Doctor Who: The Invisible People
by Mark Phippen & Leigh Hooper
They say this planet once had six suns. For the last two decades I haven't even seen one of them.
It was a virus, or at least that's what they called it. The doctors were working on it they had said; there would be a breakthrough soon. That was twenty-four years ago. Twenty-four years of living underground, sealed off from the rest of the population for fear of further contagion. Containment. Of five hundred and twenty nine people.
I know that figure because I had been given the task of census keeper. It was my job to keep track of all the survivors, their location, and of course the deaths. The figure was now one hundred and five.
It was a mundane task, but at least it gave me something to do. The monotony of the job put me on autopilot, let me switch off. With precious little to do every small task became a way to cling to life. I guess that's how I've kept my sanity. And believe me, there have been many that haven't. All to common was the co-inhabitor who decided to leap into a ventilation fan, or take to their fellow inmates with a crowbar. All just a statistics now in a world of victims
The route took me around most of the complex, and I probably knew the place better than anyone. At least, anyone still alive. The length of time we had been down here meant that little sub communities had formed – people unified by paranoia. These communities were like families (and often actually were), living together in isolation from the rest of the complex, trusting nobody but their own. And me of course, eventually.
I had to suit up for my rounds, the communities insisted on it. Not for my own protection, but for theirs. A person doing the rounds, visiting everyone in the complex, was a prime candidate as a carrier. Not that the suit would have made much difference, but I didn't tell them that. The virus was airborne; there was nothing I could do that would make matters any better or worse.
The suit was more of a symbol, a reminder of the technological forces at work above ground, forces searching for a cure. It was a faint glimmer of hope in a dark subterranean world. I traced the same route every three rotations from my dwelling on sub level two up to the main access hanger. Often I would pause at the huge metal doors and imagine myself reaching through to touch the real world. Of course, beyond them was half a klick of tunnels and access shafts until you reached the foundations of the City, but that doesn't matter when you're dreaming. Then down from the hangar through the levels towards the industrial and maintenance section where the antiquated and patched together systems pumped and hissed in a monotony mirroring our own.
I did the same route daily; saw the same places, the same faces. Even the occasional discovery of a community that had fallen victim to the virus was now routine; seal them off, log the deaths, and try to ignore the screams of those still alive from behind the bulkhead door. In the beginning I would never have believed that I could get used to that. But you do. Desensitised they call it.
Every day the same. Until the day I found the blue box.
It was standing in the corner of a bend in the corridor between sections five and six, a corridor I walk everyday. And it was not alone. A man I had never seen before was examining one of the walls, trying to peel the rust away to see the wording underneath.
I was so surprised at seeing a stranger that standard security procedures went out of the window. 'Erm…' I said. Not terribly impressive.
'Ah, hello there.' Said the man, spinning round, and looking a little embarrassed to have been caught.
'Tell me,' he said, 'did it make any difference? I mean, the toppling of the Usurians? Did it make things better?'
I was a little taken aback by this, and for the moment I let the fact that he had avoided my question pass. 'It depends what you mean by 'better' I suppose.' I replied 'If you mean would we rather be ruled by alien blobs than by our own kind, then I'd take the latter anyday, but this planet is still divided into the haves and have nots. There is still a plutocracy on Pluto.' I couldn't help but chuckle at that thought. It made the suit shake.
'It's the same with revolutions the universe over,' the man sighed, 'no matter how noble the cause, the high ideals of the revolutionaries soon give way to the desire for power. Even a dictator who just wants to make life better is still a dictator.'
I nodded, not quite sure what to say. This stuff was ancient history. The Usurians had been ousted hundreds of years ago, why was he bringing it up now. And for that matter, who was he?
'Who are you? How did you get here?'
'Well, I'm the Doctor, and, well…. Ah!' the Doctor was looking over my shoulder 'and this is Nyssa.' He seemed thankful for her arrival at that moment.
I turned to see a young girl. Attractive, with an aristocratic face framed by curls of thick brown hair. Her matching plum coloured velvet trousers and jacket looked expensive, and I got the impression that this girl, Nyssa the Doctor had called her, was from the elite classes. So what was she doing down here?
I turned back to the man. 'You say you're a Doctor? Is there some news? You've found a cure?'
'Cure? Cure for what?' The Doctor looked genuinely puzzled.
'The virus of course. Why else would you be down here?'
'I'm sorry, Nyssa and I have just arrived, we don't know anything about a virus. How serious is it?'
'Just arrived? You mean from up top? Then surely you know the situation down here.' This was getting weirder.
'Yes, that's right, we're from, erm, 'up top'. We thought we'd pop down and see how you're doing.' I didn't believe a word of it, and I told them as much. We hadn't had a visitor down here in twenty-three years. The last one who had visited us had never left.
'Look, wherever we're from, my friend here really is a Doctor,' said the girl, Nyssa, 'Perhaps we could help you.'
Well, let's face it, we could do with all the help we could get, and it didn't matter where these two were from, they wouldn't be going back. But for all I knew they could be carriers.
'Show me your hands.' I said, trying to sound authoritative. They exchanged puzzled looks, but held out their hands. They were clear of the virus, that much was obvious – the hands are the first to go, yet theirs were totally opaque. 'Okay, so you seem clear, or to be more accurate, you're not clear. So you're a doctor? We haven't had one of those down hear for twelve years. You could be useful. The infirmary's this way.'
The Doctor looked a little taken aback, but followed me all the same.
Upon reaching the infirmary I struck the door panel, the mechanism creaked with age as we entered.
'Lights,' I barked, ushering the Doctor and Nyssa in. Plasma surged into the lighting conduit, dispelling the darkness. The antiseptic smell filled my nostrils, the only part of the complex that didn't smell old and stale. Shiny steel composite units held little in the way of supplies, only so much was recyclable.
The Doctor was immediately drawn to the figure lying on the observation bed, pulling back the nylon sheet brought a gasp from Nyssa, I drew close to her as a sort of comfort.
'Oh, Doctor it's…' her voice faltered,
'Remarkable.' He finished 'I've never seen anything quite like it, continued loss of pigmentation, this is almost like a transformation rather than effects of a virus,' the figure stirred as the Doctor ran his fingers over the flesh, and this seemed to rouse the Doctor from his thoughts. 'I want to run some tests, I need some equipment.'
As he began to rummage through drawers, pulling out the odd instrument, I looked over the body on the table. The man's hair was turning white, and what had once been dark brown eyes, (for I knew him well) were now faded pink. His skin was pale in places, almost translucent in the extremities. Eyes looked red and sore, and breathing would force out grey coloured saliva from his quivering lips.
Clutching several boxes under his arms the Doctor strode over to Nyssa and I.
'Would you be so kind as to fetch some things from the TARDIS for me, there's a packed medical case I keep in the arboretum, it should have everything I need.' Without waiting for a response, the Doctor set to work, hunched over the body muttering to himself.
'Of course, Doctor.' Nyssa said to his back. With a roll of her eyes, she turned to leave and I followed.
As we approached the Doctor's TARDIS, Nyssa pulled me to a halt. 'Be prepared for a bit of a shock', she told me, pulling the key the Doctor had given her from around her neck and inserting it into a lock on one of the front panels of the blue box. The door swung inward and Nyssa made towards the entrance, pausing when she sensed I wasn't following. 'It's perfectly safe, trust me'. And she smiled for the first time since we'd met.
Returning the smile I followed her into the box.
I suppose I should have been surprised, the box was bigger on the inside than out, after all. Nyssa was muttering something about transcendental whatevers, but I just nodded and said 'Okay'. This whole business was slipping away from me, so I figured the best thing was just to ride along with it.
'It's all quite simply really,' she said hastily, when she realised I wasn't going to question her further. 'The arboretum is through here.' She indicated another door beyond the console.
It turned out the box was full of corridors, snaking about its interior in an apparent random pattern. They couldn't have been totally random, though, as Nyssa found her way to the arboretum eventually.
The arboretum, of course, turned out to be a warehouse sized room filled with rows upon rows of neatly arranged and seemingly well cared for plants, some of which I recognised, but most of which looked totally alien to me, and going by the evidence, probably were.
'Okay, so which of you gets the job of watering this lot?' I asked.
'We don't need to, the TARDIS takes care of all that.'
'Oh, right. Of course.'
Nyssa had opened up a large chest, and had begun packing a medical case she had found within with equipment from its interior.
A thought struck me. 'Nyssa?'
'Yes?' He voice was muffled, coming, as it was, from the inside of the box.
'Why does the Doctor keep his equipment in the arboretum?'
Nyssa lifted her head, and paused in thought for a while. She shrugged. 'I've learned not to think about that kind of thing. It's just the Doctor, I guess.' That seemed to settle it for her, so I left it.
Hefting the now loaded bag, Nyssa made for the door, and I followed. The journey back to the control room seemed to take longer than before, and we passed through an area overgrown with vines that I was sure I hadn't noticed on the way there. My immediate thought was that Nyssa had taken a wrong turn, but she carried on purposefully. It was more like the TARDIS was shifting itself around us, I realised.
