Saturday, 19 May 2018

Ghost watch

We’d been there for hours; hours of mind-numbing boredom: so much for the haunted house of Haywards Heath; so much for the local branch of the Sussex Spirit’s Society; so much for my first attempt at organising an all-night vigil. I prayed for something to happen; practically sold my soul for a paranormal encounter. Be careful what you wish for; by morning three of us would be dead; the rest irrevocably changed. One thing’s for sure, none of us would doubt the veracity of the Spirit world again.

Fed by an unhealthy obsession with horror films and programmes like Most Haunted, I wanted to set up my own paranormal investigation Meet-up group. I’d been to several ghost evenings run by other organisations but often found them to be contrived, fake and very unrewarding. A lot of money spent on props and technology with lots of people jumping at their own shadows and very little actual research into what they were looking for. God knows what would have happened should they have actually found it!
They were less inclined to keep open minds and saw it as an excuse to prove to everyone else how much of a medium they were (to me they were all medium); when in actual fact they were just charlatans.
To my mind you didn’t need technology; just sensitive people who were open to the paranormal. You also needed someone who didn’t believe (or who demanded proof over supposition), someone that could keep their feet firmly on the ground.

I advertised on Meet-Up and carefully vetoed those people who wanted to join. Out of thirty people I selected just five to go along with me on this first nights vigil.
Elspeth was pale, in the wrong light it was possible to mistake her for a ghost. She was quiet; unassuming (to a point) but full of moral objections and constantly sought the higher ground. She was a vegan and saw that as the backbone to her extreme sensitivity; in her own words she wasn’t sullied by dead flesh.
John was the complete opposite. His voice were darkly hued, rich and almost mellow; he had the ability to relax and calm almost any situation down just by talking. It helped that he was well over six foot tall with an athletic physique. He was the cynic in the team… well, that wasn’t strictly true. He wanted to believe but also wanted proof not some flowery language about ectoplasm or pseudo-scientific bull. Consequently he did not get on well with Elspeth; there was no middle ground between them.
Nor did he get on well with James either; and I could quite understand why: James was very full of himself; he had the contacts; the know-how and the expertise. It was James that secured the venue –which had remained derelict for quite some time before we walked in. James did everything to excess and it showed; a firm believer in his own hype and nor did he suffer fools gladly. (Of course, those so-called fools were the ones that either disagreed with him or disbelieved him.)
Rachel’s surname was Bland and that pretty much summed her up; unassuming in every way, no curves to her personality. She was unsure about the paranormal; she was interested in it but was uncommitted in that as she was in everything else. She was to be my control.
Veronica had had a few paranormal experiences and wanted to know more; this was her first time on a ghost hunting expedition and had high hopes. I didn’t want to disappoint her.
Although James had picked the venue I did my own background check on it and had to agree that it was the perfect place to hold our first investigation; plenty of spirits we could get in contact with, so I arranged for us to meet and, as luck would have it, we fixed the date for Halloween itself.
Everyone was excited, except for me as I had a lot riding on it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could pull something off like this and finally become a success. I think that’s what blinded me in the end and put so many people’s lives at risk.
I arrived at 8.30pm and made sure that everything was set up: tables and chairs for each of the rooms; drinks and food; walkie talkies for each of us. The toilet didn’t flush but I’d brought enough water to even deal with that eventuality
James was, unsurprisingly, the first to arrive. He’d brought his Ouija board and, although I’d expressly forbidden any technology, his EVP recorder. “It’s pretty much my money that’s financing this little venture; I found out about this place so you’re going to have to indulge me, aren’t you?”
Unsurprisingly all the women came together: strength in numbers, especially when dealing with the occult; and John arrived last.
We’d set our base of operations in the kitchen-dining area; James had already set things up with the Ouija board in the centre of the room and chairs placed around it. Rachel was the first person to talk: “So why have you kept so much of this a secret?”
“Yes, you only told us where we were going this afternoon.” John agreed.
“I didn’t want any of you to have any pre-conceived ideas of where we were going. I don’t want this event to be ruined by prejudice or ego. I also don’t want you to worry yourself unduly –which you might have done if you knew the history (which I’m sure a couple of you do now).” I explained. “This has to be approached in a completely detached and unemotional way; leave your ego’s at the door please, there’s no place for them here. Let your ego get in the way and you may jeopardise my goal tonight or even put us all at risk.”
“Just what are your goals, Michael?” Elspeth asked. I sighed. Out of all the people I picked for this evening I knew that Elspeth would prove the biggest problem; she had an ego bigger than the whole group combined –and that included James as well!
“Ok; I will… and I’ll explain why I picked this place tonight… Sorry.. we picked.” I felt James bristle at my choice of words but he didn’t rise to it. “The two failings of all the ghost hunting programmes and expeditions is that they’re either staged or done for the wrong reasons. People are too interested in the glamour; they don’t care about actually communicating with those that have passed over. To them it’s the spectacle; the thrill of being frightened; the hype and excitement. They’re not disciplined and become frightened by their own shadows or the slightest noise.
“What’s more, they pay money for the experience and so the things are staged –either with confederates or with carefully scripted episodes. Don’t forget suggestibility plays a large part in these things. But…” I paused and tried to gauge whether people understood me. All but James and Elspeth were paying close heed. James just wanted to play with his toys and Elspeth just wanted a chance to show off her skills. “what have they missed due to their blinkered expectations? Note that the questions are always ‘Did you hear that? It sounded like a….’ which is more likely to elicit a similar response rather than a ‘what do you think that was?’ which is an open question and will allow more debate, and is more likely to be debunked.”
Veronica put her hand up, wishing to speak. “That I understand, Michael; but why choose here of all places? You must know the history.”  I looked at James before replying.
“Yes, I’ve lived here long enough and actually used to live in this very road, although I never met the residents. Note that I didn’t tell you their name. If you do happen to know I trust you to be discrete. By not knowing all names become equal and should you hear anything at all you won’t be trying to fit it into something that is already present in your mind.
“The history of this place goes back many years. A white witch used to live here, believe it or not. This is going back between the wars and she lived here for years, and was accepted by the community. Then in the ‘60’s, before the summer of love and freak power, the house was broken into and she was murdered. Some people say she put a curse on the house but how is that viable or even verifiable? I tell you this so you understand the type of thing we are working against: hyperbole, gossip, fiction. Though we can’t call this a scientific investigation I would still like to treat it as such.
“The place remained derelict for a few years before a young couple moved in. They lived here for three years before she became pregnant and the girl was actually delivered here. They seemed very happy for the first five months then, whether it was because of post-natal depression or mistreatment by the husband, she took the lives of both her daughter and husband by exsanguination; she’d drugged her husband with whiskey and sleeping tablets.”
“That’s horrible..” Rachel said, trying hard to hold back the tears.
“Another family moved in a few years after.” I continued. “They were expecting, but the child was still born… and when they moved out the house remained as you see now.”
“If I had known this beforehand there’s no way I would have joined you.” John snapped, making a move to leave.
“You don’t strike me as the reactionary type, John.” James replied. John whirled around.
“James does have a point.” I agreed, if only to try and defuse the situation. “You can’t subscribe to the view that buildings have memories, do you? That the very bricks themselves become infused with the evil around them? That’s poppycock!”
“Well… I..”
“We’ve spoken enough times about the nature of good and evil, especially when applying it to nature and the animal kingdom; is this any different?” John shook his head. “If I had the slightest feeling that you were going to react this way I would never have invited you here. Remember what I said about the ego? Well, reactions are the very heart of it. If you, or anyone tonight feels a reaction I would urge you to swallow it; don’t act on it. There’s no place for the ego here tonight. Reactions do not come from a place of truth, and that’s the only thing we’re looking for.”
John was placated by this and I turned to the rest. “I believe that you all have the right to know the history of this place and, having heard, you all have the right to leave now; but before you make up your mind know this; stone is inanimate. We seek only to communicate, to open the door, if you will; to allow open communication with whatever still dwells here. It can only affect us if we allow it to. We have to physically open ourselves to it before it can do anything, and I don’t believe there’s anyone here that stupid who would.. The Ouija board and James contraption are the only methods we will use and they will not put us in any form of danger, so we’ll be completely safe. So.. does anyone want to withdraw? Please do so now…. No? Then we’ll begin.”

