The Dimension Riders
by Daniel Blythe
The security systems of the Panatropic Net slammed into action as soon as the intruder was pinpointed.
It was almost as if he knew the system from within. As if he had created it himself, in fact. And then he just walked in, leaving the inoculation programs powerless.
The portal opened in front of him, a bleached white. With his umbrella held before him like a shield, he waltzed through. He raised his hat at the two banks of protectors. Their holographic helmets and stasers glinted in the moonlight.
"Can't have you hanging around," he said, and made a couple of adjustments to the space around him, creating an access tunnel.
A dark space opened before him, outlined by neatly-pixelled rows of white lockers. The linear search had already found the one he was looking for, and he rapped on it with his umbrella, initiating a pre-programmed operation. The globe of data, like an iridescent beachball, floated out for him, and he caught it with one hand.
He recognised the data, and so he should have done, as most of it pertained to him. What he was doing was strictly forbidden by the Time Lords, but he hadn't got where he was today by listening to them.
"You're more trouble than you're worth," he said to the globe. "Time to leave."
Something resisted. Claws of red and green light, shooting from the locker, tried to pull the treasure back in. But he glowered at them with his dark eyes.
"No," he said. "Mine now." He closed his eyes. "Escape," he ordered the globe.
It pulsed once from within and then split open, pixels scattering into infinity.
The intruder gave a satisfied nod, and tapped on the door of the locker once more. It flipped shut.
"Destructive reading," he muttered to himself. "Almost as bad as book-burning." Interfacing again, he closed his eyes, programmed the release codes. "Still," he said, and his words hung in the air like clouds. "All in a good cause."
They had only got the deflectors working when they were three hemi-traks from Lightbase.
Captain Romulus Terrin was not a man who objected overtly to an interruption of his routine - he liked to think he had a flexible mind, after all. But as the Icarus had lifted itself from the pad, to the accompaniment of an almost constant chatter of reports from the intent TechnOps, he was in little doubt that there were a dozen Survey Ships in dock which were better equipped for space.
He fielded the reports as best he could. Deflectors eighty per cent operative. Weaponry at standby capacity. Terrin didn't need anybody to tell him about the lighting. It was enough to hear the clapping and cheering when it kicked into full power, and Gessner slid out from under the console with a modest shrug. Terrin nodded at the young TechnOp, to show that his efforts were appreciated.
"Why us?" said Darius Chaynor. He was thinking aloud.
Terrin glanced at his slim, tanned Second Officer. "Haven't you heard, Mr Chaynor? We're renowned for troubleshooting. There's trouble, they send us in, we get shot."
A ripple of laughter went round the low, compact Bridge. The joke was appreciated even by those who had heard it before, which was pretty much everyone now that this mission was nearly over.
Nearly over. One last investigation for the Terran Survey Ship. The mysterious silence from Station Q4, the major strategic and scientific base on the edge of the Spiral Arm, head continued despite the sending of a reconnaissance team. The authorities on Lightbase, last outpost before the Station, were ever mindful of back-up, and they wanted the Icarus up and running. Nobody liked pessimism, but the team ought to have called in by now. In space, people didn't keep quiet when things were going fine. They made sure they told you about it, because that made everyone happy. Lightbase had assigned the Icarus because of the experience of the crew and their proven aptitude to work as a team and get results. That was what Captain Terrin had been told.
Terrin noticed that Quallem didn't spare a smile. The girl was intent on her scanner, and all he could see was the back of her head, her ringlets a deep orange under the lights. He worried about First Officer Quallem sometimes. Had done, ever since the Academy. That was a long time ago, and some of it was best forgotten.
"Attaining EV," said the pilot.
"On our way, people," Terrin said, to no-one in particular. "And remember, we're discreet. The ways of gentleness and the paths of peace."
He saw Listrelle Quallem's head half-urn towards him, as if she was about to say something, but she seemed to decide against it. Terrin decided she was probably trying to contextualise his last remark, for the Captain's twentieth century quotations were sometimes lost on his crew. He usually didn't mind too much.
The Sciences or the Arts. That had been James Edwin Rafferty's difficult choice, for he was equally proficient at both at Harrow, and loved the East German novel as much as quantum theory. In the end, science had won, and the eager astrophysics graduate had finally risen to fill Oxford University's newest post, that of Professor of Extra-Terrestrial Studies. He took care, though, to keep his bookshelves and his wine cellar as well-stocked as his diskettes, for James Rafferty was a man of culture, a man of refinement. He was a widower now, with a long, tanned face below a crisp array of silvering hair, still an impressive man for many women of all ages. His voice encompassed words like honey on freshly-toasted bread, rode language with the grace of a swallow in flight.
He also happened to be a long-standing friend of the Doctor.
He had found the note in his pigeon-hole after returning from a seminar one Thursday afternoon. It looked as if it had been there for some time, for it was dusty and creased, and the typing on the page had faded to brown - and yet he swore that his pigeon-hole had been empty at lunchtime the previous day. With his glasses in place, Professor Rafferty had read the note, before going to the Senior Common Room.
It said: "Will arrive tomorrow with friends, all being well. Report anything unusual. Regards - the Doctor."
James felt a shiver of fear and excitement. He had seen and heard things of which his colleagues knew nothing. Now, as he sat there with them, making small talk about Faculty dinners and taking care to pass the port in the right direction, he wondered what was going to happen tomorrow.
For the Doctor, in James's experience, rarely brought calm in his wake.
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #206