Teaser: “Cyberiad Rising”
THE DOCTOR was lost in thought, his brow deeply furrowed in a contemplative frown as he walked behind the trio of Viyrans through the corridors of their command ship. Riddell and Flo followed behind him, congratulating one another noisily on how they had saved the mighty Shadow Proclamation from the devastation that the errant Starmind had threatened, replaying their roles with ever more exaggeration and aggrandisement.
Suddenly, the Doctor stopped in his tracks, whirled around and glared at them both. One wordless stare from his piercing eyes was enough to bring a sudden halt to their conversation. Usually the most effervescent person in the room, the Doctor’s moments of seriousness were all the more intense for their comparative rarity. His point made and his travelling companions silenced, he resumed his march in deep thought. Riddell and Flo exchanged glances like a couple of rebuked schoolchildren, shrugged, and then followed behind him in cowed silence. The Viyrans had led them all the way back to the waiting TARDIS before Riddell first summoned the courage to speak again, seeking the break the tension.
“So, where next, Doctor?” he asked breezily. “Somewhere less hectic, perhaps? Somewhere with a beach?”
“Wrong question,” stated the Doctor decisively, his voice unusually solemn. “What you should be asking me is what happened to the Starmind to drive it to such madness, and what befell the Venturi? They were one of the most advanced races I have ever encountered, able to construct an artificial, intelligent sun. But something has destroyed their civilisation, was able to turn the Starmind to their own design, and set it on a course to destroy the most hallowed ground of law and order in the galaxy. No, what you should be asking me is who, why, what do they have planned next, and how are we going to stop them?”
Riddell let out a resigned sigh, and Flo assumed a stiff, upright posture in spite of the lingering pain in his ankle. “Call of duty,” he stated simply, albeit with the closest a Judoon could approximate to a self-knowing smirk.
The Viyrans had been silent throughout the march back to their ship, but now they stepped forward in turn, each uttering a single word in their usual clipped fashion of borrowed voices. They spoke almost in unison, as though having constructed a simple sentence in collusion with one another.
“Origin,” spoke the first in a perfect copy of the Doctor’s tone.
“Infection,” said the second in the American accent of the acclaimed scientist Maurice Hilleman, whose imprint they had learned after the Doctor had brought him along when they first became mixed up with the Viyrans.
“Venturi,” chimed the third, speaking as Riddell.
“That still creeps me out,” bristled Riddell, half to himself. “Do I really even sound like that?”
“You do,” chuckled Flo. “Puny, whiny human.”
Another look from the Doctor brought their resumed banter to an abrupt halt once again. “I think they have some answers. Look, they want us to follow them.”
Indeed, the second of the Viyrans to have spoken—whom the Doctor and his companions had christened ‘Johnny,’ given its use of Riddell’s voice—had walked to a doorway and motioned down a corridor, indicating that the TARDIS team should accompany them.
The entire group walked down a short passageway and then Johnny opened a hatch to a quarantined section of the ship comprising a number of isolation cells. The American-voiced Viyran—‘Maury,’ as the travellers had come to refer to it—stepped up to a control panel next to one of the cells, and the door slid open. Maury motioned inside.
The Doctor stepped forward and peered into the cell. He all but physically recoiled at what he saw. Inside stood a deformed Viyran, its body jerking erratically, spasming and seizing. Its form had been twisted, the white trunk of its torso torn away and replaced with an array of glittering wires and cables. Most tellingly of all, its sleek, helmeted head was now framed by a pair of distinctive metallic struts. The Doctor had a horrifying moment of realisation at what stood before him and what it meant.
“This is far worse than I had feared,” the Doctor stated in an icy tone. “How is that even possible?!”
“What is it?” asked Riddell from over his shoulder. “What is it that’s been done to it?”
The Doctor looked back at him with an ever more intense expression, darkened yet further with a look of dread that neither Riddell nor Flo had ever seen in the Time Lord before, a darkness and fear that were now also in his voice.