The Doctor rushed to Javid’s side. “Paracletus, what have you done?”

“He was going to try to harm me Doctor. I don’t think he really could have harmed me, but the thought… was not joyful. I could have killed him or given him pain, but instead I just stopped him from carrying out his plan. And, I think he will learn from the experience of not being able to walk. Until he recovers, that is, if I deem him worthy to recover, he will be dependent on the goodwill of others. That is a worthy lesson for a man so greedy and self-centred, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Stop this. You have no right. Restore him,” The Doctor said, helping  Javid to sit up. 

“No Doctor, and though you might not agree now, you will. Even now I can feel that Redoc is moved with compassion, but is unable to assist. He deserves so much more.”

Redoc’s body spasmed, his limbs and antennae vibrating. He fell to the ground, a grey, sticky substance starting to appear at the tip of his abdomen. Nyssa, still smiling despite the events, bent down to him. “What’s happening to Redoc, Doctor?” she said, trying to get some reaction from the massive insect. 

“Paracletus!” said the Doctor, standing up. “You must stop. You’re triggering his final pupal stage. If this continues he will pupate and then die in hours. Stop it!”

“Ah – well perhaps there can be too much joy… there. Do not worry, young Nyssa. Your friend will be restored to you, he is just sleeping now. But your concern for him must be rewarded…”

Nyssa cried out, her head thrown back, and she too passed out, slumping over Redoc’s prostrate body.

“Stop this!” shouted the Doctor. “You can’t… what you’re doing is removing their control, their will.”

“But I am giving them so much joy, Doctor. How can that be a bad thing? True, perhaps I should have considered Redoc’s physiology before I rewarded him, but I won’t make that mistake again. And this is so much better than the old treatments the statue could give. I can feel… I can see the physical benefits of this joy… understand the pain that is removed, cerebral tissue regeneration at a fantastic rate, neural pathways being repaired and new ones formed… this power… this joy – for the benefit of other beings… IS life!”

“Is this life, Paracletus? Is it? Is this what life is supposed to be?” The Doctor paced, angrily. He didn’t realise that he was talking to the statue, using that as a focus, though unlike Paracletus’ earlier manifestation, this was real, unresponsive and unmoving stone.  “Check your database. Do you not have all the memories from all the guests who were treated here, copied, stored? Can you not see what their lives actually were about?”

“They came here because they were suffering Doctor. They lost the capacity to feel joy, at least, to the extent…”

“…to the extent that it was a marketable commodity,” The Doctor said, finishing its sentence. 

“We’ve had this conversation Doctor. I don’t agree with your premise that life, personality, sentience, is predicated on suffering and experience and the lessons learned from it. Do we really need that contrast to experience happiness or joy?. Look at me! I’ve never felt pain. Yet here I am, the most evolved, the most joyful, of all of you!”

“You haven’t had that conversation with me!” said Artelisa, struggling to her feet, wiping tears from her eyes. She shook her head, walking up the steps to the foot of the statue. “You said you have all the memories of all the people you treated. Then find mine – and give them back to me. Now!”

“Artelisa, NO!” yelled the Doctor…

*

Colonel Artlisa (callsign Combat Armour Imperial Navy (CAIN) 6) and the rest of her unit deploy from a turboprop bulk lifter at just after midday on the second moon of Tassajara. The weather is overcast, the sky solid grey, 30% chance of rain. The fire team of five CAINs forms up in standard delta formation and head out across what appears to have been a farmer’s field towards the mission staging area, where the land convoy waits. The objective is to provide ground and flanking support to the convoy to extract local militia and their families, destroy any anti-aircraft systems seen in the area, and escort them back to the staging area where they can be safely airlifted. 

Two and a half metres tall, the CAIN powered armour units carry a range of self-guiding and directed armament –  subject to mission requirements. CAIN 6 is designate ‘sniper’ for this mission, and so it’s armed with a  light machine gun, a heavy-calibre sniper rifle with selectable ammo loads, and regular counter-measures. With 197 as its buddy, it will recon ahead of the main column, engaging any threat at extreme long range, also using its enhanced sensor package to spot and guide airborne and ground-based artillery (RT). 

After about fifteen minutes they walk into the large yard of a ruined farmhouse. Lined up with their engines running are six armoured personnel carriers, two scout vehicles, and a platoon of worried-looking heavy infantry. 

The command to mount up is given, and the infantry run to crew their vehicles. Two drones are launched, which accelerate fast to altitude where they can go quiet and glide ahead of the extraction group. CAIN 6 and 197 move to the front of the column and then jog ahead, following a road for about 200 metres before heading off along a pre-planned route into tree cover – cover that they would hopefully be able to exploit all the way to the target. 

They move slowly, going radio silent. Taking massive gillie suits from stowage on their backs, they dress each other, adding fresh green and real twigs to the artificial leaves and netting. Making sure they stay low and quiet, they move out again following the trees between the blasted, dead fields of mud. 197 takes point, stopping every so often to scan the horizon and at close range, checking any potential cover for enemy movement. 

They are to stay at least ten minutes ahead of the convoy, and to do that Artelisa realises they need to pick up the pace. 197 is being thorough, but too cautious. This is the trooper’s first actual combat mission and the inexperience is showing.

197 stops and takes a knee. With its arm and outsized metal hand, it signs forward – 11 o’clock – two.

Artelisa kneels behind it, levelling the rifle, she checks the line indicated with the visual sensors and the scope on the massive rifle. About 300 metres ahead the ground rises into a low hill, and there is a copse of trees  – a good, relatively- elevated place for a recon (or sniper) position. Artelisa checks InfraRed – nothing. EM enhanced – nothing. Visual, using pattern recognition and radar depth perception – contact. Two armoured humans, operating some kind of equipment – could be mortar or hand held missile launchers. Rules Of Engagement would indicate that they should attack the position. 197 is making the ‘firing pistol’ sign with its hand. Artelisa shakes her head and carefully scans the landscape again. Doesn’t detect anything else.

The convoy is moving up on the road behind them and unless she engages now, the vehicles will be detected by the spotters on the hill -but she’s also concerned that this is an obvious place for an observation post. They may be there  simply too draw fire, and reveal their position, but… She locks onto the target on the left. Then the target on the right – just using visual sensors, image enhance and tracking – no active scan or laser – settles the aim between the two, selects anti-personnel rounds, and activates. The weapon snaps left, fires one round, recovers, snaps right, fires, and goes back to the midpoint. What seems like minutes later, both targets’ heads explode. One body falls forward, the other disappears from view.

Artelisa disengages the targeting scope and safetys the weapon. She goes back to checking the sensors. Still nothing, no other presence or movement detected. Checks the UAV feeds – still no contact. 

[The convoy is moving up. Advance.] The General’s commands scroll across her HUD and are read by her onboard computer into her earphones.

197 stands and moves forward into the open field.

“Not now, you idiot!” Artelisa says aloud, breaking radio silence. 

One of the UAV drones goes offline. 

197 runs forward, takes a knee, indicates to advance. Looks back over its shoulder at where Artelisa is.

The other drone registers an IR flash and goes dark. 

Artelisa gets up and runs back through the wooded copse, heading to the rear, shouting into her helmet. “This is CAIN 6! Get back! All units withdraw! Abort abort abort! It’s an ambush!”

197 stands and turns to the front, as two enemy T1292 Main Battle Tanks seem to burst out of the ground 120 metres ahead. One locks onto the CAIN with a heavy Mwave laser and fires. 197 vaporises, causing a massive implosion, digging a huge crater and flinging dirt and rocks hundreds of metres into the air. 

[197 is inoperative. Imperative you engage enemy armour to your rear. Air and sat support incoming. You must provide cover whilst the convoy withdraws.] 

A tank shell explodes in the area Artelisa just vacated. Trees splinter and catch fire. The blast knocks her off balance and she rebounds off a tree in front of her. The armour automatically fires chaff and flares to its left and right, and Artelisa goes right at a fast roadie run trying to flank the tanks and stay in cover as much as possible. Rail gun fire rattles through the trees at a height of two metres, cutting some down. Some trees  stay in place, supported by surrounding trees, others topple, or slide sideways and fall vertically before crashing over. 

[Alert – RT incoming.]

Heavy mortars and shell fire start to make a pattern of flaming destruction across the wood, flattening and burning everything still standing. Artelisa rolls into ball at the foot of a large tree. 

A mortar shell detonates in the branches over her position. Massive concussion, shrapnel, and fire. The tree shivers and cracks from its top to the roots. Warning indicators come on in her HUD, so she runs a systems check: damage to rear armour, left arm, servo damage, left leg.  Combat effective – but caution advised. 

[Engage the armour. Now.]

The shelling has stopped. Artelisa unrolls herself and puts her back to the smouldering tree trunk. There are fallen, burning trees trees all around her. Black smoke is obscuring visual sensors and IR is useless. She switches the helmet sensors to EM passive enhance. She looks back around the tree in the direction the armour was coming from. She can see one tank, approx 200 metres away, sitting there, its turret slowly turning, like the head of a massive metal predator. The other tank is flanking to the right, heading for the road. It fires its main gun.  It’s a miss. But the convoy is turning, reversing, anything to get off the road and back the way it came.

She can’t get an effective hit on the tank with this sensor at this range. For the rifle’s depleted uranium armour piercing ammo to have any effect, her weapon will have to hit specific areas of weakness on the target. If she fires from here, the hits will just be absorbed by the tank’s armour – and simultaneously paint a target on herself. 

She crawls to her right, trying to keep fires and debris between her and the tank, which now starts to slowly roll forwards. 

Artelisa runs along a gulley and slides into a shell crater – if she can get behind the tank…

There are two human soldiers in the crater. One is looking at a display screen – the other was sipping water through a drinking hose from his backpack. This one raises her weapon. Artelisa grabs the assault rifle out her hands and throws it away. She grabs the soldier’s webbing with one hand and lifts her up off the ground. She kicks and flails. The other soldier throws away the screen he was looking at and recoils, frozen. She grabs the first soldier’s head with her left hand, and twists, the neck snaps and the head almost comes off. She drops the still kicking body. The other soldier has pulled out a sidearm and is firing wildly. Bullets spark and whine as they bounce harmlessly off the CAIN armour. She deploys her machine gun from the left arm and fires at point blank range. The bullets tear the soldier apart, his armour completely ineffective. 

Though she controls the armoured suit as if it were her own body, when she kills, she just sees the weapons and body of the armour, as if she had no part in what just occurred. The blood and gore covering the front of the powered suit has no effect on her operational ability… and so is ignored. The look of sheer terror on the soldiers’ faces however… 

[Two confirmed kills.] The flat computer voice stating the obvious. She wonders if the General was celebrating that as a success.

She quickly clambers out of the crater and runs back down the gulley. The crater is hit by a tank shell.

Artelisa is bodily lifted up as if by a giant hand, and smashed into the ground. She feels her left shoulder dislocate – the pain shoots down her back and up the side of her head. She screams into her helmet. 

After a few minutes, her pain is magnified as the ground  begins to vibrate. The tank is coming this way. Her heart is in her mouth, as she is fully expecting to be slowly crushed to death… but it goes past. She’s dead or no longer a threat, as far as they are concerned. 

She can hear the comms traffic from the rest of the unit. They are falling back in disarray with no support. Her armour vibrates again as the tank fires. She hears the screams of an incinerated APC crew. 

And then the tanks turn their guns on the civilians…

 *

Artelisa collapsed to the floor, sobbing. 

“Do you see, Doctor? You see what pain and suffering is? No-one made her come here for the treatment Doctor. She checked herself into the facility. She couldn’t cope with the pain she was feeling. With her own sense of failure. Or with what she had become. She wanted the nightmares to stop. The treatment provided that, but…”

“Yes… but what?” said the Doctor, going to Artelisa and crouching to comfort her. “She knew that this new, unfeeling person had no past. She was an unperson. She was able to function, yes, but she was unable to live, to feel, to experience, to learn. But even then, in the past few days, her humanity was returning. The new personality she adopted was a fiction and she realised that. She was not being honest to herself. Yes, she came here to destroy the statue and damage Chara but her motivation was not vengeance, Paracletus. She needed an end.”

“If it is an end she requires Doctor, then I can supply…”

The Doctor stood and turned suddenly, aiming and firing Artelisa’s pistol in one fluid motion. At this range, he couldn’t miss. The crystal exploded. A wave of crackling psychic energy blasted away from the statue in every direction, the statue cracking, and then falling to pieces, the arms falling off together, the head turning and then rolling off the shoulders to smash on the floor. Ancient dust and debris rained down from the vaulted ceiling. The Doctor was knocked flat on his back, the heavy pistol spinning out of his hand. He covered his eyes with his arm… and everything went black…

Epilogue

Tegan woke up in bed. A real bed, with crisp white sheets, and a blanket. She had no idea where she was at first, until her eyes focussed on the ceiling – a metal mesh with some kind of fluorescent light. She sat up slowly, her head staring to swim, as if she’d been on a night out – a very good night out. As she started to get her bearings, she recognised where she was. She was in the stateroom aboard the Centauran Navy ship. She had a sudden flash of worry. 

