Idly reading around I learned that several Kaldor City pitches were abandoned because they actually provided answers to the not-that-interesting questions. So, sod that, right? So, here's a missing segment to the story to explain absolutely every possible vagueness and interpretation - because if some yokel can make a fortune saying Olag Gan's a sex killer, I can show that Kaldor City is a waste of time.
(Apologies to Paul Dale Smith for unwittingly causing this.)
(set betwixt The Robots of Death, Image of the Fendahl, Corpse Marker, Occam's Razor, Metafiction, The Time Waster, Checkmate, The Prisoner, Storm Mine, Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge, Robophobia and Dark Eyes: The Traitor all at the time time!)
The quarters of Kaston Iago, senior security consultant to Firstmaster Chairholder Kiy Uvanov and self-described homicidal maniac, were a wreck. The body of Elska Blayes, former Company security agent and part-time terrorist-cum-agent provocateur, lay sprawled by the overturned desk and surrounded by broken glass. The cauterized hole punched through her heart was the cause of death, but her empty plasma rifle, the bullet-ridden wall opposite and the several litres of spilled blood made it clear her murderer would soon be joining her in the afterlife.
A Voc robot entered the room and looked at the carnage dispassionately before turning away.
Kaston Iago himself was on the main thoroughfare in the towerblock outside. His angular black tunic was sodden with blood, and his ghastly pale skin brought out his eye makeup in dark contrast. Blood bubbled over his lips as he managed to make his way to the air vent on the fourth transverse gangway to the east.
With numb, nerveless hands, he tried to remove the junction box panel to find the strange device he had hidden there many months earlier for something approaching this emergency. Iago was criminally insane, but he was not stupid and there had always been the chance this backwater planet would blow up in his face. But if he was quick enough he could quite literally cheat fate...
Unfortunately, he'd lost too much blood. He swayed unsteadily and toppled to the pavement.
It was the middle of the night, and no one knew he was there. And no one would have tried to help him if they had. Kaldor City was not a place known for its charity.
Firstmaster Chairholder Kiy Uvanov looked triumphantly at the Company Board members lining the long table before him. There was a feral excitement in his eyes in great contrast his sullen, almost skeletal face. He was certain he had them all. He'd rammed home the circumstances of how he'd blackmailed his way onto the Board by keeping quiet about the Storm Mine 4 killer robots. He'd used the Oxygenator 4 Hostage Crisis, the attack on Company Central and the latest robot uprising to his favor.
Of course his arch enemy and rival Landerchild and his former-employee and manipulative scoundrel Carnell had turned upon him and provided a dossier damning Uvanov as the biggest villain Kaldor City had ever known, revealing all the details of his genocidal purposes and organized terrorism to secure his own powerbase. It was all true, but the truth meant nothing - Uvanov had taken the precaution of preparing his own dossier which blamed Landerchild for everything. In fact, he had a specialized dossier for every single boardmember for just this sort of catastrophe.
Even so, he'd not expected Landerchild to get his hands on incriminating evidence. That could be difficult, but Uvanov was going to have to gamble his entire empire on the wayward paranoia of the rest of the board members - those who had survived the months since Uvanov had started his purges, anyway.
"It is for you to decide," he announced proudly. "Am I guilty? Or is Landerchild? Or both of us? Or neither? Or," he added making sure everyone knew this was the real option being given, "is Carnell a damned liar and has in fact forged all of this information to topple Company board integrity for ever?"
"Carnell was in your direct employ!" the weedy Landerchild sneered.
"Carnell was an advisor, I concede, but his services were offered to anyone willing to pay for them," said Uvanov smugly. "Including you, Landerchild. Even the most cursory examination of the last two years will show that these turbulent times began the moment Carnell began advising topmasters and firstmasters in Kaldor City. We are being manipulated by an outside force and we might pull together to stop it."
The secretary rose. "We will discuss this new evidence and return in one hour."
The other board members left the room, closing the doors behind them before either Landerchild or Uvanov could follow. The former Storm Mine captain chuckled in amusement. "I warned you, Landerchild. You've played your hand without checking it was the strongest."
"It is the strongest!" shouted Landerchild. "Because it is true! From the moment you forced your non-entity presence into these hallowed institutions, you have been responsible for countless murders and butchering your way to the top. Don't bother denying it, Uvanov. I at least care about the fate of Kaldor City, but you have been willing to destroy it just to get to the top of the power structure!"
Uvanov snorted. "What else is a power structure for? You and the other founding families never really understood - you created a pyramid. And I've seen the top and the bottom and I will not return to the Sewerpits for anything. I thought, maybe, in younger days I might have improved Kaldor City but it was rotten to the core. And in true founding family tradition, I put myself first."
"You're very confident," Landerchild observed.
"Yes, Landerchild, I am." Uvanov poured himself a drink. "I've saved Kaldor City several times and undermined both you and every scrap of evidence you could put against me. The Company will not dare turn against me at a time like this, when the Taranists are out of control."
"Out of control because you encouraged them for your own ends!"
"You're only bitter because I managed it first."
"I could be recording this!"
"Voice prints are easily forged." Uvanov knocked back his drink. "I have the Tarenists under my control, the media under my wing, and the Company in my pocket. I suggest you enjoy some sweet wine now, Landerchild. You'll be lucky to be thrown in the sewerpits after this..."
A door opened in the boardroom to reveal a human assistant and a Voc robot.
"What is it?" shouted Landerchild, glad to have someone to shout at.
"V143 reports there has been a violent incident at the residence of Kaston Iago," reported the human. "The body of known terrorist Elska Blayes has been found."
"And Iago?" asked Uvanov, mildy-interested.
"Unknown, however all forensic analysis suggests he has been badly injured."
Uvanov paled. With Carnell gone, Iago was his most powerful ally and by the same logic a crucial weakness. Iago knew where the bodies had been recycled, and would have no qualms about turning on Uvanov if it became in his best interests to do so. "Then get all the security teams looking for him! Where's Rull?"
"Still in hospital," Landerchild said smugly. "I think it best Cotton take over the operations."
Uvanov arched a grey eyebrow. "Why not? I knew he was in your pay, Landerchild. He's been more use bringing you down than he ever was to me. Just find Iago and find him now!"
And then a strange noise rolled around the boardroom. It was a noise none of them had heard before, like a strange muffled explosion in the sky. Both Uvanov and Landerchild went to the windows overlooking the complex mass of towers and spires below. The air seemed to be thickening with electrical discharges.
"What is going on in this city?" demanded Landerchild. No one had an answer for him.
Paullus backed away in horror. The Tarenist HQ was full of howling, moaning noises like desert winds or static. The Tarenists were pressed to the walls of the main hall, recoiling in terror. A pentagram blazed with impossible light on the floor while twelve hand-picked diciples had withered into nothingness and left strange hissing, gobbling cobra-like beings in their place. Justina, the One Who Kills, stood at the centre of the pentagram, burning with light. Her tunic and leggings became long robes, her skin and hair turned golden and large insect-like eyes grew on her eyelids as she smiled.
Paullus ran to his office in the antechamber. The skull - not of Taren Capel, he now realized - was burning with an outrush of energy. The computer screen showing the static suddenly coalesced to form a pentagram blazing red. He looked back into the main hall as the snake-like monsters grew larger and larger, shuffling towards the other Tarenists who were now unable to move, as if frozen in terror.
As Paullus watched, they struck and bit their prey on the back of their necks and sucking the life out of their screaming victims. "What are you doing to them? Tell me what you're doing to them!" he screamed at the skull. "What have you brought upon us?"
Your corruption will be stripped away, said a voice from the skull. Ander Poul.
The red-haired man collapsed, howling in pain as he felt his mind buckle. Suddenly he could remember it all - being a security agent for the Company, his robophobia getting the better of him not once but twice until his personality had disintegrated and he'd become another man together. Then he remembered Storm Mine 4 and the Doctor and Leela...
They were the ones who made you what you are, Ander Poul. Just as they made me. I used them, to bring me here to start afresh. The Fendahl is once more manifest.
Paullus - or rather Poul - scrambled to the doorway. Only a few of the congregation were still alive, the rest rotting to skeletons on the floor. The snake-monsters were two metres tall now, hissing and roaring hungrily.
"You're killing everything!"
I am removing physical corruption. I feast on your bodies. But your souls? They are another matter.
One of the snakes shuffled on a carpet of slime towards Poul. And Poul suddenly couldn't move.
Humanity shall be within me. The gestalt shall grow. The whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.
"You're going to consume Kaldor City!" he screamed as the snake drew closer.
Kaldor City must be destroyed to start again. But why do you fear becoming part of a greater whole. You may well appreciate the experience but then again you might not. You let yourself be swallowed my madness and cults and paranoia. You have always wanted to be part of something, Poul. And now you shall.
Poul thought miserably of how he'd let Carnell to convince him to infiltrate the Tarenists and assist Blayes, of how he'd so wanted their idealistic beliefs to be true he'd let this Fendahl control him simply because it told him what he wanted to hear. He could think of a million chances he'd had to turn away and he'd wasted them all. He didn't even bother to cry out as the monster pounced.
He was too depressed of how he'd wasted his life to care it was over.
Voc robots were running up and down the residential complex, while overweight and sadistic company security guards also attempted to find the missing Kaston Iago. With the damage to Company Central in the recent terrorist attack, they had no sophisticated surveillance to find him. They were forced to rely on human inginuity and that was in short supply.
Overhead, the unnatural storm expanded and bellowed.
On a little-known cross-walkway, Kaston Iago was bleeding to death. Dimly he was aware of someone standing over him. It was, he realized groggily, Justina - the woman he'd had sex with on many an occasion, though she was probably stupid enough to think it was some kind of relationship. He'd barely noticed the news she had apparently been kidnapped by the Tarenists. Frankly, he didn't want to deal with the lovelorn parasite. If he still had his gun, he'd shoot her now.
Iago, she said in a voice not her own. You are dying. Justina wants you to live. She loved you.
"How..." he rasped weakly, "how are you going to do that?"
The gestalt is powerful. It knows what you intend to do. The not-Justina pointed at the device in his hand. You wish to go back, to have free will and alter events. You have done it before, so many times. You know that device will not transfer you back in time, its power source is exhausted. But the gestalt can reverse you along your timeline and prevent this from ever occuring.
Kaston peered blearily at her. "And if I do go back in time..."
You will have free will. You will remember what has and will happened.
"You know who I am... what I am..."
The Fendahl is within humanity and humanity is within the Fendahl. Part of us wishes to save you, therefore all of us wishes to save you. But we can only do this if you are willing.
"Fendahl," Iago croaked. He dimly remembered the red pentagram by Wallback, the artist who had forseen the end of the world. The Fendahl tryptich, three paintings of a skull and a snake and a pentagram. Somehow it had been prophesized that the world would end. And Justina was part of it.
Iago grinned. "Well, let's cut the chat and get on with it..."
A Voc robot detected the blood trail of Kaston Iago and followed it onto a walkway. The trail ended by an open junction box and a small chronometer device. There was no sign of any body. The Voc turned away to make a report to its human masters.
All evidence suggested Iago had vanished from the surface of the planet Kaldor.
Kaston Iago was in Uvanov's office with Justina. It was like he was dreaming, or maybe he was having a flashback. As he remembered, he was speaking with Uvanov's secretary, discussing arrangements. He told Justina to get rid of the Wallbank painting of a pentagram, warning her red attracted psychopaths.
And then all of a sudden, Iago could move and speak and do things different from how he remembered.
So he grabbed the painting off the wall and cut it to shreds with a knife.
When Justina tried to stop him, he drew his clipgun and shot her. And then he emptied the rest of the clip into her twitching corpse to make sure.
Justina was dead. The painting was destroyed. The future he had witnessed now could not occur, at least how he remembered it. Iago was free, and out of the Fendahl's reach. He could resume his work with Kaldor City with the benefit of foresight, killing more people than before, creating more chaos...
"Do you ever get the feeling you've been cheated, Iago?" asked a voice from the doorway.
Iago spun around. It was Carnell. But he shouldn't have been there. They hadn't met yet. Carnell should have been in his office on the other side of the city, contemplating Iago's powerplay. But even as he looked, Iago realized that this wasn't Carnell any more than it had been Justina on the walkway. It was just their shape.
"Is this real? Or just some hallucination?" Iago demanded.
It was a test, Iago, sneered Carnell. Or should I say Archer? You've long lost any touch with right or wrong, rewriting history again and again so you could kill people. Criminals, potential criminals and then anything with a pulse. Until your time machine stranded you here in the future with the face of a notorious intergalactic terrorist. Kerr Avon. Kaston Iago.
"I suppose I liked the man. He certainly killed enough people to earn my respect," Iago admitted. "When he shot that fool Blake on Gauda Prime, I was able to take over from him with that stupid computer. I learned a lot about his pathetic life, and it let me have great fun with the rebels until they finally worked it out."
And so you came here, to Kaldor. I hope you had fun, Frank Archer. Because you had the ear of the gestalt, the love of Justina. And you've shown her how you repaid that love. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, Iago. Shall we put that to the test?
The office was fading away, Carnell was golden and glowing, strange eyes forming on his eyelids.
Iago or Avon or Archer or whoever he was, tried to think of something witty to say.
The Sewerpits were full of screams. The Tarenists and the cutthroats and the whores and the rapists and thieves were running for the ladders and shanty towns. Giant headless green serpents sprouting frothing red fronds were surging out from the lower levels, freezing those around them into paralysis and feasting on them at their liesure. A golden figure appeared on a walkway.
The Fendahl rises and this world shall shine...
"Dead?" exclaimed Uvanov incredulously. "But where's the body?"
"There's no sign, sir," said the nameless security guard Uvanov intended to have thrown into the sewerpits stark naked at the earliest opportunity. "The body just vanished, the blood splashes and everything. Even if he found some medical attentions, chances are he still would have karked it."
"Well, what do you want me to do about?"
"You can show some damned respect for my position for a start!"
"Or what?" scoffed the guard. "Your pet psycho's gone, mate. We're the one with the stun-kills, so maybe you show a bit of respect for us."
