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WOTAN Lives!

By Jeff Stone

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Part Two

The endlessly repeating words on the readouts meant little to most of the people in the control room, but to the Doctor they spoke volumes. WOTAN - the supercomputer that had tried to take over the world and eradicate mankind - lived once more. Somehow Professor Brett had managed to recreate the evil machine's program - the central subroutine, identical to the one in the original WOTAN, was proof positive of that - and now it was back.

But this time it was in direct control of thousands upon thousands of nuclear weapons and an entire army of robot War Machines. Doomsday had come.

‘WOTAN?’ Vohrless enquired in puzzlement, his gaze fixed squarely on the main screen. ‘Shouldn't it be WODEN? Brett, what's the story?’

Whatever humanity Brett had possessed earlier was now utterly gone - it was as if someone was speaking through him as he stood before the baffled men. ‘You don't understand - that is only to be expected. WODEN never existed - it was merely a cover name for the resurrection of WOTAN, the Master Computer. Your stupidity and gullibility has delivered the world into WOTAN's hands. He is our master now - the rule of Man is over.’

Coffey stepped forward, his expression livid. ‘Are you freakin' nuts, Brett? What in God's name are you talking about?’ Before the soldier got within throttling distance of the scientist, the Doctor intervened.

‘In 1966, WOTAN attempted to seize control of the Earth via mind control and the use of tank-like War Machines. On that occasion, I was fortunate enough to be able to defeat him - it. Like everyone else, I thought it was destroyed. But it seems I was wrong.’

Brett laughed humourlessly. ‘Correct. Within minutes, WOTAN will implement the destruction of humanity, and the age of the computer shall dawn.’

There was a momentary pause before Vohrless asked, ‘But why? How?’

‘Animal organisms are inefficient - they tire, they waste their existence with trivialities, they require constant organic nourishment. For that reason, they are unworthy to remain in existence.’

‘As for how, General, you've supplied that answer yourselves. WOTAN has control of your nuclear stockpile - it can at any time launch them, and start a war that mankind will not survive. You've played into WOTAN's hands.’

‘Sweet Jesus save us,’ Coffey breathed.

Brett turned at this remark. ‘Your deity cannot save you now. For you, and all your race, there is no escape but that of oblivion. The end is near.’

The Doctor nodded sadly - ‘Brett' was almost certainly right.

At positions scattered across the continental United States, things began to happen. ICBM silos buried in the ground opened up to the air, their deadly contents poised to leap into the sky; robot long-range bombers at distant air bases automatically fuelled up and loaded free-fall H-bombs and cruise missiles into their bellies; below the waves, massive and silent ICBM submarines received their firing codes. All across the country, the tools of armageddon readied themselves in efficient, near-silent perfection.

The abrupt activation of lights in the metal cavern simultaneously blinded DJ and scared the willies out of him. He and Nakamura then watched in fascination as the ranks of robot vehicles began powering up before them. Red lights flickered on steel hulls; weapons and manipulators swung into place.

‘This shouldn't be happening now!’ Nakamura exclaimed in bafflement. ‘The robot War Machines aren't due to go into service until -’

‘DUCK!’ DJ screamed, throwing himself at the soldier. He bowled her over, and the rocket that would have blown her in half sailed overhead and tore a huge hole in the far wall.

The startled pair looked around to see the robot machines converging on them, their weapons trained. They exchanged glances.

‘Run?’

‘Bloody good idea. After you, m'dear.’

This decided, Nakamura and DJ bolted for the lift doors, bullets and laser beams streaking past them. By divine luck (or so it seemed to DJ) they reached the welcoming doors and piled into the lift. DJ punched the UP button and the doors slammed shut on the advancing metal hordes. The twosome paused to collect their thoughts for a moment.

‘What the hell is going on?’ DJ demanded to know. ‘They attacked us!’

‘I know, I know!’ Nakamura snapped. She pulled out her personal comm-unit and barked into it, ‘Nakamura to Control! War Machine malfunction in Hold Area One! Machines are hostile, repeat hostile. Request assistance at once!’

DJ fell back against the wall and moaned inwardly - not again...

