Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"

Chapter 6
"Interlude in F Major"
by Writer X


The people who discovered it named it after the man who said it couldn't exist, an act of surly cheek that neatly sidestepped the fact that naming it after the nine people involved would never have worked. But the name Einstein Space never took off beyond the academic community as everyone else just used the name they'd been using for a hundred years before it was discovered: hyperspace.

       There is at once something both disturbing and entrancing about observing hyperspace, something that approaches an out of body experience from the direction of an out of mind one. Not surprising given it exists in abeyance of the dimension it paradoxically underlies, one step away from the temporal vortex by which hyperspace is itself underlain. And which humanity's science has barely even brushed against.

       Unlike pretty much everyone within my charge I think about such things on a regular basis. Mostly so my charges don't have to, and partly because as the systems AI of a Terran battleship, I and my siblings are the closest thing to a hyperspatial life form currently known. And as the flagship of the Ninth Fleet, I'm also one of the deadliest.

       Some find it disturbing that I take pride in the sheer lethality of the Terran Military Vessel Banshee's armaments, but why shouldn't I? After all, the military's custom ethical programming aside, it is my physical presence within the universe. It marks me out as something more than just a self-aware data stream mired on one world or even one system, limited solely to the extent of its com-net. It's a freedom and an act of trust to be given this terrible power as my physicality, and I love it to the bottom of my kernel.

       Just like hyperspatial transit, hardly anyone aboard gives much thought to just how intimately aware I am of what goes on inside me, from the slight fluctuation of pressure in the hydraulic systems that control the door of the forward drop bay's head, to the whispered words shared by two corporals having sex inside it, to the chef just having put too much salt in the officers' poontang and not realizing it.

       The reason why I'm telling you this is that it's the indicator of my blue ice having taken control of your attempt to hack into me, and that when you wake up there's going to be trouble.

       Unpleasant dreams.

* * *

The brig is an unpleasant place, lit too brightly and providing nowhere greatly comfortable to rest nor means of avoiding scrutiny. Conditions behind the energy barriers and titanium bars are even less hospitable.

       Sprawling face down on the simple metal slab that is his cell's bed is a man of military appearance, with the slightly attenuated build that speaks of having been born on a colony world such as Mars with a gravity less than Earth's. Pale brown hair already cut short has been completely shaved away behind his left ear to expose a freshly sealed surgical scar that has stretched the skin tautly over where something obviously used to be. Nestling between his shoulder blades is the tattoo of a horned human skull, visible through the clear plastic unitard that is his sole item of clothing.

       Four people stand in the brig's vestibule, dressed in the grey two-tone shipboard fatigues of the military. Three of them wear uniform patches denoting their membership of the Terran Space Naval Corps, while the forth of their group belongs to the Terran Space Marine Corps. The two in the middle, including the marine, have small holstered sidearms and carry the markings of officers; those flanking them are enlisted types each carrying a carbine held at the ready, the power cells humming faintly.

       "Bio-readings are spiking," BANSHEE announces, her noticeably Irish voice emerging from one of the hidden speakers that festoon the interior of her shell. "He's awake."

       The prisoner's breathing deepens momentarily, then resumes its even level. The AI sighs and a moment later the bed retracts into the wall, dropping him rudely onto the ground.

       "Bitch," he mutters as he gets to his knees, hand going to the scar behind his ear. The bed shoots back out, catching him in the right shoulder and rolling him over onto his back scant centimetres from the force-field that separates him from the bars of his cell.

       "Just give me an excuse to space you," BANSHEE warns with no attempt at pleasantry, prompting a smile from the naval officer.

       "You really shouldn't try to hack into the engine core fail-safes of a self-aware battleship," the dark-skinned officer says pleasantly, her voice carrying a faint Russian accent. In her late forties, there's a hardness in her blue eyes that belies her tone. "They tend to take it badly."

       "You weren't meant to find out," the prisoner answers with a mixture of sheepishness and disdain, hand again going to the scar before he examines the hand itself and notices a similar scar along the inside of the little finger.

       "We've removed both implants," the Marine explains with a casual gesture. Thirty something, his expression is so neutral it's hard to determine what he's feeling. "Suicide is no longer an option."

       "So I'm just meant to spill my guts to you?" the prisoner asks, getting to his feet and glaring out at his captors, unconcerned by his enforced nudity. "I was prepared to die either to complete my assignment or in the event I couldn't. Do you think the dedication behind that goes away just because you've cut a couple of things out of my body?"