It all started so innocently enough. We sat around the table with the Ouija board in the centre. Initially our hands were simply on the table as I wanted to see whether it was possible for the planchet to move on its own, but after ten minutes of questions nothing happened. Even when we placed our hands on the planchet itself nothing happened for another thirty minutes before it suddenly shifted to the I. Everyone took a sharp intake of breath and watched as it moved from the M to the B, then O; R; E; D.
The table then collapsed into hilarity and the almost-reverent atmosphere I had tried so hard to create was broken. It wasn’t hard to realise that it was James behind it.
“I’m sorry.” He said with no prompting. “I just want to use my Spirit Box.” John rolled his eyes at this and Elspeth looked ready to lynch him but James carried on regardless. “It monitors AM frequencies and white noise so that the Spirits can get into contact with us.”
“So it’s a form of short wave radio then.” Elspeth bit back, James looked deflated. “Look, we’re not all moron’s. Even I know that John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell and Marconi were all stanch Spiritualists. The radio, television and telephone all had other applications; and that was to contact the other side. All your device does is amplify those messages and monitor a wider frequency set.”
Now Rachel seemed impressed; she had found a kindred spirit.
James went off into another room in a huff and took John and Rachel, leaving Elspeth and Veronica with me, and from the sounds of it they were in the living room so I suggested we go upstairs. The family had died upstairs and I thought that Elspeth would be able to hold a mini séance there. Of course, she had no idea where the deaths had taken place therefore the results, if any, would not be tainted by prior knowledge, or what I call leakage.
We stood in the centre of the room and held hands in a semi-triangular formation..
“Is there anyone there?” Elspeth said after breathing deeply half-a-dozen times. I used to think that it was a necessity; part of the need to tune in, but I’ve since found that not to be the case. I suppose even Medium’s need to market themselves and it all forms part of the act. Nothing happened, so Elspeth tried again. Again with the heavy breathing and looking at Veronica I was pleased that I wasn’t the only one finding it hard to keep a straight face. I was just about to break the circle when Elspeth said:
“Did you hear that?” Veronica looked at me and shrugged.
“What do you think that you heard?” Veronica asked and I winced; I knew what was going to happen next.
“Excuse me, child; I did not think anything. I heard a young girl-child giggle. The fact that you didn’t hear anything says more to me about your sensitivity; or lack of.” I could see Veronica bristle at this and she was about to break the circle when we all heard it.
It was unnerving, but unmistakable; it was clearly the giggle of a little girl. It seemed so incongruous in such surroundings; knowing the history of what had happened in this room made it very sad. Elspeth seemed the most moved by this, almost desperate to get in contact, whereas Veronica seemed unsure –she was a sceptic despite wanting to believe and this had shocked her. I was unsure too; I wanted to rule out other things out before I came to any conclusions. I wanted to get James so he could verify this using his EVP recorder, but Elspeth looked at me.
“Let me try to make contact. If she responds then you can go get James. Allow me this much, please.”
There was something in the way she said please; there was something else at stake that I should’ve picked up on but I nodded. This time there were no deep breaths, no histrionics; just a calm intensity I’d not known from her before.
“I’m speaking to the little girl who just giggled at us. Thank you for letting us be aware of your presence. We won’t hurt you; we just want to talk with you.” A floorboard creaked above and Veronica winced despite herself. Then we heard a low growl, like a large predator of some kind, followed by a whimper. Something was definitely with us, maybe more than one thing. Elspeth had gone pale and her hand became sweaty. She looked at me, alarm showing in her eyes and said: “Get James.”
We could hear that he was in the next room now and part of me wondered whether it was him making the noises to frighten us because we’d mocked his machine, but not even he would stoop so low.
James said one word to me when I walked into the room they were in: “Nothing.”
“Not a damned sausage.” Rachel agreed; John looked bored now but Rachel just looked deflated.
“James; you need to come with me; bring your EVP.” James grinned at me and all three of them made to follow us but I had to stop them. “Not yet.” I explained. “I’m not even sure how James energy will affect the group dynamic in there; until I do please could you stay here? I know this is asking a lot and I do apologise but please stay as quiet as you can. I’ll include you both just as soon as I can.”
I walked into the room and immediately noticed that the temperature had dropped dramatically even in the brief time I’d been away. James noticed it too and it was obvious that he was as interested in what was happening as I was; all pretence of ego had been dropped. I told him nothing about what had happened, and nor did he expect me to. He switched on the Spirit Box and stood in the circle with us as I nodded to Elspeth.
“You can talk to us through my friend’s recorder. We would like to help you; you need not be afraid of us.” The Spirit Box gave off static and then a throaty chuckle. Now I was apprehensive; nothing I had encountered before had given off this kind of reading. James expression turned from concentration to alarm.
“Do you feel that?” Veronica asked.
“What, the sheer oppressiveness of the atmosphere or the fact that the temperature’s dropped at least ten degrees in the last thirty seconds?” James replied.
“I’m talking to the entity that is in here now with us. Give us a sign that you’re more than just weird atmospheric or a creaking floorboard. Make us believe that you’re here with us.” I said. This wasn’t an approach I normally believed in –antagonising the spirits- but things didn’t feel right. Suddenly Rachel screamed from the next room and we all ran to find out what had happened. She was cowering in the corner, her hands to her face with John standing over her looking shocked.
“I never touched her!” He said. I pushed past him and held her. She sobbed into my arms and I just held her until she stopped. Something had traumatised her and as I gently pushed her away I could see the livid scratch marks, vivid red, down her cheek.
The EVP crackled with something almost unintelligible. It sounded like EROFF. We played it back a few times before Veronica said “Enough! It said enough to us…”
“But why?” John asked. “Why would It say enough?”
“No… it was a question.” Elspeth said. “Enough?”
“It thinks you were goading it, Michael.” James realised. “You asked for proof… well, you got it! Do you want any more?”
I was beyond shock now, someone had actually been physically harmed by… whatever it was, and I had inadvertently provoked it. I had caused this to happen. As far as I was concerned this was proof enough; I wanted to leave now before anyone else got hurt.
Elspeth picked up on this. “You can’t!”  I was about to answer when the EVP stuttered: “ don’t… Don’t leave me!” It was clearly the little girls voice.
Nothing in the annals of psychic research could hold a candle to this and James knew it. He was all for staying now as well; he looked like the cat enjoying his cream. He didn’t give a damn about the little girl (or whatever the hell it was.); all he was interested in now was fame. Rachel was terrified but I knew that she couldn’t abandon the little girl. Could I?
“We’ll stay for one more hour.” I said, adamant. “But at the first sign of another attack on anyone I’m going to abort and we’ll all walk. Agreed?” John, Rachel and Veronica all agreed with no hesitation; whilst James thought about. This was more down to self-preservation though, he didn’t like the idea of being attacked either; which left Elspeth.
“I can’t leave her, Michael.”
“We don’t know who or what she is.” John replied.
“You have one hour to find out, but I’ll carry you out if I have to.”

