Gary Russell – Doctor Who and the Scales of Injustice

‘Jesus,’ coughed Grant Traynor into the darkness. The J tunnel reeked of chloroform, condensation and antiseptic, plus a blend of amyls nitrite and nitrate, and urine. All combined together in a nauseous cocktail that represented something so horrible that he couldn’t believe he was involved in it. Why was he there? How could he have sunk so low that he had ever accepted all this? Over the last ten years or so Traynor had not only accepted but even taken part in events so abhorrent it had taken him until now to do something about it. At the time, it had just been part of the job. Now, he couldn’t understand how he had ever participated in the operations without vomiting, or screaming, or raising a finger in protest. Well, that didn’t matter, now that he’d finally realized what had to be done. He had decided to blow it all wide open, blow it totally apart. ‘Once I’m finished,’ he grunted, as he tripped over another lump in the tunnel floor, ‘they’ll never be able to show their faces in public again.’ The papers. All he needed to do was to reach a telephone and tell the papers about the place. In three hours, he guessed, they would be there, swarming all over the laboratories, offices and, best of all, the cavern. The cavern. That was the place he really wanted to see shut down. That was where all the horrors took place.

Where some of the most evil acts ever had been performed, allegedly in the name of science, research and history. ‘Yeah, right. Well, they’ll be exposed soon. They’ll -‘ There was a noise in the dark. Where was it coming from? Behind him? In front? He had to strain to listen the tiny amount of light in the tunnel was barely enough to enable him to see where he was treading, let alone yards ahead or behind. A snuffling sound, like an animal. Like a pig snorting out truffles. It sounded like the… ‘Jesus, no! Not down here!’ Grant moved a bit faster. ‘They know I’ve gone. They’ve sent the Stalker down here! After me!’ The snuffling noise was nearer, and this time he could hear the growl too.

A deep, slightly tortured growl that would send even the most ferocious Rottweiler scurrying for safety. And Traynor had helped to make it sound that way; he knew its limitations. Or rather, he knew that it didn’t have any. He must have got a good start on it. No matter how fast it could run, he reasoned, he had to be way ahead. But it could see far better than Grant Traynor could – and it could see in the dark. It could track via scents; everything from the strongest garlic to the mildest sweat. He’d been responsible for introducing that particular augmentation, and he knew how effective it had been. Surely it had to know he was there. Surely – But maybe not.

Traynor stopped for a second and listened. Perhaps they were bluffing, hoping that hearing it in the tunnel with him would scare him, make him reconsider. To go back to them. Fat chance. It was nearer now. That growl was getting louder. Much louder. Which meant it was definitely closing the gap between them. But how far behind was it, and did he have enough of a lead? He quickened his pace through the darkness, ignoring the intermittent pain when his outstretched hands cracked against the unseen stone walls. ‘That’s right, Traynor,’ called a voice further back in the dark.

‘We’ve sent the Stalker after you. Are you close by?’ Traynor stopped and pressed himself against the tunnel wall, as if the dark would protect him from the Stalker. They were murderers, all of them. What if someone else should come down here? Innocently? Mind you, Traynor considered, then he would have a hostage. They would never let the Stalker get an innocent. Hell, Traynor was the innocent. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. They were the ones doing something wrong. ‘Traynor, come back to us.’ Stuff it, you lisping creep.

As if I’d trust you. Maybe, Traynor thought, he should tell his pursuer what he thought of him and his bloody henchmen back in the Vault. Maybe – what was he thinking of? That would only serve to let the Stalker know where he was hiding. It was definitely closer. But Traynor was positive that he couldn’t be far from the gateway. And the chemical stench had to be confusing the Stalker to some extent. Surely… ‘Traynor, please. This is so pointless. You knew when you signed on, when you signed the OSA, that you couldn’t just walk away. We need you back, Traynor.

Whatever your gripe, let’s talk about it. You’re too useful to us, to our boss, to lose you like this.’ Traynor smiled and let his head loll back against the damp wall. He smiled without humour. There was no way he was falling for that. ‘Traynor?’ They were so close now. And that creep was down there, personally, with the Stalker. You’re brave, I’ll give you that, Traynor thought. Psychotic, twisted, malicious and evil. But brave.

But he wasn’t going to let admiration stop him. He wouldn’t let it hold him back. He simply couldn’t. Getting out, spilling everything to the papers, was too important. It was too – ‘Hello, Traynor.’ ‘Oh God.’ Traynor could only see one thing in the dark – his own reflection caught in his pursuer’s dark sunglasses. The same sunglasses his pursuer always wore whatever the weather, wherever he went, whoever he saw. Traynor saw fear reflected back into his own eyes. The fear of a man caught by his immediate boss and the Stalker.

‘I’m sorry, Traynor. You had your chance, but you blew it.’ Traynor was momentarily aware of a snuffling noise near his left foot, and then he was falling, and then the pain hit. He screamed, his mind filled with nothing but agony, as the Stalker bit cleanly through his lower leg. He fell, feeling himself hit the floor, his blood adding the scent of human suffering to the overpowering smells in the tunnel. Somewhere in the darkness, someone was chuckling. The last sensation to pass through Grant Traynor’s mind was one of bitter irony as the Stalker bit deep into his side, tearing through flesh with genetically augmented fangs that he’d designed for precisely that purpose. Liz Shaw stared around the laboratory at UNIT headquarters, gazing towards the jumble of testtubes, burners and coiled wires. Then there were the less recognizable scientific artefacts, probably from other worlds, or alternate dimensions at the very least. Well, maybe.

Whatever their origins and purpose, they were strewn in untidy and illogical designs all over the benches. Doing nothing except being there. They annoyed her. It was ten-thirty in the morning, her car had taken nearly thirty minutes to start, and it was raining. No, frankly she was not in the highest of spirits. ‘The sun has got his hat on. Hip-hip-hip hooray! The sun has got his hat on and he’s coming out to play!’ The Doctor was singing – out of tune, off-key and with little feeling for rhythm, tempo or accuracy but, Liz decided, it would just about pass a dictionary-definition test as ‘singing’. Maybe. She had been stuck in this large but rather drab UNIT laboratory for eight months now – staring at the same grey-brick walls, the same six benches with the same scattered tubes, burners and Petri dishes for far too long. Liz told herself often that before her ’employer’, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, had whisked her down here she had been enjoying her life at Cambridge, researching new ways of breaking down non-biodegradable waste by environmental methods.

It had been a challenge, one that looked set to keep her occupied for some years. Scientific advancement rarely moved fast. Instead, she had fought a variety of all-out wars against Nestenes, strange ape-men, stranger reptile men, paranoid aliens and other assorted home-grown and extra-terrestrial menaces. Her initial and understandable cynicism about the raison d’tre for UNIT had quickly given way to an almost enthusiastic appreciation for the unusual, unexplained and frequently unnatural phenomena that her new job had shown her. Her most recent assignment had pitted her against an alien foe not only far away – the tropics – but, via the Doctor’s bizarre ‘space-time visualizer’, back and forth in time as well. UNIT had provided her with novel experiences if nothing else. But as she twirled a pen between her fingers and left her subconscious trying to make some sense of the complex chemical formula the Doctor had scribbled on the blackboard during the night, three things were gnawing at her mind. How much longer she could cope with UNIT’s sometimes amoral military solutions; how much longer she could cope with UNIT’s cloak-and-dagger-Official-SecretsAct-walls-have-ears mentality; and how much longer she could cope with UNIT’s brilliant, sophisticated, charming, eloquent but downright aggravating, chauvinistic and moody scientific advisor. Oh, the Doctor was without doubt the most inspiring and intellectual person (she couldn’t say ‘man’ because that implied human origins, and she knew that to be wrong) she was ever likely to meet. He was also the most insufferable.

And he needed Liz as an assistant about as much as he needed a bullet through the head. Hmmm. Sometimes that analogy had a certain appeal… ‘Are you in some sort of pain, Doctor?’ asked the Brigadier, popping his head round the door of the UNIT laboratory, an unaccustomed broad grin on his face. The singing stopped abruptly. Liz wanted to point out, as brusquely as she dared, that her employer had just said exactly the wrong thing. She did not get the chance. Instead, the Doctor stopped what he was doing with a sigh. Liz was none too sure exactly what he was doing, but it looked complicated and tedious, and she had decided ten minutes earlier not to enquire – the Doctor could be very patronizing when he was irritable. And he was frequently irritable. ‘Did you say something, Brigadier, or were you just releasing some of that pent-up hot air you keep in your breeches?’ The Brigadier crossed the lab, pointing with his favourite swagger-stick at the shell of the TARDIS, which was standing in the corner.

‘Can’t upset me today, Doctor. I’ve got my happy head on.’ The Doctor picked up his tools and turned back to the bench at which he was working. ‘Oh, good.’ Liz decided some tact was called for. ‘And why’s that?’ The Brigadier turned to her and smiled. ‘Because, Miss Shaw, today our C19 paymaster Sir John Sudbury is due here to tell us exactly how much money we’re getting in this coming financial year.’ He perched on the edge of a bench and leant forward conspiratorially. ‘If we’re really lucky, I might get a new captain out of it. Quite impressed with young Yates – fine officer material.

Might even give you a pay rise.’ Liz laughed. ‘Oh come on, I doubt the money gods are that kind.’ The Brigadier shrugged. ‘Maybe not.’ He nodded towards the Doctor, who was working feverishly as he quickly moved his equipment round, a soldering iron in one hand. ‘And what exactly is he up to?’ Liz shook her head. ‘I don’t know. I came in this morning and he was seated exactly where I’d left him last night. I don’t think he’s slept a wink.

’ The Doctor swivelled round, the hot soldering iron pointing at them like some kind of alien weapon. ‘My dear Liz, sleep, as a wise man once said, is for tortoises. And if you must know, Lethbridge-Stewart, I’m actually obeying your orders for once.’ He got up, placed the soldering iron on its rest and let his jeweller’s eye-glass drop into his hand. ‘As usual, the two of you have been so absorbed in chit-chat that you’ve failed to notice an important omission from this lab.’ He had crossed the room and was standing face to face with the Brigadier. Taking the military officer’s swagger-stick, he twirled it like a magician’s wand and tapped the side of his head. ‘Worked it out yet?’ Liz stared around for a moment and gasped. ‘That TARDIS console. It’s gone!’ The Doctor smiled at her.

‘Well done, Liz. Top of the class.’ He shot a look back at the Brigadier. ‘At least someone round here can use their eyes.’ The Brigadier shrugged. ‘So where is it?’ ‘Back in the TARDIS?’ ventured Liz. ‘Right again.’ ‘Pah,’ snorted the Brigadier. ‘How’d you get something that big through those tiny doors?’ He pointed at the TARDIS as the Doctor leant against it. ‘Elementary, my dear Alistair, quite elementary, you asked me to try and get the TARDIS working.

Well, the console is back in there and I’m currently trying to restore functions to the dematerialization circuit. Satisfied?’ He walked back to the bench, took off his smoking jacket and laid it over a stool. ‘Now, I have work to do.’ He gave the Brigadier a last look. ‘Goodbye, Brigadier.’ The Brigadier stood. ‘Yes, well… I suppose I’ve got to make sure everything’s ready for Sir John and old Scobie.’ Liz smiled. She had a soft spot for Major-General Scobie. ‘When’s the general going to be here?’ The Brigadier looked at his watch.

‘Sergeant Benton’s collecting him from his home about now. Will you join us for lunch? Cold buffet, I’m afraid, but the best I can offer.’ Liz nodded. ‘I’d be delighted.’ She threw a look at the Doctor’s back. ‘That’s if there’s nothing for me to do here?’ Without looking up the Doctor grunted something about idle hands, finger buffets and military officers admiring pretty legs. ‘I’ll take that as a “no” then, shall I?’ She turned back to the Brigadier. ‘Twelve thirty?’ ‘On the nose, Miss Shaw, on the nose.’ He gave a last look at the TARDIS. ‘Through those doors? Pah.

One day I’m going in there to see exactly what he’s spending UNIT funds on.’ Picking up his swagger-stick and flicking it under his arm, the Brigadier marched out. Liz crossed to one of the lab’s huge arched windows and stared down onto the canal below. It had stopped raining and the sun was just breaking through the clouds. A colourful narrow-boat was navigating the lock, a tan shire horse waiting on the towpath, given a brief respite from providing the barge’s horse-power. The morning seemed to be getting better. Liz smiled; she liked sunny days. Behind her a low moan went up. Or singing, depending on whose definition one accepted: ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head… ‘ Liz threw a clipboard at him and stormed out of the lab. Daylight.

Can’t be done in daylight. Night. It has to be night, or someone might see, might try – no, will try – and stop me. Can’t let that happen. So cold. Why is it so cold? The sun is up. Bright sun but it seems… further away? No, must be an illusion. But the sky. Look at the sky. A haze.

Dust and dirt between us and the blue sky. Air is dirty. This world is polluted. Probably irreversibly. Why couldn’t they look after it better? Ridiculous fools. Pathetic idiotic primitives. Cretinous apes! Once upon a time Jossey O’Grahame had been an actor. Once upon a time he had been Justin Grayson, star of stage, screen and radio. He had been there in the golden days of Ealing comedies, Lime Grove dramas and Riverside support features. He’d worked with Guinness, Richardson and Olivier in films during the fifties.

He’d had to shoot a young Johnny Mills in ‘Policeman’s Lot’, marry Jane Wyman in ‘The Game’s Up’ and assault Trevithick in ‘They Came from the Depths’. The sixties had been good to him, radio and television making the most of his talents. ‘There’s no higher responsibility than great potential,’ his agent had once said. But then there’d been that scandal with the silly young model – he couldn’t possibly think of her as an actress after he’d worked with the likes of Dora, Ashcroft and Neagle – in that aborted comedy film about the power crisis, ‘Carry on Digging’. He’d been thrown off the Pinewood lot, his contract and reputation in tatters, and the production company had sued him for compensation over the scrapping of the film. And all because the little tart had written a stupid letter and taken too many sleeping pills. The papers had proved to be fair-weather friends. Their coverage of the story had been relentless and unforgiving. Eventually Jossey had ‘retired’ to the south coast and had spent eighteen months touring the holiday camps, bingo halls and small clubs, re-hashing old Galton and Simpson comedy material until finally he couldn’t take it any more, and his bank manager couldn’t take any more of him. He was bankrupted, washed up for good.

So here he was, living in the cheapest bed-and-breakfast he could find, leeching off charity and the public purse. With no future, every day became the same. He spent his few waking hours watching the waves spray against the rocks at the foot of the local lovers’ leap, clutching a bottle of cheap whisky, and wondering over and over again whether he should take the plunge himself. As he stared once again at the endless ebb and flow below, and listened to the screeching of the seagulls as they circled over the small town below the cliff, Jossey knew that he lacked the courage to jump. Besides, this place was a lovers’ leap, and no one had ever loved him, nor him them, so what was the point? He tugged his worn overcoat around his thin frame; it was cold for late March, and the wind across the cliff-top was brisk and bitter. The half-empty bottle of whisky glinted at him, and he took another dram to keep out the cold, keep his spirits up. Something would happen to change all this, he was sure. His brief moment in the public eye wasn’t over yet. One day, his name would be in the papers again. There was a strange hissing sound.

Had it been there a while, and he hadn’t noticed it? It crossed his mind that there must be a car or motorbike parked behind him on the cliff-top, and one of the tyres had sprung a leak. Hefting himself around, he was intrigued to see nothing. No car, no bike, nothing hissing. The wind whipped through the thin grass around his bench, but this was a different sort of noise. ‘Who’s there?’ he muttered. No reply. He peered down towards the edge of the cliff Nothing. Maybe it was something to do with the old cottage a few hundred feet away, the one the hippies had taken over for midsummer a few years ago, when they released those pretty doves. Love, peace and harmony. Ha.

No chance – There it was again. Not really a hissing. It was more regular this time, like breathing. Perhaps someone else up from the town, then, come for a drink and a chat. The breathing of someone with a bronchial infection, too much smoking and drinking. He should know. ‘Larry? Larry, is that you? Stop mucking about, would you?’ Then he saw it. And wanted to scream, but couldn’t. All he could manage was a whimper as something caught all the noises in his throat and held them back. His eyes tried to take it in, tell his brain that it wasn’t real.

He gripped the bottle of whisky tighter, and something old and forgotten crawled into his mind. Devilback! Run, run for my life. The Devilback is after me, they’re all after me, yelling and screeching. Hissing and spitting, I can hear them…

.

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