We eventually found our way to the doors, and as we emerged I instantly noticed the darkness after the bright light inside. The plasma light had been smashed. I fumbled for a flare in one of my thigh pads, a sweet sickly smell permeated from all around. I realised then just how clean the air inside the TARDIS had been compared with the complex.
'The light has failed,' Nyssa said unnecessarily, as the TARDIS door closed behind us. Not answering I lit the flare it burst into life to reveal two figures looming slowly out of the darkness.
At first they looked like the man in the infirmary but then I could see that they were in a much more advanced state; their skin was totally translucent. The figure to my left, what was once a woman, advanced slowly, her hand to her eyes vainly trying to shield them from the light of my flare. She was unclothed, and I could see organs and bones, her heart pumping, her brain and eyes, her liver and uterus all connected by a complex road map of veins and arteries. Joints were red and swollen, and grey-green saliva drooled from her open mouth onto a pendent that hang around her neck – a horrible reminder that this creature had once been human.
I backed into Nyssa and her hand grasped my shoulder. I could sense movement behind us; my hand fell to touch a storage barrel. Hoping it was empty enough for me to throw I tilted it and my heart sank as I found it was nearly full. As the liquid sloshed and dripped from the valve, the smell was unmistakable; diesel. Most systems used plasma injection motors but some cheap low priority systems still utilised diesel power.
I lit a second flare and shouted 'Nyssa, get back.' It was then I felt violent movement behind me and Nyssa screamed. The two terrible figures in front of me lunged forward. I pulled the barrel over with all the strength I could muster, and the valve ripped off in my hands. Fuel gushed out as I kicked the barrel towards the second figure, a male. It struck his shins bowling him over. I threw the first flare at the barrel and swung round, I could feel the heat through my suit and I could hear the screams behind me as I ran forward.
A figure wearing an environment suit like mine had Nyssa around the throat and was dragging her away from the light of the flames, his uncovered eyeballs seemed to stare wildly at me, running to him I jammed the second flare in his face as hard as I could. The figure screamed and released Nyssa grabbing her arm I dragged her away. 'Come on run!' I shouted stooping to pick up the supply case.
The light was better around the corner and once down the corridor we paused.
'Have you ever seen anything like that before?' Nyssa said almost breathless.
'No,' I replied 'Never.'
'We should get back to the Doctor.' Nyssa said.
I was about to agree when we heard a cry. Not the hideous wail of those creatures, but a cry out for help, the sound of a child's voice. We reached a section where four tunnels converged. Just down one corridor was the entrance to a dwelling; the door was lying broken on the floor. Standing in the doorway I could see into the room. A half-naked creature was crouched in the centre of the room.
A girl I recognised as Julie was climbing into a vent, upon seeing me she stopped; following Julie's gaze the creature turned to face me. Snarling, it stood up. It held a length of wood and stared impassively at me, my stare darted to Julie as large veined hands emerged from the vent and pulled her in.
'Behind us!' shrieked Nyssa. Turning I saw two more up abominations advance from across the intersection, frozen I stood impotent with fear.
'The girl,' I said wearily.
'It's no use, run!' Nyssa hissed as she pulled at me. Seeing the way to the Infirmary was blocked, I took us down another corridor where I knew there was the maintenance hatch we could use.
Minutes later as we sat in the small maintenance tube I began to sob as I thought of the little girl. Seeing my distress, Nyssa pulled me to her and I buried my face in her velvet top drowning myself in her embrace.
'There was nothing you could have done.' her voice was almost a whisper.
'We should push on, the Doctor will wonder where we've got to.' I said, smiling. She returned my smile, and it seemed warmer than before.
Emerging from the maintenance hatch into the corridor I could immediately see the section still had power. Helping Nyssa out we made our way to the Infirmary. We found the Doctor there, tending to a man laying on one of the beds. The patient, it was clear to me, was a hopeless case, the skin of his arms had faded completely, the veins and arteries that were pumping the virus around his body were clearly visible and his lips were so pale you could see his teeth through them.
The Doctor didn't seem to have noticed that we had entered, his back was to the entrance, and so engrossed was he in his examination that he had obviously not heard the hiss of the door.
It was I who broke the silence. 'He's a goner Doctor, nothing much we can do for him now.'
The Doctor sighed. 'I know, I know.' He placed the syringe he had been holding onto the equipment tray beside the bed. I noticed that it was full of the patient's blood. 'But there may be something he can do for us.'
I noticed Nyssa was looking at the Doctor, a frown on her face. 'What's the matter?' I asked her.
'Doctor,' she said, ignoring me, 'Doctor, what's wrong with your hand?'
