The Doomsday Manuscript
by Justin Richards
Cover Blurb
The Doomsday manuscript

The Doomsday Manuscript is the key to finding the Lost Tomb of Rablev and, legend has it, if the tomb is ever opened, the world will end. With the party at the Braxiatel Collection (home to one half of the Doomsday Manuscript) to celebrate the new millennium underway, Benny finds herself drawn into a web of mystery and intrigue that starts with death and gets more serious at every stage. Can she find the second half of the Doomsday Manuscript before it falls into the wrong hands?

Then there's the Fifth Axis, a callous force which assimilates territories and acquires art treasures and other archaeological finds, who are very interested in Kasagrad -- the last neutral planet in the Assimilated Territories. Strategically vital and protected from the Fifth Axis by its impenetrable defence systems, will Benny find the Lost Tomb there? And can she squeeze in another drink at "Piccolini's" -- favourite haunt of black marketeers, spies, counterfeiters, Fifth Axis officers, and desperate archaeologists -- before the end of the world?

  • This is the first full-length novel in Big Finish's new series of The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield.
  • Released: November 2000

  • ISBN: 1 903 65404 1

As the staff of the Braxiatel Collection prepare to celebrate the end of the 26th century, Benny misplaces her security pass and realises she's going to have to report this to the administrator Ms Jones, whom even Braxiatel himself seems to fear. She puts off the moment by going in search of her lost cat Wolsey, and finds him in the company of the young Dr Josiah Vanderbilt, who claims to have found him limping through a construction area. Wolsey is the one creature Ms Jones seems to show any fondness for, and Benny plays on this by claiming that she was so worried about his broken paw that she must have dropped her security pass without noticing. Ms Jones supplies her with a new one and takes Wolsey for medical treatment. Benny gratefully invites Vanderbilt to her room for a drink, but he stays for only a few minutes before making his excuses and departing. As he goes, he bumps into Braxiatel, who is puzzled when Benny identifies her visitor; the real Josiah Vanderbilt is in his eighties. He and Benny double-check the visitor's identity through security scans, and learn that he is really Kolonel Daglan Strakland of the Fifth Axis, a ruthless force fighting their way across the galaxy and looting priceless treasures from conquered worlds as they go.

That night, during the festivities, an intruder alarm goes off in the Archaeology Department, and Benny and Braxiatel find a man holding a knife to Strakland's throat. Strakland strikes his attacker in the head with his artificial hand as they struggle, killing him. He claims to have stumbled into the wrong room and found the intruder trying to steal a holosphere, and Braxiatel decides to hush up the incident while he investigates. Benny returns to the party, and then to her room, where she finds that in a well-intentioned attempt to make her feel more at home, Braxiatel has given her a personal assistant named Joseph, almost identical to the old Joseph. But this only serves to remind her of what she's still missing from her old life... and when she realises she can't even find her favourite photograph of Jason any more, she must face the fact that he's gone forever. Meanwhile, Strakland reports the progress of his mission to his superior, Marshal Raul Kendrick. Kendrick is putting all of his faith in Strakland, and will have to report personally to the Imperator should they fail...

The next day, Strakland admits his true identity to Benny and Braxiatel, but claims that he's part of a movement to catalogue and classify the art treasures "collected" by the Fifth Axis in the hope of one day restoring them to their rightful owners. He wants Braxiatel's help to do so, and came to the Collection under an alias because Braxiatel hadn't invited a representative from the Fifth Axis. Braxiatel still refuses to have anything to do with the Axis, however, and he moves on to the dead man and the mysterious holosphere, which does not have a catalogue entry in the Collection. The man, Dale Pettit, was apparently a legitimate visitor with no reason to steal the holosphere -- one half of the so-called Doomsday Manuscript. Three thousand years ago, on the planet Kasagrad, the chief engineer of King Hieronimes tried to turn the power of the gods against his king, and unleashed a terrible plague upon the planet. He was walled up alive in his own tomb, and it is said that if the tomb is ever opened, the gods' curse will strike again and the world will end. Four centuries ago Niall Goram and Matt Lacey found the tomb, explored it briefly and then sealed it again, intending to return; but before they could do so they came down with a strange wasting disease and died. Convinced that they had fallen victim to the curse, they tore their journal in half to prevent the tomb from being reopened. It appears that the Braxiatel Collection possesses Goram's half of the Manuscript. Strakland offers to help track down the other half, to prove his good intentions to Braxiatel, and Benny also becomes determined to investigate -- for, in a torn photograph in the journal, hidden in the shadows behind a moustached man, she has seen her ex-husband, Jason Kane.

