The Captain drew her bolt pistol and aimed at the robot. “You’re off my ship!” she fired. The robot’s head exploded, showering the table top with sparks, burning plastic and metal fragments, its body collapsed to the floor, lifeless. In the confined space the blast from the pistol was so loud that the companions felt the punch of the concussion as well as hearing it. Tegan clapped her hands to her ears by reflex though far too late. The viewscreen immediately flipped back from the Tardis and the council chamber to the view of the planet it showed before.
The Captain turned to the marines. “Throw that thing out of the nearest airlock, and escort these civilians directly to the nearest transmat.” She holstered her pistol, and with the merest of nods to the Minister, stormed out of the room.
Artelisa checked her weapon, and looked up. She hadn’t really thought about what she would find inside the Doctor’s Tardis, but the control room was much bigger than she had expected – the box was about the size of an escape capsule, and that is what she had expected. Aside from the hexagonal central control console, the walls, covered in large circular panels, seemed to emit a diffuse light, and described an oddly shaped space. Across from the main entrance door, a smaller door stood beside a view screen, that now showed a number of service robots pounding on the outside of capsule, though nothing of that was audible inside. All she could hear was an electronic hum, and another sound that was more perceived rather than heard, that even to her was unnervingly similar to a pulse – as if the ship were somehow… alive.
The Doctor was leaning against the control console, supported by an old man in ceremonial robes. Even as she watched, the Doctor seemed to recover, the pain dissolving from his face, regaining his erect poise.
“Thank you…” he said to the old man. “Who are you, by the way?”
“My name is Fidox. I’m the Council Leader,” the old man said. “There is no way that Paracletus…”
The Doctor shook his head, and just to be doubly sure flipped a couple of switches on the panel in front of him. “No, it has no influence in here of any sort. I gather you didn’t come in here just to avoid the robots…”
“No Doctor. We have a problem with Paracletus. We need you to kill it.”
“Ah…” the Doctor said, standing back, running his fingers through his hair.
Despite Tegan’s protestations about the stuff she’d left in the stateroom, the companions and the Minister were brusquely escorted to a transmat room and immediately materialised unceremoniously in one of the main transmat stations on the orbital station. Similar to the transmat station they had transported to on the planet, it was a large and very busy area with all kinds of species appearing and disappearing, and they were very quickly ushered off the platform so that it could be used by others.
Used to the range of species now, Tegan wasn’t at all shocked by the variety of beings that she could see. What was shocking was the number that appeared to be injured in some way, either requiring immediate medical attention or just evidently distressed with clothing and possessions damaged. Javit’s face fell with horror at what he could see. Redoc, having recovered from his fear and disquiet at the events on the ship, automatically fell back on his training, grabbing an emergency medkit off the wall and rushing to the nearest injured tourist to provide medical assistance.
Nyssa turned to Javit, who was slowly shaking his head. “What has happened?” she said, looking up at him. She grabbed his arms and shook him. “Listen to me. What has happened here?”
Javit’s eyes focussed, and he looked at Nyssa. “It’s Paracletus. He’s… he found another business model…”
“Nyssa!” Redoc called. She let go of Javit and turned. Redoc was waving at her. “Their medical teams can’t cope. I need you!”
“Coming!” she said, rolling up the sleeves of her jumpsuit. “Tegan, look after the Minister,” she said. “See if you can get any sense out of him.” Before Tegan could protest, Nyssa ran off to where Redoc was attending to a family of avenoids, wiping blood off their matted feathers.
The Doctor, Fidox and Artelisa sat around a white-painted wrought iron table in the Cloister Garden, a large square room surrounded by a two-storey cloister. Ivy seemed to creep over every wall, over the floor and the decorative trellis work of the cloister. On the table was a tray, with a large white porcelain teapot, three cups and saucers, a plate with sliced lemon, a milk jug and a plate of digestive biscuits.
“More tea, Fidox?” said the Doctor, helping himself to another biscuit.
“No thank you, Doctor, though I must have a chem analysis of this tea so that…”
Artelisa stood up, showing as much impatience and frustration as she was able. “I understand that you need time to recover Doctor, but was this ritual really necessary?” she said.
“I think so,” said the Doctor. “I think we need to discuss what our plans are, from this point forward. Now it seems that you both share a common goal, though destruction of the AI was never your original intention. In fact, it seems that you never intended to kill anyone and still haven’t, as far as I know, and I’d like to keep it that way. Fidox, you have a problem no doubt, and I admit that I might have had something to do with Paracletus’…um… crisis. Even an AI as developed and as old as this one still did not have the capacity to make the kind of evolutionary leap that was unfortunately thrust upon it. It could not cope with the realisation of the possibility of the termination of its existence – of its own mortality. It came to me for help, and I admit, I failed. So… it’s only right that I should do what I can to assist. But let’s be agreed from the start, killing must be the absolute last resort. Artelisa? Fidox?”
Artelisa paced away, toying with some of the shiny dark green leaves. “Very well, Doctor. But there is the real possibility that the thing may try to kill us – or even use your companions as hostages. We can’t be sure that they are still safe aboard the Swift Vengeance.”
Fidox looked at the young woman admiringly. Despite her mostly emotionless face and martial manner, she still was very beautiful and there was something about her professionalism that the only man found captivating.
“I agree,” he said, stroking his beard. “I think our priority must be to find Javit and your friends, so that they can’t be used against us. Also Javit has the only key to the central control, where the core of the AI is housed. Only there can the AI be deactivated – if of course that is the route we must take.”
“Where is this central control?” said Artelisa.
“It’s immediately beneath the Statue Chapel,” the old man replied.
“The Statue Chapel!” Artelisa exclaimed, surprising them both. “The statue MUST be destroyed!”
Chara City was turning to anarchy. Families were crowding the transmat stations, some of which had been set on fire and lay in ruins. At the spaceport, crew members were having to defend their ships with clubs, though most captains had taken it upon themselves to take as many beings as possible, giving priority to beings with offspring. The human and avenoid crews that had been goaded into attacking one another were now working together to get their ships out with all the refugees they could carry. At the space elevator the escalators to the ground level had stopped working, so beings filled the emergency stairs that wound their way around the terminus building to the embarkation platform on the third floor. At the doors, a team of canenoids – security operatives in their day jobs – were making sure that the most deserving got priority and no-one jumped the queue.
Paracletus, in the form of the young business man, viewed the chaos from Javit’s balcony. He had no reason to manifest himself as no-one else was there. He did it purely for his own enjoyment. He had only managed to make a few hundred thousand of the new ‘conflict’ nanobots, but the feedback they were giving him was intense. Much more than processing power or the collection of data, it was if he could now feel the raw emotion of his protagonists.
As only a couple of hundred of the guests were really enjoying the new activities that Paracletus was creating for them, that was where he was concentrating most of his effort and processing power. In the outskirts of the city and indeed in the other cities and resorts, the hologram guides had begun to disappear, concession stalls had closed, services and transport and stopped working. Self repair and clean-up systems had also shut down, and where the service robots weren’t active in their new roles, they simply stood or lay where they fell.
Paracletus smiled. He liked smiling. Suddenly a wave of pure joy flooded his entire being – the hologram threw his head back and exulted, his arms hands and fingers outstretched to the sky.
THIS was LIFE!
He wanted more.
After a few hours, the transmat from the planet stopped working, and the number of casualties dissipated as the tourists found shuttles or were picked up by their ships. Redoc and Nyssa were exhausted, Nyssa sitting on the floor next to a stretcher that Redoc had crawled onto. Nyssa pulled off the blue latex gloves she was wearing and threw them on the floor, as it was already littered with sterile wrappings, used dressings and empty packets from the supplies they had used. They’d discovered that the medical team they were assisting didn’t even work on Chara – they were guests like everyone else. They too had been picked up by their ship and left. The station’s medical robots had just stood in their recharging alcoves completely idle as the disaster had unfolded in front of their unseeing eyes.
Tegan had taken Javit to an office, where after watching video feeds for the planet for twenty minutes, he’d curled up on a sofa and gone to sleep. Tegan had also slept fitfully in a chair. She’d wanted to go with Nyssa and help – she’d had some first aid training too, but she’d had to admit that here she was totally out of her depth.
Nyssa wandered into the office with some bottles of water. “How is he?” she asked, giving one to Tegan.
Tegan took a long drink. “Where did you find these?” she said, pouring some into her hand and wetting the back of her neck.
“I broke into a vending machine.”
“You!?” said Tegan.
“Yes. I suppose I’m a renegade too now!” they both laughed. Nyssa sat on the sofa at Javit’s feet.
“How’s Redoc?” said Tegan, taking another drink.
“Done in. He’s sleeping, I think. He was completely amazing, I’ve never seen a doctor so skilled – and especially good with children. He has a very kind heart.”
“If he has a heart!” said Tegan, before realising that really wasn’t the right thing to say. “Well… you know what I mean.”
“What about our doctor?” said Nyssa, trying to help Tegan out of the hole she’d created.
“I don’t know,” said Tegan. “I found the TV camera in the council chamber, the Tardis didn’t move for ages. It dematerialised a couple of hours ago – I suppose that means the Doc must be OK. Must be looking for us I suppose.”
‘Well, with the transmat inoperative we’re stuck here until somebody comes for us.” Nyssa looked over at Javit again. “Looks like he’s not going anywhere – shall we see if we can find some human food?”
Tegan nodded, standing up. “Let’s get your life of crime off to a proper start!”
A wheezing, groaning sound filled the air in a stateroom aboard the Centauran battleship, as a large blue box with a flashing blue light on top materialised. The Doctor stepped out, adjusting a dial on the gizmo he was holding. “Ah!” he said, spotting Tegan and Nyssa’s clothing neatly folded on a chair, with Tegan’s beach bag on the floor next to it. He quickly scooped the clothing into the bag and passed it to Artelisa, who was standing in the Tardis doorway with her pistol drawn.
“I do wish you’d put that thing away,” he said. “Isn’t that what we agreed?”
Artelisa holstered the gun and looked into the large bag. “Their clothing?”
“Yes… Tegan does have the annoying habit of wandering off… I sneaked a short-range tracker into her bag, but it looks like she still managed to elude me. I say… this wouldn’t have any… sinister connotations to it, would it?”
“No. The Imperial Navy is not in the habit of stealing the clothes of executed prisoners. They were probably supplied with new clothing. Let me check. Now be aware Doctor, once I access the command network through this terminal, we will have minutes at the most to get out of here, so be ready.”
Artelisa tossed the bag through the open doorway and moved to an access terminal. A manual input activated, and without any trouble at all text began to scroll across the screen. In the corridor, an alarm sounded.
“I have it,” she said, closing down the terminal, and running back through the Tardis door, followed by the Doctor.
Just after the Tardis dematerialised, two marines burst into the room, weapons drawn, but all they found was the smell of some kind of alien herbal infusion that they couldn’t identify.
On board the orbital station, a stationary service robot jerked, and then after checking itself for damage, walked around until it found another robot that had fallen on its face. This robot now jerked to life, and stood up. The robots looked at each other, as one assumed the appearance of a tall young man with lank blonde hair, in cricket whites and an ivory coat with a decrepit stick of celery attached to the lapel. The other assumed the appearance of a young woman with long black hair and striking blue eyes, dressed in the military uniform of a colonel. They nodded and smiled to each other, and then set off in opposite directions.
Just in front of the transmat station, the Tardis materialised with a thump. The Doctor, Artelisa and Fidox stepped out onto the rubbish-strewn deck.
Fidox muttered an oath and wiped his face. “This is awful, it’s what we feared. It looks like a war-zone.”
“Well, unless they were transported on they must be on the station somewhere,” said the Doctor, “but it appears to be deserted.”
“We’d better split up to see if we can find them,” said Artelisa, drawing her pistol again – ignoring the Doctor’s look of admonishment.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” he said, putting his hands in his pockets.
“Don’t forget Doctor, as soon as we materialised here we will be potentially visible to… it,” said Fidox. “The longer we stay here, the greater the danger we are in.”
“Hmm… very well. Fidox, you remain in this general area. I suppose I’ll go… that way!” said the Doctor, striding off.
“And I’ll go this way,” Artelisa said. “Be careful, old man. If something else doesn’t get you, I might shoot you by mistake.”
“Haha, nice… joke…” said Fidox, the smile fading from his face as he recognised from the young woman’s unchanged expression she was merely stating a fact.
Tegan was struggling to get the door off a promising looking machine she’d found in a vestibule. It actually said human delicacies on it, and after dismissing any ideas that might mean delicacies made from humans, she’d tried practically everything to get inside it. She stood back, finally defeated – when with a cheerful ping, the door popped open by itself. Inside it was stocked with food, still chilled, and although she couldn’t understand what the labels said, some things looked almost recognisable, like some kind of sandwich, meat and fish sticks, and something that for all the world looked like a doughnut, but instead of jam it had a spicy filling, like curry. She began to fill the pockets on her jumpsuit, thinking that there might be something here that even Redoc could eat.
“Ah! Tegan! At last!” Tegan looked up, for a second having that chill rush of guilt at being discovered red-handed. She looked down to the end of the corridor, and there was the Doctor, smiling and waving as he walked towards her. She felt a tremendous relief – but couldn’t respond as her mouth was full of curry doughnut.
She ran towards him but as she approached he pointed to a doorway on her right, which she obligingly went through. It was a dead end. At the other side of the room was a white door, with a small window in it at head height – that was just solid black. The door was covered in warning stickers. As she turned, another door hissed shut behind her. She realised in horror that she was standing in an airlock.
“Doctor!” she said running to the internal door.
The Doctor smiled and waved through the window, and then disappeared from view. An alert sounded as the airlock began to depressurise with a loud hiss.
“Doctor! DOCTOR” screamed Tegan, as she pounded uselessly on the interior door with her fists.