Monday, 12 March 2018

Twitter Twatter #55

February 2018

Friday, 9 March 2018

Time Shadows Anniversary Edition Interview

Time Shadows Anniversary Edition Interview
One of the 'bonus features' of the Time Shadows Anniversary Edition was a series of interviews by Jolyon Tuck.

Here they are with my answers...

Jolyon Tuck: It wasn’t until I got to the end of your story that I realised I have next to no experience of zombies in fiction – what films or books would you recommend to a newcomer to the world of the undead?

David Black: Well, I'm no expert either but Shaun Of The Dead is a great gateway drug. Night Of The Living Dead is always worth a watch, 28 Days Later is better than its reputation and The Walking Dead comics are superb. The zombies in my story, however, are not the shambling corpses of Romero films, but rather a mindless mass robbed of their individualism. More like Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers or The Faculty.
There was a Doctor Who Role-Playing Game called Time Lord and the example scenario in it called The Templar Throne. When a character sat on the throne they lost their mind, and what's more terrifying, they could never get it back. Until fairly recently I had forgotten where that came from but that concept really stayed with me. It always frustrated me that in these sorts of narratives, everyone is always so sure that with the removal of the malign influence everyone will return to normal, and they are usually correct. I decided instead that it would be the malign influence itself that sustained these people and the only way to end their misery was to end them too.

Jolyon Tuck: It’s always nice to see a base under siege – and you give the Doctor less than an hour to solve the zombie apocalypse – why do you think we love this kind of storytelling?

David Black: It's true, isn't it? A base under siege is a wonderful thing. There's something very evocative about these structures we build to protect ourselves having the opposite effect. We want to keep danger outside, we fail and trap ourselves inside with it. It's a phrase synonymous with Doctor Who to the point that no one ever uses it to describe any other fiction, but it would be a perfectly good description of the Alien films and definitely The Thing too. You can see the appeal for the budgetary concerns of episodic television, limiting the number of sets required to make the programme. For the viewer, or the reader, it provides a sense of claustrophobia that really helps the storytelling.

Jolyon Tuck: For those of us who have been Big Finish fans for years, there’s nothing unusual in a fifth Doctor and Nyssa story, to the point that it’s easy to forget that it didn’t really happen on television. What made you opt for this pairing and why do you think they work so beautifully together?

David Black: Famously Peter Davison saved Nyssa because he felt her character worked best with his. Often the relationship between Doctor and companion is one akin to teacher and pupil. You can see it with the Fourth Doctor and Leela or the Seventh Doctor and Ace, but it's present in many more. The Doctor shows his companions the universe, but with Nyssa it never seems to be about broadening her horizons by exposing her to the extraordinary. Instead their relationship, particularly in the hands of Big Finish, seems to be about revealing the universe to her one emotion at a time. In recent years, Nyssa has gained the depth that it could be argued that she lacked on television. She witnessed Event One and essentially took it completely in her stride, but she has been drawn into a more emotive show than it ever was between 1981 and 1983. It's often pointed out that the companion is the representative of the audience in Doctor Who, but Nyssa almost never fulfils that role. The Fifth Doctor has become our eyes and ears far more than other Doctors ever do, while she is more aloof and awkward than the average companion. Nyssa and the Doctor have arguably swapped those roles altogether.

Time Shadows Anniversary Edition raised money for a good cause and I would be grateful if you would consider making a donation to Limbforge, a charity that provide 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for those who need them.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Twitter Twatter #54

January 2018

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Time Shadows Interview

In order to promote Time Shadows, the editor, Matt Grady asked each of the writers a trio of questions.

Here they are with my answers...

Matt Grady: What was the inspiration for your story?

David Black: Bizarrely, The Faculty. I was in the Regent Cinema in Wantage in Oxfordshire. Don’t go looking for it, it’s not there anymore (the cinema, not the whole town). It was way back in the last century and a group of friends and I were watching The Faculty. It was one of those stubborn ideas that kept resurfacing. It’s certainly the only reason I remember The Faculty. I don’t want to say any more or I risk giving too much away.

Matt Grady: How did you settle on a choice of Doctor and/or companion for the protagonist?

David Black: I went for the Fifth Doctor, because I wanted the story to fit in with some of the bleaker elements of Seasons Nineteen to Twenty-One. I wanted an alien companion which meant Nyssa or Turlough, and the idea of a story that put Nyssa centre stage without mentioning her father really appealed to me.

Matt Grady: Between the outline and first draft, did you add or remove any plot threads, characters, etc.? Any interesting reason why?

David Black: No, it was mostly about clarifying things that weren’t as clear as they could be.

