BY DAVID CARROLL
Imperfect Copy a novel
The Tiger who wanted to be Human a comic
Changeling, with Kate Orman
BY KATE ORMAN
Untitled, by Sarah J. Groenewegen
Forgotten Memories, by Evan Paliatseas
The Rushing of Blood, by Evan Paliatseas
Keeper's Demise, by David J Richardson
NON DOCTOR WHO
Alien To Her, by David Carroll
She Twitched, by David Carroll
The Inner Light, by Kate Orman
Waiting in the Light, by Jonathan Barons
Grandfather's Clock, by Steven Caldwell
Messages, by Steven Caldwell
Inge, by Simon Moore
By David Carroll and Kate Orman
First Appeared in Burnt Toast#3, 1990
Stuart Locke stood beside a bowl of weakly alcoholic punch, and fidgeted. He wished whoever had spiked the drink had done a better job of it.
Stuart was twenty-seven. He looked sixteen, so when an undercover job had come up at a Shoreditch high school, he had been the obvious choice for the assignment.
He still wasn't exactly sure what he was doing here, hovering on the edges of a dull school dance. His instructions were infuriatingly simple: keep an eye on Caroline Grey and report anything unusual.
As far as he could see, there was nothing unusual about her. He was in all of her classes, and though she was pretty bitchy, (or rather, he corrected himself, was prone to the occasional emotional outburst) she was nothing to write home -- or report to HQ -- about. When he'd asked his superior what all the fuss was about, he'd been handed a lot of tripe about the Official Secrets Act.
Stuart put down his cup and smiled sourly at one of the chaperons as they passed by. He scanned the crowd for Caroline's long blonde hair.
She was gone.
Cursing himself for a fool, Stuart hurried out of the school hall. He had to find her, or his superior would have his tail -- and it was only fifteen minutes to check-in time. Damn!
* * *
The cellar was absolutely silent.
Caroline Grey stood in the middle of it, breathing the cold, damp air, remembering.
Her mind kept skipping over the same little bit of memory, again and again, like a needle jumping a scratch in a record. There was something inside her, she knew that -- something missing...
The void it had left was deep and full of shadow. Two months of her life had been sucked into that nothing-ness as if they had never been.
Down here, she felt curiously close to the missing part of her mind. And there was a word that went with it, an ugly, metallic word, a word she couldn't quite make surface in her consciousness.
"Why don't you come down here, Stuart?" she said softly.
At the top of the cellar stairs, Stuart Locke started. He hadn't realised she had heard him come in. For Christ's sake, she hadn't even looked at him.
Hesitantly, he made his way down the steps. "What are you doing here, Caroline?"
She turned around. Her face was a pale oval, framed by her straw-yellow hair, her blue eyes looking at him in amusement. She smiled. Slowly, she started to take off her cardigan.
Stuart hovered on the stairs, having trouble believing his eyes. But a last, he returned her smile. Why not, he thought to himself. I can always leave it out of the report...
A caretaker heard the screams. He took one look in the cellar and ran for the phone.
Outside, Caroline adjusted her clothing and looked back at the school with contempt. Now she was all grown-up.
* * *
Brigadier Linstead knelt by the body of his undercover agent. "Damn." he said softly. "Damn, damn, damn." He looked up at the medic. "What killed him?"
"I think he was electrocuted." he said. "Though there is no apparent source of current. And it doesn't explain his state of undress..."
Linstead screwed up his mouth in distaste. "Alright, Doctor. Get him out of here."
He watched as the ambulancemen took Stuart Locke's body away. Bloody psychologists. He'd known the obser-vation programme was a mistake from the first, and now that little ... creature was free to roam the streets. Now he had to find her, and fast.
* * *
The girl sat in the driver's seat of the car she had stolen. She was watching the house across the street, watching and waiting.
The contact between her hands and the rough cover of the wheel pained her, a dull ache that rose sharply when she shifted her position. She didn't notice. The void in her mind was moving invisibly, like the ocean at night. She closed her eyes, wishing the waves would smooth out, disgorge their burden, the word that hovered just out of her reach.
She heard footsteps, and snapped off the headlights. A lone figure was walking along the footpath, a dark silhouette under the street-lights.
She knew who it was.
* * *
"Stop it, you two! Stop it at once!"
Caroline ignored the teacher, trying to get at the eyes of the other girl. Sara squealed, pulling her hair.
Forcibly, the teacher grabbed them and pulled them apart. One of the boys grabbed Caroline and held her while she spat and scratched at her enemy.
"It's not my fault!" protested Sara shrilly. "She started it!"
"I'll smash you!" yelled Caroline furiously, struggling in the boy's grip.
"That's enough, both of you!" said the teacher crossly, looking shaken. "You're both off to the head."
