Doctor Who: Royal Oak, Chapter Four
By Hrolf Douglasson
“The night’s not over yet,” murmured the Doctor as he closed the bag again. “I want to have a closer look at our friends out there,” he explained to Tam’s puzzled gaze. “I’m pretty sure that they’re nothing to do with the Navy.”
“What makes you say so?”
“Well, did they look normal to you?” asked the Doctor with a touch of incredulity.
“There’s one problem,” he went on after a moment’s reflection. “If they wake up, we’ll have to get away from them. I can’t stop them: I don’t have that sort of firepower. I’d rather just have a little looksee and then sneak away; the less fuss we make now, the easier it’s likely to make things later on.”
“I’d be happy to just get home,” offered Tam shakily. “I could use a dram or three.”
“Yeah, good idea: get through all the hard work and then go home and blast the old neurons with the nearest available stimulant, eh?” The Doctor grinned. “Tell you what: let me do this and I’ll even buy the bottle on the way home.”
He carefully opened the door, and poked his head out to reconnoitre the area. “We’re clear,” he whispered back to Tam before lithely sliding out of the vehicle. Once the local man was standing beside him once more, he carefully closed the van door and used his gadget to lock it again.
“Right then,” he murmured to himself, flattening his body against the steel of the vehicle and slowly sliding along its side towards the cab. “Now for the easy bit…”
The van’s occupants loomed large in the door mirror, clearly visible as the two men crept closer. Tam could feel his heart in his mouth: why had they not been spotted? How could these strange figures, still in their dark clothing and crash-hats, not have seen them? They seemed unnaturally still as they sat in the cab: had they even moved at all since he and the Doctor had emerged from their watching-place in the shadows over there? He was sweating; his hands felt slick and clammy, and his hair was sticking to his head beneath his cap. He was also starting to feel slightly sick, but swallowed it down without a word.
Ahead of him, the Doctor froze, then turned slowly around with a finger to his lips. Tam nodded his understanding; the Doctor swivelled back around, and gently took hold of the cab’s door handle. The click it made as he pulled it open seemed to echo all around the harbour; the door itself opened easily, on well-oiled hinges. The Doctor reached up, putting a foot onto the step, and lifted the helmet visor of the closest occupant. Then he stepped back and waved Tam closer, inviting him to look.
“It’s alright,” he whispered. “They’re not active.”
“Not… what?” Tam found himself unable to comprehend what his companion was saying. He heaved himself up to the level of the cab, and peered at the face of the man within.
Or, rather, at the place where his face ought to have been. Instead, there was a solid mass of some dark, leathery substance.
The Doctor’s hand was suddenly on his arm, pulling him away. “Come on,” he said urgently, “I’ve seen all I need to see.”
He guided Tam back towards the shadows beyond the lights at the edge of the pier. Once in the darkness at the base of the cliff that loomed over the site, Tam found himself shaking, and patted his pockets for a ciggie.
“Slabs,” said the Doctor grimly. “Life-forms – well, I call them lifeforms, but nobody seems to know for sure if they’re even really alive in the accepted sense – but anyway, they’re solid material, able to move and act… and work… just like you or me.”
“What, like a machine? Or… what?”
“Not machines, no… although, then again, maybe a bio-machine of some sort…” The Doctor’s face assumed an air of thoughtfulness. “What’s odd, though, is that they’re just sitting here, doing nothing. There’s not many reasons I can think of why a set of Slabs would be doing that…”
“Can they think?” asked Tam suddenly. The Doctor turned to peer at him in the darkness.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Why?”
“Well, if they’re a sort of machine, then maybe they’re just waiting for instructions?”
“Or waiting for another load,” suggested the Doctor. “Either way, it’s probably not a good idea to wait around longer than we have to.” He took another long, hard look at the vans, still sitting silently at the head of the slipway. “There’s nothing more we can do here: I got what I came for.”
“I reckon I got more than that,” agreed Tam shakily. “Fella, you’ve got some explaining to do when we get hame!”
“Oh, we don’t have all the answers yet,” said the Doctor with worrying certainty.
“Maybe, but we dinna have the whisky, either – and I mind on you saying you’d do something about that…”
The Doctor’s mad grin suddenly resurfaced. “So I did!” he exclaimed delightedly. “D’you know, Tam, a bottle of whisky suddenly seems like just what I need, too.”
Tam matched his strange companion’s smile. “Then it’s good for you that I ken the very place tae go. Dinna worry: I’ll drive.”