Time Shadows raised money for a good cause and I would be grateful if you would consider making a donation to Limbforge, a charity that provide 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for those who need them.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Mixed Signals

Following the demise of Time Shadows, I decided that I should post my story here.

Time Shadows raised money for a good cause and I would be grateful if you consider making a donation to Limbforge, a charity that provide 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for those who need them.

Mixed Signals
By David Black

A sea of static washed over a screen. Two words appeared over the fuzzy void and announced “signal lost.” Security Camera #45 was either malfunctioning or possibly missing altogether. The screen faded to black and then again static. Security Camera #46 was equally faulty, another “signal lost”. Again the screen went blank, before being replaced by an image of a green and lush hillside bathed in sunlight. No one was watching the feed from the cameras and so this beautiful landscape went unnoticed. Security Camera #47 had not only survived, but was providing a picture that would have been the envy of many an art gallery wall.
The image was altered for a split second with the addition of a tall blue box. It disappeared and reappeared a couple of times before it became a permanent fixture in the vista. Due to the gradient of the hill, it stood at an odd angle and cast a long shadow.

On the other side of the hill, hundreds of bodies lay scattered in what had once been an agricultural zone. They were a mass of contorted shapes, all with bared teeth, pockmarked skin, torn clothing and vacant stares. At first glance, they might not have appeared human at all and perhaps they no longer were, but each had a remnant of an earlier life. Some wore wedding rings, others ID cards. From over the hill, a faint wheezing, groaning sound came and went on the breeze. One of the prone bodies began to stir. The movement caused another prone form to stand, and another and another until some sort of grotesque ‘Mexican wave’ had worked its way across the entire group. As one they lumbered up the hill in search of the cause of the noise.

Nyssa stepped out of the TARDIS and was immediately greeted by an incline ahead of her. The transition from the orientation of the time machine to the slope of the hill caused her to walk with a slightly awkward gait until she got used to it. She wore a sandy-coloured hat atop a brown velvet ensemble. She stopped and looked around her. She decided that she would get a better view from the top of the hill and began to climb.
The doors opened again and a tall man with fair hair followed her out. He didn’t struggle with the change in perspective as Nyssa had. He stood for a moment in the sunshine with his arms outstretched. He soon made short work of the hill, quite literally taking it in his stride and was quickly at Nyssa’s side.
“Doctor?” she asked.
“Yes?” said the Doctor.
“Where are we?”
“Oh, Nyssa. Does it matter? Let’s just enjoy it for the moment.”
She felt the hat lift off her head and turned to see him putting it on.
“It is lovely,” she agreed, closing her eyes.
They stood silently listening as a slight breeze filtered through the trees.
“Right, that’ll do,” said the Doctor.
Nyssa opened her eyes and discovered that her companion had gone. She turned to see him bounding down the hillside.
“Where are you going?” she called after him.
She sighed and made her way to follow him.

The figure at the edge of the group crested the top of the hill, behind it hundreds more climbed ever onward. The sight of the incongruous blue Police Box didn’t interest it, nor did the view that spread out below. It was searching for one thing: movement. If it moves you can eat it. Below the tree line, two shapes strode down the hillside in blissful ignorance of what lay above them.

“Why this way?” Nyssa asked.
“Civilisation,” offered the Doctor.
“How do you know?”
“Well, pipes anyhow. Where there are pipes, there are buildings, and where there are buildings, there are people.”
“Where are there pipes?”
The Doctor stopped and pointed at a thin green line that ran along the grassy bank. Nyssa hadn’t noticed it before, but now that it had been pointed out, it seemed obvious.

Hundreds of bloodshot eyes focused wildly on the ground below as they searched for signs of movement. The top of the hill was now covered with unwieldy individuals. Behind them, a seething mass of other bodies inched its way upwards as hundreds more were clambering over each other to reach the summit.

They walked around the bank and Nyssa saw that the green pipe did indeed lead to a building. It was a simply decorated squat tower with round walls and a spherical object at the top.
“What is it?” she asked, before answering her own question: “Some sort of observatory?”
“Exactly!” the Doctor agreed.
Between the observatory and any potential visitors lay a large metal fence. It appeared to have been haphazardly constructed from pieces of metal repurposed from somewhere else. Upon closer inspection, Nyssa could make out doors, ladders and parts of chairs, hastily welded into a barrier which, despite its chaotic appearance, was solid to the touch.
The Doctor ran a finger along the edge of a large octagonal panel that spanned the height of the fence.
“This is the roof section for a prefabricated building. It’s definitely human in origin. An Earth colony?” he suggested.
“They don’t want anybody getting in,” Nyssa said.
“They don’t want anybody else getting in,” the Doctor corrected.
“How do you know it’s not empty?”
“Don’t look now, but you’re on camera.”
Nyssa looked up. There was indeed a camera trained on her and another following the Doctor as he moved along the fence.
“Which part of ‘Don’t look now’ didn’t you understand?”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help it.”
The Doctor carried on walking around the fence, his fingers probing its myriad pieces. He stopped at just above ground level at a jagged piece of metal that was attached to what could have been a locker door on its side.
“Now, the cameras could be automatic, of course,” he continued, “but something about the way they move makes me doubt that. If there is anyone watching us, maybe it’s time to give them something to see.”
He twisted the jagged section and the locker door fell open freely. The Doctor pushed it inward and gestured to Nyssa to go through.
She squeezed through and stood on the other side of the fence. She dusted herself off and stared up at the observatory again. The Doctor coughed pointedly. Nyssa turned to see he was still holding the door open expectantly. She lifted the door and waited as the Doctor crawled through.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever entered a building through the cat flap before,” said the Doctor.
It wasn’t a phrase Nyssa recognised. As she considered it, she absentmindedly let go of the cat flap and the door swung closed with a loud slam.

A metallic clang rang out and a torrent of twisted ungainly shapes flowed over the crest of the hill. It was as if a river of people had burst through a dam and wound its way down the hillside. As they ran down, many tripped and fell and were covered by a wave of others climbing over them. Hundreds upon hundreds of them wended their way through the picturesque landscape and round towards the observatory. The flow subsided and the once green and lush hillside was now a churned up muddy quagmire. A handful of human forms lifted themselves out of the mud and continued walking or crawling towards the source of the noise.
The Doctor was examining the walls of the observatory when he heard the first sounds signalling that they weren’t alone. He turned to see a dozen or so slavering humanoid forms round the corner and run at full pelt toward the fence. He watched as they ran straight into the barrier sparing no thought for any injury they might suffer. Nyssa winced at the noise their bodies made as they hit the fence. She saw the Doctor stand on tiptoe. Over the heads of the first few, he could see wave after wave joining them, boosting their ranks.
The small gaps in the fence were now filled. All Nyssa could see was reaching fingers and desperate staring eyes, until there was a movement by her foot. She looked down and realised that the creatures had discovered the 'cat flap'. She grabbed the inner handle and attempted to push it closed. The pressure from the other side was too much for her and some filthy arms forced their way through. The Doctor rushed to her side and sat down. He placed his feet on the door and began pushing it closed. Nyssa hit out at the anonymous probing arms, pushing them back through the hatch. The Doctor closed it and stood up. As they both backed away, they bumped into something solid. They turned around to discover three people stood in the now open observatory doorway.
Nyssa was standing very close to a woman in a purple uniform. She couldn’t identify it specifically, but she had been travelling with the Doctor long enough to interpret the signs: padded shoulders, shiny symbols on the chest and lines on the sleeve. She was in her early fifties, with very pale blue eyes and dark brown hair with a streak of grey running thorough it. She was also carrying a gun, which she used to knock Nyssa backwards into the fence. Nyssa felt fingers touching her arms and pulling her hair. She let out a shriek. The Doctor came to her aid and attempted to free her from the filthy grasping digits.
“Are they infected?” asked the woman.
“Nah,” responded the shorter of the two men.
“Is that a diagnosis, McCall?”
“Sorry. Let’s do the test.”
“All right, since it was your idea, McCall, you go first.”
McCall’s face screwed up and his eyes went skyward.
“Quickly, Mr. McCall!” ordered the woman.
“I’m thinking,” McCall replied, the frustration evident in his voice.
“Very well, Mr. Hopper, what have you got?”
Hopper, the taller of the two men leant forward and, with a slightly embarrassed tone, said “Who wrote The Dictionary of Revenge?”
“Oh, that’s a good one,” said the woman.
“What?” said the Doctor in disbelief.
Hopper repeated his question. The Doctor stared incredulously at the trio and was surprised to discover they were serious.
“Malbecca?” he offered.
“Who?” said the woman.
“Oh, perhaps she hasn’t been born yet.”
Having prized herself off the fence, Nyssa gave the Doctor a withering glance.
“I’ve got one,” said McCall. “Which song by Gold Wednesday is named after a sign of the Veltranic zodiac?”
“I don’t think I know that,” said the woman.
Nyssa could see from the blank expression on the Doctor’s face that he had no idea. She thought about the signs of Traken’s zodiac and chose one that didn’t seem too specific to her world.
“Water?” said Nyssa.
“No,” said McCall disparagingly.
Nyssa looked back at the mass of bodies at the fence. They were wedged in tight enough that some were managing to climb up and were in reach of the top of the fence.
“How many legs does a Diasophorus have?”
“Oh, oh I know this one,” said the Doctor. “Think. Think. It’s an odd number. The newborns run in circles in the springtime.”
“That’s not an answer,” said McCall.
“Correct. In you come,” said the woman.

The inside of the observatory was dimly lit. The walls were a dark grey with a stripe three quarters of the way up. It was the same shade of purple as the uniforms worn by the three people who had just welcomed them inside.
“What was that all about?” asked the Doctor.
“The test?”, said McCall. “That was to check that you weren’t infected.”
“You know, to check that you weren’t a zombie.”
There was a moment of silence as everyone reflected on that last word.
McCall sighed and continued: “Anyway, it turns out you are just rubbish at trivia questions.”
“Well, you can’t have everything,” said the Doctor before introducing himself and Nyssa.
The woman stepped forward. “I’m Captain Traci Valdez. This is Hopper, our medic, and McCall; he’s a technician.”
McCall stepped forward and crouched slightly as he asked “Is that celery? It is! He's wearing celery.”
“Hello. Hello. It’s been so long since we’ve seen anybody new,” said Hopper, ignoring him.
“The people outside, what happened to them?” asked the Doctor.
Hopper looked to Valdez, who finally asked, “You don’t know?”
“Not yet,” said the Doctor.
“Does no one else care about the celery?” said McCall, interrupting.
Valdez ignored him. “The scanner detected three heartbeats and I only count the two of you. Where’s your friend?”
“Oh, that’s me,” said the Doctor. “And me.”
Hopper aimed a scanner at the Doctor’s chest and nodded to his superior.
“Not human? And you?” said Valdez as she turned to Nyssa, who shook her head. “Maybe that explains it. Maybe you’re immune.”
“But immune to what?” asked the Doctor.
“McCall named it ‘the Wrath,’ but that’s just because he has too much time on his hands,” said Valdez.
“I hate celery. It's mostly water,” said McCall, interrupting again.
“So are you,” replied the Doctor, before turning back to the Captain.
Valdez walked the length of the corridor and said, “Well, if you’re going to eat our food, you’ve got to earn it. If you’re going to earn it, you’ve got to know your way around.”
Valdez could see the Doctor had more to ask, but wasn’t ready to answer him. “The questions can wait, Doctor. Mr. Hopper, we’d better find a couple more plates in the stores, some bedding as well. Mr McCall, give these two a tour of the facility.”
“Yes, sir!” both men barked in unison.
“I’ll be in my office if you need me,” Valdez said, departing.
McCall drew himself up to his full height. “Well, if you’ll follow me. It’s not much, but it’s ours. I like to call this the west wing. Of course, we don’t have an east wing, but it’s aspirational.” Nyssa and the Doctor followed him. Hopper sighed.

Traci Valdez sat down at the bank of screens in her office and typed into a keypad. The static and outdoor scenes were immediately replaced with indoor views of the rooms and corridors of the observatory. She watched as McCall, Nyssa and the Doctor worked their way around the facility. McCall was gesturing wildly. Always talking with his hands that man, she thought to herself. The girl, Nyssa, was continually looking around, taking in her new surroundings, while the Doctor was clearly intent on asking McCall questions. Valdez pushed another button on the keypad and the speakers blurted into life.
“So, how come you don’t know what’s been going on?” asked McCall, his voice distorted by the audio equipment.
“Well, we’ve only just arrived,” the Doctor answered.
“Where did you crash? We didn’t pick you up on the scanners.”
“Well, you wouldn’t come here on purpose.”
The Doctor was about to answer, but Nyssa interrupted him: “The Doctor’s a little embarrassed about it.”
“Oh don’t be. It’s quite common here. This whole solar system is a navigational nightmare,” said McCall.
“What is the name of this planet?” asked Nyssa.
“Crikey! How far off course were you?” said McCall slapping the Doctor on the back.
The Doctor smiled a very thin smile and then looked at Nyssa with a definite narrowing of the eyes.
“This is Bantrak,” McCall continued, “and this observatory is on the outskirts of Colony One.”
They disappeared from one screen and reappeared on another.

