Roleplaying with Doctor Who!

Teaser: “Contagion of the Daleks”

Fiction001THE TARDIS was where they had left it, waiting for the two wayward travellers to return. Selene could almost picture a smile in the lettering that read “Police Public Call Box.” Once through the doors the Doctor dashed to the console and, pausing only to throw his wet greatcoat and cape over the brass rail, he began thumbing his way across the array of switches before him. The police box doors clacked shut the instant that Selene was inside, almost catching her jacket, and she could not suppress a squeak of surprise. “Are you that eager to be rid of this place?”

“You deserve better,” the Doctor answered. “I can take you anywhere in time and space, Selene. You want to be by the sea? How about the planet Antalin in the constellation of Miros?”

The central column sprang to life, time rotor climbing with a wheeze. As he watched it rise and fall hypnotically the Doctor began to sing to himself—“We sail the ocean blue, and our saucy ship’s a beauty. We are sober men and true, and attentive to our duty.—before his brow then furrowed and he seemed to change his mind. “No. That won’t do at all.”

Selene snickered. “No? What’s wrong with Antalin?”

“Four hundred million square kilometres of ocean waves and not a grain of sand. Antalin is completely covered with water, and the sushi there is just dreadful.” The Doctor wrenched the knob in his hand and, deck plates now alive with vibrations both familiar and comforting, the TARDIS took flight. “Halalka, on the other hand, is a vacation spot for the discerning beachgoer. Pristine sand, suspended antigrav waves fifty metres high, and a species of native cetaceans that can sing like angels.”

The Doctor spun on his boot heels to face her, a rictus stretched across his pale features. His sharp, angular sideburns lent the mad grin a certain wickedness. There was mischief in that shark’s smile. Selene raised her eyebrows at him. “Halalka, eh? Are you sure you don’t want me to get back to work on the Mast—”

“Never mind him. Plenty of time for that. I’ve got to show you just how invigorating a trip to the seaside can be. Off you pop. You’ll want to pick out some appropriate swimwear, I’m sure. If there’s nothing in the wardrobe, check the natatorium.”

Selene let loose a laugh but before she could think up an appropriate reply the control room convulsed around them. The umbrella stand near the door fell to the deck and she could hear sharp echoes sounding from the endless rooms above and beyond. Selene knew at once that their craft had been violently wrenched off course. In the moment that followed a staggering transformation overcame the Doctor. Mischief was replaced with mounting fury as his ashen face fell and he turned to confront the readouts. “No,” he called out once, then again with startling intensity. “No! Not again. Not now.”

The TARDIS had been seized by that omnipotent but unseen hand that sometimes reached out through the vortex to pluck it out of time and space like some fallen rook upon a cosmic chess board. The time rotor shrieked in protest. The deck plates shuddered. Though the effects seemed far more violent than usual, they were both familiar with the routine. There was nothing they could do. Their destination was fixed and their arrival a certainty. Selene watched the Doctor bang the console again and again with his fist and she could not help but reach out to him with pity, placing a hand gently on his shoulder. “It’s alright,” she said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I have the stomach for swimming in antigravity.”

The Doctor was not amused. With a jerk of the arm he pulled away from her, moving to the far side of the console and fixing his burning stare on the central column. “No, it’s not alright. I’m their puppet. There’s no reason for you to be tied up with strings as well. You deserve better.”

The Doctor sighed. The TARDIS screamed through the vortex. “There was a time when this old thing was fuelled by a great spirit of adventure,” he went on, “when there were no limits and I was free to wander in the fourth dimension. Look at us now. If we let them have their way, this dimensionally transcendent box will be our prison.”

Selene cocked her head to look at him from behind the column. “A prison of infinite space. There’s a concept.”

A jolt ran through the chamber. The Doctor and Selene were both knocked from their feet but as they landed on the deck all vibrations ceased. The terrible noise subsided, leaving Selene’s ears ringing. A weary sigh seemed to escape from the central column as the rotor fell one last time. Regaining his footing with a speed and grace that surprised her, the Doctor held out a stern finger and pointed to the panel Selene was using to pull herself upright. “The scanner,” he said urgently, “if you would.”

Selene did not have to look. Instinctively, her fingers found the toggle and the monitor hanging from a nearby girder came to life with a burst of static. The screen revealed a puzzle in black and white. The battered police box had, apparently, nestled itself within a great heap of other boxes, vented crates marked by computer-coded tags, some obscured by shadows. There were bulkheads beyond, the familiar shielding of interstellar transit. “Cargo ship?” Selene asked, squinting.

One would have expected the crates in a cargo hold to be properly stacked, well-organized, easily accessible. Instead, the image before them was a portrait of randomness and tumult, a twisted sculpture of cubes connected in chaos. “Storage by Anthony Caro, perhaps,” the Doctor said drolly. “Modernist freight with a touch of geometric abstraction. It would be striking if it didn’t signal that something has gone wrong.”

He went to his coat upon the rail and, rummaging through damp pockets, retrieved the sonic screwdriver. Holding it at arm’s length, he shut down the scanner. “Nevermind the bathing costume, Selene. Let’s go and see what so urgently requires our attention.”

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