We all needed to be of one mind; to have the intent to stay otherwise we would be vulnerable so I talked to everyone and all gave their consent except for Veronica who was shaken by what was happening.
“I don’t know.. this wasn’t what I was expecting.” She stammered. She was obviously upset and what Elspeth said next did nothing to help.
“You have to be sure – we could save a soul tonight but only with your help. But without you this night is wasted and she could well suffer for it.”
“Shut the fuck up, Elspeth!” James snapped. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“She needs to know the ramifications of what she’s doing. It’s not just her that is affected by her lack of strength!”
“She has to do this from her own volition not because you forced her into it. If anything should happen to…”
“No… it’s ok.. I’ll be alright.” Veronica interrupted. “There’s more than just me at stake now. I’ll be ok.”
“Are you sure?” James asked, but Veronica nodded.
“Well; looks like you’ve got your chance; but you and me are going to have a serious chat about tonight.” Elspeth grimaced at me. “What do you need us to do?”
“Draw a circle with a six pointed start inside it. Each of you stand at one of the points and hold hands. At no point are you to break the circle. I will stand in the centre with the EVP.”
We did as we were instructed and held hands against the now numbing cold.
“If nothing happens in the next half hour I suggest we all go home.” John said after a couple of minutes.
“Sod that! I don’t think I’ll be able to last that long!” Rachel said, but James nodded to Elspeth.
“I don’t think you’re going to have to wait long at all. Look.”
Breath was starting to condense in front of her and she started to speak, quietly at first. “..won’t hurt you. Come forth little one, we won’t hurt you; we only want to help. Come forth, little one, we don’t want to hurt you…”
“Mummy.” The EVP suddenly sprang into life again, making us all jump. It was as if the presence was in the circle with us; the signal was that clear.
“I’m here, baby; Mummy’s here!”
I looked at James who was equally as startled by this sudden change of events. He was about to point at her when she shouted, “For God’s sake, don’t break the circle! “
There was so much anguish in her voice that l almost called it off, but it was too late –there was only one person that could call it off now, and she was right in the middle of it.
“I’m here, baby; come to me.” Elspeth pleaded.
“GIRL IS MINE!” The EVP spoke again, this time a snarl; vicious; animalistic.
“Stay away from her, you bastard!” Elspeth shouted.
“Now, wait a minute.” John suddenly said.
“What’s going on?” Rachel asked, fear gripping her voice. I wanted this to be over but Elspeth showed no signs of doing so. There was something else driving her, something that was over-riding her awareness. Another growl shook us, followed by a frightened scream. Veronica tried to wrench her hand away but I held firm to it.
“Don’t! It would be disastrous now if you broke the circle. All our lives could be in danger. We don’t know what we’re dealing with!”
Another scream from the child stopped our deliberating; Elspeth tore her blouse open and shouted: “Come into me child; let me protect you!”
Too late, I realised what she intended to do and what was really going on; she shuddered and quaked, clutching at herself and almost collapsing to the floor before straightening up rigid, like a marionette. Now the growl came from within her.
“Elspeth, are you alright?”  Again, I was far too late to stop Veronica from moving towards her, breaking the circle.
We might have been safe had the circle remained unbroken…. Might.
What had been Elspeth whirled around and knocked Virginia flying. She landed in the corner with a sickening crack. She lay there unmoving. John ran over to check on her and just shook his head. “She’s dead… I can’t believe it… She’s.. dead! You killed her!”
He was about to launch himself at her but I quickly rugby tackled him before he had a chance to do so. I shouted for James to take the Rachel in to the other room; on no account was anyone to leave the house; too much was at stake now. Somehow we had allowed something to cross over; we had to do something, anything to send it back. I had no idea what that was, but my first thought was to get some distance between me and Elspeth.
I dragged John into the next room with me as he’d banged his head in the tackle. The thing that was Elspeth did nothing to stop us; it was getting acclimatised to its new environs. Besides, it knew that we could do nothing against it; it was feeding off our fears.
I shut the door between us and Elspeth. When I turned round an odd sight met my eyes; I saw the rest of the group standing around a lone man sitting on one of the chairs grinning.
“Well… this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” He said, crossing his legs. He wore a black leather jacket with its collar up, blue jeans and sneakers. His expression was one of amused cynicism which was exacerbated by his fuller face and glasses.
“Who the fuck are you?” I snapped. I’d finally reached my breaking point; I wanted to hit him; to take him apart.
“Wait, Michael… this is Alex Paige.” James said, stepping between me and the man. “I’ve heard of him; he’s a writer of occult horror novels; but he knows his stuff… he’s very well versed, and he lives around here.”
“And he just happens to be out on a midnight stroll?” I snapped back.
“I couldn’t sleep, mate. I could feel something was wrong so I just tracked back the feeling to here.” The great Alex Paige replied. “Boy, you have no idea what you’re doing or what you’ve stirred up, do you?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “We know the history of the place. We know what we’re dealing with.”
“The two have nothing in common with one another. Tell me what happened up here.”
So I told him of Elspeth and the young girl spirit and the other malevolent presence.
“And it never occurred to you that it was one and the same?” Alex interrupted.
“Only when it was too late.” I admitted.
“What about Elspeth, then? What’s her story?”
I didn’t know, but Rachel suddenly spoke. “She had a daughter who died when she was four years old; she drowned. That’s why Elspeth became a medium in the first place.”
“Did no one think to tell me this before now?” I snapped. No wonder everything had happened this way; Elspeth was an open wound waiting to be exploited, she never stood a chance!
“That’s not the issue now; the only thing you need to think about is how you’re going to deal with that in there.” Alex placated.
“And what do you propose we do about it?” John suddenly asked, he was just starting to get his bearings back; he was having a hard time understanding it all. Everything was spiralling out of control now.
“Luckily I came prepared.” Alex replied. “I always carry some salt and Holy water with me. (Don’t ask why) but before I go any further you have to remember two things. One: that is not your friend in there. Whatever it is, it’s simply wearing her skin now; it’s not her. Two: She needs to be dealt with. It’s not going to be nice but it will have to be done. You can either stay out of it or be there with me; but if you get in the way you will be treated as part of the problem. Are we all in agreement?”
“No!” John suddenly snapped back. “Who put you in command?”
“You all did when you started fucking around with things you don’t understand. Two of you are already dead, how large does the body count have to get before you sit up and take action? Look, I don’t need you in there but I thought you could man up and take some responsibility for the mess you caused. But if that’s the case then sit the fuck down and leave me to my business.”
“I’m sorry…” John said. “Elspeth… we..”
“It doesn’t matter. Nothing else is important anymore; shutting that…thing down is the only thing that matters now. This is what we’re going to do: each of you should take a pocket full of salt; that will protect you from her. She won’t be able to attack you physically all the time you have salt on you. You must form the circle around her again; hold hands initially and while you have her contained I’ll draw another circle around you with Holy water, then it will be trapped.
“I’m going to perform an exorcism and whilst I’m doing this you need to take your dead friend away. You won’t have much time; don’t look back, whatever you do.”
We all nodded. Rachel was scared beyond belief but she took her portion of salt in her pocket and said. “All we need now is vinegar in the other pocket.”
“That’s good.” Alex replied. “Humour always helps.” He opened the door to the room where the thing was. “Ready?”

It was the cold smell of putrefaction that hit us upon entering the room and it was coming from her, who was standing exactly where we left her. She turned to face us and I thought I saw something overshadow her; an outline of the thing that had possessed her. Her face was contorted and warped into a mask of hatred. She snarled and lunged at us as we surrounded her. Alex was right though, she couldn’t touch us because of the salt we had in our pockets.
I closed my eyes and prayed to all the God’s I didn’t believe in to keep us all safe and apologised to the people that I had brought into this. I heard Alex walk around us intoning a blessing as he splashed the Holy water. As he finished he said Amen and then: “You’ve got to go now. No time for Good-byes; take your friend and leave. Run like fuck, don’t wait for me –I’ll be fine. Don’t look back; just go.”
I thanked him nonetheless and apologised, and took Veronica’s body with me. I walked down the stairs as quick as I could after James and Rachel. John was behind me, or so I thought.
It wasn’t until I was down on the street that I realised he wasn’t, but before I could go back into the house the bedroom was suddenly engulfed in flame.
I only know what happened because of what Alex told me afterwards: John hadn’t followed me; he still believed that Elspeth could be saved. Unbeknownst to me, he had had a relationship with her some years before and still carried a candle for her; loved her still, in fact. He had smelt petrol when Alex had been walking behind us and his fears had been realised when he walked back into the room we had left.
Alex had just lit a makeshift petrol bomb and was just about to throw it when John knocked him to the ground. Unfortunately the bottle went flying and smashed on the floorboards by Elspeth’s feet, splashing her with liquid fire. The screams must have been terrible but Alex could only look in horror as John tried to rescue her. Elspeth grabbed hold of him and engulfed him in the flames as well. Alex knew there was no way for them to escape the circle and realised that he only had seconds before he too was trapped. He barely made it. 

Two months later; I still have nightmares of the night: Elspeth, John and Veronica; dead because of me. I started this because I wanted to know what existed on the other side. Now I know and wish to God that I had stayed ignorant.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Doctor Who - Between a rock and a dead place

“Space is impossibly large, Emily, far larger than ever you could imagine.”
A falling metallic being, a mere pinprick amongst the vastness of space, seemingly inert but waiting; patience, like love, an alien concept to it for it simply waits.
“I say this.” The Doctor continued, “If you were to let out the loudest shout, even if you could make it as loud as the loudest firework, it would mean nothing amongst the depth of space.”
It has waited for days.. weeks –in actuality these measurements mean nothing to it for it shut down all non-vital processes and was now simply floating. Then change: its beacon finally answered and a response picked up. It won’t be long.
“The chances of being heard in space are literally billions to one. It’s similar to the way you receive messages from Spirit; you receive them and act as a focal point; but without that conduit they go unheard: lost to eternity.”
Something didn’t computer: there were two returning echoes. One was expected, a slightly different frequency but still within the relevant wavelength; but then another: barely recognisable, but familiar nonetheless. There were two Cyberfleets.

It still amazed Emily how easily she had fallen into a routine within the TARDIS. True, there was no daylight or night-time, but the TARDIS simulated dusk and night in her chamber, and the Doctor had found an architectural configuration that suited her. “Even though the external chameleon effect doesn’t work; it’s nice to find that I can still change what it looks on the inside.”
Emily just nodded, she knew that often she was used as a sounding board to the Doctors more random thoughts and he had actually admitted as such. “Far better than talking to myself… I used to do that a lot and would actually get into arguments.”
“With yourself…”
“WelI, I suppose there’s no point in asking who won.” What amazed her the most were the clothes she had chosen. Her era was so fixed with its views on how a woman should look and act and behave that she often felt so constricted. Her every act and thought had to be constantly checked and double checked before being voiced. To come out in her truth would have meant imprisonment or worse. The Doctor accepted her (he actually seemed relieved) and encouraged her to experiment with clothes until she found a mix that was quintessentially hers.
She looked through the TARDIS databanks at various fashion trends until she found a mix between Victorian elegance and 20th Century kitsch.  The Doctor applauded her choice and likened it to what he called the Steam Punk movement.  After showing her further examples she knew that she’d found an identity that suited her and she wanted to know more about the movement.
“Well; I’ve got a couple of choices for you…” The Doctor explained. “One is the planet Dellapron, during their industrial revolution. Their fashion sense is extraordinary, very vivid colours with a completely different sensibility to what you’re used to. Their eyes are based more on the ultra-violet end of the spectrum so you can imagine how that would look…” A blank stare from Emily made him move to his next choice. “Or, as a different kind of treat, how about I take you to a Steam Punk festival in Eastbourne, circa 2017? How about that? You’ll see how Earth looks 100 years into your future. Would you like that?”
Emily smiled and clapped her hands in delight. Despite there being a very strong independent streak in her, Emily equally possessed a wild eyed innocence that the Doctor found captivating. Out of all the species he’d encountered none were more varied than humans; so basic and uninspiring on the surface, but after almost 2000 years they still inspired and surprised him.
He set the controls for Eastbourne, 20th July 2017, and stood back to watch the steering column rise and fall. He’d reverted to the cream coloured roundel effect for the console room. It was smaller but lighter –more homely. He’d gone through his existential angst ridden industrial heart attack stage and now just wanted to roam the galaxy again. He smiled to himself and then promptly kicked the console when the column suddenly froze and then started flashing.
“Well that didn’t go according to plan….” He muttered and tried adjusting the flight matrices.
“What’s wrong, Doctor?”
“We seem to be stacked into another flight path; something else has taken control of the TARDIS and that shouldn’t be possible.” He knew he couldn’t fight  it, he was no longer in control and until he knew what was going on there was no point in doing anything that could cause irrevocable damage. “Sometimes inaction is action itself.” as his old mentor, K’anpo, used to say –just before whacking him on the back of the head with whatever was available.
The Doctor turned on the scanner to see if he could discern where they were. The sight that met his eyes was totally unparalleled and filled him with shock and horror.
“Oh my God.”
“What is it, Doctor? What are we looking at?”
“Imagine two massive fleets of ships; fighting ships, all of them. Think of the worst naval battles in your history and multiply that by a factor of 100,000. What you are looking at is not one, but two completely disparate fleets of Cyberman battle cruisers. But, by rights, neither should exist in their current configurations… both are.. wrong.”
All over, ships hung motionless in the vacuum; great fires raged in some, others simply lie inert; no lights blinking. The rest stayed locked in a typical Cyberfleet formation: the Hammerhead. It seemed as if the battle had already been won; but what had happened?
Suddenly the materialisation circuits engaged and the Doctor was, once again, powerless to stop it from happening. He could only feel dread and anticipation and feared for what Emily was going to encounter.
They landed smoothly and the Doctor was surprised to realise that he even lacked the control to the doors for they opened without a pause.
“I suppose we have no choice but to go outside.” Emily said with more strength than she felt. It was obvious to her that the Doctor was concerned, even though he hid it as best he could. He couldn’t help having a leaky consciousness, after all.
“Stay by me at all times, Emily. I have no idea what’s going to happen.”
They walked out into a vast control room; featureless and hollow, it was populated by numerous beings the likes of which she had never encountered in even her darkest nightmares. They were so human looking it was uncanny; but their skin was covered by a sheen of silver, except for their hands which was pale flesh-tone; this incongruity made it seem even more horrifying. Their heads had a metal frame work that led up to a single point, like a beacon. All were oblivious to their presence until one turned round; its featureless face simply black holes where its eyes and mouth should have been, cloth covered the rest like a funeral shroud.
“We have been expecting you, Doctor, for this is our final strike.”