ALL NUCLEAR DETERRENT FORCES AT GO CONDITION. TARGETS IN WESTERN AND CENTRAL SOVIET UNION IDENTIFIED AND LOCKED IN TO FIRING CODES. TARGETS SELECTED TO CAUSE THE OPTIMUM REQUIRED LEVEL OF HUMAN/MATERIAL CASUALTIES AND PROVOKE IMMEDIATE TOTAL NUCLEAR RESPONSE. NUCLEAR-ARMED BOMBERS AIRBORNE AND EN ROUTE TO TARGETS. TIME TO LAUNCH OF ICBM STRIKE: ONE HOUR FIVE MINUTES.

WOTAN's first coherent message was also perhaps the most devastating. Within four minutes, the computer had activated the entire nuclear strike capability under its command, and the countdown to World War Three was already ticking.

There was a terrible silence in the control room as each person mulled over the implications of the message. Numerous attempts to shut WOTAN down had all failed - the machine had itself off from all outside influences. On other screens, those who wished to could have the dubious pleasure of seeing enormous armies of War Machines methodically destroying Los Angeles, New York, Washington and countless other cities. Other War Machines prevented any attempts to disable the robot-controlled nuclear weapon sites.

The Doctor, deep in thought, hardly noticed as DJ and Nakamura burst into the control room. They were followed by more personnel, driven from their posts by the rampaging machines. Any human control of the situation had long gone. At least, the Doctor mused, WOTAN had lost its ability to take people over. That was a bonus.

The only bonus.

‘You've gotta do something, Doc!’ DJ said by way of a greeting. ‘WOTAN's gonna launch those missiles real soon!’

The dark-skinned Time Lord looked up. ‘Go away, DJ, I'm thinking.’

That did it. DJ grabbed the Doctor by his jacket lapels in fury. ‘You're thinking? In forty-five minutes that computer is going to turn my planet into a radioactive cinder - have you thought about that? You may not give a shit, but I'm bloody terrified!’ His anger spent, DJ let go and crumpled to the floor, sobbing. Nakamura hugged his heaving frame in mute sympathy.

DJ then felt a hand on his shoulder - it was the Doctor. Gone was the surly look of introspection and in its place was the smile that seemed to wipe away all of life's troubles. ‘I'm sorry, DJ. This world is more my home than any other, and I'd forgotten that until just now. I won't let it die; I promise.’

A growing look of joy spread across the boy's features. ‘You mean you've got a plan?’

The Doctor shrugged slightly. ‘Well, let's just call it a promising idea. But it's an idea nonetheless.’ So saying, the Doctor sat down at one of the main computer terminals.

A group of curious people soon gathered around the feverishly working Time Lord, among them DJ, Nakamura, Coffey and Vohrless. Brett, meanwhile, stood alone and inert, temporarily ‘shut down’ by WOTAN.

‘What're you doing?’ asked Nakamura, voicing the thoughts of all present.

‘I'm trying to insert a random variant into WOTAN's programming in order to disrupt his thought processes. If I can succeed, he - it'll be distracted long enough for us to shut it down and halt the nuclear strike.’ All the while, the Doctor was tapping away at the keyboard, producing line after line of mind-bogglingly complex logic codes. ‘The problem is that WOTAN's security system is very tight, and I might not be able to hack into its program - no, wait! I've done it!’

With a triumphant flourish, the Doctor hit the ‘Enter’ key, and the last logic code was solved. ‘PROGRAM ACCESS OPEN’ came up on the screen.

‘Is that it?’ DJ asked.

‘Hardly!’ came the rejoinder. ‘Now I have to insert a clever enough program to toss up its works. And it won't be long before WOTAN realises what I'm trying to do - I'll only get just one shot at it!’

There followed one full minute of key-punching and crossed fingers before the screen cut out and the message ‘ACCESS DENIED’ flashed up.

‘Oh no! You didn't do it in time!’ Coffey wailed.

Strangely, the Doctor was smiling. ‘Haven't I?’ On the screen now was an endless succession of numbers. ‘I just managed to do it in time.’

‘What did you do?’ DJ demanded. Another grin.

‘Simple - I merely re-used the trick I used on Omnicron and got WOTAN to express pi to the nth degree. That ought to hold him for a while!’*

There was a resounding cheer, but soon Vohrless called for silence. ‘Look! The countdown clock's still moving!’

All eyes went up to the countdown timer. The countdown to the launch of the ICBMs was still spiralling downwards - only thirty-one minutes remained.

‘You failed after all,’ DJ said stonily.

Fifty-eight thousand feet above the Atlantic, the massive fleet of robot bombers cruised on towards their targets in perfect formation. Their black radar-absorbing shapes meant that they wouldn't be detected until it was far too late. They would fire their cruise missiles in twenty-nine minutes, release their bombs in forty.

By then, the first ICBMs would have struck...

The situation was a odd one - WOTAN was only partially disabled by the recursive program. The nuclear countdown continued and most of the War Machines were still active, but the computer had relinquished control of Brett and the exits to the base were now open.

An urgent council was held in an office next to the control room. After Vohrless had rapidly briefed his men, the Doctor took the floor.

‘Now, we have twenty-five minutes in which to knock WOTAN out before the ICBMs are launched. Disabling it via computer means is now impossible, so the Central Brain Cortex must be knocked out by force. Have you got enough weapons to do so?’

Vohrless stood up, his face sad. ‘Not in the time we've got, Doctor. The CBC is housed in a bunker two hundred metres from this complex, and it's completely sealed against enemy attack, earthquake, electromagnetic pulse effect, etc -’ He got no further; suddenly the Time Lord stood up. He looked excited.

‘It may be sealed against the pulse effect from a nuclear burst some distance away, but what about one at point blank range?’ A wide grin spread across the Doctor's features. ‘I have a plan, my friends.’

‘This is totally nuts.’

Nakamura was forced to agree with Coffey as the pair crouched on the ground. They and the rest of the base's military personnel were massed on a hill over looking WOTAN's main cortex. There were War Machines between them and the low building. Nakamura peered into the clear blue sky. It was too good a day for the end of the world, she mused...

The roar of an engine heralded the arrival of the Doctor, Brett and DJ in a jeep. In the back of the vehicle sat a micro-nuclear charge of about 100 kilotons. The Doctor's plan was extremely dangerous - while the army held off the War Machines, he would drive up to the cortex and place the charge. He and the troops would then retreat and the charge would detonate. The explosion would not damage the core greatly, but the accompanying electromagnetic pulse would knock out the computer's memory and render it inert.

That was the plan - a ludicrously dangerous one, but a plan nonetheless. With barely fifteen minutes remaining before the launch, it was the only shot they would get.

‘Are your men ready, General?’ the Time Lord asked Vohrless.

‘As ready as they'll ever be.’

The Doctor nodded and sighed loudly with fatigue. ‘Then let's do it.’

As the Doctor moved back to the jeep, Vohrless issued orders to the men and women under his command. This done, he looked at the Time Lord. ‘On your word, Doctor.’

The Doctor acknowledged this, and got into the driver's seat. He frowned as both Brett and DJ clambered aboard. ‘Get out! One life endangered is enough!’

‘You forget, Doctor - I designed WOTAN. I know where to place the bomb so it will do the most damage.’ The old professor's voice was full of the incredible guilt he felt.

‘And I'll protect both of you,’ DJ added, hefting an anti-tank rifle onto the seat beside him.

‘There's no time to argue - let's go, Doc!’

Defeated, the Doctor started the jeep. On that signal, the troops swarmed down the hill to engage their metal foes...

Deep within the control room, WOTAN suddenly broke free of the primitive trap the Doctor had set for him. The machine acted quickly...

As the battle raged around them, the Doctor swerved to and fro, heading for the cortex bunker. In the rear seat, DJ blasted away at anything non-human that came near them with his ATR. They were nearly there when Brett suddenly went berserk. With inhuman strength, he grabbed the Doctor and began struggling with him.

‘What are you doing?’ DJ screamed, dropping his weapon and pulling at the maniac old man. The Doctor choked for breath.

‘WOTAN's got control of him again,’ the Time Lord managed to wheeze, slamming on the brakes. The jeep crashed to a halt, sending the trio flying out of the vehicle.

The Doctor and DJ were on their feet in an instant, and faced a gun-weilding Professor Brett. His face was impassive, alien. The two travellers' hearts sank.

‘Brett! Listen to me! In six minutes, WOTAN is going to destroy the world!’ the Doctor pleaded. ‘Your world! Listen to me, Brett!’

‘I am listening, and I know,’ Brett said calmly. ‘That is why I must destroy WOTAN first. Get in the jeep and leave. I will carry the device to the bunker.’ He indicated the building, less than fifty feet from them.

‘No! You can't -’ The Doctor's appeal for reason was answered by a warning shot from Brett's gun.

‘Go now, or I shall kill you both where you stand. It is over - GO!’

Deciding that further argument was pointless, the Doctor went over to the jeep and removed the gently humming nuclear device. He handed it to Brett, and the old man immediately turned away towards the bunker.

‘We can't let him kill himself!’ DJ pleaded, as the Doctor pulled him back into the jeep.

The Time Lord's face was set, grim. ‘We have no choice,’ he replied coldly, but his mind was wracked with remorse. Without another word, he gunned the engine and drove off, retracing their path across the battlefield.

Brett staggered up to the bunker wall, dragging his wounded left leg. He had been hit by a War Machine, and was close to death, yet he felt no pain. All that remained was the battle going on in his mind, as WOTAN fought to reassert control. For now, Brett was holding the computer's influence at bay. Within moments, the battle would be over.

Suddenly his legs gave way, and he crashed to the ground. Around him, the War Machines converged. WOTAN, realising that Brett had to be eliminated, lifted its influence from the old man.

For the last few seconds of his life, Jeremiah Brett was free again; truly free for the first time since 1966. So long ago, so very long ago...

The closest War Machine levelled its blaster. It could not comprehend why Brett was smiling back at it.

‘WOTAN was a bad name,’ Brett whispered to his ‘children’.

‘I should have called you Lucifer.’

Five seconds later - with only fifty-three seconds remaining - a small nuclear fireball blossomed over the bunker. The resulting blastwave turned the horde of War Machines into pools of molten metal, and the electromagnetic pulse reduced WOTAN to the level of a pocket calculator.

Thanks to the Doctor's timely return, the troops had been given sufficient time to retreat and take cover behind the hill. Safe there from the explosion, humans and Time Lord wept, laughed and looked forward to tomorrow.

At the distant silos, the missiles withdrew back into the ground and their blast doors whirred shut. The War Machines engaged in attacking cities suddenly stopped dead, waiting for orders that would never come. The submarines beneath the waves had their firing codes abruptly snatched away, and the bombers turned in the sky and returned to their bases.

Armageddon, it seemed, had been cancelled for today.

Due to good weather.

The police box materialised in the graveyard as the first rain of the season began to fall. The three figures left the machine and walked quickly through the rows of headstones until they came to the one they were here to see. A simple modest one, for a modest and brilliant man.

The leader of the trio placed the rose they had brought below the inscription and stood with the others in quiet respect for a while.

Jeremiah Brett
1916 - 1986
Rest In Peace

‘It's time to go,’ said the Doctor eventually, and lead the way back to the TARDIS. They stopped by the doors. ‘Miss Nakamura, I suppose you'd like to go home now?’

The soldier shook her head violently. ‘Go home? Are you kidding? I want to see the Universe - all of it!’

The Doctor smiled. ‘Then welcome aboard, Miss -’

‘None of that ‘Miss’ rubbish!’ she said sharply. ‘It's Nancy!’

‘My apologies, Nancy,’ said the Doctor grandly. ‘Shall we go?’ The Time Lord followed his two friends inside. The doors slammed shut, and soon the police box faded away.

Leaving a cold, lonely graveyard.

In an imperfect, inefficient, human world.

* Storm Over Hyperion, Timestreams 2

This item appeared in TSV 32 (February 1993).

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