Authors: Glyn Jones
Tags: #Science-Fiction:Doctor Who
‘Well, we’ll soon find out, won’t we?’
‘Shhh!’ The Doctor put his finger to his lips to indicate silence and they waited. The doors were now wide open and, any moment, somebody - or something - would emerge. It was then that Vicki felt the tickle in her nostril that presaged a violent sneeze. A moment later Barbara, forewarned by the sound of sudden short sharp intakes of breath beside her, hastily reached out and pressed her forefinger under Vicki’s nose. The sneeze subsided and Vicki nodded to show the danger was passed. Barbara pursed her lips and would have whistled her relief but, at that moment the two men, as Ian had called them, appeared.
But the pair were human only to the casual observer. Facially they resembled men, except for their hair which grew down to a point between their eyebrows, but their movement was strange. Their walk was a stiff, almost mechanical action that belied any flexibility at the knee or ankle, and their arms hung stiffly down. They stared straight ahead as they moved, and not even an explosive sneeze from Vicki, that caught her completely unawares, brought any reaction, much to the astonishment of all four travellers who waited breathlessly for the worst. They continued their slow steady march.
‘They didn’t hear it!’ Barbara exclaimed, her eyes fixed on the backs of the departing creatures, still half expecting them to turn and challenge them. ‘They didn’t hear it!’
‘Another mystery,’ Ian said. ‘They must he stone deaf.’
‘Never mind the mystery.’ The Doctor tugged at Ian’s sleeve. ‘Just thank our lucky stars we weren’t caught. Now, let’s get away from here quickly.’
‘Maybe they’re friendly,’ Ian said.
‘They don’ look very friendly to me,’ Vicki stated with absolute conviction. ‘And I’m going to sneeze again.’
‘In here, quick! While we’ve got the chance.’ The Doctor let go of Ian’s sleeve and darted through the open doors followed quickly by the others.
They were only just in time. Behind them the doors started to close.
They found themselves in a large room in which were transparent display cabinets containing unfamiliar artifacts, and objects too large for cover were free standing or mounted on plinths. From the room several arched openings led into other rooms.
‘You see?’ The Doctor said, ‘I was right. A museum. I recognise various things here. They come from different civilisations and different times. This room is, at a guess, a sort of lobby with just enough in it to whet a visitor’s appetite. No doubt we will find everything carefully catalogued and labelled. Fascinating, fascinating.’
He peered at the contents of one of the cabinets. ‘Space Tracers,’ he said. ‘Space Tracers. Come and look, come and look.’ Ian and Vicki studied the contents of the cabinet. All they could see were half a dozen miniscule slivers of metal. Ian looked up enquiringly at the Doctor.
‘You don’t know what they are, do you?’ he said, raising both eyebrows. ‘Well, maybe you’d understand what I meant if I said, automatic pilot, hmm? Oh, not across five hundred miles, or even a thousand miles, but across millions. Oh, yes, micro-technology when your ancestors were still living in caves.’
‘There are no windows,’ Barbara said. The Doctor turned to her in some surprise to find she was surveying the room itself rather than its contents. He looked up at the ceiling.
‘No. There is something in the atmosphere probably with very slow destructive properties, the rust on the ships out there for example, that might explain the lack of windows. Everything in here is much better preserved.’
‘Then where is the light coming from?’ Barbara persisted. ‘I can’t see any light source.’
The Doctor shrugged. ‘Perhaps some fluorescent substance built into the fabric of the building,’ he said with some impatience. Scientific curiosity was one thing but why worry over such trivialities? He did wish people would get their priorities right.
‘It’s just crossed my mind,’ Ian butted in. ‘Supposing the "TARDIS is little more than a pile of dust when we get back to it.’
‘If we get back to it,’ Barbara added.
‘Don’t be silly!’ The Doctor snapped. ‘It takes ages for that sort of corrosion to take place.’
‘In which case,’ Ian smiled, ‘let’s enjoy the museum. I used to go to the Science Museum in South Kensington quite a lot. It’s almost like being at home.’
‘Except there are no men in blue uniforms to tell you not to touch anything,’ Vicki laughed.
‘Well, you just pretend there are, young lady, and keep your hands to yourself,’ the Doctor ordered. ‘We know nothing about the inhabitants of this place and I don’t want to hear any alarm bells going off.’
‘They’re going off right now,’ Ian said.
‘What!’ The Doctor almost screamed.