Benny and Braxiatel trace Lacey's half of the Manuscript to a collector named Milo Yendipp, who is rather upset when Benny shows up on his doorstep with a Fifth Axis Kolonel; when the Fifth Axis invaded the planet Frastus Minima, they killed his sister Luci's husband. Luci can't even bear to be in the same room as Strakland, but Milo tries to hold in his distaste, as he doesn't wish his hatred of a group to colour his treatment of an individual. He no longer owns the manuscript, as he was forced to sell off most of his possessions to escape from the Axis; but he does privately admit to Benny that the manuscript was purchased by former screen star Munroe Hennessy. He also shows Benny holograms of Goram and Lacey, two strong and healthy young men who aged and died within months of opening Rablev's tomb. As Benny sets off for the spaceport, Strakland lags behind, telling her that he wants to apologise to Milo for what the Axis has done to his family. But in fact, Strakland was personally in charge of the "cleansing" of Frastus Minima, he's taken great offense to Milo's attitude, and he returns only to stab Milo through the heart...

Hennessy lives on a private asteroid with his caregiver Fedora Bronsan, surrounded by cameras and other memorabilia of his greatest roles. He is confined to a wheelchair and life support system, but he and Bronsan seem to be under the impression that Benny and Strakland have come to negotiate casting him in a comeback role. After dinner, Benny returns to her room, only to find that she's been locked in. Although Joseph is unable to unlock the door for her, he can interface with the room's disconnected systems terminal -- which reveals that someone is in the mansion's editing suite, using CGI and judicious editing techniques to make it appear as though Benny is a villainness here to steal the Doomsday Manuscript from the dashing young Hennessy. The storyboards for the next sequence have been plotted out -- Benny and Strakland are to flee through the mansion, pursued by Hennessy, who will gun them down. The door opens by itself, revealing a camera waiting outside...

Benny warns Strakland of the danger, and they flee as the cameras open fire on them; CGI of a younger Hennessy will be superimposed on the footage later. While Strakland holds off the cameras, Benny reaches the editing suite, to find that it is not Hennessy but Bronsan who is in charge of the "comeback" special. All she really wants to do is direct. Bronsan prepares to shoot Benny, but cameras start to fail in a supposedly deserted part of the house, and while Bronsan is distracted Benny pulls a cable free of the editing board, electrocuting Bronsan and deactivating the cameras. She emerges from the editing suite to find that a figure in a black combat suit shut down the camera system in order to get into the asteroid undetected and kill Strakland, and presumably Benny as well. She and Strakland evade the suited figure and reach Hennessy's room, where he reveals that he always knew his time was past but never had the heart to break it to Bronsan. He tells Benny where to find Lacey's half of the Manuscript in his library -- but as she sets off to collect it, Strakland lags behind and switches off Hennessy's life support systems. The combat-suited figure pauses to restart the systems and save his life, giving Strakland and Benny the time they need to get back to their shuttle. Bronsan has recovered from her shock, and tries to stop them, but Strakland crushes her to death beneath one of the deactivated cameras.

Another ship pursues Benny and Strakland from Hennessy's asteroid, but it only fires warning shots; presumably the black-suited figure wants the Manuscript intact. Strakland tries to shake off the pursuing ship and head for the exclusion zone around Kasagrad, and Benny is rather taken aback to learn that the Fifth Axis have put up a blockade around the planet. As a neutral world in the heart of the Assimilated Territories it's a strategic embarrassment, but the Fifth Axis can't invade directly due to the planet's impenetrable defense grid, which is controlled from an impregnable fortress dating to the time of the Tombs. They have therefore set up sanctions around the planet, leaving the government with no choice but to collaborate with the Axis to ensure their survival. Thus, the Axis is slowly gaining control of the planet through a series of political compromises -- but if they can find a more direct route to power, they'll take it.

Just as Benny and Strakland reach the exclusion zone, a lucky shot from their pursuer hits the engine couplings, and they are forced to evacuate the ship in two escape pods. Deciding not to give the enemy an easy target, Benny clings to the outside of her pod and leaps across space to the pursuit ship -- but as she watches, Strakland's pod crosses the exclusion zone and is shot down by a Fifth Axis battle cruiser. Benny boards the pursuit ship just as the cruiser turns on it as well, and she manages to seal the black-suited figure out of the bridge and pilot the ship towards Kasagrad under fire. She departs in an escape pod as the damaged ship breaks up in the atmosphere, and thus makes it safely to the planet's surface. Unfortunately, she no longer has the Lacey manuscript, which presumably went up along with Strakland. She's stranded in the heart of the Assimilated Territories with nothing to show for her troubles, forced to wait along with everyone else on Kasagrad for the invasion which everyone knows is inevitable. Meanwhile, Braxiatel learns that the real Vanderbilt was murdered for his invitation to the Collection, and realises that Benny is in more danger than he thought...

Benny takes a room at Piccolini's, a drinking establishment where young political agitants sit alongside government officials such as Harv Gresham, and where even Raul Kendrick himself has occasionally been seen at the bar. The robot waiters are in poor shape due to the blockade, and are occasionally forced to cannibalise one another for spare parts. Benny's only meagre comfort is the half-photograph of Jason standing behind the moustached man. Eventually she decides to try working out the location of the tomb from Goram's half of the Manuscript, and when she tries to enlist Joseph's help she discovers that, thanks to an off-hand comment she made on Hennessy's asteroid, he has uploaded a copy of the Lacey manuscript into his own memory. She thus has enough data to put together a complete copy of the Manuscript -- given the proper processing equipment and someone who knows what they're doing. She tries to make contact with such a person through the young agitants, but they don't trust her. When Kendrick walks into the bar, young Ilsa deliberately requests the Kasagrad anthem from the pianist, and the irritated Kendrick storms out, destroying a robot waiter who gets in his way. As the robot is dismantled by its fellows, Benny catches sight of a familiar face leaving the bar -- the moustached man who was supposedly standing in front of Jason when the photograph of Rablev's tomb was taken four hundred years ago...

Benny loses the man in the crowd outside, but Piccolini identifies him as a regular to the bar. Piccolini believes that the government is doomed, but he also believes that Benny means no harm and thus directs her to Georgia Salis, who can help her to reconstruct the Manuscript. Georgia seems strangely pensive when she sees what Benny has brought to her, but assures her that there is enough data to piece the Manuscript back together -- or would be, if the two halves matched. Before she can explain further, Gresham arrives with a squad of guards, and takes Benny to the Citadel, the seat of Kasagrad's government. In a cell in the deepest level of the Citadel, she is confronted by the mysterious black-suited figure... Luci Yendipp, who is hunting Strakland for the murders of her husband and brother. Benny is not under arrest; this shielded cell is the only place where they can talk freely. The government has made so many concessions to keep the trade routes open that the Fifth Axis is all but in control of the planet already. Ilsa, the girl who insulted Kendrick in Piccolini's, has been murdered, and Gresham, knowing that an invasion is imminent, intends to use the murder as an excuse to expel all Fifth Axis personnel from the planet. Per standard Fifth Axis operating procedure, the subsequent invasion fleet will broadcast computer-generated strategems on thousands of frequencies simultaneously; only one command frequency will contain the correct instructions to the fleet, and the Kasagrad military have no way of knowing which one. Their only hope lies in finding out why the Tomb of Rablev is so important to the Fifth Axis.

Benny returns to Piccolini's, unaware that one of the "robot" waiters is in fact a Fifth Axis informant, Bryn Lavers, in disguise. He's the one who sold out Ilsa to the Axis, although he's horrified when he learns that his information led to her death. At the bar, Benny finally meets the moustached man, a local drunk who posed for a photograph four weeks ago for a Fifth Axis officer. As Benny tries to work out the implications, she is confronted by Strakland; his empty pod was blown up as a ruse to throw the Kasagrad officials off guard. He admits that the photograph of Jason was faked to lure Benny in so she and Braxiatel would help him locate the other half of the Manuscript. Now she's just a loose end which needs resolving. But as he marches Benny out of the bar, one of Ilsa's compatriots enters, sees him, and attacks without thinking. Strakland kills him, and in the confusion, Lavers nearly recaptures Benny but lets her escape. Furious, Strakland orders the other robot waiters to disassemble their clearly malfunctioning companion.

Benny returns to Georgia, who admits that she forged some of Goram's half of the Manuscript for the Axis -- adding Mikey to the photograph, leaving space for Jason to be inserted later, and overwriting some of the existing bits of the journal. When Georgia reconstructs the missing parts of the Manuscript, Benny pieces together the truth. Apart from Rablev's burial chamber, which is completely sealed off, the rest of the tomb contains vents through which the entombed one's soul can ascend to the next world. And one of those vents passes directly beneath the lower levels of the Citadel. Now that Strakland has the complete Manuscript, and a complete map of the tomb, he can find another of those vents elsewhere in the city, pass thorugh it into the tomb, and emerge in the supposedly impenetrable Citadel to deactivate the planet's defense grid. As Benny sets off to warn Gresham, Georgia remains with her children; she knows what happened on Frestus Minima, and won't leave them alone. The last of the Fifth Axis troops are leaving, but everyone knows they'll soon be back...

Strakland transmits a coded message to Kendrick reporting on his progress, and though Gresham can't decipher it, he is able to triangulate its source. Benny and Luci follow the signal to an unremarkable city dwelling, where Strakland has killed the occupants and blasted through the cellar into the Tomb. Benny and Luci pursue him, to find that the Tomb is made not of stone but of metal, decorated with pictograms depicting the curse visited on Rablev's followers. Strakland is waiting for them by the sealed entrance to the Citadel; he'd brought a demolition charge with him, but has decided that it would make too much noise and thus orders Benny to use her archaeological expertise to open it for him. She suggests studying the doors to the main burial chamber, which may work on a similar principle, but while doing so she recognises one of the symbols on the doors as a radiation warning. This "tomb" is in fact an alien spacecraft which crashed on Kasagrad millennia ago; Rablev managed to operate it for a while, but the technology was too advanced for him to understand properly, and he caused a meltdown or some other critical failure. The "curse of the gods" is in fact radioactive fallout; only the fact that Goram and Lacey carefully sealed up the tomb behind them prevented disaster last time. If the doors are opened, the world, or parts of it, will indeed end.

Strakland doesn't believe Benny, and never wanted to work with her in the first place. Benny now understands that there was no catalogue entry for the holosphere because it wasn't part of the Collection to begin with; the late Dale Pettit was an innocent visitor who stumbled across Strakland planting it for Benny to find. She also understands that he stole her photograph of Jason and inserted it into the Manuscript, just to trick her into helping him -- but when she finally realises that he deliberately broke Wolsey's paw in order to get close to her and steal the photograph, that's just too much. Furious, she attacks the surprised Strakland, and while he's off guard Luci flings the detonation charge at the chamber doors and shoots it, killing herself, blasting open the main burial chamber and bringing down the ceiling. When Strakland recovers, he has radiation scars on his arm and his watch indicates that five hours have passed. An angry Fifth Axis commander arrives with Benny as his prisoner, and reveals that the invasion has failed; Kendrick's command ship was destroyed in a pre-emptive strike, after the fleet had been committed to attack but before the command frequency was released. Since Strakland did not deactivate the defense grid or release the command codes, and since somehow the Kasagrad military knew exactly where Kendrick's ship would be, the Commander assumes that Strakland has betrayed them. Desperate to clear his name, Strakland reveals the command frequency in the hope of turning the tide of the battle... only to realise, too late, that the scars on his arm are fake, and that his watch was set ahead while he was unconscious.

The "commander" is Braxiatel in disguise, and when he gives the command frequency to Gresham, this proves the turning point in the battle. Benny and Strakland are perfectly all right; the radiation in the Tomb decayed to a safe level two centuries ago. After the battle, Benny and Braxiatel return to the Collection, knowing that the forgery which saved Kasagrad may go down in history as being more valuable than the original Manuscript. Strakland, realising that he has inadvertently betrayed the Axis, tries to run the blockade but is picked up and brought before Kendrick. The Sixth Fleet has been all but destroyed, and not only has the Axis failed to gain Kasagrad, they will have to retreat from this entire sector of the Territories. Kendrick is not pleased.

Source: Cameron Dixon
[Back to Main Page]