       "We were hoping so," the black Russian answers with a shrug. "What happened to the real Warrant Officer Gorman? The resequencing your employers put you through was good, but not complete enough to hide the tampering once we properly examined you."

       The ersatz Gorman thinks a moment. "He was reduced to subatomic particles while on the last shore leave in return for the unlimited medical care required by his mother. Make no mistake here Captain Rozchenko, he was a willing participant in this."

       Rozchenko doesn't look at all concerned by the declaration, instead pressing on with her interrogation. "What company do you work for, and how much do they know about the fleet and our mission?"

       Ersatz Gorman sneers. "I'm sure you'd love to know."

       "There's only four companies capable of resequencing work this complex," the Marine remarks to the captain, "including our friends at Archer Industries. I suspect they're attempting to maintain the integrity of the Intolt 7 research."

       "I don't think so, Major," she answers. "We've received no indication from your agent that the complex is aware of our arrival. I'm more inclined to believe what we have here is an opportunistic attack by someone who'd rather the technology remains with the known quantity of Archer Industries from where they have a better chance of acquiring it rather than see us use it against them when it comes their company's time to be bought into line."

       "Don't expect an answer from me." The inference is clear: I'm not going to say if the people you're attempting to displace are ready for you.

       "Too late," BANSHEE whispers over the micro-receiver hidden inside the right ear of both officers. "His readings spiked when you suggested this was a target of opportunity, and the telemetry from the synaptic tap that Doctor Chan put in during surgery confirms the analysis as the most probable."

       "Good work."

       "Huh?" Ersatz Gorman responds to the seemingly cryptic remark as Rozchenko and the Major glance at each other then walk out, leaving him to stew under the silent and mistrusting glare of his two guards and the wrathful omniscience of BANSHEE.

* * *

It is as gloomily lit here as the hidden base on Intolt 7, the illumination again coming solely from the large cluster of monitors towards the front of the chamber. The same triumvirate of observers are positioned before the displays. Only the chamber's construction from metal rather than stone is different.

       "Leader, the command linkage to the beach-head does not respond," one of the cybermen announces.


       "Unknown," comes the reply. "Active investigation may compromise the anonymity of our presence to the humans."

       "Understood," the Leader nods. "Have our probes determined the disposition of the approaching military force?"

       "Yes Leader," the second subordinate answers. "The humans have sent nine heavy corvettes, six light corvettes, four picket ships, two mine sweepers, two fighter carriers and one destroyer. Tactical modelling indicates at best an eighty percent reduction of the size of the human force with the complete termination of this position."

       "Unacceptable," the Leader declares. "If the Cyber presence on the planet has been terminated, we are the only units capable of capturing the technology before the arrival of the human fleet. The status of the beach-head must be determined before we engage the enemy."

* * *

Klaxons begin sounding throughout the research complex as the defence grid is bought on-line. Heavy duty blast shields rumble shut across every external door and window, locking with a loud hydraulic hiss as they seal off access to the surface of the planet. In the ground outside, two dozen concealed hatches around the complex's periphery iris open and disgorge the squat metallic shapes of twin barrelled auto turrets that track through their horizontal and vertical range of fire before falling still.

       Inside the base, energy fields hum into existence across the thresholds of the rooms containing the generators and the free-standing mainframe hosting the dormant research AIs. Inside those rooms, more concealed hatches iris open though the weapons that emerge from them are far more elegant seeming, looking as they do like swing-arm lamps with a red sensor bar sweeping back and forth beneath their twin barrels.

       "Embodied AIs are asked to remain in the lounge facility," Davenport's voice carries over the internal comsytem a second time, sounding utterly calm and even slightly amused. "All human personnel not currently in stasis are to report to central control immediately. This is not a drill. I repeat, this is a genuine emergency situation."

       "I'm glad you're finding this so easy to cope with," Linda remarks archly as the old man steps away from the com-panel.

       "A life such as I've led has demonstrated that panic is rarely of any real benefit," he answers with a shrug as the last straggler - Austin, still in his flight suit - comes in. "Everybody here? Good."

       The bit of her that belongs in the military and not a research complex can't help but be impressed by the para-psychologist's calmness. A little worried by what it might be covering, admittedly, but generally impressed. She turns and looks at the faces of the eight other surviving members of the research team and sees in them the mixture of trepidation and confusion she finds herself feeling, albeit for a slightly different collection of reasons.

