5. The Man Who Always Got Himself Into Trouble
This story is for TimeyWimeyTardis whose request was: The 4th Doctor and Romana solving a murder mystery on Earth. At first it seems like a normal murder but the perpetrator turns out to be an exiled alien.
A dense fog was covering London on that November evening, turning every building into a blur. Paul and David were on their way to the underground building site. They weren’t looking forward to exchange the cold and damp atmosphere of the streets against the heavy atmosphere of the underground.
“We start in the fog and we finish in the fog,” joked David, referring to their work hours.
Paul simply nodded.
Both men were the perfect team. While David was a bit of an enthusiast, Paul was the quiet type. They were working night shifts and were quite satisfied about it, especially since they were entitled to a small bonus.
“I heard that the Company is already looking for engine drivers,” said Paul. “The Company even provides the training.”
Everyone knew that working for a railway company was the best employment possible, especially since engine drivers were well considered and more importantly, they were well paid.
“Yeah, it might be a good opportunity for us,” agreed David. “Not sure I want to spend my life driving an engine through those gloomy tunnels, though.”
Paul shrugged: “It can’t be worse than what we do now, in case you forgot what we do for a living. Do you see yourself dig tunnels all your life?”
“Nope. Maybe you’re right…”
They had reached the building site entrance. Most workers were leaving for the day, all sharing the same dirty and exhausted face.
“That’s no life, I tell you,” complained David as he walked down the stairs.
His friend didn’t react. It was the same every evening. As soon as they were going down, David would start complaining about how unfair life was. How some had to work hard while others didn’t need to. They met a few more workers on the way and finally reached the platform. Paul looked at the shiny rails. Soon they would be in use and he pictured himself driving one of those underground trains. He smiled and followed his friend towards the black hole of the tunnel. Both men were carrying oil lamps to fight darkness, but it was still impressive. They had to walk almost two miles before they would reach the construction site. At night, with the reduced staff, everything seemed.
“Shouldn’t we see the lights already?” Asked Paul.
“Soon, after we pass that corner,” replied David.
A noise behind him caught his attention and he turned, wondering what it was. Holding his lamp above him, he scrutinised the darkness behind him. Paul had come to a halt too.
“Let’s keep moving,” he whispered. “We’re almost there anyway…”
David was about to agree, when he caught a movement from the corner of his eye. Suddenly, he wished he hadn’t heard that strange noise. His scream was followed by an echo. Paul was screaming too. The two lamps crashed on the floor. Soon it was totally dark in the tunnel again.
The search party found two broken oil lamps in the tunnel. For them, it was proof that their two colleagues had vanished like the others and were probably dead. The workers decided unanimously to abandon the building site and go up, in the foggy street where they feel they would be safe. They walked back to the main entrance, gathered there and refused to go back down despite their manager’s threats.
“You can go there yourself,” shouted one of the men. “We’re not going back. Those tunnels are doomed!”
“Where are we going?” Asked Romana, taking her eyes up from the book she was reading.
The Doctor was in a cheerful mood which indicated that he had probably chosen one of his favourite destinations.
“Earth,” he smiled.
“Of course,” she muttered, immediately loosing interest.
It was common knowledge that the Doctor had a soft spot for this planet and like many others Romana couldn’t quite understand what he found so interesting about this primitive planet. Noticing his companion’s loss of interest, the scientist went on:
“I’m taking you to one of the most fascinating periods of Earth history.”
The Doctor looked disappointed. Romana tried to hide a wicked smile behind the book. When he didn’t react, she looked up again and saw that he was starring at the console. He was probably trying to decide whether they should go anyway or not.
“I hope for you it’s forth the trip,” said Romana, affecting to be annoyed.
The Doctor smiled, his good mood restored:
“Oh you won’t regret it!” He promised.
There was such a joy on his face that his companion couldn’t help but wonder how he could keep such a childish mind at his age.
Reinforcements had been called, threats had been made. The workers couldn’t afford to lose their jobs and they all went down again. This time, the manager accompanied by two security guards came down as well, to ensure the workers that there was nothing to fear about the underground.
“Superstitious fools,” muttered the manager.
He was on a tight schedule and couldn’t let a bunch of frightened souls ruin his reputation. He was already hoping to get another huge railway building project; but that would only work out if he could finish the underground work on time.
The group had stopped at the end of the platform. The workers were looking at the entrance of the black mouth.
“Don’t tell me that you’re scared!”
“But Sir, eight people have disappeared in a very few days…” Complained one of the workers. “We don’t want that to happen to us.”
They didn’t believe the story the manager had told them when the first workers had disappeared anymore. He had pretended than they had resigned and no questions had been asked. But when the disappearances continued, they no longer believed him and their distrust only grew stronger.
“Oh come on!” Said the manager, losing his temper. “Don’t you understand who is behind that? Those silly dreamers who don’t believe in progress, who hate the idea that an underground will allow every Londoner to travel safer and faster! Your friends haven’t been eaten by a beast haunting those tunnels; someone very alive who knows his way around those tunnels has taken their lives in order to force the Company to stop the works. Someone like him!”
He was now shouting as he was pointing a finger towards a figure that emerged from the darkness.
The TARDIS materialised and the Doctor immediately operated the scanner to check their surroundings.
“Oh nice,” sneered Romana. “You were right, this period is really fascinating!”
“Alright, I didn’t plan on materialising underground, but wait until you see what’s above!”
He ignored his companion’s dubious expression and put his coat, scarf and hat on before operating the doors. Romana was amused by his impatience to go out and explore. She followed him outside and frowned when she looked around her.
“Where are we?”
She thought that the Doctor was about to jump up and down from happiness:
“In the Underground working site!” He replied excitedly. “If we are lucky, we might even witness the first train running in the underground London.”
Romana stared at him as if he were a mad man. He didn’t seem to realise that she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. He kept on showing her shiny metal pieces and wooden structures, explaining what their use was. To the Time Lady, it seemed a terribly primitive way to move around, but she remained silent. She knew that the Doctor would be hurt by such a comment and she wasn’t in the mood for an argument. When he pointed the dark entrance of a tunnel and suggested to go in it, she felt a shiver going down her spine.
“Do we have too?” She asked weakly.
“There is no other way…” Noted the scientist.
He was right. There was no way out from their position, but at least, there was light and Romana felt safe. The Doctor took hold of an oil lamp and led the way. He couldn’t stop talking about railways and how they would shape the modern era. His companion was holding on the tip of his scarf, to ensure that she wouldn’t get lost. The more they walked into the tunnel, the more a feeling of imminent danger was overwhelming her. She tried to reason herself. She had never been afraid of the dark so why this sudden fear? The tunnel was curving and she could see light in the distance. Maybe they were finally reaching civilisation? She had stopped listening to the scientist’s explanations but she noticed when he abruptly stopped talking. Next thing she knew, she was bumping into his back. She carefully looked from behind and realised that they had indeed reached some sort of civilisation. A group of dirty men were gathered on what the Doctor had called a “platform”. One of them, the leader obviously was giving a rather heated speech. All of a sudden, he pointed at the scientist, and shouted:
“Someone like him!”
A big clamour echoed as the workers shouted and screamed.
“You really can’t keep away from trouble, can you?” Said angrily Romana to her companion.
The workers saw a man emerging from the tunnel and soon after the figure of a young woman appeared from behind his back. Both shared the same surprised look. They didn’t expect to meet such a crowd, which was rather odd considering that they were trespassing on a construction site. William, one of the senior workers immediately understood that the manager was blaming the tall man wearing a fancy scarf as a mean to convince them to go back to work. The stranger didn’t look like a killer. In fact, he looked like one of those poets who dream their lives instead of trying to live their dreams. Everyone started to shout angrily at no one in particular and William feared that the couple would come to any harm. They were standing still, and the fact that they didn’t run away convinced the senior worker that they had found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The manager was smiling with contempt. The coincidence was too good to be true. He had found the perfect scapegoat without even asking for one.
“Alright!” He shouted. “Let’s find some constables who will take care of those two.”
“Let’s make them pay for what they did instead!” Shouted someone.
William stepped forward and joined the manager.
“Let me take a few men and bring them down to the nearest police station before it gets messy. Surely you don’t want a riot on your hands.”
The manager considered what he had said. He could tell that the workers wanted revenge, but if he wanted the Company to trust him on a new construction site, he had to deal carefully with the issue.
“Alright. But they are your responsibility,” warned the manager.
William nodded and motioned his team to join him. Two workers came out of the group and everyone else quieted down. The senior worker and his men had earned respect from the others over the years, so no one questioned the decision that had been made.
Romana had let go of the tip of the Doctor’s scarf and was now standing next to him. She was angry at him, despite the fact that it wasn’t really his fault if they had encountered trouble. The scientist was strangely silent. Usually, he would have introduced himself, made some spiritual comment that would have worsen the situation. This time, however, he didn’t say anything. Three men came towards them, all workers from the look of it. One of them, the eldest, had white hair that almost looked grey because of the dust that was covering them. His two companions seemed experienced too. To the Time Lady’s great surprise, the white haired man spoke politely and explained that they were trespassers and therefore had to be brought to the police station.
“I’m sure that everything will be sorted out quickly as soon as you can justify why you were down there,” he said.
Romana wondered how the Doctor would get them out of this situation this time. The authorities would never believe that they arrived by accident. They were most probably going to end up in jail.
“What a fascinating period indeed,” thought the Time Lady.
But her companion was resourceful and he proved it once again when he answered William’s question:
“Isn’t that obvious?”
His steady and deep voice sounded impressive in the underground and Romana wondered what he was up to. There was an air of authority coming from him and the Time Lady saw that the three men were a bit confused.
“Have you come to help us find our mates?” Whispered one of the workers.
The Doctor faced him and smiled broadly:
“That’s perfectly correct. You see, I’m a detective. My job is to find missing persons. Now, I heard about your case and I took upon myself to investigate incognito.”
“I don’t suppose you can prove what you say?” Asked William.
The scientist was still smiling when he answered: “That’s the whole point of investigating incognito. It means that nobody knows what I’m doing… Those are the risks in my profession! By the way, I’m the Doctor and this is Romana, my assistant.”