“Nyssa!?” she said, realising now how dry her mouth was. 

“Hello!” said Nyssa, her upside-down head appearing at her side. 

“Wha… oh. Bunkbeds!” she said. “Are you okay? Is everybody… okay?”

Nyssa smiled – and Tegan relaxed, flopping back onto her pillow. “What happened?”

“The Doctor had to destroy the crystal, and it exploded. It partially caved in the basilica. The marines rescued us – the explosion triggered an emergency transponder on Artelisa’s uniform. They brought us back here as there aren’t any proper facilities on the surface. Everything has stopped working, of course.”

“What about the Tardis?” Tegan said, worried again.

“They brought that too. It’s in the shuttle bay. Now you’re up – let’s get some breakfast. I’m starved.”

*

When Tegan had showered and freshened up, she found that clean clothes – her own – had been brought and laid out for her. Nyssa was wearing another impossibly velveteen burgundy suit, and when Tegan saw it, she couldn’t help but give her a hug. 

They went out of the stateroom and a marine escorted them to the officer’s mess, where the Doctor, Javid and Fidox were having an in-depth conversation. A steward helped Nyssa and Tegan serve themselves from a buffet that lined one wall, and with plates suitably stacked with tasty morsels, they sat at the table. 

“Ah, there you both are!” said the Doctor, smiling.  “I see it hasn’t affected your apetite… sorry Tegan, you really must explain to me at some point why you take offence at that. Queen Victoria always…”

“Never mind, Doc!” said Tegan smiling. I’m just glad to see you’re OK! Fidox… Minister.” 

“Good morning Miss Tegan!” said Fidox, smiling back. For some reason, to Tegan’s eyes, he seemed to look younger than before…

A noise behind Tegan made her turn. A marine by the door had snapped to attention as Artelisa walked in, in a fresh colonel’s uniform. “Tegan! Nyssa!” she said, as they both got up, sending their chairs flying (for the steward to pick up again) to give her a hug. As Tegan pressed her cheek against Artelisa’s, it felt wet. She pulled her head back to look – Artelisa was smiling, and crying. So Tegan hugged her tighter. 

“Glad to see they didn’t put you back in the slammer!” said Tegan.

“Slammer?” said Nyssa, puzzled.

They broke apart, though still holding hands. “No, I’m reinstated, though on proper medical leave for the time being. The Doctor vouched for me.” Artelisa chuckled. “They’re going to give me a medal!”

“Yes. And well deserved,” said the Doctor. “Without Artelisa’s courage and self-sacrifice, I don’t know what would have happened. She waited for the right moment and took it, though she very easily could have been killed in the process. She got all her memories back at once – and the memories were such that Paracletus couldn’t process it all…. he was distracted – he took his eye off the ball, so to speak. And unfortunately, I had no option.”

“Wait – where’s Redoc?” said Nyssa.

“He’s on the planet,” said Artelisa, releasing the others to their breakfasts and sitting down beside them. “He’s helping coordinate emergency relief and medical teams. Seems to have quite the knack for it. He wouldn’t go until he made sure that you were both fully recovered. He sends his regards.”

“Wait a minute…” said Tegan, putting down her spork. “You – you’re blonde!” 

Artelisa smiled. “Yes, an effect of the explosion, the Doctor said. It’s quite a shocking colour isn’t it. I’ll have to dye it I expect…” 

“Oh no!” said Tegan. “It looks great!” 

Javid got up to get another drink but the steward immediately rushed over and gestured him to sit again. “All I want to do is walk, Doctor, and they won’t let me!”

“Just be thankful that effect ended when Paracletus died,” said the Doctor.

“Doctor,” said Nyssa, finishing another mouthful. “You keep referring to Paracletus as ‘he’, not ‘it’”

“Yes, well… at the end I don’t think he was an it anymore. It seemed clear that he identified as male, and to be honest, referring to him in this way also acknowledges… what I had to do. I didn’t deactivate a computer. I killed a living being. A person.” 

“…and saved a planet, young man!” said Fidox. 

“ And saved all of us,” said Artelisa. 

“You have to remember that, Doctor,” said Tegan.

“Yes,” the Doctor said, leaning back in his chair and staring into space. 

“I shan’t forget.”

Author, photographer and trade union activist. Lived in Japan for 5 years, now working at Cambridge University. Written for Big Finish/BBC Enterprises - Doctor Who and Robin Hood. Two books currently available on Amazon - see my non-fiction on Medium. All content ©Michael Abberton 2020

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