Friday, March 16, 2012

The Companions of Doctor Who

Exactly what it says on the tin! More covers coming soon!

The guards shoved the time traveller towards the throne and he narrowly managed to stop falling forward onto his face. He dusted down his cloak, trying to regain his dignity.

"Oh well, you know me, young man. I'm just on a long voyage and there are always dictators or rulers or someone running things wherever you go. It doesn't matter to me who has the power - pharaohs, insects, presidents, Daleks, your good self... It's all so much of a muchness. I come and go anyway, so why get involved?"

"Yes. I asked you the same question when we first met."

The monk's face fell. "Ah, you remember 1066 and all that, do you?"

"Quite. You're a time meddler, and you're here to meddle with the status quo."

The old man snorted contemptuously. "And why not? You can't seriously be happy with the way things have turned out here! I dare say the Doctor would be very disappointed with your leadership..."

Steven smiled coldly. "Would it surprise you enormously if I revealed how little the Doctor's disappointment concerns me?"

One of the guards handed over a small metal key. "Only this, your majesty."

Steven took the object and cradled it in his hand, watching as the light reflected off its grooves and ridges. "The key to a TARDIS," he breathed, awestruck, his mind lost in a million new possibilities.

"What about the prisoner, you majesty?" asked the other guard, waving his light gun at the scowling time traveller.

"Mmm?" muttered Steven, dragging his attention away from the key. "Oh..."

He glanced at the monk, who beamed hopefully up at him, then went back to studying the TARDIS key.

"Kill him," ordered Steven idly.

Jamie crouched down by the first prisoner and, using his dirk, carefully sawed through the man's bonds. Now the dawn rays were illuminating he hut, Jamie could see the man properly for the first time. He was a man in his early sixties, whose short dark hair was flecked with grey and silver like salt and pepper. The prisoner had a swarthy, almost gypsy appearance, and his sea-green eyes twinkled mockingly.

He seemed strangely familiar, and Jamie realized the old man reminded him of the Doctor who had been with Ben and Polly all those months ago. But this could not be the same man; those three had said they would never return to Scotland, and this man was much older than that trouble-making imp. The Doctor's older brother, perhaps?

The highlander had just dismissed the problem from his thoughts when the released prisoner tugged his gag away and breathed: "Jamie! Oh, my word!"

"Whisht!" Jamie shushed him.

"But you must recognize me!" the old man whispered.

"I’ve not clapped eyes on you before!" Jamie whispered back, going to free the other prisoners who were impatient for release.

"But you must do!" the short man protested. "It only happened a few months ago, just after the battle, with Polly and Ben? This is going to be a little difficult to explain, but I’m the Doctor! Does that mean anything to you?"

"Means you charge a pretty penny for a compress and a powder," Jamie grunted.

Angus licked his dry lips as Jamie pulled the gag free. "Who is he? A spy for the English?"

"I am no such thing!" the Doctor protested. "I know it because I was the friend of James Robert McCrimmon, son of Donald, and a piper like his father, who served the Laird Colin McLaren at Culloden!"

"You cannae be the Doctor," Jamie snorted. "You're far too old to be the wee chap in the blue box."

"It’s difficult to explain," the old man. "In a way, we knew each other for a
long time, but the Time Lords made you forget..."

"'Time Lords?' What nonsense are ye speakin’ now?"

"A despicable, underhanded lot! After they were finished with you, they approached me and had the bare-faced cheek to demand I help them with all their plans, to be their catspaw so they can keep their hands nice and lilly-white! It's taken me a long time but I finally managed to slip and way and come back for you..." The old man's eyes were almost glistening with tears, the mocking quality gone. "I thought you might be dead!"

"That," boomed a voice from the corner, "will be quite accurate in an hour's time."

The fugitives turned to face the newcomer.

Lieutenant Algernon Ffinch aimed his loaded pistol at the escaping prisoners.

"Oh, crumbs," the Doctor groaned.

"Zimbau Eter," Victoria said urgently. "It's not Latin and it's not Greek. You're the best linguist in the country. Please, you must know what it means?"

"And for your sake, cleverclogs, the answer better not be someone who eats people from Zimbabwe," rumbled the policeman impatiently as he paced up and down the office.

Professor Carter pushed his bifocals up his nose and looked at his two guests thoughtfully. "Zimbau Eter?" he repeated. "It's Sumerian, a dead language - in fact, the oldest language known to mankind, older than the hieroglyphics in the pyramids. Still not entirely deciphered to this day..."

"Is that your hoity-toity way of saying you haven't a clue?" Gene growled.

