The Highest Science
by Gareth Roberts
The charges were blown at 0700 hours on the sixth day after the raid. The Board believed that whatever traps the attackers might have rigged inside the gene laboratory could not withstand a controlled detonation of plurtex. It was one of Project's newest toys and promised to blast through the reinforced megalanium of the doors without damaging the contents of the lab inside.
That was the idea, anyhow. The Board had acted with typical caution and withdrawn all salaried staff to shelters on the far side of the planet. A couple of dozen workers on attachment, cleaners mostly, were kitted out in protective gear and placed outside the lab. The plurtex went off on schedule and they moved in as instructed. For Cooper, an ex-con assigned to sanitary inspection duties on Checkley's World four years before, the blood was the worst part.
When the smoke and dust of the blast had settled, the team leader verified the air as clean. Cooper removed his heavy helmet and pulled off the goggles and respirator beneath. He blinked. The dripping walls of the cavern glistened red in the glow of the emergency lighting. The fluorescing strips revealed carnage. The bodies of the patterning crew, their faces familiar to Cooper and his mates from the canteen, lay slashed and hollow around their computers. The machines had been similarly gutted and their smashed screens sparked erratically. Over by the specimen cases was Dr Pethering, almost unrecognisable under what had been done to him. The jars and containers themselves had been shattered by a repeater rifle and their contents released to flounder and die.
Cooper forced himself to take another look at Pethering's body. Two bloated blobs, crawling brains with leech-like suckers, were affixed to the scientist's face. Sensing movement nearby, the blind creatures raised their shapeless mouths up to Cooper. Calmly, he obeyed his briefing. The chemical spray from his backpack shot from the nozzle clasped In his gloved hand. The specimens screeched and died. The froth hardened around Pethering's head, forming a grotesque death mask of his remaining features. Cooper backed away, gasping for air. Mother of the creatures, larger and with eyes, scuttled from the darkness and sank its teeth into his boot. He angled the nozzle downwards and squirted, at the same time stamping his foot to try and crack its shell. It did not falter.
"Yanos!" Cooper shouted over at his mate, the team leader. "Get it off me!" Yanos and two other men hurried over and aimed their sprays at the beast. Cooper felt its grip relax and sighed. He moved to kick it off and it bit back, sinking sharp teeth into his boot. Still he wasn't really worried. Nothing could penetrate the strengthened coating.
The teeth penetrated the strengthened coating. Cooper screamed and fell. "Yanos, Yanos!"
He looked up. Yanos looked down at him, the camera on his helmet adding a third eye to the stare. The team leader's hand went to his ear as he received instructions from the Board. He signalled the other men away from Cooper. They obeyed.
Yanos leaned over. "Sorry, friend," he told Cooper, "but the Board say that with Pethering dead, the computer files wiped and FXX Q84 taken, that thing is more important than you." He sighed. "Bad luck, old chum."
Cooper felt the creature devouring his leg. Yanos remained near, his head bowed to allow the camera a good view of the death. They'd been good mates, shared drinks together, but Cooper could understand Yanos' actions. If the positions had been reversed he'd have done the same. You didn't disobey orders from the Board on Checkley's World.
The Chelonian ship thundered on, starlight dancing on its irregular
surfaces. At its heart, General Fakrid sifted through intelligence reports
on their destination. The planet was an optimum breeding ground and telestronomy
suggested that a variety of unclassified species grew there. As expedition
leader it would Fall to Fakrid to compile a dossier on them. He viewed
the prospect with almost the same enthusiasm he normally reserved for the
extermination of parasite infestation. And there would be plenty of that
sport to enjoy on Vaagon as well.
The TARDIS span through the space/time vortex, the light on its rooftop
flashing nonsensically. Extradimensional beings observed its passing without
surprise. Off he goes again, they thought, to put more wrongs to rights.
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #196