Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A Murder of Crows

Story 6, and it's the return of Kevin Rhodes, with a rather splendid take on the Ninth Doctor and Rose. Hope you enjoy it, and make sure you're back next week for Russell Williams' long in the planning Forged in Fire, which is actually going to be the springboard to his very own series...though more on that later.

For now, please be upstanding for:

A Murder of Crows

Jack Redditch clambered out of his Land Rover and surveyed the fields in front of him: a vast expanse of corn which stretched far into the distance, before culminating in a range of small hills. Dotted periodically throughout the fields, an array of menacing scarecrows stood statically, their malevolent features staring unnervingly into the middle distance.

Noticing that one of the scarecrows had fallen from its fixtures, Jack pulled his heavy-duty green raincoat tight around his torso, before marching over to the dismounted figure.

As he approached, Jack immediately saw what the problem had been – the bindings which held the scarecrow in place had been severed.

"Completely useless," he mumbled to himself, shaking his head. He knew exactly what had happened; the bindings had been pecked away by the very crows that were supposed to be scared off by the effigy.

Hoisting the scarecrow up, Jack quickly re-attached it to its moorings. Taking a moment to survey his work, he nodded in satisfaction before turning to head back to the Land Rover.

Jack stopped in his tracks as he heard a flapping noise from behind. Turning back to face the scarecrow, he saw that three crows had landed atop it; one on each shoulder and one right on top of its head.

"Oh, for God's sake!" exclaimed Jack, as he marched back the way he had just come. "Shoo!" he cried, waving his hands in an attempt to disperse the unwelcome intruders.

But they wouldn't move.

Jack continued his approach, so that he was now standing directly in front of the scarecrow. He persisted in his attempts to usher the crows away but they did not react. They just stood, staring back at him.

Beat, beat, beat...

"What's that noise?" Jack thought to himself.

Beat, beat, beat...

Jack looked upwards and his eyes widened in terror.

"No... Dear God, no!"

For the next few minutes, Jack screamed in horror. And then everything went quiet.


Rose Tyler stood in the middle of the cornfield, the wind mercilessly grabbing at her long, blonde hair. "A field," Rose said, shaking her head as she feigned disgust. "You are so rubbish!"

The Doctor tapped his leather jacket, indicating the sonic screwdriver he was carrying in his inside pocket. "Something's not right here, Rose," he declared. "The sonic picked up some weird readings as we were driving past..."

"Nothing's ever simple with you, is it?" Rose teased.

"How'd ya mean?" the Doctor asked, his brow furrowed with genuine confusion.

"It was supposed to be a quick trip to Stangmoor Prison, to see what was going on," Rose said, reminding him of their previous destination. "And look how that turned out!"

"Not my fault!" the Doctor protested, holding his hands aloft in a gesture of innocence.

"And now, heading back for London, you want to stop in the middle of a field, 'cause your Spidey-Sense in tingling." Rose rolled her eyes mockingly.

"Yeah," the Doctor breathed, leaning in closer to Rose. "But you love it, don't ya'?"

Rose smirked. "It's not too bad."

Rose had first met the Doctor four months ago, when her world had been turned upside down forever. She had been visiting her father who, at the time, had been working at the experimental nuclear power station in Wenley Moor. And that was when things had started to go wrong. Very wrong.

It hadn't been long before the Doctor turned up and, before she had known what was happening, she had become immersed in his hectic lifestyle of Silurians, dinosaurs and invaders from Mars.

Beat, beat, beat...

"What's that noise?" Rose asked, the interruption hurriedly bringing her thoughts back to the here-and-now.

It seemed to be coming from some way in the distance. It sounded like the rhythmic beat of a flag, fluttering in the breeze. Beat, beat, beat...

The Doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Just something blowing in the wind."

"Doctor, look." Rose's voice suddenly took on a tone of urgency, as she extended her arm outwards.

The Doctor turned his head, following Rose's gesticulation. About twenty yards away, a pair of legs was horizontally jutting out from amongst a clump of corn.