"Not at all, but that's just fragments of words. I'd need more to go on."

Gene tugged the piece of paper he'd had Cartwright type up and handed it to Carter. "Your wish is my command. My command is to tell me what it says!"

Carter studied the note for a moment. "Gibberish... random words... 'destroy'... 'ruin'... 'pray', 'respond', 'truth'... there seems to be some sort of phrase repeated over and over... 'examine our creation'."

"So it isn't alien then?" asked Victoria nervously.

Carter glanced up at her. "Sumerian is as human as you are," he said, before frowning. "What made you think it was alien?"

"Look at her," Gene grunted. "She's a pretty face and two tits in a jumper. It's a miracle she even knows what aliens are."

"Excuse me!" Victoria fumed.

"No, no, it's just..." Carter struggled to clear his thoughts. "The concept of powerful beings from other planets has its origins in Sumerian history. They were the ones that first came up with the idea, the idea of gods even. Their civilization flourished four millennia before Christ was born, they lived through the deluge that Noah needed his ark for..."

"Very reliable testimony," Gene spat, lighting up a fresh cigarette.

"It is the only testimony," Carter snapped. He plucked a book off the shelf and flipped it open, revealing detailed sketches of rockets flying in skies over cities. "Etching and sculptures of men in spacesuits, in oxygen masks. Stories of launching rockets into the sky, of being from other planets travelling to Earth."


"Facts, Mr. Hunt!" Carter reported. "You can go into any museum and see it all right there just as I describe! If you have no interest in the matter, why do you want me to translate Sumerian phrases?"

"I thought you bookworms were supposed to notice things," the DCI grumbled. "Or does a rash of violent killings in Manchester not get printed in your pinko-loving tabloids?"

"All the killers say they were driven to it by something that looked like a white owl," Victoria explained. "They said it kept them awake at night, sitting at their windows, watching them for hours, staring at them..."

"A white owl?" Carter repeated slowly. "You're not serious?"

"Listen, you bookworm git, when normal decent folk in my city start taking loaded shotguns to their nearest and dearest saying white owls made them do it, I take it very seriously. I don't care if its some stupid coincidence, a Martian warrior who happens to look like an owl or your mother in law on the gin. I want answers - understand?!"

Carter cleared his throat embarrasedly. "Indeed. Have you seen this "owl" yourself?"

Victoria nodded. Gene shook his head.

Carter sighed. "I doubt it matters - you'll never see it again. I had to do this."

"Do what? Eh? What exactly have you 'done'?" Gene demanded.

"I'm sorry," he pleaded, "but I don't have a choice!"

"There's always a choice!" Victoria wailed.

"Not this time." Carter seemed to to sag, as though the life was draining out of him. "Their will shall be enforced. They are not of this world. The truth remains. Me en, ne en, Ilu - they are our saviors, our fathers... they are our gods!"

Gene and Victoria were at a loss for words.

"Forgive me," Carter wept.

"You're better off asking Jesus to forgive you, he's into that namby-pamby stuff," the policemen replied, before decking the academic unconscious with a single meaty blow. Carter was flung onto the carpeted floor. "I'm into pugulistic retribution meself, and can I just say that it has completely changed my life - as well as the arrangement of your teeth?"

A misshapen shadow fell across the frosted window in the door, the silhouette of something that shouldn't have been there - not just in the hallway, not just Manchester, but Earth itself. The familiar putrid cinamon smell began to waft through the gaps in the frame

"There's something out there," Victoria gasped, white as a sheet.

"Yes, thanks for that, Leatherlungs," Gene replied dryly. "Never noticed that without you."

"It's going to kill us!" she insisted.

"It can try," snorted Gene. With a casualness suggesting his gloved hand had a life of his own, he pulled the handgun from his holster. "Well, whatever is out there can come inside for a chat or discover precisely what 'instant lead transfusion' means?" he said reasonably, cocking the pistol and aiming it at the door. "This will your one and only close encounter with DCI Gene Hunt, Defender of the Human Race and Armed Bastard Extraordinaire!"

The door swung open.

Victoria saw what lay beyond and screamed at the top of her voice.

And, truth be told, Gene couldn't blame her.

The Brigadier tutted. Even with the national emergency, he'd expected a bit more British reserve and competence from the BBC, but the television studio was on the verge of total panic after only twelve hours. All the staff were dirty, their clothes unwashed and unchanged, all of them in the jittery fog of caffiene and cigarettes, tripping over wires and getting in each other's ways.

He dragged his attention from the buzz of reporters and technicians and turned to the rest of the panel who appeared to be only slightly less dishevelled and exhausted. "What's making it happen?" an MP was arguing. "What difference does it make?"

"Yes," the moderator said wearily, "but if we knew the cause..."

"Exactly!" the angry Welsh woman at the end shouted. "We don't know! We have to operate on what we do know!"

The Brigadier noticed several technicians murmuring furiously, before they turned and began to leave the studio. As they reached the doors they broke into a run. The floor manager only noticed their presence when her orders to camera two went unheeded. Idly the soldier wondered how long this particular broadcast could stay on the air.

"I refuse to believe any of this," one of the guests was saying, a pompous alternative comedian who would have been quite subversive had he actually had a sense of humor. "The idea of people just turning into monsters..."

The Brigadier bristled. He could tolerate the confusion and hopelessness of the situation - but outright denial? "It is a fact, sir," he snapped. "The crisis is so widespread that no media blackout could be arranged in time. The truth is on the streets and anyone stupid enough to ignore it is effectively committing suicide!"

"I refuse to believe ordinary British citizens can abandon every human code of behavior because of some still-unexplained trick of the light..."

"Yes, that'll stop the bodies piling up," the Welsh woman grumbled.

"I don't believe in monsters, Brigadier," the comedian went on.

"Don't you? They are not human beings on those street, sir, not any more. They are ferocious pack animals whose contamination spreads by touch - and even then we might have stood a chance of nippin this disaster in the bud without irresponsible vigilante action from the public at large..."

The Welsh woman turned on the soldier. "The public fought back to survive!"

"And that conflict is fueling the spread of this menace!" the Brigadier retorted. "Literally and metaphorically! This situation is controllable, but we must come to grips with the concept that anyone infected - friend or family - must be considered a lethal threat and abandoned. At the moment, compassion, the kindess of strangers, these are the greatest threats to our survival..."

"It's too late," the MP said grimly. "They're mutiplying too rapidly..."

Several more of the studio crew abandoned their posts, but military police were appearing in the doorways to the studio. The ways were blocked. The Brigadier had heard those officers earlier discussing martial law, that all of London would be evacuated. One of the technicians protested loudly, "We've got to survive! Somebody's got to!"

"We're losing picture," the floor manager shouted. "We'll be off air unless we get hooked up to the emergency broadcasts..."

The Brigadier rubbed his eyes and then froze as he noticed something. On the panel before him were his notes and a red felt-tip pen. Except the pen was now bright blue, and the notes he'd scribbled in red were blue as well. He looked around, and saw the Moderator's tie, the Welsh woman's shirt and the comedian's glasses were all blue as well. The entire spectrum had somehow shifted.

"Emergency!" he shouted, getting to his feet. "It's happening again!"

"What is?" said the moderator, baffled.

"It's begun," said a voice behind the Brigadier. "I have been chosen to bring about the end of the Human Abomination!"

The soldier was already drawing his service revolver when a lighting technican charged him, letting out a hideous screeching noise. Already his limbs seemed to growing longer and thinner, his skin turning translucent over his dark bones. The Brigadier dived out of the way and fired threw bullets into the mutant's bony back.

"Evacuate!" the Brigadier shouted, aware the spreading bloodstains were no longer like puddles of blue ink but turning a deep, angry crimson. The effect was fading but too late, as more of the floor crew were showing signs of infection...

A servant in plum-coloured pantaloons obsequiously welcomed Mike into the cool, air-conditioned foyer of the hotel and soon he was relaxing in his luxury suite - an ice-cool gin-and-tonic in his hand, of course! - believing that all was well.

I've had a lucky escape, thought Mike.

But he hadn't.

Although Mike slept like a log between the silken sheets of the biggest bed he'd experienced since his own great Elizabethan four-poster in the Dales, he woke up with a start - full of anxiety on the realization that it must inded have been the Master who had somehow entered into his life...

Worse, not just into his life but into his very body by means of that snake!

The famous spitting snake of Morocco, bile green and deadly behold but - and Mike breathed a sigh of relief at this - not a poisonous snake at all. Mike inwardly thanked himself for his self-taught interest in exotic zoology - he'd once written a paper on it - which had been borne from his encounters with Autons, globby Axons, Daleks and other alien periphia.

No, the Moroccan spitting snake, rare and evil-looking as it was, was definitely not poisonous. The spit produced immediate, excruciating - but harmless - pains, shock, temporary disorientation and mental confusion, and finally unconsciousness. But no lasting effects.

Why then should the Master - for that what indeed who it was - want to introduce this non-toxic serum into his system? There seemed to be no rhyme, but he must have had a reason...

