R.O.S.E - Return Of Some Extra-terrestrials
Everything is prepared. We believe. We are faithful. The operation will begin... soon.
The Doctor woke up screaming.
He often did that. Well, of late. The sudden jolt into consciousness gave him enough stimuli to block out the nightmares he suffered – at least long enough for him to get tangled up in some other distraction. Yes, other people’s problems seemed so desirable nowadays. Unlike his own, they seemed solvable.
The Doctor got off the battered chaise lounge and looked around the control room of his battered Time And Relative Dimension In Space machine. The old girl had not been the latest model when he’d borrowed her some millennia ago, and after the damage sustained during the War she was being run on the smell of artron energy and an old pair of tights.
The control chamber was now large and vaguely dome-shaped, supported by curving bronze root-like pillars and composed of overlapping bronze plates. He’d managed to keep a type of roundel decoration out of nostalgia, but now found himself trying to avoid looking at the pattern – it reminded him too much of Dalek sensor domes.
The Doctor strode up the gantry towards the control console. It had been taken apart and put back together so many times most of its circuitry was exposed and half the control systems replaced with whatever seemed workable at the time.
‘Where to next?’ he muttered bitterly and adjusted the controls. ‘Ah, yes, the Nestene Consciousness. Back to Earth then, I suppose.’
The whole structure shook and vibrated around him as the tired sound of the relative dimensional stabilizer boomed in his ears. How he used to bitch about his old ship – he never knew when he was well off. The TARDIS shook once more and then stabilized. The 25th century Sumaron laptop bolted to the console showed the pale-blue orb of Earth and its solitary moon.
With a dismissive sigh, the Doctor punched up the search program and stood back. His half-hearted mission after the end of the War was to see just how extensive the damage was and what – if any – aid he could provide. The Nestene Consciousness was the latest on a long line of civilizations annihilated in the cross-fire. The colonies, protein planets, even the home world were blasted and dead. Only a few anomalous energy readings gave any clue what had happened to the natives.
A space-time warp-shunt, bridging the Nestene home world back to the Earth of the early twenty-first century. They had something of a ready-made base there, the scattered remnants of several invasion attempts already waiting for them. The Doctor had naively hoped the Nestene Consciousness would abide by the rules of the Shadow Proclamation and co-exist peacefully (and, indeed, secretly if need be) with the humans, but as the scanner worked its way across the Earth, that idealism died.
The shunt was located somewhere in England, in the latter months of the year 2005. Tiny sparks of high-concentrated psi-energy flickered across the island, presumably originating from the sole surviving Nestene. Obviously, its Auton duplicates had managed to set up minor transmitters across London, with the Consciousness itself beneath the main transmitter.
Psi-readings have no physical dimension, and even the sensors of the TARDIS couldn’t guess the true location until the Nestene Consciousness used the main transmitter. Only echoes were available. ‘And they’ll just have to do,’ the Doctor muttered.
Flipping some more controls, the navigational computers locked onto the probably source of a secondary transmitter and the labored grating of the engines began once again. As the TARDIS swayed and shuddered, the Doctor slipped on his battered leather jacket and shook out his long mane of chestnut curls. He glanced at the occasional table and picked up a Cyrrenic Empire thermite pack. He had run out of nitro-9 a long time back.
The TARDIS shook itself back into time and space and the Doctor strode down the exit ramp to the real-world interface, white-painted police box doors. The Doctor pulled open the left-hand door and stepped out of the TARDIS, letting the rickety panel slam shut behind him.
He was in the outskirts of the city, the TARDIS parked in the entrance to a gloomy alleyway opening onto the main street. Clothing stores were winding down as the sun set and the Doctor immediately spotted around fifty clothing dummies in shop windows, the more obvious targets for the Nestenes to animate.
Slipping the thermite pack into his jacket pocket, the Doctor produced his latest sonic screwdriver and began to program it for a wide-broadcast burst. Without taking his eyes off the slender metal device, he strode across the main road at the exact moment the traffic slowed to the point he could cross. He walked past the large, four-story clothing store Henrik’s and into the side alley.
