by Mark Gatiss
Nightshade pulled at his paisley bow tie until the knot unravelled. He sighed heavily and tossed the tie onto his desk. Above his head the broad, flat blades of the fan whirred soothingly, fluttering the papers and blue-prints which were piled before him.
It was far too hot. Sweat soaked his back just above the waistline of the old cricketing trousers he'd dug out of his wardrobe the evening before, and there were ugly stains developing under the arms of his shirt which he'd only ever imagined happened to Nazis in Tarzan movies. The black bakelite phone was set to one side and refused to ring. Nightshade glared at it.
Outside, in the hot August night, there were few stars visible, although the crescent of Venus flared brilliantly behind the launch-pads. Nightshade shot one last appealing look at the phone and then switched off the lights standing still for several moments as his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and the whirring hush of the fan settled over him. He negotiated his way past the chairs and instruments and gazed at the night sky, setting his face so close to the glass that the window steamed up. Somewhere up there, his rocket crew had gone missing.
There had been no news of the ship since contact had been lost twelve hours ago. Eventually, he'd decided to wait by himself, insisting that the remainder of the team get some rest. The crew in observatory three would probably hear from the rocket first and they would call him immediately. Several times he thought he'd heard The faint tinkle of the telephone and picked it up only to be greeted by a low mocking buzz. Rubbing his eyes, he hitched himself onto the edge of the desk and yawned.
Something in the sky caught his attention and he snapped around but it was only a shooting star, leaving a trail on his retina just as it had on the purple dusk.
What the hell had gone wrong? Where were they? And, perhaps most important of all, what had they seen?
The first Men in Space! He could still hardly comprehend it. It had been his skill, his expertise, which had guided that fragile metal tube up into the sky. His would be the glory if the mission proved successful and his the bitter failure if those three brave pioneers failed to return.
The double doors clattered and Barclay shambled into the room.
"No. Leave the light, Barclay, I like it. Leave it off"
Nightshade swung round on the desk. "Aren't you supposed to be getting some rest?"
"Couldn't steep, Professor. You know how it is." Barclay felt his way through the darkness and found a chair. He pulled it towards him and flopped gratefully down. "No news?"
Barclay found the telephone and put his hand close by, ready. He swivelled his eyes round to look at Nightshade, now a lean silhouette against the window. "You know, I can't help thinking, sir. What if it had been me up there? Up there on the... the other side of the air. Would I be able to cope? What do you think's happened to them?"
Nightshade saw the three astronauts again in his mind's eye. Robert Carson, Daniel Barley and Ian Martin. Three brave men of whom the world was still ignorant.
"Any number of things," he said at last. "Meteor shower. Pressure drop. Oxygen starvation. That damned gimbal system I was never happy with." Nightshade turned to Barclay and smiled, though his face was invisible in the darkness. "They'll be all right, Barclay. I'm sure of it."
The telephone rang loudly. Barclay almost knocked it off the desk in his excitement. Nightshade dashed to the wall and the room was suddenly bright with painful yellow light.
"Hello? Yes. Yes? What? You're sure? Thanks!" Barclay slammed down the telephone.
"Well?" Nightshade's voice was husky with anticipation.
"The rocket, Professor. It's landed!"
Nightshade's face flushed with excitement and he rose to his full height.
"Cue grams," said a soft voice close by. Strident music belted throughout
the room, reached its climax and shut off. Several bright lights flooded
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #190