I didn’t mention this last week, but this is the first time I’ve ever published this particular story anywhere. You are the first to read it!
THE SHADOW OF THE DALEKS
EPISODE TWO: Strangers in a Strange Land
Fixer Martin sighed deeply as he looked at the bedraggled creature before him. If he let his professional detatchment lapse, he could see that she was very beautiful behind the tangled hair and sweat-smudged skin. But she was a Tolloc; his job was to get her energy levels back up so she could answer some questions.
He looked at the tag around her wrist. “Subject 8,” he read aloud to the otherwise empty room. “Nala, Librarian of the Tolloc. Female, apparent age mid-twenties.” He chuckled bitterly. “An illiterate librarian. Exactly what we need.”
Martin had always liked wordplays. By the standards of his culture, Nala was illiterate. Yet by the standards of her culture, he was the illiterate one. But the wordplay brought him no comfort; trying to crack the psychic library of the Tolloc had been the work of six years, and still the Finder team was no closer to a solution.
Looking at Nala irritated Martin. She reminded him of all the work still to be done, with the Phase Two deadline only months away. So he turned to examine the mutant instead. The Tolloc woman could wait.
Contrary to what Finder Vorna had told Martin, the mutant was not dead. An untrained eye might take it to be dead, but he knew better. It was very hard to quickly kill one of the mutants, and they tended to have strong homicidal tendencies that were quite irrational. Fortunately, outside of their life support systems they couldn’t keep moving very long. This one had used all of its energy in a hopeless effort to kill Nala.
Martin examined the soft, unprotected braincase of the creature. Long ago in their radiation-induced evolution, the mutants had lost the ability to turn calcium into bones. As a consequence, their brains were completely unprotected. They could only manage rational thought by connecting their brains to complex computer systems — if you could call their thought rational. They were Dalek mutants, after all, and it was not without reason that half the galaxy lived in constant terror of the very word “Dalek.”
This particular mutant had been donated by the Daleks as a test subject. But Martin could tell that its usefulness was over. Livid purple bruises stood out on the soft, shapeless head, presumably inflicted by Nala before the creature had had a chance to strangle her. He checked its vital signs, but the experience of the last six years had taught him how to tell when a Dalek mutant was dying. It might spend the next two days dying, but it was now a foregone conclusion. The nutrient bath he had placed it in would do no good.
Martin sighed again. There was nothing for it. It was time to nurse Nala back to strength. He reached into a cabinet and brought out an ampule of ammonia.
The regenerative abilities of the Tolloc had astounded Martin even when the project had just begun. But then, similar healing rates had been observed many times before, particularily in the indigenous populations of worlds as harsh as Riga 3. He supposed it was an evolutionary advantage when the winter lasted over half the year and the other half of the year was a time of dry grass and fire hazard; they recovered from burns astonishingly quickly, were reasonably cold tolerant, and never got infected. Martin still wished he could’ve run more thorough tests on them to work out what gave them their marvellous constitution, but Leader Kallan had been very strict on that point. No psychologically traumatic testing could be done. It wasn’t out of any sort of philanthropy on his part, Martin knew, but rather due to neccesity. The Tolloc were being evaluated for their psychic skills, and giving them post-traumatic stress disorder would only get in the way.
Martin broke the ammonia ampule under Nala’s nose. After a moment, she groaned and her eyelids fluttered. “Call,” she whispered, her eyes staring right through the Fixer.
He shivered. “Nala?” He reached out to grasp her chin gently between his thumb and forefinger in an effort to bring her attention back to the real world. “Nala, can you hear me?”
She was still staring beyond him, but she seemed to hear. “Must go…. Must answer the call…. Iktha….” Martin held her chin more firmly and gave it a little shake. Her eyebrows drew together in confusion, and then she realized where she was. With little apparent effort, she brought Martin into focus and smiled faintly. “The creature is dead, is it not?”
Martin shook his head. “No. But it will be soon.” He frowned at her as he stood back from her and began to prepare a drinking bottle. “Can you tell me why you tried to flee with it?”
She shrugged. Usually, the Tolloc were all very forthcoming, but Martin could tell she was still exhausted. She had been unconscious, not properly asleep, and even in the Tolloc sleep was a far better restorative than unconsciousness. The drink would help her regain her energy. It was essentially flavored sugar water, with some extra nutrients added to fortify her against the interrogation that would doubtless follow. Communicator Tosk in particular would have some questions for her, as he was the Dalek liason, and Martin didn’t envy her the experience. Tosk would be rightfully angry about the dead mutant, but that wasn’t why Martin feared him.
He handed the drinking bottle to Nala. “Iktha has called,” she said, total seriousness in her face. “It is nearly Time.”
Martin was startled. He could hear the capital letter. “What do you mean, ‘it is Time’?”
Nala took a long drink from the bottle, then fixed Martin with sparkling eyes. “Time for the one time to end and the next to begin.” She smiled, and would say no more.
