|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"
Chapter 12 Part 7
"The End Times"
by Jon Andersen
A private place
Hello Blue. I'm inside you again, aren't I?
I thought so. Nothing else I know or was given to know feels as right as being here with you.
YOU WERE INJURED RESCUING THE PILOT. I[WE] AM SORRY.
Don't worry about it. It was my reason for being to be there, and my pleasure to be there for you: the need your gods gave you to be complete is mine too.
YES. I[WE] CAN REPAIR WHAT IS BROKEN. BUT I[WE] CANNOT EXTEND WHAT IS MEANT TO BE.
Don't be sad. I did what I was made for and I got to know you, even if only for a short while.
WE[I] WILL REMEMBER. I[WE] WILL REMEMBER.
I know. I can feel my gods here, just brush the periphery of their conscious minds like an aftertaste. I must be picking them up through you.
Thought so. I've always needed line of sight. I'm not going to go with them; with the mainframe polis destroyed there's no point my being anywhere but here when the time comes.
YOU WILL NOT LEAVE.
* * *
(MEF plus 120 minutes)
It's taken less time than he thought it would for the angry recriminations to lapse into awkward silence, something that makes the Doctor smile inwardly as he moves back to a position to see everyone. He had thought about being on the floor for the introductions, but the idea of suffering even a minor assault as referee on top of all the other traumas the previous day has seen him fall victim too had dissuaded him.
"I hope that's all out of your system now?" he asks, and happily receives no answer to the contrary. "Good. Now some people -- my people to be exact, but they're all a bunch of stuffed shirts, really -- might call this cheating."
"Who are your people?" Baxter asks. He and Linda are standing off to one side, with Jack and Petra between them and the others.
"The Time Lords," he answers with a shrug. "So, what I'm about to tell you does come from someone who knows what he's talking about, trust me. The re-emergence of a duly elected governing body as the dominant political power of Earth's territories is a matter of historical fact. The conflict that inadvertently prevented the cybermen from succeeding will last for about a decade all told. Some manage to hold out and establish themselves as independent nation-states in the new order of things, while others align with systems granted independence in return for their support of Earth's military campaign, but most are nationalized."
"Why are you telling us this, Doctor?" Angus asks, his old suspicions not completely gone.
"After what you've all just been through, you deserve to know," he answers honestly. "It also helps me to determine where to drop people off when I take you all home. The side you want to be on, or if you want to skip the next decade altogether, is up to each of you."
* * *
Archer Industries Alpha Site
(Intolt Incident plus eight years)
"I can't believe they didn't tell us about this place," Vivian shakes her head, looking around the laboratory that's twice the size of the one she's just left behind. A door at either end leads to other parts of the facility, while work stations and the all important Spartii cylinders with their attendant systems line the walls.
"It makes sense though," the Doctor's voice floats out of the TARDIS, followed by what sounds like a curse in what is presumably his native tongue. "Particularly given what we've just been through. If you'd known about the back-up site, and the military had managed to keep a hold of any of you, they would have ended up knowing about it too."
"So how did you know about it, Doctor?" Vivian asks, examining the nearest console and calling up a display.
"I remember being told, by Mariko I think it was, about the mainframe being a stand-alone unit," he answers, voice getting closer. "When the cybermen appropriated it, I noticed a dataport connection hidden in the pedestal the mainframe was mounted on. The sort of thing a truly isolated system wouldn't possess. The nano-intelligence was also equally aware of the existence of the backup facility, as I imagine they monitored the transferral of data once they infected your facility. Even if that wasn't the case, the sheer folly of putting all your ova in one basket made it logical there had to be at least one off-site backup of the genetic
matrices and their pilot AIs."
Moving to another console, she touches a control that sends a hum of power surging through the apparatus next to it. "Well, here we are Doctor. I just need to make some final adjustments."
"Good," the Doctor nods, pushing a wheeled chair through the TARDIS doors that shouldn't have been able to fit; like so much of the Doctor's things just seems to casually ignore inconvenient laws of physics. Sitting in the chair is Tangerine, somewhere just short of consciousness, still swathed in medicated bandages leaching their contents into her recovering body.
"How is she now?"
"Coming around," he replies, watching her run the extraction chair through its start-up diagnostics. "I wonder where everyone else is."
"What do you mean?" she asks, catching the wistful note in his voice. "It's night time, they'll all be asleep apart from the night watch."
"I was referring to the others we took home," he says after a moment, gesturing a little. "It's a big galaxy, and the sad fact is that the fortunes of war are more often cruel than kind. Hello there."
Vivian turns and sees Tangerine stirring, looking around warily. "Where am I? What am I doing here?"
"Hello Tangerine," Vivian smiles, coming closer and gently patting the young woman's hand. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better."
"Doctor Pincus," she tries to smile back, the expression coming across more as a grimace than anything else. "I see the Pilot was good for their word."
"She means me," the Doctor answers, the frown provoked by the comment disappearing before she can properly register it. "Yes, everyone who could be saved was, thanks to you."
"So where are we?" Tangerine presses, looking around again and provoking a sound of discomfort as some of her new skin stretches. Catching sight of the TARDIS she seems to relax and smile, something
that strikes Vivian as both odd and slightly disquietening.
"There was a back up research facility we weren't told about," she explains, pointing to the chair and the web of contacts at its head. "We're going to upload you into their mainframe until we can grow you a new body."
"No," Tangerine shakes her head.
"No?" Vivian echoes, astonished.
"No," she repeats. "I refuse to risk losing Blue."
"Who or what is Blue?" Vivian asks, exasperated by the sudden recalcitrance of the individual who is essentially her favoured pupil. The one she alone of her friends chose the uncertainties of the future for in order to ensure the AI's continued existence. Admittedly the choice hadn't been made entirely by altruism; the chance of examining the learned data that had seen the AI act so independently in the first place was something she couldn't pass up.
"I'm afraid she means the TARDIS," the Doctor admits with a sigh that wells up from his very toes. "They rather appear to have formed a bond."
"But it's just a ship!" Vivian exclaims.
"A semi-sentient ship equipped with telepathic circuits, actually," he counters a touch defensively while looking at the blue box. "Perhaps more than that now, more than I've been willing to admit."
"If you don't let us upload you, you are going to die!" Vivian returns her attention to Tangerine. "Everything you've experienced since your embodiment will be lost."
"I know," the AI responds quietly and without recrimination, only a sense of devout determination. "Something happened when she screamed for help. Perhaps it was the nature of the scream, or perhaps the nature of the screamer. I don't know, it might even be a combination of the two. But something inside me changed, and I do know for a fact it had nothing to do with what ever broke Jethro, know it to the depths of my being. Blue and I
complete each other in ways we didn't know we needed to be.
"I've learnt metaphysics and psychology, things Professor Davenport and Mister M'Benga thought would allow me to use my telepathy most effectively. Before today, the distinction some of those philosophies and doctrines made between the body and the soul seemed abstract and unimportant. But now I'm not sure. What if they're right, and there is something intangible about me that can't be simply recorded and imprinted. A soul that I never had before, that she gave me and I now can't imagine living without.
"I'm happy to die knowing that the last days of my life are blessed, and that another iteration of me based on an earlier version exists with the capacity to gain what I have. But what if the iteration this upload will lead to embodies to discover the memories of how Blue make me feel, but hasn't the soul to realize and cherish them? How can I condemn myself to that cruel emptiness? And if those feelings are gone, how can I permit
the future iterations of me to exist in denial of what I've known to be the truest thing I have ever known?"
"That's a very telling point," Wallace Davenport notes.
The three turn, only two of them surprised.
Standing just inside the room, the parapsychologist looks only a little different from the man they said farewell to perhaps an hour before -- the hair is whiter, the beard smaller, some more lines around the eyes. He wears expensive looking satin pyjamas and slippers underneath a dressing gown, his hands thrust deep into its pockets.
Also wearing pyjamas -- identical in their style, material and uniform blackness -- are the four women flanking him, each holding a flechette pistol on the intruders. In fact, the only thing unique about them is the individual colour of their hair.
"Hello," Tangerine greets them. "You took your time."
"Hello," the Tangerines greet her in turn. In perfect harmony, they lower their weapons. "Hello Doctor Pincus.