"Stay here," the Doctor commanded, as he headed for the body.

"No chance," Rose mumbled, immediately following the Doctor.

Beat, beat, beat...

As they approached, the full corpse became visible. The man, clad in a heavy-duty green
raincoat, was laying face-down. Crouching beside him, the Doctor quickly scanned him with
the sonic screwdriver.

"He's dead," the Doctor said quietly, shaking his head. Gently reaching for the man's face, he slid his eyelids closed and into their final resting position.

Beat, beat, beat... The noise was getting louder now.

"What happened?" asked Rose.

"Judging by these injuries, it looks like..." The Doctor frowned.

Beat, beat, beat...

"Like what?" Rose pressed.

Beat, beat, beat...

"Some sort of an avian attack."

Beat, beat, beat...

"Avian?" Rose repeated, incredulously. "As in... bird?"

Beat, beat, beat...

"Yeah," the Doctor replied.

"Doctor..." Rose took a long gulp. "Why's it gone so dark...?"

Beat, beat, beat...

The Doctor and Rose stared at each other, looks of horrified realisation spreading across their faces. Slowly, they cranked their heads skywards...

The sky was covered with a thick, black sea of feathers, blotting out the sunlight. Hundreds of crows, their wings spread wide and flapping with the hypnotic beat, beat, beat. And they were heading straight for the Doctor and Rose.

Grabbing Rose by the hand, an all-too-familiar glint appeared in the Doctor's eye. "Run!" he hissed.

And with that, the Doctor and Rose were sprinting, away from the thick, black menace.

Crashing through the tall corn crops, they kept their eyes focused firmly in front of them, not daring to even chance a glance backwards.

Beat, beat, beat.

They were running as fast as they could but the noise kept getting louder and louder...

Reaching the end of the cornfield, the Doctor and Rose halted briefly, finding themselves in a clearing. The Doctor pointed to a structure in the distance. "We'll head for that building."

Quickly glancing up and over her shoulder, Rose could see the swarm of crows, now perilously close to them. "We'll never make it!"

By now, a few of the crows had broken formation and were swooping low, heading straight for the Doctor and Rose. Reaching into his pocket, the Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver, before brandishing it and activating a high-pitched hum. The crows momentarily retreated.

"That should buy us a bit of time," explained the Doctor. "But it won't last long." With that, he and Rose resumed their sprint, now heading for the sanctuary of the distant building.

Once again, several of the crows started to break formation and dive at the fleeing travellers. The Doctor and Rose brought their arms up around their heads, trying to protect themselves from the sharp, deadly beaks now pecking at them, whilst also continuing their dash towards what they hoped would be a safe haven.

"It's no good!" conceded Rose, as she came to a complete standstill, desperately trying to fend off her attackers.

At the same time, the Doctor also came to a stop, the crows forcing him to his knees. Again flaunting the sonic screwdriver, he used it to emit the same high-pitched hum as before. This time, it was completely ineffective.

"They've adapted to the sonic frequency," he explained, as he frantically prodded and poked at the sonic screwdriver.

"Adapted!?!" Rose spluttered. "But they're birds!"

"I don't think it's as simple as that, Rose..." the Doctor said, desperately searching for another method of escape. But there was none.

He was defeated.

The Doctor closed his eyes, feeling the pricks of pain as the crows sunk their beaks and their claws into the back of his neck. It was over...


The Doctor's eyes snapped open, in time to see the crows retreating back into the sky, driven away by the sudden noise.

Moments later, a green Land Rover came screeching to a halt, just a few feet from the Doctor and Rose. The driver's door swung open, allowing a middle-aged man to hop out. Looking at him, Rose immediately got an impression of an authoritative figure; his thin, dark moustache and piercing, commanding eyes combining to demand instant respect. He was wearing a simple navy-blue suit and in his right hand, he was carrying a revolver – presumably the source of the noise that had repelled the crows, fired through the Land Rover's open window.

"Get in!" he instructed, using his gun to indicate the back door of the vehicle.

With no hesitation, Rose opened the door and scrambled inside, closely followed by the Doctor. As they were doing this, their rescuer retook his position in the driver's seat, before setting the Land Rover in motion and heading straight for the building.


The Doctor and Rose followed their saviour into the building, where he proceeded to slam the thick, metal door closed and bolted it into position. Turning to Rose, he extended his hand in greeting.

"My name's Alistair," he said, firmly shaking Rose's hand. "I'm a teacher here, over at Brendon School. This..." He indicated the smallish room in which they now stood, " the groundkeeper's storeroom. We should be safe in here for a while."

"I'm Rose Tyler. And this is the Doctor."

"What's going on here?" the Doctor asked, stepping forward.

"That's a good question, Doctor," Alistair sighed. "It all started about a month ago. The school was just coming to the end of term and the boys were being sent home for the summer. Which is when the first person was found..." He trailed off, clearly affected by the memory.

"One of the boys?" Rose asked, her soft voice soothing the atmosphere.

Alistair nodded. "A freak animal attack. That was the official diagnosis. But then it just kept happening. Local people from the village, farm-hands..."

"And now that man we found out in the field," added the Doctor.

"Is it alien?" Rose asked, directly addressing the Doctor.

He nodded solemnly. "Definitely alien. The readings picked up by the sonic screwdriver confirmed it. That's the only way they could have adapted to it like they did."

"Alien?" Alistair repeated evenly.

"That's right, Brigadier." The Doctor turned to face Alistair, before a puzzled look took over his face. "I'm sorry... have we met before?"

Alistair frowned, his eyes intently locked on the Doctor's. "I... I don't..."

The two men seemed to be absorbed in the other, each meticulously inspecting his counterpart's face.

A sudden banging noise filled the room, causing the Doctor and Alistair to break away from their stare-down.

"They're trying to get in," Alistair hissed.

"They're crows!" exclaimed Rose. "They can't peck through a metal door."

"They're not just crows," reasoned the Doctor, once again holding his sonic screwdriver up as he cautiously approached the door. "I wouldn't rule anything out just yet." After several seconds, the Doctor angrily stuffed the screwdriver back into his pocket. "It's no good," he barked. "I need more information."

"Like?" Rose asked.

The Doctor paused for an instant, before shifting his gaze between Rose and Alistair. "I need one of the creatures," he replied.

"You can't go out there!" Rose protested. "It's suicide!"

"What other option do we have?" the Doctor retorted. "Stay in here indefinitely and live on..." The Doctor picked up a canister from a shelf, to highlight his point. "...pesticide?"

"Actually," Alistair interjected. "Maybe there is another option."

The Doctor and Rose turned to face Alistair, intrigued.

"Would a dead creature be of any use to you, Doctor?"

A grin appeared on the Doctor's face. "Oh, Alistair... You don't?"

Alistair nodded. "I do."


Manoeuvring himself over to a shelf at the back of the room, Alistair moved aside several tools and containers, before dragging a tarpaulin-wrapped bundle to the front. Lifting it up, Alistair marched over to the Doctor and deposited it on the floor in front of him.

"I hit it with one of my shots earlier today," explained Alistair, as he carefully unwrapped the tarpaulin.

"Yeah, about that..." Rose wondered aloud. "I don't know how it works in the country but revolvers aren't exactly standard issue for school teachers back in London..."

Alistair allowed a small smirk to dance across his face. "Indeed, Miss Tyler." He halted for several seconds, weighing up his options. "I've not been entirely honest with you," he eventually conceded.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Alistair. We're under attack from a bunch of crows, possessed by aliens. It would help if we weren't keeping secrets from each other, don't you think?"

Alistair nodded, before pulling what looked like a small radio from his pocket, which he then held close to his mouth. "This is Greyhound to Bad Wolf, do you copy? I repeat: this is Greyhound to Bad Wolf. Do you copy? Over." His attempted transmission was met only with static, leaving him to re-pocket the radio and again address the Doctor. "Doctor, how do you know me?"

"I'm not sure if I do."