Uvanov was apoplectic with fury. Landerchild was amused. "Your natural authority in evidence once again, Uvanov," he sneered. "No founder family member would allow such familiarity. See, you loosen discipline and the entire structure just falls apart."
"Shut up you anodyne stream of vegetarian piss!" Uvanov bellowed, then turned to the guard. "Do you want to end up in the sewerpits?"
The guard aimed his gun at Uvanov. "Do you want to end up in a mortuary?"
Despite his enjoyment of seeing Uvanov squirm, Landerchild's instincts were to side with him. After all, Uvanov was the superior of the guard and ergo the guard should obey. "Must I summon a hoarde of stop-dums into here to deal with you? You are on Company property and..."
There was another thunderclap from outside.
At that moment, the doors opened and the boardmembers emerged from their discussion. Ingrained obedience made the guard snap to attention, forgetting his mounting rebellion in the face of an organized authority. "Uvanov, Landerchild, we have discused this matter at some length. We have agreed that Carnell has been trying to destabilize the natural order of Kaldor City and has provided evidence to undermine your reputations and authority. However, while we are not convinced either of you are the single mastermind behind the recent outrages, both your integrities have been breeched. We have no confidence in either of you taking the post of Topmaster Chairholder and thus both of you are hereby exiled from this committee until such time as evidence can be found establishing your innocence completely."
"What?" spluttered Uvanov, his voice incredibly shrill.
"This is precisely the ill-considered reaction Carnell was trying to provoke," said Landerchild angrily. "There are no other alternatives to run the Company Board who match our experience or authority."
"We have chosen not to choose," the secretary said flatly. "Kaldor City has gone to wrack and ruin during the leadership of Uvanov. Whatever his abilities in dealing with crises, they continue to happen and Landerchild has offered no viable reparations. The time has come for a new beginning..."
"A new beginning?" squawked Uvanov furiously, pale blue eyes bulging out of his head. "Three times now I've saved this miserable civilization from Taren Capel's robots of death and nothing has changed! What is this new beginning going to be? The same old cycle as ever before, with a needless surplus population on the verge of constant rebellion while we continue to mine useless ores and build useless robots!"
"This anarchic paranoia is one of the many reasons we have lost confidence," began the secretary.
"Paranoia? You're only paranoid when you're wrong and I'm never wrong!" shouted Uvanov. "I fought my way to rule this planet and I will not give up now. I could unleash a robot revolution before the hour is out - I know how it's done. I can use the Tarenists to take away the air you breathe or have killers slaughter each and every one of you in your beds! I am not in your boardroom, fellow members - you are in mine!"
"At last," drawled Landerchild. "The truth."
"Yes, the truth!" Uvanov ranted. "I've got rid of everyone who could possibly stop me. You and the others in this room are just for show, a pretence at there being another option to my rule. It is your resistance to me, your sickening refusal to accept the situation, that has forced me to take these measures."
"Measures?" exclaimed the secretary. "You really are guilty of all the crimes?"
"And more!" said the ex-Chairholder with relish. "So you should all be very, very afraid of me. Kaldor City is a dictatorship and I am the dictator - you are nothing more than scenery dressing that I no longer require!"
"You're going to murder us too?" The secretary was unimpressed. "How many people have already died because of you, Uvanov? Are you going to murder everyone in Kaldor City?"
"No one's given me a compelling reason not to," growled Uvanov. "You've all chosen to stand against me, well that's fine - but the penalty for you free will is death!"
His voice had dropped to an almost hypnotic snarl. Everyone stared at Uvanov in amazement.
And then the guard casually aimed his plasma rifle to the back of Uvanov's head and blew his skull apart. There was a messy burst of blood, bone and brains yet even Landerchild couldn't deny there was a real dignity with the way the headles corpse slowly sank to its knees and then toppled forward onto the carpet.
More thunder rumbled outside.
"That was for my aunt," said the guard. "Everyone forgot poor old Toos."
He turned and left.
"This is Kaldor City News - all the news, all the facts, all the time. As the City reels from the latest Tarenist attacks, word is coming in that notorious terrorist and mass murderer Elska Blayes has been executed while carrying out an unprovoked attack on the household of Firstmaster Chairholder Uvanov. The Company Board are currently in seclusion following this momentous day but reports are coming in from all across the Sewerpits of a second Tarenist uprising which has already claimed countless lives..."
A flyer sliced through the stormy skies under the dome of Kaldor City to the hospital complex. Inside, Landerchild sat in the passenger seat while his Voc piloted the craft. "Never mind the press release," he was shouting into the communicator channel. "Uvanov's death will be reported later, I want full details released on my sayso. As new Firstmaster Chairholder, I want all exits to this city closed. On no account is anyone to be believed. Carnell is still at large and, like Uvanov, I won't believe Iago's dead until I see his body!"
