It's Sunday again and time for another part of my Doctor Who fanfic. I said at the beginning this would be four parts but this didn't feel like the end. So it turns out this will be five or six parts. (Part I can be found here, Part II can be found here, and Part III can be found here).
"The New Model Tomb"
The Doctor looked at Rob. “Mr. Fenner, would you like a lesson in geothermal engineering? Do say yes. We may survive if you do!”
“What do I do?” said Rob without hesitation. The Doctor nodded. She marched off to the left, past the two cowering Aeons, and motioned for Rob to follow her. Meanwhile, enough of the red liquid had poured out to completely fill the cavity outside the glass wall.
“There may not really be a volcano,” the Doctor explained while hurrying down a corridor. Rob struggled to catch up as steam pushed him from either side. Fast clouds of steam like cannon smoke flashed across his vision while the gleaming metal walls here and there were obscured in hot, roiling, white vapour. “This is all . . .” the Doctor waved her hand vaguely. “You know how a water mill works? The water turns the wheel?”
“Yes,” said Rob. “There's a wheel being turned by the red water?”
“That red water is in fact stone. Stone so hot that it's melted like iron in a forge. Many planets are filled with it, including Earth. All this steam you see--” she waved her hand “--is from a cooler liquid hitting the melted stone, like water in a forge. The steam pushes the wheel, or wheels, which we call turbines.”
They came now to a large, dark room with myriad flashing blue and yellow lights. The Doctor stopped and briefly turned to face him. “The advancement you see at work here,” she said as she resumed her brisk walk, “is twofold. Instead of water, the system uses a substance that remains—well, let's say a better sort of water. And also, the melted rock is conducted to power stations by the aqueducts you saw. Here.” She pointed at a pair of enormous, parallel, glowing tubes, each about the width of a rowboat. “It works marvellously, most of the time. It seems there's been a breach somehow, as you saw. This melted stone is now filling a failsafe reservoir but if we don't redirect it soon it will overflow and destroy, eh, everything. So.” she hastily removed her velvet coat and Rob saw her shift was soaked with sweat. He realised now his own shirt was, too. The Doctor rolled up her sleeves and grasped a large metal wheel on the wall and tried to turn it. Her face reddened with the exertion and she grunted but the thing wouldn't budge. Rob reached over her head to the top of the wheel and she moved aside, ducking under his arm. He pushed now and the thing slowly started to move.
“A quarter turn,” said the Doctor, breathlessly. It wasn't so different from turning the helm in rough weather.
A sound like an enormous door slamming echoed throughout the chamber from somewhere behind the wall.
“Okay, that's well,” said the Doctor, her lips spreading in an involuntary grin as she indulged in sailor talk. “Now I'm afraid we need to go down into the bilge.” Her voice dropped dramatically on that last word. She started over to a round hatch on the wall, pointing at a lever beside it as she talked. “The automatic systems designed to coordinate rerouteing the molten rock have broken or have been meddled with.”
Rob grasped the lever, its rubber grip sticking on his sweaty hands, and pulled it. The hatch swung open slowly.
“Mr. Fenner, I must warn you now . . .” To Rob's surprise, she now put one of her small, slender hands on his cheek. “If we go down there, we may be buried beneath several hundred tonnes of burning stone.” Since he'd met her, he'd been struck by her sharp eyes, always restless, making quick, precise movements. It was a face that could scarcely conceal a tireless, compulsive intellect. He'd seen mothers and young maidens caress the faces of their men in just such a manner as the Doctor did now. But while Rob didn't doubt her sincerity, he could tell the gesture was the product of calculation and study. Some men might have found this off-putting, even infuriating. Rob didn't mind it. He felt he understood somehow.
“I don't know this country well enough,” said Rob. “But if you see it as worth risking your life for, then I'll follow you.”
The Doctor reacted with a thin smile. “Well—all right.” She ducked into the hatch and he went in behind her.
A vertical ladder led into hot darkness, the steam about them serving as the sole illumination as it carried diffuse light from the room above. Gradually, Rob became aware of the steam turning red from a light growing below. He realised now they were in a thin shaft, something that became clearer as it opened up about them to reveal a massive chamber awash in red.
The Doctor sprang off the ladder, stumbled slightly, then got to her feet and started running. Rob did likewise, managing to catch up to her with his longer stride . . . but slowed as he took in the awesome sight of the glowing liquid, red mottled with yellow and black, flowing above him, on the ceiling.
“They must have some lovely hot springs around here,” said the Doctor, rapidly pressing buttons now on a panel as Rob caught up to her. “Right! I want you . . .” she looked up, squinting. Instead of finishing her sentence she started walking briskly again, stopping beside a podium. Rob saw the floor here stopped and there was a remarkable river of shining liquid, reflecting the red from above but not the same substance in itself. The light glinting off it nearly blinded him.
“And that's not working either,” said the Doctor, grimacing at the podium. “There should be a bridge . . .” Now he followed her eyes to a series of thin metal planks across the river a few yards upstream. She walked up to one and put her foot on it, her nice black heel clacking loudly on the metal. She shrugged. “It's a little wobbly. But we've got our sea legs.”
She gathered up her skirts and started walking, slower than before but faster than he thought she really ought to. He hurried to follow her, as much to catch her if she lost her balance as to get across himself.
“I really did meet Oliver Cromwell, you know,” she said.
“What?” It took a moment for the words to make sense, being so out of context, “What—what makes you tell me this now?”
“I met him in Ireland,” she said. “With his New Model Army. Were you in the army?”
“No,” he watched her feet, one in front of the other, with perfect balance. “I was a seaman throughout the wars.”
“He's a complicated man, Cromwell. A man of firm principle but not the zealot some make him out to be. An intelligent man. But he presided over a slaughter in Drogheda. Of routed men, women, and children.”
Rob didn't say anything. They were almost to the other side. He felt the plank beneath him, its centre of gravity. He had no trouble walking it except the glimmer off the strange river below him was worse than any reflection of the sun off the sea. It was easier to watch the Doctor than look down at his own feet. “I hadn't heard about that,” he said finally.
“I don't imagine you would have,” said the Doctor, jumping lightly off the plank and onto the floor of a large sort of alcove filled with a variety of cabinets, each with glowing buttons and screens. “My point is . . . take care whom you follow.”
“I know that, Doctor,” said Rob.
A door opened at the back of the alcove and a black man in his twenties with a cleft chin, sweat pouring down his face, leaned against the doorway and looked at the two interlopers in alarm. “Who the hell are you?”
“I'm . . . ” began the Doctor. She stopped as his eyes immediately focused on one of the panels. The man was an Aeon and Rob could hear his wiry helmet clicking over the ambient roar of the red river above. He staggered to one of the panels, he seemed exhausted. He flicked one switch and then his arm seemed to be sapped of strength for a moment and he accidentally hit three other switches as his arm fell across the controls. There was a low hum that dropped quickly in tone before disappearing.
“I'm the Doctor,” she began again, coming to his side and rapidly pressing a series of buttons. He leaned against the wall, watching her hands in amazement, breathing heavily.
“The . . . sector 30—the coils in sector 30 must . . . must be active for the yeodrogen to flow—to . . .” he winced.
“Rob, I need you to pull the green levers on the panel over on that wall,” she pointed. He nodded and immediately did so. Over the next few minutes she gave him instructions while the exhausted Aeon watched them, astonished. Gradually, the alarm sounds died down and generally Rob had a sense of things being put back in order. The Aeon leaning against the wall was looking more and more relieved.
Finally the Doctor released a breath and stepped back. She turned to look at Rob and smiled, laughing a little. He smiled too.