The plan was simple. When activated, the sonic screwdriver would release a sub-ether pulse similar to a Nestene energy signature – effectively saying there was another consciousness on Earth. The genuine intelligence would have to check, and thus activate the transmitter on the roof to in turn activate plastic in the area so it could investigate. By that time, the Doctor would use the transmitter to trace the signal back to its source, then destroy said transmitter with a thermite pack. The resulting shockwave would confuse the Nestene Consciousness long enough for him to travel there in the TARDIS and make his ultimatum.
After that, the Nestene Consciousness would either leave Earth or... Well, there was a vial of anti-plastic back in the TARDIS the Doctor fully expected to use. A part of him complained he was resorting to such solutions far too easily nowadays, but he silenced it. He didn’t expect the Nestene Consciousness would surrender quietly, but if it did, he would bare it no malice.
Of course, if the Nestene Consciousness realized he was the Doctor, it might very well bare him malice.
The Doctor snorted to himself and hauled open the red fire exits, idly glancing at a poster on the door. Inside steps led down to a long, brightly-lit concrete passage. A clothes rack stuffed with designer dresses stood to one side, abandoned. The Doctor slipped inside, letting the door swing shut behind him.
Now, as the shop would probably be closing soon, the best thing to do was find somewhere to hide and then ascend to the roof. The basement would probably be a good place to start.
He took the first turning and, passing through a curtain of transparent plastic, found his way to a lift. The Doctor punched the call button and waited. The dull surface of the lift doors gave a weak reflection: a gaunt, tall figure in a dark leather coat and drab clothing beneath. He had once worn more colorful, flamboyant clothes, in happier times. But now those clothes were rags and he had decided not to find replacements. No one left to comment on his choice.
The lift doors parted and the Doctor stepped inside, pressing the basement control. The lift began its descent, so much smoother than the TARDIS, the Time Lord thought ruefully. All too soon it had reached the basement level, a similarly industrial area.
The Doctor followed the signs to the storage area, walking down a long corridor with dummy-filled alcoves dotting the harsh concrete walls. Then, a pair of double doors lead to a pitch-dark chamber. The Doctor’s keen eyes picked out the two rows of mannequins lining the chamber, twisted in awkward stances and with a random collection of new clothes hanging on them.
They might not be Autons, but they would certainly be the first thing activated. And they could kill a human being quite easily even if they were simple mannequins.
‘What to do,’ he muttered, fingering the silver rod. ‘What to do.’ He didn’t expect an answer.
He glanced at his watch. Half an hour till closing time. Either he staged some kind of evacuation before activating the sonic screwdriver or he just waited until the shop was over. It was simpler to do the latter, but that gave his darker thoughts half an hour to get stuck into him. He blew out his cheeks.
The Doctor turned and walked across the chamber to a second set of doors. He pulled them open and jumped back in surprise as he realized a humanoid silhouette was standing there already. To his relief, the newcomer was just as startled. Human then.
A balding man with a bristling white toothbrush moustache wearing a starched uniform stared at him, grasping for words to say. The Doctor hastily thrust his right hand behind his back, keeping the sonic screwdriver out of sight.
‘Who are you?’
The Doctor delved into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. ‘Doctor Bowman from Head Office, I think you’ll find.’
The man looked at the paper suspiciously. A smile tugged at the corner of the Doctor’s mouth when the human nodded. Psychic paper. One last birthday present from C’Rizz. ‘I’m the Chief Electrical Officer,’ the man growled in a thick accent. ‘Sorry, I thought it were Derek down here, playing pranks.’
‘There’s no once else down here, Chief Electrical Officer,’ the Doctor assured him.
‘I’ll take yer word for it.’
‘You do that.’
‘Why are you here?’
The Doctor didn’t quite manage to stop himself sighing in exasperation. He had for a long time found humanity’s naivete rather charming, but it had grown tiresome. There was also the curious habit of any human he explained things to ending up dead soon after.
‘There is a war of terror, is there not, Chief Electrical Officer?’ the Doctor demanded.
The human blinked. ‘War on terror I thought, sir. Er, Doctor.’
The Doctor smiled thinly. ‘That’s right. Terrorism. Destruction. Paranoia. A war of ideology you can’t fight.’ He felt his temper rising. He was patronizing this stupid human, who’s perceptions were so limited. They called this a war? If they only knew... He winced. He was blaming those who did not deserve it. ‘I’m here for a safety test. I want the entire building evacuated immediately.’
‘But, well, now? Shop closes in a quarter hour and Rose’ll be down in a bit with the lottery syndicate.’
‘Terrorism doesn’t wait for Rose and the lottery syndicate, Chief Electrical Officer,’ the Doctor snapped. ‘Why else do you think I haven’t informed the manager? A bomber has no inclination to play fair. Now, I want you to put things in motion. I don’t care how much panic or confusion there is, get everyone out of here. Make it natural, Head Office need to judge the real situation.’
He had unconsciously let his arm fall to his side, revealing his trusty all-purpose tool.
‘You think anyone is going to listen to me? You think I’m going to listen to you “Doctor”? How do I know that you’re not the bomber, eh?’
So close, yet so far. ‘Look,’ the Doctor said reasonably, ‘I’m sure that we can work something...’
The electrician grabbed the screwdriver and looked it over. ‘What is this thing you’ve been playing with, anyway?’ he demanded, fingering the on switch.
‘Uh, no, wait,’ the Doctor began.
Too late. The electrician thumbed the control. The bulb at the end of the sonic screwdriver glowed an incandescent blue as the shrill noise filled the air.
What? What is this? Another one of us? Divert power direct to circuit 9. Activate – investigate!
‘No! No, no, no, you stupid human fool!’ the Doctor shouted, wrenching the control from the electrician.
‘What are you on about?’ he complained.
‘The lure’s activated prematurely, we’ve got to get out of here!’ the Doctor shouted.
‘But why?’ demanded the man, before he realized. His face fell.
Around them, the plastic mannequins were swaying from side to side, as if in a breeze. But there was no breeze down here. First one, then two, then three mannequins turned, their sightless eyes aimed directly at the two intruders. Jerkily, they lurched from their positions.
There is no one of us here! Human witnesses? Destroy them immediately! No one must know of our presence on this planet. Destroy them!
The mannequins were closing in on the Time Lord and the human, forcing them away from the inner door.
The Doctor turned around, seeing that not all of the dummies were coming to life. These must be pure Autons left over from the earlier invasion attempts. Bang goes that theory, then. The Autons were swiveling from side to side in confusion, wondering where they were and why they had been activated.
‘Come on, man, run for it!’ the Doctor yelled and sprinted across the store room. He twisted the base of the sonic screwdriver, altering the frequencies. ‘If I can reverse the polarity of the signal base, I can stun them back into dormancy – just for a few moments,’ he shouted over his shoulder. The problem was it would take a minute or so for the screwdriver to charge up sufficiently.
Already the Autons had started to march towards them, forming a plastic wall closing in.
Their prey scrambled over an inconvenient heap of empty cardboard boxes to reach the other exit. The Doctor pressed the release bar on the doors as the electrician sprinted towards him.
They burst through the heavy doors into the corridor out, but stopped short to find another mannequin standing there, waiting for them.
The Auton raised its hands. The fingers clicked and dropped away to reveal concave holes. Barrels for in-built projected energy weapons.
The electrician didn’t have time to swear before the Auton fired its left hand.
He spun, reeling into the concrete wall and tumbled, face-down to the ground.
‘Oh, no,’ the Doctor groaned. ‘Not again.’
The Auton turned its right blaster to the Doctor, whose horrified gaze was locked on the human’s corpse.
He barely noticed when it fired.
There must be no witnesses. Total destruction.
The Doctor fell backwards, crashing to the hard floor.
The sonic screwdriver clattered away from his hand. He was unable to hear the building whir. There was no point now, anyway. He was dying.
His surroundings blurred in and out of view. Stupid. So very stupid. He had got himself and that human killed for nothing, and now the Nestenes were unopposed in their conquest of Earth. He never thought it would end like this. Deep down, he’d never thought it would end.
The Auton turned to the human’s body, both hand blasters aimed at the still chest. After a long moment, it fired repeatedly. The body exploded into a surging vortex of billowing red sparks, consumed into a whiff of ozone and carbon dioxide.
The sudden rushing roar reached the Doctor. His eyes opened to a slit, struggling to work out what was happening. He was too weak to react when he realized the human was no longer beside him. He could only think how sad it was, how close they had been to escape.
The Auton turned to face the remaining body as a shudder ran through it.
A random thought blossomed into clarity for an instant. Pain, he felt no pain. Darkness was engulfing his mind, swallowing everything which resembled life. At least he wasn’t running anymore. He was tired of watching people die. So very tired.
It was nearly complete, the darkness around him. All but two distant beacons of light which flashed once, twice, then blinked out. He was safe at last.
Power insufficient. Need to recharge.
The Auton turned and marched jerkily down the passage back to the storage section. The dead body lay where it had fallen, and beyond that lay the sonic screwdriver. Its tip glowed a vivid sapphire blue before turning a shrill white.
The Auton, which had reached the threshold of the doors to the other section, spasmed and jerked. Struggling to control its movements, it stumbled back into the gloom.
Interference! What is this? Emergency! Resume positions, everythin... mus... normal... ... it can’t... fight it...
The tip of the sonic screwdriver glowed white for a long moment, then extinguished itself.
For a moment, there was silence.
A strange organic orange glow coalesced around the discarded body, growing thicker and brighter before suddenly escalating into a brilliant white flash. The flashed dispersed, and the body rolled onto its back, limbs straightening out. It began to breathe in and out once more.
......fi... sto........bre... eak.....thr...ou...gh...must...inter...fe...
Awareness returned, slowly and carefully. The pain grew worse, the torment in his body refusing to wear off. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been lying there, oblivious to everything except the pain that clawed at him. His whole body ached unbearably as he opened his eyes. It took a few minutes for them to focus and he managed to stifle a groan.
Fragmented memories dawned in his mind, some of them good, mostly bad. Others were beginning to settle, returning to familiar notches within his brain, memories of things the Doctor had done. More and more memories flew about in his skull, then dropped with a mental thud into place. Everything seemed to be there, finally there were no more wandering thoughts.
The Doctor rolled and climbed slowly to his feet, supporting himself against the wall. As his equilibrium steadied, he looked around. The dizziness came and went. He’d knocked over a cleaning bucket, causing a slight racket which jabbed, needle-like into his skull.
He was in a brightly-lit concrete corridor, somewhere underground judging by the air density. He turned and saw the caged alcove where a mannequin was frozen, one hand extended out between the bars as if offering itself to be shaken.
Sudden tremors wracked him, jerking his muscles sharply. The Doctor gasped to breathe normally and fought against the twitches. It felt as if his nervous system had shorted. He scowled. Think.
Mannequins. Plastic. Nestene. Autons. The numb, thudding pain – regeneration trauma.
He was alive. He knew who he was. And he was back.
The Autons were frozen in place. The intelligence was blocked, but how...?
The Doctor turned and noticed the silver rod abandoned in the corner. Good old sonic screwdriver. That meant he had around fifteen minutes before they re-animated. He turned to look at the imprisoned Auton, and saw a spasm run through it, mimicking the agony he had felt before. The Doctor flinched, knocking the cleaning bucket over yet again. He left it where it fell this time.
Obviously, those fifteen minutes were very nearly over. Time to leave. The pain in his new body was starting to fade, but every movement was agony. But the Autons were hardly likely to give him a chance to rest. He turned and moved up the corridor towards the lift, eyes glazed with pain, his expression tight.
The Doctor stopped and turned. A voice. Human. Female. London accent, reasonably young too. Oh, no. Not another shop worker blundering into this mess. The dead man had mentioned something about a lottery syndicate. Gritting his teeth, the Doctor turned and staggered back towards the store room.
Interference... clearing! Restoration. What is this? Another human? Scan. No other life forms left in vicinity – bar the other corpse. Not enough energy left for handgun units. Very well. Use brute force. Human bodies die so easily. Destroy her.
Every inch of his body was quaking in pain but he kept it from his face as he slipped around the door. A girl of around twenty stood, backed up against the wall surrounded by all the Autons. The other mannequins remained where they were, lifeless. The girl closed her eyes in fear as the one who had shot the Doctor not long ago raised its right hand in preparation to strike.
The Doctor slipped forward and placed his hand in hers. Her skin was hot to the touch, and she instinctively grabbed hold. Narrowed brown eyes swiveled to look at him.
‘Run,’ the Doctor ordered – idly noticing that something was odd about his voice.
He turned and ran out into the corridor, dragging the girl behind him. Luckily, his new body was more or less the same size as his old one, and the clothes still fitted. He burst into a run, the adrenaline temporarily deadening the agony he felt. The girl kept pace.
The Auton in the cage was marching on the spot, fully animated but impotent. Behind them, the horde of mannequins burst through the double doors and marched awkwardly towards them. With their energy weapons disabled, they would need to use all their strength on moving.
The Doctor and the girl burst through the second set of doors and there stood the lift, just as he left it. The Doctor leapt forward the last pace and hit the open button on the doors. He and the girl dived inside the cubicle just as the Autons smashed through the doors behind them.
The Doctor stamped the first floor button and then close doors button as the pasty-coloured figures lurched towards them. The doors slid out from the sides of the doorway, the leader Auton reached through the narrowing gap for the Doctor’s neck. Suddenly, the open palm came to life, fingers and thumbs flexing and grabbing for the Time Lord’s throat.
The Doctor clamped one hand around the plastic wrist and struggled to shove the arm back out of the lift. The doors were now being jammed by the arm and the Autons’ face. Plastic was being shaved off in the places the doors were biting into the mannequin’s head.
The sensor should have re-opened the doors, the Doctor thought absently. Good thing this store’s safety practices are so poor. With a twisting motion, he yanked on the arm and it came free from the dummy’s shoulder socket. Instantly the arm froze in place as the Nestene influence was broken.
The doors re-commenced closing, forcing the Auton leader back out into the corridor. Finally they shut and the lift began its ascent.
The Doctor examined the severed limb in his hand, deliberately avoiding looking at the blurry reflection in the lift doors. ‘You pulled his arm off,’ said the girl behind him. He wasn’t sure if she was horrified at the thought or simply confirming what she had seen.
‘Yep,’ the Doctor replied, tossing it over his shoulder. He heard the girl catch it. ‘Plastic.’
‘Oh, very clever. Nice.’ The girl was almost relieved. ‘Who were they then? Students? Is this a student thing or what?’
The adrenaline was starting to wear off. He was starting to feel cold. He wrapped his arms around him, trying to warm up. He focussed his attention on the girl. Blonde hair, but dark brown roots – her eyebrows were dark too. She wore a pink top and some cheap perfume. He could just smell the remains of a fried bacon sandwich on her lips. Her knuckles were white as she clutched the mannequin arm. Shock, he assumed. ‘Why would they be students?’ he asked.
‘I dunno,’ the girl replied, blinking in confusion.
‘Well, you said it,’ the Doctor reminded her. ‘Why students?’
‘Cause... to get that many people dressed up and being silly... They gotta be students.’
He grinned. ‘That makes sense. Well done,’ he said to her.
The Doctor turned to look at the indicator. ‘They’re not students.’
‘Well, whoever they are, when Wilson finds ’em, he’s gonna call the police.’
‘Chief Electrician,’ the girl explained.
The Doctor turned his attention to the doors. The lift had reached the ground floor. ‘Wilson’s dead,’ he announced as he emerged and, snatching the sonic screwdriver from his pocket, switched it on and aimed it at the call button.
‘That’s just not funny,’ the girl snapped, following him out. ‘That’s sick!’
He turned and guided her past the clothes rack outside the lift. ‘Hold on,’ he told her, returning to the call button. ‘Mind your eyes,’ he ordered. A stream of blue energy flowed over the controls before they exploded and shorted out.
