Everyone, this is my five hundredth post! When I started this blog four years ago, it was little more than a collection of vague musings and unnecessarily convoluted analyses of Doctor Who, Star Trek and Marvel productions. Now it's still just like that, only with a backlog of posts with broken links and missing images! To celebrate, here's a Doctor Who short story that I wrote for DWIN's Mythmakers Presents: Golden Years magazine back in 2013. Given that said publication is now about two years old and the expected downloadable version doesn't seem to have materialised (or is already long gone), it seems as good a time as any to make this available. Of course, the original magazine is still available to buy (all proceeds go to charity, after all).
This story features the seventh Doctor and Ace. Enjoy.
feeble light in the endless blackness of space, the star drifts on an
eternal journey of many thousands of light years. From time to time,
once every ten thousand years or so, the star had passed within a few
parsecs of another, briefly bathing in its light and warmth.
star supports s single, lonely planet, a tiny, grey-green rock. The
planet is no paradise. Once, it had enjoyed a native ecosystem, but
little of that now remains. Yet, still there is life. A
smattering of settlements, centred around a single city, huddling on
the planet’s equator for the maximum amount of the star’s gentle
warmth. The city is populated by small, feeble bipeds, a young
species that had migrated out from their own planet and onwards to
worlds such as this.
city is busy. Thousands of these little creatures cling to the
surface of this world they have tamed and made their own. They
are celebrating. Music, laughter, conversation and song intermingle,
creating a hubbub of joyous, raucous sound. If someone were to drop
down from the sky, and to walk amongst the simple creatures
populating this little world, they would be met by a barrage of
noise. If they listened carefully, they might just make out one
particular sound. An erratic, metallic, clicking sound. The sound of
a pair of spoons…
what’s the big deal with this festival?” asked Ace, sipping her
boldly blue beverage through a twirling pink straw. It was tasty
enough, but she’d have preferred something with a little more kick
to it. The Doctor had insisted she stick to the “mocktail” menu,
glanced over to the stage, a flimsy, hastily erected plastic
structure, in a garish purple. It was clearly only intended to be
there for the duration of the festival, and only for minor events
like the talent show. Ace swallowed more of her drink, shaking her
head in a mixture of disbelief, amusement and embarrassment. The city
square thronged with people; men, women, children and the occasional
alien chattered away, played games, and watched the Doctor make a
fool of himself.
love a party as much as the next girl,” she continued, struggling
to take her eyes off the sight of the Doctor. He sported his goofiest
grin while rattling away with his spoons, in a duet with a
seven-foot-tall grass green caterpillar. The creature blinked its
single, huge eye in time with its playing, grasping a triangle with
one set of limbs and a pair of maracas with another.
is it really all because of some bit of astrology?” Ace tore her
gaze away from the bizarre spectacle and back to her companion.
shook his head. “It’s not astrology, not really. Some people
believe that the pass is going to herald all sorts of momentous
events, but that’s just superstition. It’s an astronomical event,
that’s all. It doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s still
explain it to me. The Professor tried, but he went on about
astrometrics and radical velocity and stuff. I lost interest.”
Plus, I’d much rather listen to your voice, she added to herself.
think maybe that’s radial velocity.” He smiled. “I’m no
expert, though; I’m an archaeologist, not an astrophysicist. But,
as I understand it, this is the closest that Barnard and Sol are ever
going to get to each other. The actual closest pass happens in a day
or two, but the festival is going to run for a little while. Plus, it
sort of marks the history of the colony – nearly two-hundred years
since Vanderkamp was founded and seven thousand since the first
manned ships landed. There’s a lot of history here.”
is why you became an archaeologist,” said Ace, watching Quin
closely as he sipped his beer. They still had beer, thousands of
years in the future, she thought. Some things never change.
yeah,” he replied. “Humans have been travelling to other worlds
for a long time now. There’s a lot of history everywhere. But you
can’t choose where you’re born. Maybe I’ll go to Earth someday,
but for now, there’s enough on Polyxo to keep me occupied.”
was one other thing I was wondering,” said Ace, keen to keep the
handsome archaeologist in conversation. “Why’s the star here
laughed. Damn, that’s a sexy laugh, thought Ace.
Barnard, and it’s thought that it was named after the man who
discovered it, back on Earth.”
it wasn’t Barnard who discovered it,” said a confident voice with
a soft, Scots’ burr. The Doctor strode over to the table, swinging
his umbrella. “Although it’s unclear just who did. Old Eddie
Barnard did pinpoint its proper motion through space, though. It was
his observations that enabled astronomers to calculate its eventual
close pass by the Solar System way back in the twentieth century. It
was named Barnard’s Star in his honour.”
finished your show then?” said Ace, none too pleased to have her
you were not a rapt audience.” He turned to Quin, doffing his straw
hat. “How impolite of me. I’m the Doctor, Mister..?”
