The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Karen Dunn (Despite Interference by Keith Dunn, Andy Simpkins, Adam J Purcell and Tony Gallichan)
Chapter Eight - The Questions
"Blanche once told me that curiosity killed the cat.
I had been exploring her room whilst waiting for her to finish shouting at Macfadyan, and she was very cross to find me there.
She had thrown a pillow at me, knocking my rotors out of kilter and I had fallen to the floor.
Blanche is not an unkind human being and she had been quick to help me up, steadying me on the palm of her hand while I ran a quick diagnostic.
Once I assured her I was undamaged she had let me go and smiled at me.
'You know what they say, Cre'at,' she had said, 'Curiosity killed the cat.'
It was a strange statement for her to make given that I had no idea who 'they' were and I was not a cat.
But when I pointed this out to her she merely hefted another pillow in her hand and instructed me to 'bugger off'.
I wish she would explain these strange idioms to me. Macfadyan pretends to understand them but I believe he is simply trying to make himself appear cleverer than he really is.
Captain Curtis listens to my questions for a moment or two before shrugging and saying, 'Cre'at, old chum, if you every manage to fathom women, you're a better man than me."
This simply confuses me even more, for I am neither a man nor a chum.
And I am already 'better' than the Captain. I can work out the value of pi to 400 million places whereas he has problems with his seven times table.
I can calculate the acceleration needed for a dual-propulsion rocket to break free from the gravity of Venus whereas he once shot a hole in the wall of the library whilst trying to reload his revolver.
I am better and, given my life expectancy far exceeds his, I have no desire to be a man.
When I explained this to him he laughed at me and called me the Anti-Pinocchio.
Human beings confuse me.
At the moment, though, I would be very grateful for their advice.
I have found a house.
My scanners were trained on Blanche and the Captain and I had set myself the task of tracking them down.
They need to be informed of Macfadyan's folly before it is too late. He may claim to have a dual bypass system to control his circulation but that simply makes him sound like a motorway.
Time Lords are as vulnerable to a vampire's fangs as the rest of the sentient beings in the universe.
This is one of those times that leave me grateful that I am a machine.
I can still see Blanche and the Captain on my sensors - they are almost at the town now - but my decision to take a short cut through the trees has turned up this problem.
The house looks like any other you would expect to find on a world at this stage in its technical evolution. Blanche would think it was a mansion whereas Captain Curtis would call it a hovel.
I think it is quaint.
The problem lies in the strange power readings my sensors are detecting.
They are coming from deep within the house and I know for a fact that they should not be there.
My first priority is to find my crewmates and keep them safe.
But my curiosity - if I am capable of such a thing - is screaming at me to take a quick look around the house and find out where the power reading is coming from.
It is what Macfadyan would do.
But given that he has just ambled freely into the lair of a vampire, perhaps he is not the best person from whom to take my lead.
Captain Curtis would tell me to know my enemy. Good advice.
If I leave now and continue my journey to town I will not know what is contained within the house.
Captain Curtis will ask me and I will have failed in my duty.
I must investigate.
I will be sure to keep clear of any felines I see on the way."
The door wasn't locked and it took Cre'at a matter of seconds to pootle inside and hide behind a handy coat rack.
The house was dark and, apart from a few faint flickers that were rodents of some kind, his sensors detected no life signs.
No one was home.
He took a moment to peer between the folds of a woollen cloak and take in his surroundings.
He was in a hallway.
The ceiling was low, heavy with wooden beams, and the walls were panelled, though someone had decorated them with paintings and drawings of people and places he did not recognise.
The floor was made of polished dark tiles and he could see the ghost of his reflection peering back at him from their depths.
A steep staircase led up into darkness while two doors offered new options to explore.
A huge candle was set into a recess in the wall above one of the doors, its gentle flame offering the only light.
The strange readings were coming from behind the door.
Bobbing slightly as the cloak hooked over one of his arms, Cre'at pootled to the door and pushed it open.
The Sot'm was not built for frowning but he gave it a try.
The room before him was not what he had expected to find.
There was no doubt that it was a laboratory but neither the equipment cluttering the worktop nor the books crammed, floor to ceiling, in the jungle of bookcases were capable of registering at the levels he had been detecting.
Hovering above the workbench he peered cautiously into the test tubes that were laid out neatly in racks, and pondered the contents.
Viscous yellow goo oozed against the side of the tubes, the occasional puff of escaping air bubbling the surface.
Fascinating, but no help at all.
Bobbing to the middle of the room, Cre'at adjusted his sensors, tightening the range to within a few metres.
There. The bookcase.
Though it looked like a normal, dust-covered bookcase, leaning precariously against the far wall, a colony of spiders skittering along the top, the readings he was picking up told a different story.
He peered closely at the rows of battered tomes, beaming out electronic greetings across the ether to whatever was concealed within.
Cre'at paused. Whatever was behind the bookcase had answered his inquiries quickly and precisely.
But how would it react to wither further questioning or an incorrect password?
Taking a chance, he scanned further, his sensors picking up circuitry and power signals that had no right existing in what was the equivalent of the Victorian era.
It had detected his covert tinkering and experience told him it was about to throw the mechanical version of a hissy fit.
Putting aside his new-found curiosity, Cre'at focussed his attention on the machines access codes.
It took him a fraction of a second to decipher them and transmit the correct password. He was definitely slowing down as the years caught up with him - only a decade ago he would have worked that out in a nanosecond.
With an incongruous hum, the bookcase rose toward the ceiling, terrified spiders using the Sot'm as a launch pad from which to drop to the floor before scuttling off into the shadows.
Just as it seemed the bookcase would crash into the low beams of the ceiling, a section of the wall slid open and it flipped back into the alcove, leaving an archaic but immaculate computer in its place.
The silence was absolute as Cre'at regarded the machine before him.
A human would describe it as a gunmetal grey box with a screen in the middle, and the lack of a mouse or keyboard would confuse them.
Cre'at recognised it as a mid-35th century (Earth time) Psych-comp and his suspicion that something was not quite right on this Victorian-esque planet was hammered into place.
Psych-comp Inc had dominated the galactic markets for computer hardware from the 28th to 43rd century (Earth time).
Inventors of the first psychic computers, the company had monopolised the business and leisure industries, spewing out endless new programmes for the technologically greedy races of the time.
Psycho-comp constructed machines around a single strand of DNA from whichever species had placed the order, allowing the user to form a mental link with the hardware that made the keying in of information obsolete.
One drawback was that if the machine was not 'in the mood' to work, the customer could be left arguing with it for hours on end, whilst this and that dead line flew past their ears.
Psycho-comp brought out patch after patch to try to counter the bug but nothing seemed to completely do the trick.
Cre'at knew that neither Colin nor Blanche would stand a chance of being able to operate the computer - they simply lacked the belief that such technology was possible.
Macfadyan would claim he had been weaned on these things and would show off by persuading it to play backgammon with itself, but Cre'at knew that Psycho-comps were relatively rare since the riots of 42,456 when the Sentient Beings' Rights brigade declared the computers to be an abomination against nature and forced the firm to give its entire stock a "decent burial".
Psycho-comp had tried to recover by introducing a voice-activated basic computer model, but it was the equivalent of forcing the entire galaxy to conduct business on a Speak and Spell and the company soon went bust.
Cre'at had seen a Psycho-comp once before but that had been in a museum and the DNA within it was long-dead.
He had been itching to find a working model ever since - it was like coming face to face with your great-great grandfather, and hearing first-hand all the stories you had only read about in books.
The Sot'm hovered gently above the machine and transmitted his query: * Can you hear me? *
* I am Cre'at. *
"I know. How may I assist you, Cre'at."
* Why are you here? *
"To find a cure."
* A cure for what? *
"My master's condition."
* Who is your master? *
"Lawrence Stackmore, Lord of all he surveys."
* A strange title. *
"He bestowed it upon himself."
* Where is your master? *
* When was he last here? *
"My master has never been here."
* Yet you are here. *
* Why are you here and yet your master is not? *
"I was stolen."
* By whom? *
"By my mistress."
* And who is your mistress? *
* She has no title? *
"She never saw the need for one."
* Why did she steal you? *
"To help her find the cure."
* To your master's condition... *
Cre'at paused for a second, his mind analysing the day's events.
Given the evidence the crew had stumbled upon since landing on this planet, logic suggested that the condition the Psych-comp spoke of was vampirism.
His database held no record of any attempts to find a cure but that did not mean that one could not be found.
He contemplated the creature he and Macfadyan had met and was startled when the Psych-comp interrupted his train of thought.
"That is my master."
* He is a vampire. *
* How did you come to be owned by your master? *
"He purchased me whilst in service to the Great Ones."
* The Great Ones? *
"They crashed on this world many thousands of years ago. They are gone now. My master believes himself to be the last of his kind."
* But your mistress is also a vampire. *
"That is correct. Though she is merely a novice in such ways. My master is the oldest living creature on this world."
* But he and your mistress must once have been of the same race for you to acknowledge both. *
"Their DNA shares enough similar traits to allow them to access my data."
* Did she also come to this world with the Great Ones? *
"My mistress was born in the town."
* What of her ancestors? Is anyone in the town indigenous to this world or are they all descended from the Great Ones and their kin? *
"There was life here when the Great Ones came, but it is gone. My master's people proved dominant and those who chose not to oppose their rule were absorbed into the gene pool."
* Your master did not purchase you on this planet. The technology does not exist. *
"I was with him before that. We survived the crash together and served the Great Ones before the Time Lord came."
Cre'at had no ears, but if he had, they would have perked up noticeably.
* Time Lord? *
"The Time Lord destroyed the Great Ones, forcing my master to go into hiding for many years."
* Show me the Time Lord. *
The man whose face grinned its way across Cre'at's circuits was a mess of curly hair, mix-and-match clothes and gleaming teeth.
He wore a scarf that was far too long to be practical and there was a touch of madness to his eyes.
He was not Macfadyan.
Cre'at was mildly relieved. To have been led here by Macfadyan's nightmares was bad enough. To find out he had been here before would indicate a level of deception to which the Time Lord had never before sank with his shipmates.
The fact that another Time Lord had breached the boundaries of ordinary space and visited this void was fascinating.
He should tell the others.
"I must report your interest to my mistress."
* That is not necessary. *
"I disagree. Your associate is also a Time lord. He may be able to assist her in her research."
* Where is your mistress? *
"She travels to the town in the evening to feed. She will return before sun rise."
* She kills the townspeople? *
"She does not. My mistress refuses to endanger others to satisfy her own needs."
* I do not understand. *
"You must speak with her. I will discuss the matter no further."
With a subdued beep, the Psych-comp severed its link to Cre'at and carried on with its work.
With a final scan of the room, Cre'at pootled back towards the front door,
Behind him, the bookcase slid back into place with a quiet hum.
It was dark outside.