Doctor Who: The Internet Adventures - #9 REVOLUTION 9 Chapter Two - 'Paradise Reclaimed' by James Milton Around about his third drink, Jadi Morok found himself despising the whole idea of artificial pleasure planets like Paradise. Perfect weather. Azure seas. Perfect, palm fringed, golden arcs of beach. Artificial food several hundred times better than the real thing. And mostly, in fact, almost entirely, the complete lack of alcoholic drinks sans fruit, sans syrupy sweetness and sans annoying bloody little umbrellas with animated happy faces on them that giggled when you plucked them out of your glass and crushed them in your fist. Unfortunately, at least for a man more accustomed to the sort of raw liquor that warmed society's dark underbelly, Jadi's current brief required that he stake out the lobby of the Akhenaten hotel, and the lobby bar offered the best views of the hotel's doors, public comm-centre and bank of lifts. Jadi could not afford to attract attention to himself by not drinking: Paradise was one of the increasingly common worlds where bounty hunting was illegal. He drained his glass. The burly, blue-skinned Yskran tending bar was busy down the other end, seeing off some drunk kid who'd spent the last ten minutes loudly wailing about the end of the world. As the kid staggered off to put himself to bed, Jadi tapped the bottom of his glass on the bar top to attract the Yskran's attention. "Bring me," he told her grimly, "another Purple Sunset Walking on the Beach With My Pliant And Insatiable Lover. Hold the fruit." Jadi thought for a moment then held up two fingers. "Two umbrellas." He'd make one watch while he tore the other into very small pieces of electroptic paper. Each drink made the five thousand grotzi difference between a live Angela Ferris and a dead one seem that little bit less important. * * * * * Oster regarded the human passed out on its bed with proper Rutan disgust for creatures reliant on *ingestion* for their sustenance. The human lay on its back, snoring softly. A bubble of saliva quivered at the corner of its mouth, and popped as Oster watched. Oster shuddered deep within his borrowed body. The Rutan agent approached the bed. Against the distinct probability that the human would struggle when it realized its predicament, Oster prepared himself to discharge energy. His host body -- recently dead and still quite serviceable -- began to radiate a cold green light. He loomed over the supine human, struck again by the disgusting firmness of its flesh, the rigidity of its articulated limbs. Loudly, tonelessly, Oster said,"Wake up." The human failed to respond. "Wake up immediately." Still, the human did not stir. Frustrated, Oster bent over it, reluctantly reaching out a hand to touch it. The creature's eyes snapped open. Its hands shot out and grabbed Oster's face. Oster staggered back, but the human held him with an irrefusable strength impossible in its species, and Oster only stumbled to his knees. "Release me," Oster shouted. He raised his hands to blast the human to ashes. Instead, green lightning arced from the human's fingertips through Oster's body. Oster jerked as if he were being shaken in a predator's mouth. He felt as if he were drowning in fire. The hotel room filled with smoke and ozone. Oster's cry of incomprehension rose to an agonized scream. He tried to defend himself, but could no longer control his host body. His flailing arms sprayed lightning across the ceiling, bubbling the paint. The creature he had mistaken for a human flung him away to die. And Oster *was* dying. His human disguise had been reduced to a black and suppurating shell. He could feel the damage to his Rutan body, the fire in almost every cell, the dimming of his energies. The human-thing rose from its bed, wreathed in green luminosity, electricity sizzling in its eyes, trailing from its palms. It stood above Oster, its face expressionless. Mind to mind, Oster wailed, *You are Rutan.* *Yes.* *You have murdered me.* *Yes.* No Rutan had ever harmed another. Why would they? All Rutan were one within the Rutan Mind. What injured one injured them all. Oster found himself accusing the strange Rutan with the first words all Rutans learn: *We are Rutan. We are One.* The reply horrified Oster as he died. *Not any more...* * * * * * A patchwork of picture postcard cliches from the ground, Paradise acquired a luminous, Earth-like beauty when seen from orbit. Flight-Marshall Itrix, regarding the artificial world from the bridge of his Sontaran Warwheel, saw only one more in a long line of targets. Without turning, Itrix said, "Lieutenant?" "Target is within range," Lieutenant Oryx reported from the weapons console. "We remain in stealth mode. The target's limited planetary defences remain unaware of our presence." "Excellent. Prepare six singularity torpedoes." "Torpedoes prepared." Itrix's tiny eyes acquired a savage luminosity of their own. "Fire at will." * * * * * In the bathroom of the tiny suite on the ninth floor of the Akhenaten hotel, backed up against the rear wall and hugging herself tightly, Angela Ferris listened to the agonized screams of the dying Rutan. *Oh, I've made a mistake*, she thought. *I've made such a mistake getting mixed up with these creatures*. Her stricken gaze dropped to the human boy foetally curled on the floor of the shower cabinet. Kuldor had shocked him unconscious and Angela had helped her Rutan employer lug him in here and dump him like a bag of garbage. Would she have to endure *his* screams before all this was over? More importantly, could she, if she had to, if, as would almost certainly be the case, her life depended on it? She had no idea. In her entire misguided life, Angela had never strayed into waters this deep, this murky. But after her disastrous mistakes on Alcestus, her subsequent