Monday, 15 August 2011

The Shadow Makers - Part 2

So, as promised, here is part 2 of The Shadow Makers, this time written by Joe Ford. Joe's best known for his Doctor Who reviews, and you can find links to his websites on this very page (he goes by the name 'Doc Oho' if you're a little confused!).

Hope you enjoy part 2, and part 3 (the final part of the story, and written once more by yours truly) will be available on Thursday - a week before the launch of series 4 of Consequences!

The Shadow Makers – Part 2

I don’t know quite where to begin but I guess it should be from the moment I left you. I stepped from the TARDIS into a huge laboratory, like the ones back on Earth where they developed weapons technology to fight the Daleks. I tried to get some sort of reaction from the scientists, waving my hands before their faces but it was clear to me that they couldn’t see me. Events were repeating, I realised that quickly, it was like somebody winding a watch back 30 seconds and playing the same events over and over. I wondered briefly if I was the only person who realised this and if I would be living out these 30 seconds for the rest of my life.

When I did break free of the loop I was greet by a strikingly beautiful woman. Rich red hair that cascaded down her shoulders and piercing green eyes, she shook my hand warmly and had a sweet, woody aroma about her. She introduced herself as Eleanor Novik, head of the Time Travel Research Division of the planet Manalex Alpha. I had been trapped within one of their experiments. They were testing their time travel technology, observing the effects of localised temporal repetition. No doubt you would find this much more fascinating than me, Doctor. To me it just sounded like another pointless war but this time with a far more dangerous battlefield than the one I was used to. Fighting with time technology would surely have disastrous consequences for both sides and it was probably all over some obscure detail that has grown out of proportion. When I realised the TARDIS had gone, my heart felt as though it had been crushed. Was I to remain trapped on this planet, as far away in time as I was in space during my imprisonment in the Mechanoid City?

For a month or so I moped about the City, uncommunicative and sullen, a petulant child lost in a strange world. I refused to acknowledge the beauty of this world. I wish you could have seen Manalex Alpha from the viewing port on the top of the Dome at Selafan. A lush, verdant world of exotic flora and beautiful colours, a stretch of forest, disappearing into the distance. Eleanor took me to the viewing port every night as the twin suns set, and the light would spill across the surface like a brilliant burst of orange before it plunged into darkness. For some reason she thought of me as her own little project and despite my resistance she wouldn’t give up on this moody outsider. I wouldn’t admit it at the time but her efforts were working and I was enjoying our time together. She used to tease me at my stubbornness and poked me in the ribs to make me laugh. I found her company charming.

I kept thinking you would return for me but after a few months that dream started to fade. After all we have only been travelling together for a month or so and you never asked me to join you in the first place, I just sort of thrust myself upon you. I started to make friends. Eleanor introduced me to her neighbours, Nebrox and Pellan, a married couple who had met during their work together at the TTR laboratories. They were funny guys, squabbling like old women. Nebrox’s laugh sounded hilariously like an elephants trumpeting and Pellan was a fantastic cook. It was during a meal with the three of them that I realised how much I was enjoying my time in the Dome and that I had now been on this planet longer than I had been travelling in the TARDIS. Eleanor proposed that night that I should join the research programme. She had spotted my expertise from the first time we met.

I had a very minor role within the programme, as much as Eleanor trusted to ask me to move into her quarters she clearly didn’t trust me to view the capsule. In the back of my mind I was wondering if I had manipulated her. She had told me about the capsule on our first meeting and I couldn’t shake that nagging feeling that I could use it to reach you once more Doctor or even return home. I knew I could lay on the charm when I wanted and no woman can resist the Taylor Technique, as it had been known during my training back home. Keep them at arms length, make them laugh and reel them in. That’s how I got involved with Christina, the psychological evaluator back at the Academy. She gave me her stuffed panda bear before I left on the mission that eventually left me stranded on Mechanus.

I had been on Malanex Alpha for around eight months when I managed to get more information about the capsule from Pellan. Nebrox was working late and I pushed my friend for more information about the war over dinner. It was far more civilised than the brutality of the Earth Empire’s conflict with the Daleks, two colonies on the same planet and both with their fingers poised to attack the other. The Selafan’s had sent an Emissary into the future who had returned with the most terrifying injuries, his arm withered away like old fruit and with a tale of a missing year that the two sides were fighting over. I asked how they had managed to develop time travel technology; I had seen nothing here to suggest that sort of technical knowledge. Pellan looked nervous and looked over his shoulder before telling me, like a rabbit trapped in headlights. He never was a particularly good liar and he wasn’t going to try it on with me now. The Research facility was a con; they had never developed the technology. A time craft visited Manalex Alpha and it had been appropriated and a prisoner taken. The government were sure this was Voltrani technology from the future, a device to head back in time and weaken their defences and leave them open to invasion. That made my mind up. I had to see this ship. I had terrible images of you and Vicki languishing in some prison cell whilst the TARDIS was experimented on.

The next day I had to make sure that everything seemed normal. I shared breakfast with Eleanor and we showered together. Guilt was gnawing at my mind, I was very fond of Eleanor now but Pellan’s tale had brought back a rush of feelings about a possible escape and a reunion with you and Vicki. We took the hover bus to the facility and I manned my console in my usual monotonous routine. Reading energy displays was hardly the most thrilling job I had ever had but at least it had been a foot in the door. Checking that nobody was looking, I pressed Eleanor against the console I was working on and embraced her warmly. She slapped me away, smiling and failed to notice my hand unclipping her identification. My heart was racing, an ache building in my head, if I was caught now it was all over and I would have lost my opportunity. I excused myself, having to get this done now.

Nebrox was manning the entrance to the secure area. Damn. What had I come to, lying to my friends and loved ones? I put on my best poker face and told Nebrox that Eleanor had asked me to check on the capsule. He was a surly, ruddy man and the confusion that crossed his face told me that I had been rumbled. Suddenly he collapsed into that mad hooting laughter of his and he said it wasn’t what you knew but who and clearly I was going up in the world. I felt awful, he would probably get into terrible trouble for this but despite that I swiped Eleanor’s ID and entered the chamber. I was determined to see this through.

It was bleached blood red, just like the squadron ships I used to fly in silent running mode to avoid Dalek patrol saucers. Electric blue flickers danced over the capsule at the end of the room, a battered blue police box with minty blue windows. The TARDIS! I ran across to the ship and pressed my head against its humming exterior. I had never been so happy to see that grotty old box, Doctor. Now I needed to discover where you and Vicki were being held.

The cells weren’t hard to find despite the low lighting and my paranoia eating away at my sanity. The guard ushered me through. Clearly just having access to the secure area was enough to grant you entrance anywhere within this section. There was a woman crouched in the corner of the furthest cell, hiding her face and weeping. I wanted to rush into the cell and hug you Vicki, to let you know everything would be okay. She must have heard me coming and uncurled herself, tears streaming down her face. It wasn’t Vicki. She looked furious and asked who I was. I introduced myself and she told me her name was Tegan Jovanka.

Before I could ask her anything alarms sounded and a strobe light blinded me. The guards restrained me violently, as though they hadn’t had the chance to rough anybody up for a long time. Naturally Eleanor was furious. She struck my face and grabbed my cheek with her razor sharp nails. She thought Tegan was a Voltrani spy and that I had infiltrated the Dome to help her escape. The Time Capsule, the TARDIS, was supposedly of Voltrani design and they had captured the machine seven months ago and had been running experiments on it ever since, developing a rudimentary understanding of its practices. This poor woman had been trapped in this cell on her own for seven months. Tegan was a feisty one for sure and the sudden chance to rail against her captors brought out the fire in her. I detected a twang of an accent, the Australasian zone perhaps?

I will never forget what happened next for as long as I live. Eleanor demanded that I reveal my intentions and my allegiances to the Voltrani. I refused to be intimidated, despite the fact that my arm was being twisted from its socket. Eleanor gave me one more chance but I remained square jawed in stony silence. She removed a device from her lab coat and pointed it at Tegan. A look of horror crossed the prisoners face as a beam of light crossed the threshold of the cell and enveloped her. I watched as her skin started to peel and blister, wither and wrinkle and she shrank into an old woman before my eyes. Tegan fell to the floor, a dirty grey husk and her clothes disintegrated to dust. Watching somebody age to death was the most horrific thing I had ever seen and I prayed I would never see anything like that again.

I thought it was my turn next but instead I was shoved into the cell. When they left me I sank to my knees and tears flowed, all my frustration and anguish pouring out of me. A prisoner again. Eleanor visited every day for months and I could see the resentment grow in her eyes with each visit. They never even bothered to take the blistered skeleton away. Eleanor never knew but Nebrox would sneak in for five minutes a day and give me news from Pellan and share a joke. He was a good man. Somehow he could see that I wasn’t a threat even if Eleanor could not. I kept reaching for Hi-fi, memories of Mechanus forcing me to seek that small comfort but he was in my room in the TARDIS.

Imagine four months of nothing. Just sitting. Thinking. Scant conversation and only a rotted skeleton for company. You ‘d think after years on Mechanus I would be used to this sort of thing but the borderm consumes you.

Voices arguing up the corridor. Shadows stretching along the floor, getting closer. Nebrox and Pellan were whispering furiously, shoving at each other. I could have wept at seeing Pellan again. They had come to help me escape although Nebrox was terrified of the consequences. Things had gone too far, Pellan told me. Eleanor had worked on the time travel technology with renewed vigour after my disloyalty. She had developed the temporal acceleration device into something on a much more impressive scale and the government had decided it was time for the Voltrani to pay for their deceitful infiltration and development of the time technology. I didn’t need to be told any more. The three of us stormed from the prison and I noted the guard lying unconscious, a bloody gash gouged from his skull.

If my betrayal had cut Eleanor deeply you should have seen her face when she realised who had helped me escape confinement. This had made her mind up, the Voltrani were a true menace, turning even the most loyal of heads to their cause. Nebrox could see she was programming the device to target the Voltrani Dome. He rushed at her but she quickly produced a gun and ripped three holes in his chest. I saw a pained look strike Pellan and he rushed to his lover’s side. Eleanor threw the lever and the enormous viewing screen came to life. Scientists held their mouths as if they were about to be sick as the blinding bolt of scarlet temporal energy tore across the surface of the planet and shattered the Voltrani Dome. You could see buildings accelerating into disrepair, people looking up and pointing at the inferno in the sky and crumbling into a fine grey powder, the plants withering to mulch. The City aged to death in less time than it took Eleanor to throw the lever.

My stomach twisted with revulsion and not even bullets could have stopped me reaching my ex lover now. She looked terrified as I drew myself to my full height and grappled with her. Pellan was weeping over his husband’s dead body. A City teeming with life had decayed before my eyes. What had I done to this world?

12 months. That’s how long I had been on Malanex Alpha. 12 months to bring this planet down. I knew what I had to do. After securing Eleanor I dragged Pellan from Nebrox and instructed him. Because I knew now. I knew why the missing year had vanished. It was me. I started this war by saving the Voltrani. I wasn’t going to let these terrible events take place when we had a chance to reverse them.

Pellan used the time equipment to clutch the planet in its claws and reverse events like ripping a page from a book. It was the oddest of sensations; time reversing felt like somebody was literally inside your head rewriting your history with furious intensity. I wondered why I wasn’t whipped back in time a year and how despite knowing that things had changed and my time on Malanex Alpha had never happened, I could still remember everything. A gift of the TARDIS, I suppose. Or a curse.

The laboratory was buzzing with life again. Eleanor was working at her console, passing equations to Nebrox and on the scanner the Voltrani Dome sparkled in the mid morning suns. The year had vanished – events had gone from when I arrived to now in the blink of an eye.

A wheezing and groaning sound echoed from the next room. As I passed a scanner on the way out I could see I had a full beard and my hair was flecked with grey. An effect of the time distortion? Or had that happened whilst I had been imprisoned? There you were, and Vicki and I could have wept with joy.

The Doctor patted Steven on the shoulder and handed him a glass of water.

‘Oh my dear Steven what an ordeal you have suffered’ he remarked, sitting in the chair next to him and steepling his fingers together close to his face and tapping his lip with them.

‘What’s wrong, Doctor?’ asked Vicki, still mesmerised by the emotion with which Steven had recounted his missing year on Malanex Alpha.

‘Don’t you see my dilemma, my child? If it wasn’t my TARDIS that Steven saw powering their wretched experiments then who’s was it, hmm? And who was this Jovanka woman that Steven speaks of? A dangerous business, messing about with time. Yes, very dangerous indeed.’  He stood up again, lost in his thoughts and walked towards the central console. His hands hovered over the controls, as if he was drawing power from them.

‘You don’t mean to say we’re just going to leave this mystery unsolved?’ Vicki asked, astonished.

‘Oh Vicki my dear sometimes it is better not to know. We have Steven back and with a few weeks rest and relaxation he will be as right as rain.’

Vicki sighed. She knew better than to argue with the Doctor when hiswas mind was made up. She led Steven to the living quarters. She would look after him until he was better.

The Doctor coaxed the ship into flight and leant on the hexagonal console, his dark eyes lit up by the flashing lights. He knew he couldn’t explain the intricacies of time travel to the child but this had been a close miss if one of his later selves had been out their involved in the war of this planet. He wondered when he would visit Malanex Alpha again and if it would be in this body accompanied by this Jovanka woman.

A flicker of a smile crossed his face. What an interesting life they led.

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