‘In my head.’
‘Making jokes again, Chesterton? Not in very good taste. Not at all witty either.’
It wasn’t a joke,’ Ian protested. ‘I meant it. I don’t like all this one little bit.’
But the Doctor had now lost all patience. ‘Let’s go through here,’ he suggested and, suiting the action to the word, he marched through one of the openings, gave a little shriek and leapt with fright.
He had come face to face with a Dalek.
‘Oh, my goodness gracious!’ he gasped, holding his hand over his thumping heart. ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, what a start that gave me.’
His reaction had brought the other three running and now they stood around staring at the menacing object that brought back memories of terror to all but Vicki. She was merely curious. ‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘A Dalek,’ the Doctor replied. ‘Or, at least, the casing for one.’
‘Oh!’ Vicki was intrigued. Is that what they look like? Doesn’t look very dangerous to me, rather like a giant pepperpot.’
‘Well, the pepper that came from that pot sneezed a lot of people into another world, I can tell you,’ Ian said with feeling. ‘All I hope is we don’t come across any live ones.’ Then, seeing the Doctor’s look, he hastily added, ‘Which, to say the least, is extremely unlikely... I hope.’
Vicki reached out to give the Dalek a pat.
‘Don’t touch!’ the Doctor barked.
‘Oops! Sorry,’ Vicki said. ‘Forgot.’
The Doctor sighed, shook his head, and they moved further into the room.
‘Well,’ Barbara said after a few moments, ‘apart from the Dalek it all seems quite ordinary to me.’
‘No, it isn’t,’ Ian contradicted her. ‘There’s something peculiar you haven’t thought of.’
‘Oh?’ Barbara looked at him quizzically.
‘Yes, there is,’ Ian said. ‘Those two men we saw must have been guards, or curators, or custodians, or whatever, but we seem to be the only visitors. I wonder why.’
‘Maybe it’s not open to the public at the moment,’ Vicki suggested. ‘That’s why the doors were closed. We shouldn’t really be here.’
‘You can say that again,’ Ian said with even more feeling.
They had now almost traversed the length of the room and another arched opening lay ahead of them. The Doctor, anxious to move on and find the answers to all the questions that nagged him, went on ahead while the others straggled a little, distracted by the exhibits.
‘Have you noticed?’ Vicki said, ‘None of the exhibits are labelled.’
‘Hmm,’ Ian pondered this for a while. ‘Maybe, being a space museum, there is some other method of finding out what they are.’
‘Why should that be?’ Vicki asked.
‘Well,’ he answered, ‘how many languages do we have on Earth? Hundreds. So how many do you suppose there must be...’ He couldn’t think of the right word: universal? intergalactic? interstellar? So he waved his arms in a circular motion meant to embrace all communicating life forms.
Vicki nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said simply, ‘I suppose so.’
‘Well, well,’ Ian teased, ‘I’m glad I might have the right idea about something at last.’ And he was about to make a closer examination of one of the cabinets to see if there was anything to prove his theory when the Doctor bustled back into the room making urgent gestures with both hands: ‘Quick! Hide, hide! There’s somebody coming!’
With some alacrity, he disappeared behind a large plinth where he was immediately joined by the others just as two young men appeared in the doorway. These two were definitely more human-looking than the ones they had seen earlier. Each was dressed in a shabby, black, overall uniform, and unarmed. They were about the same age as Vicki, perhaps a little older, and there was something pathetic, even vulnerable about them. They stopped at the opening and looked around as if to make sure they were not being observed, then they stepped into the room and started to talk quite animatedly in full view of the four figures crouching behind the socle. But not a word of what they said could be heard and, after a few moments, they turned their backs on the room and disappeared the way they had come. The four rose slowly to their feet and looked at each other in utter bewilderment.
‘They were talking,’ Barbara whispered, asking for confirmation.
‘Undoubtedly,’ the Doctor agreed.
‘But we couldn’t hear a word!’
‘Perhaps,’ Ian suggested, ‘they have a different mode of communication. Or perhaps their hearing is pitched to a different frequency, so that they could hear each other, but we couldn’t hear them. Maybe, if we talked, they wouldn’t hear us.’
Barbara turned to the Doctor. ‘Is that possible?’ she asked.
‘I suppose it’s possible,’ the Doctor replied. ‘Chesterton could very well be right there.’
‘Two up to Chesterton,’ Ian murmured.
‘On the other hand, there could be some other explanation, and I’ve a feeling that there is. I’m also beginning to feel like my young friend here,’ - he laid a hand on Ian’s shoulder - ‘I don’t like it one little bit. In fact, I have a nasty suspicion we are in for a big surprise.’
‘Why?’ Barbara demanded to know.
‘Too many things unexplained. Too many things!’ The Doctor almost exploded, waving an arm around the room, and he suddenly noticed that Vicki was behaving somewhat suspiciously a few yards away. His waving arm leading the way, he marched up to her.
‘I thought I told you not to touch anything!’ It was only a whisper but there was no mistaking the Doctor’s anger. Tirne Lords tend to bristle and behave like mere mortals when their orders are disobeyed, especially when they’re already on tenterhooks, and Vicki’s action was tantamount to mutiny in the ranks. She tried to control her smile before turning to meet the Doctor’s accusing glare with an expression of bland innocence. It wasn’t too often, rarely in fact, that someone had an opportunity to practise one-upmanship on the master.
‘I’m not touching anything,’ she said sweetly, and lost control of her face. The Doctor seemed to grow three inches taller before her eyes: not only disobedience, but contradiction! And how dare she find it amusing?
‘Come, come, child,’ he hissed, trying to maintain some composure. He hated it when his fingers trembled. ‘I saw you. You had your hand on that cabinet.’ He would have pointed to the object in question but was too aware of his agitation so inclined his head instead.
Vicki folded her arms. ‘No,’ she said.
The Doctor frowned, a frown meant to accentuate the glare and strike terror in the hearts of errant youngsters. Not only disobedience and contradiction - his lips almost disappeared and a tiny vein in his temple began to bulge - and silliness, but prevarication as well. ‘Humph!’ He snorted loudly.
Ian cast an anxious glance towards Barbara but she merely raised her shoulders and an accompanying eyebrow.
‘Then why did you pull your hand away when you saw I had noticed you? You mustn’t tell falsehoods.’ Having gained control of his trembling, the Doctor now felt free to waggle an admonishing finger.
‘I’m not, honestly!’ Vicki protested, ‘I haven’t really touched anything. Look!’ She turned back to the cabinet and placed her hand on its transparent top. At least, for one moment, that was what she appeared to be doing. But the movement of her arm continued and her hand passed right through the cabinet to end up at her side. Her companions stared in disbelief. It was there, they all saw it, apparently as solid as their own bodies, and yet the girl’s hand had made no contact with anything.
‘You see?’ Vicki said, ‘There isn’t anything there to touch.’ She turned back to look at the Doctor. He was still frowning deeply but now it was one of concentration as he considered this latest phenomenon. He recognised none of the artifacts displayed inside this particular cabinet. There was nothing, as far as he could see, to indicate their period, point of origin, or function, if function they had. Were they from a time and place of which he had no knowledge? They could be ornamental, though somehow he doubted it. He could take them back to the TARDIS for analysis and identification, but how did one transport and analyse an optical illusion? ‘Incredible,’ he muttered, ‘quite, quite incredible.’
‘What do you make of it?’ Ian had finally found his voice but his question merely irritated the Doctor further simply because he had no answer.
‘I don’t make anything of it!’ he snapped.
‘Of course, there really is something there,’ Vicki volunteered, looking around and hoping, in her turn, for some confirmation. She didn’t like to think she might be hallucinating. ‘We can all see it! Can’t we?’
‘You should know better than to make rash statements like that,’ the Doctor replied, transferring his irritation to the ingenious Vicki who immediately looked suitably abashed.
But Ian leapt to Vicki’s defence. ‘Rash?’ he demanded. ‘Who wouldn’t make rash statements considering the pickle we’re in?
‘Pickle?’ The Doctor responded as though the idea they were in any danger had never entered his head. ‘What pickle?’
‘The pickle of playing twenty questions and having none of the answers,’ Ian replied. He started to count them off on his fingers. ‘Where are we? And don’t say in a museum. I want to know where the museum is. Why did the time clock malfunction? Why did our footprints disappear seconds after we’d made them? Why can’t we be heard when we make a noise and why can’t we hear others when they speak? Why do we see objects that aren’t there and...’
‘All right, all right,’ the Doctor held up a placating hand. ‘I apologise to Vicki. She did not make a rash statement. At least, she didn’t mean to, and I’m sure the answers...’