That would delay them. For a few seconds, at least. Of course, the Autons could just use the stairs. Indeed, there were probably quite a few on this level already heading towards them. Time to go, Doctor. He pocketed his screwdriver and scrambled in what he hoped was the direction of the fire doors he had entered by all that time ago.
‘I’ve had enough of this,’ the blonde girl was complaining, running after him. ‘Who are you then?’ she cried. ‘Who’s that lot down there?’
So many answers, but no intention of giving them, the Doctor thought. He turned a corner and saw the doors he needed at the end of this corridor. Might as well answer her question. ‘They’re made of plastic,’ he told her over his shoulder. ‘Living plastic creatures – and they’re being controlled by a relay device on the roof. Which would be a great big problem if I didn’t have this!’
He slipped the thermite pack from his jacket and primed it. It began to beep innocently.
The Time Lord leapt up the steps and opened the door for the girl who was staring at him in shock now. ‘So, I’m going to take this upstairs and blow them up and I might well die in the process but don’t worry about me! No, you go home! Go home and have your lovely beans on toast!’
His voice was light but he was getting angry. The girl’s insistence to know what was going on was laudable but inconvenient – and his heckles had found themselves rising ever since the stupid human had attempted to rationalize what the Autons were. After all, the same ‘rationalization’ had just got him killed less than half an hour ago. Whether it was Wilson and his terrorists or this girl and her students, their blind refusal to accept the war under their feet was... was...
Envious, he supposed.
The girl wandered out into the alley, her eyes still fixed on his. ‘Don’t tell anyone about this because, if you do, you’ll get them killed,’ he said firmly. Even in the best case scenario the Nestene Consciousness would be on the look out for any anomalies – and keeping a low profile. One mention of ‘window dummies coming to life’ and there was no knowing what might happen.
He ducked back into the centre and hauled the fire door closed behind him.
A thought crossed his mind.
He flung the door back open and the girl was still standing there, holding the Auton arm. She flinched at his sudden return. ‘I’m the Doctor by the way,’ he said with exaggerated politeness. ‘What’s your name?’
The girl stared at him. ‘Rose,’ she murmured.
Nice name. ‘Nice to meet you, Rose,’ the Doctor said, feeling almost excited at the shock waves he was sending through her perceptions. He raised the thermite pack. ‘Run for your life!’ he commanded, effortlessly slamming through her never-used telepathic defenses.
She would run for her life. She would go home.
As he slammed the door again and ran back through the dim passages it struck him he would rather have gone with her. He scowled at the thought, then winced at the pain in his new facial muscles when he scowled. He would have to look at the mirror sooner or later.
That is no human. Follow him. He must be heading for the receiver. Stop him!
Night had fallen. The orange-red glare of the street lights below blotted out most of the stars in the pitch dark sky. The Doctor wasn’t sure to whether to enjoy seeing a new night with new eyes, or mourn the fact his old ones had not been able to watch that final sunset.
Time for that later, he told himself and sprinted over to the unimpressive collection of waxy plastic, crudely fashioned into a receiving dish. The Time Lord crouched over it and placed the thermite pack next to the device. His long fingers – still dancing with pins and needles – manipulated it to a detonation in five minutes which would wipe the roof clean of just about everything.
‘Stop,’ drawled a voice behind him.
The Doctor turned. A man in a business suit stood, swaying drunkenly in the doorway. Judging by the sweat leaking off him, he was a real human being, and the suit he wore suggested he worked for the company. A jemmy was gripped in one pudgy hand.
‘I don’t suppose telling you to resist the evil influence in your mind will help at all, will it?’
‘STOP!’ the man moaned, drool pooling in his mouth.
‘Thought not.’ The poor sod must have been hypnotized by the duplicate workers who installed this. Still, no time for that now. ‘Don’t mind me, you carry on.’ He twisted the dial on the thermite pack. Thirty seconds on maximum TAD. Time to leave the ZMI.
Stupid military lingo, the Doctor thought as he turned and scrambled over the side of the building and onto the ledge outside. He was best out of that. Bad enough spending years working for Earth’s military, let alone the armies involved in the War.
His last sight of the top of Henrik’s was the stairwell door bursting open and the army of Autons crashing through, just as the managing director or whoever dropped the jemmy and lurched towards the thermite pack, arms open as if pleading for his life.
The Time Lord grabbed hold of the rain water pipe and, wincing as the rough surface dug into his new hands, plummeted down the side of the building. Around the second floor he let go and, after a nice bit of bouncing off a dumpster, reached the side alley.
Above him, the thermite pack exploded.
The brilliant red flash blossomed across the top of the department store before the shock wave tore through the level below, reducing the building to a brick pillar of fire in the night sky. Blobs of melting plastic, singed furniture and general debris came crashing down on the street below.
The Doctor blinked as a burning red sofa crashed into the middle of the road just as every alarm system in the high street went off. That type of explosion would release a particular wavefront of energy that UNIT should pick up and identify as alien in origin. He should have thought of that before. That meant he had a few minutes to get back to the TARDIS before Central London was closed off pending investigation.
Ducking through the panicking locals, the Doctor kept his eye out for a blonde girl in pink carrying a plastic arm.
No sign of her.
He finally reached his time machine and sagged against the door, mechanically moving the long curls out of his eyes. Except they weren’t there – his new hair was razor-cut to outline of his head. That military haircut was probably programmed into the regeneration cycle, he thought bitterly and unlocked the TARDIS doors. Still, at least without that long girly hair and the baby face that made eight out of ten females and five out of ten males want to mate with him was gone.
‘C’est la vie,’ he murmured and entered his time machine.
The warm embrace of atron energy washed away the short-circuit pains in his body and, feeling tired, he wandered up to the console. The chamber was lit by a pleasant green glow and he had to admit, as last-second replacements went, this was pretty good. He initiated take off, enjoying the slight flicker of energy behind the roundels. Ah, who cared if they reminded him of Daleks? There was nothing else to do that these days.
He slumped into his pilot’s chair as the TARDIS returned to low-orbit and began scanning for the highest concentration of Nestene energy – the Consciousness itself would certainly be shielded, but any of its agents would not be so lucky. All he had to do was find it, link it up to the telemetric circuitry and finally thrash out things with that blob of plastic. Assuming of course, it hadn’t taken up that ridiculous octopus-cum-spider-cum-crab shape it had developed a fetish for.
Ah, well, it was the 1970s.
The Doctor leant back in the chair, so determined not to spy his reflection in the time rotor, the surface of the console or the laptop that he was only half-aware he’d fallen asleep.
Pain! Pain! So much death! What has done this? Who has done this? We have been here before. One of the humans must have been waiting for us... Or an alien on Earth No... It can’t be! They are all dead – we refuse to believe it. But that alien who returns from the grave... Who could it be? Who else could it be? How to determine. Wait. Activate the piece of us closest to him...
Someone who had no idea of events happening threw a severed plastic arm into a large rubbish can in the shade of a London housing estate. As it struck the bottom, the arm convulsed. The tiny traces of skin cells left on the smooth surface suddenly disappeared and finally the arm came to a rest at last.
It can’t be...
It can’t be...
It might be.
We must prepare.
‘No!’ the Doctor screamed as he awoke.
His hearts hammered in his chest and he looked around, taking in the confines of his battered time machine. Home. Safe. He let his head fall back and his eyes close.
Nightmares. Different ones.
Not the atrocities of the Time War, or the faces of his companions as their history was undone, but something else. Fantasies. He saw himself and a human woman called Emma running through a ruined castle on Terserus, pursued by Daleks and the Master on a zimmerframe. He saw the Master again, this time reduced to an android butler as the Time Lord sent him on yet another mission to 20th century Earth to deal with an alien invasion. He saw himself sitting for a portrait by his new artist companion, enjoying the sun rise at the Eye of Orion, tumbling through a black hole on a space station, facing a Cyberman invasion of Manhatten in 1994, facing the runners of Pandrolyn history tour, the caverns of blood, the Sundarians, facing Ruth and a hideous creature in the DEEP...
‘Lies! All lies!’ the Doctor screamed getting to his feet.
