Not Necessarily In That Order

Another blast from the past – a late nineties Doctor Who story first published in “Perfect Timing” a charity anthology dedicated to raising donations for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. http://fsid.org.uk/

 

 

The Middle.

The Tardis fell lazily from the promontory, accompanied by a happy cheer from the soldiers, who moments before had been dragging its blue bulk to the cliff edge. It fell upside down for the first hundred metres then, clipping an outcrop of grey limestone it began to spin; end-over-ending, gaining speed. A series of sickening crunches and thwacks echoed around the valley as the Police Box continued its downward plunge, kicking up puffs of dust as it struck the cliff-face and uprooting the odd tree. Finally, with a great upsurge of white spray it entered the torrent that cut a vicious division between the two mountains. After a second or so, its blue shape bobbed to the surface of the boiling river and it began to move at  pace downstream.

‘Oh yes they would.’ said Romana.

The Doctor was craning his neck over the edge, following the Tardis as long as he could before it disappeared around a tortuous bend in the river; his fingers playing cats cradle without any visible signs of string.

‘You know, I was fairly sure they weren’t going to do that.’

Well going by today’s track record I’d say it was a foregone conclusion. What are we going to do?’

‘Get very wet at some point I imagine. We need to find a route down to the river, we’re fairly sheltered from the guards here … ‘

Thok. Thok. Thok.

Three arrows trembled in the tree-bark, slightly nearer than an uncomfortably close distance from the Doctor’s head.

‘There they are! Kill them!’

Grabbing Romana’s arm in one hand and the trailing ends of his scarf in the other, the Doctor crashed his way between the trunks of the trees. The forest came alive with feather plumed soldiers and bowmen. Bow strings twanged and arrows sizzled through the air around them as they ran. Romana ducked as an arrow thudded into a tree close by. She noticed in passing that the Doctor’s felt hat was neatly skewered along the shaft.

‘My hat!’ yelled the Doctor at the following throng of Palace Guards and bow-men. ‘That cost thirteen guineas in Saville Row!’

Thok. Thok. Thok.

Romana was leading the Doctor now, her blond hair streaming behind. She pulled him on as ‘he half turned to wave an indignant fist at their pursuers. ‘Come on!’ She shouted breathlessly, yanking his arm.

The trees were thinning up ahead and clear open grassland could be seen beyond.

Romana realised that now the cliff edge was to the left of them and behind; the forest growing all the way to its precarious lip. She brushed stray hairs from her mouth with her free hand. ‘Once – we’re – out – in – the – open, they’ll kill -us.’

The Doctor was rummaging in his pockets with his free hand. ‘That’s – a- fairly – accurate – analysis – of the – ‘ Thok. Thssss. Thssss. Thok. Thok. Thssss. Thok, ‘ situation – any bright ideas?’

‘I once thought – it would be useful – to attach a key ring finder- you know – the one’s that whistle back to you – to a television remote control – but other than – that – no.’

‘Thank – you – Romana – for – your – invaluable – help.’

A sound like that of a battleship’s sonar struck up a steady beeping in the Doctor’s hand. He began pulling Romana, from her preferred route, (a thick clump of trees on the edge of the forest) to a path that would lead them out into the open – much more quickly than the young Time Lady found entirely acceptable.

‘No!’ She shouted at his flapping coat tails and whirling scarf. ‘Not that way! They’ll be on us in seconds!’

His grip was one of iron and she was unable to resist. Realising, that by struggling, she was actually slowing them down, she relented and ran with him, flinching as arrows fell around her and clattered into branches.

There were fewer and fewer trees; there appeared to be more and more guards. There was nowhere else to go. It was if the guards sensed the futility of the escape route they were taking and were egged on by it, closing in a semi-circle of colour and shouting.

Romana suddenly realised that they were now being herded. Herded out into the open. The Doctor and Romana burst out of the trees into the grassland and stopped.

Twenty Arrows were loosed from their bows.

The End

‘But I’m usually so good with Kings.’

They had walked a kilometre through the dank darkness, their progress illuminated by several of the Doctors so-called everlasting matches. There had been several exchanges along the lines of:

‘It’s gone out again! I thought you said these things were Everlasting!’

‘Well that’s what it said on the poster! Then again, Advertising Executives do tend to bend the truth slightly more than a Politician with a mistress. ‘

A frosty silence had enveloped them for another half-kilometre or so of knuckle scraping and shin barking. Until the Doctor, displaying his annoying habit of conveniently forgetting that Romana had started a frosty silence, (in the vain hope of even an approximation of an apology for getting her nearly killed again) began bemoaning his lack of success with King Tammanan.

‘Oh, you’re usually so good with everybody.’ A propensity for sarcasm was something that Romana had noticed she had developed since joining the Doctor on his travels. She put it down to meeting so many Earthlings. They were good at sarcasm.

Romana realised that she still needed to work on the skill as the Doctor seemed oblivious to her use of it. His smile threatened to meet around the back of his head and cut loose his cranium, ‘Am I? Good. It’s vitally important to be appreciated.’

He wiped his glistening brow with one tasselled end of his scarf. ‘I have in the past prided myself on my diplomatic legerdemain, and I thought, judging by King Tammanan, even though we were under arrest at the time, that he would turn out to be a reasonable man. All that guff about chopping us up into little bits and throwing us onto the compost heap in the Royal Garden came as a complete surprise. I can tell you.’ He stopped as if struck by a sudden thought that would explain everything, ‘But then my past history with gardeners, royal or otherwise, has not been particularly … productive. Fingers not green enough I suppose. If King Tammanan hadn’t been so suddenly interested in my theories on propagation and crop rotation, I don’t think we’d have escaped from the palace at all.’

The Doctor bathed in his own self-satisfaction for a moment. ‘Still I would have liked to find out why we’d been arrested before we needed to escape.’

Romana was also cultivating the art of changing the subject. Why do you think the guards didn’t follow us down here into the caves?’

The Doctor goggled his eyes, shrugged and turned the comers of his mouth downwards. It seemed to Romana rather a lot of expression to use to accompany a solitary ‘Dunno.’ But there you are, she thought, that was the Doctor all over – lots of noise; but a definite lack of signal.

‘It’s just that, do you think that, well, those … .’

‘Skeletons.’

‘Yes the skeletons. Do you think they were the reason they didn’t follow us?’

‘I try not to look a gift cave entrance in the mouth. Especially when there are a certain amount of arrows involved. The hand-sonar is a wonderful device for finding escape routes but it’s not terribly discriminating.’

‘Did you notice the odd way the skeletons were laying?’

He lit another match. ‘You noticed that too?’

‘That laying in a sort of torn apart in a fairly violent manner kind of way.’

‘Yes.’

‘And?’

‘I thought they’d been torn apart too.’

Romana considered starting a serious huff at this point but the three fingered claw that lashed out of the darkness with a whoosh of stale and foetid air turned her emotions in quite the opposite direction.

What is it?’ she yelled.

‘Time to start running!’ The Doctor yanked the collar of her jacket as a second clawed limb whipped through the space Romana had just been occupying. Pushing her ahead with bony fingers he guided her along a side tunnel – a tunnel just not quite high enough to run headlong down without whacking your head on rocky outcrops. The creature snarled and set off after them – its claws screeching off the dry rock like clashing broadswords – throwing up hellish sparks in the gloom.

The Doctor and Romana being roughly half the size of their pursuer found themselves making much better progress through the tunnel than the creature. Soon they found that a brisk trot rather than a headlong pelt would keep them ahead of the creature. Jogging backwards the Doctor tried to get a closer look at the pursuing animal in the glow from his match.

In brief snatches, like a night flying airship caught by searchlights, the Doctor took in thirty centimetre claws, blood matted fir, saliva bathed incisors which seemed to have serrated edges and eyes as big and as red as boxing gloves.

‘Impressive.’

“Think I – can see a – light up – ahead.’ said Romana.

‘Good,’ said the Doctor turning around, ‘We’ll be alright as long as we don’t come out into a Iarger cave.’

They came out into a larger cave.

The light ahead was small but bright, showing a clear patch of sky.

The creature burst from the constricting tunnel like a champagne cork popping out of a bottle.

The Doctor and Romana, not able to spare the time to say ‘Run.’ Ran.

The creature was better equipped to cover the rough terrain of the cavern and in a matter of bounds had nipped a chunk out of the Doctor’s coat and ripped a ragged tear in the end of his flailing scarf. Hot breath fell on his exposed neck with droplets of gooey saliva – he cringed beneath the expectation of a final killing blow.

So it was, with eyes closed, that the Doctor found himself out in the clear air.

Falling.

Yes falling. He opened his eyes just to check this fact.

‘Ah’

Looking up at the rapidly diminishing cavern exit, he saw the creature snarling and spitting, unable to get through. He noted with a wry smile that it was no better looking in daylight than it had been in the darkness.

Falling.

Yes.

He looked down.

The river was wide and looked deep. As did Romana’s mouth as the scream trailing out of it met up with the Doctor, some ten metres above.

Plash.

Pause.

Plosh.

It was not far to the shore. After the initial chill shock of the entry into the water they both managed to swim the short distance and drag themselves up onto a white sandy beach.

The Doctor lay on his back, breathing heavily. Well that was quite exhilarating.’

Romana decided that now was the time for a really good, long, satisfying, huff. She began it with a determined sigh, rolling over to face away from the Doctor, just so he’d be sure that the huff had begun.

‘Oh no!’ she said. The huff had not even yet got into the shoulder shrugging – hands jammed into pockets – crinkled nose stage – and she’d had to let it dissipate.

What is it?’

Turning over had brought the opposite bank of the river into view. There, caught by a rocky outcrop at the foot of the cliff was the TARDIS. Three ugly black cross bow bolts were embedded in its door.

Slowly they got to their feet, walked into the water and began to swim.

Half way to the beached Timeship, the Doctor called back to Romana, ‘You know, it’s a real pity to have to leave here.’

‘Go on surprise me.’

‘I still don’t know what upset King Tammanan so much.’

It was more or less at this point that Romana perfected the swimming huff.

The Beginning

Henderman pushed the damp earth around the stalks of the Petura Plant with his fat stubby fingers. He rocked back on his meaty haunches and smiled. Today was the day.

Henderman had always wanted to say that his father and his father before him and his father before him had been Gardener to the Royal Household. It sounded so good when other servants around the Court said that about their families. So majestic and proud. The truth was that his father had been Swineherd to the Royal Household and had come home every night smelling of pig-shit. The only thing his father had ever grown had been verucas.

But now Henderman was the first in his family’s unillustrious history to be on the verge of greatness. The Petura Plant had budded.

Budded.

In his five years as Royal Gardener, since the sudden and unexplained death of Borax the previous incumbent of the title whom he’d had been apprenticed to, Henderman had been striving to cultivate a Petura Plant. And now he had succeeded.

‘Unexplained that is, except to me.’

He saw again Byrax’s wide eyes and heard again the terrified scream as the Vulpanile had ripped open his body. A body that only minutes before he had staked out in the entrance of the Royal Caves for the darkness-dwelling Vulpanile to seek out.

It had helped enormously, in covering up the death or Borax, that while searching, twelve of the Palace Guard had been killed by the Vulpanile in the cave.

It had not been murder of course, oh no, no, no! Just the gardeners way; cutting out the dead wood to allow the fresh, young growth to flourish. Something that Byrax himself had taught Henderman.

There had been tears, how could there not be? When someone as revered and as respected as Borax just upped and left the Kingdom without a word?

King Tammanan put it down to his own incessant desire to see a flowering example of the Petura Plant – which Borax had been unable to cultivate and so had left the kingdom in shame – to embark, the King surmised sagely, on years of self-enforced penury with the hermits in the high mountains.

Henderman went along with this view. Well, in public at least.

But, today was the day. The Petura Plant had budded, the first example seen in the Kingdom for over two hundred years. With unbounded glee Henderman had ordered his apprentice Julk to the Palace to send word to the King.

Henderman used his silver scissors to trim the last few blades of grass around the Petura Plant to a uniform length as he heard the hoof beats approaching. He got to his feet, turned to the approaching convoy of brightly coloured pennants and glinting armour; and bowed, bowed double until his forehead was almost in contact with his knees. In the periphery of his vision the sturdy white fetlocks of King Tammanan’s charger clattered to a halt.

‘Henderman!’ cried the King. ‘Henderman is it true? The Petura Plant?’

Henderman enjoyed the moment, pausing before starting to lift his head.

There was suddenly a movement in the air against his backside, a grinding, bellowing howl issuing forth from the very atmosphere. As if the impregnable fabrics of the universe were being ripped asunder. Henderman leapt forward as energy crackled and fizzled around his breeches. He collided with the King’s charger, who unused to sudden unceremonial movement eared up, depositing the King in a flurry of crown and scarlet cloak onto the wet earth next to Henderman.

Out of the air a form was materialising, blue, tall and solid – covered in strange unreadable symbols – topped off with a yellow flashing light.

Soldiers nervously unsheathed their swords and put bolts into their crossbows as aides rushed to the King’s side, helping him shakily to his feet.

The noise from the materialisation began to diminish to silence. Soon all that could be heard was the singing of the birds in nearby trees, the snorting of the horses and the anxious breathing of the Palace Guard.

As one the entire Royal Party flinched as the front of the blue box split vertically from top to bottom and swung backwards.

A tall curly haired figure walked imperiously from the black depths within, followed closely by a pretty blonde girl dressed as a harlequin.

‘Oh Hello.’ Said the tall curly haired one stepping forward, ‘We don’t usually get welcoming committees. Look lively there Romana.’

Henderman froze.

No.

He looked down. Where the Petura Plant had been was now a stout leather boot with a multicoloured scarf trailing across one scuffed toe-cap.

‘No!’

There was a collective and rather loud intake of breath.

The Doctor looked around expectantly, giving he felt, his most winning smile.

King Tammanan’s face flushed red as his cloak and he turned to bark orders to his retinue.

