It would have been a good day for laughter. My sense of derision has a fast-route to my sense of humour, and positively travelling at light speed when confronted with a brightly-coloured male cheerleader, an unfinished demon, a ghost, and a dwarf, accompanied by an oversized owl.
Oh yes. I watched its party trick, at long last. Unnamed Owl went from regular to XXXXXL with no break in between. Anyone blinking at the right moment would have believed another owl had materialised.
And all of them taking themselves so 100% seriously. I couldn’t wait to witness what all of their respective “superpowers” turned out to be. I would have loved to giggle myself into regeneration. Which, given the previous 12 uses, I’d have been fine with.
But my first proper, full-bodied laugh in ages was choked and chucked into the fire in the instant we stepped off the ship. I was flanked on all sides – Captain and AD in front, Spark Plug and Ethereal either side, massive owl behind. Whatever landing bay or docking station we’d entered, it was lit very marginally by the internal glows of the Riptide. Beyond that short radius of light, the room was entirely dark.
I stepped off the access hatchway onto a surface of smooth, clean metal, and instantly froze – then got enveloped by a soft belly when the owl didn’t stop fast enough.
“Turn back,” I said, quietly, once free of feathers. I sniffed the air. It wasn’t fresh. Smelt faintly of ozone and oxidizing metal, like an atmosphere heavy with old pennies.
CS: “Problem, Timelord?”
“Are you absolutely, entirely certain, that this is where you’re meant to be?”
AD went to grab me, thought better of it, and gestured to get walking again. I refused to move.
“Because I don’t know what undesirable types you’ve survived during your travels through the under-cities of the universe, but I can tell you that this,” I knocked a foot against the floor, “is a Dalek ship.”
The floor was gently humming, alive with static electricity. A distant and dull woom-woom echoed through the walls, to punctuate the shared, digital heartbeat of several thousand death machines. No other ship makes that noise*.
My use of the five-lettered D word had merited an overwhelming lack of reaction.
“You must have heard of them?”
SP: “‘Course we ‘ave.” The dwarf punched behind my left knee and I took an unwilling step forward.
“Then you know what they are? What they’re capable of?”
AD: “I’ve seen worse.” A very pointed look came my way.
CS: “We have had little time to contemplate their existence, having been preoccupied since our introduction……two years ago?”
Our landing bay suddenly wasn’t quite as dark. More than a dozen, eye-level blue lamps switched on in unison against the blackness. They cast little light of their own. Not nearly enough to see the rest of them.
Darkness truly can be populated by nightmares.
I spoke barely above a whisper. Their acoustic range is incredible and infallible, but, old habits. “Please. Listen to me. Get back in your ship, and run. As many tears as it takes.”
SP: “Yer call tha’ beggin’ fer yer life?”
“No. I’m doing this to save yours.”
UO: “Hoo?” I noted that the larger owl had a deeper voice.
“I’ve been requested by the Daleks. To kill me, most likely, and that’s fine. Probably even justified. But you’ve heard the phrase ‘don’t shoot the messenger’?”
No-one moved, and yet, I would swear I felt a distinct shift in doubt. No member of CAUSE could look anyone else in the eye.
“Please. Go. I’ll stay with them, accept whatever hand I’ve been dealt – as always – and you get to leave. Live the rest of your lives telling people that you outran the most dangerous race in the universe.”
AD: “We did better than that.”
I met the Demon’s gaze, and they glared back.
AD: “We kidnapped one.”
“Listen to me!” I raised my voice, and the silence. It could not settle back. The room was then filled with whirring motors, and the blue lamps drew smoothly closer. “Daleks don’t make deals!”
CS: “Perhaps not with the likes of you.”
He turned to address our audience. One of them had broken ranks and glided into the meagre light, revealing the pepper-pot design which every Timelord knows all too well. Gleaming bronze and gold coloured metals, eyestalk, dome lamps, egg whisk and sink plunger. Literal recipe for disaster.
CS: “You may inform your leader that the Timelord known as Homeless Helper has been acquired.”
The rest of the blue lamps grew ever closer and thus slightly larger. The room was then intermittently illuminated by their flashing dome bulbs.
“YOU WILL FOLLOW.” An orchestra of chainsaws on chalkboards then twisted into speech. Never fails to set my teeth on edge and my eardrums on fire.
As a bizarre unit of six, we started to walk again. Whatever was due to happen, I wanted CAUSE to realise they’d brought it upon themselves.
Then again, Daleks are masters of helping their victims realise that on their own…
* I did stress the importance of learning ships by their interior.