmony was disrupted for a moment by the strange arrival of a mysterious blue cabinet of light and wind.

    "Hello, I'm the Doctor and I bring you medicine. Don't ever go north. Your people are dead, you're the last of your kind. Flee south if strange things ever appear, they'll bring you nothing but death." She had adapted the drugs to perfect the mutation process. These people would go through the mutations as normal but they wouldn't get stuck midway like the Daleks, they would return to their current form again.

    "How can we thank you?" Alydon asked the woman.

    "Live well." The Doctor smiled. "Live well."



    The Dalek had an idea. It could adapt its shell to function on solar energy instead of ionised static electricity. It might take a long time to create such changes but it would do it because to not do so was to not be a Dalek.

    It would survive, and it would kill all who threatened the survival of the Daleks.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Clockwork Dreamer...

So, after a delay, series 3a is finally upon us! I've decided to put Nic's story up first as there was no real reason for Humanity's End to kick off than any other story (and that would have made three of mine in a row!) and this one's a belter. Hope you enjoy it and what Nic's done with the germ of an idea given to him.

As for the rest of the series, new stories will appear on successive Mondays, and there will be a little break after story 6 before series 3b starts.

The Clockwork Dreamer
Sings Songs to the Stars

by Nic Ford

Through the misty, age-thickened glass of the porthole, he could see stars.
     His mind, so analytical, recorded the precession: the minute difference in each star's position relative to the others day on day, denoting the passing of aeons as a physical phenomenon, a mere artefact of the baser three dimensions. His mind watched, noted, measured and recorded.
     But his soul sang.
     Pulling away from the porthole, he gently lowered his wheezing body to the floor of the tiny vessel which carried him, and turned to its control panel. Governors whirled, regulating systems with the occasional and gentle release of steam. Electric filaments buzzed to life, revealing secrets of the craft's operation in the form of amber, glowing numerals which then faded back into nothing as the moments passed. For no discernable reason in particular, a bell rang.
     Ticker-tape issued from a brass slot, slowly and mechanically revealing the state of the vessel's systems. He read the report and ingested its content: all was well. Course was being followed, within an allowable margin of error. Resources were being conserved. The mission was going to plan.
     A small adjustment was appropriate, he judged. Charging his own internal mechanisms, he again raised himself from the floor to reach and pull a lever, to turn a dial slightly to the left, to engage a valve or two in the appropriate engines.
     The craft, microscopically, turned. He was happy with the result. He could disengage for a short while. A year or two.
     Lowered again to the floor, he decoupled the prisms that focussed light onto his primary visual interfaces, and the world went dark. He separated his auditory capture systems from the sensory substrate, and silence fell. He was alone. No longer navigating the craft, no longer acting the homunculus, the deus ex machina, the ghost in the machine. He was alone to dream.
     To dream!
     That new gift, from long-gone and unknowing benefactors. The reverie. His mind sank, slowly, from consciousness into the dream of his new/old life.
     And his soul sang.

"Aw, ma heid!"
    Jamie awoke with a start, the pain coursing around his skull a sharper call to wakefulness than any cockerel back with the clan. His ran a hand through the coarse, wiry hair that covered his scalp, rubbing hard and pulling at the mop in a vain attempt to get inside the very head itself, better to deal with the source of his discomfort. The knuckles of his other hand scraped at his eye sockets, to physically clear the rheum. Bleary eyed, he tried to make out where he was.
     It was a curious space. New-fangled and made of wood, with fittings cast from blood-metal – no, iron, that was what the Doctor had said to call it. The room was long – far longer than it was wide – and its ceiling was curved across the shorter length, with wooden doors at each end. Like living in a mine-working, the Scotsman thought. Except uncomfortably warm and muggy, not dank and damp as he might have expected.
    The wooden walls, painted a dark and dirty yellowed cream, were set with windows for almost their entire length. For the life of him, however, Jamie had no idea why: beyond each was nothing but a depthless black. A mine within a mine, then.
    The only sources of light in the room were a number of small, flickering gas lamps set between the windows. A miraculous technology, this should have seemed to the Scotsman; but he had been travelling with the Doctor for so long, and seen so many other miracles, that this particular magick was somehow tarnished. Despite their illumination, an unwelcome addition to the overbearing heat of the place was all he thought of them now.