“Wait!” said the Aeon, struggling to stand. Rob immediately went to help him up. “You're a Doctor? My father--”
“Where is he?” asked the Doctor. The Aeon pointed at the door he'd come through and Rob helped the man walk behind the Doctor as he directed her down a few corridors to a smaller room filled with screens and two chairs. One of the chairs was tipped over and on the ground was an older black man, breathing heavily. He was awake, watching them warily, and Rob could see his leg was twisted under him. Beside him was a small open case filled with what Rob assumed were surgeon's tools. Rob helped the Doctor move the man's leg out from under him carefully. “Hello,” she said, smiling at him as she began to cut open his pant leg with a small knife from her pocket. She took a small white tube from the nearby case and from it began to squeeze a clear gel which she rubbed into his swollen, misshapen, black and purple shin. “I'm the Doctor. What happened here?”
“Where's your helmet?” said the old man, suspiciously.
“Dad, she got the whole system up and working again,” said the young man leaning against Rob.
“She's not a medic?” asked the old man, seeming positively offended by the sight of the Doctor's bare forehead.
“Oh, I've been a compulsive student in my time and seem to have amassed a variety of expertises,” she said as though it were the most trivial of comments.
“Where's your helmet?” he asked again, sounding angrier.
She started putting small metal disks in a row on the man's injury. “What exactly happened here?” she asked.
“There was a failure on the upper row of the northeast arm complement,” explained the younger man. “Once they stopped, eight cables snapped on the conveyors which were still moving on that side.”
“How did that happen?” asked the Doctor.
“We still don't know,” the younger man looked uncomfortable.
“What happened,” said the old man, trying to rise up, “is some joker played a prank and took out all the old—the old works and put a bunch of nonsense in the top floor of the north building. Hank and I have no business with this fool equipment, whatever it is.”
“Ah ha,” said the Doctor, raising an eyebrow as she finished up by spreading a white bandage across the man's leg. “There, that should do.” She started to help the man stand up but he held up his hand.
“I'll sit a while, if you don't mind, 'Doctor',” he said.
She shrugged, “All right, if you're comfortable. How long have you two worked here?”
“My dad has been head engineer in this station for forty years,” said Hank, the younger man. “I installed the engineering data too and became an engineer eighteen years ago.”
“How old were you?” asked Rob.
“I was ten, the usual age,” he said, looking more comfortable.
Rob nodded. “That's about the time I first went to sea.”
Hank looked confused. “You two don't seem like Wanters.”
“I'm always wanting things,” said the Doctor. “I could do with a cup of tea for starters.”
There came a sound of many footsteps in the corridor outside followed very quickly by the appearance of Detective Inspector Marwat. She was accompanied by a dozen Aeons carrying white and silver rifles.
“The Aeon State orders the Doctor and her companion to submit to immediate arrest!” cried Marwat, trembling as she said it. Her commanding tone was at odds with her whole demeanour. Rob felt like if he took but one aggressive step in her direction she would immediately run in terror. “Put your hands on your heads!”
The the Doctor languidly complied, placing her palms lightly on top of her voluminous hair. Rob put his hands on his head as Hank pulled away from him with a look of sudden comprehension on his face.
“May I know on what charge?” asked the Doctor.
“You are charged with poisoning the data implants and sabotaging the power station!” said the Inspector, trying to hold back a sob.
“Now wait a minute,” said the old man, slowly rising from the floor. “I thought this Doctor here saved the station.”
“Analytics show the likelihood of the Doctor being the saboteur in the 80 to 85 percent range,” said Hank, firmly. “It's in folder four thousand two hundred six B.”
“Can't you see it?” the Inspector asked the old man plaintively.
The old man blinked rapidly, looking away, unable to respond or meet her gaze.
Hank leaned in close to Inspector Marwat's ear, causing her to recoil reflexively. “He's been poisoned,” he said in a low voice. The Inspector's eyes widened in terror.
A young white man with blotchy skin, one of the guards accompanying the Inspector, approached her from her other side and said, “Inspector, it's 16:50.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Right, okay. You can go home just as soon as we get the prisoners into a car.”
“I was just saying I want tea!” said the Doctor, delighted.
The inspector drew her gun and pointed it at the Doctor. “We don't want anything!” she shrieked. “Now you will remain silent and come with us!”
TO BE CONTINUED