Pure Gold

By Stephen Jones

The sphere hung in the void, quietly rotating on itself. From icy space all looked tranquil. Closer inspection revealed white puffs moving lazily in the planet's atmosphere, over the cold darkness of the storm. Staccato flashes of lightning lit up a terrain that was littered with rocks, cliffs, mountains.

The ground was barren and infertile. Intermittent swamps littered the landscape, vomiting forth patches of mist, which were immediately dissipated by the heavy rain, pounding the ground. It ricocheted off the huge, grey, otherworldly building situated in a small valley. It looked as if it belonged there about as much as a pig at a Jewish wedding. It was here because this planet, otherwise barren, had an inner beauty: a heart of gold.

Welcome to Freobar.

Beneath the complex and in the valley hill, a group of miners were earning their rest. The glowing heads of their laser picks bit into the craggy rockface, leering defiantly back at them. Another small shower of rocks fell through the metal grill on the passageway floor, to be sucked back down the passage and up to the Gold Processing Plant. The leader of the work group, Kurie, swung his pick into the rockface again; his sweat and dirt stained face contorted in effort. Some larger rocks clattered to the grill, too large to fall through. They were sucked into the mouths of pipes that jutted out at ankle level, and travelled along the pipes to the Plant as well.

A siren sounded behind them, echoing down the tunnel. Kurie switched off his pick and raised a hand. ‘All right, boys. That's our shift over. Let's get back to the clan.’ The other miners mumbled in accord, clanging as they turned around, and stomped back down the passage, magnetic boots clutching at the grill. It was hard work getting the gold out of the clutches of the planet, but the end results were worth it.

Welcome to Freobar.

‘Well, I think we're on to something,’ the figure's voice resounded, as he swung around in his chair to face the figure of his speech. ‘We found a new vein of gold in M-1, and we're following it up now. Fozzyk'll vouch for the quality,’ the middle-aged grizzled miner claimed. The second figure turned to Fozzyk, who was lounging in a comfortable chair, and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

‘Yes, it's only a little bit - barely three hundred kilograms - but it's the purest they've brought back so far. It looks very promising.’ He sipped at his drink.

‘And you think there's more gold where this came from, Jannac?’

Jannac smiled. ‘Trust me, D'conn. I'm a veteran. Seen it all, mined it all.’ He chuckled.

‘Good,’ said D'conn. ‘Terra has very high hopes for the mining potential of this planet, and I'm not about to disappoint the Commission.’

‘Neither am I,’ mumbled Jannac nervously, slumping down in his chair, as Fozzyk swigged at his drink. D'conn sank into the luxurious sofa. She tried to think of a way to steer the conversation away from the Commission.

‘Do you think you will be able to cope with the demand when the miners find the mother lode, Fozzyk?’

Fozzyk looked up from his drink with the look and air of a genius who has been interrupted from his important work by a moron. As head of the Plant, he had complete confidence in himself and his workers.

‘Yes, we'll be ready. I'm more worried about what's going to happen when we find it. Bandits, quicker than you can say ‘knife’! I don't think that the Commission Defence Force would be able to hold them all off. And this planet! It's never been fully explored! Lug knows what's out there in those caves and swamps...’ Fozzyk paled further, gulping his drink.

‘Don't worry!’ Jannac laughed. ‘Ozwohl's the best commander in the Commission. And any ‘monsters’ would have been detected by the patrols or early warning systems by now. Relax!’

‘Jannac's right,’ soothed D'conn. ‘What could possibly pose a threat to us?’

Out in the void, another object hung in the blackness. But his was smaller, silver, and it moved more quickly than Freobar. Inside, on the flight deck, the pilot sat at the controls, dials wavering, lights winking at him, being reflected in the silver on his bland face. Without turning, the pilot announced in a grating voice: ‘Approaching Freobar on final run, Leader. Time to orbit: one hour.’

A figure behind the pilot stepped forward. The person was tall, threatening, and silver. ‘Inform me when we are in communications range,’ he grated.

‘Yes, Leader,’ the pilot chanted.

The Leader stepped over to one of the consoles, awash with buttons, dials, displays, speakers and switches. A silver finger snaked out and snapped one into a new position. His voice reverberated around the interior of the ship. ‘Attention. All squads are to be prepared for planetfall in two hours. Out.’

The silver snake snapped the switch back to its original position. The Leader stepped out into the middle of the flight deck, surveying his men as they went about their duties. The sleek silver ship knifed through the blackness on its mission of both destiny and destruction.

It was difficult for someone with no emotions or movable facial features to chuckle menacingly whilst grinning devilishly, but the CyberLeader did his best.

The sun glinted down onto the road, highlighting the grey concrete, contrasting the dark crevices. The birds trilled in the trees, a few clouds moved lazily across the blue sky, and for that moment there was a feeling that all was right with the world.

A wheezing, groaning sound suddenly issued from thin air beneath the shade of a tree. With a penultimate grinding thunk, the TARDIS materialized. All was silent for a few moments, then the birds began trilling again, as the door of the blue box swung inward. Out stepped the Doctor. He took a deep breath of air and sighed in contentment. Turning, he called out, ‘Come on Ace, Blair, it's a wonderful day!’

From the police box stepped Ace, looking about her with bored indifference, followed by a teenage boy, a worried expression on his face.

‘Cheer up!’ the Doctor smiled at Blair, who remained uneasy. Blair feared he was sprinting down the road-of-no-return in the direction of insanity. He was having a hard time coming to terms with a few hard facts.

Hard Fact One: He had just stepped out of a police box that was three times as large on the inside as it was on the outside.

Hard Fact Two: This box also contained more rooms than Ace had badges.

Hard Fact Three: He was reliably informed that this box was a time machine.

Hard Fact Four: The reliable source was a man who was over nine hundred years old, even though he looked as if he was in his early thirties.

Whipping an index finger over his tongue, he thrust it aloft. ‘Well, it's not Wellington. So where is it, Doc?’

A puzzled look came over the Doctor's face. ‘How did you know that this isn't Wellington?’

‘Not windy enough,’ the wild-haired youth proclaimed. The Doctor smiled as Ace shook her head. She wondered about his eccentric ways, but as the Doctor said, ‘Humour him,’ so she did.