Nyssa walked into a room with two long tables and three chairs spread out between them. Along the far wall was a stack of chairs as tall as she was.
“This is the dining area.”
“You were saying,” prompted the Doctor.
“Oh yes, well it came out of nowhere. Month ago, there were these little outbreaks of madness.”
“Madness?” asked Nyssa.
“Colony Two was first. I was there at the time, visiting from Four.” McCall pointed to a stylised Colony 4 logo on the arm of his uniform. “I got back to Four, just in time for another outbreak to start there, so I ran. I found myself at Colony Seven; why else would anyone want to go there?” he laughed.
“I wouldn’t know,” said the Doctor
“No, I don’t suppose you would. Anyway, by the time I’d made it here, the madness had too and shortly afterwards it went global.”
Nyssa crossed the room to an arch and walked through to the next room.
“Kitchen and storeroom one,” McCall announced
“So how many of you are left?” asked Nyssa.
Hopper stepped out of the storeroom and said, “As far as we know, just the three of us. We’ve heard nothing from the outside world for weeks.” He was carrying a stack of boxes in his hands with his medical scanner wedged under his chin. “Two times knife and spork, plate, bowl, cup and hand steriliser unit.”
“Thank you,” said Nyssa.
“Yes, very hospitable,” added the Doctor.
Hopper attempted to walk around them and the boxes in the middle of the stack slipped. Nyssa quickly leapt to his rescue and steadied them.
“Can I help you with those?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah, okay. Thanks,” said Hopper.
Nyssa took the top few boxes from Hopper and handed them to a very surprised Doctor.

Valdez watched as McCall and Hopper departed one screen in opposite directions leaving the two newcomers alone. She rolled her eyes. Security was not their strong suit.
Nyssa was about to leave when the Doctor blocked her way with the boxes. She stopped and asked, “What is it?”
“Why did you tell them we’d crashed?”
“I didn’t - I told them you’d crashed.”
“Very well.”
“It was what he wanted to hear.”
Traci Valdez jumped out of her seat, grabbed her gun off the desk and ran out of the office.

McCall returned to the kitchen. “Oh, there you are. I was wondering where you’d got to.”
“Sorry. I was just helping the Doctor with his boxes,” Nyssa lied.
She turned and was relieved that the Doctor wasn’t still in earshot.
“At the end of this corridor is the transmitter room.”
As Nyssa walked through the door, she saw dozens of computer terminals and screens lining the walls. McCall stood in the centre of the room before a table with a translucent green top.
“We barely use it now, but it can still do a few interesting tricks.”
He pressed a button on the edge of the tabletop and a large green Colony 1 logo appeared in mid-air.
“A projector,” Nyssa said, a little less impressed than McCall would have preferred.
“That’s right, but it can do this.” He tapped a few more buttons and the logo was replaced by a rotating green planet with its land masses all rendered in the same shade of green.
“Bantrak?” Nyssa asked.
“That’s right.”
McCall pressed another button and seven large dots appeared across the planet’s surface, each accompanied by a loud beep. The dots morphed into cities with buildings, towers and landing areas. Lines connected the cities, depicting a mass transit system.
“Which one are we?”
McCall pressed a button and the projection zoomed in on the largest of the cities.
“There’s Colony One.”
The map zoomed in even further until Nyssa could make out the observatory itself, its fence and the surrounding horde of zombies.
“It’s real time,” McCall said. “If you look closely you can see them moving about.”
Nyssa didn’t look closely. Her gaze was focussed on a tiny but unmistakable green Police Box on the hillside.

The Doctor and Hopper had reached their destination. It was a small room with two beds, two lockers and two lamps.
“So, Mr Hopper-”
“Craig,” he replied arranging the boxes into two neat piles at the foot of each of the lockers.
“Craig. How long since you last heard from home?”
“Oh, it sometimes seems like years. I got a vidcall from my sister on my birthday, which was almost six months ago.”
“So, it’s been just the three of you for six months.”
“No, Ben – Ben McCall, arrived a little after we lost offworld communications. He tried to fix the transmitter, but nothing doing I guess.”
Hopper crossed to one of the beds and began making it.
“Hospital corners?” asked the Doctor.
“I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t sound pleasant.”
The Doctor laughed. He stopped at the sight of Valdez in the doorway, gun trained on him.
“Get behind me, Mr. Hopper.”
“Yes, sir,” said Hopper, tentatively.
He filed out of the room and into the corridor; his confused face peered over the Captain’s shoulder.
“Should I put my hands up?” asked the Doctor.
“I don’t care what you do with them,” said Valdez. “You lied to us, Doctor, and I mean to find out why.”

McCall was disappointed. Nyssa seemed to have lost interest in the real time projector and was instead looking at the other machines in the room.
“What do these do?” she asked.
“Not much. This half of the room was designed to map solar systems, to scan for possible colony sites, mining opportunities, that sort of thing.”
Nyssa looked over to where he was gesturing. The computers were sat waiting for instructions, but they weren’t actively doing anything.
“But the ones you’re stood next to are for communications,” McCall said.
She looked down at a screen and read aloud, “Status: continual transmission,” before turning to McCall. “What are you transmitting?”

