Teaser: “Before the Storm”
THEIR FEET thudded onto the frozen tundra as the Doctor and Riddell jumped from the motionless train, breaking the silence of the night. It was pitch black save for the faint glow of lights from within the carriage, moon and starlight gazing down from the clear sky, and the light afforded by a gas lamp that Riddell was carrying in one hand.
The Doctor, casting a striking figure in a light tan trenchcoat as protection from the chill air, stepped out into the darkness beyond the glow from the train, then immediately gazed up to take in the night sky. “Earth, then,” he proclaimed. “Northern hemisphere, Anthropocene Age.” His nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath of the crisp night air, adding, “Post-industrial. Twenty-first century, I’d say.”
“Y’know,” interjected Riddell as he pulled his own overcoat tight around himself, “you could’ve just as easily checked all this from within the warmth of the TARDIS.”
“Of course I could,” yelled the Doctor into the sky without so much as turning around, “but where’s the fun in that?! There’s nothing quite like finding this stuff out first-hand, wouldn’t you say?” He turned his head briefly to offer a grin to his companion, adding, “Besides, I did at least check there was a breathable atmosphere. Any more than that is just cheating.”
Riddell was secretly pleased at the Doctor’s abandonment of caution, although that feeling soon turned to slight disgust as the Time Lord bent down, scooped up a handful of snow from the ground, and, without so much as a second thought, shoved it in his mouth. “North America,” he pondered as he crunched his way through it, then announced with a sudden exclamation of self-congratulation, “2017!”
“Honestly,” said Riddell, “are you quite sure this stuff is good to eat, then?” He bent down to examine the tundra more closely for himself. “I mean, there’s been many a time I’ve used snow as a means of survival during expeditions, but I’m not sure this is quite the time or the place. Half the time I reckon you’ve slyly used the TARDIS to check all this detail out in advance, then put on this charade to—”
Riddell suddenly went silent, then, as something on the ground caught his eye. “Wait a moment. What devilry is this?” And, with that, he began scurrying across the tundra alongside the train, using the lamplight to track something in the snow as he went.
“How very dare you!” the Doctor called out after him. “I’ll have you know I have honed these skills over centuries of trial and—occasionally—error. They are second to none, John, second to none.”
For all his proud indignation, until the seasoned tracker called him over to his position, the Doctor seemed oblivious to the fact that Riddell had made a discovery of his own. Illuminating an area of snow with his lamp, he gestured to first one, then a whole series of abnormally large depressions in the snow.
“Footprints,” Riddell explained. “Humanoid, but abnormally large and misshapen. They seem to have come from across the plains there, then follow the length of the train itself for a short distance, before disappearing up here.” He pointed to an area alongside one of the train carriages. “They’re fresh, too. So, a lone figure came from out of the tundra, found this train and, I can only assume, boarded her.”
“Well,” said the Doctor, “I can certainly vouch for the fact that it’s a wonderful way to see the continent. Although, since we’re here, I might just bring Marilyn out for a jaunt. The TARDIS paddock is all well and good, but she’d love this.” He chuckled. “Did I ever tell you about the time—”
“Doctor!” interrupted Riddell impatiently, “I think you’re missing the point. These are humanoid biped footprints, but they’re certainly not like anything I’ve seen that is native to Earth.”
“Oh! Oh, I see,” realised the Doctor as he snapped back into the here and now and took another look at the size and shape of the footprints, whipping out his sonic screwdriver and activating it, before studying its findings. “Fascinating. You’re quite right, John. There’s definitely been an alien presence here of some kind. And, if I might note,” he added with a frown, “this isn’t quite the time or place to be an illegal alien, I can assure you.”
The Doctor stood up and turned around to once again take in the dark, foreboding wilderness that stretched out into the freezing night. “I wonder where we are, precisely. Sasquatch country, perhaps? Wendigo, even? Let’s just hope it’s not a Yeti. We don’t have the best track record.”
His ruminations were suddenly silenced by an electronic chime that sounded sharply and resonated in the quiet night air. “What’s that?” wondered Riddell, suddenly alert and on his guard.
“Oh, that’s just the signal for the train to leave the station,” dismissed the Doctor.
Riddell raised an eyebrow, then started counting under his breath as he waited for the penny to drop. He got to five before the Doctor woke from his reverie and, with urgency now in his voice, repeated, “That’s the signal for the train to leave the station!”
The train began to hum, wheels began to grind against the track, and the train started into motion, slowly at first but soon accelerating fast. “The TARDIS! Marilyn!” called out the Doctor as he leapt into action.
“And the small matter of an unidentified alien of motives unknown,” appended Riddell sarcastically, joining the Doctor as the duo scrambled to get back aboard the train before they were left behind in this frozen, pitch black tundra.