"Earlier on... you called me Brigadier."

"Did I?"

"Yes." Alistair's eyes were narrow now, as he carefully assessed every inch of the Doctor's face. "Why did you do that?"

The Doctor looked uncomfortable. Something was tugging at his memories but he couldn't quite place what it was... "Are you a Brigadier?"


The Doctor grinned and dismissively shrugged his shoulders. "No problem, then!"

Alistair drew himself up to his full height. "I am on an undercover operation at this school, here to look into these bizarre deaths. I am Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, commanding officer of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. But I think you already know that, Doctor, don't you?"

The Doctor stared back at the Brigadier, as memories danced on the very edge of his consciousness, desperately trying to break through.

Yeti in the Underground.

Silver giants, storming their way through London.

Shop window dummies coming to life.

And then, as quickly as they had fleetingly appeared, the flashes were gone. "United Nations Intelligence Taskforce?" repeated the Doctor.

"That's right," the Brigadier confirmed. "UNIT."

"Never heard of 'em." And with that, the Doctor crouched to inspect the dead crow in front of him.

As the Doctor undertook his examination, Rose nodded towards the Brigadier's pocket. "That radio," she queried. "Who were you trying to reach?"

"My men," replied the Brigadier. "But there seems to be some sort of radio interference affecting this whole area."

"Yeah, your radio's going to be completely useless," declared the Doctor, as he stood up once more, his examination now complete.

"Do you know what it is?" Rose questioned, indicating the crow.

The Doctor responded with a slow nod. "Yes. But it's impossible..."

The Brigadier stroked his chin in contemplation. "Well, what is it?"

"Nothing either of you will ever have heard of," the Doctor retorted, somewhat condescendingly.

"Oh, you'd be surprised, Doctor," the Brigadier asserted. "I've got a bit of experience in this field: Autons, Cybermen, Axons... And, of course, those Yeti in the Underground."

"What did you say?" the Doctor snapped, a tone of urgency gripping his vocal chords at the mention of his fleeting memory from before. "Yeti in the Underground?"

"Sounds like a bad reality TV show," mumbled Rose.

The Brigadier shook his head, in an attempt to regain some clarity. "I really don't know why I said those things... Doctor, I have just committed a severe breach of the Official Secrets Act and I have absolutely no idea why. You're not another one of those hypnotist fellows, are you?"

"No, Brigadier. Something much bigger is going on here. For some reason, you instinctively feel like you can trust me, don't you?" The Brigadier gave a concise nod, as the Doctor continued. "I feel it too. As soon as we met, something..." He trailed off, lost for words.

"Is it something to do with whatever's possessed the crows?" Rose theorised.

"No, I think it's something much bigger..." the Doctor said absently, his mind clearly a million miles away. Suddenly his expression changed, as his thoughts snapped back to their current predicament. "But we can worry about that later. Right now, I need to go out there." He pointed to the door.

"Didn't we already talk about this?" exclaimed Rose. "Those things'll tear you apart!"

"No they won't. Because I'm going armed with this." The Doctor produced his psychic paper and proudly held it in front of him.

"The psychic paper?" Rose deadpanned. "Seriously?"

"I know what's controlling those crows, Rose. And I know how to communicate with them. Psychically. But... crows aren't exactly renowned for their latent psychic abilities, so I need an outlet for them, to make it a two-way conversation."

"So let me get this straight," Rose surmised. "You're going to march out there, thinking pleasant thoughts, and hope that not only are these aliens nice enough to actually listen to you but that they actually talk back to you."

"Yup." The Doctor turned on his heels and headed straight for the door, before pausing and turning back towards his two friends. "You two, wait here."

"But..." Rose started to protest, only to be immediately cut short by the Doctor.

"I mean it, Rose. I don't know what's going to happen out there. Stay put."

"Alright," Rose reluctantly conceded, as the Doctor started to unbolt the door.

"The world is in my hands," he muttered, stepping through the door.

Rose stared into space, as memories that were not her own fought their way to the surface.

"Mickey the idiot, the world is in your hands. Fire!"

Rose shook her head and the memories were gone.


The metal door creaked open, allowing the Doctor to step through. Calmly surveying his surroundings, he hurriedly closed the door behind him, before slowly marching forward, holding both hands aloft in a gesture of amity.

He approached the murder of crows directly in front of him, who were now sat passively at the edge of the field. "I seek audience with your people under peaceful contract, according to Convention Fifteen of the Shadow Proclamation." The Doctor braced himself, desperately hoping that he sounded more convincing than he felt.

The crows retained their inert demeanour, each of them training their small, beady eyes on their adversary.

Encouraged by their lack of a hostile reaction, the Doctor made an exaggerated effort to reach into his inside pocket. Moments later he withdrew his hand, now clutching the psychic paper.

"I know who you are," the Doctor continued, trying to get a response from them. "Something's gone wrong with time. I don't know what or how but you shouldn't be here. You can't be here, it's impossible." Still no response. "I can help you. I can get you home."

Following this statement from the Doctor, a message started to take form on the psychic paper:


"I can contact the Time Lords," the Doctor insisted. "They can take you back to the Time Vortex."

No answer.

"You can't be here," the Doctor stressed. "It shouldn't even be possible for you to exist here! You're not just inhabitants of the Time Vortex, like the Chronvores or the Vortisaurs... You are a part of the Time Vortex. How did you even get here?"


"I can help," the Doctor reiterated.


"The energy of the Time Vortex is what keeps you alive; you can't survive without it!"


"But you can't! You need to feed on temporal energy. These humans don't have any."

The hairs on the back of the Doctor's neck stood to attention, as the entire murder of crows emitted a shrill, cackling laughter.


The Doctor's eyes widened in terror, as beams of blue energy came shooting from the crows, each fixating on him. With a scream of agony, the Doctor dropped to his knees.

The creatures were feasting on the soul of a Time Lord.


Rose and the Brigadier exchanged troubled looks, as the muffled yells of the Doctor reached them.

"That's it!" bellowed the Brigadier. "He needs help, now." The Brigadier drew his revolver and headed for the door. "Stay here, Miss Tyler."

"No chance!" countered Rose, hot on his heels.

Bursting through the now-open door, the Brigadier emptied the chambers of his firearm in the direction of the crows. Several of the creatures dropped lifelessly to the ground but the others remained undisturbed, as their relentless consumption of the Doctor's life-force persisted.

"It's no good!" the Brigadier admitted, throwing his ineffective weapon to the ground.

"They're killing him!" Rose observed, helplessly. "We need to help!" With that, Rose started a steady run, desperate to come to the aide of her friend.

"Please accept my apologies, Miss Tyler," the Brigadier lamented, as he grabbed her by the shoulders and firmly dragged her back. With Rose suitably delayed, the Brigadier now broke into his own sprint.

Reaching the Doctor, the Brigadier clutched him and hauled him free from the converging beams of energy.

Gratefully taking a deep breath, the Doctor staggered back to his feet and turned to thank his rescuer. But as he turned he saw, to his horror, that the streams of Vortex power were now congregating on the Brigadier instead.

"Brigadier!" The Doctor stepped forward, ready to help him. But then he stopped.

The Brigadier wasn't showing any signs of pain. Not even mild discomfort.

"But that's impossible..."

"Doctor!" Rose skidded to a halt at the Doctor's side, throwing her arms around him in delight. "We need to help Alistair..."

"Don't you see, Rose? The energy's not having any effect on him. It's..."

In unison, a blood-curdling screech erupted from each of the crows.

"'s killing them!" the Doctor finished, astonished.

The beams of energy vanished and all of the crows came clattering to the ground, dead.

Rose rushed to the Brigadier, grabbing him in anticipation. "Are you OK?"

The Brigadier nodded. "I'm fine. Completely fine." He looked at the Doctor, completely baffled. "Doctor... What the devil just happened?"