Quin Medenwald.” Quin held his hand out for the Doctor, who shook
the xenoarchaeologist. I read your paper on the development of
ferrotechnology by the second phase Polyxo aborigines.”
have an interest in the Stickmen then?” replied Quin, pulling over
an extra seat for the Doctor. Ace sighed and returned her attention
to her drink. The Doctor was back – the ultimate gooseberry.
a passing interest, yes,” said the Doctor, taking the seat. “No
doubt you share my view that, while the human history on Polyxo is
interesting, it’s the native remains beneath the earliest colonies
that are the most fascinating.”
absolutely. I’d be happy to discuss—”
are they called Stickmen, then?” interjected Ace. She was not going
to let this conversation run away from her.
it’s the remains, you see,” said Quin. “They’re skeletal, of
course, but almost comically so. Tall, thin creatures with oversized
heads. Hence Stickmen.”
adapted to Polyxo’s lower gravity,” added the Doctor. “However,
they all died out rather a long time ago. The reason why is a bit of
not the popular view,” added Quin. “Most authorities are happy to
accept that the stellar flares did for them.”
you remain unconvinced?” asked the Doctor.
were advanced. Too advanced to be simply wiped out by stellar flares.
They lived as much under the ground as above it, and would have been
well aware of the impending flares. They would have had ample time to
move underground, and the rock above would have protected them from
the worst of the energies. There’s even evidence that they had
developed the basics of antimagnetism. It wouldn’t have been easy
on them, but they could have survived. But for some reason they
didn’t, and were wiped out practically overnight.”
it does pose some questions, doesn’t it?” mused the Doctor. “I
understand that you’ve been excavating some of the natives’ ruins
right,” replied Quin. “Although it’s been put on hold for the
festival. The site isn’t far though. Vanderkamp was built
practically on top of what we think was the Stickmen’s original
capital. Makes digging for it a bit of a mission, of course.”
at least the commute isn’t too bad,” added Ace, before slurping
down the last of her drink. “Weren’t you planning on meeting
no, I don’t think so…” he teased through a smirk. “Oh yes! I
do recall mentioning a passing interest in the local astronomical
institution,” he continued, enunciating the syllables with
stood up. “The ADI? I can take you there if you like. It’s not
that far. Nowhere’s really that far – there’s not a whole lot
of city here.”
very kind of you, Professor Medenwald,” said
the Doctor. He got to his feet, as Ace fixed him with her most
intense glare. “However, I’m sure I’ll find it on my own.
Perhaps you’d like to give Ace a quick look at the site? She has
something of an interest in ancient history, you know.”
asked Quin, finally returning his attention to Ace.
yeah!” The young woman leapt to her feet, knocking her seat
backwards and over into the dust. “I’m practically ancient
history myself.” She grabbed Quin’s beer, downing the last of it
for effect, before slipping her backpack onto her shoulders. The
Doctor frowned at her, stooping to right the toppled chair. “Come
on then. I’ll see you back at the TARDIS, Professor.”
sure you’re back in time for the starship manoeuvres. They’re
sending a fleet from Earth!”
do! See you later, Professor!”
the surface of Polyxo, sheltered from the rays of the red dwarf star,
something began to stir. Something ancient. It twitched in its sleep,
as it slowly returned to consciousness…
Quin, it’s not that near, is it?” Ace stomped down the dirt
track, kicking up plumes of dust that reached high above her head in
the weak gravity. She suppressed a cough.
got a carrier out at the site,” said Quin. “We can ride that back
if you like. We generally walk to and from the city, though, unless
we’re bringing artefacts back with us.”
you feel that?” asked Ace, turning to the archaeologist. “It’s
weird. I feel kind of light-headed. And light-stomached.”
laughed. “You really are an Earthgirl, aren’t you?”
do you mean?”
are graviton generators under Vanderkamp. They keep the local gravity
close to Earth-normal, but only within the city. You see, Polyxo is a
small planet, with a weak gravitational field.”
I guess the Moon would have been like that.”
have been? thought Ace, but kept it to herself. Travel into the
future still threw up surprises. “I thought you weren’t an
not, but there are some things you just know. Everyday things, like
why the sky is purple.”
ground had begun to break up, straight lines faintly visible in its
surface. The unmistakeable mark of artificiality.
can see the edges of the Stickmen’s capital here,” said Quin,
gesturing at the lines. “These are the remains of the city walls,
which were excavated by earlier generations. We had to uncover most
of this again ourselves.
so close to Sol. People have been coming here since at least the
The twentieth century’s more my field.”
a bit rusty on pre-interstellar human history - doesn’t quite spark
to be boring. Didn’t realise I was a historical footnote.”
gave her a quizzical look, but was quickly distracted. “Here, we’re
coming up to the main site. We need to enter through that aperture.”
He pointed out a square hole, neatly cut into the stone.
need to switch off the forcefield. Keeps out the dust and kids and
rockhoppers.” He produced a black disc the size of a keyring and
pressed it. It emitted a flash of light and the forcefield
archaeologist stepped up to the hole, kicking the dust away from the
edge. It was just big enough for two people to squeeze down together.
you,” he said. Shame, thought Ace. Could have done with squeezing
down together. Quin retrieved a torch from his pocket, handed it to
her and she hopped into the darkness.
well grim!” she said, coughing into her sleeve. “I thought you
said that thing kept the dust out? It’s like the cupboard under my
nan’s stairs. Even cobwebs!”
dropped down beside her. “Cobwebs?”
flashed the torch into the corners of the passage in which they
stood. White webbing, coated in dust, adhered to the walls and
things. Does that mean you’ve got spiders on this planet?”
just something a local life form left. What are spiders?”
mind. What’s so cool about this place then?”
face, lit by torchlight, broke into a smile.
