Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Vault of Neverwhile

A couple of days later than planned it may be, but that’s what comes from writing two stories in a row! Still, you get a bit of break from me after this one! Hope you enjoy the 8th Doctor and Lucie Miller’s adventure, and be sure to come back next week for Kevin Rhodes’ A Murder of Crows...

The Vault of Neverwhile

                “You have GOT to be kidding me! This is a joke, right?” Lucie looked around in disgust, wrinkling her nose at the sterile environment. “You’ve brought me to a flamin’ hospital? What are you trying to say?”

                The Doctor stepped from the TARDIS, ensuring he shut the door firmly behind him. “Lucie, Lucie, Lucie. Take a better look around. Does it really look like a hospital? The architecture’s all wrong for starters!”

                His companion spun around to face him. “Listen you, I know a hospital when I see one. And this is definitely...” she paused, taking in the scenery once more, “...possibly a hospital. Some futurey space hospital, but still a hospital.”

                The Doctor made to mouth the words ‘space hospital?’, thought better of it, and strolled over to her, grasping her by the shoulders. The look she gave him immediately made him regret it, and he backed off slightly, holding up his hands as if to deflect away any protest. “Tell you what, five minutes to explore. If you think it’s still a hospital or we come across any unsavoury happenings, we’ll hot foot it back to the TARDIS and be on our way.”

                Her scowl dissipated slightly. “You’ll really be able to walk away from any ‘unsavoury happenings’?” He nodded, though behind his back kept his fingers crossed. “Five minutes? Not a second more?”

                The Doctor smiled, noticing the faint twinkle in her eye. “Not a second more. Promise.”

                “Fine.” Lucie began to walk down the rather clinical looking corridor, then stopped abruptly almost causing the Doctor to career into the back of her. “Wait a minute. Did you hear that?”

                The Doctor listened intently. “No, nothing.” He paused, trying to ascertain once more what it was that his companion had heard. He cocked his head to one side, Lucie barely suppressing a grin. For thirty seconds he stood, head tilted, then straightened up. “Nothing at all.”

                Lucie rolled her eyes. “That was what I meant! Honestly you Time Lords really are something else! And what was all that? I was surprised you didn’t stick your ear to the ground to hear the buffalo stampede!”

                The Doctor looked at her, indignant. “I’ll have you know my hearing has been invaluable in the past, buffalo stampedes included.”

                Well that explains the outfit, thought Lucie. “Well that’s as maybe, but this is definitely not a hospital.” The Doctor gave her a blank look, almost as if he were going to say ‘I told you so’, but didn’t. Lucie looked around, pointing behind her. “See that looks like a window but...” She dashed over to it. “Oh my God! Now THAT I wasn’t expecting!”

                The Doctor followed her over, taking in the gleaming white walls and brushing his fingers over their completely smooth surface. He looked over Lucie’s shoulder, immediately aware of what had so stunned her. “You’re sure it’s not a ‘space hospital’?” he asked.

                Lucie had to double take at what he’d said. “A what? ‘Space hospital’? You’re definitely ‘avin’ me on now. It’s a spaceship, isn’t it? A great big sparkly new state-of-the-art spaceship.” Eyebrows raised as she awaited a response.

                “Oh Lucie! ‘State-of-the-art’? What does that even mean? No, this is one of the latest in contemporary innovative engineering!”

                Lucie continued to stare out of the ‘window’, gazing at the stars beyond. “Yeah, like I said, state-of-the-art.”

                The Doctor took a deep breath. “It’s very clean, very rich in oxygen too. Do you know, I have a feeling I know where we might be?”

                Lucie gave a short almost-laugh. “Do you know, I did have that feeling. Is there much you don’t know?”

                The Doctor hadn’t heard her, and had turned to investigate a plaque on the far wall.  He studied it carefully, though he found it hard to focus on the exact words in front of him. “Lucie, come and take a look at this.” No answer, so he tried once again. “Lucie?” He turned around suddenly expecting to find his companion sulking, arms crossed.

                But there was no sign of her.


                She felt disorientated at first, the ship seeming to lurch as if on water. She still faced outwards, looking at the stars beyond the confines of the ship. Yet...she shook her head then looked again. The outside appeared to be moving, though more realistically it must have been the ship.

                “Ok Doctor, that was all a bit weird. Since you’re in the know, what exactly is going on?” She turned round to face him, though her surprise was not at his absence, more at the dilapidation that had taken place around the ship. The walls, moments ago smooth and white, were now looking tainted by years of age, rusted and cracked. The whole corridor was insufficiently lit, flickering patches of luminescence the only guide as far as Lucie could see.

                “RIght Lucie, this is more than a little strange, but not more than talking to yourself. Snap out of it girl!” She took a deep breath. “Doctor? DOCTOR! Ok, so he’s definitely not around.” She felt the wall, the abrasive surface a sharp contrast to what had come before. Lifting her hand to her face she smelt the iron-like tang of rust.

                A noise made her turn, the shuffling of feet towards her. The strobing effect of the lights made the figure appear to jump forward in short bursts rather than the slow pace that it was actually moving in. Lucie squinted at it, attempting to see what it was.  The shambling outline was mere feet away when it stopped. Its head turned to Lucie as the lights highlighted its face, the skin cracked and blistered. It opened its mouth to speak, but no sound came, merely a noise like parchment folding.

                Lucie stepped back, the figure lifting an arm and pointing at her as if trying to reach her. The arm itself was frail, and as the lights flickered again Lucie could see it rapidly degenerating. The fingers turned to dust before her eyes, the arm following. The whole body was still as it gradually completely succumbed to the same fate, the image of horror left on the face being Lucie’s abiding memory. She put a hand to her own mouth in shock as what was once a person was now a pile of miniscule fragments, unrecognisable as anything human.

                She couldn’t quite believe what she’d seen, yet she knew it was real. Not quite sure what was happening caught her off-balance, and she wasn’t certain what the best course of action was in a situation like this.

                Lucie’s decision was made for her, as without warning, the section of corridor she was in peeled open like a tin of sardines, exposing the area to space momentarily before the emergency systems kicked in, creating a protective shield over the hole. She looked across the gap to where the TARDIS was ‘parked’ on the other side, and knew she had to press on.

                She walked a short way before she found the writing.  In huge letters on the wall was scrawled: BEWARE HUMANITY

                “That’s an odd thing to write. Odd, and a little disconcerting.” Lucie shrugged and continued. She hadn’t recognised the handwriting, and thought little of it, merely played out the words over and over in her head. What could they mean?

                The erratic lighting continued as she moved further along, encountering no one else – the factor was one of immense relief – until Lucie came to a vast cathedral-like room, that tapered up to a point way too far above her vision for it to be clearly discernable. Moving to the side of the room, she noticed slightly-larger-than-human-sized ‘pods’, which seemed to be designed with a humanoid occupant in mind.

                Lucie let out a long whistle in awe. “Now THIS is a spaceship! It’s massive! And...you’re talking to yourself again Lucie.”

                As she looked up, taking in the spectacle, she didn’t notice the withered hand reaching out to touch her shoulder.


                “Ok, missing companion. I’ve dealt with that before, not a problem. First of all though it would be good to find out precisely what’s going on,” the Doctor muttered walking down a rather large corridor. He almost felt compelled to shield his eyes with an arm, so glaring was the whiteness of the walls.

                Before he knew it he’d entered a vast room, human beings encased in compartments as far as the eye could see. All appeared frozen, ready to begin the immense journey through the stars. Having seen it all before, the Doctor wasn’t fazed, but a small blinking red light on a control panel did catch his attention.

                “Well that’s not good! No wonder the air was so full of oxygen, it’s being pumped out at an alarming rate!” With a few deft hand movements, he slowed the air-flow to a much safer level, before both of his arms were grabbed from behind.  “Ah, the welcoming commitment! How do you do? I’m the Doctor, and I would extend a hand except you appear to have me at a disadvantage. Any chance I can have my limbs back?” The grip on them tightened considerably. “That’s a ‘no’ then.”

                The Doctor was spun around and came face to face with his captors. One was a haughty looking woman who, the Doctor thought, would be attractive if it weren’t for the severe look on her face. The other was a man of similar size, not overly muscular but with an obvious upper-body strength. It was the latter that had placed a pair of handcuffs over the Doctor’s wrists in order to avoid having to constantly keep him at an uncomfortable angle. The Doctor noticed this and looked down at his bindings. “Well, thank heaven for small mercies I suppose. And you are?”

                “Apprehending you. A saboteur no less.” She looked him over. “Quite the eccentric, aren’t we? One of those radical politicos are we?” She sneered at him, bringing her face close to his own.

                The Doctor shrugged. “Well I dabble you know, bit of this, bit of that. Only this time, I had no agenda at all, just looking to set your systems back to normal.”

                The woman motioned for her companion to direct the Doctor out of the room. “Oh I sincerely doubt that. The systems had been checked and rechecked. Nothing would have been wrong in here without me noticing it.”

                The male indicated for the Doctor to move forward, but the Time Lord raised his arms before doing so. “One question, before I go – where is it I’m going by the way?”

                With no expression whatsoever, the woman said, “The vault.”

                “Ah right, some kind of brig, holding cell, that type of thing I imagine. Ok, that’s as maybe, but how do you know someone didn’t infiltrate your defences, circumvent your security protocols?” He raised his eyebrows and gave a slight smile.

                The woman said nothing, merely followed the pair of them out of the room. They proceeded down the corridor to a lift, all the while none of them speaking.  Eventually they reached the lower levels of the ship, and were face to face with a door locked and protected by numerous secure features. The woman motioned for her partner to begin deactivating the security, and the Doctor watched impressed, mumbling about each and every one that he saw.

                Finally, the door slid open. The room beyond was smaller than the door would have indicated, though it was packed with a sizeable amount of crates, objects and what appeared to be scientific equipment. The man grabbed the Doctor’s shoulder and made to thrust him into the room beyond, yet the Doctor never felt the force of the man’s hand.

                The Doctor turned and looked to see the other man fallen to the floor, the woman standing over him with an electronic device in her hand. She aimed it at the Doctor’s handcuffs which fell away. He looked at her quizzically. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, but just what is going on here?”      

                She was by now dragging the body of the other man into the vault, and after doing so, resealed the door. “He was no security officer. He’s a terrorist infiltrator. He’d been hiding out in the vault, we saw him on the security scan when he left it. The vault was the only place we thought no one would be. The protection on it is impervious to attack.”

                “Or so you thought. Now I can understand why you went through the whole charade of arresting me, but what do you think I can do? I’m just a traveller, passing through.”

                The woman looked up and saluted him. “The old legends speak of you. When you were needed, you always came, defending the Earth, saving it from invasion. It is an honour Doctor, and I apologise for the circumstances of our first meeting.”

                The Doctor smiled, a little bemused. “Let’s forget about all that. What matters is we’ve caught him and he’s locked back up. That’s right, isn’t it?” He watched her face contort slightly. “That’s not it is it?” Suddenly he remembered something he shouldn’t have forgotten. “Lucie! You haven’t seen my friend have you? So high, hair, all her own teeth, can be a little overbearing on occasion?”

                The woman shook her head. “You may have saved all those in cryo-sleep for now, but there’s something else out there. A virus, let loose from the vault when he escaped.”

                The Doctor nodded. “Yes I knew there was something else. Airborne pathogen is it? No that’d be too obvious.” He held up a finger. “Don’t tell me, give me a moment...not water based...what would need to be kept in a high security vault?” He tapped his foot while he thought, then suddenly, beaming, said, “Aha! Language! In sound, but not every sound, oh no, it’s got a trigger word hasn’t it? Any ideas?”

                The woman – the Doctor realised now was called Valeria after clocking her name badge – looked at him despondently. “That’s the problem. It’s adaptable to its environment. We don’t know what the trigger is. And if we don’t find it, humanity will be at an end.”


                Lucie turned just before the hand landed on her shoulder and gave a short yelp. She stared at the figure before her. It was a female, that was clear enough, but she was older. It was as if, like the other figure she’d seen, that she’d aged rapidly, her very being rushed through physical changes in a short space of time.

                “Hi...there, “ uttered Lucie, staring at the figure. “I don’t know what I’m doing in here really. Well I do, it’s just that...” Without being conscious of the fact, she found herself stepping slowly backwards, away from the woman.

                One thing Lucie noticed was that the woman wasn’t in such a devastated state as the other figure she’d seen, and her prognosis was confirmed when the woman spoke to her. “Lucie? You are Lucie?”

                Lucie was confused, but did her best not to show it. “Yeah, that’s right. I came here with the Doctor. You’ve not seen him have you? Tall bloke, foppish hair, terrible dress sense?”

                The woman nodded and pointed out of the room. “He is here, fighting the disease, trying to save mankind once more.”

                “Yeah, he tends to do that a lot.” She glanced around the room again, noticing that half the ‘pods’ were empty. “Where are the passengers? Stocking up on their duty free?”

                The woman gave her a steely look. “They are dead, or dying. The others will follow if the Doctor cannot save them. This curse,” she held up her own withered hands, “it’s affecting the ship – the whole ship.”

                Lucie thought back to the rust and decay she’d seen, the ship obviously in a state of disrepair. “You’re not kidding!” She looked down at her own hands, realising with some relief that the disease hadn’t spread to her. “Hang on, if everyone’s dying, how come I’m not infected?”

