Chapter 19

Duncan was fascinated by the Doctor – the strange little man had taken a sample from his finger and pretty much read off his entire life without needing to be prompted. Duncan remembered reading a quote by Arthur C. Clarke

any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Was it science or magic the little man had been performing? Was it magic or science that transformed an ordinary looking blue box into a labyrinth of corridors and rooms all decorated in white? Was it magic how they found themselves in a kitchen and he’d made a good, old fashioned English cup of tea for them both?

Duncan sat on the sofa in the console room lost in his thoughts while the Doctor made himself busy will controls and readouts on the console itself.

“So, what’re you up to?” Duncan asked as the wheezing and groaning noise that he’d heard before started up again.

“Calibrating the … oh you mean in general?” the Doctor asked in reply

“Yes. At the dig – you were after something werent you? And you didnt mind killing me to get it.”

“Oh dear, that. I didn’t kill you. While the transfer was in progress and I was half blinded by the display of loosed bio-electrical power, the other soldier was moving. The last thing I recall was being hit around the head with a blunt object. My guess is that he was the one who did it. Oh, and what I am doing right now is trying to catch the scent of the trace that brought me to the dig in the first place.”

Duncan sipped his tea, “In the first place. So what were you doing there? What’s this trace you’re talkng about?”

“A long time ago I interfered. You’re not the first of your kind that I have encountered. I fully intended on returning once I’d returned the Hand but, well, events got the better of me. I was homing in on the trace and was careless – I didnt look at the date – the location was about right. Not to worry. We’re here now. Come on.”

The Doctor activated a lever on the console and a pair of double doors opened in the wall next to the hatstand. He retrieved a cream coloured panama hat and looked at Duncan, “Well, dont just sit there all day, we have rogues to find!”

Duncan gulped down the last of his tea and followed him out of the doors. He expected to find himself in a dark rocky cave, instead he was in a corridor. The walls were plain grey concrete with metal conduits running near ceiling level.

“Two choices, left or right. Heads it’s left, Tails it’s right.” the Doctor said, tossing a silver coin, “OK, tails it is. Come on.”

He hurried off and Duncan, for whatever perverse reason of his own, turned left.

—-

Strictly speaking Nigel had gone AWOL – his standing orders said nothing of the artifacts that had caused the commotion in the scientific camp. His orders had been a simple storage and retrieval, their target a young pre-immortal in the UN security detachment. Conwel had messed that up of course. Now Nigel felt that he was compounding matters still further by absconding with the artifacts, the sword and the clay jar.

He travelled by civilian means, first walking to a nearby village and buying a half-lame donkey from one of the locals. That had sped his journey to the nearest town where he traded the donkey and his watch for a motorcycle that leaked oil almost as fast as he poured it in. From the town by motorcycle to a city where he jumped onto a bus heading to another city … it had been a blur of faces, animals and poorly maintained vehicles. Somewhere he’d eaten some bread and drunk the local tea and coffee, but looking back he couldnt put his finger on exactly where or when that had taken place. After an age spent in the airport departure lounge he managed to find a flight out of the accursed country. The airport he landed in was larger than he would have liked, with different airlines in different terminals, naughty children that obviously couldnt be trusted to spend time in the same terminal without squabbling. He grinned at the annalogy, at the idea of 747 jets bumping into each other, of one calling for “my older brother” and a 777 coming over to ask what’s going on? Nigel thought that things were going well until he spotted a clock and compared it with his watch; timezones had bitten him. Suddenly the change of airlines, having to check in another desk, get his bags and re-check them … panic set in. By the time he was sat in his seat, the air conditoning was chilling him to the bone. During take-off he felt the cold hit his digestive system. Not good, not good at all.

He monopolized one of the bathrooms as best he could while the plane was in the air. The problem came when when the “fasten seatbelts” came on. His large intestine was clearly illiterate. Each small jolt of the aircraft on approach threatenned to loose his hold. People cheered with a spontaneous round of applause when the plan rolled to a stop. Nigel couldn’t bring himself to cheer, all he managed was a wimper as another cramp echoed through his system.

He grabbed his bag out of the overhead bin and nearly tripped over the daughter of a family in the row ahead of him. She began crying but he was on a missing far more urgent. He hurried past without appologising and hears exclamations of “asshole” from the father. An old woman unfolded her walking frame and began moving, at least it looked like she was moving, but when he compared his line with the one along the other aisle he saw they were effectively stationary so he cut across the row, treading on three sets of toes and bouncing off a pair of steel toe Doc Marten boots.

“Thank you for flying with us” a stewardess said as he dashed down the exit ramp and turned left into the body of the terminal.

Nigel didn’t look at the sign above the door of the bathroom, his brain only registered that it was a bathroom. Into the first cubicle. Explode. Sigh with relief. As he was sitting there he heard footsteps outside. Dainty ones which sounded like they were connected to light strappy footwear. No. Couldnt be. He kept as quiet as possible as he walked out, looking left and right to see if anyone was watching. Sure enough, in his haste he’d dashed into, and pebble-dashed, the women’s toilet. He glowed with embarassment.

