Teaser: “The Body Electric”
STARING INTO the thick, amber-coloured liquid of the proffered snifter, Alison leaned as far back in her armchair as the tufted leather would allow. “I’ve told you, I don’t like brandy!”
The Doctor was standing over her, pushing the glass toward her face. His lean, anaemic countenance fell into bafflement. Although he had demonstrated a near limitless imagination, it was as if he could not imagine a guest turning their nose up at a drink. With an eyebrow arched, he looked to the Master, who was tending to the controls at the central console. The android paused, smiled, and shook his head. “There’s no accounting for taste,” he offered.
At this the Doctor relented, lowering himself into the supple leather confines of the opposite lounger. In white shirt sleeves and a black polished cotton waistcoat, his mane of black hair slicked back and his ribbon tie tousled, he looked remarkably at ease. Extending an arm, he held the glass in his hand up to the flickering light cast by the nearby fireplace. “It’s not brandy,” he said haughtily under his breath, as if his feelings had been hurt. “It’s Elystrian burned wine. Elystrians have a lifespan of some five hundred years. You can imagine their dedication in aging distilled spirits! I picked up this cask during my last visit to…”
He trailed off then, remembering. Dropping his gaze, his dark lips pressed tight, his face seemed to flicker, revealing a flash of astonishment, then suspicion, then at last joy. Alison slowly crossed her arms and smiled. “What? What is it?”
“You’ve never been,” the Doctor breathed with no small measure of astonishment.
“I’ve never been where?”
He turned to face the Master. “She’s never been!”
The Master rolled his eyes. “I know, I know,” he said in mock bewilderment. “The travesty!”
Alison was laughing now. “Stop it. I’ve never been where?!”
The Doctor leaned forward and put on a madman’s manic grin. “The Dionysus!” he crowed and, depositing his snifter of burned wine on a nearby end table, launched himself into an impassioned reverie. “Perhaps the most elegant and extraordinary interstellar luxury liner of the Third Great and Bountiful Human Empire. One hundred and twenty-four decks. Six and a half million square metres. And not a single gift shop! There is an art gallery in which J’Kassar Dynasty artefacts sit alongside abstract works of dimensional folding. I visit so often that a platform in the Dimensional Sculpture gallery has been reserved for the TARDIS.”
“Ah,” Alison said with a smirk. “I’ll bet she blends right in.”
“Big, blue, and beautiful! You bet she does. The hyperspace hyperrealists worship her. From there it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to the starboard observation lounge, offering a spectacular view of the Perseids. You’ve seen the Perseids from Lannet?” He paused to chuckle mockingly. “Not like this! Imagine a never-ending succession of brilliant coloured flares as clouds of meteoric debris ricochet from the polaric shields.”
The Doctor clapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously, his cool cobalt eyes widening. Alison had never seen him so eager. “And the pièce de résistance! Deck forty-seven. Beautiful, brilliant deck forty-seven. A self-contained and entirely self-sufficient winery in a closed ecosystem. A hundred acres of fertile vineyards supporting a first-class winery and some delightfully secluded tasting rooms. You remember the Drashani Syrah? The one that paired so well with those figs we bought on Tiaanamat?”
Alison dropped her smile. Mouth falling open as she struggled for something to say, she looked to the Master, who merely shrugged at her.
“That was a Dionysan!” the Doctor went on. “Oh, the days I’ve spent walking those vineyards, a glass of prosecco in hand, the artificial wind in my face. How long has it been? Believe me, Alison, this is luxury the likes of which you’ve never experienced before.”
The Doctor reached for his snifter and enjoyed a long, slow sip of his Elystrian burned wine before leaping to his feet and snapping his fingers in the air. “Maestro, if you please!”
The Master had turned his back to them and was working the controls like a virtuoso. “I’ve already programmed the coordinates,” he said. “Next stop: gratuitous self-indulgence!”
A smouldering log shifted in the fireplace as the time rotor came to life, wheezing and groaning. The TARDIS took flight and familiar vibrations rippled through the chamber. With a spring in his step, the Doctor made his way to the coat rack near the doors. As he donned his greatcoat and emerald cape, he sang some operatic ditty. Within moments they had landed, the Master slapping a bell on the console to announce their arrival.
Running a hand over his tangled ribbon tie, the Doctor threw open the police box door and held out his arm. Teasingly, Alison remained in the leather lounger a moment longer. When the Doctor’s smile began to falter, however, she relented and dashed across the chamber, past the Master, and through the open door.
They found themselves standing in a massive corridor, long and tall. Once the Doctor had closed the TARDIS door behind them it was dark, almost too dark to see. After a moment of blinking blindly into the black she could make out what looked to be reflective panels running along the walls and a sort of steel grating at her feet. The Doctor, who evidently had no trouble seeing in the dark, began to stroll ahead. Alison was about to say something to him when a deafening klaxon sounded. Along the length of the corridor, a line of red strobes flared to life in the darkness.
The Doctor turned to her, shouting: “Well, I’d say that the Structure and Clarity Gallery is taking the neo-industrial movement rather too seriously, wouldn’t you?”
Hands clapped tight over her ears, Alison was barely able to make out his words under the piercing alarm. “What?!” she screeched.
He brought a hand to his mouth. “I said, the Structure and Clarity—“
He stopped suddenly. Amid this assault on the senses, there was a new sensation. Under the klaxons, beneath her feet, Alison could feel a sudden, thudding vibration traveling through the steel grating. With each heartbeat it intensified, a rhythmic pounding on the floor. As he stared at her, she knew the Doctor felt it too. Ahead, she could just make out the hulking shadows of four massive figures marching toward them through the darkness.