                The woman stumbled, and Lucie without thinking went to her aid. “Thank you.” She stood up, using all her reserves of strength to do so. “The virus is not spread through the air or by touch. It is spread by the speaking of a word.” She paused, anticipating Lucie’s question. “We do not know what it is, but all who are infected have spoken it.”       

                Well that’s new, though Lucie, but I’d better be careful what I say.


                The Doctor and Valeria made their way back to the upper levels, Valeria feeling slightly fatigued. The Doctor noticed her legs beginning to give way beneath her, caught hold of her. “Tired? I imagine you’ve had a few sleepless nights lately.”

                Valeria shook her head. “None at all. In fact I’ve sleep better lately than I have in my whole life.”

                The Doctor’s face turned. Gone was the carefree expression he usually wore, now there was a grim seriousness to his demeanour. “Something’s wrong. This disease, what does it do?”

                Valeria sat in the small seat situated towards the back of the lift. “No one really knows for sure. It got nicknamed ‘Neverwhile’. All I do know is that it affects the flow of time somehow. Why and how I don’t know.” She looked down at her hands. The skin seemed to be thinned slightly. She saw in the polished surface of the lift wall that her hair was starting to be flecked with grey.

                The lift arrived at its destination and the Doctor grabbed Valeria’s hand, pulling her out and into the clinical white corridor. “Listen, I will find a cure to this. I need to find my friend Lucie, make sure she’s not in any immediate danger and then...” He stopped, staring at the plaque he’d been looking at earlier. Around it, the wall was looking weathered, the whiteness fading, the metal eroding. “It’s infecting the SHIP! How is that possible?” He turned, looking out into the blackness of space. “And now we’re light years out from Earth already. Who’s controlling it?”

                Valeria coughed, waving away the Doctor’s offer of more assistance. “It’s all automated. What crew were around when we left will have been put into cryo-sleep now, which is where I should be.”

                The Doctor smiled. “YES! That’s it! It’ll stop the spread of the virus, at least for now.”

                The hurried along the corridor, frantically dashing to the room they had first met in. Sure enough, an empty chamber was labelled with Valeria’s name. She stepped in, the Doctor sealing it behind her and mouthing ‘I’ll solve it’, watching as the compartment did its work.

                Alone in the vast space, the Doctor began to think about what word could be causing the spread of the infection. He was about to head back to investigate the plaque, when the scene around him changed. There were empty pods, and directly in front of him, “Lucie!”

                “Doctor! What’s happening?”

                He tried to grab hold of her, but nothing tangible remained. “It’s the ship Lucie, it’s breaking up. It’s a virus.”

                She nodded. “I know, she told me.” She pointed to the woman beside her, who the Doctor immediately recognised. She hadn’t turned to him, but the Doctor knew that it was Valeria.

                He composed himself, focussing on the situation in hand. “This virus seems to affecting time as well, creating an uncertainty. I’m not really here, but you’ve been sent forward in time. How far I wonder?”

                Lucie shrugged. “Weeks, months – how long could this take to happen?”

                Valeria turned to the Doctor. “Minutes. That’s all it’s been. It seems like years and to look at me that’s what you’d think. The moment I was put into the chamber, the erosion started around me. The virus it seems spreads through anything connected with the word.”

                “Valeria, it’s never been more important than now, and you’ve figured it out haven’t you?”       She nodded, her eyes feeling heavy, her limbs aching until...

                “NO!” The Doctor watched in horror as she crumpled before him, Lucie turning away, not wanting to see the same sight she’d already witnessed. She grabbed the Doctor’s arm.

                “We’ve got to leave here. There’s nothing we can do, is there? Nothing to save...”

                “Humanity!” The Doctor’s realisation came quickly, and the effect on him was instantaneous. He could see his own skin changing, becoming older. It was a slower process than for the humans, but a visible change nonetheless.

                “Oh Doctor, what have you done?” Lucie looked at him in despair, before brightening slightly. “The TARDIS! They’ll be something there to help you. C’mon you great lump, we’ve got to head back there now!”

                The Doctor nodded. “For once I can’t argue with you. But if we make it back....”

                If? Don’t be so daft! Of course we’ll make it back. You’ve got me looking after you.” They smiled at one another, the Doctor now able to take hold of her.

                “Lucie, the timelines have conjoined. We’re back together! The virus doesn’t seem to be constrained even by time, it’s breaking the barriers between events.” He stopped, looking at his companion. “We can’t let it leave this ship. It’s got to be contained.”

