Doctor Who: Royal Oak, Chapter Seven
By Hrolf Douglasson
Tam remembered little of what happened next in later years: there were blurs of black leather tangled up in checked shirts and grubby denim as his mates from the pub leapt upon the Slabs even as they turned to face the broken alarm beams. They all went down together in a strangely silent fury, Davy and Kevin and the rest gripping the limbs of the strange alien figures as if holding on to their Single Farm Payments, and being flung around as if they were no more than flies. Grown men, big fellas, and these… whatever they were… hardly seemed to notice the encumbrance. Every time he thought about it from then on, he shuddered, and whisky was frequently the only cure. What came after the Slabs often defied even the power of Highland Park…
The Doctor had been right: the Slabs had been standing over a carefully-cleaned trapdoor, recently oiled and free of even the slightest particle of debris. His companion adjusted that little gizmo again: clicks and whirrs were heard from within the iron door, and it suddenly dropped downwards, revealing a ramp lit by a lurid green glow. The Doctor locked eyes with Tam, and jerked his head enquiringly towards the opening.
“There’s no need to go further if you’d rather not,” he mouthed over the muffled sounds of the continuing efforts of the others to wrestle the Slabs to the floor.
Tam hitched up the belt of his boilersuit. “Ah’ve come this far,” he said stolidly, “an’ I’ll no’ back out now.”
He was to regret his words for the rest of his life.
The Doctor hurried him down the walkway and pushed the ramp back into place. “I don’t want the Slabs coming down after us,” he explained breathlessly. He looked around curiously. “There’s a lot of this is new,” he murmured absently. “Look: new bracings, new coverings on the walls over there, new mechanisms… new door, come to that.” He ran a hand over the metal lattice supporting the ramp. “This isn’t local material – or not in this form, anyway. Probably sourced the raw elements around these parts, but this isn’t a normal alloy for this planet.”
“How can ye tell all that?”
The Doctor shrugged. “I just can… a bit like you can tell so much about each of your cows. It’s in the blood; I just know it.”
“So where from here?”
The Doctor frowned, and ran a hand through his hair. “Follow the passage, I suppose…”
The place was silent, and slightly chilled; Tam put a hand out to one of the peculiarly smooth walls and drew it back covered in condensation. He showed his companion, who raised an eyebrow but appeared otherwise unsurprised. There was also something else…
“What in the name of God is tha’ smell?”
The Doctor looked grim. “Decay. Death.”
“More than likely.”
Tam swallowed convulsively. “We’re getting’ close, then.”
“Oh, yes. Very close.”
Tam looked at him. “Ye ken more than ye’re lettin’ on, Doctor,” he said accusingly.
“I don’t know… but I’m hoping I’m wrong.”
“About who.” But the Time Lord would say no more. His face was deadly serious in the eerie light, as if whole streams of memory were running through his mind, unstoppable, unavoidable… and painful. Full of agony, of heartache, of despair – of fear. Perhaps even terror… what, wondered Tam, could disturb such a man as this?
They entered a room. The stench was overpowering; Tam fought to stop himself from retching. Through watered eyes, he could dimly make out those same black bags that had filled the back of the vans on the pier, ranged around the walls with no thought for dignity or even recognition that they held human remains. More disturbing still was the pile of empty sacks on the other side of the room, and the slimy mess that covered the floor.
“Wha’s been goin’ on here?” he demanded shakily. The Doctor stood in the middle of the chamber, shaking his head in sorrow.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, over and over as his eyes took in the grisly scene. “I’m so, so, sorry.” He seemed transfixed; Tam grasped his arm and tried to pull him onwards. Eventually the Doctor let himself be dragged onwards – but he snapped out of his trance when they approached the far doorway, and jerked Tam back to a halt.
“More beams,” he whispered. His voice had acquired a hoarse, grating quality, and his face still appeared to be etched with an eternity of pain. Tam followed his gaze and could just about make out a series of shining red lines across the exit.
“Can ye no’ do sommat about ‘em?” he whispered back.
“What? Oh, yes, yes, of course.” The Doctor shook himself out of his reverie. “Whatever is responsible for all this is on the other side of those beams,” he added thoughtfully. “This is the last chance for going back, Tam.”
“Verra considerate o’ ye I’m sure – but I’ll be goin’ on if ye are.”
“It’s not going to get any nicer in there,” the Doctor went on. “I’ve got a list of half-a-dozen species who have the technology to match what I’ve seen so far, and who have the mindset to go digging in other people’s graveyards. They’re none of them pleasant, either to speak to or to look at; most would fry us as soon as set eyes – or photo-sensors or infra-red implants – on us. What I’m trying to say is, this is where the danger really starts. I don’t know what’s in there yet: I might be able to reason with them, I might be able to bring some sort of pressure to bear on them… or we might have to run for our lives, or we might end up like those poor sailors in the other room! If what I think is going on, none of the above applies, and we’ll just get fried where we stand. They’re like that, my prime suspects.”
“And this is what the rest of the universe is like, is it?”
“Oh, it’s not all bad: there’s the blue cliffs of Megaladonis, the pleasuredomes of Ekkadaroijscel, the native races of half a billion worlds, who will welcome in any sort of stranger and have never even developed the concept of space travel… and there, for your world, is the problem.”
“All the friendly and wonderful bits don’t get out much. Space-faring races tend to be the competitive, aggressive types.” He looked suddenly sad, bowed beneath the tensions and pressures that weighed invisibly upon him. “There’s only me left to stop them – or to try.”
“Well man, this time ye’ve got some help – an’ we men o’ Orkney dinna fright so easily. Now break yon beams and let’s go see wha’ we’re up against, eh?”