Defence Institute,” read the Doctor aloud, effortlessly translating
the local script, an eccentric mix of Tellurian alphabets.
building was vast, significantly bigger than anything in the main
square. A bulbous metallic structure, perched on the edge of the
city, its surface broken by a grid of windows and radiation
collection panels. Powered by the very thing it was set up to
Doctor proceeded to the cuboid booth that protruded from the front of
the dome. Its single occupant, a middle-aged male of impressive
height and girth, was seated within, squeezed into a black uniform
and matching hat. Even three light years from Earth, at the tail end
of the ninety-eighth century, security guards looked the same.
my good man,” said the Doctor, doffing his hat and cracking a broad
smile. “I was wondering if you could tell me what the necessary
documentation would be if I wished to enter this establishment?”
guard looked down at the Doctor over his greying moustache. “If you
were allowed in, you’d know what was required.”
good point, thought the Doctor. He rummaged in his copious pockets.
here we are. Hopefully this should be more than sufficient.”
passed the guard a battered pamphlet bound in a leather case. The
official frowned as he unfolded the crackling paper.
Delegate of the Galactic Federation, to be accorded all ambassadorial
privileges,” he read aloud.
see that it’s stamped and signed by the Galactic President’s
office and lists the Martian Ambassador as a character reference. I
also…” – he rummaged further – “…have…” –
frowning, he tried his trouser pockets – “… a membership card
for the United Earth Space Probe Agency and documentation authorising
my presence from the Foreign Hazard Duty.” He reluctantly gave up,
showing empty hands. “Somewhere.”
security guard sighed, and tapped the intercom unit clipped to his
Asgar, there’s a Doctor John Smith here requesting entrance. Yes,
he’s got documentation, looks official, never seen it before
though.” He paused, listening to the response. “I dunno, sir, he
looks like one of those loonies here for the festival. You should see
tell him that I wrote the Octember 9784 paper on ‘Quasi-magnetism
in pin galaxies,’” added the Doctor for good measure.
sigh, deeper this time, expressing years of pent-up frustration and
barely concealed apathy.
“Did you hear that, sir? Yes? Are you
sure? All right, sir, whatever you say.” He looked down at the
Doctor in resignation. “Go on then, but be aware that they are
currently engaged in some very important work.” He pressed a
button, and a door slid open in the surface of the dome.
Doctor replaced his hat.
you. Don’t let me keep you from your busy work any longer.”
brought Ace to a cavernous chamber. The walls were covered in
symbols, etched into the rocked and smooth to the touch. In the
centre of the room stood an object shaped not unlike a mushroom. It
stood at about waist height and shone in the torchlight.
is it?” asked Ace.
think it’s an antimagnetic device,” said Quin. “I’m not the
tech head, but our experts reckon the Stickmen were building
something to interact with electromagnetic fields. It might have been
designed to help shield them from the effects of the flares.”
pointed at the symbols that festooned the walls.
only recently excavated this part of the city. There’s probably
more under Vanderkamp itself, but reaching that is even more
difficult. There’s evidence that the city was buried due to seismic
mean an earthquake?”
“That’s right. There’s more of the
city further along, but the entrance is well buried. We can’t risk
forcing our way through; it could damage what’s on the other side.
Once we’ve finished in this section, we’ll look at beginning the
process of excavation further in. It’ll be a slow process.”
shone her torch over the etchings.
cryptic,” she whispered. “What does it mean?”
Stickmen used ideograms in their written language. This entire
display is designed to tell us what happened to them. It’s scrappy
though, unfinished. Their inscriptions are usually methodical. This
was done in a hurry.”
does it say?”
part we’ve translated. It refers to the ground itself. Something
underground. And this means animal, or beast, which when combined
with this would be… monster? Killer? I’m not sure.”
I can’t read all of it, but it’s definitely telling us what
happened. They must have inscribed this as a warning to people who
would come later. Something came up from under the ground, a beast,
that killed them all.”
about the earthquake?”
came earlier. Perhaps it was even the cause of it. The beast… no,
plural… the ground shook and they came up from beneath.”
down there?” asked Ace, flicking her torch in the direction of the
straightened up from the inscription. “It’s a dead end. We need
to excavate further. It’s blocked, probably due to a collapse
during the tremors that heralded the end for the civilisation.”
took a short walk down the passageway. The way was blocked all right,
a slab of rock barring entry. The floor of the tunnel sloped
downwards – wherever it led, it was deeper underground.
had killed the Stickmen, the answer was bound to be down there.
haven’t got time for that. You want to see the rest of this place?
Leave it to me.”
slipped off her rucksack and unzipped it, fishing out two metallic
cans. They rattled together in her hand as she broke their seals.
your ears and get your head down!” she cried, lobbing the cans in
the direction of the wall of rock.
What the hell do you think you’re —”
grabbed him, pushed him back towards the opening of the tunnel and
dragged him down onto the ground. Pressing one side of her head
against his broad chest, Ace covered her exposed ear with her free
hand. Seeing this, Quin did the same.
cried Ace as the explosion ripped through the air. The walls shook,
flecks of stone falling from the stone ceiling.
the two of them stood up, brushing off the copious amounts of grey
what did you do?”
you archaeologists are all the same. Too much patience, not enough
action. Come on – let’s see what’s down there!”
Doctor happily pottered around the entrance hall of the Institute,
studying the displays. He stood ensconced in the details when he
received a tap on the shoulder. He spun round to find himself face to
face with an older man.
Smith, I presume?” asked the stranger in a deep baritone.
Doctor doffed his hat and smiled. “Professor Asgar, a pleasure to
make your acquaintance.”
too, Doctor, although I must admit I’m unfamiliar with the paper
you?” the Doctor’s face fell momentarily, before brightening just
as quickly. “Perhaps it hasn’t been published yet. It’s so hard
to keep track of these things. It is 9799, isn’t it?”
Asgar gave the Doctor a puzzled look, but nodded.
you insist on using the Earth calendar, yes. I take it you’re here
for the festival?”
yes, although I’m more interested in the work you’re doing here.
It’s all well and good getting excited about star systems passing
by one another, but what’s the point if we don’t take the chance
to study the effects? How will the proximity of Sol to Barnard’s
Star affect the planets of each system, for instance?”
smiled. “Indeed, Doctor. Exactly our sentiments here at the
Institute. However, we are rather preoccupied with a related matter,
so I fear that a tour of the facility must wait.”
yes, the upcoming stellar flares,” said the Doctor, nodding
enthusiastically. “I presume you’ve been working on an
electromagnetic defence system, to deflect the worst of the radiation
away from the planet?”
well informed, Doctor Smith.”
it is rather an obvious direction to be going in,” he said,
grinning. “Perhaps I could take a look at your methods? I’d be
shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Doctor. Work is at a delicate
stage and must be ready for full activation by tonight. The flare
activity is expected to begin tomorrow and we must perform the final
on his most disappointed face, the Doctor sighed.
there no way you could bend the rules a little? I have reason to
believe that there is a very great danger threatening this planet. A
danger from the ancient past – something that will make the stellar
flares seem no more serious than a mild case of sunburn.”
there is nothing that is more of a threat to this planet than the
flares. Whatever you believe you may have discovered, I suggest you
approach the institute with it through the proper channels. I have no
time for spurious amateur theories.”
assure you, Professor, that this planet is facing a deadly threat and
must be evacuated!”
laughed Asgar. “In the middle of the festival? Come now, Doctor.I
assure that this planet is in safe hands. Everything is under
well,” sighed the Doctor. “Might I be allowed to mill around here
for a little longer? I was enjoying reading about the work you have
course,” replied the Professor, impatiently. “Take your time.
Now, if you’ll excuse me?”
Doctor smiled, doffing his hat once more for good measure, before
returning to his perusals. After a moment, he marched briskly after
wasn’t difficult to locate the Professor’s project. While
scientists could be peculiar in their organisation, academic
architecture was rarely unpredictable. The core project would be in
the most prestigious laboratory. Sure enough, the Doctor soon found
himself watching Asgar and his assistants through a viewing window in
the lab’s main doorway.
Doctor fished around in his jacket pocket and produced his sonic
lance. He ducked around the corner, pointing the device at a tiny red
alarm box on the wall. The howling siren blasted his eardrums,
forcing him to plaster his hat down on his ears. Sure enough, though,
Professor Asgar and his assistants stormed out of the lab,
complaining noisily about the disruption, and left the section. The
Doctor ducked into the laboratory, smiling to himself.
system before him was large and overly complex, with all manner of
vital functions to perform. It took the Doctor almost three minutes
to work out precisely what did what and how he needed to damage it. A
simple control system, at the heart of it, he thought, linked to a
magnetic array in orbit.
his sonic lance, he got to work.
scattering in the dust, Ace and Quin pushed on into the buried city
of the Stickmen. Compressed remains of buildings lay on either side
of the roadway, walls crushed inwards under the weight of rock.
Millennia of decline had left the buildings broken, a civilisation
crushed under the foot of a devastating catastrophe. A jagged fissure
had broken the roadway into two uneven halves. Ace watched her step
see,” said Quin, “this isn’t the result of the stellar flares.
They must have hidden underground to survive the radiation, and then
the quakes came and they were destroyed. Odd thing is, we don’t get
a great deal of seismic activity on Polyxo. It’s an old planet.”
why did the quakes even happen?”
kept silent, unable to answer. He moved on ahead, flashing his torch
over the destroyed buildings that surrounded them. Ace recognised the
look of his face. It was the same look the Doctor had when he found
something that would hold him in rapt fascination for the next hour –
be it a weird space insect on some distant planetoid or dusty old
jazz records in Camden market.
pushed on ahead, passing yet more crumbling structures, barely
distinguishable in the gloom, until the light from her torch settled
on something altogether more interesting.
Come here, you’ll want to see this!”
archaeologist came rushing up to her. He pointed his torch alongside
hers, fully illuminating the scene in front of them. Beneath a dense
layer of sediment lay the skeletal remains of three Stickmen, and…
see what you mean about them being skinny,” said Ace. Each of the
three creatures would have been a good eight feet tall. Their bodies,
roughly human in shape if not proportion, were bent and broken. Their
spindly fingers held the handles of jagged bladed weapons. Ace
focussed her torch light on the one nearest to her. The creature’s
head, tall and narrow, sloped backwards to a point. A deep crack was
visible where his skull had made contact with the ground.
old boney,” she said. “Picked the wrong fight there.”
the three Stickmen, its carapace scratched and ripped open, lay a
hideous animal. Insect-like, with ten long, spindly legs, its domed
shell was ringed with hemispherical bulbs, underneath which were
spindly mouthparts. Quin brushed away some of the dust covering the
relic, and gave it a gently tap with his torch. It reverberated with
a metallic clang.
an animal, alright,” he said, “but it’s metallic.”
beast?” queried Ace.
be,” said Quin, not taking his eyes off the scene. “These three
natives and the creature must have died fighting each other.”
than a few old buildings, eh?” Ace smiled.
looked up at her at last, and smiled.
guess it is. There’s enough here to keep my lot busy for years.”
you doubted my excavation techniques,” pointed out Ace. “I say,
if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing—”
sudden tremor cut her off. The ground shook beneath their feet –
gently, but it was enough to bring yet more fragments of grit and
dust down on their heads.
thought you said you didn’t get quakes here?” said Ace, after
coughing up dust.
don’t,” said Quin. There was a tremor in his voice that worried
Ace far more than the one she had just felt. Even in the bleached
torchlight she could see he had turned pale. “We should get out of
here. Just in case.”
tremor. Far stronger this time. Ace stumbled, almost losing her
footing. Quin grabbed her. They held each other for a moment, as a
third tremor rippled through the ground beneath them.
go,” she said.
piled into the two-seater carrier, a tiny cab attached to a padded
box for the safe removal of archaeological samples. They rattled
towards Vanderkamp, the ground shaking beneath their feet. It wasn’t
violent, but it was worsening. How long till a full-fledged quake
hit? wondered Ace.
this thing go any faster?” complained Ace. “We’d make better
time in a milk float!”
not really designed for high speed getaways!” replied Quin, putting
his foot down.
edge of Vanderkamp was visible up ahead. “That bug thing down there
wouldn’t have been enough to kill off a whole civilisation,” she
yelled behind her. “There must have been more. And that crack in
the ground… the creatures had to come from somewhere.”
mean, they came up through the ground?” Quin yelled back in panic.
seen stranger things,” admitted Ace. “We need to find the
Doctor slipped silently from the laboratory. As he exited the
Institute, he spotted Asgar and several of his colleagues exchanging
heated words with the sour-faced security guard. The Doctor quickly
made his way to the main square.
TARDIS stood at the far corner of the square, its blue surface
rendered mauve in the ruddy light of the dim sun. Festival goers
milled around happily, paying no attention to one more unusual object
amid a sea of stalls and floats. Simple, old-fashioned fun, thought
the Doctor, as he entered his ship.
the control console, he activated the subspace communications. After
a short interval of static, he isolated the correct Sub-Etha
hello, Earth Central Control?” he ventured. “This is a mayday
call from Polyxo in the Barnard system. We require immediate
evacuation, repeat, immediate evacuation. The Astronomical Defence
Institute has encountered a catastrophic systems failure that will
now increase the effects of the stellar flares. Please respond.”
the Doctor awaited a reply, Ace burst through the doorway, Quin
stumbling in behind her.
how…” babbled Quin, taking in the gleaming white control room.
mind that,” said Ace. “Doctor, we’ve got a problem. We know
what killed off the Stickmen, and we think it’s coming back!”
communications system crackled into life.
received, Polyxo. This is Earth Central Control. Fleet is heading
your way for manoeuvres. Will be diverted to evacuation in time for
stellar flare activity once we have confirmed the situation with the
relevant authorities. Please stand by.”
he talking about?” demanded Quin, snapping out of his bemusement.
not time to explain,” grumbled the Doctor. “I know about the
Stickmen, Ace. The stellar flares are coming and there’s no way to
stop them now. I’ve rigged the defence system. We need to get off
this planet before someone finds out!”
bolted from the TARDIS.
him, Ace,” the Doctor warned, his voice low. “We have to get out
stood in the doorway, holding the Doctor’s gaze. Then she turned
and ran after Quin.
shouted the Doctor, “Come back! I’ll explain everything, just as
soon as we’re on our way.” He stormed out after her.
hadn’t gone far. The main square was busy with people, and law
officers were never far.
he said, pointing at the Doctor. “He’s done something to the
defence array. You’ll need to question him.”
particularly large, bulky officer in a grey uniform slapped his meaty
hand on the Doctor’s shoulder.
Grant, sir. You are under arrest for sabotage.”
Doctor sat on an uncomfortable metal stool in a small, poky office
that had been left abandoned in the current chaos at the Institute.
Captain Grant loomed over him.
then, ‘Doctor Smith,’” growled Grant, “we have an accusation
of sabotage from Dr Quin Medenwald. We also have a statement from
Professor Nurian Asgar, describing how you enquired about the
workings of his vital new defence array. Asgar and his colleagues are
still trying to work out what you did to the array control system. He
will be here shortly, and it would save a lot of time, and a lot of
lives, if you would just tell us what you did and how to fix it.”
door swung open, both Quin and Asgar entering.
leave him with you, Professors,” said Grant. “I need to speak
with his young friend.”
was with me the whole time,” said Quin. “She has nothing to do
she’ll need to make a statement. Gentlemen.” He slammed the door
and Quin took their seats in front of the Doctor. Asgar leaned
forward, so that his face was mere inches from the Doctor’s.
say this for you, Doctor,” he hissed, “you’ve done a damned
good job on that array. I’ve been working on it with my best
people, and none of us can make head nor tail of what you’ve done
to it. So, I’m going to ask you to show us what you did and how to
reverse it, and maybe I can prevent Grant from handing you over to
afraid I can’t do that, Professor.”
why is that?”