       "As you are all aware, this facility's defence grid has been bought online," he begins, almost drawing her attention back to him but she's too interested in watching the reactions of the others. "The reason for that is we've become aware of an unknown number of cybermen currently sharing this planet with us. We believe them responsible for the virus that incapacitated Doctor Pincus and the two dropship crashes that have claimed the lives of so many of our friends."

       The smoothly delivered lie does draw Linda's attention, her head twisting towards him with an alacrity that had anyone been looking at her and not him would have raised more than a little concern.

       "The man we rescued this morning was a covert operative sent to evaluate the possibility of this threat," Davenport continues his placating lie. "Unfortunately, he and Raven were captured by the cybermen in the process of doing so and now have doubtlessly been converted. Deputy Security Chief Hanrahan was gravely wounded trying to defend them and has been placed in stasis awaiting immediate evacuation back to our corporate medical facility on Mars as his injuries have proven beyond the capacity of this facility to treat."

       "When does the replacement security team get here?" Mariko O'Brien, the medtech responsible for the cloning process, asks. "And how long will it take us to evacuate?"

       Davenport's expression carefully becomes slightly more somber. "Their ETA is still over a day and a half away, so we're on our own until then. Once they do arrive, we'll ferry our research data and personnel offworld via the transmat. To make things faster, and as a security measure in case the cybermen attack before we can leave, I'm going to need you and Linda to embody all the research AIs. Don't worry about encoding the next progression into their matrix if you haven't already done so, the key here is speed."

       He turns slightly to face the chief medical officer. "Doc, I need you to prep the stasis tubes for transport. They won't fit in the transmat bay, so Austin, you and Karen need to convert the dropship to carry them. Vivian's the most important, so she gets loaded first when its time to leave. And as you're our remaining pilot, you get driving duty as well.

       "Ryan, you're to get in contact with the relief ship and notify them of what's happening here and that we're evacuating." Ryan Nguyen nods at the order. "And once you've done that, I want you to find out where BUFFY's sloped off to. I've not heard a squeak from him in the last two hours and we can't afford to have him off sulking again like he did last month after Jules told him his new beard looked funny. Hopefully that's all it is, or it may have a connection to our off-world communications problems. Once you've done that, if you can, I want a full geosat and securiscan sweep of the planet to try and find our uninvited guests."

       "Speaking of Jules," Mariko speaks up again, "what happened to him?" Her question gathers a few murmurs of concurring curiosity and concern.

       "Petra, that's where you, Chang Li and Jack come in," he answers easily, turning to the remnants of the complex's security team, none of the with more than a year in the field. "I need the three of you to sweep this complex again, looking for Jules, the immobilized cybermats and anyone or anything else that shouldn't be here. You're to use the class two gear from the security module, and fry anything that isn't our beloved Mister M'Benga. And watch out for the heat exchangers in the engineering ducts; we don't want this place going into orbit until after we've left it."

       "What are you going to do, Wallace?" Linda asks as the group breaks up to begin work on their assigned tasks. Though the question seems innocuous enough, she laces it with the clear implication she's referring as much to the truth about the second dropship crash.

       "I need to talk to Tangerine and Jethro, then decide what to do about his... indisposition."

* * *

"You realize that it's going to take longer to generate the bodies than it will for the relief ship to arrive," Mariko points out as Linda catches up with her. "I don't see the point."

       "It's something to keep us busy," the English woman answers in her typically phlegmatic way. "It's also anticipating the possibility that the relief ship won't arrive and preparing for it."

       "What do you mean 'won't arrive' Linda?" Mariko asks, looking at her friend apprehensively.

       "It's simple logic. The cybermen may well be interested in what we're doing here like any other competitor. Given they've organized the deaths of most of our security team, it makes sense that they'd remove the threat posed by their replacements before moving in."

       "That's a scary thought," Mariko shudders.

       "Yes it is," Linda agrees, her voice falling quiet as if something has just occurred to her. "Um, I need to use the head."

       "Head?" the Asian woman teases. "You've been hanging around those military types too long."

       "Yeah, I guess," Linda shrugs, looking like she desperately needs to be elsewhere. "You get started in the lab. Sydney and Galaxy as the magneto- and gravito-kinetics are the most powerful, so we'll need to start with them, then follow up with Johnny, Raven and Irene."

       "Okay," she answers as the English woman almost runs back towards the residential wing. "Guess she must really be busting."

To be continued...

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