Victoria had had a feeling in her water that this mission was going to prove a huge mistake. Almost from the moment she’d waved Jamie goodbye from the TARDIS doorstep she’d felt a sense of foreboding uncoiling in her abdomen and begin to creep slowly up her spine. And now look at her. Stranded in some kind of storeroom on an undersea base on a distant planet. While a man with a beard that was abnormally extravagant even by her late nineteenth-century standards implacably pointed some kind of space harpoon directly at her forehead.
She could feel rather large drops of cold sweat forming below her hairline and beginning to roll down towards her eyes. Really, this was not the sort of situation she felt she belonged in.
Her bearded adversary raised an overly bushy eyebrow and smiled down at his weapon. Well, Victoria supposed, this was her chance: she swiftly brought up the laser pistol she had earlier secreted in the back-right pocket of her 501s. Hesitation means death, she forced herself to think as she pumped the trigger. She tried to recall the exact training Major Booth had given her on the firing range, that February the Doctor had dumped her in the care of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce while he went off on a top-secret caper involving the Omega Cenotaph or some-such.
Three laser circulars spat out of the barrel of her gun, spun across the dingy storeroom, and stung deeply through the bearded man’s astrosuit. He jack-knifed over a pumping mechanism and crashed to a halt among a series of fuel rods, his neck twisted at a particularly unpleasant angle. Victoria breathed deeply, her bust heaving below the scarlet Guess T-shirt she had ended up wearing after her daily temporal struggle with the TARDIS wardrobe. The man appeared to have died before firing his space harpoon. Oh well, another peril avoided. Doubtless a new one waited around the corner.
Slightly shakily Victoria checked her weapon, assessing its power stock and ensuring the safety-mech was reengaged. The entire process took less than nine seconds – Major Booth got results – then Victoria was at the storeroom door, listening carefully. No noise from her pursuers. She sprang through the doorway and set off down the corridor at a run.
The Doctor sat on the Bridge of the Ocean Terminal, staring at his feet. Said feet were numb as a result of a glancing blow from a paralysis ray, which he had unfortunately failed to fully evade earlier. Completely ruined his brogues it had – not to mention melting his socks.
The Doctor sighed. He supposed he should be used to unfriendly welcomes by now. He was a small man with a lined and downcast face, albeit the downcast face of a man standing outside his bungalow seconds after realising his house keys are inside, still sat firmly atop the fridge. He sighed again. He frequently found himself being shot at, but why was it that even on a planned mission like this one, he succeeded in immediately placing a companion or three in danger? He ran his hand through a haircut that would be recognised as a ‘moptop’ by Beatles fans the Mutters Spiral over, even if it was now streaked with grey. Had only he been captured in that melee around the TARDIS? The Doctor brushed at his clothing nervously. He was dressed in a rumpled frock coat, a pair of unlikely checked trousers, and a rather grubby white shirt which had in fact been purchased from a branch of The Gap in Birmingham on a lovely July day in 1993. The outfit was topped off by his lucky bow tie. Oh well, he thought wiggling his senseless toes, he had to say something.
‘Erm,’ the Doctor harrumphed, ‘hello?’ Nobody turned to look at him. Everyone on the Bridge appeared intent on staring at the undersea scene displayed on the viewscreen. It looked lovely, certainly, all aqua-scarlets and golden mauves, diaphanous greens and robust blues, and the Doctor would have been happy to purchase a set of picture postcards of the vista had a handy tourist kiosk ever been installed in the vicinity (a distant part of his brain began making a list of people he really ought to drop a card to, before he realised what it was doing and told it to concentrate on the matter at hand). However, he failed to see why such an everyday scene should be vigorously holding the attention of the Ocean Terminal Bridge crew, who after all, must have seen it every day for months. Time to harrumph again, he supposed.
Noni Delta, the watery world on which the Ocean Terminal was currently deployed, was three years’ starhaul from the base’s home planet. The crew were the only living beings officially in the system, and the slow nature of outside comms-links meant that they were used to isolation. The arrival of three unknown people accompanied by a battered blue box was so unlikely that their minds were struggling to process it. Of course, the effort to do so was made more difficult by the second impossibility of the day: what every scanner, tracker, viewscreen, and peek through a porthole agreed was happening outside.
Eventually the Doctor’s elaborate throat clearing drew the attention of Commander Marcelus, head of the undersea base. He heaved himself out of his Command Chair and gazed at the rumpled fellow as if seeing him for the first time. The Doctor took advantage of the attention. ‘My good chap, you couldn’t tell me why everyone is staring at the screen in such a… riveted manner, could you?’ he queried.
Marcelus grimaced. ‘I don’t release information to spies.’
‘Oh, I’m a spy now, am I? Oh dear me. I just don’t seem to be able to get any respect from you young people any more.’
The Commander was momentarily startled: ‘I’m seventy-three!’ he spluttered, reflexively running a hand through his steel-grey crew-cut. But the Doctor’s gaze had already returned to the viewscreen, and this time… ah yes, this time…
Subtle differences in the flora and fauna of the undersea scene. Even the colours had altered; paler. And from nowhere – without build-up – there seemed to be a marked increase in turbulence. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what form the overall change took, but… ‘Oh my word!’ As the Doctor watched a further change occurred, this time much more dramatic. The ocean vanished completely. The viewscreen showed a barren landscape of dry red rock. Before anyone had time to react, the underwater scene reappeared, although again with differences. Open-mouthed, the Doctor stood staring at the screen for a moment, before suddenly recalling that his feet were presently inoperative and he shouldn’t really be standing. ‘Waaah!’ He pitched forward onto the deck in a blurry of limbs and coattails and landed with a thump, drawing attention from all around the Bridge.