“How much longer do you suppose this will take?” Methos was standing in the console room after a good fifteen minute stroll through the endless corridors of the TARDIS. His patience was running thin, and the unshakeable feeling of being watched was making him very edgy.
“I don’t know,” said the Doctor. Only the lower half of the eccentric Time Lord was visible from beneath the console; the rest was wrapped around the base of the console in an effort to adjust a hard-to-reach component. “It all depends…,” he paused to tug a circuit board free, “…on how badly damaged this is.” The Doctor smoothly slid out from under the console and hopped up on his feet. “A day? A week?” He shrugged.
“A week?” Methos sighed loudly, exasperated. “You can’t be serious!”
The Doctor grinned disarmingly. “I don’t think it will take longer than a few hours, really, but it’s best to be prepared, don’t you think? Besides, I can always take you back to Seacouver only a few minutes after we left Minneapolis.”
“Famous last words,” grumbled Methos. “I seem to recall you told Terri the same thing.”
“Hmm,” said the Doctor, not paying attention. He was examining the circuitboard through a jewelers loupe.
“Back in Paris, three years ago, you said you’d return Terri the very next day.”
“I wonder….” muttered the Doctor.
“But you left her in Minneapolis almost three years later instead.”
The Doctor replaced the loupe with one of higher magnification. “Ah, there we are….”
“So what makes you think I’ll trust you to return me only a few minutes later?” The Doctor did not reply, absorbed in his work. Exasperated, Methos snatched the circuit board out of the Time Lord’s hands. Startled, he looked up at Methos, the loupe still screwed into his eye. “Doctor, are you listening?”
The Doctor put the loupe away. He nodded. “Yes, I do hear you. I’m sorry, Methos. I was getting carried away with myself. I’m sure you’re anxious to get home, and afraid you’ll end up on a magical mystery tour of Space and Time.” He sighed. “I can’t say I blame you. I promise I’ll get this fixed as quickly as possible, and then I’ll take you straight back to Earth.” The Doctor held out his hand. “May I have the vortex algorithm generator back, please?”
“Oh.” Methos had forgotten he was still holding it. He handed it back to the Time Lord.
“In the meantime, I’m sure there’s something that can keep you occupied on board the TARDIS.”
“Ah,” said Methos. “Well, that’s the problem. I don’t feel right here. I’d like to take a walk if that’s all right with you.”
The Doctor shrugged. “If you like. There’s a wardrobe room if you want to change into something warmer. Twelfth door on the left, main passage.”
“Thanks,” said Methos, “I already found it.” He grinned, showing off the cable-knit sweater he’d chosen and the insulated greatcoat he was wearing over his own sword-laden overcoat.
“Excellent,” said the Doctor, disappointingly unfazed that Methos would borrow clothes without asking first. The Time Lord pondered for a moment, then stuck his hand deep in his pocket. He searched around through his pockets until he finally found a small, round, metallic object with a button on it. “Take this; it’s a homing device. I don’t know how well you navigate, but no matter what happens this should lead you straight back to the TARDIS.”
After a moment, Methos thanked the Doctor.
“I’ve also established where we are. We’re on the third planet of the star Riga.” The Time Lord seemed disappointed. “It’s a horribly dull place, totally unpopulated. We’re far from the main shipping lanes, and far into your future — it’s the 44th Century out there. I seem to recall reading something about Riga 3 once, but I can’t for the life of me remember what….”
“I’m sure it’s not important,” said Methos, a little impatient. Immediately he regretted snapping at the Doctor. Apologetically, he added, “thanks for the homing device.”
“You’re welcome,” said the Doctor, politely, and then dropped back under the console. As Methos walked towards the exterior door, he chuckled, reflecting that the Doctor seemed to enjoy repairing the TARDIS almost as much as he did piloting it.
“Leader Kallan?” Vorna called his name hesitantly. Savrek was still too angry to speak to Kallan, so she had opted to bring the report on the Tolloc runner instead. She shivered; it was almost as cold in Kallan’s office as it was outside on the autumn plains of Riga 3.
Kallan was sitting in a high-backed chair. At the sound of his name, he rotated around so that he was facing Vorna. He was smiling. “Yes, Vorna? Do you have any information on the runner yet?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir. Tolloc Subject 8, Nala, escaped her confinement in the laboratory. As you know, she stole one of the specimens.”
“A Kaled mutant, correct?”
“Good,” said Kallan. “Carry on.”
Vorna cleared her throat. “While we pursued, the specimen apparently became conscious, and Nala attempted to kill it with a blow to the head. We believe she did this by swinging it against the wall.” She paused to catch her breath. “Savrek and I heard a scream at this point as the specimen was not dead, but angered. It attempted to strangle her.”
Kallan sat forward suddenly. “Yes? And what happened?”
She shrugged. “When we got there, Nala was unconscious and the creature was too weakened to struggle any longer. We took them to Fixer Martin. He pronounced the specimen doomed, as it was bleeding heavily from internal injuries, but said that he would attempt to salvage what he could.”
