Our main characters have all been a bit spread out so far . . . time for things to start coming together. Mind you, there may still be a few more surprises….
THE SHADOW OF THE DALEKS
EPISODE SIX: Daleks
It was full dark, contrary to what the Tolloc elders had promised. Or at least as close to full dark as made no difference, the Doctor reflected. Maybe it got darker still on this curious world, so empty, yet so full of life….
The group had reached the Strangers’ castle. Well, it wasn’t much of a castle, although the Doctor supposed that was how it looked to the Tolloc. Until the Strangers had arrived, the Tolloc hadn’t seen any buildings larger than one of their turf huts. To him the “castle” looked quite different. It was clearly a prefabricated building, probably dropped from a mothership when the team had first arrived, since it looked too solid to have come down in very many pieces.
The construction of the building was very simple, and not very helpful to the Doctor. He’d seen hundreds of cultures develop buildings like this. It did indicate that the Strangers clearly had interstellar freighters at their disposal; a scout ship could never transport a building of this size. It also looked self-sustaining — wherever the mothership was, it had probably long since left to make other runs. The building would house a research team, possibly here to study the strange race that inhabited it, or to assess the world’s mineral potential. Certainly they weren’t here for the view. Riga 3 had a strange, peaceful sort of beauty. Nobody would fund a mission just for that.
The Doctor chuckled. Those sorts of people never knew what they were missing.
Akain put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder. He turned to look at the Tolloc hunter and saw that he was smiling as always.
“We have arrived,” he said.
The Doctor nodded. “Yes, I’d noticed.”
“The Strangers will send someone to meet us,” said Akain.
“Good,” said the Doctor.
Akain fell silent. Around them, the small group of Tolloc were shifting into more comfortable positions. Some were sitting down next to their lamps. Others stared into the endless dark of the overcast plains. None were looking at the building.
That in itself was odd, the Doctor realized. Here were a group of skilled hunters, all armed with bone knives, throwing spears, and lariats, gathered within spitting distance of a prefab fortress in which one of their own was being held against her will . . . and they weren’t even watching their backs. Either they were incredibly trusting, or the Strangers had done something to earn such trust.
Given that the Strangers had abducted Nala, that didn’t seem likely.
Still, the Strangers gave them food every autumn, helping them through the difficult time between seasons. That had to count for something.
Not enough, though. The Doctor shook his head, confused. The Tolloc certainly smiled a lot, and that could easily fool someone into thinking them simple, or at least horribly naive. But it just didn’t seem right to the Doctor. Their trust wasn’t based on innocence. There was more to it than that.
But the Doctor just couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
Vorna speed-walked down the corridor towards Martin’s office. Her footfalls echoed hollowly off the brushed-steel walls, and her thoughts echoed equally in her mind. Savrek was already talking to Martin, but it was time they all got together to figure out exactly what they were going to do about all this. But she had no idea how much time they had, nor how much damage Savrek had done by telling Communicator Tosk about the problems.
It was all going much too fast. Kallan seemed to have lost interest in the project, a highly suspicious stranger named Adam Pierson had arrived, Savrek had alerted Tosk, Tosk had probably alerted the Daleks, and now, on top of it all, the Tolloc had arrived for their annual food donation. Kallan was already en route to meet with them, and was bringing that Pierson fellow along.
Blast the man! What was Kallan thinking? And Savrek, with his youthful innocence, might have sealed their fates permanently.
She had reached Martin’s office. She could hear shouting on the other side of the door. Bracing herself, she pushed open the door and stepped into the office.
Fixer Martin was fuming. Presumably Savrek had brought him up to speed with the latest events. At least, that was probably the case judging by the look of pure venom he was giving Savrek. Like Vorna, Martin had worked for the Daleks before. He knew that it was virtually suicide to announce failure.
Martin turned his venomous glare on Vorna, but relaxed slightly when he recognized her.
“Did I interrupt something?” she asked.
Martin shook his head. “No. No, you’re just in time,” he said, glaring at Savrek again. The younger Finder squirmed visibly. Martin sighed. “Savrek filled me in on current events.” He sagged visibly. Vorna decided she was going to kill Savrek. The little twit probably had no idea what kind of strain he was putting on the old Fixer. “And I was so close!” Martin said, his eyes fixing Vorna with an earnest stare.
Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped open with surprise. So he’d finally managed to make it work, after all this time. It figured, but it could save their necks. Assuming they could minimize the damage from the security violation. “You mean….”
“Yes,” said Martin. “I’ve managed to modify a Kaled mutant to detect and emit the same sorts of signals as the Tolloc.” He smiled faintly. “Unfortunately, Nala killed the thing before I was able to really test it. Then again, it might explain why she stole it.”
Vorna nodded. It made sense. She had probably sensed that it was somehow connected to her, linked into their peculiar gestalt. Vorna grinned sardonically. “Maybe you should consider her attempted escape as a successful test.”
Martin didn’t smile back. Instead, he collapsed heavily into his desk chair and shook his head tiredly. “A test is never successful if you don’t collect data properly. You’re a scientist, Vorna. Surely you realize this.”
“It was a joke,” she said, inadequately.
There was an uncomfortable pause. Savrek, quiet until now, finally broke it. “Look, if you two are quite finished wasting your breath, we really should discuss what we’re going to do about Kallan.”
Martin gazed wearily at Savrek. “You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”
Sensing that a battle might break out again, Vorna interrupted. “Savrek’s right; we don’t have time to argue.” Savrek smirked, but Vorna glared at him. “Tosk has certainly notified the Daleks by now. They’ll have sent a team our way. They might even be in the Riga system already. What we need to do is work out how we’re going to explain the situation to them.”
“What’s to explain?” asked Savrek. He threw up his hands. “Kallan’s an arrogant bastard who probably was more interested in his paycheck than the product. He’s stalled the project for six years, and now it’s payback time.”
Vorna shook her head. “It’s not that simple. The Daleks are paranoid. They’ll want to know why we didn’t do anything sooner to stop Kallan. They’ll want to know why we ourselves haven’t produced anything. That’s why Martin’s modified Kaled is so important. We can use it to prove that we haven’t been idle, to prove that we have worked in good faith.” She sighed. “If we do it right, the Daleks will let us come home. Or even finish the project properly. The only trick will be getting Kallan to take the fall.”
Martin nodded. “Then it’s decided.”
“Finally,” grumbled Savrek. “It’s exactly what I’ve been saying all along. We need to come clean with the customers and tell them that Kallan’s to blame for all of it.”
Vorna shook her head. “It’s not as simple as it seems, Savrek. We’ve got to let the Daleks come to the right conclusions themselves. They don’t like apologies; only abject obedience impresses them.”
“They’re not stupid as you think,” said Savrek.
“No,” replied Vorna. “They’re not as stupid as *you* think.”
Vorna and Savrek held one another’s eyes for a long time. Then Martin interrupted. “If we’re going to be ready when the Daleks get here, we’d better go to the lab and check on Nala. If we’re really lucky, one of the other modified specimens will be mature enough to interface with her.”
Vorna nodded. “Then let’s get going.”
“Interesting,” said Kallan, his voice inscrutable.
The mysterious Immortal had led Methos to a window near the main doors of the base. Outside, the soft glow of lanterns illuminated the faces of the Tolloc people. At a glance, Methos decided there were perhaps a dozen of them. “What’s interesting?” he asked Kallan.
“The Tolloc have a friend. Look.”
Methos gazed carefully at the hunting party. Most were keeping still, either sitting or standing in a relaxed position, facing generally away from the base. They were all armed with crude weapons that didn’t look as if they stand up to much of anything. And in any case, they weren’t watching their sixes. Definitely not warriors.
He didn’t know what Kallan found so interesting until he spotted the one that was staring straight at the main entrance, shifting his lantern from hand to hand impatiently. The tails of a dark velvet coat were visible below the edges of the white fur shawl he was wearing.
Methos found himself smiling. That wasn’t a Tolloc hunter. It was the Doctor.
He turned away from the window and found himself meeting Kallan’s eyes. “So you do know the stranger.” There was danger in Kallan’s voice, and Methos suddenly realized with a sinking feeling that it isn’t always a good idea to hold all your cards.
“Yes,” Methos said. “He’s . . . my pilot. And he’s a terrible navigator.” Maybe he could play this to his advantage, keep Kallan off his guard until he had a chance to get out of Dodge, as it were. “I said I didn’t come here deliberately. You can blame him.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the window.