Harry stared at the abomination as it emerged from the doorway. It was a sick, abhorent thing that was not quite a Dalek and nowhere near a human. The studded metal chasis hid everything below the human's braced neck. A metal cap-like dome was fused to the top of the individual's skull, and leads and wires ran down from it into the poor wretch's left eye. A single rod-like appendage, a gun-stick, emerged from the front of the creature.

Harry swallowed the bile rising up in his throat and assumed an air of nonchalance. "Not up your usual standards, Davros," he said haughtily, trying to ignore the creature's remaining eye staring blindly at him.

"Resources on this primitive planet are limited," Davros replied, disdain thick in his crackling electronic voice. "The technology for pure bio-mechanical interface is not yet possible. These crude hybrids are the best that this facility can manage at present."

"Please help me," the creature whispered softly.

"Why are you doing this?" Harry demanded, sick to his stomach.

The disembodied head rolled on its wire-shoulders with a gurgling chuckle. "Why not?" he asked. "It is, after all, what I do best. The Doctor destroyed the Daleks. He reduced my world to dust and crumbs. Do I not have a right to revenge?"

"Revenge on the Doctor, perhaps, but these are innocent people."

Davros' third eye blazed with barely-contained fury. "NO ONE IS INNOCENT!" he roared, voice box distorting until it could have been any Dalek ranting. "The Doctor destroyed my home and now I shall destroy his - the Earth."

"The Doctor isn't from Earth!" Harry protested.

"Which is why he cares for it so much," Davros retorted, drool dripping from his black mouth. "He chooses to be its protector. When my strategem advances, there will be chaos. The humans will summon their champion back to save them! The Doctor will return!"

"And when he does, you're finished!" Harry shouted back.

"Perhaps," Davros conceded thoughtfully. "But before the final conflict begins, I will have ravaged all he holds dear. I shall be waiting for him, with your corpse on open display!"

Harry looked up and down at Davros, a tiny, shrunken head inside a white and gold Dalek casing. No limbs, no weapons, nothing. There was no obvious way the nightmarish creature could possibly harm him.

And then Harry remembered the Dalek hybrid behind him.

And so had Davros. "Target enemy!" he barked.

"Target locked in," croaked the ghastly shape, the rod pointing at Harry's chest. He took a step backwards and the gunstick followed him with disconcerting ease.

"Power delivery to fire weapon - lethal discharge."

"Preparing to fire."

"Destroy the enemy! Exterminate!"

"Firing now..."

It was England. It was raining. Business as ususal.

And stumbling along the streets by the river, moving slowly and unsurely was a shell-shocked survivor that had once been a determined young woman; a haunted refugee who had once traveled through all of time and space.

Tegan Jovanka couldn't remember the last time she'd been somewhere cosy and warm and safe, as though she had stopped being able to even experience those feelings. She shivered as it began to rain, gusts of winter wind slashing at her bare arms and legs. Her stylish multicoloured dress and leather skirt weren't meant for such a climate, just as her spirit wasn't built for what she had just had to live through. She wasn't sure how long she'd been walking or how far she'd gone, only that the answer to both was "too much by half".

She was walking in the rain through a strange city without the faintest idea of where she was going or what she was doing to. She was cold and wet, she didn't have a penny in her pocket, she was tired and hungry and scared, suffered more in one day that most people had experienced in a lifetime, witnessed enough deaths to make her stomach lurch...

...but worst of all she didn't know whether she'd made the right decision.

Images flashed through her head. The deaths at the warehouse; doll-sized bodies; a curly-haired old man changing into a younger, blond man before her eyes; the Kinda, and their endless mindgames; a freighter vapourizing with Adric onboard; all the killing, all the deaths.

Tegan stopped suddenly on a street corner, staring into the wind, thinking of Nyssa. Tegan missed her most, her comforting, calming voice had been an anchor in Tegan's life, and she hadn't realized until this very moment just how much she missed the friendship of the young Trakenite. Had she had to leave? Had that been her last message to Tegan: get out while you can, before something makes it impossible for you to stay?

"Too bad I missed it, if it was," she sobbed.

Tegan knew she needed to sort herself out. Somewhere to go. Someone to turn to. But who did she know in London, 1984 that could help her? Aunt Vanessa was dead, Grandfather Andrew was in Little Hodcombe, miles away even if she knew his phone number. She didn't know who to contact. She didn't know what to do. She didn't even know which road lead to the nearest train station! With all the raindrops in her eyes, she could barely see. Rabbits, she was going to cry...

Tegan had realized a truth that had shattered her until even the pieces left were falling apart. Not the truth that there were monsters in the world - she'd known that for a very long time - but the truth that sometimes the monsters

Having spent so much time in the TARDIS, observing star charts and fractal nebula, Kamelion had almost forgotten about an actual sunset. Had he possessed lungs that required air intake, the sight would have been breathtaking. As he watched, the blue of the sky merged with the red on the horizon until the world seemed doused in fire.

The automaton reminded himself that he had not come here for the weather, which had become slightly more humid and stifling. He adjusted his current disguise, artificial beads of perspiration forming on his unreal brow. Appearances always had to be maintained.

Kamelion had enjoyed the silence and the freedom, away from the constant jabbering of minds aboard the TARDIS that gnawed at his identity. Peace was hard to come by, and he treasured thoughts he could be certain were his own.

He glanced up lazily as one of his companions made her way along the narrow path. There was no gesture of welcome, despite one of Kamelion's best pre-programmed smiles. "There you are," Tegan was grumbling. "You snuck out of the TARDIS without saying anything!"

"As I said earlier, Miss Jovanka, I have a mind of my own."

"We thought you were on board when the Doctor took off."

"Since you have returned to this world, I must conclude the truth did come to light," Kamelion shrugged unconcerned. He had only been marooned at the Eye of Orion for a few hours - he had suffered much worse on Xeriphas.

"Yeah, well, we could sure have used your help out there! Assuming you can help anyone," she added with distaste.

"Those who need help," Kamelion agreed. "You clearly survived without me."

Tegan thumped down on a rock beside her. "There was a time when the Doctor and I travelled with normal people," she muttered. "Proper, normal people. Not creepy blue-eyed androids or shifty schoolboys. People we could trust."

"The Doctor trusts me."

"I don't."

"You do not trust Turlough either."

"I know I can rely on him. The only thing I can rely on you to be is... well..."

Kamelion yawned. "Unreliable?"

"You got it."

For a moment, something indefinable seemed to bind the two of them together, and then it was gone. They sat in silence, listening to the breeze passing by.

Tegan looked at the beautiful colours in the sky. "Nice sunset."

Kamelion nodded. "Watch it," he told her, rising to leave. "It will be over soon."

Mel entered Estelle's office, casually knocking on the open door for politeness' sake as she did so. Her manager was not alone - perched on the corner of the desk, looking wistfully out the window was a clown. He had a mass of wild blond curls and colourful mismatched clothing; a patchwork frock coat over striped trousers and a silver-purple waistcoat. All that was missing was the face paint.

Estelle gave a slightly embarrassed smile. Don't ask, her eyes pleaded.

"Yes, Mel, what is it?" the manager asked.

The clown's head snapped around as though she'd shouted 'fire' at the top of her voice. He stared at Mel for a long time and his expression was... strange. He looked frightened, yet resigned, like someone who had been told a terrible fact they had long suspected. A man whose last appeal for mercy had been turned down.

And then he grinned at her like a three year old with candy.

Mel smiled back. He was probably great with kids.

Remembering Estelle's question, she placed the manila folder of print-outs onto the desk. "We've finally managed to separate the encrypted code," she reported. "But I've double-checked every protocol on record. There's no language like it."

"I don't suppose I could have a peek, could I?" asked the clown.

Estelle passed him the file without a looking. Mel saw the bored resignation on her face. The clown had probably been double-checking everything in the office - but she was still at loss why a circus entertainer was in the office of Lethe Logistics.

So Mel did what she always did: asked.

"Afternoon," she said brightly. "I'm Melanie Bush..."

"Known as Mel?" asked the clown, flipping through the print-outs.

"You've heard of me, then?"

"Something like that," he said absently, then looked at her again. There was still a hint of... regret?... in his eyes, but it would be easy to miss. "It is very nice to finally meet you again."

Mel blinked, frowning at the strange tenses. "I'm certain we haven't met before."

"Mel has a photographic memory," Estelle said, sipping her coffee and sounding bored. "She remembers everything. It's very useful... most of the time..."

The clown nodded solemnly. "A memory like an elephant," he sighed. Then, back to business, he threw the file onto the desk like the last week of non-stop research by Mel and the others was totally worthless. "Despite my initional fears, this code is entirely human in origin," he said, leaping to his feet. "The only reason Mel... er, Miss Bush, here... didn't recognize it is that the new code hasn't caught on yet."

"You mean it's only just been created?" asked Mel, keeping up.

The clown shook his head. "Oh, no. I mean it it hasn't been created yet! And it won't be, not for another fifty years at least - that computer language is commonplace in the 2030s. Which does rather beg the question of how it could be in the 1980s."