"I'll exterminate you!" shrieked Caroline. "You. Will. Be. Ex-ter-mi-na-ted!"
Sara stuck out her tongue. "You can't even talk properly, you stupid tart!" Realising what she had said, Sara looked guiltily up at the teacher.
But Mr. Chesterton was not looking at her. He was staring at Caroline, staring with fear in his eyes.
And Caroline loved him for it.
* * *
Before it reached her the figure stopped and, turning into a doorway, spent a couple of seconds fumbling in its pockets. Finally finding his key, the figure opened the door and entered.
A few minutes passed. Caroline got out of the car and walked across to the house, her heart pounding in her ears. The door was unlocked. She pushed it gently open, and went inside.
She followed the sounds to the kitchen. The man inside looked up in surprise, drink and sandwich in hand, at the dishevelled figure in the doorway.
"Hello, Ian." she said. The word came to her, all at once, as though a switch in her mind has closed. "Daleks"
He dropped the sandwich.
* * *
Barbara turned in surprise. A man was walking -- no, he was running up behind her, a dark shape moving through the fog. Before she could react he grabbed her arm and with a curt "I wouldn't go in there if I were you" started herding her across the street, baby-stroller and all. He'd actually got her a few feet before Barbara seemed to realise what was happening.
"What do you mean?" she said angrily, breaking away from him. Susan cooed curiously. "Who are you?"
He seemed torn between nervousness and frustration as he answered, flashing a badge at her and trying to keep the terseness out of his voice. "My name's Ryecart, Ma'am, this is police business -- you'd better come with me." He gave up trying to force her but, avoiding a passing car, walked briskly across the road.
Confused, Barbara followed the man to a car sitting at the curb. As she reached him he was picking up a radio. "Ryecart again, sir. I've got Mrs. Chesterton here -- thought I'd better stop her." He listened to the crackling voice. "No, Sir, nothing. Mr. Chesterton entered the house at 17:28. Miss Grey appeared about five minutes later. She entered at 17:34 without apparent difficulty. I didn't get a good look at her. The fog's pretty thick. Right, see you then. Out."
He put down the radio. "I suppose you want to know what's going on?"
* * *
Ian put down his glass and studied his visitor thoughtfully.
He knew he was in terrible danger. Years of chaotic adventuring had sharpened a sort of sixth sense inside him, and it was screaming. Everything about her was wrong, even her clothes, he hair. She was dressed in a fashionable dress, a woman's dress. It looked out of place and ugly on a skinny sixteen year old. She stood awkwardly in her high heels, looking at him. He felt as if he were being X-rayed.
"Hello, Caroline." He said calmly. "I didn't see you at school today."
She brought her hands up like twin snakes, striking forward through the air. Blue lightning shot from her fingertips.
He moved, fast, but the fire moved faster. It sliced across his back like a hot knife, throwing him sideways as he tried to roll out of the way. He smashed into the leg of the kitchen table and lay still.
For the next few seconds, he concentrated on breathing. Waves of pain shot through his seared back, snatching the air from his lungs, filling up his head like treacle. Just breathe. Don't try to think about it. Just breathe.
He tried to pull himself up, but the girl was standing over him. The look on her face was one of delight, but more then that. Blatant lust, even rapture. He lent shakily against the table, composing himself. He thought of Barbara, Susan, and choked back a sob.
"Daleks, Ian Chesterton.", her voice full of fatigue and excitement, a dangerous cocktail of emotion. "What are they, where are they?"
"Aliens. Travel machines." he said hoarsely. "From Skaro, the planet Skaro. I don't know where that is, or where they are."
Her eyes clouded over. Was she remembering?
You will be exterminated.
So many questions. What did she know about the Daleks? How had she made the blue fire? But they were too close, too close to her rapture and his pain. So: "Why did you cut your hair?"
"What?" One hand moved up to her head. Her blonde hair had been cropped closely, accenting the oval shape of her face. She didn't notice the bloody mark her hand had left.
"Long hair's for girls" she said. "I got it all cut off."
Keep her off balance. "Where was it done, who cut it?"
"I don't know. Somewhere, in town." She giggled, a sad, crazy sound. "I killed the hairdresser, too. Nobody saw."
Ian raised himself on an elbow. "Why?"
* * *
The street was a silent tangle of vehicles and evacuees. Car after car pulled up at a discreet distance, disgorging their load of soldiers. House after house was quietly emptied. Barbara imagined they were telling her neighbours there was a bomb scare. She had long since let an emergency services nurse take Susan to safety.
Night had fully fallen by now, compounding the fog with darkness. The only light was a nearby streetlamp, a sphere of dull yellow in the swirling mist.
Ryecart had vanished, leaving her standing by herself, feeling alone and vulnerable as the army swarmed around her. At last, a tall figure strode out of the fog, a tall blonde man in a dark green uniform. He was followed by two nondescript men in civilian clothes.
"Mrs Chesterton." he said in a crisp voice. "I'm Brigadier Linstead." He gave her hand a firm, quick shake. "In charge of operations here. We'd like some help from you."
Barbara looked across to the house, where her husband was trapped with ... something. It made her want to scream and shout and run in circles. But the only way she could help Ian was to keep calm and stay sensible. "What would you like to know?"
"What do you know about Caroline Grey?" The Brigadier's followers produced notebooks.
"Not much, she was one of my husband's pupils at Coal Hill."
The Brigadier nodded. "But he surely didn't mention the names of all of them. Why that one in particular?"
Strangely enough the conversation was crystal clear in her mind. "She was erratic -- good intellectually, but just not ... interested in learning. Still, that's not so unusual in a girl her age. Are you trying to tell me an ordinary teenage girl has my husband trapped in our house and that warrants the attention of ... this?" She gestured at the chaos around them.
"She is no ordinary teenage girl" said Linstead sharply.
One of the men looked up from his notes, grinned at her quickly and emptily. "This may be difficult to believe, but she's got some sort of, well... special powers."
Linstead was watching her closely, his green eyes sparkling like a cat's in the dim light. "What we want to know is why she came here. What's the connection between her and your husband?"
"Don't you know?" she snapped. "Wasn't that Ryecart watching our house, or did you just happen to check up on all her teachers to see if this girl popped round one afternoon?"
Again the Brigadier spoke, his voice tight with controlled anger to match Barbara's own. "The British military is not completely stupid, Mrs Chesterton. Four years ago Mr Chesterton and yourself disappeared, along with one Susan Foreman, a student of yours. Less than a month later, Caroline Grey was involved in an ... incident that centred around the Coal Hill School and the same junk-yard where Susan Foreman was reported to live. The same junk-yard where your car had been found, abandoned." Ignoring her surprise and anger he went on. "Two years later you both turn up again, just as mysteriously but without Susan. You claimed to have been on a holiday, though you couldn't give exact details and there is no record of you being anywhere."
Barbara's mouth had fallen open. Now she forced it under control again. "What 'incident'? What are you talking about?"
Linstead leant forward conspiratorially. "Daleks." he said.
Barbara jumped. "They came here?" An extraordinary cold prickling sensation made its way from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. Daleks? Here? In helpless, familiar, everyday London? "The Daleks came here?"
"Not so loudly, if you please." said Linstead, though his pleased smile showed he'd found out what he wanted to know.
* * *
The conversation was not going well.
The girl was listening, but not to Ian. Whatever she could hear, he couldn't.
Ian lay on the floor, simply trying to gain his breath, knowing that this respite would not last long. He thought of grabbing her, even of yelling for help, but she'd probably blast him before he completed either action. So instead he studied her, trying to pin her down to some explanation approaching the rational.
She stood perfectly still, her eyes clouded over with concentration. She was a thin creature, but pretty in her own way, and her rapidly maturing body should have made her a natural target for the boys in the inevitable first experiments in pairing off. But as far as he knew, it had never happened. Not surprising, since she treated boys, girls, grown-ups, all in the same way. Indifference or contempt. As if she lived in a little world of her own, to which her fellow human beings were simply irrelevant. He had spoken to her parents once or twice, a nervous couple, and he had almost gotten angry at their seeming lack of care. He hadn't, there had been something in their eyes. Something crushed.
And then had come last Friday night, the annual dance. They had heard all about it at a staff meeting today. Her disappearance had not been a vast surprise to anyone. And of course it had simply been an after-thought after the news of Stuart Locke's death, the boy found with his neck broken, tripped on the cellar stairs after too much punch.
Since Friday she had changed. Not just her hair or her clothes, or even the blue lightning. Her bearing, her whole manner had changed. Older. At once more certain and less sure.
Then there were the Daleks. That frightened him most of all. What had they to do with this child, or indeed England in the 1960's? Why was she initially so interested but had now seemed to forget them?
The Daleks he couldn't even guess about. But the girl? No, not even 'the girl'. Caroline Grey, a temperamental but talen-ted student of his. Maybe she was simply frightened, alone and confused. Longing for companionship even if to her companionship meant causing pain. Was she all that different from when he'd last seen her, was she still human? And if the Daleks had been the last of her options what would she do now? He simply did not know.
She looked down at him. He flinched under her gaze. "They're out there now." she said. "Waiting for me."
"Who? Who's waiting?"
"The military. The police." she shrugged. "They've always been waiting." She looked at her hands, For the first time Ian noticed the neat surgical scars running down the insides of her arms. In places they were almost invisible, long-healed, but now blood oozed from the wounds, drop by drop, covering her hands with slippery scarlet. Caroline noticed his stare. "They did that. Tried to take the metal out of my bones. But the wires were me, long and silver, burrowing into the back of my brain. Pull them out and that soft white stuff would be shredded." She giggled convulsively. "They want the lightning. Might as well give them what they want."
"So you're going to kill them or perhaps they'll kill you? What's it going to achieve. What are you doing, girl?"
"I DON'T KNOW", tears filled her eyes and he recoiled from her vehem-ence. "I just don't know. Now, come ON." She walked out, expecting him to obey. He did.
* * *
Outside, Brigadier Lin-stead was quietly pulling the strings of his soldiers, moving one group here, another there. He'd have preferred a straight-forward frontal attack; but when you're dealing with the unknown, it's better to at least have the edge of surprise. So he moved his men like pieces on a board, a careful, stealthy series of manoeuvres designed to avoid attracting attention from the girl.
It made no difference.
Barbara stood ignored in the fog, her coat wrapped around her, shivering with a mixture of fear and bone-chilling cold. She ignored the constant motion of men around her, the continual low muttering of orders and observations. She couldn't take her eyes off the house. Which meant she was the first to see it.
The front door was covered in crackling, actinic blue fire.
Her shout of warning was lost in the explosion.
The door blew off its hinges, and the lightning leapt from the jagged hole in the house. When it touched soldiers, they died. When it touched cars or lorries, they exploded.
A car was burning outside the house, its radiance giving the strange girl all the cover she needed. The gunfire started dying down as the soldiers realised they weren't hitting anything, with an extra burst every-time a blue bolt came out of the smoke and fog and darkness. And she didn't miss.
Every window at he front of the house had been shattered, the walls riddled with bullets, but the sharp-shooters had no target. The blue lightning alternatively springing from windows and the gaping hole of the front door. A couple of seconds later somebody finally remembered the plan and threw tear-gas canisters at the embattled residence, whilst someone else turned one of the powerful spotlights on it. Barbara doubted it was going to blind anyone behind the flames and fumes that obscured this battleground.
Cars exploded. The car behind her. Exploded.
The world went black, and someone was screaming.
She stopped when she realised it was her own voice so loud in her ears. She looked round, her body feeling as if it had been flung twenty feet through the air. It wasn't exaggerating.
Shakily, she climbed to her feet. People were running everywhere, the soldiers shooting blindly into the fire that raged across the street. Dear God, Ian was in there -- somewhere.
Some feeling, a survivor's instinct, forced Barbara to move. The explosion had thrown her into an exposed position, and she felt something focus on her. So she moved, twisted, fell. And the fire splashed off the pavement beside her.
But the mind focused on her had not gone away, and she knew she couldn't move again.
Someone called her name, hoarse with fear. She looked up, and for a second a familiar figure, silhouetted in blue, stood in the doorway of their house, holding something, throwing it onto the pavement. It was a young girl, rolling to stand. But almost before she touched the ground the panicked gunfire found its target. A dozen bullets ploughed through her, the blue lightning shot into the sky, arced through the air as she spun round, round, screaming. And lay still.
Barbara moved, staggered to her feet, running through a gap in the flames.
There was something on the footpath. Something with limbs asplay and eyes open. Something lying in its own blood, as the scarlet fluid spread smoothly through the cracks in the paving.
Barbara sidestepped the thing on the footpath and entered her house. Inside she found her husband lying with extensive bruising and a neat bullet-hole in his left leg. His back was horribly wounded, his hands were terribly burnt, and his face streamed with tears. He was glad to see her and any tears in her own eyes were surely the aftereffects of the gas.
She dragged him to his feet and they clung together like children. Together they half-walked, half-staggered, out into the street. Somewhere a siren was blaring, coming closer.
When they got outside, they stopped.
The strange girl turned round.
Only now there was no smile on her lips, nothing human in her eyes. The bullets had killed what was left of Caroline Grey. Now only what the Daleks had put into her remained. The right side of her skull had shattered, her chest punctuated with black-edged bloody holes.
The raging fire formed a neat barricade between them and the military; they were alone with her.
She raised her arms. Blue sparks swam around her wrists, as if she were a fallen power-cable, the electricity dribbling out of her. The air reeked of smoke and ozone.
Ian and Barbara simply held onto one another as she fired.
And something gave way. The scars in her arms had taken too much strain. The flesh flew back from the bone, revealing for an instant the golden metal circuitry that decorated her radius and ulna. The bones steamed and cracked and shattered, the energy short-circuited, exploded, fed back into the vessel in which it was contained.
And Barbara and Ian Chesterton stood there until Linstead's men came and took them away. The Brigadier himself stayed behind. There was much cleaning up to be done.
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