The Time Lady cast the three men a devastating smile and she could see that they mellowed a little.
“I’m William, this is Patrick and here is Sylvester.”
“How do you do?”
The Doctor shook their hands before his face reverted to a serious expression:
“So what now? I suppose that you have to carry out orders, am I right?”
“Indeed. You are to come with us at the police station,” explained the senior worker.
“Excellent!” The scientist clapped his hands together. “I will be able to clear this little misunderstanding in no time!”
“But what if something happens when we are away? You said that we needed to be there to catch the perpetrator in flagrante delicto!”
She was playing her part perfectly and her companion pretended to think about what she had just pointed out:
“I’m afraid that we don’t have a choice here. We are to accompany those gentlemen at the police station. We might be able to make it quick and come back here, providing that you don’t object?”
He was now addressing William.
“No, of course not.”
“Shouldn’t we check with the manager first?” Asked Patrick.
“Since when does he care?” Shrugged Sylvester. “I say, let them come back. If they disappear like the rest of the guys, then who will ever know they came back?”
“Excellent point!” Said the Doctor. “Shall we go?”
William led the way, followed by the two time lords and the two workers. The manager and the rest of the workers watched as they passed by. As they reached the stairs, the scientist heard as the manager ordered his men to go back to work.
“This time, they will obey,” quietly said William who had heard him bark his orders too. “And when one of us disappears, they will understand that you were only a scapegoat.”
Romana was impressed by the wisdom in his voice. He seemed to know better. The Doctor probably came to the same conclusion, because he offered the old man to assist with the investigation.
“You are familiar with those tunnels. You know them by heart you might be of great help… The same goes for the rest of your team. If you want to help, then by all means let’s join forces.”
On the way to the police station, the Doctor managed to know more about the strange disappearances. It seemed that the victims simply vanished, leaving their tools behind.
“It’s a proper mystery,” said Patrick.
The Time Lord agreed in such in such a way that it felt like he actually enjoyed it. He seemed very confident and looked forward to meeting the local authorities.
“You know,” he suddenly told to the group. “I was thinking that we might enlist some of the constables as well. After all, we need to inform them that eight people have vanished in the underground since I believe that no one has reported those workers missing. It’s a serious case. It’s a shame that your manager thought otherwise.”
William, Patrick and Sylvester exchanged an alarmed glance. Sylvester grabbed the Doctor’s arm, preventing him from entering the building.
“Are you saying that you are going to inform the constables about the disappearances?”
“That’s exactly what I said. That’s what should have been done in the first place.”
The Time Lord pretended to be surprised:
“I thought that you wanted me to clean my good name?”
William sighed: “That’s right. We should have thought this better. The manager never reported the disappearances indeed. He doesn’t want the Company to know. If you tell the police, there will be an investigation, the Company will know and we will be sacked.”
“And who is going to employ us at our age?” Added Patrick.
“That’s why the bastard told us the strangers were our responsibility. He was taking no chance. He will blame it on us if things go south,” grunted Sylvester.
“Please, call me Doctor. And there might be a solution.”
The three workers stared at him, while Romana concealed a smile as she understood where this conversation was heading.
“We all want to find out what happened to your co-workers, correct? So why not play the manager’s game?”
“We skip the police station part we go back to the underground and investigate.”
“What if he asks what the police said about the matter?” Asked Patrick.
“We tell him that the constable recognised the Doctor. He won’t check unless he wants to rise suspicions on himself,” grinned Sylvester.
“Alright,” agreed William. “I simply hope that we won’t regret it.”
“Oh no you won’t,” promised the Time Lord.
They knew that something had happened when they saw the workers running away from the construction site. Despite herself, Romana felt frightened as she saw all those strong men beaten by fear. Sheer panic had taken over and they were running for their lives.
“Quickly, we need to know what happened!” Ordered the Doctor.
He managed to get hold of one of the terrified worker and insisted upon knowing what was going on.
“The manager! He disappeared!”
The Time Lord let go of the poor man who ran even faster after being freed.
“What do we do now?” Wondered Romana. “Shouldn’t we get detailed facts?”
The scientist shook his head.
“Waste of time. They are useless. What we need is to go down there.”
A hand took a grip on his arm, effectively attracting his attention. It was William’s. The senior worker shot him a disapproving glance:
“You might want to risk your life in the underground, but you can’t force this young lady to do the same. She shall remain here in safety while one of us comes with you.”
The Doctor was about to protest when he noticed that Romana seemed a bit frightened.
“Alright. Let’s go then.”
“Doctor!” The Time Lady called. “Be careful!”
Sylvester and the Doctor stopped at the end of the platform. The construction site had been deserted, but the lights were still burning. The platform was surrounded by menacing shadows and the tunnel’s mouth seemed darker than before. The worker had found an iron stick and was obviously planning on using it as a weapon if needed. He was tense but his eyes shone fiercely. The Time Lord threw the tips of his scarf over his shoulder. Stumbling over the long scarf was certainly not recommended in the underground, especially if they had to make a run for it. He was carrying an oil lamp and used it to look around as they entered the tunnel. The little information he had gathered had already convinced him that something or someone didn’t want to be disturbed. Almost ten people had gone missing without any trace and the Doctor had formulated a few hypotheses. None of them had a positive outcome for the unfortunate workers.
“Whatever we find, let me deal with it first,” ordered the Time Lord.
His companion grunted: “Whatever we find, let me hit it with that thing.”
The scientist started to regret Romana’s absence but he kept silent, focusing on their surroundings.
“What are you looking for?” Asked Sylvester.
“The broken oil lamps I saw earlier. I know that they are here somewhere.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes. It was only when they approached the curve that the Doctor found what he was looking for. He kneeled and inspected the ground closely, looking for any clue in the shattered glass.
“Maybe they dropped their oil lamp and ran off,” suggested Sylvester.
“In the dark?”
The Doctor wanted to make sure he didn’t overlook anything and he examined the area thoroughly. That’s how he discovered the narrow passageway in the wall, not far from where the debris had been found.
“I take it that all workers disappeared in this particular tunnel?”
Sylvester confirmed, but stopped the Time Lord who was about to enter the passageway.
“It looks more like a crack in the wall than a proper passage. I wouldn’t advise you to go in there.”
The Doctor folded his hat and put it in his pocket. He stretched the arm holding the oil lamp inside the narrow way and turned to his companion.
“Let’s try it anyway. Something tells me that we might get to the bottom of things through there.”
There was a note of excitement in his voice and the worker suspected that the man actually enjoyed exploring mysterious places.
“If you say so,” he sighed and followed the Time Lord.
To the worker it seemed like an endless descent. Despite himself, he was quite curious to see where it led, since it seemed obvious that the passage had been digged by man.
“Maybe it’s a service tunnel,” he thought out loud.
His companion didn’t react. He was still holding the lamp up and the light shone on his focused face. When he came to a sudden halt, Sylvester almost bumped into him, but remained silent. He looked over the Time Lord’s shoulder, but couldn’t see anything except the endless tunnel. He couldn’t hear anything either. The Doctor took a long cylinder from his pocket and started waving it in front of him. The worker wondered if he had become suddenly mad. The buzzing that came out the strange device startled Sylvester who took a step back.
“Just as I thought,” whispered the Doctor before he started walking again.
This time, his companion kept a safe distance until they reached the strangest cavern he had ever seen. A green dim light came out of the rocks and an altar was set in the centre of the circle shaped cavern.
“Hold that for me, will you?” Asked the Doctor who then walked straight towards the altar.
Sylvester had a bad feeling about it, but he doubted that the Time Lord would listen to him if he expressed it. He followed him carefully while looking around, his hand clenched on his stick. The Doctor was now facing the altar that was covered in strange writings. He motioned his companion to bring the lamp closer. When the worker complied, the symbols suddenly started to come into life, glowing red. Sylvester jumped back and watched as the Time Lord was surrounded by a bright red light that seemed to keep him prisoner as well as inflicting him severe pain. Helpless and terrified, the worker wasted a few minutes trying to think what to do before he turned away and ran as fast as he dared in the passageway with one thought in mind: calling for help.
Romana, William and Patrick were waiting at the top of the staircase. Neither of them was talking. The Time Lady was blaming herself for letting the Doctor go without her. She was also starting to get worried and realised that she would rather be in trouble with the Doctor than waiting and doing nothing. She was half expecting to see some constables rush over the construction site, but no one came. None of the panicked workers had called for help. They had simply fled, abandoning the site and those who had vanished to their fate. Earthlings were such an individual race… She wondered again what her companion found so appealing about this planet and its inhabitants. From what she could see, they were primitive, filthy and selfish. Plus the weather was ugly. The fog was now so dense that she almost couldn’t see her hand when she stretched it in front of her and the cold was pervading her.
She forgot about the cold when she heard someone running in the stairs. When a dishevelled and out of breath Sylvester appeared, her worries turned into proper concern. The fact that he was on the verge of panic was nothing compared to the fact that he was alone.
“Where is the Doctor?” Shouted Romana, before any of her companions could react.
“Down in the cavern,” managed to reply the worker in a jolting voice.
“Which cavern?” Asked William.
They had to wait until the man had recovered a little before he could tell them exactly what had happened and where. When Romana realised that the Doctor was in grave danger, she acted on an impulse. She took the oil lamp from Sylvester’s shaking hand and ran down the stairs, ignoring William and Patrick’s calls. Her mind was entirely focused to her goal and she didn’t even think about the danger she was throwing herself in. She found the narrow passageway and walked as fast as she could until she reached the cavern. She came to an abrupt stop and let out a desperate cry:
The Doctor carefully walked towards the altar. Some strange symbols seemed to be carved on it and he asked Sylvester to bring the lamp closer in order to see them properly. As soon as the worker shone the light over them, the Time Lord realised his mistake. Before he could tell his companion to take the lamp away, the symbols started shining in a blood red light that was all but reassuring. Next thing he knew, the Doctor was attacked by a red energy that imprisoned him in some sort of force field. He witnessed as Sylvester managed to back up from the altar but then he felt as the energy exuding from the altar tried to enter his mind and he tried to block it out. Instantly the force field turned against him and pain overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes, gathering deep within himself the strength to fight back. The pain was agonising and he realised that he had only one solution to shield his mind. That’s when he understood what had happened to the workers who had vanished. Their fate had been even worse than what he had imagined and he was about to meet just the same fate. Or was he? He heard laughter. It was him, laughing at the only person who could have devised such a scheme. Then he blacked out.
As soon as Romana called the Doctor’s name, the red glowing tentacles that were holding him withdrew back in the altar. The Time Lord crashed on the floor where he remained motionless. As his companion was about to run towards him, she felt someone grabbing her and she screamed.
“Calm down!” Said a familiar voice. “We’re here to help.”
She relaxed and the man let go of her. It was Patrick. Behind him were William and Sylvester who had fully recovered from his fright.
“The Doctor, he is…”
The Time Lady couldn’t finish her sentence. She didn’t know what those red tentacles were and therefore couldn’t tell what they did to the scientist. From what Sylvester had told them, it was not a pleasant experience.
While William remained with her near the tunnel, Patrick and Sylvester rushed to the Doctor.
“As long as those things don’t get light on them, we should be safe,” whispered Sylvester.
They quickly moved the scientist to the entrance of the tunnel. From there, Patrick carried him over his shoulder. Sylvester was leading the way. Romana and William were walking behind Patrick. The Time Lady couldn’t taker her eyes off the Doctor’s hands that swung freely like an inanimate string puppet behind Patrick’s back. She was tempted to hold on to one, just to check the scientist’s pulse, but she waited until they reached the platform. The Doctor was laid on the floor, thus allowing his carrier to catch his breath. In the meantime, Romana checked the Time Lord’s pulse that turned out to be almost normal even if it was weaker than usual. His encounter with the strange energy had been indeed quite intense.
“How is he?” Asked William.
“He should recover soon,” replied the Time Lady, who was starting to regret that they didn’t go straight to the TARDIS. They were in the opposite direction and she doubted that the workers would agree to carry the Doctor all the way back and through the tunnel.
“Is there some place we can go and where he could rest?” She asked.
“There is a pub close by,” replied Sylvester. “We can go there, the owners are nice fellows.”
The streets were deserted and the fog even denser than before. Romana was following the three workers who seemed in the same hurry to get shelter than her. Luckily, the pub wasn’t far away and they soon entered in a warm room that was quite empty save for three customers known from the workers. They looked a bit surprised when they noticed that Patrick was carrying an unconscious man and that a woman was with them, but they didn’t ask questions. The owners, Sean and Mary, were a middle-aged couple, and were just as Sylvester had said, nice and friendly. They knew what was going on in the underground construction site and were impressed to discover that a detective and his assistant were taking great risks trying to help the workers. Sean and Mary were only too happy to help and offered to shelter Romana and the Doctor as long as it would take for the scientist to recover. The Time Lord was brought in a guest room that the couple had upstairs. It was a small but cosy room and Patrick gently laid the Time Lord on the bed, while Romana decided to stay at his side to look after him.
“I’ll bring you something hot to drink, love,” said Mary.
Just as she was about to leave, a cat entered and sat at the door, staring at the girl.
“Is it yours?” She asked.
“Nah. It’s a stray cat that comes and goes,” replied the owner.
There was something about the cat that was quite uncommon. It was a grey cat with bronze eyes.
“Hello,” said Romana.
The pet didn’t reply of course, but kept on staring at her until she got tired of it and turned her attention back to the Doctor. She took his hand and squeezed it.
“Come on, wake up. I want to know what happened to you.”
The scientist didn’t react to her soft touch. She sighed and looked around. Apart from the bed and a chest of drawers, there was only a chair in the room, next to a small window. Romana took the chair and brought it next to the bed. The cat used the few seconds when she had her back turned to silently run and jump on the bed. When the Time Lady looked at the Doctor again, she paused. The grey cat was curled on his chest, purring slowly.
She remained standing, unsure about what to do. Should she take the cat away or leave it where it was? She was still hesitating when Mary came back with a cup of tea. The pub owner started to laugh when she saw the pet on the Doctor.
“He seems to have adopted your friend. It’s the first time I see him like this. Mind you, we can’t even touch the cat; he likes our house but not us. Here, love, drink this, it will warm you a bit.”
Romana took the beverage and thanked the woman who went back downstairs. She then sat on the chair next to the bed and sighed deeply. She sipped in the tea, enjoying the warm drink and she was about to let her thoughts drift away when she noticed something that made her jump on her feet. She hadn’t realised it before, but the Doctor had placed a hand on the cat’s back and was gently stroking him.
“I can’t believe this!” She said out loud. “You’re awake!”
“Of course I am,” replied the scientist, keeping his eyes closed.
“I’ve been worried sick!”
“No you haven’t.”
He smiled and slowly opened his eyes. The Time Lady didn’t know if she wanted to hug him or slap him for playing that little trick on her.
“How long have you been awake?” She asked.
“I woke up when Eccleston laid on me.”
Logic dictated that he was referring to the cat, but the fact that he had named it was a bit unnerving. The Doctor straightened to get in a sitting position, ignoring the cat’s protest.