"How can you say that?" Mel demanded, frowning. "Have you been to the 2030s?"

"Oh yes," the clown replied, as though discussing a visit to Bognor Regis. "Quite a few times actually. It's why I'm here assisting the investigation, on behalf of Colonel Chrichton. Oh, yes, silly me, I almost forgot."

He held out his hand.

Warily, Mel shook it.

"How do you do, Melanie? I'm the Doctor!"

Ace and the Prydonian Candidate
Marc Platt

The story was laughable, which was impressive given Kate didn't find it the least bit amusing. A bitter old woman had discovered the fountain of youth, entirely by accident, working alone one long night in the lamp and accidentally transformed herself into a body sixty years younger than it had been at the start of the evening. Kate was surprised there wasn't a convenient thunderstorm and a passing vicar shouting about blasphemous meddling with nature to complete the mix.

"You're saying her rejuvenator is actually a time machine?" she asked the Magician.

The Magician tapped his lips and grimaced. "Not quite, not exactly, far too imprecise," he replied. "It would be more accurate, more true to life to say that the rejuvenator is not a rejuvenator at all. It is an engine, a mechanism, a device whose power derives from the temporal vortex that binds all things together. The machine tames that power, directs it, focusses it on one task and one task only - but then some of the vortex escaped the machine. Wild, unpredictable, swirling... easy enough to leave someone in a changed body but an unchanged mind."

Kate remembered the cracks in the walls and complicated patterns of lightning.

"Just so we're clear on the topic," she said, "had I been stealing a common-or-garden fountain of youth machine, there would have been no trouble."

The Magician arched an eyebrow, then slowly shook his head.

Kate beamed up at him. "But you're clearly hung up on the fact it was actually a time vortex machine that I tried to steal."

"I am more concerned, upset and drawn to the fact you broke it!" the Magician said, throwing a rose onto the floor in sudden anger.

Kate looked up through the skylight where the clear moonlit darkness was replaced by the whirlpool of green and blue. "So, let me guess. The entire laboratory complex has been sucked into the time vortex itself?"

"No, incorrect, wrong first time. You have ripped the entire time vortex from its moorings and it is about to crash down upon the entire Earth. The various timestreams that form the vortex are colliding and collapsing in on each other. The totality of the space-time continuum will shatter and there will be no past, no present and no future."

"Oooh," said Kate wincing. "Nasty."

The Magician's voice was like cut glass. "Quite. You and you alone have murdered, butchered, annihilated reality as the term is understood, known and spoken."

"Now, now," she said, waggling a finger. "Are we going to play the blame game until the universe ends, or are we going to do something productive?"

"Such as?"

"Oh, at a guess...
stop the universe ending?"

"But it has already happened. It is happening now. Destiny decrees and creation abides. You cannot save the universe you doomed, Kate Tollinger because there will never be anything left to save and nor were you ever alive to try. It is over. This is the end."

Kate paled, her hand going to her mouth in fright.

Then her expression hardened.

"Screw that!" she vowed.

Hex & Hexagora
Peter Ling

"What the hell are they?" Jake demanded, eyes wide.

The three giant metal columns had landed in a triangle around the Thames flood barrier like new tower blocks on stubby legs. Now hatches at the base of each column were opening and massive figures were emerging from each ship, marching in strict military formations. Even at this distance, they could hear the stomp of heavy boots. Through the binoculars, they could see gleaming black battle armor, long metal-studded leather tunics and belts hung with weapons. They wore enormous domed helmets and blasters were held in gloved fists.

"Sontarans," Mickey said confidently. "It's Sontarans. Am I right?"

Rose gave him an apologetic look. "Nah, but a lot of people make that mistake."

"Would Sontarans have been better?" asked Jake, confused.

"Hard to say," Rose admitted. "They're Jundoon."


"I think that's their name. Never really met them, but... I heard about them."

"From where?" asked Jake.

"The usual," Mickey replied. That was an end to it.

"See, the universe is huge, right?" Rose explained. "And all the governments and empires and federations, none of them can cover the whole universe, none of them are big enough. There's always a higher authority. Well, back in our universe, the highest authority - well, now there's no Time Lords - is this thing called the Shadow Proclamation. They sort of preside over the whole universe, every planet, every species, but you have to be super advanced and evolved even to know about it. But the Shadow Proclamation ain't what you'd call good at rough stuff, they're just some witches in an admin office. So they hire out these goons to do all the grunt work for them. The Jundoon. Whenever something happens the Shadow Proclaimers don't like, they send in these guys as troops. Big on procedure, big on collatoral damage, not so big on things like being clever."