"Yes, sir," said the personal assistant. "However, the Tarenist uprising has already hit the media. It seems that they are using the same bio-warfare used to attack Uvanov's residence. Hallucinations, mass panic, some kind of rapid decomposition..."
"Chemical weapons, obviously," said Landerchild briskly. "Very well, isolate the Sewerpits. Put Kaldor City under strict quarantine - no exceptions. We need to contain this. I want a thorough search of everything Uvanov was up to. If he can turn robots into killers, we can send a squad of Vocs into the Sewerpits and put those machine-hating maniacs out of my misery."
"I want to be able to appear on the morning news saying everything is under control and actually tell the truth for once. Uvanov's purges could easily continue for the short term, if I don't like what's happening." The new Firstmaster shut off the comm-link. He'd seen first hand what unchecked threats lead to, but the first days of a new regime needed to be harsh.
"Now, where the hell has Cotton got to?"
Poul was in a sandminer. Everywhere he went, he was surrounded by dead men. Tarenists, company staff, even some of the old Storm Mine 4 crew who'd been strangled.
"Paullus," said a voice. There was someone right behind him, but Poul couldn't see who it was. The voice didn't sound familiar. "Who is that?"
"You tell me," growled the voice. "Paullus, you're the leader of the Tarenists, you worked with Blayes..."
"Did I?" Poul frowned. "No, I'm Company Security. D84 and I were on a mission..."
"This isn't real, Paullus. You've been swallowed up into a group mind. Your body's probably a shriveled corpse somehwere. None of this is real."
"Then how do I know you're real?"
"That's not helpful."
"It wasn't intended to be. Don't you see the truth, Paullus? Look around you..."
Poul shook his head. "No, I have work to do. Those letters need checking out and I'm sure Uvanov is up to something. He and Kerril have been meeting in secret..."
"Paullus! Come back!" Kaston Iago sighed. "This is my damnation. Unable to interfere. I can't even kill that twitching ginger baboon... If I believed in justice, I still wouldn't deserve this..."
Landerchild strode across the hallway into the intensive care ward and stopped dead as he saw Cotton - or, rather, his plasma-bullet-riddled corpse lying on the corner of the ward. Landerchild looked at the boulder-like dimensions of Security Commander Rull, still in traction.
"What happened?" Landerchild gasped.
"I happened, Landerchild!" growled Rull, one fleshy arm pointing a plasma handgun at him. "I worked it all out - Cotton was working for you all the time, and you've been building yourself up to take over from Uvanov using point zero five of my wages!"
"Uvanov is dead," said Landerchild flatly. "I am now Firstmaster Chairholder of the Company Board!"
"Oh, really?" Rull's bloated face creased in merriment. "I've never killed a Firstmaster Chairholder before!"
"Don't be foolish, Rull! I need your experience and authority in this matter. Kaldor City is in quarantine and now Cotton is dead, you are in charge of all security matters - whether you're bedridden or not. Besides, Cotton has six impact points, he's been shot six times. And even I am aware of the calibre of your hand-weapon - it only takes six cartriges."
"Too true - but I damn well reloaded, you skinny streak of piss!"
Rull pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. His finger would not close properly. In fact, his hand wouldn't obey him. He couldn't move. "Wh-what?" he mumbled.
"Well, if we've dealt with that infantile display of feral psychosis," Landerchild smiled bloodlessly, "there is a far greater problem. This hospital complex is situated dangerously near the Sewerpits, dangerously because the Tarenists have unleashed a new weapon and is wiping out..."
"I can't move!" Rull shouted.
"You did break your spine in fourteen separate places." Landerchild took a step forward... but he couldn't. "I... I can't move either! What's happening? Nurse? Nurse!" he shouted, but was answered only by a distant choked-off scream. "It's the Tarenists! They're attacking!"
"Do something!" Rull shouted.
"I can't!" Landerchild yelled helplessly. "Maybe Cotton could have done something if you hadn't killed him..."
There was a slurred, slithering dragging sound from the hallway.
"Help!" screamed Rull. "Somebody! Help us!"
"No, this is not possible, I refuse to accept this!" Landerchild ranted. "I will not be the Firstmaster Chairholder of a doomed empire..."
The snake monster unhurriedly squelched through the doorway towards them.
Outside Kaldor City itself, Storm Mine 6 was drawing into dock. Its holds were filled with rich ores and minerals, more than anyone had expected. But it was also undermanned - the recent robot revolt had claimed all but the lives of the Commander, Chief Mover and Chief Fixer. Having survived the inexplicable murder spree and its equally-random solution, without the comfort of knowing what had caused or cured it, they were tense and irritable as they returned to Kaldor City to find their entrance barred.
