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Zero Minus Thirty-Three Days

A prelude to Devil Goblins From Neptune

By Keith Topping and Martin Day

Blackness, as dark as ink. The occasional brilliance of a celestial body only intensified the shroud-like cloaking dark of space. The lights sometimes seemed as if they had formed themselves into patterns, arbitrary and haphazard - a higgledy-piggledy cascade of shining dots. But it was all an illusion, created by the vast loneliness of the cosmos. But lonely, only for the time being. For here, hanging wordlessly in the vicinity of a sad-faced satellite, orbiting a blue/white planet, close to an insignificant star, on the spiral arm of a distant galaxy something odd was about to happen.

‘Are we in time?’ asked one of the travellers.

‘Indeed,’ replied her companion. ‘Time being relative.’ From the scanner of their shimmering craft, they looked out onto an isolated patch of space. ‘There,’ said the male traveller. ‘That is the place.’ He paused. ‘Perhaps we should not be here?’ The female shook her head.

‘Nothing will effect history. Our observations will merely confirm what has been, and what is, and what shall be...’ She gave him a look of detached curiosity, inclining her head slightly to one side. ‘You're not normally so...’ She paused, looking for the right word, ‘squeamish?’

‘I have nightmares about this sometimes,’ replied the male. ‘If anything should go wrong...’

‘Nothing can or will go wrong, Drax. What was was, what is is...’

‘You scare me, Flavia,’ said Drax harshly. ‘There are elements to this game that are bigger than you, me, or Gallifrey.’

Flavia laughed, dismissively. ‘You're a melodramatic clown, Drax. The universe is preordained, every mewling time-tot knows that.’ Her eyes moved, suddenly, sensing movement in the thick blackness outside. ‘Ah,’ she said lightly, ‘an arrival.’

From the outer reaches of the Solar System, alien eyes surveyed the swirly splash of blue/white before them. Eyes as cold and cruel as the methane ice that shrouded their distant world.

‘If the Waro should gain a foothold on Sol 3, the entire future history of this quadrant would be violently affected,’ said Drax angrily, indicating towards the oddly-shaped mother ship heading slowly towards the blue/white world. ‘You've never seen a slash in time, Flavia. I have - it's horrific, the ripples it creates can destroy worlds, solar systems, constellations...’ He bit his lip, angry that his words were falling on the deaf ears of his senior colleague. ‘Flavia listen...’

She finally dragged her fascinated attention away from the tiny scenario developing outside the TARDIS. ‘You're just a pusillanimous, fainthearted Shobogan when all is said and done, Drax, aren't you? A craven wretch who should be thrown to the dogs in the outlands.’ Her face screwed up into a sneer. ‘Coward.’

‘You wound me, Flavia. I've seen things you'll never see.’

‘And it has made you weak. The Panopticon has no time for weakness.’

She turned back to the scanner just as a sleek white projectile moved into frame from the direction of Earth. ‘These humans,’ Flavia continued with a delighted giggle, ‘they really are developing. Given them a couple of hundred thousand years they might even have reached our level. That's if they don't blow themselves up before then. Interplanetary travel! Ha, what next?!’

‘They're reaching out to the stars, Flavia. And, meanwhile, the stars are coming to them. In great numbers. They know, Flavia. They know how important Earth is to the programme. To everything. Every race with a penchant for megalomania this side of Andromeda knows that too. We've a moral duty to warn humanity.’

‘How? Arrive in the burning bush and say, "Take me to your leader?"’ Flavia laughed again. ‘That's been tried before.’

‘So what do we do then?’ asked Drax forcefully.

‘We let them look after themselves. With a little bit of outside help, of course.’ She nodded towards the screen as a tiny shape from the mother ship, broke off heading towards the Earth-rocket.

‘Isn't it fascinating. They're such evil little creatures. So much hatred. So much anger, so well channelled.’

‘I'm pleased you find them so entertaining,’ said Drax, disgusted, turning away from the screen as the tiny shape impacted with the rocket, causing a soundless explosion.

‘I shall report your insolence to the Lord President at the next Prydonian assembly,’ said Flavia arrogantly, ‘I'm sure he will devise a punishment suitably inventive and amusing.

‘I'm sure he will,’ replied Drax, crushed. ‘What happens now?’

‘Now?’ said Flavia. ‘Now, my dear Drax, we leave this situation to the Doctor to do what he was sent to do. Protect the planet.’ She paused as the TARDIS's communication relay crackled with static. ‘Interesting...’ she continued.

‘What is?’ asked Drax through gritted teeth.

‘The Earthmen on that primitive space vehicle, they appear to be sending a distress signal. I imagine the Waro explosive device caused considerable damage to their life-systems.’

‘What are we going to do?’ asked Drax.

‘We? We? We shall do nothing. This is no concern of ours.’

‘But they'll die,’ screamed Drax, red-faced with frustration.

‘Do you show such concern at the helix-beetle you step on each day in the Capitol? What was, was; what is, is...’ She looked back at the screen, as the rocket and the Waro mother ship continued in opposite directions. ‘Another problem for the Doctor to justify his continued existence, perhaps,’ she said brightly.

From the communication relay came the muffled voice of those on the rocket. ‘We've got a problem here.’

‘Say again 13?’

‘Houston, we have a problem.’

‘Let's leave them to it,’ said Flavia, flicking off the device. ‘We have more important things to worry about.’

The Beginning...

This item appeared in TSV 51 (June 1997).

Index nodes: Fiction, The Devil Goblins from Neptune