Roleplaying with Doctor Who!

Teaser: “The Hartlewick Horror”

Fiction001AT THE six-sided console, an unimpressed Doctor surveyed the readouts for the third time. Nothing had changed. “Cambridge, or thereabouts. 1923, give or take. Picturesque. Stimulating. Sadly, I’d had my hearts set on something a bit more…”

“Exciting?” Selene suggested.

“Low-key,” he grumbled. “For lords of time, they simply have no sense of scheduling, do they?”

During a hasty disembarkation from Zelos Beacon, the two travellers had found the TARDIS’s coordinates predetermined, its controls locked. The Doctor now cast a recriminating stare up, to the unseen heights of the seemingly limitless control chamber, as if they were being watched from above. They could remain at the blown-out, airless space station, frozen like the squad of Daleks the Doctor had dispatched with, or they could follow the uncertain path set out for them by his unseen masters. The choice they had been left with was no choice at all.

With a shake of his head he rammed home the appropriate lever, initiating a flight through the vortex to twentieth century Earth. As the time rotor began its rotation he moved to the panel on his right, hastily cranking one of its knobs then leaning in to watch an array of dials twitch erratically. His brow furrowed still further.

“Something wrong?” Selene asked.

“Well, I can see the attraction,” he said, scratching at his chin. “There’s a rather peculiar energy field enveloping this particular point in space-time.” He reached out to repeatedly flick a fingernail against the face of one of the dials, checking to see if its needle was stuck. “Delta 14 on the Hurnfield band. Sound familiar?”

His sunken eyes shifted to stare at her. Suddenly she was an inattentive student, caught without having done her homework. “Doctor, where I come from, we don’t measure energy in Hurnfields.”

Without comment his gaze fell back to his gauges. Though his taciturn expression had given nothing away, Selene felt certain that she had just earned bad marks. “Delta 14 is near—not spot on, mind you, but very near—to the wavelength of the human brain. There is nothing in twentieth-century England that should be producing an energy field of this kind.” His eyes widened with sudden inspiration. “And I have just the thing to track it!”

Turning away from the soft light of the central column, the Doctor dashed into the shadowy recesses of the control room. Selene heard a succession of echoing bangs and clangs. She laughed as a spanner—then an electroliser, then a small atomic spectrometer—came flying out of the darkness, carelessly tossed aside. When he emerged from the shadows once more he had his work goggles hanging from his neck and he held before him a curious device. It was built like a Geiger counter with a faceted metal casing no more than twenty centimetres long. Its face bore several dials and switches. Protruding from its head were a pair of cylindrical glass bulbs that looked very much like old-fashioned vacuum tubes.

Puffing up his chest, the Doctor switched the device on and threw out a hand like a magician unveiling a bouquet. The contraption’s complete failure to respond left him visible deflated. “For five centuries, this thing has never given me any trouble. And the moment the warranty runs out?”

Selene smiled. “Here. Give it to me.”

Since she had joined him in the TARDIS, the Doctor had demonstrate that he wasn’t quite the handyman he once had been. It was a frustration to him, though Selene was happy to be there to soften the sting of it. Born in a world of machines, she was capable of imaginatively deconstructing almost any device, reverse engineering it with a glance. Holding the strange apparatus up into the light, she immediately saw that one of the glass tubes had blackened inside. “You’ve burnt out a diode. That’s all.”

The Doctor stepped to the control console, crouched down, drew back his sleeve, and pulled open an access panel. Reaching inside, he fumbled about blindly. When his hand emerged it was clutching an immaculate replacement for the defective diode.

He turned with a triumphant grin on his face. In a flash it was withdrawn, replaced with a tight-lipped frown. He stood staring, irate, at Selene. It took her a moment to realize what she had done.

Whilst examining the interface of the dodgy widget, waiting for him to retrieve the spare part, her left hand had reached to her neck. Absentmindedly, she had been fingering the neural transponder protruding from the base of her skull. Returning his cold stare, she dropped her hand and shook her long, tawny hair to cover the rise of the subcutaneous implant and its metal stub.

“We’re going to have that removed,” the Doctor said sternly.

Selene paused, trying to determine just how strongly he felt about this. Given his fervent refusal to make use of the cybernetic technology, she had seen the argument coming. Defiantly, she shook her head. “No. It’s fine.”

“No one, man or machine, should have direct access to your mind and imagination. Take it from a man who’s been to Mondas. It’s far too dangerous a liability.”

It was an argument that would not sway her. “This implant saved our lives on Zelos. The interface it enables is superior to every alternative. We never would have escaped if I hadn’t chosen to install it.”

Install it?! We’re not talking about a dishwasher, Selene. We’re talking about a neural implant! An identical unit drove poor old Malcolm mad.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t understand why you’re so afraid. You’re as integrated as I am. Technology is everything to us! There is no line between the man and the mechanical. You believe it, too. Why else would you have me toiling night and day in that workshop of yours, trying to bring that bearded dummy back online. Come on, Doctor. Your best friend is an android!”

It was as if she had threatened him. Incensed, the Doctor took a step toward her. She willed herself not to flinch and, as she stood there unmoving, he raised his arm and with one swift motion snatched the apparatus from her hands. “The Master is not my friend,” he growled, “and he’s not your friend either. You would do well to remember this.”

“Then why is resurrecting a mechanical man so important to you?”

The Doctor turned his focus to the unit in his hands, hastily unscrewing the burnt-out bulb to make room for its replacement. “It’s complicated,” he said when he was finished, shoving the device back into Selene’s arms. “Very, very complicated.”

She stood in silence and watched him stride to the brass rail. He took up his greatcoat and cape and, after inspecting them to ensure that they had dried properly, donned them in a whirl of black and green. A moment later, he took to the helix-shaped staircase and the echoes of his footfalls filled the chamber. Selene looked to the apparatus in her hands and though she felt like throwing it down on the deck plates in frustration she could only sigh.

“Where are you going?” she called after him, softening her voice.

The dark figure paused in its ascent. An ashen face peered down at her from over the railing. He shouted, though she could hear him perfectly well: “The wardrobe, to pick out some hats. Tank top? Braces? The best we can do is top it off with a flat cap and a scarf and try to pass you off as a boot polish boy. I’m certainly not going to let you tour Cambridge looking like that!”

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