It's a Con!
The Doctor dived aside just as it opened fire. A shower of sparks exploded out of the barrel, scorching the floor where he had been standing.
"Sec, Martha, keep moving!" shouted the Doctor. "Try to draw its fire!"
"Great, so we're bait!" cried Martha, screaming and running as it turned its gun on her.
Sec was of the same mind but tactically their options were limited. There was nowhere to take cover and nothing nearby to use as a weapon. All they could do was use the great amount of space available and give their attacker as many targets as possible. He spotted the Doctor staying low, attempting to get closer but the armoured humanoid forced him to retreat again with another burst of fire.
He must have some sort of plan, thought Sec. He had to assist.
"Hey!" he called to it. "Over here!"
The attacker turned and fired at Sec who ran across its field of vision, close enough that it would keep him registered as the most immediate threat before moving away again. He darted from side to side, doing his best to ignore the sudden bursts of heat.
Sec heard the buzz of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. Then all of a sudden, the shooting stopped. He turned to see the Doctor holding their assailant in his arms, who had gone limp.
"There we are, nothing to it," he said triumphantly.
"Speak for yourself," muttered Martha. "You weren't the one who had to play duck at the fairground."
"How curious. What would a duck be doing at a fairground?" asked Sec.
"Ah, well you see…" The Doctor paused to consider. "Actually, sorry, not really important right now, I'll explain later. What is important is who our merry old Stormtrooper here is because I've got a nasty feeling…"
He pulled off the helmet to reveal a skull-like golden head, with large black eyes like a beetle. Upon seeing it, the Doctor's face turned grim.
"Just what I thought. Pilotfish," he said darkly.
Martha frowned. "Pilot what?"
"Sorry, that's the name I gave them a while ago. They're robot scavengers basically, always looking for ways to keep their batteries going which was, at one point, me," he told them. "This one must have detected the time energy the TARDIS is giving off."
"So why is it dressed like that? I mean, it's obviously trying to disguise that it's a robot but looking like you've just walked off the set of Star Wars isn't exactly inconspicuous," noted Martha. She noticed Sec's confused look. "It's another film. This thing is dressed as a Stormtrooper, they're the bad guys."
"Ah, I see," nodded Sec.
"Good question. The last time I encountered them, it was around Christmas so they dressed themselves up as a Father Christmas brass band, complete with deadly instrument ensemble. There must be something going on that gave them the idea to dress up like this, something like…" The Doctor's face froze. "Oh. Oh dear." He bolted for the door the roboform had entered. "Yep, that's what I was afraid of."
Looking out of the door, Sec witnessed what he was referring to. Contrary to the Doctor's assurances, there were indeed scatterings of humans, moving towards what he could make out to be a much larger gathering further along. Yet they appeared to all be dressed in colourful costumes that even Sec knew were far beyond the social norms of the 21st century. Not only that, but Sec recognised some of them himself.
"Doctor, is that not Superman?" he asked, pointing to the human in question.
"Ah," said the Doctor. "Seems I might have gotten my times wrong."
Martha's expression was one of realisation. "Hold on, I know what's happening. You can always tell when it's on in London 'cause you take the tube and you end up sharing a seat with Spider-Man. It's, like, the time of year for this big comic con event. They always host it here."
The Doctor nodded. "Yep. Movie Comic Media London Expo, or MCM as it's also known."
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand. What exactly is a comic con?" asked Sec. "Some sort of event based around human popular culture?"
"In a nutshell!" answered the Doctor with a grin. "Artists, vendors, premiers, panels and costumes as far as the eye can see. A celebration of the boundless imagination and passion of humans. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!"
"Well it's alright then, isn't it? You've dealt with the robot. We can just leave, find somewhere else to lure the Angel and it's not a problem. Right?" asked Martha.
"Oh yes, of course. Completely. Mostly. More than likely. Unless…" The Doctor looked back at the roboform, then back at the humans, then back again. "You know what, just to be on the safe side." He crossed over to it and aimed the screwdriver at its neck. It popped loose and he scooped up the head. "It's probably nothing. I hope. Come on, back in the TARDIS."
