Doctor Who Internet Adventure #18 - "Ticket to Writhe"

Chapter 8
"Express Train to Hell"
by Raichel Holland


[3 Days From Now]
"Hi, this is Zak Harris welcoming you to the Bad News Show. The government in Reyjavik is denying the many accusations that the Cupid incident was either the result of a black ops sanction against the entrenched organised crime organisations that went terribly wrong or a case of extraterrestrial intervention. But as our exclusive footage from the disaster area shows all you lucky folk at home, there's no way in hell that walked off the intercity express..."

* * *

[The Current Moment]
"You hear the song too, don't you," Angel remarks as two of her fellow Elohim guide the Doctor into one of the ancillary tunnels riddling the area around the chamber. The way she says it makes her words a statement rather than a question.

       "No," River answers, not exactly lying. She feels it though, burning in her blood: the siren call of the Sepulchre.

       "But you weren't surprised to find us here in Heaven."

       "No," she answers again, looking Angel in the eye, feeling the last vestiges of her assumed humanity begin to slowly whither away. "I've known this moment was destined to occur ever since I buried the Sepulchre here millennia ago."

       A small smile tickles her lips at the look on the Elohim's face, but she doesn't let it show. Instead, she turns away to look at the others of Angel's kind, at the expressions on their faces and the emotions in their hearts. And her expression darkens as she wonders if they realise what is ahead for them.

       The hand Angel places on River's shoulder can't be ignored. Not because of who Angel is, but because she's exerting pressure on River's injury.

       "What are you?" Angel demands as River's knees begin to quiver. She pulls herself away, swearing a language no one in this system should recognise, let alone understand.

       Not surprising, Angel does. River feels like laughing, but that will just reopen the bullet wound and the last thing she needs is to faint from loss of blood.

       "Yes," she answers the unspoken question, hand going to her shoulder to discover the wound has reopened after all. "I'm one of the Nephilim. One of what the Elohim eventually became." She stresses the tense of that last word, driving it home to those listening to the conversation but looking only at Angel. Then she raises her voice, shouting so loudly that no one can miss what she says.

       "I'm here to show you the way home!"

* * *

[England, Earth, 1971]
Alone in the sealed-off drill-head area of Project Inferno, Professor Stahlman walked slowly towards the shaft. Thick green slime was oozing from the fractured output-pipe, seething almost as if it were somehow alive. It called to him with a siren's allure both physical and mental.

       Stahlman ripped off his gloves, revealing the coarse hair covering both his hands; the hair he had worn the gloves to stop the fools outside from noticing. There was an almost ritualistic grace to his movements as he knelt by the pipe, scooped up the viscous ooze in both hands, and smeared it over his face.

       Uttering a guttural scream, he began to change.

       "Professor Stahlman, please!" a young woman shouts over the intercom, fear and concern in her voice. "What's happening in there?"

       A snarl issued from Stahlman's twisted mouth as he writhed in ecstatic pain at the base of the drill-shaft. Helped by the intense heat, the mutation spread through him with incredible speed: long and very coarse hair sprouted over his contorted body, his eyes flared red, his teeth became great yellow fangs and his fingers curled into savagely sharp claws.

       Rising to his feet, the beast gave a screech of exultant rage.

* * *

[The Current Moment]
Angela looks at Luke's bathroom from the unusual vantage point of being face-down on its floor.

       \\Fainted again,\\ she realises, feelings going beyond embarrassment into concern. She runs an internal diagnostic, the possibility of the Black Shakes - this era's slang for Attenuated Nerve Syndrome - having infected her a very worrying thought. She should be immune to something like that, but life with the Doctor has a way of removing certainties.

       "Lena?" Luke's voice calls through the door. "Are you all right?"

       An ant pauses in front of Angela, looking up at her with formian inscrutability and bloody huge mandibles. It turns away and continues on its meanderings.

       "You need to clean this place up," she calls back, gingerly rolling herself into a sitting position. Synthetic and organic navigation systems check out, so it's nothing as innocuous as an inner ear infection or misaligned internal gyroscope. No viruses of any flavour floating around her system. Motor systems are fine. I/O facilities OK. Hmm. Power loss. An anomalous organic signature...?

       "Jadi, you utter and total prick!"

