Doctor Who: Royal Oak, Chapter Six
By Hrolf Douglasson
The Black Building loomed in the Orkney twighlight. Sited on the rise between Kirkwall and the airport at Grimsettir, it was a bulky, squat shadow, a dark and forbidding presence in the Orcadian landscape. Also an unwanted one: formerly the headquarters for the air defence of the islands and their naval anchorage, now it was merely considered an eyesore, filled with rubble and asbestos, and scheduled for demolition. Tam and the Doctor watched from a distance as two black vans slid through a concealed opening in the wire fencing that ringed the building.
“Those the vehicles ye were wanting stopped?” asked Davy Craig impassively. “I told ye we should ha’ done it further up th’ road.”
“That’s not the idea,” sighed the Doctor heavily. “Now they’re in there, it’s easier to keep them there – and there’s less chance of other people getting hurt in the process.” He turned to the group of solid, burly men around him. “I know I’ve said it before, but these things aren’t human – they don’t hurt, or die, like you or I will. Please, please, please… be careful. Don’t touch anything, don’t go wandering off, until we know what’s going on.” He ran a hand through his hair and shrugged with a smile. “And I know it sounds as if I’m off my head, too – but Tam’ll tell you.”
“It’s all bloody weird,” the farmer said bluntly. “He’s yabbering about aliens and spacecraft and any other amount o’ shite… but he showed me that yon vans are taking men frae the Royal Oak, and he showed me that it’s no’ the Navy or the contractors that are doin’ it. Whoever is doin’ it, is in the Black Building – where nobody’s supposed tae be. So we want tae get in there, and we want you lads tae deal wi’ these Slab creatures when they get out o’ yon vans. You up for that?”
“Hell, yeah!” drawled Stewart Harcus as he finished another can of Export. “Bring it on!” He grinned at the rest of the gang; behind them, the Doctor sighed and shook his head.
“Come on then,” he said eventually, wrapping his brown coat around his sparse and rangy frame. “Let’s get on with it.”
He led the way towards the still-visible gap in the fence – but by the time the little band had reached it, the wires had welded back together and there was not enough gap to admit a rat, let alone a van. Tam looked towards the Doctor with a puzzled frown.
“Ah,” said the Doctor. He pulled out the gadget Tam had seen before, and also a pair of black-rimmed glasses, which he perched on his nose. “Give me just a minute…”
A swift twist of a wrist, a brief hum and glow from the gizmo – and the strands of the fence sprang apart. “Simple molecular manipulation,” the Doctor explained breezily, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Can it mend my tractor?” wondered Kevin Dowd loudly. He got a laugh from the rest as they pushed their way into the rubble-strewn grounds of the Black Building.
“What’re ye expecting tae find, Doctor?” asked Dan Kirkpatrick as they scrambled across loose brickwork and mounds of other debris.
“Somebody who’s willing and able to play with ancient DNA,” replied the Time Lord grimly. “That cuts the list down a lot: and none of the species still on it are the types we should be messing with.” He slowed down a little as they approached the tar-covered brickwork of the headquarters building itself. “This is dangerous – even if you only jump on the Slabs, you could get killed or hurt. There’ll be alarms and detectors and warning systems… there’s no way of knowing how long our unwanted guests have been here. They could have anything short of a nuclear bomb set up in there.” He stopped and ruminated for a moment. “Come to that, they could even have acquired one of those, I suppose.”
“And you do this sort of thing every day, is that right?” asked Stewart cautiously.
“Well,” said the Doctor evasively, “I wouldn’t say I did it every day…”
“I kinda bet it’s still more’n we’ve done it,” guessed Davy ominously. Tam glared at him.
“If ye’re for backing out, Davy, now’s the time for it,” he said. “Just say the word and the Doctor’ll open up the fence for ye again.”
The other man’s face flushed. “I never said I’d back down, man! Now lead on, an’ let’s get on wi’ this.”
There was a murmur of alcohol-fuelled agreement from the rest. So they went onwards, a little knot of men led by another about whom they knew nothing, into a realm beyond any dream – or nightmare.
The interior was empty – for the most part. Bits of ceiling had collapsed inwards, and here and there, odd fittings from former days still stood forlornly, with doors hanging open and cobwebs catching vast amounts of dust. Everything loomed dark and treacherous, lit only by the beams of torches as the intruders swept them back and forth.
“Watch for other beams,” warned the Doctor. “Thinner, probably some other colour – they’ll light up the dust just as much. Whatever you do, don’t walk through them!”
“Only lasers?” asked Kevin in surprise. “I’d ha’ expected something a peedie bit more advanced than that…”
“No point in lugging technology across half the galaxy if you can source something locally,” shrugged the Time Lord. “Any really interesting stuff will be further in. This is still the outer defences.”
“Bugger-all here, though, man!” Stewart pointed out.
“Don’t let that fool you.”
They moved onwards, treading carefully, watching for any sort of obstacle, expected or otherwise. Progress was slow: every step was considered before it was made, and for all that the pub bueys were keen to crack on and get to the bottom of things, the Doctor somehow held them back. Just as Harcus and Dowd were trying to persuade their mates that the whole thing was a waste of time, the Doctor froze and pointed. Bleary, ale-sodden eyes squinted and followed his outstretched finger: there was the faintest trace of red, sparkling in the dusty air. Beyond it, almost hidden in the shadows, three dark figures stood motionless.
The Doctor very slowly turned to his companions and put his finger to his lips, eyes wide in urgent entreaty. Shaken faces nodded mutely. The Doctor retreated just as slowly, and waved the others to follow him.
“Those are the Slabs,” he said in a whisper when they were safely round the nearest buttress. “It’s a simple enough set-up: we break the beam, the Slabs jump on us. End of problem.”
“Aye,” growled Davy, “but wha’ if we wanna gae beyond yon beasties?”
“Ah, well,” frowned the Doctor, “that’s the tricky part.”
“There’s three o’ them,” said Kevin, “an’ there’s six o’ us…”
“There’s more ‘n that,” Tam reminded his mates. “Th’ Doctor an’ me, we counted four at th’ pier… could there be others as well?”
“Could be,” mused the Doctor. “There’s no way of knowing, but there’s only two vans from the look of things… but there were Slabs on the boat we saw, too, remember.”
“Aye, but might they not stay out on th’ boat?” suggested Tam. “If they’re no’ in need o’ eatin’ an’ drinkin’, why come ashore at all?”
“We could hope,” replied the Doctor with a grin. “If they’re in here with us, the odds have suddenly gone against us, after all.”
“So wha’ ye’re sayin’ is, we could do wi’ getting’ around yon Slabs before we start fightin’ wi’ ‘em,” stated Dan bluntly. The Doctor nodded with a grin.
“Right then,” said Dan with a swift look around the little group. “I reckon it’s this way.”
A doorway let them through into another ruined room, indistinguishable from the first but with the added advantage of a further door that led into a corridor running along the outer edge of the building. It was apparently free of alarms; the little group crept past another opening beyond which the waiting Slabs could be clearly seen. The Doctor’s lips pursed in thought as he regarded them, before Tam shepherded him onwards. He looked around as they neared the far end, and the building clearly turned a corner.
“We’ve missed something,” he murmured uneasily. “They’ve been bringing bodies in here – so where are they? What are they standing there to guard?” He turned to Davy, who happened to be closest. “Is there a basement to this place?”
“I dinna ken: there used to be upper floors, but they fell in long ago frae the look o’ th’ place. Even if there is a cellar, I wouldna ken where tae look for it…”
“That’s what I thought,” muttered the Doctor despondently. “We could be going round in circles all night and still never find it.” He tapped his little gadget against his pursed lips as he stood and pondered. “Clearly there’s nothing on this level,” he said eventually, “and those alarms we saw aren’t enough to protect the entire building. My guess would be that they’re set to defend just one area – and that’s where the way into the cellars will be.”
“And that would also be where yon Slabs are standin’,” guessed Stewart.
The Doctor grinned. “Oh, you’re smart!” he applauded.
“Alright then,” said Davy grimly. “We ken why we’re here, Doctor: it’s only ye that needs to get beyond those things, ‘cos there’s little we could do, I’m guessing. So me an’ th’ lads’ll deal wi’ them: ye and Tam can find th’ door into the cellars and see whatever there is tae see. How’s that for a plan?”
The Doctor fiddled with his gadget for a few moments. “I might be able to slow the Slabs down a little. I can’t deal with them completely – I’ve only ever seen them disabled by electric discharges or massive doses of radiation. But this…” he held up the gizmo, which was emitting a soft blue light and humming gently, “this ought to give them something to think about.”
He looked around at nervous faces, looking for readiness. There were curt nods in response to his raised eyebrow; he nodded once in return, and pressed a small key on the gadget.
The light intensified and the hum became a high-pitched whine. “Go!” urged the Doctor between clenched teeth; the whole little group piled through the doorway and towards the still-rigid figures in black.