The Eternal Casino

By Jamas Enright

The last thing I remember, I was running for the door.
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before.
‘Relax,’ said the night man. ‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave...’

- Hotel California, The Eagles

Come on in. Come on in. Don't get many visitors ‘round here. At least, not now... Take a seat, you're not going anywhere. Yeah, take a look around, this is going to be home for a while.

Kinda strange inn't. Meeting someone like me here, I mean. Not the usual sort of welcome you'd expect on entering a hotel, but that's why I'm here. T' welcome ya. Name's Jake, by the way. We's going to be seeing a lot of each other, so we may's as well be introduced.

Yep, over there's the desk. Sign in there later. Don't worry about reservations. Don't need to book here, room's already set up. Just take it easy 'n' relax. Later, go on over to the casino, that's what you're here for. Largest gambling room this side of the Mutter's Spiral.

...Don't worry about those people. Get all kind of people in here. Just siddown and watch the fun happen. That dame in the shorts don't look the type to last long here...

The Doctor went straight to the desk, and rang for attention. A desk clerk moved to where he was and said slowly, ‘Yes?’

‘We have a reservation. Three rooms, the Doctor and party.’

‘One moment,’ the clerk turned away.

Nyssa looked at the Doctor, slightly surprised. ‘But we haven't...’ The Doctor held up a hand to cut her off, then turned on his smile as the clerk turned back.

The clerk held out three keys. ‘Here are your room keys, Nos. 100, 102 and 104. Your complementary chips are inside.’ After the Doctor took the keys the clerk moved off, as if dismissing them.

The Doctor gave a key to each of the girls, then led the way to the lifts.

Up on the first floor, a camera, up in a corner of the hall, swivelled and focused on the lift doors, which opened to spill out Tegan's voice.

‘...better reason than that. Taking us halfway across the universe merely to play a quick game of cards isn't good enough. What's the truth?’

The Doctor ushered them along the hallway, talking as he walked. ‘If you really want to know, find out. A game of games. Quite suitable for this place. Now, get the chips, I need them.’ Hesitantly, the girls entered their rooms.

The Doctor opened the door to his, and was only half surprised by what he saw.

A group of three skeletons sat at a table in the middle of the room, each holding five cards. The Doctor examined them. They were quite dead. ‘Play right to the end, eh?’ he said, half to himself, as if knowing that other people might hear, and wanting them to.

‘Still, waste not, want not.’ Being careful to not disturb the skeletons, the Doctor reached over and took the small pile of chips in the middle of the table.

The rest of the room was typical of hotels everywhere. Everything dusted, the bed turned down, fresh towels arrayed here and there. On the table beside the bed was the pile of complimentary chips. Five blue pieces of plastic, representing $100 each. The Doctor scooped them up.

Outside, the Doctor found Tegan and Nyssa waiting for him. He closed the door behind him, not letting them see.

Ah, he's gonna to try and leave. Watch his face carefully...

The Doctor strolled to the large revolving doors that were the hotel's entrance. Entering them, he continued in a semi-circle, with no signs of an exit, before being deposited in the foyer.

Bewilderment clouded his face, and he tried again, with the same effect.

Bewilderment was replaced by anger. Looking up, the Doctor failed to see any camera, but knew someone was watching anyway. ‘No,’ he yelled. Despite the volume, he was ignored by everyone present. ‘I will not be caught here. I've fought you before, and I'm here to do so again, but on my terms.’

The figure sat watching a monitor with the Doctor's face on it. It emitted a bark of ironic laughter. ‘Of course, Doctor, but who am I?’

Nyssa looked around the casino with surprise. ‘How lovely. I remember games like these. Used to enhance mental agility.’

Tegan stared at Nyssa. ‘You had games like this on Traken?’ Nyssa answered with a nod. ‘I don't know about being used for mental agility, but usually these games are played for money.’

‘Gambling?’ This time Tegan nodded. ‘But how can one gamble like this? It's far too easy.’ Any forms of gambling on Traken were of a different sort altogether.

Tegan looked sideways at Nyssa. ‘Try playing Russian roulette.’

Ah, yes, the casino. Every game ever devised using cards is in there, waiting to be bet upon, as well as a few old favourites, like roulette and craps. Of course, it's all rigged. Not that anyone notices. They can't. Not now...

The Doctor entered the casino. Looking around he saw people playing games, having fun, winning and losing money. Looking more closely, he spotted Tegan and Nyssa.

Tegan was trying to join in the roulette game, but no-one was taking any notice of her. Nyssa was watching a game of poker in progress. On Traken, it was used to enhance such skills as guesswork, assessing the situation and playing a hunch.

Tegan put her hand in her pocket, and fingered the chips she had kept for herself. Roulette was as good a way of losing your money as any, she thought. ‘Excuse me,’ she said again, still with no response.

She went to the man spinning the wheel, and had opened her mouth to say something, before she noticed something unusual. The man never looked at the table, only at the wheel. There was no-one telling him when to spin, but he always knew when to spin and when to wait. There was another man there who pushed the chips around, and dealt out the winnings. He was looking at the table, but never anywhere else, not at the wheel, or the players.

Experimentally, Tegan waved her hand in front of the spinner's face, with no reaction. She reached out and gripped his arm, again with no reaction. The spinner moved to spin the wheel, taking Tegan's hand with him. She pulled her hand back hastily.

Nyssa was having similar trouble trying to join in the poker game. She reached over and pointed to a woman's hand. ‘Keep that and throw that away.’ Nyssa was totally ignored. Looking around the table, she noticed that no-one was talking. Absolutely nothing was being said, nothing to do with the game, and no idle chatter either. Looking at other tables, Nyssa saw that no-one was saying anything.

There was noise however, chatter was floating around the room, comments were said, and people were celebrating their winnings or mourning their losses. The only problem was, Nyssa couldn't see where any of this talk was coming from. No-one had their mouths open, and no-one was talking to anybody else.

The Doctor had also noticed all this, and had had the same lack of success in trying to join any games as the girls. There was only one way to get this sorted out, and that was to go straight to the horse's mouth. He walked over to the bar.

Now to get into this place it ain't as easy as it seems. Although this place is a trap, some sweat has to be worked up to get in, sorta to make it more enjoyable.

There's sort of an initiation rite. The only seat vacant for new people to join is at the blackjack table. It's so that the ‘house’ can sort out who is a gambler, and who ain't. From there, the people are taken to be made into androids to play at the table best suited for them...

The barman was serving drinks to people who paid up and drank. They never asked for any kind of drink, but always seemed content with what they got.

The Doctor positioned himself on an empty stool and tried to get the barman's attention. All he got was ‘I'll be with you in a minute, sir,’ as the barman started to clean glasses.

‘Can't you do that later?’ the Doctor asked.

The barman looked at the Doctor reproachfully. ‘If you want a drink, I have to clean the glasses.’

‘I don't want a drink,’ said the Doctor. ‘I only want some information.’

‘Are you sure you wouldn't like to have a drink while we talk?’ The barman showed no sign of leaving his task, or helping the Doctor.

The Doctor grimaced uncomfortably, and then said, ‘I'll just have water, thank you.’ He smiled at the barman.

The barman looked at the Doctor disdainfully, then got a tall glass, filled it with water, and placed it in front of the Doctor. After that he went back to his glasses and continued to clean them.

‘What are you doing now?’ asked the Doctor, puzzled.

‘I am cleaning the glasses, sir,’ the barman said this slowly, and carefully.

‘But you don't need too. You were doing it to get me a clean glass, which you already have,’ the Doctor gestured to the untouched water. ‘You can do that later, and talk to me now.’

‘ ‘I can do that later’?’ the barman seemed to be on the point of exploding. ‘Sir, you don't seem to realize the importance of this part of the job. What are the other patrons suppose to drink out of?’ He waved his hand in a gesture, which took in the rest of the bar's customers. ‘They will not drink out of dirty glasses in my bar.’ So saying, he filled a now clean glass with green liquid and placed it in front of a customer, before taking the dirty one away.

The Doctor sighed, then said, ‘They only want a drink if you put it in front of them. Isn't that a little odd?’

The barman stopped with his glasses, and examined the Doctor shrewdly. He then folded his arms, rested them on the bar top, and said, ‘Perhaps we should talk.’

‘That's better,’ said the Doctor, smiling. ‘Now, what can you tell me of this place.’

The barman took on a resigned tone of voice as he started a spiel. ‘The hotel is 130 stories high. Each level has accommodations equipped with full luxury...’

The Doctor interrupted, ‘No, not the hotel. This place.’ He waved his hand around. ‘The casino. Who owns it?’

‘I suggest you ask the owners that. I only serve here, I don't run the place.’

‘Well, how do I meet the owners then?’ asked the Doctor, prompting.

‘Well, you see sir, the owners, and operators, prefer their customers to have a game first, before engaging in any business matters. As a matter of policy, the game played is blackjack.’

‘Oh, yes? Any particular reason for that?’ the Doctor asked curiously.

‘Not really, sir. I just think they like it.’ The barman coughed, and the Doctor noticed the operator at the blackjack table look up, and catch the barman's eye. The blackjack table, interestingly, was empty. The barman nodded and indicated the Doctor. ‘If you'll just go over there, sir. I think they're ready for you now.’

Encouraged by the barman, the Doctor slid off the stool and wandered over. The operator indicated a chair, and the Doctor obligingly sat down.

Nyssa and Tegan came over to watch, but the Doctor waved them away from joining him.

‘How much, sir?’ asked the operator.

‘Oh, about that much,’ the Doctor took a handful of chips out of his pocket and put them on the table.

The operator dealt out two cards each, all face down. The Doctor lifted up the edge of his cards and found they were a Four and a King. ‘Not the best of starts,’ thought the Doctor. ‘Hit me,’ he said.

The operator dealt a Two, face up. The Doctor frowned. ‘Hit me,’ he repeated.

This time it was another Four. ‘Stand.’ The Doctor felt a bit better.

The operator flipped over his cards to reveal a Nine and an Ace. He swept the chips away without a word, and placed the used cards aside.

The Doctor sighed and drew some more chips from his pocket.

They continued the game through the pack; sometimes the Doctor won, sometimes not. Throughout, the Doctor had been keeping track of what cards were used, and now there were three cards left, a Queen, a Jack and an Ace. He confidently pushed some chips forward.

‘I'm sorry, sir. Only one game per player. Next please,’ he said, looking at Nyssa and Tegan.

‘Eh?’ the Doctor was confused. Two players from another game left and moved towards the Doctor. He got off his seat and turned towards Nyssa and Tegan. He started saying something, but the two players grabbed his arms and started pulling him away.

Tegan ran forward to help the Doctor, but he called to the girls, ‘Stay here. Don't worry. I'll be back.’ After a pause, and just before he was dragged from the room, he yelled, ‘And don't play any blackjack.’

Ya may be wondering how the ‘management’ decides on a person's playing skills from playing blackjack. Well, when they're taken away, they're met by someone who assesses them before they're converted inta androids.

Sometimes I reckon meeting an assessor is worse'n becoming an android...

The Doctor was carried into a dark passage. ‘Hiding what?’ he thought.

Time passed, with only the sense of motion to indicate that any time passed at all.

Light seemed to explode in the Doctor's face, but he realized that only a door had been opened. By now his eyes were starting to get used to the darkness, therefore any change in intensity was a shock.

When his eyes readjusted, what he saw was a clinically clean room, with two chairs in the middle. One of them had straps at the end of the arms, and by the feet. It was into this chair the Doctor was placed and then strapped down. The rest of the room was bare, and there were only slight indications to show where doors might be.

The two ‘people’ who brought him here left, and the Doctor was alone with his thoughts. He was just getting interested in some of them when another door opened and a figure in a lab coat entered.

‘Ah, Doctor, how nice to see you again.’ The Doctor looked up, startled at these words and finally saw who it was. The man had a round, rather chubby face, and his eyes were almost childlike with the curiosity the Doctor saw there. It was the hair, styled in a manner more suited to a monastery, that gave him away.

‘Surprised to see me?’ the Monk chuckled, then his tone hardened. ‘After you left me to wander through the Universe?’

‘You can hardly blame me for that,’ said the Doctor mildly, even though it was probably his fault. ‘Besides, you soon get used to it.’

‘Well, you won't be for much longer. Do you know what usually happens here?’ the Monk paused for a curious look to pass onto the Doctor's face. ‘Anyone who comes here gets turned into an android.’

‘Ah,’ said the Doctor briefly. ‘I suppose you haven't been turned into one because you run this place. Can't say I'm totally surprised.’

‘No, as a matter of fact, I don't.’ The Monk sat in the other chair, and leaned back. ‘In fact, I was trapped here, still am. I refused to play their games, and installed myself in this position here.’

‘Which is?’

‘Finding out which games people are best suited to.’ The Monk shrugged. ‘If I didn't, they'd turn me into an android and install someone else.’

The Doctor was shocked. ‘So you just let people be turned into androids? Just to save your own neck?’

‘Nothing you wouldn't have done,’ the Monk replied. ‘And yes, I did try to stop it at first. I'm not completely heartless. In fact, you could say I've got twice as much heart as some people here.’

The Doctor didn't smile. ‘So, what is going on here then?’

The Monk sighed. ‘It's a trap set up by the Toymaker.’ He saw the look of annoyance pass over the Doctor's face. ‘Played him too, have you? Well he set this up, drawing people in to play his games. At first it amused him, but, as usual, he became tired with them, turned them into androids, then left.’

There was a pause before the Doctor asked, ‘Why haven't you left?’

‘You've seen those doors. I know, I saw you try. Once in here, can't get out. My TARDIS is outside as well.’

‘Oh, I didn't see it.’

‘Well, of course not, that's the point isn't it? Who's going to notice one locked door in Las Vegas, when they can't even spot an extra casino tucked away at the end of some back street.’

‘I did.’ The Monk gave the Doctor a disbelieving look. ‘Well, okay, the TARDIS spotted the power source.’ The Monk smiled as he made his point.

‘What are you planning to do now?’ asked the Doctor.

‘Well, I suppose you'd offer an alliance, so we both can get out of this place, and then shut it down.’ The Monk paused with a speculative look on his face. ‘No, I think I'll let you be turned into an android instead.’ He pushed a button set into the arm of his chair.

‘Now, hold on here,’ the Doctor started struggling against the straps, but to no avail. Two different androids came in, released the Doctor and took him from the room.

From there he was manhandled down a shining corridor and into an operating room, complete with table and overhead lamps. There was another android there who helped to tie the Doctor to the table. ‘Don't worry,’ he said in a false warm voice. ‘I'll just take out your brain, reprogram it, and put it back in. You won't feel a thing.’

The Doctor felt a prick in his arm as a needle was pushed in. He glanced around as his surroundings grew dim and he blacked out.

‘On the other hand,’ said a voice as his consciousness slowly returned. ‘Perhaps I could use some help in getting out of here.’ The Doctor stared mistily up into the Monk's smiling face.

Now, back when there were people around, and none of these androids, there used to be millions of ideas come up as to how to leave. None of them worked. The only way seemed to be with death. Of course people tried to cheat that too. Used to inject themselves with all kinds a liquid to make themselves appear dead. Of course, when they woke up, they found that they hadn't really gone anywhere, only moved up a few floors, so as other people could use their room.

No, there is only one way out of here, and that's to completely blow the system...

Nyssa had determined that the people weren't real, and had in fact begun to peel away the skin from the arm of a woman sitting at the cribbage table. She revealed under it a tracery of fine wires and minute servo-mechanisms.

Nyssa's scientific background came to the fore. ‘Come and have a look at this,’ she said to Tegan. She looked up when she heard no reply, and saw that Tegan looked disgusted. ‘What's wrong?’

‘They look just like people. It's perverted.’

‘Perhaps you should try looking for the Doctor again.’

‘You saw, just like I did. He was taken through some door in the wall. No sign of it now.’ Tegan hugged herself, shivering. ‘This place has something sick about it. Androids that are people, doors that aren't there, doors that are there, but don't go anywhere.’

Nyssa walked over to her friend. ‘You might feel better if you lie down for a while. We'll wait for the Doctor in his room.’

They left for the lift.

As the doors of the lift opened on the first floor, the Doctor and the Monk entered the lobby. ‘What's the fastest way of deactivating all the androids?’ the Doctor was asking.

The Monk hurriedly looked around, and motioned for the Doctor to be quieter. ‘Shush, some of the androids are programmed to respond to such questions as that,’ he explained, ‘Violently.’

‘Ah,’ mouthed the Doctor.

‘Anyway, we couldn't get very far. We'd have to disable each android one at a time. There is no overriding control. By the time we'd done one or two, the barman would be onto us. He's a very sophisticated robot. Programmed by the Toymaker himself.’

‘That explains one or two things,’ replied the Doctor quietly, half to himself.

By this time, they had reached the doorway of the casino. The Doctor scanned the room for Nyssa and Tegan.

‘Now where have they gone?’ he muttered.

‘Ask the clerk. He always has his eyes on everything.’

The Doctor looked at the desk, and saw that it was empty. He turned to the Monk and raised his eyebrows questioningly.

‘He has his own monitor system,’ the Monk said by way of explanation.

The Doctor approached the desk. The clerk appeared just as he arrived.

‘Can I help you, sir?’

‘Yes. Do you know where my two young friends are?’ He had a fleeting memory of asking this same question, and receiving a rather embarrassing answer, but dismissed it.

‘Yes, sir. I believe that they are, now in your room.’ The Doctor started, then headed for the stairs. ‘One of them has fainted,’ the clerk called after him.

The Doctor swung into the doorway of his room to see Nyssa giving a glass of water to Tegan, who was sitting on the couch. Tegan was most definitely not looking at the table and its deceased users.

She heard the Doctor enter, and turned on him. ‘What the hell is going on, Doctor? What is this beastly place, and why are there skeletons in your room?’ Nyssa was watching the Doctor by this stage.

The Doctor took a deep breath, and moved in. ‘I think you'd better leave now.’ The girls looked as if they might protest, so the Doctor hurriedly added, ‘Just so you don't have to continue seeing them.’ He gestured towards the skeletons. The girls nodded, not looking in that direction, and Nyssa helped Tegan from the room.

Out in the corridor, Tegan said, ‘I hope you're going to explain yourself now.’

The Doctor looked sorrowfully at Tegan, but answered her. ‘This place was made by a being known as the Celestial Toymaker. He makes very deadly games. He used this place to feed his own enjoyment of games. When he got bored, he left, changing all the people into androids. Those people there,’ he gestured towards his room, now closed, ‘played until the end... the final end.’

Tegan shuddered. ‘That's disgusting.’

The Doctor nodded. ‘That's the Toymaker.’

As the Doctor led them back to the lift, Nyssa asked, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

‘Try to shut it down, of course,’ replied the Doctor. ‘I've got some, er, help, but I'll need yours too.’

The way to bust this place is to break the house's bank. Of course, all odds are in the house's favour. And, as they are androids, no-one tries to break the bank, anyway. Cheatin' is the only thing to try, and that's why the barman there...

The Doctor introduced the girls to the Monk. ‘He has ‘helped’ me on certain other occasions.’ The Monk gave an ironic bow. ‘Not always to my advantage though.’

‘Come now, Doctor,’ replied the Monk, smiling. ‘Aren't we now the best of friends? What is in the past is in the past.’

The Doctor grimaced, but said nothing.

The Monk entered the casino. ‘And, just what is your plan, Doctor?’

‘We'll join a game, and try to break the bank. What's your poker face like?’

The Monk looked shocked; ‘I can't possibly do that. Think of what it'll mean...’

Tegan hadn't immediately liked the Monk, and took this opportunity to show it. ‘You'll help the Doctor, and you'll help him now.’

The Monk took a step back from Tegan, who seemed on the point of physical violence. ‘What a temperamental young lady. Your taste in companions really hasn't been the best.’

‘Still,’ said the Doctor, smiling, ‘they can be useful sometimes.’

The Monk eyed Tegan warily. ‘I'm sure. On second thoughts, I will help you. Every now and then, I get the urge to do a little gambling. The barman is the man to help us get into a game.’ He quickly moved towards the bar.

The Doctor followed him. ‘I knew you'd soon feel more hospitable.’

The barman was watching as the Monk approached. ‘Why are these people not ready?’

‘Er,’ the Monk looked quickly at the Doctor.

‘We were sent here to help him,’ answered the Doctor, quickly. ‘We were just testing the system.’ The Monk nodded almost comically in agreement.

The barman paused for a moment, then accepted the answer. ‘I suppose you'd like to try one of the games now?’

The Monk took up the conversation from here. ‘Yes, we'd like to play...’ He glanced at the Doctor.

‘Poker,’ he supplied.

‘Poker,’ repeated the Monk. ‘Give us, oh, a thousand each.’

The barman reached under the bar, and handed ten blues chips each to the Monk and the Doctor. He then looked over at the poker table. The dealer looked up, and the barman nodded at him. Two of the players there got up and vacated their seats.

‘It's quick draw poker,’ commented the Monk as they took the offered seats. ‘How do you plan on winning here?’

The Doctor looked at Tegan and Nyssa. ‘I'd like the two of you to stand behind the other players, and tell us their hands.’

The girls quickly positioned themselves behind the other players.

The Monk nodded at the dealer, who then dealt the next round.

‘Pair of Threes,’ called Nyssa.

‘Three Aces,’ reported Tegan.

‘I've got a pair of Sevens,’ said the Doctor.

‘King high,’ said the Monk, gloomily.

The Doctor was about to place a bet when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see the barman holding him and the Monk by a shoulder each. He also saw that Tegan and Nyssa were held by two other patrons, and that the androids had a hand over the girls' mouths.

‘I don't like cheating in my casino. You don't actually think I bought your line about testing me. I think it's time you were replaced.’ This last line was directed at the Monk, who paled visibly. The Doctor tried to rise but the hand on his shoulder stopped him easily.

‘Let's have another round, and this time, keep it honest.’ The Doctor could imagine the barman chuckling at this point.

The used cards were swept up, and a new hand was dealt. This time the Doctor had a pair of Jacks.

The player on his left placed five blue chips out as a bet. The Doctor matched, and so did the Monk and the other player.

The Doctor got three new cards and got one more Jack.

After another bet of four chips (in which the Monk folded, he had asked for five new cards) the left player motioned for the Doctor to display his hand. He did, then the right player (two pair) and then the left player (full house), who then scooped the chips into his pile.

After the next two rounds (of which the Doctor won the second) the Monk was broke. ‘I never practised that much,’ complained the Monk, but was soon silenced when the barman gave him a squeeze.

The game wore on, and the stakes increased. The other players were supplied with more cash, but the Doctor was only allowed what he won. Soon reds ($1,000) were in, then greens ($10,000).

The Doctor pushed out half his current money. Although he wanted to hurry the game, he also knew this increased his chances of losing everything, including their lives. All he had was Ace high.

‘Last game, I think,’ said the barman.

Hearing this, the Doctor knew he was close to the house's limit. He pushed out the rest of his pile. The other two players matched him, just.

The Doctor discarded three of his cards, keeping the Ace and the King of Clubs. The Dealer dealt three cards to the Doctor, but he left them. He wasn't going to let the barman have anymore warning if he lost than he could get away with. There might still be a chance he could break away, although he didn't know what he would do if he did.

The other players had their cards, but no more bets were forthcoming. The Doctor decided to start things off. ‘Call.’

The left player spread its cards on the table. The Doctor winced as he saw that they were all red. Five Diamonds, a flush.

The right player was next. All it had were two Fives.

It was now the Doctor's turn.

He put his two cards on the table, then slowly turned over the other three. There was a Jack... a Ten... and a Queen, all of Clubs.

‘Yes,’ breathed the Doctor, slumping back in his chair. ‘A running flush.’

The whole room was now quiet. The chatter, the movements, the fake background noise, all had ceased. All the androids had now stopped in whatever position they were in.

‘Good evening, Doctor.’ The Doctor looked up at the barman, startled. He recognised the Celestial Toymaker's cultured tones issuing from the barman's mouth, which was now hanging slack.

‘I was so sorry you missed the finale of our last game together that I arranged this little game for you. I knew your curiosity would lead you to interfering. I made the game fairly easy to beat, as I know you aren't terribly good at these sorts of things. But now it's over, and, I'm afraid, so are you. I was so looking forward to meeting you again. What a pity it'll never happen.’

Nyssa and Tegan freed themselves from their motionless captors. The Doctor disengaged the barman's hand and stood up. The Monk followed suit.

‘What happens now?’ asked Tegan.

The Doctor noticed the room changing. The lights were growing dimmer, and the atmosphere was becoming colder.

‘I think now, we run.’

You've been sittin' here awhile, looking around. Noticed somethin'? Like how there's no windows anywhere? This place's tougher to break than Fort Knox. Still, as this place is based on a hotel, there's got to be another exit somewhere.

Actually, you might do well by looking for it yourself...

‘Where to now?’ asked Tegan. ‘Through the main door?’

‘No, it's been sealed off. Any other ways out of here?’ The question was directed at the Monk.

The Monk shook his head. ‘Not that I know of.’

‘Surely, there must he a servant's exit or something. Where's the kitchen? There's always a backdoor that way.’

‘Er...’ the Monk paused. ‘Actually, I can't remember there being a kitchen anywhere.’

Throughout this conversation, the lobby had dimmed in light and coldness considerably. Nyssa shivered, then a thought struck her. ‘What about the clerk's room?’

The Monk considered this. ‘I've never been in there.’

The Doctor led the way behind the desk, but stopped short when the clerk jerked back into life. It moved to block the Doctor's path, and that of anyone else who tried to enter the back room.

The Doctor grappled with the clerk, but the android was very strong. He managed to move it away from the desk, but was now unable to break free.

‘Go,’ he shouted to the others. They remained still for a moment, then Nyssa led the way into the back room. As the Monk was about to enter behind Tegan, she turned around to face him. She looked significantly at the Doctor, then back at the Monk.

The Monk sighed. ‘All right, I'll see what I can do.’ He then turned back towards the Doctor.

The back room was almost in darkness. Nyssa was testing the walls, trying to find something useful. Her hands found a section of the wall that swung away from her. She explored the revealed area with her hands.

‘I've found a chute,’ she reported.

Tegan moved towards her. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘It's probably for garbage.’

Nyssa sniffed. ‘It smells all right to me. We'll have to go down. It may be our only chance.’

‘Okay,’ sighed Tegan. ‘After you.’

When Nyssa came out of the other end, she was almost blinded. The brilliance struck her with almost physical force. She only managed to stagger out of the way before Tegan arrived. Peering though slitted fingers, she could make out the source of the light, a very large box.

‘What is it?’ she heard Tegan ask.

The hotel's closin' down. You can tell by the way all the energy's drainin' out of everything. It's all being channelled down into the basement, for one last expenditure.

If you ain't out now, yer never gonna be...

The Monk crept up behind the clerk, who had the Doctor in a bear hug, and was now slowly squeezing the life out of him. The Monk reached for its neck, and plunged his fingers into the back of it. With a surprising show of strength, the Monk ripped the neck open, exposing its mechanical innards. The clerk gave one or two more jerks, then froze.

Although there was a distinct lack of light or heat, the Doctor, with his Gallifreyan senses, could still see the Monk. ‘Thank you,’ he gasped, as he prised open the clerk's arms.

The Monk shrugged. ‘It was your companion who made me return. Most loyal she is. I would have just left you.’

The Doctor stared at the Monk. ‘Thank you,’ he said again, this time sarcastically.

He entered the back room, and his senses could easily pick out the chute. Holding onto the sides, he clambered into it and slid down.

His senses had to make fast adjustments as the light assaulted them as he came out the other end. He could just make out two figures, one of them kneeling by the light source. He moved out of range of the Monk's arrival.

‘There's no way out,’ said one figure. The Doctor recognised the voice as Tegan's.

‘Doctor,’ he could hear worry in Nyssa's voice. She was the one by the light source. ‘This appears to be a high explosive incendiary device.’

As the Doctor moved closer to what he now knew to be a bomb, he could make out something on the side nearest him. There were two dark patches at opposite corners. On another side, he could see three dark patches going diagonally.

‘It's a die,’ he realized.

Nyssa was surprised that he had only just noticed this. ‘Yes, of course, but an explodable one.’

The Doctor knelt by Nyssa, and felt one side. He could feel power throbbing inside. ‘Where is that man?’ Spotting the Monk, the Doctor called to him. ‘Come here and help me defuse this.’

‘That's quite all right, Doctor,’ said the Monk, hands out placatingly. ‘I'll just...’

‘If you don't help me, you'll die with the rest of us.’

‘Well, if you put it that way, I think I could see my way clear to sparing a moment or two...’

‘Just help him,’ this order was from Tegan.

The Monk hurried to the Doctor, more to get away from Tegan, rather than actually help. He examined the box as best he could, trying to shield his gaze from the worst of the glare while doing so. ‘It's a sealed unit,’ he exclaimed. ‘You can't open it.’

‘Ah,’ said the Doctor, quietly. ‘So you came to the same conclusion.’

‘You mean you can't defuse it?’ asked Tegan.

‘Not this time.’

Tegan walked up to the cube and, trying to relieve her pent-up frustration, she kicked it. There was a ‘thunk’ from inside, then a beam of intense energy was shot from the dark patch in the middle of the top.

As one, the group stepped back nervously. Trying to see the beam without burning their eyes, the foursome felt the ground shake beneath them.

‘What's happening?’ cried Tegan.

‘The beam must be destroying the building,’ shouted the Doctor. ‘Melting it somehow.’

‘What's the chance of us pushing through the walls when they're soft enough?’ Nyssa yelled.

‘Not much, but we have to try.’

Gathering anything they could find to wrap around their hands, the group pushed at the walls and ceiling, trying to find a weak spot.

Near the Monk, the wall broke, and earth had started to seep in. The crack had reached the roof, however, opening a wide enough passage for them all to climb out. Crying, ‘This way,’ the Monk led the way up.

The room above was a basement of some sort, but there was a door that led to some stairs. Quickly, the group returned to the lobby. The energy beam had broken though both floors, so now they could easily see what lay around themselves.

‘What do we do now?’ Tegan asked.

‘Push at the walls by the main door, and hope they give way,’ instructed the Doctor.

More shaking affected the area, but none of it broke any walls. The heat from the beam was oppressive, but the walls were only slightly warm.

Tegan was the first to notice the burning smell. Looking around, she cried ‘Fire!’ A blaze had started near the beam, and was slowly spreading towards them.

The walls were now slightly warmer, and the group was now able to make small indentations with their hands, but so far, no-one had broken through.

The ceiling caved in, near the beam, causing a gust of wind that fanned the fire.

The Monk had had enough. He stood back, and took a running crash into the wall. He caused a Monk-shaped print to be imbedded into the wall, but it showed no sign of totally giving way.

‘We'll try together,’ suggested the Doctor. Backing up, both the Doctor and the Monk ran into the wall. This time, there was some indication that the wall was near breaking point.

‘Again.’ This time a piece broke out, revealing light from outside. The Doctor started pulling at the sides of the hole, stretching the wall away, enlarging it.

More roof crashed down behind them. The others all grabbed wall and pulled. Soon there was a hole large enough for Tegan and Nyssa to escape through. Fire was licking the sides by the time the Doctor and the Monk escaped.

The Doctor and his companions moved away as the building collapsed. The hotel fell inwards, in a way that left the surrounding buildings unharmed. The fire and the energy beam destroyed, leaving nothing behind but rubble.

‘Come on.’ The Doctor gestured for the girls to proceed him away from the devastation. He looked around for the Monk, but he had already disappeared. They would probably meet again.

Soon, they were approaching the TARDIS. ‘I think we need a change of pace,’ said the Doctor. ‘I know. I'll teach you how to read star charts.’

[Eternal Casino]
Paul Potiki

This item appeared in Timestreams 5 (August 1995).

Index nodes: Fiction