Captain Valdez took another gun off her belt and handed it to Hopper, who, despite his discomfort, aimed it at the Doctor.
Valdez said, “You told us that you had crashed.”
The Doctor looked slightly perplexed.
“Told you? Oh, you were listening in. The whole place is wired for eavesdropping I take it.”
“It is?!” said an astonished Hopper, his aim wavering a little.
“Mr Hopper, contain yourself,” said Valdez.
Hopper apologised and returned to targeting the Doctor.
“Yes, I heard every word,” she continued. “If you didn’t crash, I want to know why you came here. I want to know why you broke quarantine.”
“We didn’t break anything,” said the Doctor.
“We have been broadcasting a warning that this planet is strictly off-limits to anyone in range. If you’d crashed you might not have heard it, but to have chosen to land here, you must have simply ignored it.”
“We didn’t pick up any transmissions of any sort. Landing a stone’s throw from a transmitter this size, my TARDIS would definitely have picked up your signal,” the Doctor said. “But I tell you, there was absolutely nothing.”

“So you won’t be rescued?” Nyssa asked.
“That’s what quarantine means,” answered McCall. “The Captain doesn’t want to take the risk of spreading this thing to other planets.”
McCall sat on the edge of the projection table, which distorted the image. Nyssa tried not to get distracted.
“Maybe she’s right, or maybe there’s someone out there who can fix this.”
“Maybe there’s someone in here who can fix this,” said Nyssa.
“Oh, nothing.”
The Doctor suddenly fell into the room.
“Hello Nyssa, enjoying the tour?” he asked, adopting a kneeling position.
McCall looked stunned.
Captain Valdez entered the room with Hopper in tow. She looked at Nyssa and said "Hands where I can see them" as she grabbed a chair and sat to face the Doctor.
Valdez noticed McCall's confusion and said “It transpires that these two didn’t crash here, but that they came here on purpose.”
“I wouldn't go that far,” said the Doctor.
“But you maintain there was no quarantine signal.”
Valdez turned the chair back to face the computer and pressed a button on the keypad. Her voice filled the room as a recording played: “Warning. This planet has been placed under quarantine and access is strictly forbidden. Warning. This planet has bee–“
She silenced the recording at the press of a button.
The Doctor stood up and Hopper raised his gun hesitantly. The Doctor stared at the screen in front of the Captain. “And this is supposed to be broadcasting on all frequencies?”
“On all frequencies and in all available languages,” she replied.
“And yet, it can’t be.”
“Doctor, this is pathetic. The logs are here for all to see.” She pressed another button on the keypad. The Doctor studied the information that appeared on the screen.
“If this information were true, we would definitely have received this in the TARDIS. I tell you this transmission never left this room.”
Nyssa looked over at Hopper and then at McCall; both were watching the Doctor intently. Then something drew her attention. Over McCall’s shoulder, Nyssa could still see the projection. She watched as an army of tiny green zombies broke through the fence and swarmed the main door.
“Captain, I think we have a bigger problem,” she said with surprising calm.
Valdez directed a scowl toward Nyssa, but her face went pale as she caught sight of the projection. The zombies at the front of the pack were penned in and those at the back were climbing over them.
“Will the doors hold?” asked the Doctor.
“I don’t know, but I’m more worried about that,” said Valdez, indicating the window over the main door. “Hopper, with me. We’ll barricade the main door and attend to the second floor window.” She turned to McCall. “You guard these two.” She and Hopper left the room.
“Nyssa, stay here,” the Doctor said, as he looked briefly at McCall, then headed after the Captain and Hopper. McCall made no effort the stop him. Nyssa crossed the room to get a better view of the projection table.
“Well,” said McCall “This is awkward.”

Valdez watched as Hopper carried a large crate down the corridor and regretted not picking it up herself. She was all too aware of the noise made by the unwieldy table she was dragging along the floor. Suddenly, she felt the load lighten considerably and the table fell silent. She glanced over her shoulder to see the Doctor carrying the other end of the table.
“I thought I told you to – oh, never mind.”
“You’re welcome,” said the Doctor.
Once at the door, she studied it intently, looking for signs of stress. She was relieved to discover that there were none.
The three of them made short work of fortifying the door, and Valdez directed the other two to a ladder set into the wall. Hopper climbed first, then the Doctor at the Captain’s insistence. When she joined them at the top, Hopper was already emptying crates and handing them to the Doctor.
“Good work, Hopper,” she said.
She clambered from the ladder and onto the hexagonal floor. It occurred to her that this part of the observatory jutted out over the main door. She wondered just how many zombies were beneath her.
The Doctor was piling the crates and boxes up in front of the window as the glass smashed and an arm came through. A filthy hand grabbed the Doctor’s shoulder and pulled.