If you were ever to happen into the permanent asteroid storm that lashes the outer edge of the Becan system, you would die. As you died, however, watching the vast chunks of planetary debris thundering into each other, you might wonder why one particular asteroid seemed to be completely impervious to contact with its fellows. If you did wonder this, you would have made a mistake – hilariously enough – of even greater stupidity than happening into the permanent asteroid storm that lashes the outer edge of the Becan system. Not that you would now have ever happened into the permanent etc. Your dying flicker of interest in the Impervious Asteroid would have resulted in an instant quashing of your timeline. You would never have existed at all. Which perhaps wouldn’t have been that much of a loss to the universe, really, considering your stupidity. Would it?
A particularly evil-looking chunk of rock thundered towards the Impervious Asteroid, paused, edged forward, hesitated, and then spun off at a wholly unexpected angle to impact on a not-so-impervious asteroid, with spectacular results observed by no-one.
The barrier that had caused this unlikely process was invisible. Also invisible were the remains of a huge Drafetafein freighter which had crash-landed so long ago that the planet which was to provide the material for the asteroids was then still intact. (This wasn’t of much help to the Drafetafein survivors, who had promptly died out as a result of eating an indigenous shrub which – while undoubtedly reminiscent of a Drafetafein Kuorlig – had the unfortunate effect of causing their ghandlweps to turn sarvel and eventually lurmp off).
Inside the invisible freighter on the impossible asteroid sat a rather ordinary-looking man. Monitor Coughstanavaltar of the Gallifreyan Celestial Intervention Agency tapped his teeth with a datacube. He was getting increasingly irritated. He looked despairingly down at his so-called ‘control’ panel. Surely the Doctor had had enough time to track down the Daysleeper and neutralise him? But no, it looked as if time distortion had markedly worsened in the Noni sector since his operative’s arrival – and in a rapidly fluctuating manner that even Gallifreyan technology struggled to keep track of. Coughstanavaltar briefly wondered whether he should pull the Doctor out and obliterate the entire sector before it destabilised completely. Instead he decided to go and make himself a nice cup of tea. Perhaps the Doctor would have sorted everything out by the time he got back.
Victoria had seen no sign of the pursuers who had caused her to fatefully duck into the store room earlier, and decided it was safe enough to pause and return her laser pistol to her jeans. It was a particularly small and elegant ladies’ model which fitted snugly into her back pocket without advertising its presence. After all, she didn’t particularly want to bump into the Doctor whilst waving a gun about. That would surely result in a prolonged dressing down and/or sulk when – if – they got back to the TARDIS.
The thought of the TARDIS caused Victoria to think of Jamie. The Doctor’s people had given them this mission just after he had been dropped off on early twenty-first century Earth. He was going to spend a fortnight at Glasgow University, assisting a friend of the Doctor’s in his research into the Jacobite Rising. And doubtless, thought Victoria, adding to his bizarre collection of shaving products. Razors of all sorts – cut-throats, blue plastic disposables, sub-atomic follicle-killers – Jamie had an example, together with foams, gels, oils, and unguents from throughout time and space. She wished he was here now. He would understand her actions in the storeroom, which she was already starting to feel slightly guilty about.
Deciding that there was no point in moping, Victoria set off down the corridors of the Ocean Terminal at a renewed pace.
On the Impervious Asteroid, Coughstanavaltar was remembering the mission briefing. He shook his head. He found the frequently frivolous nature of renegades rather wearing. He had slanted into view in the Doctor’s TARDIS to a less than ecstatic welcome. ‘Oh,’ his host had grunted unhappily, ‘hello there.’
‘Good evening,’ Coughstanavaltar had begun, for some reason. ‘I am Monitor Coughstanavaltar of the Gallifr-‘
‘The CIA, yes, yes, I’d gathered that. I take it you have another errand for me to run. What is it now? Lord President gone on holiday and forgotten to cancel the milk? You want me to go back and alter the records at the dairy company, thus preventing his eminence returning to a distinct odour of sourness on his doorstep?’
‘Doctor, if I may say so, the distinct odour of sourness…’ Coughstanavaltar had started to rejoinder before thankfully stopping himself. He didn’t want to give the little man any excuse for a bit of pantomime, doubtless involving much frowning and comedic armpit sniffing. Try for portentous, he’d thought. It’ll wind the Doctor up if nothing else. ‘I am here to brief you for a mission of great importance,’ he had boomed, ‘not only for Gallifrey, but for all of Time!’
‘Oooh,’ the Doctor had commented. Coughstanavaltar had ignored him.
‘There is a Being polluting the Corridors of Time who exists only to Destroy, who thinks nothing of Unravelling the ties that bind the Tapestry of the Temporal Universe together – One who Dares to Murder Moments of the Vortex Itself!’
‘I think you’re overdoing the capitalisation a bit. Though I do like ‘Tapestry of the Temporal Universe.’ Anyway. Does this chap have a name?’
‘He is known only as… The Daysleeper!!’
‘Well, that doesn’t exactly strike fear into my hearts, I’m afraid.’
‘He is dangerous regardless Doctor. He has chosen his name well, for he has the power to Put Days to Sleep. His Modus Operandi-‘
‘I met her once. She had a lovely voice.’
‘His Method of Operation is to remove the Time Frame around the immediacy of his Victim – Erasing the Very Fabric of Entropy!’
‘When you have as much time on your hands as the average Time Lord does,’ the Doctor had said, turning to one of his human companions, ‘there’s plenty of time to sit around reading Roget’s masterwork.’
Coughstanavaltar had given up. ‘Look, here is a datacube with all the information you need. Here is a tracking device to enable you to pinpoint the Daysleeper’s location, and here is the neutraliser that will transfer him to a CIA holding pen, where he will be unable to violate time ever again.’ Coughstanavaltar had unceremoniously dumped the items on the central console before there was time for another quip. ‘Your TARDIS has already been programmed with your destination. Enjoy.’ Coughstanavaltar remembered hastily slanting himself out of existence and reassembling himself in the Drafetafein freighter. He had had time for a hot bath before the Doctor arrived at his target. Rassilon knew he had earned it.
The whistle of his kettle boiling broke Coughstanavaltar’s reverie. What is the Doctor up to down there? he wondered as he poured water over the teabag.
Glad to be distracted from the vast impossibilities outside, even if it meant focussing on the small rumpled impossibility inside, several crewmembers turned from the viewscreen to stare at the aftermath of the Doctor’s contretemps. Unfortunately, those crewmembers included Security Senior Hozful. A tall willowy blonde in white lycra and black leather thigh boots, he had a particularly nasty little mind. A moment previously, it had been engaged upon a futile attempt to enumerate the variety of security-related hazards presented by the planetary shifts outside. The tumbling clown provided a welcome diversion. ‘Commander, I recommend we execute the spy.’
‘What?’ Marcelus looked round. ‘We haven’t grilled him for information yet. We don’t know why he’s here. We don’t know who he is. We-‘
‘Well, my name is the Doctor-‘ began the Doctor.
Marcelus ignored the interjection. ‘We don’t know many accomplices he has. We don’t know if he’s causing these… disturbances. To kill him now would be extremely foolish, surely?’
Hozful clicked a stiletto heel angrily. He leant over and whispered to Marcelus. ‘The other spy is already being prepared for interrogation, sir. Let me kill this one.’
The Commander sighed. ‘Oh, all right then,’ he whispered back, then in a louder voice gave the order: ‘Shoot him.’
‘Whaat?!’ The Doctor stumbled to his feet, began to topple, threw his arms out for balance, then tottered a couple of tentative steps forward and began knotting his hands in the manner of a man fiddling with a micromolecular Rubik’s Cube. ‘You can’t kill me! You need my help! I have a rather horrible feeling we’re up against a dreadful evil… Oh.’ The Doctor fell silent as a violent-looking metal wand was inserted into his right ear. His far-from-peripheral peripheral vision could see the Security Senior’s finger tightening on what could only be a trigger.
It was at this precise moment that Victoria slid to a stop outside a large plate-bronze door. A voice she recognised very well came from inside. ‘I really don’t think you should kill me, you know…’ Ignoring the chill that sped up her spine, Victoria leapt across to the door’s computerised access panel, stared desperately at its incomprehensible array of large coloured buttons and small LVD screens, then shrugged and began bashing the panel with the butt of her trusty laser pistol.
The Doctor was pondering the irony of running errands for the CIA in order to stave off a forced regeneration only for one of those errands to lead to an even more forced regeneration – with the distinct possibility of a series to follow in rapid succession. Meanwhile, another part of his brain was frantically flipping through possible escape plans. No, no time for that particular manoeuvre…
At this point he and the rest of the Bridge’s occupants were distracted by a noisy hammering coming from the direction of the door.
With the fourth bash of Victoria’s weapon the huge bronze door began to stagger roofwards. It stopped a third of the way up, hesitated, and then in response to a fifth thump retreated hastily into the ceiling. Dropping into a firing crouch, Victoria dived through the doorway.
‘Vic!’ exclaimed the girl lashed to a large plastic table by means of glistening hoops. Victoria fervently wished that Zoë would desist from using that appalling derivative of her given name. Sadly, it was only one of the series of minor irritants her companion carried with her in an unladylike cloud.
As this went through her mind Victoria combat-rolled across the open space of some kind of laboratory before taking up position behind a large fishtank. The fishtank immediately exploded as the metallic figure that had been menacing Zoë threw a bolt of force-hardened steel from its mouth with an astonishing velocity. Water and panicked amphibians sprayed everywhere. Victoria returned fire, only to see her laser circulars bounce harmlessly from the flank of the metal beast. Dash it! Victoria’s stomach sank as she realised her rescue attempt was simply going to get her as well as Zoë killed.
Meanwhile, the distraction of the hammering on the Bridge door had given the Doctor precisely the extra 2.4 seconds he needed to pretend to collapse and instead execute a rather spectacular backwards somersault, landing on his hands a couple of yards from the door. He padded forwards on outstretched fingers for a few steps before realising that – numb toes or no numb toes – his egress might be better facilitated by returning to his feet and running for it. This he duly did, bursting through the opening door and almost knocking over Ensign Pake, source of the previous hammering, as he fled. Pake looked open-mouthed at the barefoot tramp now haring it down the corridor. Feeling Hozful’s glower on the back of his neck, Pake turned. ‘I thought I’d left my access key in my cabin again,’ he muttered lamely, ‘but I’ve found it now.’
Victoria squirmed as she held the wriggling fish in her left hand and reached out for a dying squid with her right. Grimacing, she flung the flailing former sea-dwellers in two separate directions, while focusing on the single green-glowing eye of the metal beast. As she had hoped its motion sensors tried to lock on to both writhing projectiles at once, while simultaneously keeping track of her movements. The beast’s metal skull swivelled dizzily, and Victoria took advantage of its confusion to once again open fire. The sort of situations Victoria had found herself in in recent years had made her the sort of person who has the injunction ‘Aim for the eyestalk!’ hard-wired into her neurons, and this time her shots were satisfyingly effective. There was a plaintive if piercing electronic yelp as the beast’s eye exploded, spraying a phosphorescent green substance across the room. The beast slumped down onto several of its knees. Victoria drew breath, and got to work freeing Zoë.
The Doctor skidded round another bend, muttering to himself as he rifled through his pockets. ‘Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh… A-hah!’ He plucked a pair of fluorescent flip-flops – one yellow, one blue – from an inner pocket of his frock coat, and paused to pull them on. Next he retrieved from a further pocket a small device. Activating it, he shook his head. There was absolutely no trace of the Daysleeper anywhere in the vicinity. That couldn’t be right. Coughstanavaltar’s datacube had been quite certain the CIA had pinpointed his position, somewhere on the Ocean Terminal. And now there was this time distortion afflicting the planet. That hadn’t been mentioned, he was sure.
It proved fortunate that Zoë was out in front when the two girls careered around a corner and cannoned into a ruminating Doctor, for it gave Victoria a chance to stow her pistol before he could glimpse it.
‘Doctor!’ yelled Zoë delightedly.
‘Yes, yes, I’m the Doctor, quite right…’ said the Doctor, still absorbed in waggling his sonic screwdriver around the tracking device despite the collision.
‘Doctor, it’s us!’ He looked up, bemused, then broke into a vast grin.
‘Oh! Zoë! Victoria!’
‘What’s going on, Doctor?’
‘Well… Well, it appears that… It appears… Where have you two been?’
‘Oh, Doctor, it was horrible,’ shivered Zoë. ‘The guards grabbed me after we got split up coming out the TARDIS, and they took me to this laboratory, where there was this revolting robot thing. It had a huge green eye and it was going to dissect me!!’
‘Did they? Did they? Was there? Did it? Was it? Oh my goodness!’
‘But I rescued her,’ added Victoria, rather smugly thought Zoë.
‘Did you? Oh, well done Victoria!’
Zoë harrumphed. Vic was always getting the Doctor’s attention. And she seemed to be wearing one of Zoë’s T-shirts. Time for a change of subject. ‘But what’s going on Doctor?’
‘Oh, ah, well, it appears this base is undergoing some sort of… temporal flux, I suppose.’
‘Is it something to do with the Daysleeper?’
‘Well… No, it appears not.’ He brandished the tracking device. ‘This detector old Coughstanavaltar gave me is showing no sign of the fellow. It’s all very confusing. Perhaps if we keep looking?’
Victoria sighed. She knew there was very little prospect of persuading the Doctor to return to the TARDIS, despite the likelihood that a small army was stalking them through the base corridors by now. ‘Well, let’s get moving then. If we stand around here chatting, I feel certain we’ll be captured.’
‘What? Oh, quite right, Victoria. Let’s go.’ He wheeled around and set off down the darkest nearby corridor. Zoë sighed. Past-girl really was irritating. It was all one could do to keep the Doctor’s interest. Still, she had to try.
‘Is this Daysleeper really so bad, Doctor? I mean, it sounds a bit like he’s just providing a service.’
‘Yes, well, Zoë, that may be true. But just because there’s a market for something doesn’t make it all right.’
She shivered, remembering some of the seedy exchanges she had heard went on in the dingy back corridors of Station W3. ‘Yes, I appreciate that, but does the Daysleeper actually hurt anyone or anything when he does his stuff? Apart from the Fabric of Time, of course.’
The Doctor thought about skidding to a halt, but instead settled for a bit of wide-eyed expostulation: ‘Apart?! Apart from the Fabric of Time?! What do you think the Fabric of Time is, Zoë? It’s not something you make curtains with, you know – in fact it could be curtains for us all if it’s damaged!’
‘Well, yes, but…’ Zoë felt cowed for a moment, but she wasn’t giving up that easily. ‘But are you certain? I mean, surely we mess around with the Fabric practically every day? Doesn’t the TARDIS play merry blair with Time?’
The Doctor frowned huffily at her. ‘But I’m a Time Lord! The TARDIS is a Gallifreyan vessel!’
‘That’s what I’m getting at: why is it one rule for the Daysleeper, and another for your lot?’
‘They’re not ‘my lot.’ Well, I suppose they are, in a way, but…’
‘Look, it’s complicated, Zoë.’ For a moment he wished he’d resisted the opportunities afforded by his augmented TARDIS and left Zoë where she had been deposited after his initial trial – memoryless on the Space Wheel.
‘Are you sure your people aren’t over-reacting to this Daysleeper fellow?’
‘Of course I’m-‘ He wasn’t, he realised. He really didn’t know enough about all this. Was it possible that his terror of regeneration and exile was so great that he’d let himself be duped into betraying his principles? Oh dear. ‘Well, we haven’t found this chap, anyhow, have we Zoë,’ – he rattled the still-dead tracking device – ‘so it’s rather academic at the moment, isn’t it?’
Bored with the conversation, Victoria had moved ahead. Reconnoitring, no doubt, thought Zoë sourly. There was a silence, then the Doctor spoke again. ‘You know I’m not sure that you’re not right about the Daysleeper.’
‘Well, he doesn’t seem to use lots of firepower or kill people – he just puts days to sleep. It seems quite… humane.’
‘Mmm, well, there’s a thin line between humanity and euphemism, Zoë, but nevertheless I don’t think I’ve seen enough evidence against the chap to countenance banging him up in a CIA holding pen.’
‘I’m glad to hear it, Doctor. So what’s out next move?’
‘Well, since we’re here, I think we should look into the temporal flux that’s afflicting the Ocean Terminal, don’t you?’
Zoë shrugged. ‘Fair enough. Where do we start?’
‘Doctor! Zoë! Get back!’ Victoria’s shout came from around a corner up ahead, and was quickly followed by its owner, who was in turn quickly followed by a posse of security guards.
As a panicked Victoria ran towards them she was horrified to see the Doctor and Zoë raising their arms above their heads. They were surrendering! ‘Well, Zoë,’ the Doctor remarked, ‘I think we start here.’ He waved at the leading security guard. ‘I say,’ he said, ‘can you take us to the Bridge?’
It’s all right for those two, thought Victoria as they were all lead away. They haven’t blown up a robot – or left a corpse in a storeroom.
Coughstanavaltar came to with a start. Must have dozed off for a moment there. He examined his instruments. Not much change. Temporal flux around Noni Delta was worsening, though. The Monitor frowned. The flux patterns playing out on the display screens looked familiar. Where had he seen them before? Oh, well, no doubt it would come back to him. He peered into his teacup, and grimaced as he drained the cold dregs. Another cup soon, he thought. Just to wake myself up. He glanced across the control panel: the various location indicators showing the Doctor and his TARDIS; the inactive holding pen status screen that would light up when the Doctor succeeded in activating the neutraliser in close proximity to the Daysleeper; the flashing orange bulb that confirmed the target was still in the vicinity of the Ocean Terminal…
That would be the flashing orange bulb that wasn’t actually flashing. Coughstanavaltar felt his blood freeze. The bulb wasn’t even lit up anymore. He cursed. Fall asleep once on duty, and this happens. The CIA would have one of his lives if they found out. The Monitor put his head in his hands. Focus, focus.
The Daysleeper wasn’t where he was supposed to be anymore. Well, that would explain why the Doctor was being so slow in finding him. A faint hope gripped Coughstanavaltar: perhaps the Daysleeper detector’s bulb had just burnt out. He feverishly flicked some switches, setting the fault-detector nanites going. Seconds later he slumped back in his chair as the results came through. All equipment was operating at one hundred per cent efficiency.
It was impossible. The Daysleeper couldn’t voluntarily the Ocean Terminal at all, thanks to the exclusion field the CIA had thrown round the planet as soon as they’d detected the villain’s presence at the undersea base. So he wasn’t in the holding pen, he couldn’t have left the base, he wasn’t in the base… It didn’t make sense. Coughstanavaltar frowned vacantly at the temporal flux display. Could it be connected?
And then the memory that had been niggling at the back of his mind clicked into place and he jerked upright with a sharp intake of breath. No, surely not! He couldn’t have – He wouldn’t have! Coughstanavaltar stared again at the flux patterns. No, his memory hadn’t deceived him. They were the same as the ones he’d seen all those years ago. Around Rotarelec III.
The Doctor was brought once more onto the Bridge, this time firmly plasmacuffed and flanked by his two accomplices. As they arrived, Marcelus contemplated the spies from his Command Chair, wondering which one to let Hozful kill first. It would be a relief to give the Security Senior some pleasure at last. Killing was his hobby, but there wasn’t normally much call for it aboard the Ocean Terminal. Hopefully he wouldn’t insist on torturing the spies too much. And hopefully the death of one of their number would quickly persuade the other two to divulge the nature of their spying activities – not to mention the identity of their employers. The Commander eased himself to his feet, and spoke.
‘I am Commander Marcelus. As head of this base, I am charging the three of you with Grade Alpha Espionage Activities. The punishment will be death. The manner of death inflicted I will leave to the… discretion of my Security Senior.’
‘But… but, Commander, I must protest!’ the Doctor wailed, ‘You haven’t given us a chance to defend ourselves.’
‘The death penalty may be commuted to a lesser punishment. If you agree to co-operate. If you inform us why you are here, who you are working for, what you have discovered. If you provide us with information about your masters.’
‘Welll… It’s not easy to explain…’ The Doctor looked flustered. In a moment Hozful was at the side of one of the accomplices waving his paralysis wand.
‘Doctor!’ she wailed.
‘All right, Zoë! All right, Commander! I’ll tell you everything.’ The Doctor looked across at this Zoë, then pleadingly at Marcelus.
Marcelus nodded to Hozful, who grimaced angrily and stepped back. Zoë sagged into the arms of the other accomplice. ‘Well, “Doctor”?’
‘Erm, we have reason to believe, Commander, Security Senior, that there is a dangerous criminal at loose on your base…’
Hozful snorted. ‘Nonsense!’
‘…and we – I – was instructed to err, bring him to book as it were and, erm, my companions here – Zoë and Victoria – err, well, came along for the ride. I, ah, have a device which-‘ The Doctor paused in reaching inside his jacket as several guards brought up their weapons. ‘No, no, it’s quite harmless to anyone but the… the fellow we’re after. Perhaps one of you?’ Marcelus nodded to Security Constable Morquan, who fished a small piece of equipment out of the Doctor’s inside jacket pocket. ‘Thank you, thank you. Now, this device will… bleep or something, I imagine, as soon as this chap, this criminal we’re after, is in the vicinity.’
‘A fanciful tale, Commander,’ spat Hozful angrily. ‘If there was anyone but the crew and these three… terrorists on board I would know about it.’
‘Indeed, Security Senior. And there is a flaw in his own argument.’
‘What do you mean there’s a flaw in my argument? Of all the cheek!’
‘If as you say you were sent here to detect someone who is on board with that detector, then why isn’t that detector detecting the someone you expected it to detect on board?’
‘What?’ The Doctor seemed to be replaying the question in his head. Suddenly his face fell. ‘Yes, I am rather worried about that myself.’
Hozful shoved his paralysis wand into the Doctor’s face. ‘Enough nonsense. Who are you working for?’
The Doctor’s eyes glazed over. ‘Ah. I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to divulge that information.’ Hozful spun angrily to face his Commander.
‘Permission to execute this spy, sir!’
Victoria and Zoë screamed.
Coughstanavaltar had barked his knuckles in his haste to access the Data Depository and follow up his hunch. He sucked them now as he watched the Daysleeper file scroll up the screen. CIA agents had travelled extensively through time and space tracking down the criminal, and the file held a vast amount of information. Tucked away in a secondary pocket Coughstanavaltar knew he would find the identity of the man who became the Daysleeper. In fact, if his memory wasn’t failing – and he was only in his third body – there was an eyewitness account somewhere of the moment the transformation occurred. Ah, yes. He keyed in the relevant code, and in a moment one of the Depository’s visual playback screens flickered into life.
The caption on the screen identified the witness as Carsag Veelapteer, Madrasmet Salvage Corporation Operative. She cleared her throat and began to speak.
‘My salvage gang and I were clearing the usable debris from an unidentified craft that had crash-landed a couple of years previous. It seemed to have been mostly consumed in whatever kind of huge energy flux that had sent it plummeting to the planet surface. Well, there’d been a lot of weird weather and stuff around back then, I hear. Was off-world myself. Anyhow, as I say, there weren’t much left of this crate. Only one section seemed to have maintained its shape, so me and Eptis, my deputy, headed for that while the rest of the gang shaved the usable metals from the melted hull. Well, we’d only been down there a few ticks when I heard a noise from Eptis. Sort of a yelp mixed in with a weird sound I’d never heard before. I asked if he was okay and got no reply, so I edged across to him – it was pretty cramped in that hole, I can vouch you. When I found him he was on his knees staring at this sort of… well, bracelet thing-‘
An off-camera voice cut in. Coughstanavaltar recognised Investigator Mullivujanilat and smiled. ‘Describe the bracelet please, Ms Veelapteer.’
‘Well, it was sort of a chunky thing, difficult to describe exactly. Could have been metal, plastic, rubber – who knows? If anyone shoulda been able to identify it, I should of. I’ve been in salvage for thirty years. Started out freelance in the Hon system in-‘
‘Sorry. The thing that really sticks in my mind about this thing is the colour – ultra-violet. It sort of radiated it. And one other thing…’
‘It was kind of moving. Of its own accord. Not much you understand, just slightly… undulating.’ Veelapteer lapsed into silence, seemingly lost in her memories.
‘And what happened then?’ prompted Mullivujanilat.
‘Well. I asked Eptis what the cruk he thought it was. He sort of turned and stared up at me with this glint in his eyes and said ‘Power.’ I half-wondered if he just meant the thing was part of the wrecked ship’s fuel core, but I was already backing away. There was something not quite right with him. Just as I was getting to the door we came in through, I saw Eptis pick the thing up. He started to move it towards his wrist – as you would with a normal bracelet, like – but before he could put it on the thing seemed to leap across of its own accord and wrap itself around his wrist. Then… then it sort of faded away – not like it was disappearing, but as if it was being absorbed into Eptis. Next thing he went up in whoosh of energy. There was a sparkle like a Nicostoriate rainbow then nothing.’
‘And that was it?’
Veelapteer nodded. ‘I got out of the stable section just as it became the particularly unstable section and collapsed in on itself. It was all I could to get my whole gang out – minus Eptis of course – before the whole ship folded in on itself and vanished. I never saw him again.’
‘Thank you for your assistance, Ms Veelapteer.’ The recording eye swung to the right and Mullivujanilat’s grinning face filled the screen. ‘Terminating Record Number-‘ Coughstanavaltar managed to reach the off-switch before his colleague launched into an interminable file code. Next he called up the recording details. As he thought.
Ms Veelapteer’s experience had occurred on Rotarelec III.
Hozful was taking a moment to savour the fearful expression on the Doctor’s face when the Bridge gave a sudden lurch, throwing everyone off-balance. ‘Status report!’ bellowed Marcelus. A technician swivelled around, perplexed expression on his face.
‘It’s another of these planetary changes, Commander. This one’s really stirred up the ocean. We’ve lost some stability. It’s not a danger to us at the moment but…’
‘All right.’ Marcelus turned to the Doctor with narrowed eyes. ‘Do you have any connection with these planetary shifts?’ he asked menacingly. ‘Only it seems rather coincidental that they started at around the same time we first picked you up.’
‘I assure you Commander, this is nothing to do with me. Well, not to my knowledge. Perhaps this criminal I referred to…?’
‘The only criminals on board are you and your accomplices,’ spat Hozful. ‘I’ve had the base scanned and there are no other extra life-forms. I’m having the entire complex searched just to be certain, but I’ll be very surprised if they find anyone.’ His communicator pinged. ‘Security Senior speaking.’
A tinny voice crackled across the Bridge. ‘Security Second Ugara replying. Sir, we’ve found someone!’ The Doctor opened his mouth, then closed it again quickly as Hozful glared at him.
‘Are you damned sure, Ugara?’
‘Yes sir. But sir…’
‘This person we’ve found. It’s dead.’
Still sitting at the Data Depository console, Coughstanavaltar closed down the Daysleeper file and opened the Rotarelec one. He entered the floating temporal identifier assigned to Veelapteer’s statement, then added an algorithm that calculated the meaning of the phrase ‘a couple of years previously’ in her culture. Finally he fed in the resultant parameter and asked for examples of temporal flux around that time point.
It was exactly as he thought. Rotarelec III had undergone a temporal flux precisely duplicating that currently affecting Noni Delta. How was he going to explain all this to his superiors?
Marcelus sank back into his Command Chair. How had things got so out of hand? Inexplicable planetary shifts were bad enough, but now they were threatening the integrity of his base. On top of that, there were these three spies from who knew where. And now a possible murder – with an impossible victim.
His musings were interrupted as the Bridge door opened and a stretcher party led by Security Second Ugara brought the mysterious corpse in. It was that of a particularly tall and burly humanoid man, whose most distinguishing feature was a huge growth of facial hair of the sort that Marcelus had only previously seen in the holohistory Elle Fashions of the 2170s. On his chest lay what looked like some kind of weapon – a silvery harpoon. His neck was twisted at a particularly unpleasant angle. The crew craned to look at the body, still not believing it wasn’t one of the base’s complement. The Doctor and Zoë looked distressed, noted Marcelus, but it seemed more the distress of those sickened by death than that of murderers confronted with damning evidence. Victoria however… she was straining not to look at the man on the stretcher as he was lowered to the floor. She looked as if she was about to burst into tears.
Marcelus left his Command Chair and began to walk towards Victoria threateningly. As he did so, the Doctor caught sight of her expression. ‘Victoria? Victoria, are you all right?’ He was answered only with a sob. ‘Victoria, I realise the sight of a man struck down by an untimely death is upsetting, but you must-‘
‘I killed him Doctor!’
‘What?!’ gasped the Doctor and Zoë simultaneously. Hozful grinned. Marcelus settled for arching an eyebrow.
‘Well, it was self-defence! He was going to kill me! I… I had no choice! Doctor, you must believe me!’
‘It is not the Doctor’s opinion you should be concerned about,’ snapped Marcelus. ‘You have committed murder on my ship!’
‘And how did such a small one as you succeed in murdering one so large as this?’ asked Hozful..
Victoria looked shamefaced. ‘With this.’ She slowly brought out a small laser pistol from behind her back, and handed it to Hozful butt-first. In the shocked silence he eyed the guards who had captured her. They would have to be retrained in body searches. Forcefully.
‘Victoria! How could you?’ the Doctor burst out apoplectically. Victoria remained silent, staring miserably at the floor. Zoë looked like she was stifling a smirk.
‘Well, we now know who the murderer is,’ Marcelus pointed out, ‘perhaps we should proceed to uncovering the identity of her victim?’
‘Have you searched the body, Ugara?’ barked Hozful, covering his embarrassment at the lapse of security Victoria’s weapon represented.
‘No sir. Thought you’d like to do that yourself sir.’
‘Quite right. Morquan, give me a hand. I think I can trust you.’ Hozful crouched down and began frisking the corpse’s upper torso. Morquan knelt down beside him, placing the detector he had taken from the Doctor’s pocket down to free his hands.
The detector began to emit a steady bleeping tone.
Everyone crowded around the corpse and stared at the bleeping detector. Victoria risked a sideways glance at the man she had killed. Strange. She couldn’t remember him wearing that bracelet when she… well, when she’d shot him. How odd. Still, she thought she’d best keep her mouth shut at the moment. She was in enough trouble as it was.
‘You see,’ the Doctor was saying, ‘there was a criminal on board, and my detector could detect him. Unfortunately…’ Victoria had never seen him look so downcast. She felt a pang in her heart. ‘Unfortunately, he was killed before I could get close enough to detect him. Perhaps the extra shielding on this Bridge interrupted the signal while I was held here. In any event, it appears only vestigial life energies remain. I imagine the detector will only trigger in very close proximity to the body now.’ Hozful and Marcelus were looking at each other. Clearly neither could decide how to react to this latest turn of events. The Doctor reached down for his detector. ‘Can I…?’ Marcelus nodded wearily. The Doctor retrieved the device, and took a couple of paces backwards. Sure enough, the bleeping ceased. He walked off towards the viewscreen, shaking his head. ‘The ramifications…’ He stared up at the underwater scene, then turned back to Marcelus. ‘We will of course stay and help sort this out, Commander.’
If they let us live that long, thought Victoria.
Marcelus was astonished at the gall of the little man. Offering to help? He looked across at Hozful, who had taken the harpoon-like object from the corpse and was trying to identify it with the aid of one of the Bridge computer consoles. When he figures out how it works, resolved Marcelus, he can test it on the interlopers. As soon as all four unexplained corpses had been ejected from the nearest airlock he could concentrate on the rather more pressing problem of the planetary shifts.
He was about to open his mouth to inform his Security Senior of his decision when the Ocean Terminal again rocked. Simultaneously, the viewscreen again showed a barren landscape of dry red rock. And Hozful screamed.
It was the latter that drew the attention of the Bridge, being the most unlikely of the occurrences. Hozful, white-faced, dropped the harpoon and began backing away from it. ‘It… glowed! Just as the planet shifted!’ Marcelus could see there was indeed a remnant of luminescence around the weapon. As it faded, he looked up the viewscreen. Still a red-rock landscape. This was the worst one yet – and it looked worryingly permanent. Alarms blared from various Bridge stations as the life support systems struggled to cope with the new environment. Marcelus didn’t hold out much hope for them. This could be the end. He looked grimly around. His crew were fighting down panic as they wrestled with their stations. Hozful was still babbling: ‘Power. Such power!’ Marcelus chewed his lip savagely. The situation was out of control.
The Doctor’s eyes were fixed on the harpoon lying at his feet. It wasn’t like any piece of technology he’d seen before, but he was sure he could work out its purpose. A weapon? He wasn’t sure. Concentrate, concentrate. If only that irritating beeping noise would stop…
Beeping noise. The detector had been triggered again. But why? He was further away from the Daysleeper’s corpse than he had been when the device had fallen silent earlier. The Doctor retraced his steps. The bleeping ceased. He went across to the body and sat cross-legged beside it, running the detector up and down the remains. Still no bleeping. Bounding to his feet, he scampered back to the harpoon. As he approached, the noise restarted. Well. The essence of the Daysleeper must somehow be being channelled through this object. And it seemed to be resulting in massive temporal flux across the planet. The Doctor was scratching his head and wondering what could be done to rectify this when Zoë tapped him on the elbow, breaking his concentration. ‘Yes, yes, Zoë, what is it?’
‘Well, I was just wondering Doctor… The Daysleeper’s dead isn’t he?’
‘Yes, he certainly appears so.’
‘Well, isn’t our mission over? Shouldn’t you be reporting back to your people? Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?’ Before they lynch us, she added silently.
‘Our mission, yes of course. Of course!’ The Doctor’s eyes lit up, and he began to rummage frantically in his pockets. Eventually he produced a spherical glass ball with a swirling black triangle inside it. Zoë recognised it as one of the pieces of equipment Cough-whatever had dumped on the TARDIS console. ‘This is the neutraliser that I’m supposed to use to transfer that unfortunate fellow over there into a CIA holding pen,’ the Doctor explained. ‘But since he’s not registering on the detector, and this glorified pointed stick is, perhaps I should transfer it to the holding pen.’
‘Do you think that’s safe, Doctor?’ asked Zoë worriedly.
‘I’ve no idea,’ smiled the Doctor, ‘but we’ll soon find out, won’t we?’ Before Zoë could argue, he had slotted the bleeping detector into the back of the glass ball and twisted its top. An aperture opened in the sphere and the black triangle swirled out, engulfing the Daysleeper’s channeller. There was a dull popping sound and both the black triangle and the harpoon vanished.
Almost immediately, the Bridge lifted gently, and the viewscreen picture returned to underwater normality. After a moment’s nervous stuttering, the life-support alarms faded into silence.
Coughstanavaltar looked up in astonishment as the holding pen status screen flashed into life. How? He scurried across and began calling up the pen content displays. Not the expected humanoid at all, that was clear. But certainly – he checked a readout – the object did seem to match the expected identifiers of the Daysleeper Effect, albeit at a lower than expected level. He switched to visual. Some sort of pointed stick appeared on the screen. A weapon? Coughstanavaltar shook his head. This got more and more confusing.
Marcelus wiped the cold sweat from his brow. He had been certain that he and his crew had been facing their final hours. It would have been an agonising death as life support systems collapsed and they all died one by one of oxygen starvation, or overheating, or radiation poisoning. Now everything appeared to have returned to normal. He walked around each of the Bridge stations, checking with the technicians that all sign of planetary shifting really had gone, before turning to the Doctor.
The little man was standing in the corner with his accomplices, looking rather smug. ‘I do believe I have just saved the life of those in your command, Commander,’ he smiled.
Marcelus grunted. ‘I’m not sure what’s been going on, Doctor, or what you have done to bring it to an end-‘
‘Well, it’s quite simple. I was telling the truth all along, only Victoria here – whom I will be having quite severe words with shortly I can assure you – Victoria killed this poor chap before I could reach him. As a result, his – special powers I’d suppose you’d call them – discharged through that channelling gadget he had. And that resulted in these rather odd environmental changes you’ve been experiencing. Basically this planet has been thrown backwards and forwards through time for brief periods. Presumably the station wasn’t affected thanks to some kind of safety device: the Daysleeper – that’s yon dead criminal, er, that dead criminal – would’ve needed some protection from the effects he was wreaking.’
Marcelus was not at all sure he was following any of this.
‘Oh, I’m not explaining it very well, am I? Perhaps it would be better if my friends and I just left you to get on with things.’
The Commander was about to object, but then realised the complications involved in doing anything else. It appeared the Doctor had saved their lives, somehow. Marcelus couldn’t kill him now, but he certainly didn’t want to have to put up with him in the brig for three years until the relief ship arrived. ‘Very well, Doctor, you and your accomplices – companions – can go.’ He looked across at Hozful, expecting him to object, but the Security Senior nodded his agreement. ‘Just go quickly, please.’
‘Erm, we better take the… body with us.’
Marcelus sighed and nodded. ‘I’ll help you transport it to your box,’ volunteered Hozful. The Doctor beamed his thanks, shook hands all round, and bustled out through the Bridge doors.
In the Drafetafein freighter on the Impervious Asteroid, Monitor Coughstanavaltar felt like weeping. It had all gone horribly wrong. Extended analysis had showed the object in the holding pen was not what it was supposed to be. Rather than the time erasure technology itself, or even its utiliser, all he had succeeded in gaining was a channelling device. The trail of the Daysleeper had gone completely cold. Worst of all, Coughstanavaltar had a bad feeling he knew the conclusion the possibility software would spit out after it had finished processing the mission data. In the Drafetafein freighter on the Impervious Asteroid, Monitor Coughstanavaltar wept.
The Doctor ushered Victoria into the TARDIS after Zoë. ‘Borusa knows how I’m going to explain your actions to my people. And I shall be having words with you, young lady, about the use of weaponry…’ Victoria kept her head down and resolved not to mention Alistair’s name in the ensuing “discussion.”
Moments later the impossible blue box faded impossibly from view with a grinding of impossible engines. For most of the crew of the Ocean Terminal that was as much impossibility as they were prepared to take in the course of any given impossible day, so they headed off for a relaxing evening stoned in front of a holoporn.
Hozful however looked down at the ultra-violet bracelet he had removed surreptitiously from the Daysleeper’s corpse and smiled. The device fairly sang with power. Power: Hozful’s favourite song. His find slid around his wrist, and immediately an endless vista of opportunities appeared before his mind’s eye. Resisting the temptation to laugh maniacally, he pointed an immaculately manicured finger in one particular virtual direction, and was gone.
After several false starts – which provided him with valuably bloody experience – Hozful fetched up on the planet Ermalon in the Mistdahn sector, four hundred years in his nominal future. His actions there were to lead to some of the greatest carnage the sector had ever seen. In its aftermath, the small huddled rump of Pu’chaank Resistance pooled their resources and hired a mercenary. An ordinary assassin had no chance of reaching within even a parsec-slicer’s range of the Palace of Security. No, what was needed was someone to trace Hozful to the point of departure from his own time and stop him – thus preventing the deaths of millions on Ermalon and elsewhere. The Pu’chaank Resistance were sick of bloodshed. They had learned the hard way that violence breeds violence. They did not want anyone harmed in Hozful’s home time, not even the mass-murderer himself. With such conditions, the Resistance had no choice.
They hired the Daysleeper.