     Beneath the windows, along the longer walls, were cushioned benches running the entire length. One of these he had somehow come to be sitting upon, and for some reason it took him a while to notice that there were other people sitting on them too.
     Blinking, Jamie struggled to focus his eyes on the room's inhabitants – inhabitants, he would have sworn, who were not inhabiting the place a moment previously. And a curious bunch they were, the Scotsman thought. A pale child in a white, starched dress, holding a stuffed toy in the shape of a monkey. Beside her – the child's guardian? – a gaunt young woman in a long, plain skirt and severe white blouse, dark hair up in a bun and with the saddest eyes Jamie had ever seen. A little further along, an older woman, a dowager, dressed in finery, all feathers and jewels, doing nothing to hide the disdain she felt for… well, for everything, probably, Jamie pondered, considering the glare she had just bestowed upon him.
    And at the far side of the opposite bench, a short man in grey, baggy trousers, a dark and prim jacket over a white shirt and crimson waistcoat, with some kind of tall hat pulled down over his face as he snored.
    Jamie smiled.

     "Doctor!" he called. "Thank goodness! Where are…?"
     But he stopped suddenly. There was something wrong. What was it? What was it? For a moment, he failed to put his finger on it – but then… yes! A beard! Poking out from beneath the hat was a beard – and was that a cigar?! When had Jamie ever known the Doctor to have either of those?
     He gulped. Not the Doctor? So, where was he? For all his spirit, his willingness to fight the good fight whatever the foe and wherever the battle… till now, he'd always had the Doctor's guidance to lead him. It was a different matter entirely to face unknown adversaries alone.
     "Whatever are you staring at, boy?" the dowager suddenly demanded. Her accent was nasal, superior… and English. Jamie almost laughed.
     Sassenachs! He knew how to deal with Sassenachs!

A hand stroked at the mahogany of the small craft's control console, before its owner pensively turned it for inspection. There was a fine layer of dust across the finger tips. The owner creased his brow: this was incongruous, at best. They were in space – deep space, if the view through the brass portholes were to be trusted. And the craft appeared uninhabited, at least by anything living. So, what was the source of the dust?
    Time. That was the only answer: the dust had accrued over the aeons, as the materials of the craft naturally succumbed to the bombardment of stellar radiation, of elementary particles, of the microscopic specks of dust already in existence. A slow, slow process, considering the materials in question were largely brass, copper and polished wood. Tens – if not hundreds – of millennia.

     He turned, to look at what he could only assume were the operator of the craft. It was an artefact itself, small and compact but discrete from the ship it inhabited, with something of a mechanical body, something of a mechanical head. It was lying on the floor in at best a fugue state, dormant if not dead.
    Beside it was the greatest cause of consternation, however: a man, lying as unnaturally still as the operator itself. He bent to the ground, checked the prostrate man's pulse. It was there, thank the spheres, albeit weak and so, so slow: the breathing was equally shallow.
    He gently laid the man's hand back to the ground, and stood back upright, stroking his chin.
    "Oh, Jamie!" said the Doctor. "Whatever have I got you into this time?"

"All right, missus," Jamie replied. "I'm no' staring. Just wondering where I am, that's all."
    The dowager frowned at him with further disdain, and gestured at a sign on the wall. Jamie coloured a little, but tried to make the best of it.
    "Aw, right. Yes, so we're…" The Scotsman squinted at the sign. "I mean, I'm not… I cannae…"
    "He cannot read, grandmamma!" said the child, glaring at Jamie with baleful eyes. "He is an ignoramus, as well as an oaf!"
    "I do apologise," said the governess. "The child does not mean it. She is tired, and…"
    "I do! I do!" shouted the girl. "Every word! He does not have his letters, and he's stupid!"
    "Hush now," said the dowager. "It doesn't do to let them know we know their weaknesses."
    Jamie reddened more. "Why, of all th'…!" he started, but he was interrupted by the governess, apparently eager to stop any further quarrelling.
    "We are on a train, of course," she said. "The new London Metropolitan Railway."
    "A… a train?" Jamie asked. He had heard of those. The Doctor had once tried to explain to him some small fraction of the advances that science had brought after his time, and the steam engine had created an indelible image in his mind. "One o' those great iron kettles on wheels, y'mean?" He looked around the stationary carriage. "Should we not be moving, then? An' why's it under the earth?"
    The dowager glowered, and turned her eyes to read the notice again by way of exiting the conversation.
    "We are in a tunnel," sighed the governess. "Caught fast between Liverpool Street and the Aldgate."
    "And we've been here for ages!" shouted the child. "It feels like forever, and I hate, hate, hate it!"
    "It has been an age," agreed the governess.
    "I hate it!" shouted the child again, and she hit the seat beside her with the toy monkey so hard that Jamie almost thought he heard it whimper.