The dockmaster, a stern woman with a strong accent who sounded like she had just been eating broken glass, made it clear that Kaldor City was under strict quarantine. Only the Firstmaster Chairholder's direct permission could allow the Storm Mine to enter the city.
"But I have a full cargo!" shouted the Commander angrilly up at the comm screen. "What am I supposed to do until then?"
The three humans watched as a strange sad, almost haunted expression crossed the dockmaster's overly-made-up face. "We're all in this together," she said softly, and broke the link.
Fuming, the Commander barked an order to SV6.
The Storm Mine began to curve away from the doomed city, but not totally escaping the threat.
The Chief Fixer was starting to have headaches...
"Occam's Razor," Kaston Iago told Landerchild.
"Checkmate," he agreed and then disappeared.
Iago fumed. Time had no meaning but he had spent far too long navigating this hellscape. Each soul the Fendahl consumed was dumped in their own foggy, peaceful dreamscape. The individuals of Kaldor City were instinctively refusing to be absorbed into the gestalt. Iago had half-hoped he could organize some kind of rebellion in the style of the far-from-lamented Roj Blake, to tear the Fendahl apart from the inside. Yes, to be the thing that killed Death would definitely appeal to Iago.
But everyone he met was caught in their own dreams. Take Landerchild, for example, who was convinced he was in his own residence and convinced Iago was on some kind of mission for Uvanov. Iago had finally managed to break the illusion, but Landerchild vanished. Had he finally been digested by the Fendahl? Or simply been relocated to another part of this dream world?
Either way, Iago had to start again.
He set off across the non-landscape, trying to cheer himself up with the idea he'd killed Landerchild.
The Voc robot sat at a news desk on Kaldor City News, repeating the same announcement as before - the city was under quarantine and all citizens were advised to stay tuned to the channel for further updates. Hardly anyone was still watching. The broadcasting centre had been abandoned, and mummified corpses dotted those who had already been consumed by the undulating forms of the Fendahleen.
One of them slithered into the studio and regarded the Voc for a moment, before sliding off again.
The Fendahl ate life and there was no life here.
Storm Mine 6 rolled away from Kaldor City into the sunrise. Aboard, the three surviving crew had gone their separate ways. The Commander was in his cabin, beginning his memoirs. The Chief Mover was walking the corridors, convincing himself this mysterious catastrophe was only temporary and that the dockmaster had said "We must all pull together" - the implication being that there was a solution, if everyone just complicated. He liked that, he could believe in that, he had to believe in that.
The Chief Fixer remained in the engineering decks. Only three of the robots had gone on the rampage and then reverted to their normal obedient behavior. Deciding not to take the risk of future attacks, she had spiked them through the heads with laserson probes. At least, that is what she had told the others.
Like any Fixer, she had a deep-rooted fascination with cybernetics and robotics. She had deduced some kind of computer virus had turned the robots into killers, before it had been nullified. But what would that do to a robot brain? When a human caught a disease, the process of fighting off the illness changed it fundamentally - the immune system altered, their very personality changed by the fact of being sick. What would a positronic brain do under that stimulation?
She didn't know. But she wanted to find out.
So she had spared one of the killer robots, and killed another in its place. The former killer - now named V23 - would be her test subject. She would watch and see how he developed. After all, there was nothing else to do until the quarantine was lifted and also, at the back of her mind with what might have been static or desert winds, she felt this was the right thing to do.
By mid-day, Kaldor City had been purged. The remains of any humans - topmasters, firstmasters, security guards, civilians, Sewerpit scum - were all rotting away into biomass. Their full psychic energy spectrums (their "souls" for want of another term) had all been consumed and absorbed into the Fendahl, a gestalt of fifteen billion individuals all together yet all separate.
The Fendahl, the death god, was all-powerful yet powerless. It needed to adapt and accept.
But in the meantime it settled for engulfing the crews of the last three Storm Mines in the desert.
Storm Mine 6 and its odd crew were left the last survivors on Kaldor.
A long way away in both time and space, the Time Lords of Gallifrey watched on. They had watched the Fendahl manifest on the fifth planet of Earth's solar system, and had used their powers to destroy and timeloop the doomed world. A tiny part of the Fendahl had escaped to begin on Earth.
Some said the Fendahl had affected all humanoid evolution and even the Time Lords themselves had been touched by it - why else their humanoid forms, their race memory, their fear of the number thirteen? - but no one listened to them. No one wanted to. Apart from anything else, believing the Fendahl had created absolutely everything in the whole universe made conversations rather dull.
The Time Lords watched as the Doctor stopped the Fendahl manifesting for a second time, hurling a skull into the Canthares Supernova and unwittingly giving it greater energy and superpowers. They saw the skull spat out into the deserts of a distant planet and begin again.
They saw enough.
And the Time Lords acted.