"You know, I'd like to know the exact same thing..." The Doctor gave the Brigadier a quick scan with the sonic screwdriver. "This might be a stupid question but... you've never crossed your own timestream, have you?"

"If I had the faintest idea what you were talking about, I just might be able to answer that question."

"Hmm..." the Doctor pondered.

"Doctor?" Rose pressed.

"Those creatures were feeding on temporal energy," the Doctor started to explain.

"Which makes you an all-you-can-eat buffet?" reasoned Rose.

"Exactly. And then Alistair here came along and disrupted everything..."

Confused, Rose ran a hand through her hair. "But why were you asking him about crossing his own timestream?"

"The Blinovitch Limitation Effect," the Doctor stated. "Basically, in part, the discharge of energy that occurs when someone or something comes into contact with the exact same being, from a different time period."

"Are you talking about time travel?" exclaimed the Brigadier. "Don't be preposterous, man!"

"That's exactly what I'm talking about, Brigadier. I scanned you with the sonic and the readings are definitely there – residual temporal energy, left over by a really big Blinovitch Limitation Effect."

"And that's what killed the creatures?" Rose realised.

"Exactly. They feed off pure temporal energy... they couldn't handle such a huge paradox as the Brig here."

"A huge paradox? You sound just like Doris," the Brigadier said, his lips twisting into a wry smile.

"But something's not right..." acknowledged the Doctor. "Although there's no doubt this energy is all around you, Brigadier, it's... wrong."

Rose drew closer to the Doctor, now sharing in his obvious unease. "Wrong how?"

"Almost as if it was in flux. As if it has happened and yet... it hasn't happened at the same time... Something that was meant to happen but never did."

"Like...?" the Brigadier asked.

All three of them drifted into silence, the Doctor's words still lingering in the air. Several long moments passed, before the Brigadier's radio crackled into life.

"This is Bad Wolf to Greyhound, do you copy? Over?"

The Brigadier grabbed his radio and promptly replied. "Bad Wolf, this is Greyhound. The situation here has been neutralised. Over."

"Understood, Sir," came the voice on the other end of the radio. "Are you ready for collection? Over."

"Confirmed, Bad Wolf. ETA, over?"

"ETA five minutes, Sir. Over."

"That'll be all, Benton. Over and out."

The Brigadier re-pocketed the radio.

"Brigadier," the Doctor stated. "Thank you."

"I was just doing my duty, Doctor."

"No." The Doctor's eyes were sharp and sincere, fixated on the Brigadier. "You are so much more than that. It's because of people like you and Rose that I love this stupid little planet of yours. Brigadier, you were... you are fantastic."

The Brigadier shifted, slightly uncomfortable at the glowing compliments. "You're a splendid sort of chap yourself, Doctor."

The Brigadier was in an ornate tomb, two men standing in front of him: a tall man with a shock of white hair and a somewhat superfluous dress sense; and a much younger, fair-haired man in a cricket outfit. "Splendid fellows," the Brigadier declared. "All of you."

And then, the brief fragment of memory all but forgotten, the Brigadier continued to address the Doctor and Rose. "I don't suppose the two of you would like to come and work for me at UNIT?" he asked.

The Doctor laughed. "Me? Working for the army? I think I'll pass on that."

"Yeah, no thanks," Rose corroborated. "I'll stick with the Doctor."

"Can I at least provide you with some transport?"

"No need," the Doctor asserted. "We've got Bessie." And with that, the Doctor and Rose started to walk away.

"Can I at least get in touch with you if I need to?" the Brigadier bellowed after them.

"Oh, Brigadier," smiled the Doctor. "In your line of work, I really don't think it'll be too long before we meet again."

The Brigadier returned the smile, as he watched the Doctor and Rose disappear into the distance.


"So what's going on, Doctor? Really?" Rose looked at the Doctor expectantly, as he settled himself into the driver's seat of Bessie.

He sighed. "Something's wrong with time, Rose. Something's very, very wrong."

"Like what?"

"That's the worst part, Rose. I haven't got a clue."

The Doctor fired up Bessie and started the long drive back to London.

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