He sprinted for the open doors. Sec exchanged a look with Martha and they followed him in. He was at the console, attaching the roboform's head to the monitor and muttering under his breath about reversing the polarity. Sec was about to ask what was happening but nearly jumped when the Doctor yelled in frustration.
"Oh come on! There are times I hate being right!"
"Right about what?" When the Doctor didn't answer immediately, Sec voiced the first thing that came to mind. "There's more than one, isn't there?"
"Precisely. According to the internal memory banks of this one, it was part of a squad of just over half a dozen of them. Initially they came to find out what happened to a group of them who came here last time. You remember that big star on Christmas Day? Yeah, they were partially responsible for that."
"And lemme guess, you were also partially responsible for draining the Thames?" asked Martha.
He gave her a cheeky wink. "Oh yes. Took a while getting here mind, they must have had to travel a long way. Anyway, they were definitely drawn in by the energy they detected from the TARDIS and decided it would be a good chance for them to get some extra juice for their batteries. There are still eight active units stationed at various points around the convention area. And there's more. See that flashing light in its head?"
Sec examined it. "Some kind of distress beacon?"
"Exactly some kind of distress beacon. When I deactivated this one, it uploaded emergency protocols to its mates along with visual footage of its final moments and they've gone into alert status. They'll be on the lookout for us. We've been designated as high priority targets, along with the TARDIS and they won't care about anyone who happens to get in their way."
"Can't you just, I dunno, switch them off like this one?" asked Martha.
"Ideally, yes since they all share the same linked frequency but they've deadlocked that so there's no way to deactivate them remotely from here and they're concealing their positions on the scanner. We have to find the prime unit, the one in control of the signal and shut it down to deactivate the lot of them before they cause any damage or hurt anyone." He looked regretfully at Sec. "Sorry, Sec but the Angel's going to have to wait."
He held up a hand. "Do not apologise, Doctor. I agree completely. These roboforms cannot be allowed to roam freely among humans. Collateral damage matters little to their kind, as long as they get what they want."
"Good man." He knelt down and pulled up part of the floor grating, pulling out a large chest and started to rummage inside it. "Right then, C, C, C… AH! Control!" He pulled what looked like a remote control device. "Souvenir from my last encounter with them. Just need a few minutes… Sec, I might need a hand. We need to work fast. Martha, you too."
"Hold on, did you say you need my help? That's a change," she joked.
The three of them set to work, dismantling both the control and the head while gathering together other mechanical parts. As it turned out, Martha's form of help was more fetching and carrying other parts they needed rather than anything in the technical capacity but she didn't complain.
With her help and combined Time Lord and Dalek intellect, they were finished within half an hour. Modified from the remote control were three circular deactivation clamps for each of them, about the size of their hands. The head had been mostly hollowed out except for the distress beacon and fitted with a wire lead attached to a small dish.
"Here you two, arm yourselves." They each picked up a clamp. "We find the prime unit, attach one of these and it'll send out a signal that'll deactivate him and the rest of them. We can use the head to track them down. It'll beep when one of them is close by. Long slow beeps for the rest of the drones, rapid beeps for the prime unit."
"Do we have an idea for a visual reference?" asked Sec as the Doctor took hold of the detector and they walked out of the TARDIS.
"They're robots so they're not terribly imaginative," said the Doctor while they began to move towards the larger crowd. Sec activating his disguise. "They all wore the same Santa disguises so I think we can safely assume they'll all be dressed as Stormtroopers. There'll be no shortage of normal humans dressed as them either though so we'll have to rely on the detector to find them."
"What and I suppose the prime unit will be dressed as Darth Vader or something?" suggested Martha and though Sec could tell she was only being sarcastic, the Doctor took it as a serious suggestion.
"You might be onto something there," he said approvingly.
"I assume that this Darth Vader will be dressed differently then?" asked Sec.
"Oh yeah, all in black. Trust me, you'll know him when you see him," replied the Doctor. They walked in silence for a few minutes until they started to merge with the larger crowd. "Oh would you look at all of this! Utter brilliance! Look there, there go the Ghostbusters. Jedi Knights. Indiana Jones! The only archaeologist I wouldn't point and laugh at."
"Wow. You really are just a massive geek, sometimes," teased Martha. Then her eyes widened at another sight. "Are they all dressed as Hogwarts students?"
"Takes one to know one, eh?" returned the Doctor.
For his part, Sec was still rather ignorant of most of these icons they were pointing out. His own knowledge of human popular culture was still quite limited. One thing that stood out to him was the very evident level of effort put into the costumes, from elaborate Japanese robes to hulking suits of armour made of some sort of hard plastic. It was quite admirable yet something else about it bothered Sec.
"Something wrong?" asked the Doctor.
"Not as such. I am…" He took a moment to think how to voice his musings. "I am curious why humans would choose to immerse themselves in fantasy and fiction in this manner? Surely there are more important things to be devoting their attention to."
"Yeah, I can see where you're coming from," agreed Martha. "There are some people who definitely take this kind of thing way too far, like they barely leave their homes and just play World of Warcraft all the time. I knew someone in my fresher's year at university who did pretty much just that."
"So why practise it if it leads to such behaviour?" he asked.
"Well, anything that's good can be bad if taken to excess. Eating, drinking, sleeping, they're all bad for you if you do it too much. Fantasies, escapism, they're important for humans," she explained. "It can help us cope with the world around us and open our minds to new ideas and feelings. Remember how you were watching The Iron Giant? That's what I mean."
"It can help to inspire others," chimed in the Doctor. "A child who watches superheroes decides they want to be a firefighter or wants to go into space after watching Star Wars or who wants to tell their own stories and create their own worlds. It's that passion, that drive that helps makes humans what they are, even if it boils down to something as simple as sharing that passion with others." He gestured around at the crowd. "That's what all this is about. The passion of the human race."
Sec took another look around. It was now he saw some of the smaller details. A small child's face lighting up at the sight of a costumed hero. A small group talking with enthusiasm about their costumes. People requesting photos alongside characters they recognised.
"A very evident fact," he agreed. He spotted something and pointed. "Ah, there is Superman again. And the darker one is… Batman I believe, yes?"
"Spot on! See? It's all a good bit of fun," said the Doctor cheerily.
However, the pleasant atmosphere was cut short by Martha's frightened cry.
Sec turned to where Martha pointed at the same time the Doctor did. There were three of them marching through the crowd. Imposing, metallic figures in the shape men with blank, emotionless faces. Round, dark holes for eyes and a single dark slit for a mouth. Handle-like attachments were fixed on the sides of their heads.
"Cybermen!" The Doctor darted through the crowd. "Get back, everyone get away from them! Don't let them touch you!" He stood in their path, glaring fiercely. "You leave these people alone or you're gonna have to answer to me!"
The Cyberman reacted in a way that Sec didn't expect. It held up its hands in a placating manner and a very human voice, a male one, came muffled from somewhere inside it.
"Whoa, whoa mate, calm down. Look, look, they're just costumes." He rapped the arm. "There, see? Just fibreglass."
"Ah. Oh." The Doctor immediately lost his ferocity and looked rather bemused. "Right, sorry."
"Don't worry mate, its fine. I told you this would happen, didn't I, Will?" he said in aside to one of his fellows.
"Well we can't exactly go back and change now, can we Gary?" replied another.
"Why in the hell would you think this is a good idea anyway?" demanded Martha. "A lot of people died because of the Cybermen!"
"Hey, we just thought they looked cool and that they'd make neat costumes. It's just a bit of fun, lady," the one called Will said defensively.
"Tell that to my cousin!" snarled Martha.
"Okay, okay." Gary stepped between them before Will could say anything. "We're sorry, miss, we didn't mean to cause any trouble. Come on, guys, let's just go."
In a rather dejected manner, the trio trudged off back through the crowd. Sec noticed among the humans watching a mixture of admiration for the costumes but also fear and even some cases of anger. He could certainly agree that it was most definitely a poor choice of apparel.
"Gentlemen!" he called before they left entirely. "If you have a penchant for mechanical men, may I suggest the Iron Giant as one to consider for next time?"
