Teaser: “The House That Ate Time” (The Nth Doctor)
AS SHE felt rivets and bolts and sharp metal edges pass down the length of her body in the suffocating darkness, Selene couldn’t remember when she had ever been more uncomfortable. As an engineer, she was accustomed to wriggling into tight industrial spaces from time to time, when the job demanded it. Negotiating the twisting, mazelike interior of the subterranean base’s ventilation shafts, however, was another chore entirely. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t breathe, and their efforts to keep moving were growing clumsier with each slip of the arm and elbow to the face.
It wasn’t as if the Doctor was enjoying himself either. His lack of enthusiasm for their irksome errand was abundantly clear. As he pushed himself around a bend in the ductwork, he muttered angrily to himself, something about “human beings,” their “preposterous pretensions,” and the “gossamer fragility of time!” Clearly, he was no more impressed with Dr. Klemperer’s hairbrained plans than those in the Galactic Federation were. The sooner they put an end to the mad scientist’s shenanigans, the better.
Selene failed to avoid the Doctor’s knees as she followed him round the bend and momentarily lost her breath—again. The importance of their mission was plain to see, but she had had just about enough of the secretive assignments mandated by his unseen masters. When the TARDIS arrived on planet or space station, there was always some directive, some task, some chore designed to put the two of them through the wringer. The Doctor loved nothing more than travelling but lately he was being treated like one of his beloved yo-yos. It wasn’t fair, to him or to her.
Selene clawed at the Doctor’s greatcoat in search of a better handhold.
A growl came from out of the darkness: “Watch the cape!”
This was to say nothing of the effect that these directives had on his mood. The Doctor could be charming, there was no doubt about that. After he had lost one of his arguments with the shadows in his TARDIS, however, he could be intolerable. He’d been snapping at her ever since they’d landed on Phobos, and his attitude certainly wasn’t making this aggravating assignment any easier.
Selene harrumphed. “I don’t understand why you insisted that the two of us crawl in here at the same time,” she whispered angrily. “I’d have thought you’d have experience slinking around in ventilation shafts. This isn’t the most efficient way of doing this!” Then, under her breath, she added, “You should have left me behind.”
Back in the environmental control room, after carefully surveying the layout of the base, the Doctor had, rather predictably, deemed the central ventilation system to be their best means of approaching the lab surreptitiously, though the duct they were now inching their way through was barely wide enough to accommodate the Time Lord and his aching companion. Selene was wedged in so tightly that she couldn’t even stretch her cramped shoulders. Regardless, she pushed herself to match his pace and stay with him. It was better than lagging behind and catching a careless boot in the face.
The saving grace in all of this was the gravity. Though it was artificial here in the subterranean base, the field strength was weak, and the natural pull of Mars’s largest moon was noticeably weaker than what she was accustomed to. Pressing her sore fingertips against the cool metal walls of the ductwork, Selene gave herself a firm push. It was enough to let her slide another half meter through the metal maze.
“Leave you behind? Come now,” the Doctor admonished in his low voice. “I couldn’t do this without you, Selene. You’re my lucky charm.”
She paused for a moment. Despite the sweat stinging her eyes and the scraped fingertips and the nagging ache in her back, she smiled, well-knowing that he would not see, not with his quilted emerald cape slayed across her face. Oh, yes, the Doctor could be charming.
“Besides, you’re the one with the toolbelt,” he added.
Her smile faltered and fell. “Keep moving!”
In another moment or two they were there, the Doctor crawling to a halt at some significant juncture in the endless shaft. Selene could not see, but she sensed a change in the air currents here. She listened attentively as he shifted about.
“Klemperer’s lab?” she asked.
“I think so,” the Doctor whispered. “There’s a vent, just where the schematics said it would be. It’s sealed shut.”
Suddenly, his hand was at her face, pressing against her nose, fingers poking at her eyes and ears as he groped about blindly. Selene spluttered.
“Laser spanner,” he hissed.
“Alright, alright,” she snapped, reaching for her toolbelt.
Her hand found the tool by instinct and she swiftly handed it over. Then she listened to a familiar clicking sound as the Doctor calibrated it, followed by the high-pitched whine of its emitter.
Selene did not know quite what form the so-called Klemperer Kontraption would take, but the Doctor had been perfectly clear regarding its function, and the consequences of its construction were frightening to imagine. In the laboratory beneath them, reckless minds were tampering with time. For Klemperer, the laughing stock of the Federation’s scientific community, the activation of his brainchild would bring a long-awaited opportunity to put his former colleagues to shame. For the Martian separatists who were funding these ill-advised experiments on behalf of the terrorist cell Galaxy 5, the Klemperer Kontraption would bring the power to annihilate them.
Selene’s reverie was interrupted by a nagging and intrusive noise. From out of the darkness came a low, insistent hiss. Selene reached up and slapped the Doctor’s leg. “You shush!” she hissed back. “Don’t shush me.”
“I didn’t shush you,” the Doctor growled. “You shushed me!”
“I didn’t say a word,” Selene insisted.
The laser spanner and the Doctor both fell silent as the slats on the ventilation grille in front of him at last creaked open. Light came into the shaft and the low hissing sound rose up through the air, louder and more insistent than ever. Only now, Selene could make out what sounded like words, and it became clear that they were hearing voices. “Ohh, rumpty,” the Doctor uttered under his breath.
“What is it?” Selene whispered. “Can you see Klemperer? Or the Kontraption?”
“Oh, yes,” the Doctor sighed. “Klemperer and company.”
Selene’s hands scrambled to grab hold of the wide lapels on the Doctor’s thick greatcoat and she used them to hoist herself to the vent. The Doctor opened his mouth as if to complain but thought better of it. Now side by side, shoulders wedged against the metal walls, the two of them peered down into the laboratory below. There they saw Dr. Gerald Klemperer, the great black cube that was his most dangerous Kontraption, and what could only be described as a full platoon of hulking, heavily armoured reptilian soldiers. The scales on their armour and helmets glittered green and the shields covering their eyes were as red as blood. The hissing sounds that filled the air were orders issues from mouths lined with small, needle-sharp teeth.
The Doctor turned his head to whisper a rhetorical question in Selene’s ear: “Do you remember my saying that it would be best if there were no Ice Warriors stationed inside the laboratory itself?”