Nyssa gasped as a little green Doctor emerged from the window, hauled out by the zombie at the top of the pile.
“Oh, no!” said McCall.
“I can’t watch,” said Nyssa, without turning away.
The little green rendering of the Doctor was pulled back inside by another pair of arms, but one of the zombies was drawn in as well.
Nyssa wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not.

“Fall back!” yelled Valdez.
Hopper didn’t need telling twice and he was bounding down the ladder two or three rungs at a time. Valdez soon followed with the Doctor bringing up the rear. He had climbed down about half way, when it occurred to him that no one was following him. He paused on the ladder.
The Captain shouted, “Come on Doctor! We haven’t got time for this.”
The Doctor began climbing up the ladder again.
“Wrong way, Doctor!” said Hopper at the top of his lungs.
“Oh, this is ridiculous!” said Valdez.
“Well, you’ve come this far, Doctor,” he said to himself as he reached the top. He peaked over the edge. The zombie that had been pulled inside lay on the hexagonal floor. The Doctor could see no movement. He could still hear the groans of the zombies outside, but nothing more immediate.
He climbed up off the ladder and onto the hexagonal floor. The zombie lay on the floor. It was completely motionless. He moved slowly and nudged it with his toe. Nothing happened. Feeling distinctly braver, he crouched down next to it and felt for a pulse.
“I’m not sure if your heart was beating before, but it certainly isn’t now,” he told the Zombie atop the heap.

McCall was talking. A lot. Mostly about himself. Nyssa decided that as he liked the sound of his own voice she would let him talk. She sat down at the computer transmitting the quarantine message and glanced at the screen. Steering with her feet, she wheeled her chair around to the next machine. It appeared to monitor power consumption. She wheeled to the next one, pushing another chair out of the way. It was running something called “Program 1.” She looked over at McCall. He was still talking, something about his siblings. He was using the projection table’s keypad to zoom out. The observatory grew smaller and smaller, before it became indistinguishable among the landscape.
Nyssa reached for the keypad and selected “Define Program Parameters.” The screen changed. The columns of numbers told her everything she needed to know about Program 1. She looked back at the first computer prominently displaying its transmission data. Much of the same data was on the screen in front of her now. Program 1 was transmitting.
Nyssa checked on McCall; he had zoomed out until he could see the entire planet, and then further. The planet was joined by others and soon the entire solar system was displayed. She reached for the keypad, but snatched back her hand as the edge of the table exploded in a blast of sparks.
She looked at McCall. He looked back, gun in hand.

Valdez and Hopper waited at the bottom of the ladder and were both visibly relieved to see the
Doctor return. As he descended, the Captain berated him for his stupidity.
“You can court martial me later,” he said, reaching the bottom. “For some reason this building is safe.”
“What do you mean, safe?” asked Valdez.
“The zombie that was pulled in after me is dead. Or rather deader. It climbed in through the window and promptly died on the spot.”
“It’s true. This observatory of yours is the safest place on the planet.”
The three of them heard the gunshot.

“What is Program 1?” Nyssa asked through gritted teeth.
“Never you mind,” answered McCall before erupting in laughter. Nyssa didn’t know what was supposed to be funny.
Captain Valdez appeared in the doorway, followed by the Doctor and Hopper.
“What is going on here, Mr. McCall?”
McCall maintained his gaze of Nyssa. “I caught her trying to sabotage the transmitter.”
“She’s running some sort of program.”
“It’s a lie,” said Nyssa.
The Doctor stepped around Valdez and produced a pair of spectacles from his jacket pocket. Putting them on, he looked over Nyssa’s shoulder at the computer screen.
“Oh, now this is very interesting.”
“What is?” asked Valdez.
The Doctor turned to face her. “There’s your transmission, Captain, but it’s not a quarantine warning and it’s not audio.”
“It’s not what?”
The Doctor pointed at a column of ever changing digits.
“You see these numbers here?”
“I do, but for all I understand them, they might as well be hieroglyphics.”
“They correspond to human brainwaves,” the Doctor explained. “This signal has been transmitted directly into the minds of every man, woman and child on this planet.”
“Why did she do it?” asked McCall.
“Nyssa is capable of a great many things, but this? No. This all started long before we arrived.”
“We only have your word for that,” McCall said quickly.
The Doctor walked around the back of the projection table. “True, but by your own admission you were present at the first occurrence, and the second and the third.”
Valdez levelled her gun at McCall.
“And then you came here – an enormous transmitter capable of spreading this affliction far and wide, even into a planetary orbit, but crucially a building that was insulated by a field designed to nullify the effect of superluminal transmissions.”
Hopper looked puzzled.
“It’s the reason why, when those poor creatures finally got what they wanted, when they got inside, it killed them. You chose this place, because you knew you would be safe inside. And then in your pride you named it, you called it the ‘Wrath.’ Well, Mr. McCall, I name you.”
“Why?” Valdez whispered.
McCall drew himself up to his full height and took a deep breath. “Because I could. Because I worked and worked and never got any credit for it. Because when I realised that, with a little tweak, the transmitted signals could be received by the brain, I knew it had to be done. I had to prove it could be done.”
“No, you really didn’t,” said the Captain.
McCall ignored her. “I travelled to Colony Two to experiment with a mobile transmitter and it worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. But there was no gratitude when I saved the colonists from a zombie attack. It was the same with my home town and again at Colony Seven. But I’d heard about this place. With this place, I could take a localised phenomenon and put it on the world’s stage. I could have an army of zombies that were mine.”
“What would you want with an army?” asked Nyssa.
“To do my bidding. My bidding wasn’t being done.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed, they’re hardly compliant,” said the Doctor.
“Well,” he sighed “I was working on that.”
“Mr. McCall, lower your weapon,” ordered Valdez.
Valdez pulled her trigger and shot McCall in the hand. He screamed in pain and swapped the gun to his other hand. McCall threw it at her awkwardly as he fled from the room. He missed and it clattered to the floor.
“Should we go after him?” Hopper asked.
“What would be the point?” said Valdez.