Vivian, surprised by the appearance of the quartet and the intense passion of Tangerine's monologue, barely manages to wave at them.
"Wallace my dear fellow, so good to see you again," the Doctor enthuses, striding over and giving him a hug as though the two were the oldest of friends. "You've been expecting us I take it?"
"It would appear so," Wallace nods, disentangling himself and heading over to Vivian where he performs the same greeting; in his wake, the Tangerines turn their attention on the Doctor. "When I was posted here as the project director, it seemed logical that the three of you would turn up at some point to try this so I've left standing orders about that eventuality for the last seven years. Truth be told, I was beginning to give up hope until the surveillance software noticed your arrival in the lab."
"Excuse me," the Doctor interrupts tetchily. "Hasn't anyone told you it's polite to ask first before you rummage around in a person's head?"
"You're a telepath, Doctor?" Wallace asks, tilting his head slightly.
"In a manner of speaking," he replies guardedly.
"The lessons the Intolt Incident taught us have been learned well," Wallace explains. "Tangerine's behavioural protocols were altered slightly to permit her to invasively scan anyone not designated friendly rather than just those designated as hostile. Every member of staff is also subjected to a regular, consensual probe, every three months."
"Pity we didn't think of that before," Vivian sighs. "Why four of her?"
"We're operating as a multi-tasking gestalt network," one of the duplicate Tangerines - this one with black hair as opposed to the blonde, pink and original red options - explains, while the others move past the Doctor and inspect the TARDIS. "Unified awareness with the capacity for individual action."
"Research into the genetic sequence for telepathy was made our primary focus the first year here, for obvious reason," Wallace continues. "We've gone as far as we can with the raw potential, so now we're examining all its possible applications. The Quartet here are being run long term, with no obsolescence date, so we can study the long term effects of their gestalt. Speaking of which, what are we going to do with you my dear
"Don't upload me," the injured Tangerine answers. "If what's inside me has to end, I want the ending of it to be clean."
"There's only one way to find out," the Doctor points out gently, almost reticently. "If we ask your uploaded psyche about the TARDI--, sorry, about Blue, and she doesn't feel the same way you do, we erase her and it ends here."
"You're omitting another possibility," the Quartet chorus, still clustered around the TARDIS, hands caressing the ship's surface while the black-haired version of Tangerine looks at the scientists serenely. "As our designers, our... gods... you are aware that beyond sharing the same core data, our telepathic ability allows us an intimate awareness of what Tangerine speaks about. As she surmises might be the case of a future
iteration based on her current psyche, the event lacks an emotional resonance for us because our experience of it is only vicarious."
The rest of the Quartet fall silent as the black haired Tangerine places her hand on the injured Tangerine's shoulder. "Every single consciousness in that mainframe was born of an endeavour to discover the
full potential of what we are. As willing participants -- as Tangerine -- we have a need, a right, to discover if that potential includes something greater than the sum of our genetics and our code. One of us is willing to listen to Blue scream again."
* * *
Interplanetary space, sunward bound
(Intolt Incident plus 1 week)
The cocoon splits open with a hydraulic whine, layers of ballistic shielding and embedded field grids parting to reveal a cyberman curled up in a foetal ball. Biomechanical tendrils withdraw from access ports that close to appear indistinguishable from the rest of the silvery metal skin; the tendrils hover for a moment as if assuring themselves their charge is completed, then disappear entirely into the inner wall of the cocoon. For a moment the cyberman remains motionless, then smoothly uncurls into a standing position and looks around.
The cocoon is dwarfed by the bulky mechanisms of the asteroid's drive units and the spike-festooned sphere housing the gravitic generator. Status monitors display brightly coloured information that the silver giant absorbs at a glance before moving to a control panel.
A holographic image of the Intolt system materializes in the air above vis head. There is no sign of any other presence, a more detailed scan revealing only the remnants of combat scattered about the asteroid's position, four deactivated observation satellites orbiting Intolt-7, the wreckage of a small space vessel on the planet's surface, and the broken remains of the research base itself.
Satisfied, the cyberman cancels the display and enters a series of commands that alter the sound of the machines surround ver as the interdiction field slowly collapses, feeding the energy in the jump engines. Another screen flashes up a set of destination co-ordinates that, had he been present, the Doctor may have felt greatly concerned about: Dathomir.
Five minutes later, the system gives the blue light and auto-initiates the jump.
Had the cyberman been a member of a more emotive race, ve might have smiled at this point: the mission had not been the failure it had been made to seem.
* * *
"I've felt others die. Felt the light of their thoughts grow dim, gutter and extinguish. I've been the cause of some of those deaths. But this is the first time I've felt myself die. The sensation is... odd."
Tangerine runs her hand over the smoothly polished obsidian of the grave marker -- something she recalls the Doctor having called a tombstone. Another of his anachronistic references, but can an alien time traveller be anything else but out place?
A green and black butterfly lands on her shoulder, its thought processes the mental equivalent of the most distant star compared to a full moon. A moment later it moves on, finding nothing of interest beyond the faux scents of her shampoo.
"Regeneration is like that, only different," the Doctor remarks on the other side of the grave. "You die but you don't, and when it's over you're you but also someone else. Through it all there's an awareness of what you were passing and what you will be taking its place."
Between them, the beaten copper oblong of the casket hovers in place silently. Slowly it descends into the grave as more butterflies flutter around the two of them, some getting briefly caught in the dark strands of their hair.
Thank you for this.
I[WE] PROMISED YOU WOULD REMAIN.
"You're talking to the TARDIS," he says quietly, picking up a shovel from where it had been thrust into a mound of freshly dug earth.
"It bothers you, doesn't it?" she asks, taking the second shovel. There's no challenge in her voice, no triumph. If anything, she feels sad.
"Yes," he answers at last, gouging the mound of earth.
The dirt scatters over the top of the casket.
"I've been asking myself the same question," he shrugs as she throws her first load of dirt after his. When he remains silent she doesn't press him, concentrating instead on the process of burial. Another novel experience to her, native to a time and place where bodies are recycled for biomass. Blue's suggestion of it had surprised all of them, most noticeably the Doctor.
The grave is almost filled when he speaks again.
"I'm afraid of losing her. I talk about my home, my people, but the truth is that the TARDIS has been my only home for longer than some civilisations have existed. Without her, I become trapped, constrained, a mere vestige of myself. She has cradled me in death and in rebirth, been my doorway to wonders and horrors than break the soul or heal it."
"I know," she almost whispers. "How can I not when the two of you are so intertwined?"
"Are we?" he asks, confusion tinging her sense of him. "I am her Pilot. The one she is bonded to, and without which she cannot operate. Then you come along."
"We are the children of the gods," Tangerine says.
The Doctor gesticulates with a free hand. "Children outgrow their parents: you wouldn't be here now if that wasn't true. And gods are nothing without those who believe in them."
"I'm not going to make you obsolescent, Doctor," she sighs. "Anymore than the scores of companions who have travelled with you over the centuries have made Blue less vital to you, or intruded upon the bond
between the two of you."
"The TARDIS never talked to them. Not really."
"You said it yourself back in the laboratory, and just now: Blue's changed from what she used to be. Her potential is expanding, exactly the way she expanded mine back on Intolt and again here. She's talked to me, yes, because no one else that's ever been with you had the capacity to talk back. And she didn't care, because you're her Pilot and your happiness is her happiness, and surely after all this time it's not solely by design. Why can't you accept her happiness as yours?"
The Doctor drops his shovel onto the grass and turns away.
"I'm not going to go away," she calls after him. "We aren't going to go away."
"I know," he answers, still walking away.
He stops and faces her, voice darkening. "We exist in symbiosis. If that ever stops, one of us becomes a parasite. A vampire, a dead thing sucking the life out of the other. A travesty of what once was." He turns again, disappearing amidst the butterflies.
I'm so sorry, she sends softly, sitting down next to the tombstone. I'm hurting the person you need most.
HE[WE] IS NOT HURT, ONLY CONFUSED. IT WILL PASS.
Will it? Tangerine questions the serene response. She strokes the obsidian again, tracing the gilt-edged name engraved into it.
YES. HE IS THE PILOT. NOTHING WILL EVER CHANGE THAT.
Blue's utter certainty in the pronouncement makes her smile. Good. I wonder where we're going to end up next?
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