Nigel was late getting to the baggage claim. There were three bags going around on the baggage claim: a tan suitcase held together with generous amounts of duct tape, a solid round bag that obviously held some rich woman’s hat, and a gigantic green suitcase with orange pom-poms attached to the handle so the owner would be able to spot it. They clearly hadnt spotted it. And anyway, who could miss a gigantic green monstrosity like that? Nigel couldnt see his kit bag. His blood turned cold. He turned and looked for the airline complaints office.

There were three families packed into the room. A young girl was crying, wailing that her ‘Nonny’ was lost forever. Her mother tried to placate her by promising to take her to Build-a-bear workshop so she could get another bear but she only wailed louder, “It wont be nonny bear though.” The cries really grated on Nigel’s nerves and he restrained himself from shouting at her or wringing her neck himself. A teenage girl was plugged into her iPod and seemed oblivious to the drama unfolding around her, possibly unaware of which city she was even in. The father of the other family was practically begging the desk clerk for his luggage back. Nigel grinned to himself, “Why, yes sir, I’ll pull your golf clubs and underwear out of my ass.”

Eventually Nigel made it to the counter, “My bag…” he stopped as the young clerk lifted world weary eyes to look at him. He didnt know if she was about to snap and burst into tears, or snap and pull an AK-47.

“Where do lost bags get put?” he asked, “I’ll come back tomorrow, how’s that?”

The clerk breathed a sigh of relief, handed him a map and he left. He walked back and noticed three security guards standing around the rear of the baggage claim. There was a pair of skis propped against the wall, two sets of golf clubs … and what looked like an army kit bag. He managed a smile. Perhaps all wasnt lost after all, after all, the jar was in his carry-on bag. If that was his kit bag then he could leave and begin the long trek through plains of Montana back to the base.

Nigel jumped as the baggage carousel next to him began moving and bags appeared down the chute. People spilled in from nowhere and he found himself wading through waist-deep cheerleaders chewing gum and using the word ‘like’ far too many times. Beyond the cheerleaders he got bogged down in blue-hair, the smell of lavender and walking frames. Nigel landed on his ass as a huge Texan barged him out of the way to get his suitcase. The security team had dispersed by the time he reached the skis. Yes, the kit bag was still there. He picked it up and checked the tags and breathed an enormous sigh of relief. His fingers probed below dirty laundry, under boots still encrusted with the mud of northern Iraq down and came back bleeding as they met the edge of the ancient bronze sword. Sucking the cut fingers he walked out of the airport in search of a taxi.

—-

Duncan began exploring the various closed doors that he passed, fed up of concrete corridor walls. Offices. He poked at files on desks and saw the word “Nosophoros” coming up a lot. The right place then. Further down the corridor was a briefing room and he could hear voices. He pressed close to the door to hear what was going on.

A male voice with crisp military manner was speaking to a class of rookies, “What do you all have in common?”

Another voice answered, “Uh, we’re all from the armed forces.”

“True. You have all been recruited from different branches of the military forces on the grounds of your special condition. Each of you were diagnosed with a rare form of diabetes and issued one of these.”

Duncan imagined him waving some sort of equipment, perhaps an insulin pump, at the recruits.

“Since that time you were shipped a regular dose of insulin. I regret to inform you that you’ve been lied to. The pump contained a GPS tracking chip and we’ve been able to monitor your whereabouts until your time had come to be birthed into the new life you will live with us here. Oh, and the pump masked your bio-electric signature from others who would have sought you out. You’ve already given much for your country, proving your commitment to being career military, we have merely extended the contract and in the initiation you’ve all been through we gave you a gift you’ll one day thank us for – the gift of immortality….” his voice droned on into general patriotism and ‘ra-ra, encourage the troops’ moralle building.

Duncan stepped away from the door horrified. They were farming immortals, diagnosing the condition and treating it. Harvesting the pre-immortals who were within their grasp. How long had it taken to get enough doctors in place to screen the new army, air force and navy recruits? Duncan shook his head, impossibly far reaching. The only people capable of that level of planning and execution were immortals, but who would farm their own kind? He shuddered at the horror of it all.

Further down the corridor he found a mess-hall with off-duty soldiers lounging around. A TV in the corner was blaring MTV. He stalked across the room with a determined gait like he owned the place, arrogance seeping out of his pores, inviting anyone to challenge him. At the far side of the room he joined a line and he let a white clad staff member serve him a greasy cheeseburger and fries. He followed the line and plopped himself down in a group of six men who were making introductions. He made up something hoping that he was current enough to be passable and proceeded to have his mouth full of food each time conversation came his way. All of the men, he gathered, had all taken at least one quickenning but for some reason the room was devoid of buzz for him.

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