He turned slowly to face us. It was plain from his expression that he was in great pain. His left hand was tucked under his right arm, something I had failed to notice when we entered.
'Nothing,' he said through gritted teeth 'just caught it on one of the Bunsens, got a slight burn. Nothing to worry about.'
'Show me.' There was steel in Nyssa's voice that surprised me somewhat.
Sheepishly, the Doctor withdrew his hand, and held it out to Nyssa. It was clearly not a burn, the skin was faded, and the bones of his fingers, particularly the knuckles, were visible, as if they had broken the surface. Nyssa gasped.
'It's quite alright, really, as long as I don't wiggle my fingers.' The Doctor said, doing just that and wincing.
'Doctor, you've been infected; this virus is getting out of control. Those creatures out there…'
I cut her short. 'That's impossible. When the host dies, so does the virus. You can't become infected by the dead.'
'I thought you said that the virus was airborne.' The Doctor was glaring at me.
'It is, but only in close proximity to a host, a live one.'
'Then the virus must be mutating, finding a way of outliving its host. I'd imagine…' the Doctor stopped, as Nyssa's words finally sank in. 'Creatures? What creatures?'
'Infected citizens, they attacked us on the way here.' I explained. 'I've never seen anyone reach that stage and live. Until now, the virus has simply attacked and killed its host, but now it seems to be keeping them alive.'
'Then it's worse than I thought,' the Doctor said, 'when was this man found?' He indicated the body on the bed.
'Only yesterday. A fairly routine procedure; isolate his quarters, remove the body and bring it back here to be incinerated.'
'About what time?'
'I can tell you precisely.' I checked my datapad. 'Exactly 20:37.'
'And how long had he been dead?'
'Hard to tell, he's in a pretty advanced state, as you can see. But I'd say just a few hours.'
The Doctor stuck his hands in his pockets, and then gingerly withdrew the infected hand, grimacing as he did so. 'If that's true then this new development must be very recent, certainly within the last few hours. And that indicates that the virus is mutating at a phenomenal rate. I wonder what has caused…'
The Doctor was interrupted by a crashing sound from some way along the corridor outside. It sounded like something metal hitting the floor. With a start I realised it was the metal grille across the maintenance hatch that Nyssa and I had escaped through. I ran to the door, out into the corridor, and very nearly straight into a creature lumbering toward the infirmary. I pulled myself up short, and managed to change direction, diving into the room. I yelled at Nyssa to close the door.
I picked myself up from the floor where I had fallen in my haste, and ran to help her set the locking mechanism. To make doubly sure, we wedged gurneys and chairs against the door. The Doctor, meanwhile, was unpacking the medical equipment with his one good hand.
'I don't think that will hold them for long.' Nyssa said, as the creature began to hammer on the door. I couldn't believe how calmly she said it, like she did this sort of thing all the time. But she looked so delicate.
'It was only one. The male who attacked us outside the TARDIS, I think. He must have followed us here.'
'That's very likely.' The Doctor had set up a microscope and was sliding a sample into place. 'The organism's main intent will be to find new hosts. To propagate itself.' He looked into the eyepiece of the equipment.
'But that would indicate intelligence.' I pointed out. 'So, okay, a virus's main point is to spread itself, to infect. But to control a host in order to find others would mean that the virus…'
'This organism isn't a virus.' The Doctor said, his eye not leaving the microscope. 'It's a life form. I've seen it before, here on Pluto.'
'When you were here last?' Nyssa asked.
'No, before that,' the Doctor winced; the pain was obviously getting to him. 'Before the humans came. This organism is all that's left of the indigenous population of Pluto.'
This didn't make sense to me. 'But the surveys before we colonised…'
'Were inadequate. A botched job performed by a company who's biggest concern was profit, not the safety of the colonists, and certainly not for any life forms already here.'
'But there would have been evidence, even after terraforming. You can't just wipe a species from existence.'
'They didn't need to; the destruction of the moon Charon did that for them, or at least very nearly. But had they been looking in the right places, or indeed, if they'd cared at all, they'd have found that the planet wasn't quite as dead as they had thought.'
The Doctor looked up, stared me straight in eyes. 'We are talking thousands of years of evolution here. Not much in the grand scheme of things but enough to make a difference. Enough for a life form to find new ways of propagating itself.'
'There must be something we can do to stop it.' Nyssa was being practical. When she spoke it was a statement of fact, rather than a desperate plea. I was shaking like a leaf.
'A serum? Perhaps, yes perhaps. I'll need your help though.'
As the Doctor and Nyssa set to work, I sat wearily down on one of the chairs we had used to blockade the door. I listened to them for a while, but the science went over my head. The banging from outside had stopped now, and before long I found myself drifting off to sleep. I had the usual dream.
My sleep assisted travels above ground were interrupted by a cry from the Doctor. At first I though we were under attack, but I sleepily realised he had shouted out a word; 'Eureka'.
'What does that mean?' I said, shuffling over to the Doctor and Nyssa, making a mental note not to fall asleep in my suit again as I rubbed my aching joints.
'I've found it.' The Doctor replied.
'Found what? A 'eureka'?'
'Never mind,' he said, shaking his head. I noticed then that he had gotten much worse. The translucency had spread up his arm, to his shoulder and neck, and was creeping around his cheek to his face. I looked at my chrono; I had only been asleep a couple of hours, yet Doctor's infection had spread in a manner I would have expected in a couple of days.
'The Doctor's found a serum, or at least he thinks he has.' Nyssa explained. She indicated the phial that the Doctor was holding.
'With a lot of help from Nyssa here, of course.' The Doctor still managed a grateful smile at his companion through his now fading lips.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd been here for twenty-four years, waiting for that magical cure to be found my the doctors 'up top' and these two had been here less than twenty-four hours and here they were claiming to have the answer. It didn't make sense, and I told them so.
'Well, to be fair, we are working at an advantage. I'm familiar with the organism and the equipment we have is somewhat advanced. But I do admit, it does seem a long time.'
'So who are you going to try it on?' I asked. 'Are you suggesting we go out there and capture one of those creatures?'
'No, no need for that. I think my infection is advanced enough for me to be the test subject.' And before Nyssa and I could stop him, the Doctor downed the contents of the phial.
'Doctor, no!' Nyssa shouted, rather too late.
'Don't worry, I'm sure everything will be fine.' The Doctor's voice was cracking, and his throat was rasping. 'I'll just…' The Doctor collapsed in a heap on the floor, gasping for breath.
'Get him on a gurney!' I shouted, and Nyssa ran to help me lift him. As he lay on the trolley, his breathing began to steady, though it remained very shallow. 'What do we do now?'
'We wait, and observe. That's all we can do.' Nyssa replied.
The Doctor's breathing remained steady, and his hearts (it turned out he had two) still seemed to be holding out. But Nyssa and I watched as the virus continued to spread across his face and down his chest.
'That can't be right.' I said.
'It's true that antidotes can sometimes have the effects of making the patient worse before it makes them better. But I agree, it seems to be accelerating it.' Nyssa's calm demeanour was beginning to crack. I guessed that the Doctor meant a lot to her.
'What was that?' Nyssa whispered.
'I didn't hear anything.'
I listened hard, and at first I couldn't hear it, but then I caught it. There was a creaking noise. It was coming from the vent shaft, which was right above our…
The ceiling came crashing down bringing vent shaft, masonry and a cloud of dust pouring into the room. The Doctor's gurney was sent flying, tipping it over and depositing its occupant on the floor. The Doctor lay there, oblivious to it all, as the cloud began to settle, revealing something else that had fallen from the roof.
One of the creatures was pushing masonry away, freeing itself from the rubble. It was, or had been, a woman. She was wailing, obviously in pain, if not from the fall but from the virus pumping through her body. And there, hanging around her neck was the pendant. It was the woman we had seen by the TARDIS; she and the man must have been working together. Which meant the virus was using what was left of its host's brains.
The woman was now almost completely transformed. Her face was completely overrun by the virus, the muscles snaking there way across the exposed skull and the eyes, the eyes were the worst – a clear mass of jelly criss-crossed with a network of veins, a dark pupil seemingly floating across its surface. But she was still alive. The Doctor was right, the life form was evolving all the time, learning to control its host rather than kill it.
But the pain must have been phenomenal. There were gashes across her body, torn, no doubt, by the woman herself in an effort to relieve the pain wracking her body. Only the blood retained its colour, staining the woman's fingernails.
The woman lunged at us, but her lack of control meant her attack was clumsy, and she stumbled as we dodged her blows. The fall had damaged her leg, it looked broken to me, and even the virus couldn't force her to use it properly.
Nyssa ran to the Doctor and started checking him over. Her movement attracted the creature, which made after her. As it couldn't move very far or very fast, the creature lunged at Nyssa, throwing its whole body at her. It had her pinned down. Nyssa was kicking at it, and a couple of the blows connected with its leg, prompting a wail from the creature, but no let up in its attack. I steeled myself and launched my own attack, throwing myself onto the creature's back. It merely shrugged me off.
The creature had Nyssa by the throat now – it was going to choke her! So much for finding a new host body, this had obviously become personal. I looked round in desperation for some kind of weapon. The Doctor's medical kit was on the other side of the room, beyond the overturned gurney and the creature, but there was no time to waste. I took a run at the gurney, vaulting over it with an energy I didn't realise I still had, and landing beside the kit. Grabbing whatever came to hand, I ran towards the creature, lashing out with my new weapon.
Which turned out to be a stethoscope.
The stethoscope bounced ineffectually off the creature's head, but it had been enough to distract it from the task of throttling Nyssa. It looked at me and lunged forward, obviously forgetting about its leg, just one of many pains that wracked its body. The creature stumble, and I was on it, wrapping my stethoscope around its neck and pulling tight. The creature's transparent eyes bulged and I pulled tighter, its throat making tiny gagging sounds, until eventually it lay still.
'I think it's dead now.' Nyssa said from behind me. I realised I was still pulling the stethoscope tight. I let it go and collapsed beside the body.
Nyssa was rubbing her neck, which was bruised, but she seemed otherwise unharmed. 'Thanks.' She said.
'Don't mention it. How's the Doctor?'
We pulled the gurney out of the way, and turned the Doctor onto his back. Nyssa gasped as we saw the extent of his infection, which was now totally covering his body. I looked at his face, which had once looked so young and intelligent, but was now open, exposed and most unpleasant.
Nyssa gripped the Doctor's hand as she stood over him. 'Okay, let's run this through logically,' the breathing filter she now wore muffled her voice a little as she ran through recent events. As she spoke I covered the body that lay amongst the rubble.
'The Doctor's serum failed but why?'
'Leela, I.... Jamie no!' as Nyssa leaned over the Doctor writhed and shouted, 'I'll kill you all, never again enter the Temple of Yetaxa!'
The Doctor grabbed Nyssa's tunic and ripped the arm. Running to him I held the Doctor down as Nyssa held an instrument to his arm, it hissed and the doctor immediately relaxed. If it wasn't for his odd clothing, I bet I could have seen the relaxant surging through his system. Nyssa was close to tears, seeing her friend like this was almost too much.
'Don't fold up on us now, we need you.' My caring intentions came across almost brutally, but seemed to work. Nyssa rallied herself. The next hour passed quickly as Nyssa studied the equipment and I busied myself making some sort of weapon. If those things were going to come in again I wanted to be ready. I found a laser scalpel; equipment for complex medical procedures was useless and abandoned with no Doctor around. Using another scalpel I welded it to a length of metal pole I ripped from a lamp. I now had a crude cattle prod type weapon. Not much but it made me feel a lot better.
'Look at this,' said Nyssa beckoning me.
I looked into the microscope. 'They're totally different, even I can see that.'
Smiling, Nyssa said, 'The organism is mutating at an alarming rate, maybe that's the key.' She sat in a chair and rubbed her tired eyes.
'Maybe we arrived just as the virus evolved into a lifeform capable of controlling a host, able to utilise that hosts ability to reason.'
'A virus can't just metamorphosis into an intelligent being.'
'True, unless it was affected by something or...' she clicked her fingers, 'Dormant genes.' Noticing my blank stare she said 'Imagine a life form nearly wiped out and drastically changed by something, a cataclysm of some kind.'
'Like the destruction of Charon.'
'Exactly. That lifeform would adapt the only way it could, evolve to survive, and now when the opportunity presents itself for them at to re-emerge the dormant genes activate.' She stood up. 'All I have to do is alter the serum to key into the new controlling lifeform which is symbiotically linked with the subject, rather than a foreign body like a virus.'
I recalled how the creatures seemed to be frightened of light. Pluto had once been a cold and dark planet. Its indigenous lifeforms would have originally evolved to cope with that. It seemed those in built reactions still remained. 'Can you do it?' I asked as Nyssa punched keys on a piece of equipment.
'The Doctor's work will be recorded step by step on this analysis machine, it shouldn't be too difficult to... Oh no! Doctor!' Nyssa ran to the table where the Doctor lay. Over her shoulder I could see the Doctor's face; it had taken on a faint glow, edges were softened, he seemed almost ethereal.
'Is he dying?'
'Sort of,' said Nyssa, her voice was cold, 'We don't have much time, he's beginning to regenerate. I've seen it before, but it seemed quicker that time. Perhaps the virus is slowing the process down.'
An hour later Nyssa stood holding a small phial. She held the Doctor's head as she poured its contents down his throat. Almost immediately the glowing stopped and he began to look more human. The serum had obviously worked, and within twenty minutes he was conscious. The Doctor was evidently still in great pain, and Nyssa had to support him as he stood, but the colour was returning to his skin.
'I had the strangest dream, I… well never mind, how are we all then?'
'We're fine Doctor, and the good news is we can cure people of the infection.' I still found it hard to believe Nyssa's words.
'Splendid, but I doubt that they will be happy to let you administer it, not to mention the time it would take.' He raised his eyebrows as he looked at me. 'Any ideas?'
It came to me in an instant, 'The fire suppression system, it covers the whole complex, it's fed by large reservoirs on level four.'
'Excellent, Nyssa should have no problem making a highly concentrated batch,' he looked around 'Is there anything to eat I'm famished.'
Later we set off for the tank room. Having made my electric prod, I felt a little safer. Just a little. I clambered into the vent and began to crawl along, the flashlight I had strapped to my crude weapon lit the area directly in front of me, Nyssa followed me in with the Doctor bringing up the rear.
'Stay close.' I said, I found that I was whispering, my knuckles were white from gripping the stinger. I didn't know how well these things heard, but I wasn't taking any chances. About 50 metres along the path split left and right.
'Which way?' asked Nyssa behind me. Without answering I headed down the right vent, left led towards living quarters and away from the tank room.
Further on I stopped as I reached a grill, below me I could see a section of corridor, my light was the only illumination. I could see a body, or at least legs, against the far wall. I panned the light, a hideous pale face was illuminated staring right at me. I began to back away, stopping when I bumped into Nyssa behind me.
'What is it?' she said startled. Regaining my composure I could see the creature had run away, scared by the light I guessed.
'Nothing, it's nothing. Lets move on.' I resumed my slow crawl down the vent.
'It's rather like being a mole isn't it?' quipped the Doctor; I envied the calmness in his voice, and imagined mine sounding frail and weak.
After what seemed an age we reached a section I knew to be near the tank room. 'There.' I pointed 'Just round the corner is a grill we can drop down through into...'
'The tank room?' smiled Nyssa
'Yes' I smiled back. Moving forward brought a terrible creaking from the vent; I could feel it shuddering around us.
'What's happening?' shouted Nyssa. I was about to answer when the world seemed to fall away. The vent fractured sending us sliding to the floor below. Scrambling to my feet I grabbed my stinger, I sensed movement in the dark.
'Get behind me!' I barked.
'I doubt that rat is very interested in us,' the Doctor said calmly getting to his feet and dusting himself down. The vermin in question sat in my spotlight and stared at me. 'Where do we go from here?'
Turning to face the Doctor I said, 'Through that door, the tank room is down the corridor on the left.' I strode into the tank room and immediately began checking the levels of water in the 3 huge containers. The room was dimly lit and allowed me to see Nyssa and the Doctor enter. Nyssa walked over to a bank of controls and the Doctor sat on some steps and chatted to the rat as it perched on his knee.
'These two are full, that one's empty.' I said after reading the gauges.
'The pump system has been off-line for a while but appears to be intact.' Nyssa reported.
The Doctor smiled and I could tell he was still weak, the vent crawl had taken a lot out of him. 'Well then, I suppose we just…' the rat jumped down off his knee, stared at the open door for a second, then bolted in the opposite direction. Standing in the doorway was one of the creatures, unclothed, the blood in his system appeared black, and past him two more appeared.
'The door.' The Doctor said the words calmly to Nyssa. Looking at her control panel Nyssa quickly located the door controls. Slamming her hand down brought a grinding from the door and it began to close painfully slowly. The creature looked at the closing door and realising it would be shut away from its targets it began to step forward. The Doctor furiously rooted in his long coat as I began to climb down from the platform. As I reached the bottom he wound up and threw something dark at the beast. It struck it square in the face, rocking it on its heels and behind the closing door.
'Oh good shot Doctor,' Nyssa squealed.
'Yes it was rather, wasn't it?' facing me he said, 'I suggest you start work.' Nodding I opened the top hatch of the nearest tank. I poured in half the phial and closed it; I repeated this with the second tank. Nyssa walked over to the door and peered through the glass panel, just as a hand burst through and grabbed her clothes, she screamed as the Doctor ran to assist her. Concentrating on my task I ran to the control panel and hit the emergency dispersal button.
Panic gripped me as I hit it again, still nothing. Then I noticed the start up charge indicator read zero, the power cells had drained over time. Ripping the front panel off revealed the manual pump; I franticly began pumping up the charge as I watched Nyssa and the Doctor struggle. When the charge indicator flashed ready I struck the button, looking up I saw water burst from the valve in the ceiling. The Doctor had broken Nyssa free and we watched the water fall. The arm in the door began to change immediately. Pigmentation began to return as it slipped out when the figure collapsed. When the water stopped I opened the door and walked out.
Nyssa stooped to check the figure, a now human looking male. 'He's fine, breathing is laboured, but getting better.'
'Aha,' the Doctor picked something up 'there you are.'
'What is it?' I asked. The Doctor held up a battered red sphere.
'That is a cricket ball, do you play?'
It was all pretty much a matter of procedure then. I carried out a survey, my last, I realised, checking on the communities around the complex. The virus had spread incredibly quickly, and very few had escaped its effect. Thankfully, however, the serum had spread just as quickly, and the corridors were littered with the comatose forms of the recovering humans.
Nyssa accompanied me on my travels, for which I was thankful. I'd done this job alone for years, but the company was what kept me going this one last time. Now that the threat was over, we had little to talk about, both of us just thankful to be alive. With what we'd been through, there was no need for conversation; I felt we'd made some kind of connection that went beyond words. Perhaps when we got out of here, we could remain close. It was that thought that brought it home to me; it was all over, I could go home, and it was with that thought that the shock kicked in and I began to cry.
The Doctor had meanwhile set about repairing the communications system, and by the time we got back to him, he had radioed the surface. A team were on their way down.
They arrived suited and armed, of course, ready for trouble of any sort. They were surprised to find me in charge. What had happened to the Director, they asked. I told them that if they'd paid us the occasional visit, rather than simply sent us rations via the air locked supply chute then they might have know that he'd died seven years ago. At least they had the decency to look suitably embarrassed. I think they were surprised to find a woman in charge more than anything, to be honest.
It took a long time to persuade them that the 'virus' had been extinguished, even longer to convince them of its true origins. They examined the Doctor and Nyssa's notes, and took the serum apart molecule by molecule, before finally conceding that, yes, it was conceivable that the compound could have worked as a serum against the virus. That's all they would admit.
But what they couldn't question was the abundance of now much recovered ex-victims who were being taken back to the surface for medical attention. Some of them had even started to come round. They couldn't remember a thing, of course.
Some hadn't been so lucky. Several had died at the hands of the out of control creatures, many of which had been their closest loved ones. At least those responsible would have no recollection of what they had done.
The security team took a particular interest in the Doctor and Nyssa of course. No-one seemed to know who they were, which didn't surprise me in the slightest. The Doctor was growing agitated with the questioning, and I got the impression that he would have left by now, had Nyssa not insisted on staying to make sure that everything was okay.
It was decided that they would be taken 'up top' for further questioning, and as Nyssa followed the Doctor out of the door, she threw me a glance. Somehow I knew then that it was the last time I'd see her.
I heard later on that they had managed to escape their escort on the way to the surface. I tried to cover up my laughter when I was told. I managed to slip away myself later, and went to the bend in the corridor between sections five and six. The blue box had gone.
I've been above ground for eight months now, six of them in quarantine. When they were sure I was free of the 'virus' (and they still called it that) they set me up with accommodation and a job. In the census department. I suppose they think that's all I can do, after so long counting heads, and I suppose I should be angry, but the truth is the mundane data entry gives me time to think about other, more important, matters.
My colleagues at the census department are friendly enough, but it was they who gave me the first clue that something about my time in containment was amiss. I didn't exactly expect a hero's welcome, but what shocked me was their lack of knowledge about my past. Even my supervisor, when introducing me to the team, seemed vague about what had happened to me, as if trying to recall something he had only read in a report. Which of course he had.
That struck me as odd, surely it was common knowledge that we had been down there? At first I thought they were being polite, in the way you try not to mention the death of a loved one. But some gentle digging revealed that while the older members of staff could vaguely recall seeing something in the news all those years ago, the younger ones knew nothing about it at all.
Turned out they weren't the only ones. I've been doing some research into the period I'd been down there. Twenty-four years ago the entire planet knew about us, for a few weeks at least. The government promised full attention to our plight, and the public rallied round to fund research into the virus. Hardly a day went by without us being headline news in the newscasts at first, but then, as the public began to forget about us, the media turned its attention to more pressing matters. Like the Governor's latest affair.
Five years after we had been isolated, a five-line report on page thirty-two of the newscast reported that funding for the search for a cure had been cut by the government. We were no longer a priority.
We had been there all the time but we were yesterday's news. In the minds of the population, we had been forgotten about, ceased to exist. If you can't see it, it isn't happening. We had become invisible people.
© 1999 Mark Phippen & Leigh Hooper