Doctor took a deep breath.
is an ancient planet. Once, it was an entirely different biosphere,
based on iron, gold and semimetals. Metallic life forms whose bodies
were held together by magnetic fields.”
hardly seems feasible,” said Asgar.
“There were the equivalents of plants, drawing energy from the
light of Barnard’s Star, and herbivores that fed on them. And, of
course, there were predators. One species evolved into a particularly
effective predator, devouring the life energies of other creatures,
draining them of their very life force.”
interjected Quin, “I have just uncovered some… unusual remains at
the site which bear the Doctor out on that matter.”
Doctor continued. “ The biosphere couldn’t withstand such an
efficient predator . There was a devastating mass extinction. The
creatures went into hibernation beneath the surface, protected from
Barnard’s stellar flares. Life arose again on Polyxo, in time.”
yes,” snapped Asgar, “organic complexes, probably carried on here
on a comet. This, at least, agrees with theory.”
the beings you call the Stickmen arose. They built up an advanced
civilisation, and may have become aware of the periodic mass
extinctions that occurred when the protean predators awoke. They
certainly had legends, of Sleeping Ones that arose from beneath the
ground.” The Doctor looked to Quin. “What did you find in the
ruins, Professor Mordenvald?”
were inscriptions that could describe what you’re saying, yes.”
“Eight-thousand years ago, Barnard’s Star experienced a flurry
of activity, the Stickmen retreated underground to sit out the
stellar flares. The Sleeping Ones would have been stirring anyway,
but that intrusion on their domain would have jolted them into
action. The poor Stickmen didn’t stand a chance.”
see,” said Asgar. “So, what we have is yet another fairy story
about the wondrous Stickmen.” He sneered at Quin. “Honestly, he’s
worse than you.”
still believe that the stellar flares weren’t what killed off the
Stickmen,” said Quin, “but that doesn’t mean I support what the
Doctor is saying. Still, if perhaps you’d listen to someone else
for once - ”
what matters here is not the history of your precious Stickmen.”
Asgar returned his attention to the Doctor. “I fail to see how it
relates to your little act of sabotage, and your wilful endangerment
of the lives of everyone in this settlement.”
don’t understand,” implored the Doctor. “It isn’t just this
world that’s at risk. The Sleeping Ones were waking anyway. The
proximity of the Earth, and its rich bioenergy, would have shook them
from their slumber. I needed to deal with them before that happened,
but I couldn’t do it while they were buried beneath the surface.
They are waking up as we speak. I had to find a way to destroy the
creatures once they reached the surface of Polyxo, but before they
escaped and travelled to Earth. So I rigged the stellar defence
system to reverse its effect .”
said Quin, “what would happen when the creatures began to wake up?
Would there be some kind of seismic activity?”
Doctor nodded. “Something of the sort, I should think. The Sleeping
Ones’ hive is located deep beneath the city.”
accept what you’re saying about the creatures, but I still don’t
understand what possessed you to damage the array,” added Quin.
Barnard’s Star becomes active later tomorrow, the flare will hit
the antimagnetic field and become supercharged. Prolonged exposure
will destroy the magnetic fields that hold the creatures’ bodies
together. They’ll be forced to retreat back into hibernation, and
they’ll stay there for thousands more years, until long after your
people have abandoned this planet .”
this was your best method of dealing with this supposed problem?”
right,” said Quin. “Why didn’t you just tell someone about the
did try to raise the subject with you Asgar, but you dismissed me, as
I suspected you would. It is quite a tall tale, I’ll accept.
There’s a fleet of ships heading from Earth as we speak, ready to
evacuate the colony. Once the flares have died down, you can all
return to your homes. If you hadn’t made your rather clever
advances with magnetic manipulation, you’d all have had to evacuate
anyway and you’d never have been any the wiser to the creatures’
Doctor,” scoffed Asgar, “I have no idea if you’re messing with
us or simply delusional. You have put the lives of thousands at risk
and you will tell us how to fix that array.”
building shook. Both Asgar and Quin jumped to their feet.
the hell was that?” said Asgar.
of schedule, that’s what. That’s not good, gentlemen, not good at
second tremor ripped through the building, throwing the Doctor off
his chair. He stumbled to his feet.
think we’d better find out what’s happening out there,” he
then, Miss McShane,” said Captain Grant, “you’re not in any
trouble. I just need to talk to you about Doctor Smith.” He settled
into a plastic chair that creaked under his weight, at the outer edge
of the food court that straddled the gap between the Institute and
the main square. He motioned for Ace to join him. She sat heavily
into another plastic seat.
Denebolan waitress shuffled up to them, her fur ruffling as she
moved. Grant ordered the sandwich of the day, but Ace merely shook
her head sullenly.
miss, I would appreciate it if you could tell me a little about your
friend the Doctor and your relationship.”
a friend. We travel together. He’s a good bloke.”
yes? This ‘good bloke’ has damaged a cutting-edge system that is
essential for the survival of this settlement.”
know. But the Doctor wouldn’t do something like that for fun. If he
did something to the defences, you can bet he had a damn good reason
We’ll find out. Professors Asgar and Mordanveld are speaking with
the Doctor now.”
about the tremors?” asked Ace.
friend Mordanveld mentioned these, but no one here felt them. They
clearly weren’t very strong. And I fail to see how they have any
bearing on the Doctor’s little act of sabotage.”
Denebolan trundled back over to their table, and deposited an
extremely full sandwich in front of Captain Grant. He slipped her a
he lifted the sandwich up to his lips, the ground shook gently.
was that?” he whispered.
stood up. “Oh no,” she muttered. “I told you – tremors! They
must have got stronger!”
sudden vibration, this time strong enough to send plates and cups
flying. The various patrons of the food court rose to their feet in
alarm. The next tremor sent tables over, and was enough to cause
Grant to finally drop his sandwich. He and Ace looked out into the
square. People were beginning to panic.
one final, vast convulsion, the ground ripped open. Vast cracks
appeared across the square. The panicked crowd erupted into screams.
of spindly, metallic legs protruded from a large fissure in the
centre of the square, followed by three dome-shaped carapaces. Three
creatures clambered out from under the ground. Then six. Then
eighteen. And they kept coming…
the hell are they?” snarled Grant, slipping his ion pistol from its
pulled some cans of Nitro-9 from her rucksack. Never leave the TARDIS
without some, she thought.
of the insectoids had a group of young men cornered against a
building, their compound eyes coldly scrutinising them.
away from them!” Ace shouted.
a sudden lunge, the foremost creature pinned one of the men to the
ground with its claws. A long, thin tube protruded from its craw,
snaking around its victim’s neck. With a soft, crackling spark, it
drew out his life. He convulse as the life ebbed from him. His
friends screamed, as his body withered to a lifeless husk.
creature then turned to Ace.
the foyer of the station, they could see dozens of creatures swarming
over the city, their metallic carapaces glinting in the red light of
the setting star.
are what I’ve just spent the last half hour telling you about! Now
do you see that I am telling the truth?”
protested. “Very well, Doctor, but you said that these creatures
would be at the mercy of the flares tomorrow. What are they doing
crawling through our city now?”
admit, I may have made a slight miscalculation.”
fleet is on its way,” added Quin. “We might be able to hold these
things off until it gets here.”
fear that won’t be enough, but you’re right, we must get out
there, do what we can.” He frowned. “Ace is still out there.”
surveyed the carnage from the relative safety of the Institute. There
were enough people out in the open for the creatures to feast upon,
before they had to start breaking their way into the buildings. The
Doctor watched, his brow furrowed.
enough, there was Ace, lobbing cans of Nitro-9 at the attacking
creatures, while Grant unleashed bolts of energy from his own
got to get out there. I trust you will allow me to aid my friend?
I’ll happily allow Captain Grant to re-arrest me later.”
scowled at him, but nodded.
best stay here, Professor. Look after anyone who makes it into the
Institute. We’ll do what we can out there.”
Doctor and Quin fled the building.
cried Ace, popping another can of Nitro, and lobbing it at a
creature. Its carapace cracked open with a flash of energy, and it
collapsed. “What took you so long?”
was a little tied up,” he quipped. “Figuratively speaking.”
we’ve found the Stickmen’s city. I Nitro’d my way in.” Even
in the chaos, Ace flashed a quick grin. “We think these things
killed them off. They were underground – they must have tunnelled
Doctor was aghast. “You did what?! Ace, I wanted you do investigate
the ruins, not blow your way into them. No wonder the Sleeping Ones
are awake – you’ve just given this planet’s personal apocalypse
an early morning alarm call!”
smile fell. “Oh.”
least the explosives are doing the trick,” said Quin.
are,” agreed Grant. “A bit of brute force is all it takes!”
think so?” said the Doctor. “Watch.”
creature that Ace had just felled began to twitch. With a low,
electrical hum, the two halves of its fractured body fused together,
leaving just a hairline fracture in its shell.
are we supposed to fight that?” Ace exclaimed.
energy can disrupt their electromagnetic fields and cause them to
collapse permanently,” said the Doctor. “But without the flare we
have no way of providing that energy. Perhaps, with enough time, I
could use the antimagnetic properties of the array against them
directly, but to rework it so completely would take far too long…”
can I do here?” growled Grant, finally accepting that his gun
wasn’t going to get hit very far.
as many people as you can away from here and into the Institute. At
least they’ll be relatively safe there.” He turned to Ace and
Quin. “We need to get back to the site.”
we go,” said the Doctor, “one short hop. Not bad, if I do say so
Quin and the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and into the gloom of
the Stickman site.
device is over there, Doctor. We found some Stickmen, dead with one
of these creatures.”
they got lucky,” said the Doctor. “Or perhaps this thing was
close enough to finished for a low level test. Just enough to kill
off a few of the Sleeping Ones in the immediate vicinity. Though I
can’t imagine it was very healthy for the Stickmen either.”
Doctor examined the mushroom-shaped object, wiping the latest deposit
of dust from its scarred surface. He reached into his pocket,
removing his sonic lance.
a little judicious tweaking, and it might just be possible… there!”
device slowly hummed into life, a soft, blue glow emanating from its
what I call a long-life battery,” said Ace.
won’t be enough,” said the Doctor, frowning. “They never
developed a powerful enough system.”
turned to Ace and Quin.
is a possibility.The Sleeping Ones are ruled by a queen. She’s the
centre of their hive mind, linked to all of them through
electromagnetic pulses. If we can knock her out, the others will have
no direction. They’ll become helpless.”
smiled. “Then the flare will come along and finish them off for
Doctor’s frown grew deeper. “No, Professor. Then I’ll do what I
can with the Queen. If I can convince her to fully return to her
hibernation, the Sleeping Ones can stay sleeping until this planet
has been abandoned by humanity.” He paused. “We need to get into
the core of the hive. There should be a central cavern.”
will be full of creatures?” asked Ace.
afraid so. How much Nitro-9 do you have left?”
we’d best get moving,” said the Doctor.
them, Quin and Ace had little trouble carrying the antimagnetic
device, its construction proving surprisingly lightweight. The Doctor
carried nothing more than his umbrella. The three of them pushed
further on into the gloom, the broken ground of the Stickmen’s city
tilting downwards into the depths of the planet’s crust.
you sure we’re heading in the right direction?” Ace asked the
Doctor, pausing in the descent as she and Quin maneoveured the device
down a jagged incline.
they’re down there. I can feel them. One vast mind, spreading
outwards in all directions. It’s still waking up, but we need to
twisting passageway opened into a shallow cavern. The Doctor held out
his arms, his umbrella blocking the way forward.
he ordered. “We’re here.”
The cavern ahead was crawling with Sleeping Ones. Hundreds of the
creatures piled over one another. The sound of scraping metal
reverberated through the enclosed space.
cripes,” Ace breathed.
their centre sat a vast, swollen mass, featureless but for a huge,
gaping maw. It pulsed with energy, glowing faintly in the darkness.
Ace watched in revulsion as the worker creatures attended the queen.
Sparks of energy shot from their mouthparts as they gorged their
queen on bioelectric power.
do we activate this thing?” said Quin.
how near do we have to get?” added Ace.
can activate it,” said the Doctor, “but due to its low-level
pulse, we’ll have to get very close.”
was afraid you’d say that.”
about the rest of them?” said Quin. “They’re not going to let
us get very close.”
handed him a can of Nitro-9.
can each. We can distract them, give the Doctor a chance to get to
and Quin ran into the swarm of creatures, Ace ducking left, Quin
dashing right. The insectoids shifted their attentions from the
service of their queen, swivelling to face the two humans running at
them. Claws raised, feeding tubes ready, they lunged towards the
attackers. Ace popped her can of Nitro-9 and lobbed it into the
oncoming mob. The explosion through them backwards, the foremost few
creatures ripped apart by the force, others thrown against the wall.
Ace herself was thrown backwards by the force, landing painfully on
now!” she cried.
archaeologist struggled with the can, finally succeeding in ripping
it open as the creatures advanced. They were almost on top of him.
Doctor took his chance. He threw his umbrella to the ground. Heaving
the antimagnetic device forward, he charged towards the queen’s
gaping mouth. He dropped the device into her maw, then leapt back,
landing on his backside. He grabbed his sonic lance from his pocket,
and triggered the device.
blast of white-blue light burst from the device. The queen’s bulk
absorbed much of it, yet she shuddered as the pulse passed through
her. With a final, violent convulsion, she collapsed, her mandibles
creatures paused, quivering over Ace and Quin.
he hissed. “Quiet. They’re stunned, but we don’t want to wake
them, do we.” Gingerly, he edged right up to the queen’s body,
until he was able to press his fingers right up against the gleaming
it,” he whispered. “Sleep. Call back your children. There’ll be
time to feed again in the future. A long time from now.”
twitching creatures surrounding them began to shift, sluggishly, back
towards their queen.
Doctor stooped to pick up his umbrella.
think,” he said quietly, “that we’d best not outstay out
welcome. Besides, I’ve got an array to fix.”
dust was, at last, settling. Medical crews were attending the many
injured. Quin had found Captain Grant, and was assisting him in
dressing a vicious-looking wound on his right arm, no doubt caused by
one of the creature’s razor claws. In the distance, the last of the
Sleeping Ones was shambling back in the direction of its home.
Doctor swung his sonic lance in his hand, before dropping it into his
pocket. Asgar had agreed to overlook events as long as he put the
array back as he’d found it.
suppose you’ll be wanting to say goodbye to the young Professor
Medenwald?” he asked Ace.
not sure it’s a good idea,” she replied. “We’d be better off
slipping away. That’s more your style, isn’t it?”
nodded the Doctor, solemnly.
have plenty of new research to do,” said Ace. “The thought of
asking him to come with us did cross my mind.”
with us?” scoffed the Doctor. “An archaeologist in the TARDIS?
did you do in there? With the queen?”
a telepathic creature, Ace. It’s all a matter of making the right
sort of contact.”
turned and fixed him with a hard stare.
course, if you’d let me know about the Sleeping Ones in the first
place, and your plan to use the flares to fry them, then this whole
thing would have gone a lot more smoothly.”
Doctor bowed his head.
right, Ace. I try to keep you out of trouble, you know, but somehow I
always manage to get you into more danger than I’d bargained for.”
more complicated, classified missions, eh, Doctor? No more secrets?”
worry, Ace. No more secrets.”
Doctor and Ace turned and entered the TARDIS, their feet leaving the
surface of Polyxo for the last time. She didn’t notice the fingers
crossed behind his back.