                She pulled at him. “Never mind that, we need to get back to the TARDIS before I end up saying, you know, the word by accident.”

                “’Humanity’. If it wasn’t so appalling it’d be impressive. A weapon that locks onto a word, a concept, and destroys it.” The Doctor’s steps were becoming more laboured, heavier and slower than usual.

                Lucie had remembered they’d needed to go a different way to reach the TARDIS after the section of ship had broken away. It seemed to be taking forever, the extra distance in addition to the Doctor’s condition not making it any easier. Finally, the blue box was in sight, and she almost dragged the Doctor towards it, then fumbled in his pockets for the key.

                The pair of them fell into the console room, the Doctor staggering over to the controls. He placed his hands on two pads, closing his eyes and screwing them up in concentration. It took all of his effort to do so, as he fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, seemingly lifeless, as soon as it was over.

                Lucie rushed to his side. “Hey, come on, you can’t let it win now. There must be something in this knackered old ship that’ll sort you out!”

                “Knackered? Old ship?” The Doctor barely able to form the words still managed to mouth them, though in little more than a whisper.

                “See, knew that’d get your attention.” Lucie smiled weakly, and the Doctor responded in kind, seemingly inert once more. Lucie shook him, trying to provoke some reaction, yet nothing came. She could feel a hot stinging in her eyes, though held it in. Lucie Miller didn’t cry, not like this. Not over some prat with bad hair and a dress sense to match. She laughed nervously, holding the Doctor’s hand in her own. She checked for a pulse, but felt nothing, no sign of either of his heartbeats.

                   From behind her came a ‘pop’, and she turned immediately. Standing in the console room was an older man dressed in what looked like the approximation of the attire of a city gent, on his way to the office. He raised his bowler hat in greeting. “Ah, Miss Miller isn’t it? The Doctor said you’d be here.”

                Lucie stood up, wiping her eyes. “Who the ‘ell are you? And how’d you get in here?”

                The man smiled. “The Doctor called us. It seems you’ve both been in rather a spot of bother. All fixed now though. “

                Lucie rounded on him. “All FIXED? The Doctor’s dead! How is that fixed, eh? How is it FIXED?” She had to stop to keep her tears in check, and the grin on the man’s face hardly helped.

                “On the contrary, he’s very much alive – look!” He pointed behind Lucie, and she turned to see the prone figure stir. Suddenly, he staggered to his feet – using what energy Lucie could only guess at – and turned to his companion.

                “Thank you Lucie, for everything.” What seemed to be fire shot out from his hands, and his head tilted back, the bright light engulfing his neck and face too.

                Lucie watched as his features began to change, the hair shrinking away to far less, ears becoming more pronounced. Within seconds, it was over, a new man standing in the Doctor’s place. He looked over at Lucie and the man behind her.

                “Hello Lucie.” He grinned broadly, then looked down at his clothes. “What am I wearing?”

                Lucie stepped forwards gingerly. “Doctor?”

                He spread his arms wide. “The very same.” He felt his head. “I’ve had a haircut. Fantastic!” He grinned once more, then fell to the floor in the same spot he’d occupied earlier.

                Lucie turned to the other man. “So, what exactly just happened?”

                “It’s a little trick we have, when our body needs an overhaul. He’ll be fine after a little rest.” The man headed over to the console, adjusting levers and pressing buttons. “He needs a little...convalescence. We’re going to send him to Earth. Oh, and disable his TARDIS of course. Don’t want him getting up to any mischief now, do we?”

                “And what am I meant to do?” Lucie placed her hands on her hips defiantly.

                “Why,” the man flicked one last switch and the TARDIS began its take-off procedure, “look after him of course.”

                Lucie looked offended. “Be his nursemaid? You have GOT to be joking!”

                The man raised his eyebrows. “Well it’s the least you can do, given the circumstances. We’ve sealed the virus in a time bubble. For now. If we hadn’t intervened – loath as we are to do so – who knows what would have happened?”  

                Lucie was going to protest, started to do so, then gave up on the idea.

                The man jammed the hat back on his head and gave her a wave. “Good luck Lucie Miller, and bon voyage!” Then, with a ‘pop’, he vanished from the ship once more.

                “Hey,” Lucie yelled after him, “where are we going?”

                From the ether, a voice called out, “I’ve set the coordinates for a little place called Blackpool. Nice seaside, plenty of fresh air. It’ll do the Doctor the world of good.”

                Lucie smiled.

                She was going home.

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