Jake frowned. "You mean there's some giant space police force out there?" he exclaimed, nodding up at the stormy grey sky. "Why are they coming here now? Where were they four years back when we needed them? They just left us on our own to face the Cybermen!"

"Internal disputes," Rose shrugged. "It's a whole different scale, Jake. It's like expecting the head of the UN to come round to your flat to tell the neighbors off for playing music too loud."

Jake stared at her. "What's the UN?" he asked, totally baffled.

Rose gritted her teeth. "I really, really hate this universe," she said sweetly.

"You get used to it," Mickey assured her.

It was the end of summer on the Boeshane Peninsula, as hot and long and dusty as they always had been and probably always would be. There were a few more varieties of vegetable growing in the cultivation zone than I remembered from the old days, and the complex was slightly wider than it had been... but apart from that, things were the same as ever.

It was 5238, sixteen years after I'd abandoned this tiny little redneck corner of the universe - where the natives were so backwards they believed in monogamous monosexuality and fashion had died somewhere two millennia earlier - and joined the Time Agency. I'd never come back, convinced the rest of the universe had more to offer. More fool me.

"Don't they have anything as transport here apart from livestock?" Alonzo groaned behind me, saddle-sore after only an hour on horseback. No wonder the Shadow Proclaimation turned him down if he was that prone to complaining, about everything. Food on the shuttle, the surliness of the locals, now even the tame horses we'd hired. Whiney, self-hating and possibly bipolar. No wonder the Doctor thought he'd be my type.

"You should have been here before they got the brood units working," I told him. "Besides, you don't need spare part from off-world to repair a horse and they produce their own replacements. Useful stuff around here."

Alonzo shrugged. "If you say so, Yanto."

As ever, I bit down the correction. I'm not Captain Jack Harkness. I'm not even a Captain, just got a field promotion by outliving a dozen separate military regimes. And I only ever liked the army for the communal showers and some of the uniforms. Not that I wear a uniform any more. Even my coat... the coat Ianto bought me... is gone, payment for the trip down to this distant, forgotten backwater.

We rode down towards the shore, two anonymous men in the robes of locals, just passing through. No one special. Just a boy and his horse. And his boyfriend. And another horse. On their way to meet the first boy's lonely old mom. Like I say, things are real backward in the Boeshane Peninsula.

Lazing on a rock on the beach was someone I didn't expect to see again. His once-smart clothes were more battered than I remembered, more grey in his hair, fresh bruises on that finely-chiseled face, and a new pair of nunchukkas strapped to his upper arm. No one else in Boe wore a gun, even despite the obvious dangers. He couldn't have stood out more from the crowd then he tried, but I knew he tried a lot.

"Fancy meeting you here," I called.

He didn't open his eyes. "And you do," he drawled in Old Earth Cockney.

"Who's he?" Alonzo demanded. He was so cute when he was jealous. Trouble was, that meant he was cute a hell of a lot of the time.

"Captain John Hart," my old lover lied through his teeth. "Formally of the Cyrrinic Empire, the Vandor Confederacy and indeed anywhere that will give a poor duck like me a warm bed for the night. The more crowded the better!"

"What are you doing here?" I asked impatiently.

"Could ask the same of you, mate," Captain John retorted.

"Catching up with family."

"Didn't know you had any left," he said, in a less confronting tone. "And why you're poncing around here in the back of beyond when you've got a cute Welsh lass big of belly and heavy of heart waiting back on Earth 2010, I don't even want to know! She cried about you a lot. Still, she's got her husband - and HE is sex on a stick, isn't he? Woulda liked to be there on his buck's night... maybe I will?"

"I told you to leave me alone," I said.

"Would that I could, oh pal of mine come home to roost." He flashed his dangerous grin at Alonzo. "Nice Eye-Candy, though I preferred the original. Nope, I'm here entirely on business."

I hopped down from the horse. "Business? Here? On my home turf?"

"Proper business," Captain John said with that oh-so-innocent look of his. "Real official business. If I gave a Foamasi's fart about laws and stuff, I'd even have written permission to be here. The Time Agency is coming back together!"

I was left speechless. "You want me back?"

Captain John let out that cruel snigger of his that I really try not to let turn me on. "You? Mister Immortal Stick-In-The-Mud Excuse Me While I Sell Your Children To Some Space Junkies From Andromeda? Mister Gee My Scooby Gang All Died Horribly And Pointlessly Because I Haven't A Clue How To Be Responsible? Puh-lease! Your sort of help, mate, we can do without!"

"So why are you here?" Alonzo said, trying to come to my defense.