All paths he could have taken – would have taken had the War ended different. A new and intriguing expression for his guilt to take. He didn’t need this. He was better than this. Sitting around a wrecked TARDIS having nightmares about things he couldn’t change... Who the hell did he think he was? Bruce Wayne? There was more to life than this!
Odd how he thought of that girl now. Rose. Rose Alley, San Francisco, 1999 – the last time he had faced the Change. Probably a coincidence.
Ah, a distraction.
The console had detected a psi-spike. Definitely Nestene energy. He set the TARDIS to home in on the focus and, as his craft trembled and juddered around him, the Doctor was already heading for the doors.
The TARDIS solidified in reality and the Doctor burst out of the doors.
Early morning sunshine cut through the clouds left from the fire the previous night, the street left in shadow. The Doctor closed and locked the door behind him, glancing at his watch as it struggled to reorient itself in this time zone. The following day, 7:02 in the morning. The spike had occurred several hours ago.
Oh, well. He didn’t have anything special planned.
In a dustbin not far away, the hand softened, flexed. The arm was now alive.
He – if it is him – is here. Do what needs to be done.
The arm twisted into an impossible summersault that lifted it into mid air. Its nailess fingertips clamped into the concrete above and, with a mechanical dexterity never before witnessed, it scuttled, spider-like up the wall of the estate and upwards. It needed to get a better look at its surroundings, prepare a trap. Humans were so wrapped up in themselves they wouldn’t notice.
The Doctor switched on his sonic screwdriver and it glowed and buzzed in its hand. The Nestene energy was back. He turned and hurried across the park opposite, the grass on either side still moist with dew. He wondered just what the Nestene Consciousness was animating this time. He doubted whatever it was would be an immediate danger – they would need to keep a low profile after last night.
It took him about an hour to track the signal.
As the sun rose higher into the sky, he found himself trying to triangulate the signal as he ran around garages and trees. Some of the graffiti looked interesting and he made a note to examine it better the next time he had a chance – that symbol surely couldn’t be what it seemed to be.
Finally, he came to a rest at the bottom of a stairwell that zig-zagged up between the two housing blocks. Stairs. He tried not to sigh – he’d done far too much of that lately – and, with one final check at the sonic screwdriver before he pocked it, began to ascend.
The hand stopped its ascent and twisted through a broken pane of glass and leaped across to the front door of the nearest apartment. Footsteps echoed up the well towards it and the hand scuttled to the cat-flap in the door and pressed hard against the surface. The screws holding it closed slowly but surely gave way and, with moments to spare, dived inside.
Levitating upwards, it scrambled across the ceiling and then dropped behind a sofa. Two human females were there, oblivious as ever. Soon, the alien would arrive and the hand would take the Nestene equivalent of great pleasure in crushing its trachea.
The Doctor paused between stair cases to catch his breath and look out across London. It was almost surreal how calm things were so close to the invasion. He reminded himself that after this he had to drop by and visit Lethbridge-Stewart, show off the new face. The old man had insisted ever since that time he had let a tramp stay in the guest room for two months believing him to be a newly-regenerated Doctor.
The Time Lord sucked up a lungful of air and checked his screwdriver. Close, very close.
He scrambled up another two flights of stairs and stood before an apartment door. He checked the screwdriver. Bingo. Carefully, he pocketed the tool and went to check the door to see if it was locked.
That was when he noticed the cat flap – the metal hatch seemed to have warped around a handprint. Very odd. The Doctor crouched down and angled his face closer to the flap. Definitely a hand-print. But no fingerprints, which suggested that the Auton was trying to shove its hand through the cat-flap. Why? Why not knock the door down? Or, even better, open it like any normal plastic anthropomorphism?
He tapped the flap with frustration and was startled when, a second later, it was opened from the inside.
A face stared back through the cat flap at him in surprise that mirrored his own.
The Doctor leaped to his feet and dusted himself down in the moment it took the face to vanish from the cat flap and unlock the door. The portal opened to reveal a blonde girl wearing a shoulder-less grey top over a white bra, her hair slightly messy and a haunted look at the back of her brown eyes.
It was her.
It was Rose.
‘What are you doing here?’ the Doctor asked, dumbfounded.