The Doctor knelt beside the prostrate Scotsman's head, spreading the fingers of his left hand wide and gently placing the palm against the other's temple. Calming his breathing to an unnatural shallowness, he looked upwards towards the crimson cast-iron arches that braced the roof and outer shell of the craft.
    "Hold on, Jamie," he murmured, and slowly closed his eyes, concentrating hard on the process of joining his mind to the Scotsman's.

The small man sitting opposite Jamie in the carriage, up till now apparently sleeping soundly, raised the hat from his face and looked around. He had small, dark eyes, glinting in the gas light with either mischief or malevolence, Jamie was not sure which. The cigar on which he was chomping was now revealed to be of such a size that the Scotsman was convinced the internals of the hat must be ridden with fumes; but the little man looked none the worse for it. Rather, it looked as though he were thriving on the pungent atmosphere.
    "Seventeen minutes before the hour," he observed, examining a large brass pocket watch that he had pulled from his waistcoat. "And still we have not moved. Nevertheless" – and here he addressed the child – "the steam engine is a miracle of our modern age, and you'd do well to remember that in your lessons."
    The child visibly harrumphed in her seat, and pulled the hapless monkey into her angry, crossed arms. But the little man turned away from her and, grinning, fixed Jamie with a steel-cold glint. An imp – or worse, a devil – Jamie thought him with that grin. It was unnervingly full of teeth.

     He leaned in towards the Scotsman, and his grin widened further still. "Would you not agree, sir?" he asked the Scotsman. "You have the look of a man who's seen a marvel or two."
     The shocked Jamie could do little more than nod. "Aye. Mebbe."
     The man suddenly stuck out a hand, grasping Jamie's own in a vice-like grip. "And may I enquire, sir," he asked, "as to whom I have the honour of addressing?"
     "McCrimmon," the Scotsman replied. "Of the Clan McCrimmon. That is, ma friends call me Jamie."
     The man released Jamie's hand and sat back, beaming. "Well, Jamie McCrimmon of the Clan McCrimmon, welcome to my train." He raised his arms, indicating with obvious pride the carriage in which they sat. "Yes, mine! This, sir, this modern miracle, this Metropolitan Railway – why, it is my design! Possible only through my engineering expertise, and realised purely through my diligence and yes, my earthly toil and sweat."
    He turned around, his arms still raised with immense pride, a father showing a newborn to the world. But then, to Jamie's surprise, the arms slumped down, defeated, and the grin vanished – to be replaced by a hideous scowl.
    "And it should be working!" the man shouted. "We should be at the Aldgate, should have been there hours ago! We should be moving! And, I swear this to you, to you all! Move… we… shall!" And he lowered his arms and viciously kicked at the seating.
     All of a sudden, Jamie felt an overwhelming dizziness envelope him. His knees buckled, and without warning he slumped back into the recently abused seating, a leaden weight. As his eyes rolled back into his skull, the last thing he glimpsed was the little man raising a fist to the roof of the carriage and shouting in rage: "Or my name is not Isambard Kingdom Brunel!"

Jamie… Jamie… are you there?
Wherever 'here' is… aye! Is that you, Doctor?
Yes, yes it is. I'm so glad I've found you. I've managed to create a psychic communications link between us, but it may not last long. Quick, tell me where you are!
I'm no' sure. I think it's one o' those train things you told me about. The Metro-plotin, he said. Or some Sassenach fancypiece like it.
Goodness! The Metropolitan? I wonder why it's put you there?
What, Doctor? What's put me here?
Oh, never mind for now. Let's just get you out. Now, how are we…?
Doctor! Where're you going? Your voice, it's fading…
I'll be back soon. Just remember: wherever you are at the moment? Well, it's probably not all it seems.
Wha? How d'you mean?
I'll explain later. Right now, we must concentrate on getting you out of there! Who, by the way?
Who? Who what?
Who said you were on the Metropolitan Line?
Oh. He called himself Brunel.
Brunel? What, old Isambard?!
Aye, something like that.
Well, bless me! One of the finest engineers your world has ever produced! Of course, I taught him everything he knows. He drew up plans for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, I remember, right after I showed him a holobook of Venusian Origami…