Captain John jerked a thumb in the direction of the complex. We followed his gesture and for the first time I noticed a large, curving crack had appeared in the middle of the western wall.

Mickey cracked open the bottle of beer and, tossing the lid into the corner, angled the bottle so it was aimed over Jask's probic vent. The fizzing alcohol gurgled loudly as it poured down the vent and into the trooper's stocky body. The Sontaran choked and gagged, spluttering as his system reacted and he was agonizingly restored to consciousness.

"Wake up, Humpty," he growled.

"My name," the trooper groaned, "is Jask! My rank is Commander in the Eighth Sontaran Reconaissance Corps - and that is all the information I will reveal."

Mickey poured another slug down the probic vent. "Bet your life?" he asked.

It was a few seconds before Jask could breathe again. "I have been trained to resist over twelve thousand forms of tortures devised by creatures you puny mammalians could never even imagine existed! Besides, what possible information could I have you primitives could comprehend, let alone use against the glorious Sontaran Empire?"

"A friend of mine - a very, very good friend of mine is in trouble," Mickey explained, leaning in close as he dared to the Sontaran. The clone's oily breath was unspeakable, but Mickey had faced worse in his time. "And you're my best bet to finding out the truth."

"Friend?" Jask sneered. "Weak words. Sentiment in conflict is far more dangerous than any enemy on the battlefield. Your comrades should face their doom with dignity." The Sontaran's red, bloodshot eyes narrowed. "Your crude attempt at poisoning me has failed. The moment the toxins are cleansed from my system, I shall break free of these bonds and then snap your spine."

Mickey cocked his rifle and aimed it lazily at his prisoner. "And you're telling me this because...?"

"Because I do not fear you, or your reprisals! Open fire if you wish. You might even manage to kill me before I can kill you - but you will lose whatever information I possess. Either way, your strategy has failed."

"Has it?" asked a voice.

Twisting his shoulders as best he could, Jask turned and saw Martha standing over him. She had his own blaster aimed right between his deep-set eyes. "See, Commander, I have not had good experiences with your people," she continued conversationally. "Your assault on my planet murdered thousands. My husband was one of them."

"A blood fued?" asked Jask, mildly interested. "One female against a Sontaran Warrior? I confess the idea intrigues me. I challenge you to open combat."

Martha smiled and shook her head.

"You fear death. I do not."

"No," Martha agreed. "But I know what you do fear - returning to Sontar a failure. Defeated. Shamed. And you'd suffer much worse things that being shot by us. You'd be made an example of - they'd turn you into a medic. You'd spend the rest of your life unable to fight a single battle, having to save the weak and injured. Your whole clone batch would have to do it as well. And we can make that happen Commander. We can give you a trip straight back to the Sontaran homeworld with enough proof for your superiors to damn you for eternity."

Jask was silent. His eyes scanned the warehouse, searching for escape.

"And whether or not that happens," Mickey said, inhaling deeply through his nose like a wild beast preparing to charge, "all depends on how you answer one question."

Jask met their gaze unblinkingly. "Well?"

"What did you do to the Doctor?"

The new governor watched patiently as the prisoner packed her suitcase, seemingly unaware of the squad of armed soldiers aiming their guns through the bars of the cell. "During my predecessor's time," the governor began conversationally, "you escaped from this prison on no less than fifteen occasions."

River Song shook her head of unruly curls. "Oh, it was never fifteen! Unless you're counting holidays and hair appointments," she admitted.

"It's not going to happen on my watch," the governor continued, ignoring the interruption - at least until River Song began to take her clothes off. "What are you doing?" he demanded.

"Well," said River, continuing to undress, "I'm not leaving dressed like this!" She crossed to the cupboard and opening it to reveal a rail of dresses that was far too long to have fitted inside the small storage locker. The prisoner caught the governor's look of confusion. "Oh, don't mind my wardrobe," she said reassuringly. "Just a teensy bit bigger on the inside..."

The last of his composure disappearing, the governor rounded on his men. "Shoot her!" he roared, surreptitiously stepping back out of the firing line.

"We can't shoot a prisoner, sir!" one guard protested.

"Shoot Dr. Song!" the governor roared. "Now!"

"Boys, think it through!" called the now-naked River as she began to flick through the dresses on display. "What do you really want to do?"

Furious, the governor took the gun from his belt and aimed it River's naked back...

A few minutes later, the duty officer was on the telephone once again. "Yeah, it's Dr. Song," he was reporting. "She escaped again."

He stepped aside, allowing a body on a stretcher to be rushed past.

"Oh, and she shot the governor..."

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