It seemed to satisfy Kallan, for the younger Immortal nodded and turned back to the window. “Fortunately for your friend, the Tolloc are excellent hosts. I assume he’s mortal?”
That was a difficult question to answer — the Doctor was a thousand years old and had died seven times. Did that qualify as mortal or not? Would it hurt to let on just what the Doctor was?
Methos decided he could hold that card indefinitely. “He’s mortal.”
“Good,” said Kallan. He didn’t elaborate, and Methos found himself wondering yet again just what this arrogant whelp had in mind for Riga 3. He couldn’t just be after Quickenings, could he?
Somehow Methos doubted that, although he had seen many Immortals who would gladly take a few dozen unprotesting heads. Unbidden, a memory bubbled up from the back of his memory and for a time was all he could see.
After Cassandra escaped from the Horsemen, Kronos had set new ground rules for Immortals in the camp. It was quite simple: the only Immortals allowed were the Horsemen themselves. So they’d rounded up the half-dozen terrified younglings that had provided them with so much amusement over the past year and put them to the sword.
The Game wasn’t the same then. The four of them had worked together to systematically behead all of them before the first Quickening could start. And they had all shared in the power that had been unleashed. None of these slaves had been more than a year into their Immortality, and individually their Quickenings would hardly be worth the trouble. Which was precisely why they’d remained alive.
But together, ah, that was different. Even the Quickenings of such puny Immortals bound together and filled the Horsemen with a blazing glory they had not felt in some time. It gave them strength, it gave them power, it was *fun*, and when it ended Methos was standing over the headless corpse of a ten-year-old boy while Kronos laughed and laughed and laughed . . . .
It was little consolation that Methos had felt a twinge of guilt at the time. After three thousand years, that twinge had grown bigger, and every time he remembered, a yawning chasm in his soul grew wider and deeper. That Kronos was now dead helped a little. That Caspian was dead helped even more.
But really, it hadn’t solved anything. The unexpected reunion of the Four Horsemen had been like opening a grave. Dumping bodies in the grave before closing it up again hadn’t done any good. It seemed too much like desecration.
Methos shook his head to clear the grim metaphor. This wasn’t the time for self-recrimination.
Kallan wasn’t Kronos, at any rate — he was much too sane, and didn’t seem remotely interested in controlling people. Toying with them, perhaps, but not controlling them. He lacked Kronos’ raw hunger. At the moment, Kallan was examining Methos’ face with interest, probably aware that he had just had a flashback and wondering what it was about.
“Memory lane, eh?” asked Kallan.
“Yes,” replied Methos.
“Pleasant, I hope.”
Methos didn’t answer, but turned his attention to the group waiting patiently outside. It didn’t make much sense to him. Obviously they had never been in the Game, and obviously they weren’t warriors. But surely they’d be at least a bit suspicious of a group of complete strangers who regularily abducted tribe members. Certainly Nala was being held against her will; according to Finder Vorna, Nala had tried unsuccessfully to escape several times.
He smiled at the thought of Vorna. There was something he liked about her, even though she clearly didn’t like him. That was natural — of course she’d distrust him. He certainly would, in her position. He had assumed that she’d follow them to meet the Tolloc. After all, she was supposed to be some sort of expert on their society. Then again, maybe after six years on Riga 3 the excitement had dulled.
“So, Adam,” said Kallan, “how would you like to meet the universe’s oldest Immortal pacifists?”
Methos smirked. “I’m all a-quiver.”
Kallan smiled and went to open the door.
The Doctor was beginning to feel frustrated. The Tolloc had been waiting for some time, and yet nothing was happening. They hadn’t announced their presence, and there weren’t any visible cameras on the exterior of the building. Of course, he knew that didn’t mean there weren’t any cameras. There were lots of ways to conceal remote sensing equipment, and certainly plenty of reasons to do so.
He looked around at the Tolloc hunters, admiring the ease with which they had settled in to wait. Obviously this was how one was meant to contact the Strangers — go to their fortress and hang about the entrance. But the waiting was starting to wear on the Doctor. He was worried. Worried about Nala. Worried about the Stranger’s plans for this planet. But most of all, he was worried about Methos.
Akain smiled up at him. The young hunter was sitting on one hip, his arm resting gently on an upraised knee. His entire attitude was one of total assurance that nothing could possibly go wrong.
The Doctor suddenly realized that the sense of peace was nothing unique to this planet, nor to the Tolloc culture. It was purely a result of their isolation. Like the Kinda people of Deva Loka, they had no knowledge of violence simply because they had no need of it.
Akain suddenly jumped to his feet, startling the Doctor. The smile was gone, replaced by an alertness that seemed to imply a total readiness to meet something. As the Doctor looked around at the other Tolloc, he saw that they too had jumped to their feet and become alert. None had gone for their weapons, and there was no look of threat on their faces, but they seemed to have sensed something.
Instinctively, the Doctor looked to the building’s entrance. The door had silently opened, and there were two men standing in the dim light.
“It is Kallan,” said Akain. “Leader of the Strangers.” The smile returned to Akain’s face. “He is the only Stranger who is open to us.”
Open to us? wondered the Doctor. He remembered the Tolloc telling him that he was “closed” to them. Perhaps Kallan had psi talent, something that operated on the same telepathic wavelengths as the Tolloc. But then, the Doctor was also telepathic; why wasn’t *he* open to them?
The smile had dropped from Akain’s face, replaced by a puzzled expression. He spoke again. “The other I do not know. He is . . . ,” Akain frowned in concentration. “He is . . . .”
The other man was tall and lean, and was wearing jeans and a trenchcoat. He was looking straight at the Doctor with an amused grin.
The Doctor grinned. “That’s Methos.”
“Your friend?” asked Akain.
“My friend,” replied the Doctor.
He wanted to go up to Methos, shake his hand, ask it he was all right, but he didn’t have to. Kallan and Methos were coming his way.
“Doctor!” called Methos.
The Doctor left Akain’s side and strode towards his friend. “Methos?” he called.
The ancient Immortal cringed so much it was visible even in the faint light from the Tolloc lanterns. Belatedly, the Doctor remembered that Methos generally preferred to be known by a pseudonym, as his name had grown famous and tended to make him a target for headhunters.
But Kallan did not appear to recognize the name. Whether he didn’t recognize the name or simply hadn’t heard, the Doctor couldn’t tell. “You are Adam’s friend?” he asked.
The Doctor nodded. Kallan put out his hand. “I’m Kallan,” he said. “Leader of this six-year Finder mission to investigate the Tolloc people of Riga 3.” Relieved that his slip had gone unnoticed, the Doctor shook Kallan’s hand vigorously.
“I’m delighted to meet you!” he said. “I’m the Doctor, and I’m intensely interested in what you’re doing here. A planet like this, so far off the shipping lanes, must offer endless possibilities for exploration.” He grinned disarmingly, hoping that his babble would have the desired effect.
It did. Kallan grinned back. “So you’re a scientist, Doctor?”
“Well, I dabble a bit.”
“Adam only said you were a pilot.” The Doctor chuckled. It was a reasonable description. “But we mustn’t waste time with pleasantries. I believe the Tolloc want something.”
On that cue, Akain stepped forwards. “Yes,” he said simply. “We await Nala. We will not leave without her.”
Methos met the Doctor’s eye. He seemed to know what Akain was talking about; perhaps he knew more about the Stranger’s plan, and knew just why they’d kept Nala imprisoned. Despite the calm assurance of Akain’s voice, the Doctor felt skeptical that the Strangers would release Nala. Obviously she was some kind of a test subject, or perhaps a hostage. This could get dicey.
Then Kallan nodded. “Quite reasonable,” he said. “If you’ll all follow me, I’ll return her to you.”
Astonished, the Doctor stared at Kallan. After six years of kidnapping Tolloc people without so much as a by-your-leave, he was releasing Nala simply because the Tolloc had asked nicely?
Maybe Methos knew something the Doctor didn’t. He looked at the ancient Immortal, but Methos was just as astonished as he was, staring open-mouthed at Kallan. Even the Tolloc appeared surprised, as they had come prepared to wait a long time.
Then a deep, pulsing sound interrupted everyone’s astonishment. The Doctor recognized it as the descent engines of a light cruiser. He looked up into the sky, but could see nothing past the impenetrable blackness of Riga 3’s perpetual cloud cover.
Kallan also recognized it. Instinctively, he had also looked up and muttered something. When he looked down, he had a very worried expression on his face. He scanned the Tolloc, then nodded sharply. The worry on his face was replaced by determination.
“Come,” he said, directing the word to all present. “We haven’t much time left. You have to come with me.”
If Tosk were watching the action below, he would have been very angry. But he wasn’t, and he was in a very good mood. The nonsense of the past six years would soon be at an end. He grinned viciously into the dark, cloudy night of Riga 3 from his vantage point in the safety booth on the roof of the building. The Dalek cruiser was about to arrive.
Its transponder had first registered on the security scanner half an hour ago. By then, the cruiser had already switched off its main ion drive and switched to impulse engines to handle the descent. Tosk had immediately recognized the transponder signal and activated the landing beacon.
He grinned. Kallan and his worthless staff would soon be dealt with. Their employers were about to arrive.
The tracking console in the safety booth was showing the cruiser’s descent track. As he watched, the cruiser overflew the base to bleed off the last of its excess velocity, then looped around to complete the landing.
Tosk turned on the floodlights. Seconds later, the plumes of gases from the cruiser’s descent engines became visible. Seconds after that, the cruiser itself gently floated down into the light. It lowered itself delicately towards the pad, extended its landing gear, then cut the engines. It dropped the remaining meter, and Tosk watched in admiration as the landing gear completely absorbed the shock of touchdown. The body of the craft lowered itself to the pad surface and then was silent.
Tosk emerged from the safety booth and cast a critical eye over the Dalek cruiser.
It had none of the blocky utilitarian qualities of a Dalek shuttlecraft. Instead, it had the sleek lines of a craft designed to maneuver easily in or out of an atmosphere. Tosk’s admiration grew. As a communicator, he rarely saw even light battlecruisers like this one. Normally, a shuttle or occasionally a freighter would suffice. He’d travelled to Riga 3 in the company of only a handful of Daleks, operating a supra-light-speed frieghter that had few asthetic qualities. This was a welcome sight.
A panel swung down from the nose of the cruiser. Tosk brought himself stiffly to attention. The panel came down gently to rest on the surface of the pad, becoming a gentle ramp. A slow smile spread across Tosk’s face.
Smoothly, silently, two grey Daleks glided side-by-side down the ramp. Two more followed. At the bottom, they separated to allow a fifth Dalek to glide down between them. This one was black. Under the current paint scheme, Tosk knew the grey Daleks were the equivalent of footsoldiers, and the black Dalek was their captain.
The black Dalek approached him. He did not move, waiting for the Dalek to give him leave to speak.
“YOU ARE COMMUNICATOR TOSK.” The Dalek’s voice was characteristically harsh and tinny, and characteristically declarative. Daleks rarely asked questions; they usually simply stated things and waited for those present to affirm or deny the statement.
“Affirmative,” he replied, inclining his head briefly.
“WE HAVE BEEN SENT BY DALEK HIGH COMMAND TO INVESTIGATE THE SITUATION AND RESPOND APPROPRIATELY. YOU WILL REPORT DIRECTLY TO ME.”
“I obey,” replied Tosk, bending deeply at the waist. The submissive display seemed to please the black Dalek.
“CONFIRM: FINDER LEADER KALLAN IS A TRAITOR TO THE DALEK RACE.”
“Confirmed,” said Tosk. “He had no intention of completing his mission.”
“CONFIRM: AN UNAUTHORIZED CRAFT MADE PLANETFALL ON RIGA 3. ONE HUMAN FROM THE UNAUTHORIZED CRAFT HAS MADE CONTACT WITH LEADER KALLAN.”
“Confirmed,” repeated Tosk. “He is identified as Adam Pierson. Both he and Leader Kallan are known to the Watchers.”
“THE WATCHERS ARE ENEMIES OF THE DALEK RACE!” Tosk had expected that response, and he found the sudden passion in the black Dalek’s voice to be delicious. “THEY MUST BE FOUND AND EXTERMINATED! EXTERMINATE THE WATCHERS! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!”
The other Daleks joined the cry. Tosk was grinning ear to ear.
Kallan was going to have a very nasty surprise.