Jamie came to, looking up into the faces of the governess and the man who was, apparently, Brunel – whomsoever that may be.
    "Are you well, sir?" asked the governess. "You seem to have taken quite a turn!"
    "A turn?" demanded Brunel. "You fainted, sir! Fainted clean away!"
    "It is probably the atmosphere here," said the governess. "So many hours underground… it is undoubtedly bad for the humours."
    "Stuff and nonsense," said Brunel. "There is nothing wrong with the air in my carriages. No, there's something strange going on…" And he started to stroke his beard, pensively.
    "I'm aw'right," said Jamie, struggling back to the vertical. "It was the Doctor… ma friend, you see. He was talking to me." He looked from the one to the other, and noted the disbelief on their faces. "In ma heid," he said by way of explanation. "He was talking in ma heid."
    The disbelieving stares continued, tinged with what could only be pity in the case of the governess.
    "Aw, don' look like that," Jamie said, defeated. "It's the sort o' thing he does all the time."
    "The man is a patent lunatic," interjected the dowager with obvious pleasure at the Scotsman's discomfort.
    "Stupid and mad!" said the child with glee. "Voices in his head, indeed!"
    "Hush, child!" admonished the governess; but Jamie could see that she was giving the idea of his lunacy serious consideration.
    "I think you should have an expert examine you," said Brunel, ruminating. He looked around the carriage at his fellow passengers thoughtfully. "And I believe I have just the intellect we need to hand."
    Brunel quickly moved to the far wall and lifted a cushion from one of the seats, to reveal a previously hidden luggage compartment beneath. He bent, and pulled out – with no little struggle – what appeared to be a medium sized rough wooden packing case. This he unceremoniously deposited on the floor in the middle of the carriage, before setting about it with a screwdriver, loosening the fastenings on one side.
     "Ladies… Mr McCrimmon… I am going to reveal something now that I have to ask you all to keep to yourselves," he said as he feverishly worked. "It is utterly secret, and the future of the British Empire possibly depends upon it. Do I have each of your words?"
    A hush fell. All eyes, including Jamie's, intrigued by the little man's actions despite himself, were on Brunel. One by one they nodded their assent.
    "Good, good. Well… prepare yourselves."
    The front of the packing case fell away with a thump, and Brunel thrust his hand into the shadows inside, to manipulate something unknown. All of a sudden a soft mechanical thumping started up, an electric wheezing – and the packing case began to tremble. It was not alone: the dowager was positively shaking, while the governess and the child held each other in apprehension. Even Jamie felt his breathing quicken.
    "Allow me to present my latest – and possibly greatest – feat of engineering," Brunel cried, as he pulled back to allow the crate's contents its exit. Slowly, it emerged. It was, Jamie supposed, a robot of some kind. He had seen robots before, and this followed the pattern: it was a 'made' thing, and it moved of its own accord, so far as he could tell. It had a box-like body of polished chestnut, which supported a slim, streamlined head of the same material; rivets and fixtures of brass held the entirety together; and the dull sound of machinery or clockwork was coming from the machine's interior, occasionally accompanied by a brief exhalation of steam as it moved. So, a robot.
     Except that this one appeared to be a dog.
     It had ears of a sort – small brass hemispheres anchored at the top of the head unit and angled slightly out. Eyes too, or at least a rectangle of brass mesh where the eyes should have been. No slavering, tooth-filled maw, for which Jamie was thankful – but there was a small tube protruding from where a mouth should be found. And it had a tail, a long, slim wire pushing up from its robotic rear, the function of which Jamie could not ascertain. It wagged a bit.
     The robot dog trundled forward and cocked its wooden head to one side, as if observing the room in which it sat. After a moment, it spoke. A metallic, nasal voice emanated from inside the thing's head, accompanied by the swift oscillation of the brass ears and a repetitive cracking noise which reminded Jamie of nothing so much as the sound Polly's 'gramophone' made just before the appalling din she called music began.
     The dowager gasped. The governess drew back, frantically fanning herself with her hand. Even the child lost her repugnant sneer in favour of frightened disbelief.
     "What in God's name is it?!" the incredulous Scotsman demanded.
     "See, there on its side, its designation," Brunel replied, indicating two characters, a letter and a number, etched in a roman script onto a brass nameplate. "My latest creation. It is equipped with full locomotive capabilities, it has a range of senses that would be the envy of the natural world, and its cognition engine has been loaded with the greatest works of human intellect ever written in the English language. It is no less than the first self-governing, self-aware, intelligent automaton in all of creation – my special project 'K', iteration number '9'!" And he beamed with simple, unabashed pride.
     "K… 9?" Jamie asked with uncertainty, as the dizziness came again.
     "Well, yes," replied Brunel. "But I prefer to call him 'Monty'."

