Chatoyance: Chapter 1: Green Screen
She didn't want to die.
A year ago Kim Gideon wouldn't have cared less and had even decided that if fate wasn't going to be proactive in the matter then perhaps she would lend a hand. But of course, fate had nodded in her direction. Just in the nick of time the Doctor had entered her life, whisking her away from the darkness in her mind.
So, as she stood in front of the Sontaran firing squad, Kim's insides turned to water and she trembled against her restraining bonds. The Doctor stood next to her, grim-faced. They were each strapped to a pole in front of a wall, their hands behind their backs.
Half of her toyed with the idea that the Doctor was going to produce some sort of miracle. 'With one bound, they were free', kind of thing. But the look on his face told a different story.
They were on the planet Quillan. A world described by the Doctor as a pastoral haven. Somewhere they could go to relax after their narrow escape from the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The Doctor had described the peaceful Quillan natives – the Quib – as a unique humanoid-mollusc hybrid. They carried an exo-skeleton on their backs which they retired into for sleep. The Quib were peaceful, friendly and the Doctor had always wanted to visit them.
Well, the Quib may have been all that but the Tardis arrived on Quillan to find a world under the jackboot of Sontaran domination. Half the native population had been slaughtered and the other half toiled until they dropped, slaves of the Sontaran Empire.
Bit by bit the planet was being gutted, its forests devastated and natural resources pillaged by the invaders. Great industrial complexes sprang up as the landscape became a sea of grey.
The Doctor had been initially convinced that they had landed on the wrong world and had led Kim on a brief reconnaissance to prove his theory. They had narrowly avoided two Sontaran patrols and had scrambled back to the Tardis just in time to see it being hauled off by a third.
The place was swarming with them. Kim had met the Sontarans once before. It had been then that she had discovered her complete inability to say the word 'Sontaran'. A kind of mental block that rendered the word 'Snotaran' as her best effort. She had thereafter christened them 'The Snots', much to the Doctor's amusement.
But there was nothing amusing about the Sontarans on Quillan. These were front-line. Brutal, militaristic, potato-faced Nazis.
Kim and the Doctor had been caught trying to break into a military compound where the Tardis was being held. Arraigned as possible Rutan spies they were interrogated as such. But when the Doctor stubbornly refused to give them access to his ship, they were subjected to a kangaroo-court and sentenced to death in short-order.
Thus they stood in the courtyard of a huge Sontaran compound, just as the Quillan sun began to set, casting long, ominous shadows.
A Sontaran officer, Stigg by name, began to read formally from a scroll of paper.
" You are guilty of crimes against the Sontaran Empire, including sedition and espionage. We are gathered for your lawful execution under Section 3 of the Emergency Powers Act..."
The Doctor half-leaned over towards Kim. "I'm sorry, Kim," he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "I couldn't just let them have the Tardis. With that technology..."
He was interrupted by Stigg's heavy approaching footsteps. The back of a gauntletted hand smashed across the Doctor's face, knocking his head sideways. A trickle of blood seeped at the corner of his mouth.
"Vermin!" hissed the Sontaran. "Die in silence. With dignity..."
""Pig!" shouted Kim, hotly. "Coward!"
She braced herself as Stigg raised his hand against her.
"Stigg!" The voice echoed across the courtyard. The blow was stilled.
Major Stoxx, the Sontaran regional Commander, marched across to them. "What is the meaning of this?"
Stigg, standing stiffly at attention, saluted. "The prisoners defiled the protocol of execution. They broke the silence of the doomed, Major."
Stoxx licked his lips. "What did you expect from such filth? Let us not waste any more time and energy on them."
The two Sontarans stood to one side.
"Firing squad, "barked Stoxx. "Make ready !"
The four troopers comprising the firing squad levelled their blasters; two on the Doctor and two on Kim.
Kim closed her eyes, tried to be brave. But as Stoxx ordered 'Fire!" she screamed like she had never screamed before in her life.
"CUT!" A voice out of nowhere. "OK, everybody! That's a wrap! See you Monday."
Somewhere a bell rang, janglingly loud.
"Jesus Christ! You might have warned me!"
Kim turned her head to one side. The Doctor was wiggling a finger in his left ear and shaking his head. He had stepped away from the pole, his bindings hanging limp behind him.
He looked at Kim angrily. "I've got to be on stage in an hour. I'm half bloody deaf!"
With goggling eyes Kim looked around her. The Sontaran compound had vanished, replaced by a huge plain green screen, hanging from pulleys. The four Sontarans of the firing squad had removed their dome-like helmets to reveal very human faces. They exchanged a few remarks with each other and began to drift off.
Major Stoxx was chatting to a young woman with headphones.
"Wardrobe!" called the Doctor.
A young pretty girl appeared at his side. "Yes, Mr Eastman?"
The Doctor stripped off his duffle coat and tossed it to the girl. "I'm sure that thing is infested with something. I'm itching like mad. Get it fumigated or something before Monday."
"OK, Mr Eastman."
The Doctor wriggled his finger in his ear again. "In future, "he said to Kim, "let me know. That's all I ask! Right?" He stalked away, out of Kim's eyeline.
A man with a clipboard approached Kim, smiling. "Never mind old sourpuss," he said. "That scream was fantastic, Amanda. You really nailed it! I'm sure we'll keep it in." He cocked his head at her. "You don't need to stand there like that any more, love."
Kim stepped away from the pole and looked around her at the rapidly emptying studio. Her unblinking eyes flicked from the empty green screen to the arc lamps and the catwalks and the cameras.
She swallowed hard.
Her mind was numb and empty, except for a single thought that burned like neon, elbowing everything else out of her head.
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
(End of Chapter 1)