“Eccleston is my cat. I found him a long time ago under rather unpleasant circumstances,” he explained. “Since then he seems to have made a habit of finding me at the most unexpected time.”
The Time Lord looked quite happy. He was using his scarf to play with the cat and Romana got the annoying feeling that she was going to endure the creature’s presence for quite some time.
“Can you please tell me now what happened in the cavern?” She asked.
“Oh yes, the cavern; I made a mistake.”
His companion couldn’t believe her ears. Did he just admit having been wrong? Something was definitively off. She glances suspiciously at the grey cat, wondering if he was using some kind of telepathic influence over the Doctor. The pet glanced back, his golden eyes reflecting both mischief and wisdom. The scientist didn’t take notice of the silent duel in which his two companions had engaged and went on:
“I thought that I recognised the hand of the Master behind this mystery but I was mistaken. The symbols carved on the altar looked gallifreyan but they were not. I suspect that they change shape depending on who is looking at them, acting on the neural patterns of the brain to lure their victims.”
“But how do you account for the workers who disappeared? Surely they weren’t lured into the cavern.”
“Of course not. They probably never realised that there was a passageway leading to a cavern in the first place.”
“Then how did they disappear?”
Romana was starting to lose patience. She hated it when the Doctor was showing off by retaining his knowledge on purpose, a way to force her to admit her own ignorance. Even the cat seemed to laugh at her now.
“Alright, don’t tell me. I will find out using my deduction skills.”
The scientist made a gesture meaning “be my guest” and resumed playing with his cat, much to the Time Lady’s frustration.
“We know that the workers disappeared in the section of the tunnel before the curve based on the oil lamps debris that we found. We also know that the passageway is close by. That passageway leads to a cavern where an altar with neural powers has been set. Now the power within the altar is designed to lure people into coming in contact thus allowing the energy within to bound with the victim. Am I right so far?”
“This is the easy part,” smiled the Doctor.
“Maybe, but you didn’t tell me what happened when the energy took hold of you.”
She noticed that the cat tensed a little. That was quite interesting. So the pet was linked to the scientist after all. There was no doubt in Romana’s mind that the Time Lord had been shaken by his experience in the cavern. Eccleston’s reaction just proved it.
“It tried to…”
The Doctor was searching for the right words.
“It overwhelmed me both physically and mentally like a desperate attempt to make contact. I fought it because I was surprised, because I expected someone else to be responsible. That’s why it hurt me.”
The Time Lady shivered. She could read behind the lines and she didn’t like where that conversation was heading.
“Are you telling me that this…thing…tried to communicate with you?”
The Doctor sternly replied:
“Not only with me, but also with all the workers who disappeared.”
“And it failed.”
“But you didn’t disappear.”
“No, but I’m not human. Furthermore you and the others rescued me.”
Silence fell on the room while Romana sorted her thoughts.
“They didn’t disappear, they were atomised…” She said softly. “It was too much for them, the energy from the altar simply destroyed them.”
She looked at the Doctor. He nodded. Then he took the cat in his arms and sat on the edge of the bed, ready to get up. The Time Lady put a restraining hand on his arm.
“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not going to let you do what you plan to do.”
“And what am I planning to do?” He asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
“You are going back in the cavern. You are going to communicate with the creature because you don’t know how it managed to get through the passageway. And you are going to leave me behind on the false pretext that I should look after your cat.”
The Doctor smiled, put Eccleston on Romana’s knees and got up:
“That’s so nice of you to offer to look after him. I would be really sad to lose him again, especially since we just got reunited. Thank you so much.”
And he left before Romana had a chance to protest.
Downstairs, the Doctor found William, Patrick and Sylvester who were sharing a beer at the bar with the last customers and the owners. They all were listening at the story the workers had to tell. When the scientist appeared, they stopped talking. For a brief moment no one reacted then Mary went straight to him and took his arm, dragging him towards the workers.
“Nice to see that you’re up! Your young friend was quite worried you know.”
“Was she?” Smiled the Doctor loud enough for Romana – who had come down the stairs with the cat in her arms – to hear.
The Time Lady didn’t seem very happy and the workers soon understood why when the scientist asked them to guide him back to the construction site.
“Are you out of your mind?” Wondered Sylvester. “This thing almost killed you and you want to go back there? No way.”
“You don’t understand, it’s very important that I go back; otherwise the killings shall never stop!”
“The killings? What killings?” Asked Patrick while the pub owners shared a worried glance.
The Doctor’s face reflected the seriousness of the situation:
“Your co-workers didn’t just disappear. The energy field that trapped me killed them.”
“All the more reason to stay out of those tunnels,” grumbled Sylvester.
“I believe that I know how to deal with it,” insisted the scientist.
“Liar,” thought Romana but she kept silent.
The Doctor did eventually persuade the workers to show him the way to the construction site. In fact, they gave up because he was becoming so insistent that they had no other choice. The scientist explained that he wanted to deal with their issue before the day shift started. He feared that the situation might quickly become out of hand with an extended staff in the underground tunnels.
Once they reached the main entrance to the underground site, the workers stopped.
“You don’t need to come with me,” said the Doctor.
“But I do,” said Romana. “Someone needs to keep an eye on you, just in case.”
William was about to protest but she smiled:
“Don’t worry, I’m used to mysteries and danger. Being his assistant means I get a lot of both every day.”
And sometimes even twice a day, she thought.
She was about to hand him the cat so that he could look after him while she was away, but the pet struggled and she had no choice but to let go of him eventually. Eccleston landed on his paws and went straight for the underground.
The Doctor looked helpless as his cat ran off inside the staircase and down to the underground. Romana thought that he would run after him, but he just followed on a slower pace. The Time Lady looked at the workers who seemed hesitant.
“As the Doctor said, you don’t need to come with us if you don’t feel up to,” she gently said.
“We can’t let you take all the risks,” noted William. “I’ll come with you. Patrick and Sylvester, you stay on the platform. Wait for us to come back. If we don’t, then just call for help.”
The two workers nodded.
The Doctor had already taken some advance; Romana and William had to hurry up to catch up with him. They reached the cavern and remained at a safe distance from the altar.
“Now what?” Asked the Time Lady.
“Now I make contact.”
Romana didn’t ask how he planned to do that. She knew that the only way was to trigger the red energy beam. After that, it was up to him, really. He looked at her and smiled:
“Would you be so kind as to lighten the altar?”
He then proceeded towards it casually. The easiness with which the scientist went into danger never ceased to amaze the Lady Time. She approached slowly, stretching her arm so the lamp would be at a distance from her. She certainly didn’t want to get caught in the energy beam. As soon as light touched the altar, the symbols seemed to come to life and she briefly looked at the Doctor. Eyes closed, he seemed very relaxed. Romana took a few steps back to join William as the red glow started to turn into tentacles that soon enveloped the scientist. Everything happened in utter silence. There was something rather impressive about the whole scene. Soon, the Doctor was completely enveloped and the Time Lady hoped that he knew what he was doing.
He was ready this time. When the symbols started to glow, he tried to relax as much as he could and welcomed the energy inside his mind and body. He could feel the entity trying to reach him mentally and he greeted it with peaceful thoughts.
“You’re not like the others,” said a voice in his head.
“No, because I’m not from this planet,” telepathically replied the Doctor.
“Are you in exile? Is this planet meant to be a prison for people like us?”
The Time Lord was slightly puzzled by those questions and chose to answer with other questions:
“Are you in exile here? Where do you come from?”
A pause, then:
“My people sent me here as a punishment a long time ago. It was only meant to be for a short time as I was to learn from my mistakes but they forgot about me. Centuries have passed; no one came back for me. I decided to make contact with the inhabitants and start a new life here.”
“Because you realised that this planet was inhabited when the workers started to dig the underground tunnels.”
“Yes. I didn’t realise that this wasn’t the planet’s surface. I thought that I was on an isolated planet with no lifeforms on it.”
“So you took the appearance of one of the workers and tried to communicate with the men, only you realised that it wasn’t working. Earthlings are no telepaths and your energy was too strong for them. Each time you tried, you atomised them. I wonder, why didn’t you stop trying after realising that you were destroying them?”
“I can’t take a solid form. I can only reach out as pure energy. I didn’t mean to harm those beings. I kept hoping that I would find a compatible host.”
A wave of panic briefly brushed over the Doctor’s mind.
“A host?” He repeated.
“Oh yes, I need to find a proper host in order to exist on this dimensional plan.”
“But what about the host?”
“I’m afraid that his conscience will cease to exist. I’m really sorry about that, Time Lord.”
The Doctor realised that by welcoming the entity within him, he had made not one but two mistakes. He had allowed the creature to access to his mind as well as to take over his body. The scientist needed to shield at least a part of his mind if he wanted to fight back. As soon as he tried, he felt the same agonising pain as before, when he had first encountered the entity.
“You shouldn’t fight me; it will only make things worse for you.”
“You can’t do that. You don’t know those people; you won’t be able to fit in their world.”
“Oh but I don’t want to anymore. With your TARDIS, I shall explore the universe.”
It was even worse than what the Doctor had thought. He needed to warn Romana at all costs. With great difficulties, he opened his eyes. He could see the real world through a red fog. His body felt numb and he suspected that the entity had already started working on taking over his entire being. He realised that he was unable to speak, let alone move. By the time Romana realised that something was wrong it would be too late to save him. He tried to send out a telepathic impulse, hoping that she might catch the sense of danger and react, but nothing happened, save for another wave of pain.
“Don’t fight me, Time Lord. You have my word that I will take care of your companion. I won’t harm her. Maybe she won’t even notice a difference between us. We are not a violent race you know. We just want to fit in.”
“Tell me one thing,” asked the Doctor still trying to think about a way to escape. “Why have you been exiled? What have you done? I deserve to know who is going to replace me, don’t you think?”
“Yes of course. My race decided to stop using hosts and to live as pure energy. I was against it because I want to keep sensations that only matter made beings can feel. I don’t want to be pure energy!”
The scientist cursed his bad luck. There was no point in trying to convince the entity, there was no chance that it would change its mind now that it had found the perfect host. He tried to send out another telepathic cry for help but the tentacles holding him sent electric impulse and pain disrupted his concentration.