McCall ran down the corridor as fast as he could. When he reached the main door, he fought his way through the table blockade. Undoing the latch, the door swung inwards, and McCall fell backwards as the zombie horde tumbled through the opening. McCall stood and struggled out into the daylight. He was surrounded by zombies. Hands clamped around his legs and dragged him down to the ground.
“No, it’s me.” He screamed.

The mood in the transmitter room was sombre. It was Nyssa that finally broke the silence.
“So what happens if we cut the signal?” she asked.
“Well, without the signal they would revert to their natural state,” the Doctor answered.
Valdez smiled. She looked at the Doctor.
“Everything would go back to normal?” asked Valdez.
The Doctor took a sharp intake of breath. “Well, it depends on your definition of normal. I don’t want to get your hopes up.”
Nyssa twisted her chair around to face the computer. She picked up the keypad and selected “End Program.” Her finger hovered over the button.
“All I need to know, Doctor, is that there is a way to fix this,” said the Captain.
The Doctor took off his spectacles and replied “Captain, the people of this planet are gone and there is no way to put them back the way they were,”
“You’re saying they won’t be themselves.”
“I’m saying they died. They have some motor function, but no personality, nothing that made them who they were.”

McCall crawled forward through the mass of writhing bodies and got to his feet once more outside. He managed four steps before his mind was ripped apart. No life flashing before his eyes, no profound last words. His very being dissipated. His mind was gone and his body became a growling, slavering vacant soldier in an army with no general.

The discussion between the Doctor and Valdez continued. Nyssa caught Hopper’s eye. He looked down at the keypad in her hand and then met her gaze again. He nodded.
Nyssa pressed the button. Behind her, hundreds of little green figures fell to the floor of the projection.
This was replicated outside as the zombie army fell like puppets with their strings cut. Hundreds of anonymous corpses littered the ground. Nyssa put the keypad down and sat back in her chair.
Valdez screamed “No! They’re dead. They’re all dead.”
“I know.” said Nyssa.
“What? You know?”
“The Doctor said they were already dead. Program 1 was the only thing keeping them moving. Surely, it’s better this way. Would you have preferred to have lived your whole life trapped? Aren’t they better off this way?”
“That wasn’t your decision to make.”
“Maybe not, but I made it.”
Valdez sat on a computer chair and buried her head in her hands.

The walk back to the TARDIS was a quiet one. The Doctor didn’t say anything until the time machine was in sight. “I offered Valdez and Hopper a lift home, but the Captain wasn’t interested.”
Nyssa nodded.
“She was most insistent.”
“I heard.”
The Doctor produced a key from his back pocket and opened the TARDIS door. He gestured for Nyssa to enter in a manner which reminded her of the observatory’s ‘cat flap’.
“After you”, she said.

Hopper watched the Doctor and Nyssa walk across the projection of the hillside and step into a green cubicle. It disappeared, reappeared and disappeared again.
“I checked the scan, sir. They were only here for forty-five minutes,” he said.
“Three-quarters of an hour later and the world is over,” said Valdez
She picked up a keypad and began to type. She held it to her mouth and pressed a button to record.
“Mayday, this is an SOS. This is Captain Traci Valdez, one of only two survivors on the planet Bantrak, coordinates attached. We are requesting emergency evacuation.”


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Friday, 23 February 2018

Twitter Twatter #53

All of the December Twitter posts that weren't related to The Star Trek Challenge or Christmas Cracker jokes: