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Doctor Who: Torment

By Neil Davies

Reeve was hopeless lost there was no point kidding herself - she just didn't know where she was. Her cyber-guide, which was supposed to be infallible, was now spouting gibberish as it skewed offline and she thought about tossing it. The one thing that stopped her was the reliable feel of it around her left wrist all snug and comforting like a baby's dummy. Good grief was she really reduced this?

With her helmet lamp failing she knew she'd soon be plunged into darkness and there was no sign of a way out of the tunnel system. It might have helped if she still had her uplink to the orbiter, but even this had let her down. Nine trillion euros this mission had cost and none of the basic equipment was worth squat, she was trapped inside an airless moon running out of time, options and hope.

Chewing on her oxygen faceplate she blinked and wondered if she were now hallucinating on top of everything else because what she was seeing just couldn't be there. There just couldn't be a door inside Mimas, but there it was cut into the rock a metal door with a wheel in the centre, an artificial construct that had been engineered and installed by intelligent minds.

Somebody had been here before!

Reeve just stood there wide eyed like a kid in Santa's grotto and thought I've made the greatest discovery of all time and I can't tell anybody, worse the information is going to die with me.

Faced with little other choice she went up to the wheel, clasped it and turned it. Not expecting anything to happen she was amazed when the wheel not only turned but open the door as well. The huge oblong of metal clanged outwards and she felt a gale force nine kick of escaping air, there was an atmosphere down here and it had almost floored her.

'Breathable environment' flashed up on her errant cyber-guide but could she trust it, after all this stuff might be toxic.

What was clear were the lights beyond the door, row after row of them in lines and columns attached to machinery, equipment unlike anything she'd ever seen before in her twenty-five years. The alien devices (what else could they be?) winked and hummed back at Reeve who let out a short, excited cry before stepping over the threshold into a vast cavern carved out of Mimosan rock with great precision to create a symmetrical polyhedron fifty meters in height and twice as wide.

Bewildered she circled the nine installations wondering what they could be for, none of them seemed to be linked yet she felt they worked together in some way to perform harmonious tasks. Some of them were box-like, some were vats but the biggest machine was a very tall, very wide vertical cylinder made of opaque crystal and inside it swirled a thick icy vapour that pulsed and floated like wax inside a larva lamp creating eeiry, nebulous ghosts.

Then she was sucking stale air, carbon dioxide grated on her lungs. Damn her tank was empty she was suffocating, and soon she would pass out unless.

She tore the mask from her face and inhaled. Fresh air caressed her throat and lungs, air she could not only breathe but savour like a fine wine, hmm it was beautiful but why was it here?

Reeve was too ecstatic to question salvation too deeply, without it she would have died and now she was going to live, going to take proof of alien intelligence back to earth and going to become a very rich and famous young woman. Yes there was no doubt that alien beings had created all of this, she was the first human being on Mimas so what other options were there? Pity none of them were still here. On the other hand maybe she was lucky, as there was no telling what these people were like or how they would react to her intrusion.

She tried to call the orbiter - no luck there, maybe her personal log would work and she could create a verbal record of all this, with video offline there were no other options.

She began, "This is Carol Reeve, first-officer aboard the European Space Agency space probe..."

Wait a moment something had changed within the room and it had happened with such subtlety that she hadn't even noticed it. The lights had altered their configurations turning from horizontal and vertical lines to circles and waves, and the vapour inside the cylinder was thinning by degrees as though being drained away by pipes she couldn't see. Despite herself Reeve approached the hollow chunk of glass or plastic or whatever it was.

She wasn't quite sure but she could swear there was something solid inside, a dark tall mass. Could it be something frozen in preservation, food possibly or a specimen of some kind? Whatever it was if the mist continued to bleed off she would soon know, the question was did she want to?

"There is something in here that isn't electronic, it is held within a vertical tank of some kind that could be part of some cryogenesis operation. Maybe I'm looking at organic material, damn I wish I could film it words seem so inadequate at times like these."

A noise from one of the boxes drew her gaze away, a ring of blue lights were flashing very brightly and in the centre of them a small screen had come on flashing unknown symbols not unlike pyramids or triangles, some erect, some inverted and others on their sides. The lexicon of another civilisation, if only she were a linguist instead of...

Then the box moved it actually trundled across the floor towards her.