‘Where is this, Doc?’ Blair enquired again, more interested now than uneasy.

The Doctor pushed his hat back on his head with the handle of his umbrella, looking about wistfully. ‘England, late nineteen eighties.’

Ace could no longer stand it. ‘Professor, why are we here?’

‘To prove to Blair that he's not mad.’ The Doctor thought back to when Blair had mistakenly wandered into the TARDIS. He was on holiday from New Zealand with his English friend John, who also lived in New Zealand. They had been staying at John's grandparents' place in Yorkshire, and returning alone on foot from a trip into town, Blair had entered the TARDIS out of tourist curiosity. And the rest, so the Doctor thought, was history.

‘Right, now we've shown Blair that he's not mad, can we go somewhere more exciting?’ asked Ace.

‘Oh, come on, it's such a wonderful day,’ the Doctor pouted, starting off, ‘let's go for a stroll.’ Ace and Blair started off after him, Ace becoming more bored by the minute. The Doctor, however, was having a great time, strolling along, twirling his umbrella, raising his hat to the occasional passer-by.

Presently, they came to an intersection, at one corner of which was a dairy. Ace noticed a teenage boy step furtively out of the shop, glance behind him, toss something small into an abandoned shopping trolley and dash past them, pushing Blair out of the way. In the brief scuffle, the boy dropped a small box, which Blair caught. He called after the boy, but this only made him run faster. The Doctor frowned after the fleeing figure.

Ace, not having witnessed Blair catch the box, went over to the trolley, followed by the Doctor and Blair. Picking the object up, she turned it over. ‘Cigarettes,’ she said distastefully.

‘Yuck,’ agreed Blair. Suddenly, a plump middle-aged woman burst out of the shop, shouting after the boy. ‘Oi! You! Stop!’

‘I'm afraid he's gone,’ said the Doctor. He raised his hat. ‘How do you do?’

‘Rotten,’ the shopkeeper said. ‘He stole-’ She caught sight of the packet of cigarettes, and snatched them out of Ace's hand. ‘Those. Little beggar.’

‘Ah, the younger generation today,’ sighed the Doctor.

‘Thanks a lot!’ snapped Ace.

‘Well, good day,’ the Doctor said. He raised his hat again, and started off. As they walked on, Blair remembered the box. He looked at it. It was very crumpled, made of black cardboard, and tied up with string.

‘What have you got there?’ asked Ace.

‘Don't know. That kid dropped it.’

‘Let's stop here and examine it,’ said the Doctor, pointing to a bench with his umbrella. Although he was in front, he seemed to be aware of what was happening.

They sat down, and Blair took a deep breath. ‘Well, here goes...’ He took the string off, and lifted the lid. He took out a small grey-brown ball, which looked like it was made of clay. It was the size of a cricket ball, and covered with strange straight markings.

‘Most curious,’ the Doctor mused, turning it over in his hands. He gave it to Blair. ‘Keep it. It may come in useful.’ Blair put the ball back in the box and crammed it into his ever-present shoulderbag, containing such items as holy water, candle stubs, cigarette lighter, can of fly spray (do-it-yourself flame-thrower)...

‘Now that you've had your fun, couldn't we please go somewhere more exciting?’ Ace nearly pleaded.

‘Oh, very well!’ growled the Doctor. He jumped up and walked quickly back towards the TARDIS, Ace and Blair following in his wake.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor fiddled with the controls.

‘Where to now, Professor?’ enquired Ace.

‘It's a surprise,’ he smiled. He flipped a final switch and the time-rotor began to rise and fall. Suddenly, the TARDIS lurched to one side, throwing the occupants violently to the floor.

‘That certainly was!’ exclaimed Blair from a horizontal position.

‘Professor, what's happening?’ cried Ace.

‘It's the High Council again,’ shouted the Doctor, at once at the console. ‘They've put the TARDIS on a new course!’ He mumbled a few very un-Time Lord-like words as the TARDIS streaked to an unknown destination.

‘Who are you?’ D'conn said to the silver figure on the screen. Out in Freobar's orbit, the CyberLeader stared at the image of D'conn.

‘My companions and I are mercenaries. Through certain contacts of ours, we were able to learn of your expedition. We travelled here, and wish to be employed to guard your gold when you ship it out.’

‘We already have protection.’

‘We realize that. We believe that we will greatly enhance your existing guards.’

‘What is that you're wearing?’ D'conn asked suspiciously.

The CyberLeader thought fast. ‘An advanced form of body armour. My men also wear it.’

D'conn was not convinced that she needed these mercenaries. She had certainly seen nothing like them ever before. But the gold shipment - once they found the mother lode - was vitally important, and she did not want to anger the Commission. She shuddered as she remembered tales she had heard about people who had. She turned to Fozzyk. ‘Well?’

‘I say hire them. We need them to protect my-’ He suddenly checked himself; ‘-the gold. The Commission need never know.’ The thin, shifty man continued to sweat nervously. D'conn looked at Ozwohl, the spikey-haired, broad-shouldered Commander.

‘We don't need them, My Lady, you have ME.’ He thumped his chest with his fist. ‘And the finest warriors in the Commission. We have no need for mercenaries!’ He spat the word out, and glared at the screen.

D'conn turned to Jannac, who shrugged. ‘You're the boss,’ he said.

D'conn turned back to face the screen, bowed her head and closed her eyes. Should she? She could not risk the wrath of the Commission. She sighed and looked up. ‘How much?’

The lives of you and your pathetic human colony, the CyberLeader thought. ‘Fifteen thousand credits.’

‘Done,’ D'conn said. Ozwohl roared with disapproval, but a look from D'conn silenced him. ‘Land your ship on Number Two Landing Pad, and we'll talk further.’

‘Agreed.’ The screen went black.

‘You'll regret this, My Lady,’ whispered Ozwohl fiercely. D'conn couldn't help but feel that he was going to be right.

Outside, Jannac's wild, red-haired daughter Jezzaca was listening at the door. Mercenaries, eh? she thought. Perhaps they could help each other... She straightened as Kurie rushed past her and burst into the room.

‘WE'VE FOUND IT!’ he shouted at the top of his lungs.

‘What?’ asked D'conn.

‘The mother lode!’ Kurie grinned, euphoric. Fozzyk and Jannac shouted with joy, and danced around the room.

‘Quick, we haven't time to waste,’ said D'conn. ‘Jannac, I want every work group on double shifts to get that gold out. Fozzyk, the same goes for your men.’

Jezzaca appeared at the doorway. ‘Found the mother lode, da?’

Jannac grabbed her, grinning broadly. ‘Yes, my child!’

‘I'm so happy for you,’ she said. I'll have to make my move soon, she thought. Maybe these mercenaries can help me.

Four days later, they had most of the gold out, and D'conn judged that they were ready to ship it out. She sent a coded transmission to Commission Central on Terra, who replied that they would be expecting the shipment. Ozwohl was still suspicious of the mercenaries, in particular how they never seemed to eat, or go near uncovered gold, but he said nothing. It was soon after that Jezzaca approached the CyberLeader in private.

‘I know why you're here,’ she began.

‘You know nothing,’ the CyberLeader coldly stated.

‘You're here to steal the gold.’

‘You are a fool.’ The CyberLeader turned to leave.

‘Wait.’

The CyberLeader turned.

‘You won't make it without inside help. I can help you... for a share.’

The CyberLeader thought fast. This fool could be very useful as a pawn. ‘Agreed. I will inform you later of our plans.’ He wheeled around and marched away. Jezzaca slipped away, very pleased with herself.

‘At last!’ sighed the Doctor, as the time-rotor descended and stayed still.

‘So we're... there?’ said Blair, clutching the TARDIS console with white knuckles.

‘Yeah, cheer up,’ Ace said, punching Blair encouragingly on the arm. ‘The Professor got us here in one piece.’

‘I'm afraid I didn't,’ stated the Doctor. Ace looked puzzled. ‘It was the High Council,’ the Doctor continued. ‘I had nothing to do with coming here, wherever ‘here’ is. Let's take a look around, shall we?’ He opened the TARDIS doors, and a cold gust of wind invaded the interior, chilling the occupants. They stepped outside, surveying the rough terrain of the planet Freobar.

‘What a dump!’ Ace commented.

‘Yes, but the High Council must have a good reason for sending me here,’ the Doctor reasoned. They walked on, feet crunching on the ground.

‘This place is just as boring as the one we left!’ grumbled Ace. A burst of energy shattered the ground in front of the Doctor. They all dropped to the ground behind a slight rise.

‘Oh I don't know, Ace,’ Blair said. ‘It has its moments.’

‘Professor, look!’ Ace cried, pointing to a hilltop opposite them. The Doctor and Ace were chilled by what they saw, but Blair could only see what looked like three silver androids pointing rifles at them. One of the weapons crackled, a shower of rocks pelted the trio.

‘What the flippen' heck are they?!’ exclaimed Blair.

‘Cybermen,’ the Doctor stated, his voice as cold as a bank manager's heart. Another shot narrowly missed. Blair spied one of the Cybermen twisting something on his rifle.

‘Oh oh,’ he said. ‘Unless I miss my guess, he's extending the range on that thing...’ The gravel by the Doctor's head splintered, bouncing off his hat.

‘What now, Professor?’ Ace said, anxiously watching the Cybermen.

‘Plan B,’ the Doctor calmly stated.

‘Run?’ Blair ventured.

‘On my signal,’ he confirmed, as he saw the other two twisting a control on their weapons. ‘Now!’ he shouted, he and Ace sprinting away to the left, keeping low amid the hail of energy blasts. Blair, not noticing them disappearing to his right, sprinted to his left. By the time he saw his mistake, it was too late. The Cyberman fire was getting much closer. Blair sprinted towards a hill. Fear is a great catalyst, he thought, as he moved faster than he ever had. He rounded the side of the hill, and dived into an inviting cave-mouth, which swallowed him whole. The fire stopped.

Blair fumbled in his bag for his torch, when a sound turned his blood to ice: a footstep on gravel. Someone was in here with him.

‘Where's Blair?’ Ace puffed, as they ran along, dodging blasts. They rounded a hill, blocking the Cyberman fire.

‘What do you mean: ‘Where's Blair’?’ frowned the Doctor, turning to Ace. ‘He's right behind-’ He groaned. ‘Oh, no. We'll have to find him, and quick. He won't last long out here, especially with the Cybermen about. Come on!’ He started off, but Ace held him back.

‘Someone's just found us, Professor.’ Puzzled, the Doctor looked around. On the hilltop, and surrounding them, were a group of Cybermen, weapons levelled at them.

‘Ah, how do you do?’ said the Doctor, raising his hat. ‘I wonder if you can help me. I'm looking for a friend...’

‘Silence,’ growled the CyberLieutenant.

‘Manners!’ frowned the Doctor.

‘Silence! Levity will not save you now. Goodbye, Doctor.’ The Cybermen raised their weapons.

In the complex, the CyberLeader was being talked to by D'conn. Suddenly he stiffened.

‘What is it?’ D'conn asked.

A pause. ‘A transmission from my Lieutenant. His patrol has found three intruders, captured two, and is pursuing the third. He awaits my order to execute the captured two.’ Inwardly, the CyberLeader was on his guard. The Doctor, here! Did he suspect? No, he could not. Soon, he would be dead.

‘No,’ D'conn said firmly. ‘Have your men bring them here for questioning.’

‘They are dangerous criminals and should be executed immediately.’

D'conn's tone was harsh. ‘You are in my employ. I give the orders here. Bring them in alive.’

The CyberLeader backed down. He could not afford to make her suspicious, not now. ‘Very well.’

Outside, the Cybermen lowered their weapons. Ace sighed in relief, while the Doctor frowned. This was not like the Cybermen. Were they up to something?

‘You are lucky, Time Lord. This time. Move!’

The party marched in the direction of the complex, the Doctor and Ace worrying about Blair.

He found the torch and snapped it on. Squinting in the light was a bearded, rough-looking man wearing grubby unearthly clothes pointing a laser pistol at him.

‘You're not one of them, are you?’ the man asked suspiciously, frowning.

‘No,’ Blair answered. ‘Who are you?’

‘Gyorg's the name,’ he said, putting the pistol away. ‘I'm a pirate prospector. Come in a few weeks ago, was lucky enough to get past all o' them guards. I've been tryin' to get some of that gold.’

Gold? Blair thought.

‘Come on, I'll take you to my hideout.’ He started to walk away.

‘What is this?’ Blair asked, gesturing around the cave.

‘You're in my mine,’ Gyorg smiled. They came out of the cave and walked straight into three Cybermen.

‘Leader?’ one of them said to the CyberLieutenant.

‘Kill the tall one.’

‘No!’ Blair shouted, to no avail. The weapons crackled and Gyorg crumpled to the barren ground. In shock, Blair offered no resistance as a silver hand grabbed him and pushed him in the direction of the complex.

The patrol marched the Doctor and Ace up to D'conn and the CyberLeader.

‘Well, well, well,’ said the Doctor slyly. ‘We meet again.’

‘For the last time, criminal.’ He looked at one of the Cybermen. ‘Where is the other?’

A group of three Cybermen broke through the others. ‘Here he is Leader,’ said the Lieutenant, shoving Blair forward. ‘We found him with another, who tried to escape. We shot him.’

‘Blair!’ Ace cried, glad he was still alive. But Blair was still in shock. Ace noticed his blank stare. ‘What's wrong?’ she asked, concerned.

‘They killed him. He didn't try to run or attack... they just killed him.’ He came round. ‘Doctor, they killed Gyorg’

‘Lies!’ growled the CyberLieutenant, thumping Blair on the back of the neck. He cried out and fell forward. Ace caught him.

‘You scumbag!’ she cried, helping Blair to stand.

‘There was no need for that!’ the Doctor shouted, glaring at the Lieutenant. He was just about to cross to Blair when...

‘Silence, all of you!’ D'conn shouted. ‘Why are you here?’ she snapped at the Doctor. He raised his hat.

‘I'm the Doctor, and this is Ace and Blair.’ He gestured to them. ‘We came here entirely by accident.’

‘Lies,’ grated the CyberLeader. ‘You shall be executed now.’

‘Wait!’ cried the Doctor. ‘Why do you have these people here?’ he asked D'conn, waving at the Cybermen.

‘They are in my employ.’

‘As?’ the Doctor persisted, unable to believe what he was hearing.

‘They are guarding the gold that is being mined here for the Commission,’ D'conn snapped.

‘Gold...’ the Doctor whispered, enlightened. He snapped to awareness. ‘You must expel them! They're inhuman!’

‘We are as human as you are, Doctor,’ the CyberLeader equivocated.

The Doctor grabbed D'conn. She noticed the wild look in his eyes as he hissed, ‘You must listen to me! These ‘people’ are Cybermen, the sworn enemies of the human race! They want to murder your miners and destroy the gold! Don't believe what they say!’

D'conn couldn't help but feel there was something in his manner she trusted. But could she expel the mercenaries? What if they got violent? The last thing she wanted was a pitched battle.

‘We will execute them now,’ the CyberLeader stated.

‘No.’ D'conn's voice was firm. ‘You and your men go about your duties. I will attend to these intruders.’ Reluctantly, the Cybermen marched off. ‘Now,’ she sighed. ‘Shall we go to the Hub?’ The Hub was a private room for the executive staff. The Doctor agreed. They trooped off to the room, accompanied by Ozwohl and a few guards. Blair stumbled along, dizzy from the CyberLieutenant's blow. Ace helped him along.

‘What is this ‘Commission’?’ enquired the Doctor. He was worried about the Cybermen. They were up to something, he could feel it. He had to get them away from the colony. But how?

‘A board of directors in charge of mining. They're based on Terra and are very powerful. It is very dangerous to challenge them.’

‘They don't sound any better than the Cybermen,’ commented Ace.

They arrived at the Hub. D'conn opened the door, and Ozwohl escorted the Doctor, Ace and Blair into the room. The Doctor looked around while Ace and Blair sat down.

‘Very nice,’ said the Doctor. ‘Early twenty-second century, isn't it?’

D'conn sighed. ‘Look, tell me who you are, really.’ The Doctor faced her with a hard look on his face.

‘I've told you, I'm the Doctor. My companions and I came here not by choice. Please, you must believe me about the Cybermen. It's not too late! If we act now, we can defeat them!’ D'conn cut him off.

‘You honestly expect me to believe you? I cannot expel the mercenaries-’

‘Cybermen!’

‘-because the gold shipment is too important.’

The Doctor's eyes widened. ‘Gold shipment? Ace, Blair, come on, we've got to stop-’ A guard barred his way.

‘You may not leave until I have discovered your true purpose here.’

‘I've told you!’ the Doctor shouted. ‘You must stop the Cybermen! Why won't you see that?!’ He suddenly checked himself. Yes, the miners were too caught up in the dazzle and importance of the gold to see the danger they were in. He could do nothing now, but maybe...

‘Very well. I'll stay here, but let the children go.’

‘Who are you calling a child?!’ yelled Ace, leaping up. A wink from the Doctor silenced her. She understood, and sat back down.

‘Very well,’ D'conn agreed. ‘Ozwohl, detail another guard to accompany the boy.’

‘Very good, My Lady.’ He bowed low. Straightening up and stabbing a finger at a guard he barked. ‘You! Guide this boy around. Don't let him escape.’ He looked at Ace. ‘You, girl, come with me.’ Ace glared at him.

‘You okay?’ she said to Blair.

‘Yeah,’ he nodded, getting up. Ace dutifully walked towards the door, the massive form of Ozwohl following her. Blair stepped out of the room, followed by his guard. Outside, they split up.

Blair didn't know much about the Cybermen or what it was that the Doctor wanted, but he was sure he would know when he found it. They turned a corner and Blair's attention was drawn to a small room off to one side. He stepped in and saw what appeared to be a library. Seated at a desk was a hunched old man. ‘Come in, come in,’ he croaked, beckoning. A keen history student, Blair stepped inside, looking at the ancient books in their shelves.

‘What's this?’ he asked the guard.

‘Our records,’ explained the soldier. ‘This is our keeper.’

‘Yes,’ croaked the man. ‘I am Dolayn. Come closer.’ Blair moved closer to the hunched old man. He felt no fear, only interest. ‘What is your name?’

‘Blair.’ Dolayn sucked a breath into his tired lungs.

‘Blair!’ he breathed. ‘A warrior's name! Do you know what it means in the old language?’ Blair shook his head. ‘It means ‘battle’.’

‘What do you mean, ‘old language’?’ Blair said.

‘Celtic,’ replied Dolayn. ‘Did you know that this entire colony is descended from the Celts of ancient Earth?’ Again Blair shook his head. Suddenly, an idea struck him. He pulled out the sphere.

‘Do you know what this is?’ he said, giving it to Dolayn, who turned it over in his wrinkled hands, mumbling to himself.

‘It is a catalyst for an ancient Druidic spell, which may only be activated by someone who is pure, so it says here,’ he said, pointing to the designs on the sphere. He gave it back to Blair. ‘You have a most valuable artifact there.’ Blair thanked him and bowed low, then made back towards the Doctor.

Ace had been walking down the endless corridors seeing nothing, with a great gorilla breathing down her neck. What the heck was she supposed to find? It would be much simpler to blow this place up with the Cybermen in it. She sighed, and hoped that the Professor had thought of something. She turned around and started back towards the Hub.

Fozzyk entered the Hub, eyeing the Doctor suspiciously. ‘The gold has been packed and is ready for shipment.’ The Doctor was horrified. With no gold, how could he defeat the Cybermen?

‘Good, have it depart immediately,’ D'conn ordered. Ozwohl burst in with Ace.

‘Hello, Professor,’ she said cheerfully, crossing to him.

‘My Lady,’ Ozwohl said. ‘I have just had reports of mysterious malfunctions in the Defence Force's ships. Virtually none are fit to escort the shipment.’ The Cybermen, the Doctor thought.

D'conn made up her mind. ‘Take the available ships, lead an elite force to escort the shipment. Take the mercenaries as well.’

‘No!’ shouted the Doctor and Ace in unison. ‘You don't know what you're doing! You're condemning yourselves to death! You must listen to me!’ the Doctor shouted.

‘Please, Doctor, be quiet!’ D'conn snapped. ‘I cannot afford to believe you.’ She turned to Fozzyk. ‘Begin loading now.’ He bowed low and left the room.

The Doctor was resting his chin on his umbrella handle, his mind was racing. ‘D'conn,’ he began, ‘if I can prove to you that the Cybermen are not what they seem, will you expel them?’

‘Yes,’ D'conn said, not thinking for a moment that he could. Good! Thought the Doctor. Now, he needed... Blair walked in with his guard.

‘Blair,’ the Doctor said urgently, ‘who's Gyorg?’ Blair shuddered; a pained expression came over his face.

‘He was a pirate miner,’ Blair said. ‘They killed him. He didn't attack them or run and they just killed him!’

‘Where was this?’ the Doctor asked gently.

‘Near where we were attacked.’ Near the TARDIS, the Doctor thought. He remembered the co-ordinates of where they landed.

‘D'conn,’ the Doctor said, ‘send a small patrol out to this map reference,’ and he gave a grid reference. D'conn grudgingly obliged.

‘What now, Professor?’ asked Ace.

‘We wait. And hope.’

‘The shipment is ready for departure,’ Ozwohl reported to D'conn. He received a ten-minute warning for takeoff from her. She ignored the Doctor's pleas to delay the launch.

Back in the Hub, Blair made a request to step outside, owing to the heat.

‘Very well,’ the Doctor said. ‘But don't go too far,’ he warned. Blair stepped outside, closing the door, taking a deep breath of cool air. A massive silver hand clamped over his mouth, and he was dragged, struggling, away from the Hub.

Ace was very worried about Blair. ‘It's been ten minutes, Professor,’ she said. ‘Remember what happened the last time he was gone?’ Suddenly, the complex shuddered slightly. The Doctor's hearts leapt.

‘What was that?!’ he exclaimed.

‘The shipment has just departed,’ sighed D'conn. The Doctor groaned. But, at least, the Cybermen were gone. For the moment. Where was Blair?! A communicator crackled. D'conn answered it. ‘D'conn here.’

‘Sergeant Palom here. We've found the body of a man near the co-ordinates you gave us. Killed recently, by a blaster shot, not of Commission issue. His weapon is still holstered.’

‘Return to base,’ D'conn ordered.

‘You see?’ said the Doctor. ‘It contradicts what the Cybermen said. Now do you believe me?’ D'conn looked him in the eye. Something clicked. She believed him.

‘Yes.’

‘Ace!’ cried Ace, punching the air.

‘Recall the ship carrying the gold,’ urged the Doctor. ‘Can you do that?’

‘Yes, by a code that will put the ship on an automatic return course, and activate passive defence systems.’ She turned to a console and began typing.

Above Freobar, the Cybership glided alongside the cruiser containing the gold. The CyberLeader, Jezzaca and Blair were on the flight deck. If a Cyberman had emotions, the CyberLeader was happy. The sabotage of the Commission ships had gone flawlessly, leaving only a few left. He had taken this fool Jezzaca along, as well as the Doctor's young companion. This would prevent the Doctor escaping until they could return.

‘Leader, the cruiser is altering course and raising shields,’ the CyberPilot intoned.

‘What?!’ the CyberLeader barked, marching forward. Jezzaca leapt to a console and began to type.

‘It's a precautionary code programmed into the cruiser's computers,’ she explained. ‘The shields are strong enough to deflect anything.’

‘Yeah!’ cheered Blair, ignoring the Cyberman covering him.

‘But there is a counter-command, and I know it,’ Jezzaca continued. Blair's face fell. ‘Being the chief miner's daughter has its benefits.’ She stopped. ‘There. The shields are down, but the precautionary code can be entered again.’

I'll have to destroy it now, thought the CyberLeader. He had at first planned to destroy the cruiser further out, thus dissipating the gold, but he would have to do it now. ‘Rear thrusters. Activate shields.’ The Cybership backed up. ‘Aim for the cruiser engines.’

‘What are you doing?!’ shrieked Jezzaca.

‘It's obvious!’ snapped Blair.

‘Fire.’ The word hung in the air. Outside in the void, beams streaked from the Cybership, striking the cruiser engines. Soundlessly, the powerful warp engines detonated, scattering the gold far and wide. The Commission ships were caught in the massive blast and destroyed. Blair's heart sank.

Jezzaca was astounded. ‘Where's my share?’ she gasped. The CyberLeader turned, raising his rifle.

‘Thank you, Jezzaca. You've been most helpful. Here is your reward.’ The rifle crackled, and Jezzaca slumped to the floor.

Outside, unseen, a lone Commission ship streaked for Freobar.

D'conn glanced at the console screen. ‘The order's been countermanded!’ she gasped.

‘Look!’ exclaimed Ace, pointing to the radar screen on the console. Shapes winked out, leaving just two. The Doctor's face tightened.

‘I'll bet anything that one's silver,’ he snarled. D'conn was stunned.

‘All the gold... gone...’ What would the Commission do?!

‘Cheer up,’ Ace said. ‘You've still got some left to mine, haven't you?’ The Doctor frowned.

‘Yes. The Cybermen must intend to do something about that.’ He thought he heard distant blaster shots. Kurie lurched through the door.

‘My Lady,’ he gasped. ‘Some of the mercenaries have appeared and begun a rampage! They're impervious to our weapons!’

‘I knew it!’ The Doctor snarled. ‘D'conn! Do you have any mined gold at all?’

‘Yes, in the laboratory, in the Plant. It's used to test the quality.’

‘Stay here. You too, Ace.’ She groaned. ‘No buts. It's dangerous.’

‘Come on,’ said Kurie, leading the way. They dashed down the corridors, the sounds of fighting getting closer. They reached the Plant, and the Doctor rushed over to a table, stuffing samples into a bag, counting himself lucky that some of it was in powder form.

‘Hurry, Doctor,’ urged Kurie, keeping watch. ‘They're coming closer.’ The Doctor snatched a can of solvent, cramming it into his pocket, along with the packet of gold. He was just through the door when a Cyberman rounded the corner and took aim at him.

‘Look out!’ shouted Kurie, pushing the Doctor to the floor, being hit by the Cyberman's blast instead. He fell backwards, dead. The Doctor hooked the handle of his umbrella around the Cyberman's ankle and pulled. The Cyberman toppled over onto his back, dropping his rifle. Snatching it up, the Doctor fired into the Cyberman's chest panel, killing him in a shower of sparks. Disgusted by his action, the Doctor threw down the rifle and rushed back to the Hub. He sprang through the door.

‘Where's Kurie?’ D'conn asked, alarmed.

‘Dead,’ puffed the Doctor. He turned to Ace. ‘Quick, we haven't much time. Do you have any nitro-nine which I expressly forbade you to carry around?’

‘'Course I do, Professor,’ Ace smiled, pulling two sinister silver-grey canisters from her rucksack. ‘What do you take me for, unprepared?’

The Doctor smiled. ‘Here's my plan...’

Aboard the Cybership, the CyberLeader was bent over a console, conferring with a technician. ‘Is the Cyberbomb ready for detonation?’ he asked.

Cyberbomb? Blair's ears pricked up.

‘Yes, Leader. Once detonated, the initial explosion and ensuing radioactive fallout will annihilate the humans and make Freobar uninhabitable for thousands of years.’

Sounds like a souped-up nuke, thought Blair.

‘By which time we will rule the galaxy!’ The CyberLeader straightened and turned, regarding Jezzaca's body with the closest thing to distaste that a Cyberman could get. He stabbed a silver finger at Blair's guard. ‘Take that away.’ The guard dragged Jezzaca's body towards the door.

Blair looked around. All the Cybermen were engrossed in their work. He slipped over to a console, and saw what appeared to be a communicator. Trusting blind luck, he flipped a switch and was rewarded by an image of the Doctor flaring up on the screen. He bent low over the microphone.

‘Doc, hey, Doc, listen up good,’ he whispered. Back on Freobar, the Doctor looked up grinning at the sight of Blair on the Hub's communicator screen.

‘It's Blair!’ Ace exulted. ‘He's still alive!’

‘Yes!’ grinned the Doctor.

‘I gotta talk fast,’ Blair continued urgently. ‘I'm on the Cybership, they're comin' back, they've got a...’ Blair heard a snarl. The guard had returned, and was rushing towards him. Blair's hand dived into his shoulderbag and dug out a handful of ball bearings, which he tossed in the Cyberman's path. Stepping on them, the Cyberman toppled to the floor with a startled cry. Blair turned to the microphone. ‘...got a massive nuke, they're gonna-’ a silver hand jerked him from the microphone.

On Freobar, the Doctor and Ace saw Blair wrenched away to be replaced by the CyberLeader. ‘Yes, Doctor, we have your companion. We will return to Freobar to give him back to you shortly.’ The communicator went dead.

‘Along with a Cyberbomb,’ muttered the Doctor. Ace was frantic.

‘Doctor, we've got to get Blair out of there! They'll kill him!’

‘No, no, Ace,’ the Doctor replied. ‘They need him alive to blackmail me. He's safe for now. And we have more pressing problems, right gentlemen?’ Jannac nodded, Fozzyk was devastated about the gold being gone. ‘I need a volunteer to attract the Cybermen's attention.’ Ace waved her hand in the air. ‘Not you, Ace, I need you here.’ Jannac stepped forward. The Doctor smiled. ‘Thank you, Jannac.’

Jannac stepped outside, just as the CyberLieutenant walked by. ‘Hey!’ Jannac shouted. ‘You! Silver breath!’ The CyberLieutenant wheeled and fired, killing the wall. Jannac saw more Cybermen behind the CyberLieutenant. He dashed back inside. ‘They're coming,’ he warned.

This registered in Fozzyk's mind. The destroyers of his beautiful gold were near. He snarled, jumped up, and threw himself out the door.

‘Fozzyk!’ cried the Doctor. ‘Don't be a fool!’ But it was no use. Fozzyk hurled himself at the Cybermen. The CyberLieutenant coldly shot him. The Doctor and Ace stuck their heads around the corner of the door to see Fozzyk fall. The party caught sight of the Doctor and advanced. The Doctor looked at the ceiling above the advancing Cybermen. ‘Now!’ he cried.

Ace jerked the string attached to the pins of the two cans of nitro-nine which were stuck to the corridor ceiling with solvent. The Cybermen looked up, just as the canisters detonated with a roar, a section of the corridor caving in on them.

‘Wicked,’ breathed Ace, observing her destruction.

‘Most effective,’ concurred the Doctor. Beneath the rubble, there came electronic snarls. The Doctor dug into his pocket as a silver hand cleared a hole in the rubble. The Doctor stepped forward and dumped handfuls of gold dust into the cavity that held the party. Cries of horror issued from the hole, and Ace paled. Gradually the cries stopped and the Doctor spoke. ‘I hated to do that, but it had to be done.’ He turned and walked back towards the Hub, Ace following him.

Aboard the Cybership, the CyberLeader was being informed that they were receiving distress signals from the strike squad customary to when a Cyberman becomes deactivated. He looked at Blair - now guarded by two Cybermen - with what Blair supposed to be hate. Mentally, Blair was reciting Psalm 23, the one about not fearing death. It wasn't working.

‘Approaching Freobar,’ the CyberPilot announced. The CyberLeader looked at the planet. Soon, Doctor, soon.

‘What about the Cybermen?’ Ace asked.

‘They're returning, and intend to destroy us with a Cyberbomb,’ the Doctor answered. ‘I think I can stop them. D'conn, stay here. Let no-one leave the complex. I will return shortly. Come on, Ace.’ He started towards the door, but Ozwohl burst in, followed by some guards.

‘My Lady.’ He bowed.

‘You're alive!’ D'conn exclaimed, relieved.

‘Yes,’ said Ozwohl. ‘The explosion of the cruiser didn't quite catch us, although our communicator was disabled,’ he explained. ‘I see you have dealt with the mercenaries,’ he said, looking with disappointment at the silver hand protruding from the rubble.

The Doctor smiled and rushed out of the door. Ace ran to keep up with him. ‘Professor, what does this plan involve?’

‘The TARDIS, and a large amount of energy,’ he mumbled, lost in thought.

‘Do you have a plan to rescue Blair?’ The Doctor lurched to a halt.

‘Ah, well...’

‘You haven't!’ cried Ace, frantic. ‘You haven't forgotten about him, have you?’

The Doctor tried to soothe her. ‘Ace, please, listen-’ Ace didn't.

‘You have! He's up there and you're going to do nothing!’

‘Ace!’ the Doctor snapped. ‘I've told you, he's safe! They need him alive. I haven't forgotten about him, and I won't leave him.’ He placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘Please, believe me.’

‘Well, okay,’ she mumbled, avoiding his gaze. Then she fixed him with a hard stare. ‘But you'd better not leave him.’

The Doctor stood back. ‘I won't,’ he said quietly. ‘Come on.’ They dashed off to the TARDIS.

D'conn swung around as a grinding noise interrupted her thinking. She, Jannac and Ozwohl looked on in amazement as a large blue box materialized in the middle of the room. From it stepped the Doctor.

‘How did you do that?’ asked D'conn.

‘There isn't time to explain,’ the Doctor began. ‘Suffice to say that you have sufficient proof that I can travel in space. I can also travel in time. I intend to create a massive time/space portal to take this complex back to an ancient world.’

Ozwohl laughed. ‘What trickery is this?’

‘There is none, I assure you. You'll see the results for yourself.’ He stepped back inside the TARDIS. Ace was waiting by the console. The Doctor flipped a few switches and the time-rotor began to rise and fall. The Doctor stood back, thrusting his hands into his pockets.

‘So what's happening, Professor?’ Ace wanted to know.

‘I've created a large time/space distortion field around the complex, which will take us back to a nice little ancient planet.’

‘Any place I know?’

‘You might,’ the Doctor said matter-of-factly. ‘It's Earth.’

The CyberPilot chanted. ‘Leader, there is a strong energy surge issuing from the humans' complex. Sensors indicate it is a time/space vortex.’

‘Increase thrust, maximum speed,’ the CyberLeader ordered. The ship shuddered, and Blair caught his breath as they plunged through the atmosphere, down towards the complex, disappearing through a shimmering haze. The Cybership rocketed through the field.

The Doctor and Ace stepped out of the TARDIS. ‘We're there,’ said the Doctor. ‘If you'll follow me, you'll see your new home.’ D'conn, Jannac and Ozwohl looked at the Doctor strangely, but followed him out of the complex. They gasped as they emerged into bright sunlight. The complex was on the edge of a forest clearing, hidden mostly by trees.

‘Professor, I know this is Earth, but when and where is this?’

‘Britain, at the time of the Celts.’

‘It's beautiful,’ breathed D'conn, looking about her in wonder.

‘Yes,’ the Doctor agreed. ‘A young world, free of fear, oppression, and the tyranny of the Commission. And the Cybermen.’

Ace touched his arm. ‘I don't think so, Professor. Look.’ She pointed, and the Doctor's blood ran cold as he saw the Cybership gliding towards them.

‘Quick, back inside!’ he ordered. They dashed back to the Hub. The Doctor switched on the communicator. The face of the CyberLeader stared at him.

‘Hello, Doctor. You left without saying goodbye.’

The Doctor snarled. ‘Where's Blair?’ Blair was pushed into view.

‘Hiya Doc, Ace, all the gang,’ he waved. ‘I tell ya, these guys have no sense of humour!’

‘Let him go!’ cried Ace.

‘Where's Jezzaca?’ asked Jannac.

‘She got her share of the gold,’ the CyberLeader answered in a voice as cold as liquid nitrogen. ‘She is dead.’

Jannac's face crumbled. D'conn put her arm around him. ‘It's not true!’ he gasped.

‘Is it, Blair?’ the Doctor asked.

‘'Fraid so,’ said Blair sadly.

The Doctor was angry now. ‘Let Blair go! You've destroyed the gold and killed enough people!’

‘But we want you, Doctor,’ the CyberLeader insisted. ‘His life for yours.’

‘Agreed,’ whispered the Doctor in fury, his eyes blazing.

‘No!’ Ace and Blair cried in unison. ‘You can't do it!’ shouted Blair. ‘I'm not afraid of death! He's more afraid of me!’

‘We will release your companion now,’ the CyberLeader said. They all raced outside to see that the Cybership had landed. A hatch opened and a silver hand shoved Blair towards the Doctor and Ace. Ace hugged him in relief and the Doctor smiled.

‘I have to go now,’ he said.

‘No,’ said Ace. The Doctor smiled and tweaked her nose. Then he tipped his hat to them and walked forward. The Cybership was now hovering. Through a loudspeaker, the CyberLeader berated the Doctor.

‘Doctor, you have finally lost. It was your pathetic innocence that enabled us to defeat you.’

Silence.

The Doctor's mind raced. Innocence? Like children playing? Playing... with a ball? ‘Blair!’ he exclaimed. Blair leapt forward. ‘Quick, give me that ball you found.’

Blair gave it to him. ‘There you are, Doc. An old miner said it's a catalyst for a magic spell which can only be activated by someone who's pure.’

Very interesting, the Doctor thought. He looked down and noticed a small, neat, circular hole in the turf. It was very black, and seemed to have no bottom.

Ace was very concerned about what was going to happen to the Doctor. Suddenly she saw a small child wander into the clearing. It was barely a toddler, dressed in tartan wrappings. Ace bent down and picked the baby up, cradling it in her arms. ‘Professor,’ she said. ‘Look what I've found.’

The Doctor looked around. A baby? Enlightenment exploded in his brain. ‘Put the baby down, Ace,’ he instructed. Ace did so. ‘Hello,’ the Doctor said to the baby. ‘Would you like this?’ he said, holding out the ball. The baby smiled and staggered forward. A ball which was a catalyst for a magical spell which could only be activated by someone who was pure, eh? The Doctor thought. You couldn't get much more pure than a newborn child.

‘Prepare to die, Doctor,’ the CyberLeader's voice boomed.

The baby grabbed the ball and happily threw it down the hole. The earth shook in a force seven quake. Ace scooped up the baby. ‘What's happening?’ she cried, struggling to stand.

‘The spell's been activated!’ the Doctor shouted over the rumbling. The CyberLeader got the Doctor in the crosshairs of the Cybership's laser cannons. Suddenly, a brilliant blue ray of energy shot skyward from the hole, yellow rings of energy crackled at regular intervals around the blue column. These rapidly widened, encompassing the clearing. The air glowed red. The Cybership shook violently, throwing the occupants about.

‘What is happening?’ the CyberLeader shouted. The air crackled fiercely with energy, the Cybership shook even more violently.

It looks like it's going to explode, thought the Doctor. A sudden thought struck him. ‘The Cyberbomb!’ When the Cybership detonated, so would the Cyberbomb! It would kill them all, and destroy the future of the Earth with the fallout!

With a mighty roar, the Cybership exploded in a red and gold ball of fire. The shockwave knocked everyone over. Debris rained down into the clearing. Where the Cybership had been, the Doctor saw an ominous shape hanging in the red air. The Cyberbomb! A black field opened up and the Cyberbomb flew through it, disappearing from the clearing.

A black vortex field opened in space above Freobar. The Cyberbomb was spat forth, and streaked through the atmosphere and detonated silently on Freobar's surface, vomiting forth radioactive fallout that would contaminate the planet for thousands of years. The vortex field shut.

The air stopped glowing red, and the yellow bands receded to their original radiuses around the blue column of energy, which shot back into the ground. There was silence for a few moments, then...

‘You did it, Professor!’ yelled Ace.

‘I didn't really, Ace,’ the Doctor admitted, standing up. ‘It was the spell. Blair found the ball, you found the baby, and the baby activated it. I merely brought it all together.’

‘But it all tied in very neatly,’ said Blair. ‘Speaking of which, here comes the baby's mother.’ He hooked a thumb in the direction of an approaching Celtic woman. Ace handed her the baby. She smiled at Ace, then stared at the complex.

The Doctor turned to D'conn. ‘It's about time to get to know the locals, I think,’ he said.

‘How can we ever thank you?’ D'conn asked.

‘Oh, there's no need for thanks,’ the Doctor smiled. ‘Just live long and happy lives. Farewell.’ He tipped his hat to them and walked into the complex, followed by Ace and Blair.

‘Why couldn't you activate the spell, Professor?’ Ace wanted to know.

The Doctor shrugged. ‘I'm not pure,’ he said.

Ace frowned. The Doctor was the most virtuous person she had ever met. ‘Then how come the baby could activate the spell?’ She was confused.

‘You see, Ace,’ Blair explained, ‘as life goes on, people just can't help doing bad things, thus making themselves impure. But the baby was pure because it was so young.’

Ace was still confused. The Doctor put his arm around her. ‘Even I'm not perfect, Ace. Nobody is. Take D'conn for example. She tried to mine the gold, but the importance of it to her blinded her to the danger of the Cybermen. And Jezzaca and Fozzyk. Their greed destroyed them even though they may have been good when they were younger. And you and I, Ace. We saved the colony by blowing up the Cybermen. You see, some of us try to do right, but sometimes do wrong. Even to do right.’

Ace understood. ‘And the baby was pure because he hadn't done anything wrong yet!’ she reasoned.

‘Yes!’ smiled the Doctor. They reached the Hub, and so they stepped inside the TARDIS. The Doctor set to work at the console. ‘So, Blair,’ the Doctor said. ‘Enjoying your ‘holiday’ so far? Do you want to continue?’

Blair wondered. He had narrowly escaped death at the hands of belligerent silver cyborgs, and now the nine-hundred year old man with the blue police box time-machine and the girl who blew things up were offering more. ‘I don't know...’

Ace noticed his hesitation. ‘Please?’ she implored, arching her eyebrows.

‘Well?’ said the Doctor.

Blair made up his mind. He grinned. ‘I suppose I can spare the time.’

Ace laughed and the Doctor groaned as the TARDIS spun away to new adventures.

This item appeared in Timestreams 3 (August 1991).

Index nodes: Fiction