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A Moment on Star-Fall

I held her in the rose-apple summer of another day running from the Hellion assault her lips pressed hard against my ribcage on my startled skin her breath chilled sweat and her hot candle wax face smeared itself into my chest and she tried to crawl inside me where she would be safe from the Hellions swinging through the sky on their blasts of smoke and sparks and ashes where I could shield her from their punch-spike eyes and the cold leather slapping of their raggedy wings I cuddled her nearer into me as she dredged from her guts and her bowels silence when I knew her lips wanted nothing more than to scream the clean pure scream of her failure to me and rattle the teeth of my thinking in their rocking sockets I could measure that stalled scream as she trembled in my arms as a league of fear or ten thousand fathoms of bitterness it was the birth of a new electricity a fusion reactor of potential sound she was pushing back down inside so that she would not be found and she would be safe until the squadron of cinder faced Hellions had passed into the clouds above us the trees too far away to give us cover and if I tried to move us across the plain we would be surely seen and nailed through our bones to the trees as warning totems against our advancing army to show what had become of us and of what would become of them I tried to think about the first moment I had held her like this in those days before she had become the killer before she had turned her hand to judicious murder and the severing of heads for astonishing delight her smile as she brought the axes down on their blind white necks and the eyes she took out with the exactness of a watchmaker making her cruellest creation and before she had stood tall above a world history flowing around her as a river does an island and her howl of triumph and blood across this land could be heard up and down the centuries as pages scribed by historians with pens carved from their own bones and yet here she was reduced to the weight of a petal denounced hunted torn from her diamond throne and forced to run across a world where once she strode as the Queen of the Night and the only true God-Empress of Star-Fall up there in the high galleries of the castle that I could see burning in the blue distance before the last broken treaty with Hellia had silted so much death around her choking fear and I kissed the top of her head and smelt again that first summer where she had courted me to be her consort to sit by her side whilst she took this world by its throat and led her dead fathers armies to the gates of every citadel on Star-fall and I was there the day her battle-coronation tore the cathedral from its stone roots and shook the world I bore her three now dead sons their scorched bodies flung from battlements as we took the last skimmer from the castle leaving behind the only family I had ever known but she took me instead of the children because she know that I would protect her now in this the last hours of Star-Fall beneath the shadow of the Hellion hoards I can shelter her as the one tiny woman she has become and she believes hide her from the several dooms that have her scent and she lifts her head and I can see again those eyes which love me as no other she has loved she would tell me this in the first moments as the court doors closed and we were alone in the great hall she would reach a cool had down from the throne and run it along my cheek along my jaw and sometimes she would press a finger to my lips urging them to part and she would put fingers in my mouth so that I might taste her and she would look at me as if she were bestowing upon me the most precious possession in her gift and I would look back into her eyes and she would nod and smile and I would lower my head and she would ruffle my hair and I would stay like that in silence while she enjoyed the moment and I waited for her to signal when would leave much as I am staring at her now only I am above and she is below subdued and brimmed with fear and I can no longer hear the Hellions above us and now I know that it is time and I smile and I do not blink and I run my hand down from her slick wet hair and trace my finger along the side of her jaw and I see her smiling back and I press my fingertip to her lips and she knows what I want to do and she is happy with the reversal and she smiles and opens her mouth and I slip my finger inside the smile and then it is joined by another and then I curl my other cuddling arm around her and push a third finger into her mouth and I see the smile flicker like a guttering candle and I hold her tighter and start pushing my hand into her mouth and she starts to struggle but she cannot move and her jaw is jammed too wide to bite me and she sees in my punch-spike eyes that this is to be her death and I fancy I feel her acknowledgement and acquiescence as she realises what espionage has been committed and as death opens beneath her the last thing she’ll hear is my face smoke-crackling into cinders and my raggedy wings flapping me into the air on a column of ashes and sparks.

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The Book Spider

When I moved to Yorkshire last year, I took my books with me. Like
you do. Unfortunately, the house wasn’t ready to take all the books until I’d
put up some shelves, so I stacked all the books, in ASDA carrier bags in the
garden shed. I never did get around to putting up those shelves, and I’m no
longer in Yorkshire – but for a few months my library was stored in a shed in
bags. I’d look out of the window into the garden and in the gloomy evenings I’d
feel the potential “weight of knowledge” stored behind the clapboard,
dammed up in that damned shed.

Occasionally, I’d get a hankering for a particular book, perhaps
three and I’d go to the shed, and start the onerous task of searching, one bag
at a time, for the book I wanted. It was then that I encountered that spider.
Biggest one I’d ever seen. And it really didn’t seem bothered by me, other than
to seemingly say, “Turn off the light and bugger off eh? I’ve got some
important snickering to do.”

THE BOOK SPIDER
The shed strained under the weight of books,
Opening revealed its cool dusty dark,
Green plastic bags filled with my library,
Too much for the house before shelves are made.
Each ASDA carrier a paper brick,
A wall built against the shed’s clapboard hull,
Like a water tower stories were stored
For when my page drought broke to DIY.
And like a water tower, the mood grave:
The grim potential thick weight of something
Stored where it shouldn’t be: mid-air water
And unreadable words, both floods held back.
I’d come for two books in particular,
Three thousand guesses against my method,
Bend, shift, bend, shift another, shrink the floor
With the rustling mosaic; confined dance.
A blind finger fumble then dance some more.
I dismantled a whole library in
solitary, then banged it up again.
That’s when the spider came; scuttle, flicker,
An unconcerned eight legged suspension-bridge
Between bags. A balloon basket cut loose,
A smudge in hard pressed doodle legs
That would be sharp enough to cut through paper.
Web whispers, tumbleweed’s rotting train-set.
Slung inside her electric etch-a-sketch,
Hairy librarian stalking my fingers.
Wanting me to be quiet, wanting me to roll
The dark back over and leave her alone
To catch words like flies and beetles in webs.
Dotted crumbs from the librarian’s lunch,
A spider big as Hemmingway’s head; ancient.
Twist in the torque pull of the alien
A bugger the size of Yorkshire, steadfast
Not concerned by any of the eight of me.
Screwed down cold space. Earth’s blank of silence
I didn’t dare breathe the sudden vacuum.
Making contact with the chill certainty
Of extra-terrestrial existence,
I extended my finger to see who
Was more unsettled by the encounter.
The spider held against my finger,
Didn’t budge, it was the fulcrum
Over which the blunt reality of
Being human pivoted, it held me
In balance, looking at me, knowing me,
Reaching in me, climbing the alien
Right inside me, sliding the legs of its
Otherness neatly into my brain folds.
It knew that even when it walked away,
Slowly; bored, that its space Doppelganger
Would remain locked in the darks above my
cerebellum, Its web there strong as stretched
Diamond wire tempered in reactors.
It knew it could hinge open my head
And snicker out whenever it wanted.