“And Nala?” Kallan seemed curiously interested in her fate. Perhaps, thought Vorna, it was because she had shown so much promise in the last few months. But perhaps not.
“The Tolloc woman is recuperating under Martin’s care. She was undamaged.”
Kallan smiled. “I know.”
Vorna frowned, but did not ask how he knew, or why he’d asked her about it if he already knew. Most likely, he was lording it over the team as usual, demanding a report when no report was neccesary.
He spoke again. “Communicator Tosk reported observing an anomalous ion trail.”
Vorna perked up. Among his duties, Tosk was responsible for all extra-planetary observation. Since they were working for the Daleks, it was quite possible that one of their many enemies would come to steal or sabotage their work. If they did, reflected Vorna, it might persuade the arrogant tin cans to speed up the project. And that would help everyone.
“Do you think it could be a spacecraft, sir?” asked Vorna.
Kallan nodded. He wasn’t playing cat-and-mouse now. He was dead serious. “Tosk says the pattern is consistent with some very advanced technology. He wouldn’t say any more than that.” The leader sighed. “We need to find out what came down.”
“And we could have intruders, Vorna. Send a drone to investigate.”
It was cold on the planet’s surface, but this time Methos relished the cool. It made him feel that he was doing something other than just sitting in that horribly infinite TARDIS. Strange to feel agoraphobic indoors, but there was just something about that machine, something that made him feel uncomfortable, something that made him feel like he was being watched.
Not so in this grassland. Here he felt genuinely alive, and yet also at peace. Now that the cold wasn’t bothering him so much, he actually liked it. The silver grasses swayed quite beautifully in the breeze, and on this distant, uninhabited world there could be no evil Immortals to fear. It was only a few months since his encounter with Kronos, and the ancient Immortal was still jumping at loud noises.
He strolled down the low hill upon which the TARDIS rested and meandered along a dry ravine. Water had flowed along the riverbed once, but it looked as though it had been dry for many seasons. Methos wondered what sort of an ecology this world had. It reminded him of the Great Plains of North America as they were hundreds of years before, beautiful but empty, populated only by the silent, unresponsive grasses. No birds wheeled in the sky, no animals were foraging in the prairie…. Like the Plains, there had to be animals here, but at least at the moment there were no large ones to be seen. Not a single sparrow.
The ravine eventually met up with another, deeper one. This one had water flowing through it, and the burbling sound was very pleasant to the ear. A peaceful world, this. It was strange, he reflected, to be standing in the far distant future, but in a place that looked so much like the grasslands of Earth did so long ago. No smog, no freeways, no light pollution (the night sky must be stunning), no jet contrails far above…. There was a strangely delightful feeling that if he stopped paying attention to time, it would simply stand still.
–MacLeod would love it here, thought Methos wryly. The relatively young Scot often retreated from human society for days, weeks, or even months at a time, meditating in silence. But while the peacefulness gave Methos a wonderful feeling of calm, he knew he couldn’t remain sane for long on an uninhabited world. He needed to see people, needed to interact with them daily. Perhaps it was his inherent sociability, or perhaps it was his desire for the anonymity of a large city, but in either case Methos needed people.
He strolled along the bank of the small brook, his hands in his pockets, drinking in the clear air. He could taste winter approaching; it must be autumn on this faraway world. He wondered how far away this planet — Riga 3, if he recalled correctly — was from Earth. A long way, no doubt. Would its star even be visible in the night sky? When night fell, would Methos see the Sun, glittering as a tiny point of light far away from Riga? Or was it too distant even for that?
Distant in time as well. The Doctor had said it was the forty-fourth century. The old Immortal shook his head, smiling with amusement. Five thousand years spent living, and then suddenly another two thousand-plus years had gone by in the blinking of an eye as the TARDIS travelled through the Time Vortex. It was a strange feeling to see that two thousand years had passed without him living them.
A thought struck him; if this were the distant future, the Gathering might have happened. Or not. Either way, a lot of his friends could be dead. For that matter, he himself might be dead.
Methos shivered. Although he had no particular desire to be the One, he couldn’t quite tolerate the thought of his own death. It was particularily eerie to think that somewhere in this universe there could be a gravestone with his name on it.
A soft humming noise interrupted Methos’ morbid chain of thought. Relieved, he climbed out of the shallow ravine to investigate.
A machine about the size of an ultralight aircraft was buzzing gently through the air, ten feet off the ground. An electronic eye scanned the surface until it came to rest on Methos. He stared at it, astonished. –But this planet was supposed to be uninhabited!
The machine hovered over to Methos. It slowed as it approached, and Methos realized it was aiming directly for him. He turned to run, but it was too late. The machine fired an anesthetic dart which stuck in the Immortal’s left bicep. He turned to see the machine drop gently towards him, with mechanical arms delicately unfolding from its side. Then the anesthetic took affect, and Methos crumpled limply to the ground.
The Finder drone paused over Methos’ unconscious form for a moment to establish that he was indeed unconscious, and then picked him gently up and buzzed off, satisfied that its mission had been accomplished.