       Luke's inside the bathroom within the next two seconds. "Lena? What's wrong?"

       "I'm pregnant."

       "That's a problem?" Luke asks, puzzled.

       "It can be," Angela answers acidly; even though the poor man is in now way responsible, he's a convenient target. "For some reason it's screwing up my cyberware and it shouldn't!" \\Of course last time this happened I hadn't had a singularity bomb integral to my design removed to fuel an interuniversal jaunt.\\

       "If it's doing this, we can't risk both going back for the Doctor--"

       "We're not leaving him!" she shouts over her companion's objection. "Cupid is on the verge of being added to the short list of places beginning with Hiroshima unless the Doctor can do something. He can't do anything nailed to a crucifix!"

       "I'll go after him," Luke answers calmly, raking his hair out of his eyes. "They know me at the club: I'm just some pissant journo with nothing going for me besides a cute arse and two cyberhounds I inherited from my brother. You, on the other hand, have come to the personal attention of Ryan Purity and you keep passing out which isn't a good thing."

       "You can't get him out on your own," Angela says flatly as she gets to her feet. "We're going together, and we're going now. So grab your damn mutts and let's get going."

       "Look, before we do, I've just thought of something..."

* * *

The Elohim bathe the Doctor with a gentle roughness endemic to those in the process of transmigrating to a higher plain of existence, as if they can't quite concentrate on the physicalities of the world they're leaving behind. He just lies back and takes it, not really being in any shape to do much about it, and far too glad to be in a position to receive any kindness of touch at all.

       "Mammon will be shitting bricks by now," Jadi frets, pacing very much like some caged beast. He's already cleaned himself up and borrowed some spare clothes from somewhere. "I've got to go back and get Angela."

       "Angela will be fine," the Doctor answers, wincing slightly. "I saw her leave with someone an earlier incarnation will know as a good friend. He's got enough sense not to let her go back there." \\Or at least he will have,\\ he adds silently.

       "She doesn't know you've escaped!" Jadi insists. "Cruk, I wish I still had that gun I dropped stopping River from falling."

       "People who wave guns around have this bad habit of getting shot."

       "Mammon and that pervert Ryan are psychopaths that need putting down," comes the belligerent answer. "If they get their hands on Angela, it won't take them long to discover what she is. I did my research and they know enough about cybernetics and wetware to do things to her that would make a Dalek hesitate."

       "I remember using that line once," remarks the Doctor wistfully, "on another companion who wanted to do something rash."

       "What happened?"

       "She did it anyway."

       "We need to bring Angela here, where it's safe. Then we don't have to worry about her."

       "Here isn't safe."

       "You what?"

       The two Elohim tending the Doctor are paying scant attention to the conversation, a fact that does little to surprise the Time Lord. The things he's observed, the things he's guessed, make the Doctor think he's made a terrible mistake in not coming to Cupid before now. In not investigating several things before now, actually.

       Of course, having done so too early would have meant heading into this without River. And /that/ would have been the biggest mistake of all.

       Assuming they survive this, he'll have to take her back and introduce her to Wil and Megan.

       "It's only a matter of time before those 'two psychopaths' as you so aptly describe them decide that the threat we represent to them in Angel's company is bigger than the losses they'll incur invading the catacombs," he points out reasonably. "Anatoli's done it once already to place his taps on the Pillar. He's terrified enough of the advantage we might provide Angel with, and of what he saw before, to do it again."

* * *

The doors of Club Feel burst open, admitting Purity, his people, and the vile weather beyond the sanctuary of the club's centuries old walls. There is a manic grin on his face that is somehow extremely extremely terrifying even to those supposedly on his side. It's the smile of a velociraptor blitzed out of his little reptilian mind on things like doberman and the heady smell of fresh blood.

       "I see you've been enjoying yourself, darling," Anatoli purrs across the empty club. "Did you have any trouble delivering the message?"

       Purity shakes his head. "Not at all. When are we going in?"

       "Tonight," Anatoli waves a hand dismissively. "Dusk. Our little christmas ornament never comes out of her warren before then, and they won't be expecting us to move on them when they think we'll be the weakest. And then the Pillar will be mine and it'll be Angel on that cross."

       "Why should Angel care about th--"

       "That's not about Angel, my dear," Anatoli snorts. "It's for the others. They'll come out early and then we'll have them and the little bird won't."

       "You don't know that."

       "Don't lecture me, pet." His voice briefly looses the affected frivolity, displaying the steel that has put Cupid in his pocket and in his bed with its cheeks parted and begging for it hard. "Tonight is the time I stop tolerating that freak!" He spits the word out, crossing the dance floor towards his pet lunatic. "Now that the Doctor has gone to her, there is no other choice. Tonight is the reason behind everything, and tonight it ends with me on top and everyone else dead."

       "Excellent," Purity smiles, spreading his hands. "Toys?"

       "Coming down the mainline, darling," he answers, the affection back. "My special friend in the VetSoc guarantees that they'll leave the Pillar nice and safe."

       "Will they hurt the widdle birdies?"

       "Would I let you play with them if they didn't, precious?"

       The smile fades a few watts at the endearment, but brightens again as the private snuff film running in the back of Purity's twisted little mind starts running with a whole host of new images.

       "Any trace of the Doctor's other bitch?"

       "Ducky says he saw her take the express to the Stop an hour ago, so I've sent some of the boys to bring her back."

       "Ahh." Nodding, Anatoli makes his way upstairs towards the bar. Purity and the others follow. "I know how much you've been looking forward to playing with her the way you did poor Raymond, but I don't want her harmed."

       Purity pouts. It's not pretty to see. "Why not?"

       "Because I say so, darling," he dismisses the protest. "I've just received the latest 'black box' and I want to wire it up to her, see just what it can make her do." He turns to face Purity, a champaign flute in one hand, the bottle in the other. He fills the glass. "I hear they've added a SimSense download capacity to it."

       "You're twisted," Purity grins. It's one of the nicest things the darling can say in his own twisted way.

       "Thank you," Anatoli grins, sipping his champaign. "Now you and your friends had best get dressed for the party."

* * *

"You've changed," Angel remarks analytically. "You're becoming less and less human."

       "Is that a problem?" River asks. She's abandoned her clothes and Jadi's for something spare from Angel's wardrobe - the Elohim leader hasn't let River out of her since the comment about the Sepulchre, and that scrutiny has included ablutions.

       "A fact."

       "I can remember being like you once," River says with a shrug as the group continues moving towards the surface. None of them need light now, for the last vestiges of the woman River pretended to be have gone. Ray is going to shit himself, she realises, but at the moment she doesn't care.

       "Is that a problem?" Angel asks back, the ghost of a smile on her features.

       "A fact," River answers, feeling that same ghost.

       \\To think we've been so close to the means of our Ascendancy.\\ The thought skitters across her mind. She doesn't know whose it is, only that it is not Angel's.

       \\At least it proves that more of the ancient legends are true,\\ she muses, though that in itself is not necessarily a good thing. \\Why did the Nephilim abandon the Communion, I wonder? Why did we start speaking again?\\

       "Tell me how you changed, Angel," says River after a while. "You found something buried at the planet's heart, didn't you? You and all the other Elohim."

       "Yes. I used to work the mines on the surface, the deep ones burrowing into the core of Venus." The winged woman's normally icy voice begins to warm a little as she speaks of a past River guesses only the Elohim know. "We called it Ambrosia, what we found. It was an accident, something that human science said shouldn't have been there, but it changed us. It..."

       "Do you realise what will happen once the Sepulchre is opened?" River asks as Angel struggles to find the right words.

       "We will Ascend and join our fellow Elohim," comes the simply stated answer. "It's something we've all known from the moment we were changed, just as we have always known one of the Nephilim will come to show us the way."

       "All of your people here, Angel, /are/ the Elohim." River's voice becomes cold, a little harsh. After all, what would a human say to Adam and Eve if they suddenly turned up in the back yard? "The sum and utter total."

       "You're lying!" one of the other Elohim says, glaring at this strange unwinged woman who speaks with the assuredness of a prophet and the words of a heretic.

       "You didn't listen to me when I told you who I was, did you?" she snaps back at him. "You didn't listen when I told you what the Nephilim are. The last true Elohim died 27 /million/ human years ago. The Nephilim are what the Elohim /became/. You are the first step in the rebirth of a long dead race."