Carol experienced an, 'oh my god' moment before throwing herself out of the way. But the box didn't follow her it moved on an obvious tram track towards the cylinder, drawing up alongside this until they almost touched. Wires or cables jumped from box to cylinder, adhering to its outer skin in a clear formation. With a hum of power energy in the form of a sizzling green fire jumped between the two artefacts as one fed the other a rich in rush of galvanizing force.

Picking herself up Carol saw that the mist was almost gone and the thing she'd thought of as food, was now much clearer.

It was time for a second, 'oh my god' moment quickly followed by an equally acute, 'get me out of here' impression.

The thing she was looking at was looking right back at her and she didn't like the glitter of its eyes or the expression on its face one little bit.

The aliens she had been glad were absent were very much present, and this one was starting to move as the paralysis that had held it in place rapidly lifted. Backing away with a sickly terror Carol tried to exit the cavern. It was then that she learned two dreadful truths. The door had closed itself, and she couldn't reopen it from the inside.

She was trapped and worse than that - she wasn't alone. Worse still the thing in the cylinder was lifting its huge fist, and boy it was huge like the rest of it, with one blow the fist cracked the glass skin big-time.

Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon the alien was emerging, and it wouldn't take very long.

Desperately Carol looked around, her eyes hungry for options. Then she saw it, another door another way out and hope blossomed inside her stomach. Despite her clumsy gear she jogged across the room, at the same time the alien fist struck the glass again and splintered it, one more blow would be enough and then she'd be into a totally different game. In that game she'd be the specimen in the jar and this thing could probably tear off wings with very little effort.

The second door didn't have a wheel it had a handle but as she tugged on this there was very little movement as though some force was sucking the door shut, it didn't seem to be locked, at least she couldn't see a lock but there was a counter-force resisting her efforts, maybe magnetism.

With another blow the thing in the cylinder shattered the entire side of its prison sending thousands of fragments in all directions, Carol could hear it breathing now or rather hissing and rasping.

Then the exit was open, it flew inwards as did the man on the other side of it. The metal edge of the door missed her but the man didn't as they collided and stumbled back into the room all arms and legs, her screaming him muttering under his breath. It was he who recovered first to say, "Well you took your time."

Reeve was too scared to be infuriated, scared and bewildered. Who was this guy in fancy dress - no spacesuit, no tank, no sign of rank or nationality? He sounded English but he couldn't be, not dressed in civilian gear.

All she wanted to do was run but he rested a hand on her arm as much as to say 'not quite yet', then to her amazement he went over to the ruined cylinder. Was he mad, did he have a death wish the thing was getting out and it was huge much bigger than him.

Quite calmly the man bent down to open a panel then with some kind of weird utilitarian tool he unlocked and removed an item of equipment that was an L shape of metal pregnant with processors and relays, just big enough to slip into one of his jacket pockets.

He'd just finished when the huge alien stepped out of its cocoon, a massive bulk all scale and bone with claws or grips rather than hands and a vast tank of a head. This swung to the odd man and behind two oblong films were green cat-like eyes, instantly these changed shape turning into two faces, twin reflections of the man and a hiss escaped the great mouth of the monster.

The man didn't move he didn't panic at all, he just looked back at the ridged face, which was like one face inside another or maybe a face protected by armour plating. One of the grips aimed in his direction and there was something attached to the top of it, a slim artificial tube.

Then the man moved - behind cover quickly dashing to other cover all the time keeping his head down. "Door," he said and Carol frowned, what?

"Door," he repeated and she realised he meant her.

"Go, now!"

She ran and he crawled, all the time the alien's arm followed the direction of the noise he was making.

There came a piercing whine, like an electronic screech, it was an agonizing noise a symphony of suffering. A chunk of rock barely two meters from her deformed out of shape, it stretched and rippled, its middle contracting into almost nothing whilst the top and bottom bits swelled into balloons.

Moments later the rock exploded into melting gobs of frothing, bubbling excrement some of which stained her suit.

Carol reared back in shock then two slim hands were pushing her forward at high-speed, "Don't dilly dally at the dance." She was told. Then they were out of the room and he was pulling the door shut, before he could finish the awful screaming noise came again. The man flung himself back just in time as the door distorted just as the rock had, only it didn't explode it just melted, dissolving like ice in hot tea. "There's no containing him," the man panted. "Not now, we're lucky there's just the one."

And he was steering her down a short tunnel that branched left, she saw sweat on his top lip and under both eyes his body seemed alive with nervous vitality and he was breathing heavily.

"That thing tried to kill us," she heard her self say and knew she was being idiotic.

"Of course he did, that's why they left him behind to destroy any intruders. You must have tripped his revival sequence when you blundered in."

Blundered? She'd been extremely careful how dare he accuse her of being responsible for their predicament?

"Look who are you mister....?"

"Doctor," came the rapid correction.

Her medic was in orbit and they'd only brought the one, a woman six years older than Carol.

"You're human?"

He smiled but kept them on the move but gently pushing her by the elbow, "The creature following us isn't the fastest thing on two legs but he knows this catacombs like the back of his paw, and that bionic weapon of his has a terrific range."

Coming to a halt she tugged her arm free. "You stole something I saw you, you opened a machine and took something out. Why did you do that?"

"It's a bargaining chip," said the Doctor quite blithely as though he had no compunction about removing delicate instrumentation.

"You think we can negotiate with that hulk?" In Carol's view it seemed unlikely.

"More intelligent than they look, and yes I do think I can parlay for our lives should that be necessary." Coming to a halt the Doctor frowned looking left then right, it was clear he didn't entirely know where he was heading and this didn't exactly inspire confidence.

"Look," she said. "Where is it we're making for?"

It didn't seem to be the surface, if anything they were descending deeper into this place.

"It's a storage area."

"Why go there?"

"That's where my ship is - in a manner of speaking." Not explaining this he made a decision and they went left. Behind them down the tunnel and not that far away came a rasping, hissing pant and the heavy thud-clump of big feet. Their hunter knew where to find them and she wondered if it had some kind of inbuilt tracking device as well as a gun.

"Doctor, how long have you been here if you don't mind me asking?"

"I don't mind you asking at all," came the cheery reply then he nodded to a slightly open door some meters ahead through which chinks of soft blue light could be seen streaming. The door had no handle and no wheel at least on the outside and Carol wondered how this man had opened it?

"Once we're inside there I'll close and seal the door, it won't hold our friend for too long just long enough for me to," but the Doctor didn't finish his sentence as he was waving her through a gap then following himself.

The blue glow came from suspended oval vats of luminous blue fluid in which floated bizarre and even hideous objects - alien heads, arms and torsos. Storage, this place was surely a morgue?

"Help me push this door to it's a bit stuck," the Doctor pleaded.

"Where in God's name are we?"

"Don't worry about those they're just body-armour replacements," The Doctor pushed with all his might and so did Carol - able to hear an approaching hiss. The door moved a little then stopped, it was still open, not much but enough for that big arm to thrust through.

Pushing harder the Doctor gave a grunt of effort sweat beading his highbrow and thin cheeks. Extremely fit Carol applied herself and slowly, agonizingly they succeeded in closing the door a millimetre at a time.

"That gun will cut its way through in no time," she said bitterly.

"Yes I know," he turned away from her to a pile of rubble she hadn't paid much attention to before, it looked like a small rockslide; part of the wall had crumbled for some reason. "We'll never shift that lot in time," said the Doctor.

"Why would we want to?"

"My ship is buried under it, materialisation must have weakened an already unstable fissure in the rock."

Not understanding how a ship could be two miles underground Carol turned to survey the chamber they were in, it was bigger than the last one and deeper with dozens of the blue filled vats and in each were what this man had called bits of armour-plating.

"Is there anything we can use in here for defence," she demanded?

Taking the L shape of metal from his pocket the Doctor nodded, "This is a vital component in the storage and regeneration system they have down here, very soon now the cold temperature you can feel is going to warm up and when that happens everything in here will cease to be viable including our aggressive friend out there."

She frowned, Mimas was naturally cold in fact the outer core was a mile of solid permafrost.

"Why will it get warm?"

"Mimas has a core of super heated magma, and down here it gets rather humid unless you have what amounts to a deep freeze."

She felt stuffy inside her suit and found that her face was damp, he was right it was getting uncomfortably stale and sweaty.

"Doctor can I ask you something important, a question you won't avoid? What exactly is going on here?"

His smile was pure charm and giving her a reassuring pat he moved deeper into the ocean of blue tinted vats. "All over the solar system there are repositories, for want of a better word, holding tanks of organic and bio-cybernetic materials kept as back up supplies."

"By whom," she snapped? "What are these creatures?"

The door was beginning to glow soft red and give off tendrils of ethereal smoke, its centre was bubbling and had assumed a semi-solid consistency. High overhead Carol noticed that the blue stuff in the vats had begun to bubble, it was simmering and the items inside were breaking down like asprin in water.

Finding a wall-mounted box as big as his own head the Doctor touched a sensitive pad and an image of the alien creature appeared.

"Can you hear me," the massive head rose a fraction and the green eyes narrowed behind their Perspex mirrors. "I see you can, sound and vision." The L of metal was raised. "Take a look at this, vital and irreplaceable, were it to slip from my fingers and strike this stone floor." The Doctor opened his fingers and the metal dropped, right into his other hand. "Oops, so easily done especially under stress."

The big head backed away in shock it seemed to Carol and she saw the green lipless mouth open to utter an odd noise like a croak of pain. The Doctor's gamesmanship was working, from out of the alien mouth came a word in English a gasping lisp full of emotion.

"Mercy," it pleaded and she felt oddly moved, as it was a strange thing for such a giant to say. Rivulets of perspiration ran down the side of the armoured face and the eye mirrors were slightly misted with condensation.

Carol was quite moved was this behemoth begging for its life? Even the Doctor seemed unsure of himself for once.

"Help us," came the rasp.

"Help you?" The Doctor's voice rang with incredulity. "You tried to kill me just a few moments ago."

"My task is one of defence," came the reply. "This installation is vital to our people, it must be protected as it is our last hope."

"Your last hope for what?"

A screen had come on near to Carol, turning to it she saw strings of protein chains flash up and it took her a while to recognise what they were.

"Doctor, check this out."

He spun around and in his eyes she noted a gleam of understanding that surpassed her own. "A virus?" He remarked.

"The plague," said the vast green skull on the main viewer. "The scourge of my people, this community was established to find a cure."

Could this be true or was it just a story to invoke sympathy? Clearly the odd man with her was in two minds as he came over and studied the data unfolding on the medical computer.

"This plague as you call it was artificially created, it's a bio-weapon." He said, "And according to these notes it was created on Mars by your own people."

The giant outside bowed his head and gave a sigh of what might have been contrition, or it could just as easily have been a sneer.

"You almost wiped yourselves out," The Doctor snarled with disgust. Controlling his fury with a deep breath he skimmed through the notes. "Self regenerating, self perpetuating, yes quite a nasty little problem you created. This virus evolves by the second making a vaccine almost impossible. It was created to attack mammalian life but soon developed into one hostile to reptiles. Let me guess, you were going to use it against Earth."

Reeve felt disgust, how could these creatures contemplate such a thing. Humanity where far from saints it was true but even they had stopped short of genocidal bio-warfare.

"How many of your species have survived," she asked the armoured hulk outside but the Doctor had come to his own conclusions.

"I think that what we're seeing here represents the final outpost, based on these notes the plague has spread calamitously throughout all Martian colonies and bases."

The alien outside offered no argument, "Help us," he repeated instead.

"You're going to need help, your medical computers have come to a dead end." He gave an ironic smile, "According to this footnote the chief Martian scientist has named their virus The Torment, it causes victims to boil to death inside their own shells."

Carol shuddered not knowing what was worse the fact that this thing had wiped out an alien culture or that it had been designed to wipe out hers.

"Why should we help them Doctor, given what they're capable of?"

The blue eyes fixed on her filled with unfathomable emotion, not a vindictive man she decided despite all that had happened he bore these creatures no malice.

"Mars has an ancient and venerable civilisation, they could teach humanity a great deal."

"We already have weapons of mass infestation thanks," she said bitterly but regretted it almost at once. Bending over the medical computer he began to key in a mass of text and numbers.

"I'm not a medical doctor but I do have a decent grasp of bio-chemistry and micro genetics and there are a few things they haven't looked at that may help." Pausing he went back to the main viewer.

"That sonic gun of yours, could it move a small cave-in without damaging what lay behind? Only I propose a deal, your relay and some helpful formulae in return for our lives and liberty."

Carol baulked on this, surely he wasn't proposing to let that murderous titan inside?

"Accepted," came the hiss.

"No," came the scream from close by. The Doctor gave a philosophical shrug and took Carol by the arm to say quite reasonably.

"If the Martian people die much that is of value will die with them."

"Too bad, they're hostile aggressors."

"Not all of them and not, I believe, the ones here. Consider this Carol what carries more kudos making contact with live aliens or discovering a load of dead ones?"

He was appealing to her vanity, her ambition, her desire for fame damn him and he was spot on because he'd read her just right.

"On top of which," he added. "Without the TARDIS, you and I are going nowhere fast so my motives aren't entirely altruistic either."

Points taken she conceded, "I'll help you open the door then."

But there was no need it had melted so much that only the slightest of pushes from outside sent it splatting to the floor and a great form entered.