headlong flight from half a dozen bounty hunters hell bent on returning her to a world where the police were the people organizing organized crime, Angela had been vulnerable to Kuldor's offer. "We will help you disappear," the rebel Rutan had promised, "so thoroughly that even your Goddess will not know where you are." At the time, that had sounded like a good thing. Still, Angela had asked, "Yeah, but what do I have to do?" She didn't want a repeat of the Alcestus disaster. "A job, that is all. A trivial exercise for one with your skills..." And the way Kuldor explained it, it sounded like an adventure, a thrilling diversion before the breakaway Rutans spirited her off to a safe, new, anonymous life. Paradise, he had told her, was a constructed planet, built by the technological wizards of the Starhols corporation. Agents of Rutan Intelligence - Kuldor, slipping in a bit of rebel rhetoric, actually called them agents of "the Old Mind" - had determined that Starhols was a front for a much less innocuous organization: a large, wealthy, powerful group with access to extraordinary technology. Just who these mysterious string-pullers were remained hidden. But one thing was plain. Starhols was not manufacturing the planets it was scattering through human space. It's construction zone was a barely convincing facade. The planets were being imported, ready made, from elsewhere, and dropped in their new locations via hyperspace. "Lady," Angela gasped, "the Trojan Horse!" "No," Kuldor corrected, "hyperspace. The sheaf of higher dimensions intersecting four dimensional reality." So Angela had explained the Trojan Horse. "Ah, yes," Kuldor agreed, "your human story closely parallels our suspicions. An alien force is using the planets distributed by Starhols to infiltrate this sector of space." "And you want to stop them?" "No. We wish to ally ourselves with them." Because alliance with a powerful species of alien, one possessing a technology capable of tossing whole planets around as a mere prelude to invasion, would allow the rebel Rutans to finally declare themselves, and free themselves from the oppression of the Old Mind. Unfortunately, though rebels within Rutan Intelligence had kept the Starhols report from reaching anyone loyal to the Old Mind, no further information was received. The Rutan agents inside Starhols had been discovered and killed. And scans of the artificial worlds, both from space and from the ground, had turned up nothing odd, nothing alien, no means of contacting the aliens who had constructed them. "Until we reached Paradise. This planet is hollow. And our scans reveal a powerful, unidentifiable energy source at its centre." The Rutan rebels had quickly discovered six points of ingress on the planet's surface, but they led only to a vast network of caverns approximately five kilometres down. Access to the core, to whatever power source operated there, and to whoever operated that source, was prevented by an extraordinarily complex, alien security system. "And you, Ms Ferris, possess considerable expertise in penetrating security systems of alien design. Or so my contacts on Alcestus assure me...?" It hadn't really taken much to convince Angela to help out the rebel Rutans. Half a million grotzis had certainly attracted her attention. The opportunity to test her wits against a truly sophisticated technology determined to keep her out had also appealed. The offer to protect her from bounty hunters for the duration, then make her disappear beyond all ken, that had simply been the clincher. Angela had simply had no idea she would be caught up in an all-out war between Rutan factions. As the screaming died in the room beyond the bathroom door, Angela realized she wanted out, even if that meant taking her chances with the bounty hunters. *Sure*, she thought, *and the rebel Rutans will just let you walk away knowing what you know. You may as well stick your tongue in a power socket now, and save Kuldor the trouble of electrocuting you*. * * * * * Flight-Marshall Itrix expected to feel the familiar shuddering of the Warwheel as it discharged a volley of singularity torpedoes. He felt, instead, the barely suppressed violence of Sontaran consternation. Confronting Lieutenant Oryx, he demanded, "Why have the torpedoes not launched?" Itrix's junior clone-brother consulted the weapons console screens. He frowned slightly. "I do not know, Flight-Marshall. The launch command was sent from the console and received by the torpedoes." "That is not an explanation, Lieutenant." "Field-Marshal?" Itrix turned to Lieutenant Dexyr at the communications console. "What is it?" "We have lost contact with the Sontaran home world." * * * * * Angela started violently when the bathroom door hissed open. Kuldor stood in the doorway, having reverted to his preferred human disguise: absurdly tall, thin enough to look vaguely insectoid, grim faced under short dark hair. "The agent of the Old Mind is dead," he told her. She swallowed hard. "Does that mean his friends know what's happened?" "Of course. The Old Mind will experience his death as you would a physical blow." "Then they'll be coming. Let's get out of here-" "Not yet. We cannot leave without the human male. If the dead one's communication with the rest of the Old Mind is to be believed, he knows something of the future of Paradise. It is likely that will assist us in our efforts." Angela knew he meant it, just as she knew the two of them would not survive an encounter with more Rutans. The only way she could help herself was to get on with whatever Kuldor wanted. She went to the human boy and stooped to grab his arm. "Here," she said, "you get his other arm. We'll pretend he's drunk." Getting a whiff of the boy's cocktail breath, she added, "I mean, we'll pretend it's *because* he's drunk." She became aware that Kuldor regarded her awry. "That will not be necessary, Ms Ferris. Please step away." With deep misgivings, Angela released the boy's arm and retreated. Kuldor moved to stand astride him. The Rutan's face and body began to lose form, to slump and run like a candle in a blaster beam. His melting substance engulfed the young human man, who looked, for a moment, as if he had been buried in a mudslide. Angela watched, aghast, as Kuldor's substance filled the boy's eyes, his nostrils, his mouth, as it wove itself about his torso and limbs, and became, once more, Kuldor. Kuldor, human again, rose. The boy was gone. "What have you done with him?" Again he regarded her with that tilted stare, as if he could not comprehend why she should care. "The human is now within me. My substance encloses him and holds him up, and will shortly make him walk. Is this not better than carrying him?" "Humans need to breathe, Kuldor," she told him anxiously. "You'll suffocate him--" "His lungs are filled with my substance. He will draw oxygen from that. May I suggest you stall further debate until we have retreated to a place of safety?" Grudgingly, Angela nodded. Bile, thick and bitter, flooded her mouth when she emerged from the bathroom and saw the incinerated remains of the Old Mind agent. Its Rutan component looked like a giant egg-yolk, fried to charcoal, spilled from the chest cavity of a half-cremated human corpse. The stench was hideous. Holding her breath, Angela stepped over the still steaming body. She had never killed. She had never worked with anyone who killed. And she suspected that even by the standards of those who *did* routinely kill, Kuldor was altogether too casual about it. Silently, Angela sent a small prayer up to the Lady. *Mother of All, please help me out here. Or I think I'm probably going to end up dead...* * * * * * Perched on his stool at the bar in the corner of the lobby, Jadi Morok responded to the hiss of parting lift doors by discretely flicking his gaze in the direction of the lifts. Angela Ferris stepped out, followed by a man, obviously her companion, who looked oddly like a stick insect wearing an expensive black wig. Ferris herself looked drawn and anxious compared to the holo of her he'd been shown. Jadi emptied his glass and dropped a few grotzis on the bar. Fingering the blaster in his suit pocket, the bounty hunter made a bee-line for his quarry. He had no difficulty in catching them before they made it to the exit. The man was walking slowly and heavily, as if sorely burdened. Ferris half-turned as Jadi came alongside her, then paled. She gasped, "Morok!" Her companion stopped and turned a dead gaze on Jadi. "This is the bounty hunter?" He asked Ferris. "One of them. The best of them. And the most dangerous." Jadi suppressed a smile. A deadly reputation is a splendid thing, the first thing a wise bounty hunter cultivated. Jadi had cultivated it well, mostly by roundly deserving it. "I'm flattered. Means you'll believe me when I tell you there's a blaster in my pocket. Now, keep walking before we attract attention." "Bounty hunting is a crime on Paradise. I could call for help and you'd be arrested." She didn't sound as if her heart were in the threat. Maybe she wanted to be caught. Maybe she was tired of running. "You could do that. Of course, I still get paid for bringing you in dead, and since my flitter is parked right outside, I could just shoot you and gamble on getting you back to my ship before the police quite work out what's happened." Ferris' companion cleared his throat. "May I suggest a third option?" Jadi smirked. He'd done this long enough to know what was coming. It was time for The Bribe. "And what's that?" Jadi barely saw the tendril of green lightning that whipped from the man's palm, but he felt it, like a kick in the chest from a horse. "Wha--" The world turned red, then black. Jadi felt the floor smack him in the face. * * * * * Itrix strode across the bridge to the Sensor console. Lieutenant Commander Karn anticipated his question. "Sensors show no vessels, other than ourselves, within the Paradise system, Flight-Marshall. Nor do there - wait. Vessels are emerging from hyperspace ten units to starboard." Itrix felt his blood stir. His ten hearts raced, oxygenating him for combat. So it was to be battle, then. And without his Warwheel's weapons, it would be a battle of wits. "How many vessels?" "I was mistaken, Flight-Marshall, based on the size of the hyperspatial disturbance. It is not a fleet of vessels, but a single very large one of a configuration unknown to the Sontaran Empire or its allies." "What is its size, Karn; does it have weapons?" "Its shape is irregular, but it is twenty-eight units along its longest axis. As for weapons, I cannot say. Our sensors do not penetrate its hull." Itrix turned to Lieutenant Dexyr. "Attempt to communicate with this vessel." Dexyr obeyed. Beyond the Warwheel, the alien ship continued to emerge from hyperspace, its enormous size requiring such a rip in the continuum that space bled rainbow streams of blinding radiation all around it. Finally, it was through. The ship hung, then, above Paradise, in form like a vast tree woven from gold and platinum. Pinpoints of blue-white light, intense as miniature suns, appeared one by one amid the crown of the 'tree.' Soon there were thousands. They erupted blue-white lightning, a blinding storm of lightning that swirled and tangled, merged, into a column too dazzling to be distinguished from a beam. The beam struck the Warwheel, engulfed it, smashed it to pieces and seared the pieces to plasma. Abruptly, the attack ceased. Above Paradise, another hyperspatial rift formed, lashing the heavens around it with colour. Then, one by one, hundreds more. The owners of Paradise had come to collect their bauble.