The three of them exchanged looks and Gary responded amiably, "Yeah, why not? I used to love that movie. Thanks for the idea, man."
"My pleasure," replied Sec. "An example of taking fantasy too far?" he asked the Doctor.
He hummed in agreement. "Come on, we'd best keep looking."
The more the group made their way through the bustling convention, the more the crowds seemed to thicken and surge with activity. Little clusters of cosplayers gathered at the walls to sit down and rest, others practically ran after each other to talk or ask for photos of each other, while some apparently chose to remain in character as various strange creatures or cartoonishly armoured soldiers patrolled the area. Even the Doctor jumped upon passing a creepy ghostlike person who stood rooted to the spot and stared uncomfortably at anyone who came close. Martha sighed after scooting between some passing teenagers in the seemingly shrinking space.
"Christ, how many people are there at this thing?"
"Oh, thousands," said the Doctor. "We may be looking for a while. Just stay close, alr... Sec?"
Turning his head, the hybrid was no longer behind them. The Doctor and Martha stopped and scanned the crowd. Sec was pressed behind a pillar some feet back, disguiseless.
"What's happened?" The Doctor asked as he reached the pillar. "Your perception filter's not working."
"I don't know, it was getting too hot and I went to adjust it, knocked into someone, there must have been a malfunction," said Sec with more than a little concern.
"Alright, it'll be fine, let me have a look…" The Doctor didn't sound too convinced himself as he put his sonic screwdriver to the ID tag and started examining it. "We've just got to get it working again before-"
"Oh my god!"
The trio all looked in a panic at the young man who'd come around the pillar and caught sight of them. He stared for some moments, then grinned.
"Bloody hell, that's amazing! Best effects makeup I've seen all day!" The man approached Sec in awe. "I'm surprised you can even see with the one eye. How'd you do the tentacles, animatronic? God, some of it must weigh a ton…"
Sec looked to the Doctor as if asking how he should respond, but was saved by Martha.
"Yes! It does, that's why he's er, resting here. We might want to go out for some air, mate," she said, patting her friend on the arm. "Would you excuse us?"
The stranger nodded politely and went to turn away. "Yeah no problem, well done man. It almost looks real!"
"Almost?" whispered Sec.
But they took advantage of their reprieve to move along and dip into a small corner. The Doctor and Martha stood around Sec while the former helped him fix his disguise.
"There we go," said the Doctor. "Feeling alright?"
"I will be fine." He breathed a sigh of relief. "That was a lucky save."
"You can say that again. Good thing you're not exactly out of place at an event like this," remarked Martha.
"Indeed…" Sec was still calming down from his moment of panic when he happened to spot something in the crowd.
A pale face staring right at him. Though they were quite a distance away, Sec could tell that even from here there was something not quite right about them. The way they were stood, it was like they were frozen. Like a statue. Could it be…?
"Sec?" He looked at the Doctor. "What is it, you see something?"
"Do you think someone saw you turn the disguise back on?" asked Martha urgently.
"No, I…" When he looked back to where the figure was, they had gone. "It… it is nothing. I thought I saw something but… never mind." He nodded towards a large set of glass doors. "Perhaps we might have better luck searching outside."
"Good idea." The Doctor held the detector aloft. "Yep, definitely getting a stronger reading. Let's have a look."
They hurried towards the main entrance. The overtaxed door guards were doing their best to guide those leaving the hall out of one set of doors and those coming in through another. The three travellers became mixed in with the throng, stepping into the glare of the sunlight.
The sights out here were, somehow, even more peculiar than those inside. People in long robes swinging glowing sticks at one another. Humans dressed in furry costumes that made Sec recoil slightly at the thought of the smell inside. A large group gathered around some costumed humans who were dancing to music blaring out of a set of portable speakers. They moved up and down a wide set of stairs that led down to a green area and some kind of stage where more music was playing.
"Hold on… hold on, I've got something!" The Doctor held the detector aloft. "Oh you beauty! They're close, very close!"
"Where? I don't see any…" Martha trailed off when her eyes settled on something. "Doctor? I think I've found them."
They followed her gaze. Marching in a line towards them up the stairs were the seven remaining roboforms, all dressed in the same imposing white armour of the Stormtroopers and all with their weapons aimed squarely at the three of them. There was only one exception to their uniform dress code who stood at their centre.
A figure dressed entirely in black. A long, dark cloak was draped around its shoulders and billowed in the wind as it strode forward with purpose in every step. The head was covered by a rounded helmet with a raised ridge around the back. The eye pieces were oval shaped with a triangular grill around the mouth area. It gave it the distinct appearance of a skull. As it neared, Sec could make out a mechanical breathing coming from the dark figure.
"You cannot be serious," muttered Martha in disbelief.
"Am I to assume that this is the prime unit?" he murmured to her.
"I'd say so, yeah. But if this thing pulls out some kind of lightsabre, that's it for me."
Whatever Sec would have had in mind to respond with was cut off at the sight of humans excitedly flocking towards the approaching group. Many had cameras and were asking the roboforms if they could take photos. The scavengers remained committed to their camouflage and allowed the humans to pose with them. However, the three time travellers all came to a horrible realisation. If they decided to open fire, innocent humans would be caught in the crossfire.
They quietly slipped away to one side before any of the roboforms could spot them to discuss their options.
"This is something we could do without," murmured the Doctor.
"Could we not attempt to sneak up on the prime unit and attach the device?" asked Sec.
The Doctor hissed. "We could try but there are seven possible audio and visual receptors keeping a lookout for us and they'll keeping a close watch on their leader. If even one of them spotted us that would be it."
"It's too risky. We've got to get these people away from them," said Martha at once. "We need to create some sort of distraction or diversion to draw their attention."
"That might even distract the roboforms long enough to get close to them too," added Sec.
The Doctor screwed up his face in concentration, casting his eyes around for something to use. They settled on the crowd that were gathered around the humans dancing with the portable music speakers. After a moment, he grinned.
"Got it!" He raised his sonic screwdriver. For a moment, the speakers only produced static to the chagrin of the dancers until another upbeat tune came through and the Doctor cried out in a voice for all to hear, "Conga line! Come on, everybody conga!"
The nearby humans only spent a few seconds struck by confusion at the sudden change. But the music plus the Doctor's encouragement was enough to get them going again. Sec watched in amazement as this 'conga' started to form, beginning with only a few humans but others rapidly joined in. Before long they'd formed a massive travelling line of superheroes, monsters, magical girls and brightly coloured protagonists.
It achieved the result they wanted because now people were drawn away from the roboforms to watch or participate in the spectacle. Even they turned to watch and Sec imagined that if they had any kind of emotion, they probably felt just as bemused at the sight as he was.
"Did you seriously know that would work?" said Martha incredulously.
"Can't have a convention without a conga!" he replied.
With the conga providing a distraction, the Doctor took the opportunity to try sneaking up on the roboforms. He readied the deactivation device, creeping up like a hunter might stalk its prey. Sec watched with baited breath. The troopers remained fixed to the spot, unmoving and silent. The Doctor was drawing closer with every step.
He was mere feet away now. Still they hadn't noticed. Sec noticed him tense. He appeared to be readying himself for a sudden move to close the distance. Just a bit closer and this would be over.
That was when one of the Stormtroopers turned away from the conga and looked straight at the Doctor. For a split second, the two of them froze, regarding one another. Then the trooper raised its weapon to bear on the Time Lord.
"Run!" He leaped aside, the shot going wide. "Lead them towards the river! We have to keep them away from the crowd!"
They sprinted down the stairs, a multitude of blasts accompanying them. Sec looked back to see the entire group now aiming their guns at them. The prime unit had equipped itself with a small pistol, adding to the symphony of shooting.
"Looks like they've got Stormtrooper aim too!" shouted Martha as they ran.
Though the shots failed to hit their intended mark, nearby bystanders weren't so lucky. Humans fell from stray shots that either injured or killed. Most ran but some seemed to find it within themselves to stand and fight. Sec glimpsed some who tried to charge the roboforms with replica swords, no doubt emboldened by the characters they pretended to be and the idea of being a hero. Both were meaningless to the roboforms who either shoved or blasted humans aside to keep their quarry in sight.
Sec could hear the screams and cries of the innocent. These were people they were meant to be saving. He felt compelled to stop and help them, but knew he had to keep moving. He could see the river the Doctor had mentioned and that there were far fewer humans gathered. Perhaps there they could find some other way to reach the prime unit without risking the convention attenders further.
That was when he saw another human foolishly try to be a hero. It was one of the 'Cybermen' from before. He came charging out of the crowd with a battle cry, though his cumbersome costume prevented him from reaching any significant speeds. However, his path would take them directly into their line of fire and he was passing by closest to Sec.
The hybrid didn't think, he reacted. He grabbed him and pulled him to the ground, a shot scorching the ground he had been.
"What the-?!" Sec recognised his voice as Gary's. "You again?!"
"Go! Get out of here, run!" Sec ordered.
He looked at the approaching roboforms, seemed to realise what he had almost done and bolted to his feet the opposite direction.
"Thanks! I owe you!" he called back over his shoulder.
Sec didn't have time to bask in his heroics. He scrambled to get up when a shot landed inches away in front of him. He turned to go different direction but another blast blocked his progress. So it was whenever he tried to run and he was left rooted to the spot. The roboforms approached, all of their weapons trained on him.
"GET AWAY FROM HIM!"
The Doctor and Martha had stopped, already sprinting back towards him.
The prime unit was aiming at him. The Doctor and Martha were running for him but Sec knew they wouldn't reach him time. All he could see now was the black, empty barrel of the gun. His mouth felt dry, his limbs unresponsive. He didn't want to die. Light flared from within and the hollow sound rang out as it fired. Sec shut his eye.
The shot impacted against something, but it wasn't Sec. Something had met the blast in its path. When he dared to open his eye, a figure stood before him with its arms out wide. A figure made of stone.
"You…" He whispered in amazement. "But… how…?"
"Sec, move!" shouted the Doctor.
Sec looked to see the prime unit was already striding towards him around the Angel, its long cape billowing as it raised its weapon again. But Sec wouldn't allow his fear to take hold of him again.
"No!" He shot to his feet and ran at the unit, barrelling into it with his shoulder.
The shot went wild and the gun went skidding across the floor. Before it could recover from the unexpected attack, Sec raised his hand and with a triumphant snarl, he pressed the device to the unit's chest.
The light at the centre flashed, the unit juddered and shook violently. Others around it did too, their weapons falling from their hands. After a few seconds, they all collapsed to the ground in a heap, releasing the Doctor and Martha from their hold.
"Oh Sec, that was brilliant!" cheered the Doctor.
Martha was grinning. "It really was, well done! Maybe you should look into rugby."
"Thank you, both of you. The Angel, she…" They all looked to see the Angel, no longer stone and clutching at a smoking spot on her chest. Sec rushed to her. "Are you alright?"
She looked up at him, her ruined features clearly grimacing in pain. However, she weakly nodded then pointed at Sec with her other finger. She repeated this twice before Sec realised she was asking him in kind.
"Yes, I am. You saved my life. Thank you," he said sincerely.
Though it was hard to tell, a weak smile appeared to pull at her mouth. She bowed her head, clutching at the spot harder. Sec sensed movement and saw Martha and the Doctor knelt beside him.
"I can't say I know much about the anatomy of stone angels, but she needs our help," said Martha.
"We can start with a good square meal," said the Doctor, moving to her side and allowing her to lean on him for support. Sec took the other side. "Let's get her back to the TARDIS. It's time to find out what this Angel is all about."
Ladies and gents, we have gone over 500 views! Thank you so much! :D
And to the folks who guessed some little details in advance about this chapter, well done to you XD I do hope that the fact people are guessing is a good thing. And there's plenty more to come!
EDIT: HAHAHAHAHAAHA I TOTALLY DID NOT ACCIDENTALLY PUBLISH THIS CHAPTER WITH AN ENTIRE CHUNK MISSING AND HAVE TO REUPLOAD IT! I am so, so sorry about that.