“Well, you’re the last… incarnation I expected to see again.” The Doctor said with much more bravado than he currently felt. In all the times he’d met the Cybermen they had never been as vicious as their first encounter. Each subsequent time they had appeared more machine-like, robotic; it was far easier to distance himself from thinking of them as a living being. There was something far more chilling to see them as they were now –a race that had surrendered its.. humanity to become cybernetic monsters.
“How can anyone understand our superior mind? Even as a Timelord you have always underestimated our might.”
“Underestimated! And yet I’ve always managed to defeat you. Not bad for a puny Timelord!”
“Always? You think too small, Doctor. You have only ever won the individual battles but have you ever truly seen the war? What about all those battles you never even witnessed?”
“I’ll say one thing for you; you’ve still managed to keep a sense of humour.”
“What’s that got to do anything, Doctor?” Emily asked. She was frightened beyond belief; never had she encountered anything so horrible.. so alien. Thanks to the Doctor she had visited a few alien worlds and met their inhabitants and, even though they were so bizarre and miraculous, they weren’t frightening. They were just a different species and as varied as the animals that she shared the Earth with. But these Cybermen were something other.
“Remember, they have no emotions, Emily…”
“But Doctor…” But the Cyberleader interrupted her.
“You know the game YanGhaste, I expect?”
“Yes.. Earth has an equivalent called Chess. I’ve always been most fond of chess.”
“Earth… yes, we shall talk about that soon. But tell me, in this… chess, there are smaller, less valuable pieces.. all alike, like drones?”
“Pawns.. they’re called pawns.” Emily interjected, not liking the sound of this.
“And these may occasionally be sacrificed?” The enormity of what he had just heard sunk into the Doctor.
“But how can you know of such a term as sacrifice?”
“It is a word, just like any other.”
“Yes, but there is more than just logic behind it; it requires an emotional core.”
“Doctor…” Emily tried to interrupt him, but he was too caught up again.
“Lateral thinking and an understanding that goes beyond your cold, heartless logic.”
“What, Emily?”
“They don’t sound so unemotional to me…” The final penny dropped; the Doctor looked at Emily and then at the Cybercontroller.
“Say something… say something damn you.”
“Really, Doctor, these emotional outbursts do not become you. In all your regenerations you never seem to learn anything. Or evolve.”
“Something’s wrong. I should have noticed it sooner. Your voice…. It’s inflexions are normal; you no longer sound like a pubescent robot; it’s modulated. Very subtle, but there are emotional inflexions… but that shouldn’t be possible! Not only is it incongruous with your appearance but you shouldn’t be able to feel at all!”
“Another example of how you have constantly underestimated Cyber-technology. Do you really think that you have been witnessing an evolution? You judge our advancement only by your own standards; you think we have evolved to distance ourselves from our own form? What would be the benefit of that? All we have done is out of necessity, nothing more.”
“How could I have been so wrong? That’s the trouble with time travel, I suppose.” The Doctor stopped, something else had just occurred to him.
“Now you understand. You think that time travel was open to only yourselves and the Daleks? Who do you think leaked that technology to the Daleks? Everything that we have done has formed part of a multi-dimensional plan. The Timelord’s seem unable to think four-dimensionally and still see things in terms of cause and effect, hence why you still see yourselves as mere observers. The Daleks are simply stimulus and response machines, but we have seeded our fleet across time as well as space. All see themselves as the pinnacle of Cybertechnology and yet all are linked through the central control programming.”
“What’s going on, Doctor? I don’t understand.”
“It’s almost too horrible to contemplate, but brilliant in the extreme. Imagine a doll being created in a factory; and with each new batch a new improvement is made. Imagine a warehouse where all the dolls are kept until the perfect model is created and then, somehow, each batch is released. Not just in space, but in time as well; each whole but part of the batch and linked up to the core.”
“That’s unbelievable, Doctor… but?”
“And you are the perfect model?” The Doctor asked the Cybercontroller.
“Hardly Doctor. But, we are close. When we first encased ourselves in metal we had to destroy our emotions; dampen them otherwise we would never have survived.”
“How horrible.” Emily  replied, “to be encased in metal your whole life; never knowing love, warmth or human contact ever again.”
“Your companion does you credit, Doctor. Thousands of the first Cybermen died through suicide or on homicidal killing sprees rather than accept their fate. Initially we were fully encased with machine packs handling our breathing with plasticised armour; anything that made ourselves look ‘other’ or alien to our original forms. Then with each new improvement we not only understood our physiology but used nano-technology to replicate our bodies natural functions. We created super-hard skin that could withstand the harshest of environments; we then started to introduce emotions back into our control programmes. When you first saw us on Earth, in the polar ice-station, it was the first time we had truly spoken using our own bio-engineered larynxes so we weren’t used to modulating our speech.”
“That explains a lot.” The Doctor replied. “But it doesn’t explain why I’ve been brought here today.”
“We want you to bear witness to a turning point. We have long since been aware of a rogue cadre of Cybermen that stem from an alternate dimension. We ignored them –they created a useful distraction for you and they seemed unaware of our presence. We picked up a distress call from one of our own brethren thought lost to us some decades ago. The call was also picked up from this rogue cadre. Not only were they unaware of our existence they saw us as impure aliens and tried to eliminate us.”
“What have you done?”
“Nothing … yet. Little did they know that we were able to hack into their command circuits and effectively deactivate them. They still live but are in hibernation mode. Imagine if all wars were this bloodless.” Suddenly the Doctor and Emily could see all the ships lying dormant in space on vast screens in front of them.
“What now?”
“In many ways we have you to thank for this situation, so it is only right that you should witness this.” The Cybercontroller slammed his hands together, a gesture that was obscene in its familiarity, but with the clap came the sight of all those ships; each with thousands of Cybermen; explode in voluminous fireballs; silently disintegrating –the end of a species.