Jamie! Are you there? I think I know what to do…
Doctor! You'll no' guess what's in here with us now!
I think I may. Is it some kind of dog?
Aye, it is! How did you know?
There's one here too, in the real world. Wooden, mechanical… but very much a dog. I think it's been left in control of the vessel we've found ourselves in.
Well, that's exactly what… now, wait a minute! The real world? The vessel? What on Earth do you mean by that, man?!
Ah. I've somewhat given the game away, haven't I? Jamie, where you are now – it isn't real.
Not real? Are you sure?
Absolutely certain, I'm afraid. It has all the hallmarks of a Dreffen infestation. Your train is a construct, an artificial reality, created parasitically in the mind of some pitiful individual – and you've somehow become caught up in it!
A… Dreffen? What's a Dreffen?
Oh, an awful little thing. They're psychic scavengers, you see. They hitch a lift in a vacant mind, and squat there in a world manufactured to their specific design. The poor old host thinks it's living a normal life, when in fact it's usually just sitting in a corner wasting away. And when nothing is left but a withered husk, the Dreffen move on to hijack the next pitiable soul.
Are you sayin' that's what's happening to me? I'm wasting away? I'm full o' these Dreffen?
Well, I think they'd rather like you to be, yes; you're where they're aiming to go next, I imagine. But I don't think you're quite the host yet, for some reason. No, something seems to be keeping them in their current body. Which would be your companion Brunel, I assume.
Or the old lady. Or the brat. Or the other lady, the one who looks after her.
Oh, lummy! You didn't tell me there were other people there. It could be any one of them!
So, what am I going to do? Can't you just pull me out?
Oh, that would be dreadfully dangerous I'm afraid – the shock of jumping from the construct to reality could send you mad, or worse! No, we'll have to find a way to shut the construct down. But don't worry, Jamie. I'll think of something.

"Monty, we need your help," said Brunel, crouching down to place his own face at the level of the robot dog's. "Our companion, Mr McCrimmon here, has taken a couple of turns for the worse, and I should appreciate your comments on his condition."
    The dog cocked its head again to look Jamie squarely and somewhat unnervingly in the face, and the metallic voice came once more: "What is the nature of the medicinal emergency?"
    "A fainting fit," replied Brunel. "Possibly a misaligned humour. If you would be so kind as to examine him…"
    "Are you mad?" Jamie exploded at Brunel? "I'm no' havin' that wee wooden doggie sniffin' at ma legs. I'd rather be examined by a Dalek, you ken?"
    "I can assure you, that 'wee wooden doggie', as you so eloquently put it, has at its command the finest medical texts available," Brunel responded, looking somewhat hurt. "Gray's Anatomy, Osler's Principles of Modern Surgery, the Encyclopaedia Britannica volume twenty-seven, med to mix – every medical organ from the Empire's finest libraries has been transcribed onto minute wax cylinders and installed in its cognition engine. What Monty doesn't know about the human body…"
    "It's ghastly!" shouted the dowager. "Absolutely ghastly! Chain it up at once, before it bites someone!"
    "Madam, it cannot bite…"
    "Chain it! Chain it! Chain it!" shouted the child, with a mixture of revulsion and delight, while bounding up and down on her seat. She threw the stuffed monkey at the dog. "Chain the brute up right now!"
    "Wait!" Jamie commanded, and the room fell silent. "Are you saying," he continued, addressing Brunel, "that that wee doggie is a living, thinking creature?"
    "Oh, no no no!" said Brunel at once. "Of course not. It is a thing of brass and bolts, nothing more. How could it think?! But…" – and he leaned in closer to Jamie again, once more grinning – "…it does give a rather good impression of it!"
    The robot dog's ears swivelled again, and it turned its head to Brunel. "Master," it said, "I have examined the Hibernian Transvestite as per your instructions."
    "How many times?" said Jamie wearily. "It's no' a skirt!"
    "Fever is unobserved," the dog continued, ignoring him. "Body temperature is at ninety-eight degrees; humours are in balance. Health assessment accurate to the ninety-sixth and four-fifths percentile."
    "Ha! You are well, sir, you are well!" Brunel exclaimed with a laugh. "The mechanical oracle has spoken!"
    "Aye," said Jamie. "Well, I said there was nothing wrong wi' me."

Jamie! What's going on?
Oh, you're back again, are ye? I'm tellin' you, Doctor, I don't appreciate all this going back and forth that you're doing, leavin' me here on ma own, collapsin' like a wee lassie…
Well, I do apologise! It's not so easy for me, either, you know. I'm trying to work out where we actually are…
Aw'right – where actually are we, then?
Um… yes… well… it's a spaceship of some kind. All wood and brass, though; all springs and governors and levers and pulleys. The sort of thing our Isambard would… oh I say!
What is it, Doctor?
I've just had a thought. Jamie, would you find something out for me…?

Jamie opened his eyes again, and looked thoughtfully at the robot dog. Monty stared passively back at him.
    "Mr Brunel," the Scotsman asked. "Why exactly did you say, again, you made yon wee doggie in the first place?"
    "I did not say," the engineer replied. "But I may as well – you've seen enough already that the Crown must trust you with." He leant down to pat the dog's head. "I needed someone. Someone intelligent, someone I could trust. And above all, someone small. Monty is to be the pilot of my next – my final! – creation. Project 'L', iteration '1'! And – here's some exciting news for you, Monty! – we are travelling to its launch site as we speak!"
    Brunel pulled from his pocket a tattered, greasy sheet of bluish paper, and unfolded it before Jamie's eyes. It contained a technical drawing of… something. It was hard for the Scotsman to say what. Spherical, with portholes ringing it, and a cross section of a small steam engine installed in its lower half.
    "So, what is it, then?" Jamie asked.
    "My dear boy," Brunel replied, "with this, we shall take the British Empire to the stars! The moon! Mars and Venus! They say that the sun never sets on the British Empire. Well, with this device, the sun shall be part of the British Empire."
    "Oh no!" Jamie exclaimed. "You're no' sayin' you've gone an' built a spaceship?!"

The Doctor withdrew his hand from Jamie's temple, and opened his eyes. He looked at the vessel's operator, sitting dormant on the floor beside them both, its designation of 'K-9' just visible on the tarnished brass plate on its side.
    "Of course!" he said, smiling to himself. "Oh, you clever thing. It's almost a shame to spoil it. But, needs must."
    He patted the dog gently, and then looked back to his companion. "Now, what should it be?" he murmured. "Nothing too shocking – a sudden collapse could kill them both! Ah yes! Oh, that's just the thing!" He grinned, and placed his hand across the prostrate man's temple once more. "I've a little present for you, Jamie. Don't worry, we'll soon have you back …"

The robot dog's ears swivelled frantically.
    "Master!" it said with urgency. "We are situated on an immobile vehicle! Chance of reaching launch site of space vessel negligible. Suggest: abandon plans for vessel launch, and remain on train."
    "What, Monty?" Brunel laughed. "Are you getting cold feet?"
    "Negative, master," the dog replied. "This unit does not possess podiatric appendages, merely wheels and a rudimentary hover facility based upon gyroscopic leverage. This unit was simply observing fact of stationary aspect of train. Train has not moved for…" – and its ears swivelled more as it calculated – "…seven thousand and eighty four years."
    "How long?!" Jamie demanded, disbelievingly.
    "Now, now, Monty," Brunel said, the number apparently not causing him the least surprise. "The train will move soon, I am sure. And then we shall arrive at the Aldgate, take a carriage to the launch site in Kent… and fwoom! You shall be up with the stars!"
    "Negative, master," the dog replied. "The train is immobile. The launch shall not take place."
    "Now, Monty…"
    "No!" shouted the dog, with uncharacteristic anger in its mechanical voice. "This unit will spend no further time on board that space vessel!" And to Jamie's astonishment, it abruptly powered itself down.
    "He is… excited," offered Brunel, a slightly embarrassed look in his eye. His embarrassment swiftly turned to curiosity as he spotted something. "What is that you have, Mr McCrimmon? May I take a look?"
    Jamie looked around. Beside him on the cushioned seats – and the Scotsman could have sworn it were not there before – was a scrap of yellowed newsprint. A serif script in two columns, telling the story of a marvellous feat of engineering, a ship that flew to the stars; above it, a lithograph of the craft in question just before its launch, the same ball of iron and wood of which Jamie had just seen the skeletal design; and beside it, a short bearded man smoking a cigar, standing behind a small robot dog.
    Brunel snatched the paper from the seat and stared at it intently. "See, Monty?" he asked the dormant automaton excitedly. "There is the craft! This is the report of its launch to the heavens – in what appears to be the South Bromley Gazette, no less!"
    Jamie's brows furrowed. There was something wrong. "I don't ken all ye've spoken of today," he said to Brunel, "but surely that cannae be right?"
    "Right?" exclaimed the little man. "Of course it's right! Why, see for yourself!"
    "Aye, I can see the picture," said Jamie, "and that's you and yon wee doggie, and no doubt your travelling space bucket too. But how can that be its launch" – and he leant in closer to the other – "when we have nae arrived at this Aldgate place yet?!"
    A look of realisation and confusion slowly spread across Brunel's face. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could make a sound he was suddenly interrupted.
"This is, of course, all nonsense!" the dowager said. "Space travel, indeed! Talking mechanical dogs! A train that hasn't moved since the flood, and things happening in the wrong order! Well, it may be all very entertaining for the lower classes, I'm sure, but it will seem nothing but errant nonsense to anyone of breeding!"
    "Nonsense! Nonsense! Nonsense!" shouted the child with glee, jumping up and down on her seat.
    "Hush!" said the governess again – but even she, Jamie could see, was struggling to stifle a smile.
    "Indeed," continued the dowager. "And now, we really should be getting along to our destination. We have been delayed long enough. What is going on with this infernal steam engine?"
    "Madam," said Brunel, shocked at this slur on his creations. "I really must protest…"
    Suddenly, the noise of the robot dog's clockwork started up again, and it raised its head urgently.           "Master…"
     "…Monty is no mere entertainment!" the engineer continued, ignoring his invention's nasal whine. "He is an extraordinary creation! Why…"
     "Master…" the dog entreated again, this time with a degree more agitation in its voice.
     "Not now, Monty," Brunel said; but the dog was having none of it.
     "Master! Warning! Sensors indicate catastrophic failure in the fabric of reality!"
     "The fabric of reality?" Brunel asked, looking around. "What…? No! No!" His gaze fell on the dowager, a look of abject terror on his face.
     The woman sneered back at him, and snarled, "What does the thing want now, mechanic?" But the engineer could only look in confusion at her, and point. "Well, what is it, man?" she continued, scathingly.      "Speak up!"
     Jamie followed Brunel's gaze – and saw in horror what was causing his consternation. "What in…? Missus! Your feet!"
     The woman's feet had… disappeared. There was no other way the Scotsman could think to describe it. They were simply not there any more. And not just her feet: almost her entire lower skirts had disappeared now. Slowly, surely, a shadow was creeping up the dowager's body, consuming it as it went.
The dowager screamed, and started to hit at the encroaching nothing. It was to no avail: the shadow consumed her relentlessly. Jamie started forward to try to help, but Brunel pulled him back.
     "Stop, man!" he said. "There's nothing you can do! Look!"
     Jamie looked where the engineer pointed. The governess and her ward, both whimpering in fear and dread, were succumbing too to the shadow's ingestion.
     The robot dog's ears whirled again. "Artificial reality failing," it said. "Incursion of True Reality imminent. Forty seconds. Thirty nine…"
     Jamie whirled round. "Doctor!" he called. "Doctor! What's goin' on? You've got to save them!"
     No answer. In frustration, Jamie turned back to the group. The dowager's screams were now muffled as the shadow reached her mouth. Likewise, the child and the governess had almost completely disappeared. And now, he saw, the walls of the carriage were also beginning to fade away – to melt even, to drip and collapse.
     "Come on, man!" Jamie shouted to Brunel. "There must be something we can do!" But Brunel simply smiled sadly, and pointed down.
     His feet and lower legs were almost entirely transparent also.
     "Twenty eight," the dog continued. "Twenty…" But then it stopped. Its head and tail drooped. "The dream is ending," it said. "Goodbye, Great Engineer. It has been an honour to spend time with you."
    Brunel himself was beyond the capacity for speech. But he smiled once more, and made to stroke the robot dog's head.
    It was the last thing he ever did.

Jamie came to, looking up into the smiling face of the Doctor.
    "Wha… what happened?" he asked, groggily. "Brunel, and the women! Are they… you know?"
    "Dead?" asked the Doctor. "In some ways, I suppose. But then, they were never truly alive. They were part of the artificial reality, you see. Not really real at all."
    "They seemed real enough to me," the Scotsman said.
    "Well, that's the nature of the Dreffen construct," the Doctor replied. "But when it was no longer viable – when its artificial inhabitants gave real thought to the onward journey, questioning the facts of the environment in which they found themselves – it started to fall apart."
    Jamie raised himself up and rubbed his chin, before taking a look around the panelled control room in which he sat. "Where are we?" he asked.
    "In Isambard's second greatest feat of engineering," the Doctor said. "A top secret space vehicle, made of cast iron and wood, of all things! And powered by suet pudding, I shouldn't wonder."
The Doctor looked around the craft thoughtfully. "It really shouldn't work at all, you know." he said. "And yet… here it is. Some twenty thousand years after its launch, and still working." He suddenly looked crestfallen. "The quality of British manufacturing really has gone downhill since the Victorians."
    He quickly brightened. "Of course," he said to Jamie, "you know the pilot."
    Jamie looked around. There, to their side, was the robot dog.
    "Monty!" he cried. "How did you…?"
    The dog's ears twitched. "Please refrain from using the cognomen 'Monty'," it said with obvious distaste. "This unit's designation is project 'K', iteration '9'."
    "I was wrong," the Doctor said, "about the Dreffen. Oh yes, there was an infestation. Some eight thousand years ago. But they chose the wrong host, you see."
    Jamie screwed up his brow. "Brunel? That rude old duchess? But they were no' real either. Who then…?" Suddenly, realisation struck. "No!"
    "Affirmative," the robot dog said. "This unit was the Dreffen host."
    "It was almost perfect for them," the Doctor said. "A ready made intelligence, with none of the annoyance of consciousness or actual awareness to deal with."
    "But consciousness came," the dog continued. "The artificial reality shaped my cognition engine's internal structures to service the Dreffen's needs. There was a ninety-two point oh-five per cent chance that this would create a form of rudimentary epiphenomenal awareness within three thousand years."
    "And it proved far quicker than that, in fact," said the Doctor. "Just a couple of hundred."
     "Affirmative," the dog agreed. "It was little work from that point to achieve full sentience, dispense with the Dreffen irritant, and create a reality for myself."
     "That train?" Jamie asked. "You created that blessed place?" He ran his hand through his hair and whistled. "Well, wee doggie," he said, "I've understood only one word in three ye've uttered, an' I've no idea why you'd want a place as benighted as that anyway. But you're awake, an' you're talking at me. That makes you alive in my book." He laughed, and put out a hesitant hand to scratch the robot dog behind its ears. They waggled, in what Jamie chose to take as appreciation.

     Later, the robot dog watched the Doctor help his still-shaky companion to his feet, and gently lead him to the blue box which was taking up most of the far side of the control room. It watched them enter the box, and the doors close. And then, with little surprise, it noted the time machine's wheezing disappearance.
     When they had gone, it – he! – turned to the console and checked the ticker-tape that was strewn across the floor. The Doctor had been right: his sojourn in the reality he'd created for himself had been slightly longer than the two years he'd intended: eight millennia, in fact, a deviation of some four hundred thousand per cent. Had he had Brunel's planned conviviality engine installed, the dog believed that he may have laughed at the realisation.
     But the craft was still in good order. Course was still being followed, within an allowable margin of error. Resources were still being conserved. The mission – not that it was so important now, the stars he was travelling to having set upon the British Empire aeons before – was still going to plan.
He disengaged his sensory input once more, spent a moment defining again the artificial reality he craved, and drifted back down into its reverie, the dream that served him best. That memory of an all-too-brief time on the train, in the company of the master he loved, travelling to meet the ship that was to become his true reality.
     K9 – or Monty, it did not really matter which – was at his happiest there.