Time froze, cause and effect suspended for a long moment and then history reverberated like a plucked guitar string. Deftly, the timeline of events that embraced Kaldor in the third century of the Second Calender was cut away. The Axis of Insanity, the cosmic vault of redundant timelines, opened wide to absorb this version of reality but instead it was banished from all possible continuities.
No one missed it.
A policeman named Frank Archer returned home one night with his wife and did not find a scorched body on his carpet, nor did he discover a personalized time machine he could use to inflict vigilante justice. He lived a very dull and unremarkable life and died in obscurity. As such, he could never end up in the distant future and take up the name Kaston Iago, but that was of little consequence, given that future no longer existed for him to visit anyway.
If the Doctor suspected that the Fendahl was influencing him into throwing it into a supernova, then arguing with Leela about whether or not K9 counted as a "he" kept him distracted. So distracted, however, he didn't spot the time scoop that snatched up the Fendahl skull en route to the supernova and protect it over one hundred trillion years into the future where the universe was a vast lifeless wasteland of decomposing matter.
The skull drifted in the darkness. It did not have the powers of a supernova now, nor did it have anything to use its influence on. Eventually the binding blocks of the physical universe weakened, and the skull was lost in the soup of disintegrating atoms.
The Fendahl was extinguished. It never sunk its psionic claws into the civilization of the planet Kaldor and so its static civilization, by necessity, also vanished in a puff of logic. A very different Kaldor City flickered into always have been. The fashions were unchanged, but the City itself was one of several on Kaldor. The psychosis and mindless complexity had been removed and the people who lived there were much kinder and friendlier - but probably just as cynical and sarcastic as before.
The Kaldor City Company was not some quasi-aristocratic inbred court that ran the city as a dictatorship. It was just another offshoot of the Conglomerate, with heavy interests in storm-mining desert planets and producing Voc robots for that quadrant of the galaxy. The TARDIS now brought the Doctor and Leela to Kaldor over a hundred thousand years in the past, to encounter different Uvanovs and Pouls and more-straightforwardly-insane Taren Capel. Following the destruction of the mad scientist, the Company hushed up the threat of killer robots - but there was always a robophobic around as Liv Chenka and another version of the Doctor were to discover a few weeks later on the Voc-transporter Lorelei...
The Time Lords had struck at the Fendahl once again, and this time it had worked.
But perhaps they should have turned their eyes to the other side effects of their interference. Although Kaldor was freed from the Fendahl, its mix of hard-working colonists and aristocratic founders had much more to worry about than potentially-murderous Voc robots. For at the edges of the system a battle fleet was gathering, an invasion force of Daleks lead by a time traveling Dalek about to engage a four-dimensional conflict against the Time Lords themselves.
It was said that nature abhors a vacuum. Removing the Fendahl had created a niche for the Daleks to occupy - the position of a threat to all life kind throughout the entire history of the universe.
Of course, the other version of Kaldor City still existed in some form. You can't kill a dream, after all.
And in this furthermost corner of the shadowlands, the desert planet still floated in space as if nothing had happened. The billions of people in Kaldor City had all been swallowed up by the Fendahl, leaving thousands of Voc robots leaderless and tending empty buildings and factories.
Storm Mine 6 described a figure of eight in the Blind Heart desert as its crew continued their descent into madness - or enlightenment, depending on your point of view. The Commander tried to understand the situation, the Chief Mover ignored it and the Chief Fixer had troubled dreams and heard noises in her head. Sometimes her skin seemed to almost glow with golden light. V23 observed and learned and developed.
Days passed. Weeks. Months. Years.
Iago had long abandoned trying to communicate with the others in the gestalt. This was his punishment, to remain the perpetual outsider standing in the shadow of a giant tree formed out of fused bodies. Some, not many, but some had become truly part of the Fendahl. They whispered and thought and hungered.
The Fendahl had fed and now it wished to breed. But there was no organic life left on Kaldor for it to reshape or reprogram, to create anew so it would allow the Fendahl to manifest one day further in the future. Or was there?
There were four individuals left on Kaldor, the crew of the last Storm Mine. And one of them was a robot, a living thinking robot in a mine full of all the materials needed to build more robots on a planet of robots. A new race could be created to take humanity's place.
Iago listened and watched.
The robot could evolve, but it needed stimulation - a mutation generator. A random factor. The Fendahl chose Elska Blayes. The Fendahl had absorbed her too, of course, even after she'd died. Blayes could not truly become part of the gestalt but that was the point. She was a killer, a mass murderer who took life on instinct. And if some part of the Fendahl still Justina enjoyed the idea of using Iago's murderer, then perhaps that was another reason.
The Fendahl used its powers to forge a brand new, living body for Elska Blayes - healthy and unscarred. Blayes untouched memories and personalities from the moment of her death were poured into her flesh and the new creation forced into the physical universe.
Iago was ready. He pounced, grabbed hold of his murderer as she became flesh and blood and they were both spat out into the quicksand like sea of dust. Iago was a parasite, a surge of random data and unwanted thoughts in the resurrected Blayes. But that would be enough. He was real, he could manipulate Blayes, he could make sure that the Fendahl was frustrated.
Somehow, someway, he would make sure Blayes destroyed this new robot and all the other humans and took her chances in the desert. He would have his revenge on Blayes, Kaldor, the Fendahl and the whole stinking disgrace of life kind. Kaston Iago - Frank Archer - would finally achieve his apotheosis...
It had been eighteen months since Kaldor City had been quarantined. The Commander's love of geology had become his occupying obsession as he carved stones into chess pieces and brooded on the ideas that mankind was just part of a greater process of evolution. The Chief Mover was now happily deluded that this was all temporary; every day he listened to the recording of the last communication and every day he pretended it was not falling apart. The Chief Fixer had practically vanished, communicating through V23 and avoiding them all. She had become attuned to the voices in her head, and like the Fendahl she quizzed V23 if it had begun to dream of the gestalt. The robot claimed not; the robot was lying.
One day, in the hours before a lethal sandstorm engulfed the Painted Sea, the Commander and the Chief Mover were performing a ore-sample survey when they spotted a dark shape at the bottom of the hill. They cautiously made their way down the quicksilver-like hills towards the shape. It was the body of an attractive young woman in nondescript clothes, quite unconscious.
"She's alive," the Chief Mover observed, ordering the robots to take her back to the flyer. "But how did she get all the way out here? She couldn't have walked, could she?"
"That would be unlikely, given she would have starved, dehydrated or been cut to pieces by the sand," the Commander agreed. "But perhaps she knows a secret to desert survival that we don't? Or perhaps she fell out of her flyer while passing overhead? Or maybe her flyer crashed?"
"Do you think there are any other survivors?"
"I've ruminated at length upon that subject as you know and I believe..."
"Like this woman!"
"Ah, yes. Well, who is to say she was travelling with others. There is certainly no sign of a crashed flyer, or any other bodies. Besides, according to my chronometer, we have only fifteen and half minutes before the storm hits. Do we spend that time in a desperate search or should we return to the Mine and ask this delectable young lady what's happened?"
The Chief Mover fumed. "Eighteen months and the first sign of another human being like this... It's almost like we're being set up!"
They were crossing back to the flyer. The woman lay unconscious in the backseat between two Vocs.
"The odds of her just ending up where you were doing the survey are astronomical."
"But not impossible. Even unlikely things happen, they just don't happen so often." The Commander smiled through his beard. "Yes, I like that. One for the memoirs."
The flyer lifted up and swooped across the valley to the vast hulk of the Storm Mine.
"Aren't you at all interested? We'd have detected any flyer in the area. We've been sending signals every hour of every day. How could we have missed each other?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Why doesn't it matter?"
"Because she's here, a physical fact. I think I'll let her be your personal project. Assuming she's not already."
The Chief Mover groaned. "Sometimes I feel like everything's falling apart."
The woman in the back groaned as she slowly began to return to consciousness. No one bar her could hear the triumphant voice of Kaston Iago whispering cruel nothing into her mind, any more than they could see the creature that had replaced the Chief Fixer aboard the Mine sense with satsifaction the arrival of Elska Blayes, a mutation generator that would begin a whole new form of life.
Back in reality, a short Scotsman in a straw hat emerged from a charcoal-black police box and helped himself to a data record of the space vessel Lorelei on its course between Kaldor and the neighboring planet Ventralis in the Nixyce star system.
He had temporarily parted company with his friends Ace and Hex, developing a brand new TARDIS to wage a campaign against the sudden rise of Elder Gods. It seemed that while he still had the Animus, the Great Intelligence, Moloch and Weyland to deal with at least the Fendahl had already been taken care of - ripped out of history as though it had never been there.
The screen was a Kaldor City Company security report.
It was eventually discovered that the robotics genius Taren Kapel had smuggled himself aboard the Sandminer, assuming the identity of a crew-member. Having been raised almost exclusively in the company of robots, he had a distorted sense of priorities, feeling that robots had been exploited and that it was their time to rise up and destroy their ‘human masters’. His aim was to create a robot revolution, in which all of humanity would be wiped out by the robots. He therefore broke the fundamental programming of the robots on the Sandminer, causing them to begin the systematic murder of the crew. Luckily, the Sandminer Captain, Commander Uvanov, gained control of the situation and a company agent was able to trigger a robot deactivation device.
No subtexts, no conspiracies, no implied and extrapolated bias. Just the facts, plain and simple.
"Hmmm," said the little man thoughtfully. "Interesting how history gets distorted."
This time, at least, it had been distorted for the better.