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Season27

Back in the late 90’s, I got together with Steve Johnson to create Season27.

We had a plan to make a Season of Audio Doctor Who stories and release them for free on CD – we took our inspiration from the old Audio Visuals tapes (the ones that led to Big Finish)  – I wrote the scripts and did a bit of acting – Steve played the Doctor and we got a bunch of our friends and partners over to my place to drink too much, eat a lot and record three stories. Alistair Lock, Mark Dovonan, Tim (no Relation) Saward, Gareth (Nicest man in Doctor Who Fandom) Preston and others also gave up their time to indulge Steve and I in our fannish ways.

Steve did the brilliant music and he and I had huge fun making sound effects at his house in Braintree.

However, the quality of these three productions was such that they led directly to Steve and I being able to use them as calling cards to get our first pro work.

Westlake Films (whose website and films are well worth a look) are kindly hosting mp3s of those three stories. The Profit of Doom, The House of Pain and the The Stockbridge Terror.

You’ll find them here – http://www.westlakefilms.co.uk/season27.html

Go have a listen. Go on.

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Night Poem

Afterwards there are rucked covers,
Lost pillows and a bed at sea in a storm.

Before there was skin, hair in the wind,
Saliva blown from mouths, a dark slow river twisting

Through the jungle night. We kept our voices low,
In the hunt across the starlit stillness of water –

The ju-ju drums of our hearts beating scary magic.
I held you tight and squeezed you to sleep; you would need

your strength for the journey, I reasoned. And anyway, there are
Bright native eyes glittering between the leaves

I figure you’ll not want to see them. So I pull
You closer, sweat with you, taste your hair

read the Braille of your spine and imagine it would
be sublime if those words had been written for me.

And now you need to leave here – this jungle.
So, ever the gentleman explorer, I smuggle you out down river.

To a grey harbour, where I will put you on a dawn boat,
Watch you steam down to a beauty-mark on the horizon’s lip.

I turn. I breathe something in – your taste is still in my mouth.

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Body Horror

(This story was originally published by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society)

The sun was the colour old dead blood. Smears of cloud fuzzed its edges and ragged trails dragged at the horizon like dredgers. Black columns of smoke rose behind us as the city burned. Occasionally flashes of vivid blue-white would burst upwards as jagged detonations split the silence.

We crested the rise as the uncertain dawn was turning to day. Before us, the valley dipped sharply down a wooded slope and I felt an uncomfortable rush of vertigo run with cold liquidity through my guts. Not for the first time I questioned the wisdom of this venture, I felt suddenly very small and exposed before the unwelcome gloom of the trees.

I could see the white tumbling thread of the river far below us as Garsh urged us on with impatient hand movements. The anxiety of our mission overrode the hollow fear of the steep slope and I struck out down between the rough barked trees, focussing on the white wave crests of the fast flowing water.

It was darker amongst the trees and the air was iron cold, our breath seeming almost solid as it left our nostrils. I could taste blood in my mouth from where I’d lost the tooth. The pain was a dull scrape along my jaw line like an itch you could never reach. It had been driving me crazy for an hour now. I rubbed at the side of my face with the dirt-smeared heel of my hand. Instead of soothing the pain, it stabbed into the nerve and I swore loudly. Garsh turned at the head of the group and flashed a look of anger directly at me. I opened my palms outwards in a gesture of apology but she still looked angry as she turned away and gestured us on through the trees.

Footing became more uncertain as the ground dipped down into the valley, Jakka tripped, tumbling forward. To his credit, he made no sound that could alert anyone nearby to our presence. When he finally slithered to a stop Garsh bent to help him up, touching his shoulder to show her approval for his restraint. Jakka made eye contact with me and looked smug. I shrugged. If sliding twenty metres down a hillside on your face was the way to win Garsh’s approval then I was happy to be unpopular. Anyway, if all went according to plan it wouldn’t matter who had whose approval in a few hours.

Thankfully, within a kilometre or so, the slope evened out and Garsh stopped the party as we reached the tree line. There was an area of open ground ahead of us before the river. She signalled us to look around for any hover-monitors. The sky was still smudged from smoke but we could see no monitors. I wanted to tell Garsh that there was no point in looking; if we were seen – who would be sent to track us down? The forces were locked in such a ferocious battle that a ragged band like us would bother no one. However, Garsh was still avoiding eye contact with me, showing her back whenever I approached.

Fine.

She was in command and like any good soldier; I’d follow her orders – but only because I knew her time in charge was limited. Soon we would all be equal.

Jakka was returning from his jog along the tree line in the upriver direction. He whispered in Garsh’s ear, her face took on a confused then intrigued look. She signalled us to stay here and followed Jakka back in the direction he had come. We huddled together for warmth. Even with Garsh gone no one dared speak. Such was the fear that they held her in.

Garsh the Butcher. Garsh the Cold.

Garsh the Right Place at the Right time woman if you asked me. Which of course no one did. Her rise in the Core had been an object lesson in political correctness and blind luck. We’d been at the academy together and even then, she’d been nothing special, but in these times of quotas and positive discrimination, her fast track to the top had been determined by the presence of fallopian tubes rather than ability. I enjoyed the bitterness for a few moments and it took my mind off the tooth. However, the throb soon returned as did my other ache – Garsh.

She signalled us to follow her and she led us up a short rise and through a dense thicket. We came out into a small clearing about ten metres from the tree line. I could still see the river through the trees.

In the clearing was a large blue box. Garsh approached me, I could there was a grudging look on her face.

She whispered into my ear. As she bent close, I could smell her rank breath. ‘You’re Tactical, Bron, what is it?’

Oh. So now, she needed me.

I approached the box. It was big, appeared to be made from wood. Glass panels set in the top half were too frosted to see through. There were symbols carved…no painted into the some of the panels. I didn’t recognise the language. There was a door set into one side with a quaint retro keyhole set into the wood. I hadn’t seen a keyhole for years, not since a visit to the museum as a child. I took a step back and saw the top of the box was raked up to a small glass cylinder.

Garsh was back, whispering her stale breath over my face. ‘Well, is it one of theirs?’

I shook my head and put my lips close to her ear. Blood was encrusted in the whorls of the skin of the cavity, I thought I could see something insectoid crawling through her matted hair. I wasn’t going to tell her about it. Hopefully it would be a cluster-fly and its off spring would be burrowing down into her brain within a few hours.

I’m not that lucky. ‘It’s not theirs or ours. It might just be a box.’

‘Jakka couldn’t open it.’

Jakka couldn’t open a bank account without someone to write his name for him while he blew bubbles in his drool. What I actually said was, ‘It’s locked’.

‘I know it’s locked! He’s a trained Breaching operative. The lock rejected his tools. It’s big technology. If it’s theirs and they detect our presence it might save us a long walk.’

‘Rejected?’

Garsh sighed and motioned Jakka forward, at first, he seemed reluctant. Garsh indicated to the box again. Taking a deep breath, Jakka reached into his side pack and brought out a breaching lance. As he attempted to fit the slim silver tool into the lock, there was a spark of blue light. Jakka dropped the lance and began sucking on his fingers. I could smell ozone and a slight acridity on the air. I realised now why he had been so apprehensive. I approached the box again. Cautiously.

I reached out and ran my fingers over the surface of the wood around the lock. No blue flash, no stinging pain. However, the wood was not inert beneath my fingertips. There was a hum, almost beyond the reaches of perception and my skin tingled as I placed my whole palm against the surface. ‘It’s powered internally I think.’

A chill ran through me. Similar to the vertigo I felt at the top of the valley, a dread feeling of exposure and fear. ‘I think we should get away from here.’

I turned to reiterate my concerns to Garsh.

We were surrounded.

The Cyber-leader raised his great silver arm in a blur of movement and brought it swishing down.

Sleep now. Slee –

When I got over the initial pleasure of waking without the throbbing pain in my tooth. I quickly realised I would have gladly swapped a mouth full of toothache for the nightmare I was now becoming conscious to.

Even though we’d all been prepared for what to expect, the distorted image of my body that I could see reflected on the silver surfaces of the machinery above me crystallised harsh growths of fear in my heart. I could see that I was restrained across the chest, wrists, thighs, and ankles by thick straps. I was naked and with increasing discomfort followed the patterns that had been tattooed onto my skin.

My body was now a map of dark lines and contour grids. Symbols indicating channels to be routed out, for drill holes to be bored and thick incisions to me made. I tried to swallow but found I could not. I studied the reflection above and at first did not want to believe what I saw.

My jaw had been removed.

Where I was expecting to see my lips and beard was a gaping black nonsense of open wound, white bone, and silver plating. It took maybe fifteen to twenty panicky seconds to work out that what I could see was not a distortion in the reflection above but was in fact evidence of the removal of the bottom half of my face. I watched with thudding heart and spinning mind as my white lidless eyes rolled in terror like trapped things.

Nothing could have prepared me for this. No amount of briefing, no amount of promises from Garsh that the end would justify the means.

Try making promises to a man who’s just lost half his face.

I looked away from the reflections and tried to get a bearing on where I had woken up. The space didn’t have the feel of a battlefield lash up this was some kind of permanent facility. Perhaps on board a lander, perhaps in one of their orbiting cruisers. I had no way of telling how long I’d been unconscious so could have travelled any number of kilometres across land or into orbit.

There was row of similar machines arcing off into for several metres on each side. Beneath each silver cluster was a member of our group. To my left was Jakka. I tried to make eye contact with him as he writhed against the restraints, then realised it was pointless.

He didn’t have any eyes.

I flung my head to the right. Garsh was restrained, a gleaming silver chisel biting into the flesh where her chin met her neck. A speckled cloud of blood blooming into a containment field – it coalesced into globules and was funnelled away with an efficient whirr.

Get a grip.

I was shaking against the restraints. Get a grip.

You knew this was going to happen.

But seeing it like this – stop! Control! You’re a soldier!

The shaking subsided. I forced myself to look at Jakka again.

A pall of dispassion settled over me.

The crown of his head had been cut down to the top of his nose – an articulated arm whirred towards the open wound. Jakka’s spine arched as the metal made contact with the flensed expanse above his eyes. A crackle of dissipating energy jerked an extra few centimetres of arc second out of his spine and then he fell flat, limp against the steel, wisps of smoke curling delicately from his nostrils.

There came a deeper rumble of machinery grinding overhead. The pod above me suddenly shifted towards Garsh and the space above me was filled with the pod that had been above Jakka.

It was time for the Cybermen to take my eyes.

waking with alien sight. now there was pain. now the numbness was seeping away and the rusty wheels of agony were rolling across my ravaged flesh. waking into purgatory where skin became knives, muscles became bullets; heart became a dull bludgeon-  a blunt instrument in my chest battering the jagged clench of ribs.

a phantom scream from the hollows of my throat. I shake with its ferocity but there is no sound.

eyes a horror show of colour and sinister shadows. having to think to focus, a time lag in sharpness, a grainy confusion leaping in as I flinch.

Wires lash and tremble around me, moving under my skin causing white weals to writhe across my chest. Information leaps into my head, information about the constituency of the air, the ambient gravity and the molecular bonding of the surface covering of the snaking wire insinuating itself through the crack in my sternum. a rush of data.

full to bursting.

blackness

A dream. Yesterday? The day before?

Jakka and Garsh holding me down. (Before we broke for the hills, before the burning city and the forest.)


Something silver forced into my mouth and a crackle as a tooth exploded between two metal jaws. The scientist with the albino hands and nails too shiny to be real sucking the blood and pulp from the blazing wound.

I tried to tell them I’d changed my mind; that I wanted to de-volunteer. That this was crazy. But Garsh and Jakka held me all the tighter. Garsh was enjoying this.

Now the injection.

Shouldn’t that have been first? That’s the way it goes – the injection to numb the pain and then the dentistry – not the other way around.

I managed to get an arm free of Jakka and waved it feebly in front of the impassive face of the scientist.

‘Will you keep him under control!’

Garsh pressed her thumb against my cheek. Digging into where the tooth had been ripped out with the scientist’s pliers.

I screamed

screamed

screamed

The scientist placed the barrel of the syringe back into my mouth, back into the wound.

Finished.

Thrown on the beds with the others.

Don’t like that bit of the dream. More images. Forest. Later.

Turning from the blue box, hearing the hiss of parted air, as the Cyber-leader’s arm came down.

Sleep.

Sleep.

Hearing Garsh’s fear-twisted voice drilling into my unconsciousness.

‘Please. Don’t kill us. We want to be like you.’

Awake suddenly. There are explosions and sirens. What is happening? Still stuck below the silver machine.

Half-light and smoke; have to concentrate to cope with the rush of data crashing in like a tidal wave. A voice at the back of my mind, cold, metallic. ‘Alert. Alert. All units to Cybercontrol we are under attack. Alert. Alert.’

Quick hands suddenly moving over my body, a flash of green. Skin? No, Fabric.

My eyes start to decode the DNA sequence of the fabric, I force myself to defocus and the data stream halts.

Velvet? Velvet fabric on arms with hands that are untying my bonds.

‘No!’

Is that my voice now? It sounds hollow in my head. A dead voice. Fleeced of all humanity. A voice bathed in a thick scum of electricity. A creaking emptiness in my chest when I try to mourn my loss.

‘There’s still time to save you! The logic pathways have been implanted but haven’t been set. You’re still human. Let me help you!’

I strike out with my new silver arm. ‘No! Leave me!’

He flies backwards, managing to ride the worst of the blow, but is still sent several metres through the air. As he gets to his feet, his eyes are damp with compassion. There is no anger in his pale face. He is seemingly oblivious of the explosions going on around him, the smoke billowing between us. He takes a step forward and my alien eyes start to DNA-sequence his skin.

He is not human.

A red flash and a blue and gold graphic leapt into view. It twists and writhes before me. A thing I would have called beauty, (if I could remember what beauty was), patterned from the heart of his very genetics.

Then, just as suddenly, it is gone, and so is he. The sense of loss is all consuming and enveloping.

He is off, moving through the chaos as if he has planned the sequence of explosions and knows every step of the dance that will carry him safely through.

Then agony is piled on agony and I am forced to my metal knees – holding my silver hands to the steel encasing my brain.

The logic codex is suddenly bursting like hot fire into my head.

It has worked.

They do not know.

I cannot tell which of the squad around me are my compatriots. Any blank lifeless face could be Jakka or Garsh. Any. It is impossible for me to tell and to give myself away before the appointed time would mean discovery and an end to the mission.

I march in line, limbs moving easily, I do not feel the atmosphere around me as I walk into the torrents of fire. I can read about the atmosphere, I can call up its continuants, I can see that we are marching through orange plumes of fire as the forest in razed. But, I feel nothing, not even the thud of my footfall on the black burning earth.

We have been dispatched to bring the blue box to Cybercontrol. The constant chatter of the control net keeps us on the right course – relentlessly through the flames.

This is more like a dream than any other I have experienced. I am numb and weightless. There are barriers to the logic pathways; I can sense the presence of the cyber-control codes locked in the implant. I know they have been copied, altered, and released into the logic pathways to complete my disguise. The control codes sit bitterly in the black space, cut off from the rest of my mind – sometimes I think I hear them, trying to break free of the implants – the briefings said this was impossible. However, who knows?

‘You can’t do this!’

A dream. A dream in the flames.

‘We must Doctor. There is no other choice.’

I am in the next room with the others, about to set off for the forest. The rumblings from the bombardment getting closer.

‘I will carry the implant! I can’t let you put give these innocents, to the Cybermen!’

‘You are one man Doctor. I have replicated the implant you made. This way gives us a much greater chance of survival!’

There was a shot and I heard a body fall to the floor.

Dreaming. Dreaming in the steel. Images flashing across, inside my field of vision, transparent against the burning trees. The control net urging us on.

We found the blue box, a hollow in the fire. We approached and began to lift. The wood, which defied the sequencing rake of my gaze, was not even singed. It seemed only to have acquired a ghostly patina of soot. The box tipped forward and suddenly there was an opening, a dark space that seemed larger on the –

Water. A torrent of water gushing impossibly from the dark hole in the box. Circuits confused. Trying to make sense of a surreal scene, my mind blanking with the effort of –

Catapulted upside down against a tree. The water, tsunami, bursting from the box, a never ending gush of torrential force. A cone cut through the fire – pushing us down, down to the river. Then as the flow seemed to ease a flash of green from the innards of the blue box and a motor launch cresting the wave front, it’s bow cutting through the frothing white.

I tumbled down the bank into the waiting waters of the swollen river. Before the next gulp of blackness and a loud and final sounding fzzzt! I saw the motor-launch splash into the water beside me with a huge whoosh of white, the engines gunning, propellers throwing up a great burst of spray – the man in green velvet at the controls, his body as tense as an exclamation mark, wispy curls of hair floating behind and a face that held the gleaming eyes of a maniac.

‘Just a matter of transdimensionally upending the ornamental lake and slotting it into the doorway. Nothing to it really. Much easier to explain than why you wouldn’t let me save you.’

We walked through the blackened forest, across the smoking swathe the water had cut through the fire.

The launch had caught up with me just before the rapids that had broken the other Cybermen like toys. The maniac in green hooking me from the waves with one hand, while steering the launch precariously close to the sickening drop with the other. I couldn’t be sure, but I think he cheered as he dragged me onto the deck. ‘I have a mission to complete, Doctor.’

‘It was never your mission. There were other ways to get the virus into the cyber-control net.’

‘But not with such certainty.’

‘I could have saved you all. The stun gun, I…’

‘You have helped our cause beyond all imagining, Doctor. When the signal is transmitted and the implant’s contents are released into the control net, we will all be saved.’

‘But you and your companions will die, along with all the other Cybermen.’

We stood beside the door of his blue box; I placed a hand on his shoulder, ‘We would not have died in vain.’

He turned away.

Closed the door.

Melted into the air.

The legs carried me quickly to the summit of the mountain. Around me, my cities burned and my people died.

Cybercraft were dropping into the atmosphere like flocks of birds. A constant, chatter from the control net told be that the battles were almost done, that victory was assured; that flesh was weak and that logic was the only way.

The sun was falling to the horizon, its face still scarred by smoke.

I tried to imagine the chill that would have been in the air around me, tried to remember the breeze and the cut of cold air in my throat. I looked down at my silver hands and tried to feel the warmth of blood and the tightening stiffness of skin, as frost would settle on it. But there was nothing. Just the electronic fuzz of my vision, and the overwhelming brutality of the data-rush. The sun gave no warmth, only a stream of luminosity statistics; the rocks gave no shelter, only the crystagraphics of molecular geology.

A world of numbers.

A universe of fact.

I held a flower up to the fading sunlight. No beauty quotient was forthcoming, no analysis of aesthetics.

Chlorophyll and water.

The signal cut through the control net chatter.

I tried to miss things.

Tried to miss even Garsh and Jakka.

Tried.

I…

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The Last Time I Fucked You

I’m abrading the Florida night with my sand and weather,
Scraping away the soot between stars,
To reveal a clamped down laboratory dawn that’s heavier and sweatier,
Than that two week ago coupling in Hunmanby,
Where we dissolved each other’s mistrust into a better

Moment; and as it turned out that was all it was, an exotic particle fleeting.
Then back almost immediately to that solar flare,
Like this Orange County Sun I cannot look at; both seemingly intent on greeting
Me by scorching a Bunsen hole in my face with
Sunlight and words. It’s as if a whole new science of unethical distancing

Is content to research us, proving hypotheses of switchback toying confusion.
I’ve sat and watched our enraged physics fail to explain,
Why we’re given one brief lovemaking as scant reward against the scalding reaction
Of tearing down this love atom by atom whilst still
Harnessing forces to contain our ongoing experiment in human fusion.

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