“No! You had no right; they were human once!”
“As we were; but that never stopped you from trying to destroy us.”
“But you were always trying to destroy others first.” The Doctor argued.
“Yet you always champion humanity.” The Cybercontroller pointed at Emily. “Are humans so guiltless? Have you known many species to lay waste to its own planet, the animals it shares the planet with; why, its own species? You know how it all ends, and yet you still champion them.”
“No – you can’t twist things like that. Humanity still strives, it just needs to be guided.”
“Now it will never get the chance. With your help we will invade Earth; they will be unable to withstand our might. And what is more, you and your companion will help us. She is to be the missing link on our.. emotional journey.”
“I most certainly will not!” Emily snapped.
“Ah, but you will. What is more, you will do it by your own free will.”
“I’d rather die first.”
“That will not happen. We would kill the Doctor first; this time he is expendable.”
“What?! Outrageous! Why am I expendable?”
“You would fight us and find a way to defeat us if we hooked you up to the main frame; your companion would not.”
“I still won’t help you; you may as well kill him.” The Doctor looked at her aghast.
“Steady on, Emily!”
“She has grasped what you have not. She will do this of her own free will; with you dead there would be no hope for her; she would no longer be a viable template.” The Cybercontroller explained.
“Ah; now I see.” The Doctor acknowledged. “You need her to join voluntarily otherwise her emotional template would be squint and so your next batch of Cybermen would be emotionally wonky.”
“Yes… and this she shall do; we have seen it.”
“What did you say?” The Doctor said. “Doesn’t matter… what if we refuse?”
“You will be free to go, but you won’t get far.”
“We’ll see about that .” Strangely, the Cybermen were as good as their word, the Doctor and Emily were allowed to return to the TARDIS unmolested.

When they were safely inside the Doctor just looked at the console.
“What’s wrong?” Emily asked. “They…let us go. I don’t understand why. Are they so sure we’ll return?”
“They’ve seen it.. and I’m not entirely sure what they mean. Not even the Timelord’s have that ability.. yet.” He flicked a few switches and the time column breathed into life.
“What are you doing now?”
“Testing a hypothesis.”
“Be cryptic then.”
Suddenly the Doctor flicked another series of switches and the TARDIS banked hard throwing Emily off balance.
“Why the sudden change of course? She didn’t like it, I can tell you.”
“How? Oh yes, the psychic rapport, I forgot… Sorry, Old Girl.”
“Doctor; you know she….”
“Deal with it, dear… Now is not the time for me to change.” The TARDIS materialised in a huff and the Doctor opened the doors, patting the console gratefully, only to find Cybermen waiting for him, guns drawn and the Cybercontroller facing him.
“It would be churlish of me to say that you were expected, Doctor.”
“Yeah? Well, expect this.” He slammed the door release button and immediately dematerialised again. “Interesting… just as I thought.”
For the next hour they travelled from time period to planet, and at every stop the Cybermen were waiting there to greet them.
On the seventh rapid escape Emily slammed her hand down on the console. “Doctor; will you please tell me what is going on?!”
“Yes, Doctor –she has a right to know.” The voice of the Cybercontroller took her completely by surprise, but the Doctor appeared smug.
“I wondered when you’d actually chip in like that. Let me guess, you’ve got a bug in the console room? So you’ve been monitoring pretty much everything I’ve been doing in the TARDIS.” Emily was shocked by this; she’d thought of the TARDIS as being safe, but that was no longer the case.
“You’re quite perceptive, Doctor, but it’s the only logical conclusion.”
“That’s still going to be your downfall; logic.”
“Not for long, not when you help us.” The Doctor looked at Emily and winked at her. He placed a hand in his pocket and found the beeper he prayed he’d never need to use and pressed the button in the centre of it.

Across the great divide of space, a beacon started beeping, which in turn, released a message. A rather unique message consisting of one bit; one word that would mean absolutely nothing except to the one whom it was meant for. The word was “NOW” and circumstances had changed quite dramatically since they had last met. For the Doctor, it would mean stepping from the fire through the very gates of hell.

Emily was beside herself with what was happening; it was bad enough that the Cybermen had managed to outmanoeuvre the Doctor, but there must be a way to defeat them; there was always a way, surely? Her mother had taught her that: never rely on anyone else, had been her mother’s other piece of advice. But here was the Doctor giving up, almost happily.
As they left the TARDIS he mouthed two simple words to her: “Trust me.” She picked  up on his sincerity but was still perplexed by what was going on.  Together they walked into the very heart of the Cyberman command where the Cybercontroller waited for them.
“And so you are both here of your own volition?”  
“Yes; though confused about what happens next…” Emily replied.
“You have been afforded a great honour, to become part of the Cybernexus; the glue that binds us together. Through you we will be able to feel again; to be whole again, and with the Doctor we will be absolute masters of time!”
“And you’re just going to let them?” Emily snapped at the Doctor.
“It is inevitable.” The Cybercontroller replied.
“Who am I to argue with the inevitable? Besides… they have seen it, remember?” The Doctor added. Suddenly Emily understood and knew what she had to do.
“Will it hurt?”
“I won’t lie to you, Emily.” The Doctor tried to console her. God, she was so brave; so out of her depth but her strength of character was unequalled. “It will hurt like the Dickens, but it won’t be for long.”  Emily nodded and allowed herself to be attached to the Cybernexus, as was the Doctor.
“You both stand at the threshold of immortality.” The Cybercontroller said as he worked the console.

Outside, in the depths of space, a thousand ships suddenly blinked into being. Completely spherical, these were Sontaran battle cruisers, and at the helm one Commander Skrakz, who’s mission was two-fold: repay a debt to the Doctor and eliminate the Cyberfleet. The former was simply a matter of honour; the latter had a perverse sense of fun; especially in light of certain developments.

Emily screamed despite herself. She loathed the penny dreadful’s where the heroine screamed at the slightest provocation; but this was unlike any pain she had ever experienced. Every nerve, every pore of her skin felt as if it had been drenched in acid and then shredded. Throughout it all she felt the Doctors presence, almost surrounding her; taking the brunt of the pain himself –but how she knew this was beyond her. She felt it; could actually see it. Just as she could see the Cybernexus as an energy field which she could now manipulate.
This had been the Doctors plan all along; ever since the Cybercontroller had “seen” the Doctor returning. It had been due to their combining with the nexus and altering it, not as the Cybermen wanted but in specific ways in which the Doctor would guide.

The Cybermen had a lot to deal with too, having been taken completely by surprise by the sudden attack by the Sontaran’s. There weren’t many species that the Cybermen refused to engage unless absolutely necessarily:  The Daleks, because of their bloodthirsty madness; the Raston’s because of their sheer efficiency and the Sontaran’s, they were built for one thing only: war.
So the fact that the Sontaran’s were now attacking now was bad enough, but for some reason they just would not die, no matter how hard the Cybermen tried –and they tried very hard indeed!

The Doctor knew he only had one chance at this. Emily was proving to be invaluable and he was amazed by her sheer power and resilience, but even she had limits.
He had to introduce a fraction of Emily’s psyche into a very small part of the sub-routine of the Cybernexus. It was insanely delicate and had he not been armoured with the fact that he had already succeeded he would surely have given up.
The Cybercontroller was right when he said that being a time traveller put a new perspective on the universe, but he was wrong when he said that the Timelord’s never used it. It was a choice they had.. well, originally, but it made things almost impossible to deal with. Imagine living with the consequences of every decision you’re ever going to make even before you realise you’ve made one. Most of the Timelord’s couldn’t handle it.

Skrakz left his detachment to fulfil his debt of honour. Yet again he had mixed feelings. He hated being beholden to the Doctor, but at the same time he had been given the chance to destroy the entire Cyberfleet. It didn’t get much better than that!

The other thing that the Doctor wanted to do was prevent the Cybermen from having access to the time-stream anymore. He was shocked at how they’d managed to stay hidden for so long. The Daleks had waged an all out war and nearly destroyed the entire multiverse; the Cybermen weren’t that impulsive.
There was only one way for him to prevent them from using time travel again… well, two. The first entailed eliminating the ability to understand the concepts of time travel, the same way the Timelord’s had exiled the Doctor to Earth; and the other by not allowing the Cybermen the ability to cross over their own time-stream. This, in effect, meant that no generation of Cybermen could interact with any other generation of Cybermen. They would no longer have the remote pick-up either, or cybernetic telepathy that the Cybercontroller had boasted of.
Now, if only he could erase Emily’s thought patterns from the databanks… he might have enough time…

A shaft of pain, a shriek from Emily as consciousness was stabbed back into them.
“Never.. NEVER disconnect someone from a mainframe of a computer like that!” He shouted as he regained his composure.
“Come now, Doctor.” Came a familiar voice as the toad-like face of Commander Skrakz came into focus. “That’s no way to greet someone who just rescued you…. We’re even now; unfortunately for you.”

“You summoned me, Doctor, and I responded; we are now equal.” Commander Skrakz said as he unstrapped the Doctor and Emily from the Cybernexus.
“And I’m grateful.”
“You won’t be for long.”
“Wait; where are all the Cybermen?” Emily asked, she was suddenly aware of how quiet it was.
“Impossible.” The Doctor remarked. “There’s no way the Sontaran army could wipe out the entire Cyberfleet; even on a good day!”
“I’ll ignore that childish remark, especially when we have you to thank for this change of circumstances; or rather, your TARDIS.”
“Oh no..” The Doctor suddenly understood the enormity of what had transpired.
“What is it, Doctor?” Emily asked.
“Both Skrakz and a Cyberman were trapped in the TARDIS for a prolonged amount of time and they were pretty close to its heart; somehow they absorbed some of the energy. They’re effectively immortal and impossible to kill now.”
“So what happened to the Cyberman then?”
“Yes.. what indeed?” The Doctor replied, but before Skrakz had a chance to answer a cadre of Sontaran’s stormed into the control room.
“We are here to take the Doctor back to Sontar.” One of the more officious Sontaran’s snapped.
“We’ll take his TARDIS.” Skrakz snapped back.
“Unlikely; what’s to stop him from escaping?”
“If he tries then I’ll snap his companion’s neck; he has emotional attachments to her.” Skrakz suddenly snatched Emily and held her tightly by the throat.
“Good… Good! We were starting to have doubts about you, Skrakz; but it’s good to see your bloodthirsty side is still there. See you back on Sontar!”
Skrakz saluted and pushed the Doctor into the TARDIS whilst keeping hold of Emily’s neck. The Doctor obliged begrudgingly, trying to figure out what was happening.  When the door closed Skrakz immediately let go of Emily. She rushed over to the Doctor whilst Skrakz apologised.
“That was as distasteful to me as it was to you.”
“I doubt it.” Emily replied.
“Wait; don’t you see, Emily? This is unheard of for a Sontaran; to acknowledge the feelings of another species, let alone apologise!”
“I blame your TARDIS, Doctor.”
“Quite… so you came out immortal…. And then, when your fellow Sontaran’s realised, they saw the inherent advantages.”
“No before testing it in every conceivable way.”
“Good old Sontaran efficiency, eh? Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth!”
“How many times do you think you can die? Ten? Twenty? Two hundred? Try two thousand! It’s a wonder my mind hasn’t snapped… maybe it has.”
“So then they introduced your genetic make-up back into the birthing matrix chambers?”
“I don’t understand what you mean by birthing chambers?”
“Sontaran’s are carbon copies of each other, Emily –or near as damnit. Almost genetically identical to one another; born in batches of thousands at a time. Only the strongest characteristics survive to be added into the matrix and I expect that invulnerability proved too good to pass up, eh?”
“I thought you said that Sontaran’s lived for war, Doctor?”
“Battle, Emily – not war.” Skrakz replied.
“Battle? Oh.. being unkillable means that the battle is one-sided.”
“That is correct. Where is the fun in that? No excitement!”
“I’ve known too many men like that… even where I came from; the big game hunters.”
“Hunting..” Skrakz sighed. “That takes me back. We have lost so much by this; honour has been lost to us; which is why I sought you out.”
“You… sought me out?” The Doctor was perturbed.
“I knew you would call on me; it was inevitable. It was the only way that I could talk to you like this; without raising suspicion, I mean. I’m taking you to Sontar where you will be rewarded for handing us a perfect victory.”
“I’m not sure I can accept such an honour.”
“And then you’ll be taken to the Flesh Farms where we will absorb you into our Birthing Matrix and maybe we can learn the secrets of time as well.”
“I won’t allow it. You can not let it happen; its monstrous. You’ll be truly unstoppable then!”
“Yes; you’re right, of course. And you are not alone in your thoughts. There is dissent even amongst the Sontaran high ranks; with some such as myself who wish we had never taken on this power. We are no longer a race of warriors but honourless butchers. We need to learn what it means to lose again; and with your help that can happen. But you have to trust me. Can you? Can you do such a thing?”
“You mean put my life in your hands?

The TARDIS materialised perfectly on the rostrum in the High Hall, on all sides and above and below, were thousands of Sontaran’s all with one purpose.
The door opened and when the Doctor stepped out he was deafened by the roar of: “Sontar HA! Sontar HA! Doctor HA! Doctor HA!”
This was turning out to be the most surreal of days.
“Doctor; you, who have been one of our greatest enemies.” The Commander-in-chief of the Sontaran’s shouted as he greeted the Doctor, “you are our saviour and ultimate benefactor. We salute you!” Again came the roar of Sontar HA! But there was one Sontaran in the front row who was not cheering. His gaze was set, hatred filled his eyes; now was his moment.
Just as the applause had died down he raised his weapon, screaming: “Defiler of our race! Honour thief!” He fired, hitting the Doctor in the chest three times. Emily gasped, she couldn’t believe what was happening.
The assassin never stood a chance, he was set upon by all around him, but it was too late. The Commander-in-Chief knelt at the Doctor’s side as the steam from the blast rose form his body. He placed his stubby finger to the Doctors throat and then felt his wrist before shaking his head.
“It’s too late… He’s dead; our saviour is dead.”

For Emily the next ten minutes were numbed horror; the Doctor, her friend, the one who she had shared so much with already, was dead. The enormity of this had not even begun to permeate down to her; she was trapped, isolated: over a million miles and god knows how many centuries removed from anything she could call home. No, her thoughts were with this strange, brilliant man –an enigma, cut down in the prime of his life. Such a waste.
From the time he was shot the Sontaran’s had shown nothing but tact and expediency. The assassin had been dealt with but what no one could understand was how such a thing could have happened: security had been so tightly controlled. Up until a few moments ago the only war the Sontaran’s had known was that which they inflicted on others; now there was civil unrest, a hard-core that saw the latest improvements to the genetic matrix as obscene. By becoming both immortal and invulnerable they saw the Sontaran high-command as selling out the old ways of honour and combat.
Emily cared nothing for any of that. She had been treated surprisingly well by the Sontaran’s, who had nothing but respect for her and the Doctor’s body. They transported him so rapidly to the special ante-room and left her alone with him. They understood her need to mourn.
The Doctor looked so still; so hard to believe that it was the same man who…
“I do hate energy weapons! They leave ones nerves quite frazzled for hours afterwards.” The Doctor suddenly sat up, scaring Emily rigid. She spun around and hit him out of reflex. “Ow! Not exactly the sort of welcome I was expecting… I thought you’d be pleased to see me!”
“Oh Doctor.” Emil gasped and flung her arms around him.
“That’s more like it, old girl.” She suddenly punched him in the arm, and then again.
“That’s for making me jump. That’s for calling me Old Girl and that..” She punched him again. “Is for dying in the first place.”
“Now I’m sure that’s not how a Victorian lady is supposed to behave.”
“Do you want me to hit you again?” The Doctor shook his head. “What happened? I saw you shot and killed.”
“You saw me shot; but I had a feeling something like that was going to happen.”
“When Skrakz asked you to trust him?”
“Yes; but there was no way for me to tell you. I’m so sorry, I would have done anything to spare you that.”
“I suppose it made it all the more believable.”
“You both played your parts admirably. I thank you.” Emily was surprised to see the Controller-in-Chief walk in, surely he wasn’t in on it all as well? But then it was he who had inspected the Doctor’s body and rushed them away before anyone could double check his diagnosis.
“I’m afraid we don’t have much time. You must help us, Doctor. Help us eliminate this evolutionary dead end. For this could quite easily mean the end of the Sontaran race as we know it.”
Emily looked puzzled and then understood. “You mean that no one else has realised that there’s no more need for the birthing matrices?”
“No one has questioned why there has been no attempts to spawn since the travesty happened. Everyone is still caught up in the bloodlust and battle frenzy to look at what we’ve lost.”
“So what do you intend to do? What can we do?”
“Doctor? You are the only one that can help us. As much as it pains us to admit the need for any outside agency, will you?”
The Doctor looked away and walked around before finally turning, smiling. “This is one of the few times where the answer really is cut and dried. I mean, if not stopped there would be nothing to halt your armies progress until the whole universe is subjugated.”
“So what is your plan?” The Sontaran asked.
“Two-fold: the first part revolves around disrupting the birthing matrix; almost doing a complete system restore; the second means dealing with an almost unconquerable foe.”
Skrakz clapped the Doctor on the back and said: “So you can help us?”
“Oh yes.”
“But what about destroying those indestructible troops? Should that be our main priority?” The Commander-in-Chief interrupted.
“Easy… I’m going to do absolutely nothing.”
“What!” Both Emily and the Commander-in-Chief replied, shocked.
“It turns out that I don’t actually need to do anything. It seems there’s an error in replication –it’s not obvious yet, but it will be soon. And then you will truly have a civil war on your hands.”
“How do you know this to be so?” Skrakz asked.
“What happened to that Cyberman? The one that you fought in the TARDIS all that length of time, Skrakz?”
“I don’t know, Doctor; is it important?”
“Think! Why haven’t we seen it? If it was as invulnerable as you then no amount of firepower could have destroyed it; but it was either killed by its own kind or by one of you!”
“By Sontar! You’re right… So how do we use this to our advantage?”
“You must exacerbate the civil war that’s threatening to over run your planet. With so much unrest and distrust no one will be paying any real attention to what’s going on with the birthing matrices until it’s too late.”
“Brilliant!” shouted the Commander-in-Chief. “you are a worthy foe; and I have a great respect for you. It’s just a shame I’m going to have to kill you properly when this is over.”

The Doctor had thought it would be a number of days before the civil unrest had grown to a stage where they could take advantage of it; but he had forgotten just how much pride the Sontaran’s had. The Commander-in-Chief played a masterful game of political cat and mouse, sewing seeds of distrust and paranoia amongst the high echelons. Aspirations were always high in the military; everyone dreaming of battlefield glory; or at least they were. The coming of the “Blessed” now put pay to that; now only the invulnerable were sent away to fight.
Those of the “Remain” party were given this ray of hope by the Doctor and did everything they could to provoke the Blessed, anything that would force them to use more of their life force; and within 18 hours the first of the blessed were starting to disintegrate.
By this time the Doctor, Emily and Skrakz were in the birthing matrix chamber; which wasn’t even under guard any longer as it was deemed surplus to requirements.
“What next, Doctor?” Skrakz asked, rubbing his hands in anticipation.
“We need to initiate a complete system restore and purge the computers of your template.”
“And how do we do that?”
“Yes, well –I was afraid you were going to ask that… you’re going to have to do it all from within the matrix itself. Nobody else can do it because.. well, they’d die before they even get half-way through.”
“Ah… I see; and it will be painful as well, I expect.”
“Almost unbearable.”
“Good; I would risk all to restore glory and honour to the Sontaran empire.”
“I’m pleased you think that because I’m not entirely sure you’re going to survive either.”
“Even better! You are too generous, Doctor.”
“Are you crazy?” Emily snapped.
“Emily –what could be a greater honour than dying for your people? Are there not people on your planet that would do the same?”
“Yes; but they’re crazy too.”
“Emily.” The Doctor consoled. “If Skrakz doesn’t do this then all will be subjugated; the Sontaran’s won’t stop until the entire universe is under their flag.” Emily relented and watched Skrakz prepare himself. Stepping into the chamber he took one last look at Emily before the Doctor started the system purge.
“He’s scared, Doctor.” Emily said. “That’s not normal at all for him, is it?”
“No, it’s not; his time in the TARDIS changed him, and that might ultimately help us in the long term. What I didn’t tell him is that not only will I be purging the template but I’ll be completely rewriting his genetic template as well.”
“Restoring him as to what he was?”
“As close as I can. To his former glory!”
“And then you’ll use him as the new template.”
“You catch on quick.” Emily smiled and turned to look at Skrakz who was re-wiring the birthing matrix from the Doctor’s instructions. It was obvious that he was in pain, his body was wracked with spasms; but each spasm just made him work harder until, at last, it was over. When Skrakz finally joined them he looked happy.
“Now we must get you back to your TARDIS. The Commander-in-Chief was not joking about having you executed earlier. But I owe you too much now, and it’s the least I can do to get you both to your ship unharmed.”
“But now you’ll be vulnerable yourself!” Emily replied. “You’re now just a Sontaran!”
“Ha! Just a Sontaran; let me show you what just a Sontaran can do!”

On the way back Skrakz was like a child. It was impossible to know who were the Blessed and who were the remainers but Skrakz didn’t seem to care. He was true to his word, his main concern was transporting the Doctor and Emily back to the TARDIS safely and he took advantage of the situation, revelling at every kill.
For Emily it was hell, and she was relieved when they were finally at the TARDIS doors again.
“It will take some time for the unrest to clear, Doctor; but we have much to thank you for. But.. please, do not tell anyone about it.” Skrakz said, and laughed.
“I don’t think the Timelord’s would take very kindly to the idea of me inadvertently creating indestructible Sontaran’s, do you? Your secret is safe with me!”
“Take care of him, Emily; and of yourself.” Skrakz said.
Emily waved goodbye as Skrakz carried on fighting. When they were both inside the TARDIS and it had safely dematerialised she said: “Why didn’t you tell him, Doctor?”
“That he was still immortal? What good would that have done? He can still be killed, just not by old age.”
“And what about the next batch of Sontaran’s? Won’t they be immortal as well?”
“I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem.” The Doctor replied. “Up until recently it was considered unnatural for any Sontaran to be aged over twenty- by their standards. They would have been considered cowards of the highest order for surviving for so long. I think that after the civil war the whole damned race will have a lot to prove!”