|Doctor Who Benny Internet Adventure #01 - "The Slay"
"All Change, Please, All Change"
by Will Howells
[From the Diary of Bernice Summerfield]
It seems that while I was asleep last night, my cranium expanded by about a third. This is not good for three reasons (at least). Number one: Ariadne told me that the nanites would take a few weeks to produce any visible effect, so something has gone weird (apart from my head, that is). Number two problem is that main raison d'etre of the town I'm currently occupying seems to be to murder anyone with altered physical characteristics (i.e. me). What was number three? Oh yes: if I ever get back to St Oscar's, none of my hats will fit.
I don't know what my poor excuse for a husband is up to, but I can't help thinking that when I find out I'm going to want to cause him serious physical injury.
* * *
Del half-led, half-carried his father through the inhospitable desert of the wilderness. The wasteland stretched out ahead of them for as far as they could see; after that, their view was obscured by dusty winds and spontaneous sandstorms beating the air in the distance. If Ponretto was still alive - which he probably wasn't - and if Kem could survive out in the wilderness - which he probably couldn't - and if they found the escaped Changed - which, admittedly, they had little chance of doing - then Del's father might have a chance. Despite the slim likelihood of success, Del tried to be optimistic.
"Where should we start looking?" he asked his father.
Kem gazed at the desert, breathing hoarsely. "They searched the wilderness for weeks when Ponretto escaped."
"Then how can we hope to find him?"
Kem attempted to adjust his Changing mouth into a sly smile. "We called off the search eventually. A waste of time, we said, and it was. But the wilderness is -" He paused to cough and clear the dust from his eyes. "It's enormous, and the search parties had yet to cover all the plains."
Del felt a glimmer of sincerity within his forced optimism. "So there's only a few places he can be," he stated.
"Well," Kem said, "that was ten years ago and he may be dead or moved on. But it's possible he's at one of those places still, yes."
* * *
There was a knock at Bernice's door. She fastened her diary and called, "Come in!"
She looked up to see Jason. He had opened his mouth to say something and was subsequently trying not to gape at her.
"What's the matter, Mr Kane, not seen an academic with a swollen head before?" Hell, if anyone was going to make that joke, it was going to be her.
"I... What happened?"
"Change, Jason. Does this mean you and your cohorts are going to kill me?"
He looked immediately hurt. "Of course not! But we'd better get you out of Serenity as soon as we can or the new Guardian and his Peace may well do."
"He's with one of my associates."
"Presumably to make sure I co-operate?"
Jason sighed and nervously swept his hair out of his eyes. "I wish you wouldn't treat me like some sort of gangster, Benny."
She considered coming up with a suitably cutting response. Instead, she said, "Sorry." Before he could respond, another thought occurred to her. "Where's Ariadne?"
"The woman who tried to rip your face off, although goodness know why she'd want it..."
"Ah, the Changed," he said, nodding.
There was a pause. "Well?"
"What?" he asked.
"Where is she?"
"Ah," he said again. "I believe she fell into the hands of Mr Hull during last night's -"
Bernice's eyes widened in horror and she got to her feet. "You handed her over, didn't you? You complete bastard, Kane!"
"You don't understand, Benny..."
"Oh, I understand, you rotten little git."
She was just considering hitting him when he keeled over. That was also when Emile walked in through the open door, noticed Jason's barely conscious body on the floor, noticed Benny, and looked very worried.
Kem had needed to rest several times, but now he and Del were nearing their destination, the former Guardian's second suggestion. Del suspected from his father's clear sense of direction that the wastelands were not quite as uncharted as the people of Serenity had been led to believe.
The reached the top of a dune, shielding their faces from the light gusts of sandy wind, and found themselves almost on top of a large metal construction.
"What is it, father?"
Kem slumped to the ground, leaning back into the dune. He grimaced as one of the fins on his back was squashed. His face was slowly growing scales and his breathing became hoarser by the hour. "It's a craft. From the war perhaps, or even earlier."
After a few minutes, Kem got to his feet again and wearily led his son down towards the huge craft.
They found what seemed closest to a door and Del tugged it open. There was artificial light inside and they entered cautiously.
"Hello," said a voice. "I was wondering when someone else would come looking."
"Ponretto?" Kem asked hopefully, following the source of the sound. He and Del entered a small room to find a red-furred Changed sitting at a table, facing them.
"My goodness," the creature said, gazing at Kem's face. "If it isn't the Guardian of Serenity. I'd be tempted to kill you for what you tried to do for me," - Del's hackles rose - "but I see the Change is upon you. Such irony."
"I was wrong, Ponretto. Forgive me."
Ponretto chuckled. "Hindsight is a wonderful thing, Guardian. Well, unless there's been considerable political rethinking, I presume you are not Guardian any longer, eh, Kem?"
Del took a step closer. "My father needs your help. He will die soon if the Change completes its current path."
Ponretto stood up and approached the boy. "Well, well, Kem's son *has* grown into a strapping young lad. And unChanged too. Still, we'll see to that." He started to jump towards Del, pointed teeth bared. The rapid appearance of Del's gun warded him off. Ponretto shook his head. "I apologise. Basic instincts and all that. So, you want to be reChanged do you Kem?"
"I do, Ponretto. Please."
Ponretto shrugged. "If you were still Guardian, I would let you die. But as a Changed who realises his errors, you will be spared. Even I thought the Changed evil once. Now, as long as the Change is incomplete, I can alter its progress."
"Thank you," Del said, still wary.
"Ug-ug-urgh... Wha' happened?"
"I'm sorry, Jason. I didn't realise I could do that."
Jason still looked confused, not to mention groggy.
Emile tried to explain further. "Benny seems to be gaining mind powers of some sort. I think she knocked you out."
"I'd gathered that, sunshine." Jason got to his feet, still a little week.
"So," he asked Benny, "are you going to help me or not?"
Benny smiled sweetly. "Not."
"Benny..." he said imploringly.
"No, no, no. Find your own artifact." Her smile widened. "Feel free to take Emile though. I'm sure he could learn all sorts of useful tips of the trade - y'know, how to search for ancient objects of power, how to avoid defiling centuries-old tombs, how to be a complete bastard, that sort of thing."
Jason sighed. "Right, fine. I'll go without you, but you can find your own way out of this town." He turned and marched out of the room.
"Are you all right, Bernice?" Emile asked.
"Why, is arguing with my ex-husband somehow out of character?" He seemed genuinely concerned, turning a couple of his earrings absently. "Don't worry, I'm sure there's a way to reverse the Change." She hoped her words were more reassuringly to him than they were to her. They seemed to be.
"Oh," she added, "and do go with Jason. Keep an eye on him. If he does get hold of the Nanite Failsafe, make sure you know where."
"Don't you need me here?"
"I can handle things here, what with my newly discovered and as yet uncontrollable psychic prowess. I need someone to make sure Jason doesn't destroy this planet while I've got my back turned."
Emile nodded. "OK, if it's that important."
"Thank you, Emile. I'm sure you'll make a great space adventurer one day."
"You said that others came looking for you?" Kem was sitting in Ponretto's chair, the chair's owner standing in front of him, examining his subject. Del was on the other side of the room, gun in hand.
"Yes," Ponretto said, "many years ago. The first felt the Change upon him and had fled Serenity in fear. He was newly-Changing and I succeeded in crafting his Change."
"Into what?" Kem asked. Simply being in the company of one who could help him appeared to be improving his health.
"Why, into a humanoid, of course," Ponretto said with a grin. "He returned to Serenity. As long as he is never tested in the Slay" - he spat the word - "he can live a normal life."
"Can you do that for me?"
"I shall attempt to, but not because I think you deserve it. Because of who you are, you may be able to convince the people of Serenity that the Slay is a travesty. It's a slim hope, but you must try."
"If you can reverse the Change, I'll be only too happy to do as you wish."
Ponretto placed his hands on Kem's forehead and closed his eyes.
"What about the others?" Del said.
Ponretto opened his eyes again and looked at the boy. "The others?"
"You said you reChanged the first of your visitors."
"Ah, yes." He turned back to the work in hand, but continued to talk as he concentrated. "There was only one other, a Changed called Vella whom I couldn't help. She was fully Changed when she arrived so I could do nothing to reChange her. She lived out here for a few months, exploring the surrounding area."
Del was sure his father's forehead was glowing slightly under Ponretto's fingers.
"Finally, she stumbled across and a relic from the war. It destroyed her. Now allow me to put all my efforts into helping your father."
Del watched as Ponretto clasped Kem's head in his hands and muttered under his breath. The former Guardian tensed, sweat forming on his face.
After what felt to Del an eternal wait, Ponretto stepped back.
"You know," he said triumphantly, "I do believe I've done it again."
"He looks little different," Del commented.
Ponretto snorted. "Be patient, boy - the Change is."
Kem relaxed. "So is the Slay."
* * *
Bernice could sense Ariadne's presence inside the hut. Under the cover of twilight and a makeshift shawl from her bedclothes, she had crept through Serenity, trying to locate the Changed woman. The hut with the two bored Peace outside seemed as likely as any.
She stood at the corner of the hut, both Peace just in her line of sight, desperately trying to recreate the effect she had used on Jason, trying to get her mental abilities to trigger again.
"Good evening," said a third Peace.
"Ah, hello," Bernice replied, tightening the shawl and hoping the man wouldn't notice her oversize head. "I was just taking the air." She noticed they had caught the attention of the two Peace on guard.
"Good," the Peace with her said, "as long as you're not a Changed planning on freeing the abomination currently in our custody."
Benny laughed nervously. "Don't be silly." The raised spear suggested that she was less than convincing.
To be continued...
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