       Without a word, River turns and continues moving up the tunnel. Before she had settled with Ray, she'd had the Doctor give her the TARDIS so that she could hide the key that had been entrusted to her line since the recorded history of her people. She hadn't know at the time why she'd chosen here of all places to hide it. Now she does.

       "Give us the Sepulchre," a third Elohim demands as River stops and scans the surrounding tunnels.

       "If you insist. But know this: when I open it, everything that is still human about you will be burnt away. Your memories, your identity, everything. You'll look something like you do now, but there will be someone else living inside you."

       "We don't care," Angel says. "We can't ignore the calling of the Song. We /must/ Ascend."

       "It's your evolution."

* * *

Cupid trembles. Everywhere, from the base of the Pillar to the research stations along it's length to the Dome, people wake in terror, afraid that at last that one tiny spark has been lit that will result in an inferno.

       Then everything subsides. There is no reason, no explanation, in this event's wake. Just the fear that the end may be nigh.

       Because that one tiny spark has been lit.

* * *

"That was a clever idea," Lena remarks as she disconnects the input jack from the back of her neck.

       "I have my moments," Luke smiles, opening the door on the telecom box so they can step out back onto the rain slicked streets. "The old double back trick is an old friend of mine. So since the Combs are out, what do we do?"

       Lena smiles, a deep and inviting one of mystery. She's only fainted once again since leaving his apartment, which he takes as a good sign. He still wants to find out what sort of cyberware gets screwed up by pregnancy though.

       "There's nothing we can do against all of Mammon's goons," she says. "The Doctor will be able to handle them, and if he can't, Mammon will have him taken back to the Club."

       "So we go back to my place?"

       "No, we follow the original plan and break into Club Feels. Only instead of freeing the Doctor, we capture that slime ball Mammon."

       "I like my plan much better," Luke mutters.

       The girls whine their agreement from the back seat of his car.

* * *

"What was that?" Jadi yells after the shaking has subsided. The Elohim seem wary but almost unperturbed by the disturbance, which perturbs the former bounty hunter greatly.

       "River," the Doctor says evenly, looking up from the message Mammon has sent, his face grim. "I was afraid of this."

       "How? What on earth is she doing with Angel anyway?"

       "Meeting the relatives," the Doctor explains, looking worriedly at the tunnel the blind man had said his former companion had taken, holding up a hand to forestall any further questions. "I'd hoped to deal with Anatoli and his tampering with the Pillar before this happened, but I didn't realise the state of play before I jumped into the middle of everything."

       Long ago, Jadi learnt that there were some things about the Doctor it is better not to question. How the Time Lord manages to lay his hands on a notepad and pencil when dressed in something like a kaftan is one of them.

       "River's had to revert to her true nature in order to fulfil certain obligations and help our feathered friends here along the evolutionary ladder," he continues, scribbling furiously. "She and the artefact I assume is now in her possession are the catalyst for this change, but because of Anatoli's imminent assault it's a change that is going to happen in a place it shouldn't have."

       He tears off the page and hands it Jadi. "Get topside, call this number and explain that they have to evacuate Cupid as fast as possible. Just tell them you're with me and quote that phrase. Then take the bubble jet back to the TARDIS and go to these co-ordinates."

       "But Angel--"

       "I'll look after Angela, Josiv. Now go, or none of us will make it out of this alive. Please!"

       Nodding, Jadi turns and starts running towards the exit leading back up to the surface. But something stops him, some sudden change in the chamber's atmosphere. He pauses on the very threshold of the tunnel and turns.

       The first thing he comprehends is that the Doctor is right: the River he sees standing at the opposite side of the chamber is definitely not the same woman he ran out of Club Feel with. There is an intangible something about her that instinctively makes his testicles crawl back up into his body, something that draws everyone's attention to her but makes them stand away from her at the same time.

       The second is the skull she holds in her hands. It looks human, but looks and distance have this notorious habit of being deceiving. That skull slips from her fingers and strikes the ground. For some reason it doesn't break, but that might have something to do with the fact that the sound it makes when it hits isn't the sound made by bone.

       Third is the Doctor, his head bowed. He holds Mammon's message.

       \\Why would a body--\\

       The sound that is torn from River's lips is so far from human that Jadi turns around and runs in sheer terror. He doesn't stop running once he reaches the surface, because the sound doesn't either.

To be continued...

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