“Please stop that. I don’t want to hurt you.”
The Doctor was running out of options and was slowly weakening.
“That’s better, just relax, it won’t take long now…”
Romana couldn’t take her eyes out of the Doctor. He looked as if he was in a trance. His features were relaxed; his attempt to contact the entity seemed to have worked. She wondered what they were talking about. The scientist suddenly opened his eyes and the Time Lady stared at him. She was almost expecting him to talk to her through the energy that kept him prisoner but he didn’t. Romana even wondered if the energy hadn’t paralysed him. She started to worry again. How could she know if everything was alright when the Doctor was in this state? She was considering coming closer to the altar and check the symbols to find any clue about how they worked when something jumped on the altar, startling her. It was Eccleston.
“Go away!” Whispered the Time Lady. “Leave him alone! Can’t you see that he is busy?”
The cat might ruin everything but Romana didn’t dare come closer to the altar. Eccleston was staring at the Doctor as if he was about to jump on him. When he did, the Time Lady let out a cry of surprise. She heard footsteps coming her way and William appeared, out of breath.
“Are you alright?”
She nodded, still looking at the Doctor. The cat had taken a grip on his scarf and was literally climbing on him to reach his shoulder.
“Ouch, that must hurt,” commented the worker.
Yet the scientist didn’t move and his face remained expressionless. That was the proof Romana was looking for. She called out his name but it didn’t work like before. The red tentacles kept their grip on the scientist. Something was definitively wrong and she had no clue as how to help the Doctor.
Unable to move or to speak, the Doctor was helpless. He saw as Eccleston jumped on the altar and kept his mind empty to hide the fact that the cat probably heard his telepathic cry for help. When Eccleston jumped on him, the Time Lord realised that his face was paralysed too. He could feel the pet’s claws despite the coat and it lasted until the cat reached his shoulder, but he was unable to express the discomfort it provoked other than mentally. The entity’s curiosity was triggered:
“What is this?”
The Time Lord remained silent, focusing on keeping his mind blank. He could feel a third presence and he guessed that it was Eccleston.
“What are you? You are similar to a Time Lord, yet you are very different. How is it possible?”
The alien was obviously talking to the pet and the scientist wondered if the cat was answering.
“So much power… and freedom…”
The entity loosened his grip on the Doctor as it focused on Eccleston.
“A perfect host…”
The voice was fading in the Time Lord’s mind. The scientist didn’t dare resuming the course of his thoughts. The cat jumped back on the altar with agility, despite the red tentacles that were now enveloping him. The Doctor tried to make a few steps towards the back of the cavern, but he was weaker than he thought. He stumbled and fell straight into Romana and William’s arms. Both managed to steady him and helped him walk to safety. William insisted upon leaving the cavern, but the scientist refused. He sat on the ground instead and witnessed the fascinating battle that was taking place on the altar.
“What is happening?” Asked Romana.
“The entity is looking for a host; it seems that I’m not as good as it hoped.”
The Time Lady and William exchanged a glance as they failed to understand what the Doctor meant.
“Those red tentacles you see are a being made of pure energy. It was trying to communicate with your colleagues, in order to host a body and fit in your society,” he finally explained to the worker.
“So it did come out the cavern?”
“Yes and no. From what I see, it’s attached to the altar and therefore can’t be entirely free. It probably stretched its tentacles to reach the tunnel and catch whoever walked by at that very moment.”
The scientist then told them why the entity had been exiled on Earth by its own people. William was having a hard time believing all what he had just heard and yet, he could see with his own eyes that there was something unnatural about the whole situation.
“Look,” whispered Romana.
Something was happening. The tentacles seemed to fade, the energy flow becoming unstable.
“Never underestimate the survival instincts of a cat…” Whispered the scientist. “The entity has found a host that proves too powerful to harness…”
A few moments later, the energy simply ceased to exist. Even the green light from the cavern faded little by little until it was totally extinct, leaving only the oil lamps to lighten the cavern. The Doctor took one and walked towards the altar. The symbols remained black.
“You shouldn’t have any more trouble from this thing. The underground is safe again… so to speak,” he smiled.
He then collected Eccleston and held him tight against him. The Time Lady had the strong impression that the cat was quite proud and satisfied.
“Are you going to take him with you in the TARDIS?” She asked suspiciously.
“What a question! Of course!”
“You can easily guess what happened next. Eccleston, Romana and K9 together in the TARDIS… Romana and K9 sticking together while Eccleston would stay with me, except when he explored the TARDIS. He was able to find his way through the corridors in no time and he even started to be my guide, saving me a lot of time when I was looking for a particular area.”
“I can imagine that Romana and K9 weren’t too happy to have such a clever companion,” I said, trying my best not to laugh.
The Doctor nodded:
“Those companions were a bit possessive. When Romana and K9 stopped talking to me to make their point, things became even more complicated. That’s when I decided to take a holiday alone.”
He turned and stared at me, smiling. I frowned. Was he trying to tell me something? It hit me suddenly:
“Is that when…?”
I couldn’t believe it.
“Yes, that’s exactly when you and I met for the first time!”
So it was true, I am a part of Eccleston’s story…