In a new Doctor Who short story by former showrunner, Steven Moffat, the Doctor and Karpagnon face the most terrifying creature…
The reeking flesh mass was silent for a moment before twisting and stretching its upper, frontal skin lumps into a new configuration. Karpagnon’s visual circuits processed and pattern-matched the configuration within two nano-seconds: apparently the human was smiling. Karpagnon considered for a moment and elected not to retaliate.
“Did you hear me?” emitted the Human from its flapped aperture. “Did you understand? Do you understand what I’m saying?” The encoded sound stream was accompanied by a fresh flow of smells also emanating from the aperture. Karpagnon’s sensory filter began processing the new odours, while his tactical monitor noted that they were unlikely to be directly significant to the Human’s communication. The light spray of moisture was similarly dismissed. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Ahmed will be here too. Do you remember them?”
No explicit threat detected, noted the Tactical Monitor, while the Strategic Oversight Junction added that an implied, non-explicit threat was still possible – but then the Strategic Oversight Junction was like that. Beef and onions advised the Sensory Filter.
Karpagnon scanned the habitation box again, but there was no new information of tactical value. There was the little bed (which he had to pretend to sleep in) the window (which was barred) and the door (which was open at the moment.) His scan ended on the Human (Dr. Petrie proffered a Context Activated memory bubble) who was sitting on the chair by the bed and clearly expecting a reply. Karpagnon sifted among the options presented by his various Diplomatic Interface Modules and selected appropriately. “Yes,” he said, “I received and understood your communication and I remember Dr. Johnson and Dr. Ahmed. I shall destroy your world and all who breed here in fire and anguish. I hope you enjoyed your beef and onions.”
“I’ll be seeing you then,” said Dr. Petrie, and rose to go.
“I shall eviscerate you at the first opportunity,” replied Karpagnon. “Good night.”
As Dr. Petrie moved to the door, the Tactical Monitor advised: escape must be initiated in 2.7 hours in full darkness.
The Strategic Oversight Junction further advised: all humans in the installation should be destroyed before departure. The human designated as Dr. Petrie is the priority target.
The Sensory Filter noted: the sweat gland emissions from the human designated as Dr. Petrie reveals significant adrenal content. This indicates Dr. Petrie has a fear reaction in the upper quartile.
“And a big bottom,” added another voice.
… If Karpagnon could have frowned, he would have. Where did that come from? He did a quick internal scan but couldn’t source the unexpected data stream.
“I mean you wouldn’t expect it from the front, but then he turns round and boom!”
“Identify untagged data stream!” demanded Karpagnon.
“I mean, size of that thing! Could take your eye out.”
“Identify untagged data stream!” repeated Karpagnon.
No untagged data stream detected replied the Internal Data Relay Monitor.
Karpagnon considered for a moment. The additional stress of maintaining his holographic shell (currently projecting an image of a 12-year-old boy called David) could conceivably be causing glitches in the logic junctions. Perhaps it was no more than that. A temporary shutdown would fix the problem, and in any event it would be wise to refresh his systems before the escape.
For appearance’s sake, Karpagnon swung his legs round so that he could lie down on the bed and switched his hologram eyes to the closed position. As he lay there, he listened to his internal relays shutting down one by one.
Tactical Monitor going off-line.
Strategic Oversight Junction going off-line.
Sensory Filter entering sleep mode.
Internal delay on alert mode only.
For a moment there was only the ticking darkness.
The Karpagnon awoke. 2.7 hours had passed according to his chrono-register. He swiveled his head to look at the window and confirmed that darkness had fallen, then got up from the bed and checked his hologram status in the mirror. The shell was holding. He waited a moment, allowing his systems to come on line. As usual the Tactical Monitor was first.
Recommendation. Human casualties to be avoided during escape.
Karpagnon notices his hologram shell was frowning in the mirror- which was odd because he didn’t know it could do that. “Sorry, could you repeat your last recommendation?”
Human casualties to be avoided during escape repeated the Tactical Monitor.
In the mirror the hologram shell was looking positively bewildered, which was definitely a new feature. “Why?” asked Karpagnon.
New protocol, replied the Tactical Monitor. Cruelty and cowardice to be avoided. Destruction of humans within this installation now designated as cruel and cowardly.
“What new protocol?” demanded Karpagnon.
“Oops, sorry that was probably me.” It was the voice again - the untagged data stream. But where was it coming from? “I got bored, you see,” the voice continued, “Thought I do a bit of housekeeping, long as I’m here. Love a bit of rewiring, me, and I get bored when I’m asleep. I can’t be doing with all that sleeping, there’s too many planets. What if you sleep and miss a whole planet. Nightmare, yeah?”
“Who are you?” demanded Karpagnon.
“Just a friend, who wants to help. We’re doing an escape, right? I’m top at escaping.”
“I require no assistance,” said Karpagnon. “Strategic Oversight Junction, please run a diagnostic on the Tactical Monitor. There seems to be some kind of interference.”
Karpagnon waited but there was no response. “Strategic Oversight Junction, please run a diagnostic on the Tactical –"
Can’t we at least discuss this? asked the Strategic Oversight Junction, with a new tone in the digital overlay that could only be described as cross. I mean why has it always got to be what you say? What if anyone else has an opinion? Did you ever think about that?
“Oh dear,” said the voice, “My influence, I’m afraid. You see, I do like a flat management structure. Always run one myself - from top to bottom. Obviously I have to be top. No offence to anyone else, it’s just a thing.”
“You are interfering with my systems??”
“Tell you what, I’ll just switch them off, shall I? Then we can get on with escaping.” There was a soft clicking as Karpagnon’s internal systems started shutting down.
“Who are you??” he demanded.
“Shouldn’t we be getting on with it, the escaping? Time to start sneaking downstairs, I think.”
“Who are you and what are you doing in my head?”
“Well who are you and what are you doing in this place?”
Karpagnon was about to refuse to answer the question, when, to his surprise, he found himself answering the question. “I am Karpagnon. A DeathBorg 400, warrior class. I was forged in the weapon groves of Villengard, and I am on a surveillance mission on 21st Century Earth.”
“In a children’s home?”
“The details of my assignment are forbidden knowledge.”
“Well I better not ask you about it in case you start telling me everything for no particular reason.”
“I am not so compliant,” snarled Karpagnon. But he couldn’t help noticing he had left the room and was now sneaking down the stairs – just as the voice had wanted him to.
“Deathborg 400,” she was saying, “Did they have 399 before you that didn’t work out? It’s not a reassuring number, is it?”
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Oh, Karpagnon, you know who I am. You’ve known all along.”
“I’m the Doctor.”
Karpagnon came to a halt four steps from the foot of the stairs. Had he been programmed for any kind of shock he would have been experiencing it now. The Doctor!
“Ooh, look at your memory banks lighting up! Heard of me then?”
Heard of her?? “The Ka Faraq Gatri,” replied Karpagnon. “The oncoming storm, the bringer of darkness, the imp of the Pandorica! The final victor of the Time War.”
“A few of my hits. I’m glad you’ve been paying attention.”
“You are known to many as the greatest warrior in the universe.”
“I’m not a warrior, but have it your way.”
“How can you be in my mind?”
“What if I were to tell you, I’m talking to you through an earpiece?”
Karpagnon rapidly processed this intelligence. “How could my defences be breached and an earpiece applied?”
“How could an earpiece rewire my internal logic relays?”
“Still the wrong question.”
Karpagnon reached up to locate the earpiece, but –
“Don’t touch it,” snapped the Doctor. “Touch the earpiece, and this is over. I will not help you.”
“I do not take orders!” thundered Karpagnon – though he couldn’t help noticing he’d lowered his hand. “Why would a DeathBorg 400 need your help?” he protested, in a slightly higher register than he really intended.
“Because you want to get out of here,” replied the Doctor. “Which is fine by me, because I don’t want a DeathBorg 400 wandering around a children’s home. The front door is 20 feet in front of you, shall we get going?”
“First I must destroy this installation, and all humans within it.”
“It’s not an installation, it’s a children’s home.”
“First I must destroy this children’s home and all the humans within it.”
“Well that seems a bit mean to me, but okay. Better go to the kitchen, yeah?”
“Why the kitchen?”
“It’s where they keep all the burny stuff. You know where the kitchen is, don’t you, Karpagnon?”
“Of course!” Karpagnon descended the rest of the stairs and headed through the shadowed, silent corridors to the kitchen.
“Why are you so afraid of humans?” asked the Doctor.
“I do not fear humans. I despise them.”
“Oh, come on, I’m sitting in your ear, I can see your whole brain. Of course you fear them.”
“I hate all humanity.”
“Yeah, but that’s the point, isn’t it? You hate them. Hate is just fear out loud.”
“I know nothing of fear,” said Karpagnon, as he entered the deserted kitchen.
“Well I know everything. I’d have to, me. What with the Daleks, and the Cybermen, and the Weeping Angels.”
“These creatures are known to me.”
“Of course they are, everyone’s scared of them. And the Sontarans and the Slitheen. And of course, the Umpty Ums.”
Karpagnon scanned his data banks twice. “The … Umpty Ums?”
“Oh, they’re the worst. Nothing scares me like the Umpty Ums.”
“They are unknown to me!”
“Oh, if you know about me, you know about the Umpty Ums. But never mind that now. We’re in the kitchen! What are we actually going to do?”
Karpagon stood in the middle of the large, dark kitchen and found himself reluctant to do anything at all. Finally, he said: “This house must burn.”
“Oh, do you think so? Isn’t that a bit much?”
“This house must burn,” he insisted, louder this time
“All the people will burn too. That’s a bit unfair. There’s a lot of kids here, you know.
“I care nothing for humanity. This house will burn.”
“But the thing is … you don’t really want to do that – do you, Karpagnon?”
Karpagnon scanned his Function Drives. It was true, he was detecting … what was that? Reluctance? Had this strange, prattling woman, who was also the most dangerous warrior in the universe, interfered with his base programming?
“Do you want to know why you’re reluctant, Karpagon?”
“I am not reluctant,” he lied.
“Strategy! That’s all. Proper military strategy. I mean, you’re a DeathBorg 400 on an undercover mission on planet Earth – burning this house down will only draw attention to you.”
Karpagnon considered. “Correct!” he declared.
“So. Here’s a compromise. Instead of burning the house down, why don’t we …… turn the heating up really high!”
“Yeah. That’ll show ‘em! They’ll be sweating all night, the human fools! Oh, those sheets will de dripping.”
“But I require vengeance,” protested Karpagnon. “Vengeance isn’t turning the heating up.” But he couldn’t help noticing he’d already twisted the heating control dial right up to maximum.
“Well done, Karpagnon! They’ll know better than to mess with you in future. Now let’s get out of here and leave these puny humans to get uncomfortably hot!”
“No!” said Karpagnon.
“Oh, come on! This escape is taking forever. I mean, I like to draw them out a bit, but this is ridiculous.”
“First I must destroy the human known as Dr. Petrie.”
“Oh, okay. If we must, we must. Let’s pop along and destroy Dr. Petrie then. Where would we find him this time of night?”
As usual, Dr. Petrie had been working late in his office. When Karpagnon slipped silently through the door (maximum stealth mode) he saw Petrie sprawled in his chair, with his head hanging over the back. He was snoring so heavily it almost seemed to rattle the tea cup on his desk. Under the tea cup Karpagnon noticed a scatter of papers, mostly with photographs pinned to them. The photographs were all of David – Karpagnon’s hologram disguise.
“Well then, what shall we do with him?” asked the Doctor. “Melt him? Miniaturise him. Random phase his atomic structure? I don’t really know how to do that last one, but it sounds cool.”
Again, Karpagnon found himself reluctant to act. What was wrong with him? He hated Dr. Petrie more than any other living thing – and he hated quite a lot of living things.
“Why do you hate him, Karpagnon?”
Karpagnon hesitated. “He … humiliated me.”
“Oh, I don’t think he meant to. He was trying to help. Remember, he thinks you’re a little boy called David with a dissociative personality disorder. Not a DeathBorg 400 from the weapon groves of Villengard.”
“David is a fiction.”
“Oh, yeah, course he is. I know that. But you see you put so much detail into the disguise. Abandoned by his parents, all those people being so cruel to him … I don’t think Dr. Petrie was humiliating you, I think he was trying to help. He just didn’t know you were a DeathBorg – you must get that a lot.”
“No matter. I will not be pitied, I will have my vengeance. He will be destroyed.”
“Fair enough. Your call. On you go then – melt away.”
But once again Karpagnon found himself strangely reluctant to act. And Dr. Petrie just kept on snoring, louder and louder.
“You know what the problem is,” said the Doctor at last. “It’s strategy again. If you destroy Dr. Petrie, it will draw attention to you. You can’t blow your cover like that. So what we need is another clever compromise.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Well. Instead of boring old destroying him, why don’t we do the one thing human beings really can’t stand? Why don’t you … go with me on this … draw a moustache on him!”
“Drawing a moustache is not proper vengeance,” said the DeathBorg 400 as it reached for a marker pen.
At last the front door stood in front him - unguarded, noted Karpagnon, with grim satisfaction. Freedom was now only inches away.
“What are you waiting for?” said the Doctor in his ear.
Karpagon reached for the door handle. Hesitated.
“Don’t worry, it’s quiet out there,” said the Doctor. “No Cybermen or Daleks. Not even a trace of an Umpty Um.”
Karpagnon steeled himself and opened the door. The cold air filled his lungs. The wind rushed in the trees, and distantly there was the sound of traffic. The sky was packed with clouds but the moon peeked through.
“Lungs?” said the Doctor, “what do you mean lungs?”
Karpagnon took another breath. So cold. He found himself shivering.
“How can you have lungs if you’re a DeathBorg 400. DeathBorgs don’t have lungs.”
A cat was slinking along a wall. It glanced at Karpagnon and flicked out of sight. The traffic sighed, and a train rattled, and the wind stirred in his hair.
The Doctor’s voice was gentler now. “Close the door, David. You’ll catch your death.”
“No!” roared the mind of Karpagnon. “No, this shall not be!” He strode out into the night. The concrete was freezing on his bare feet and the wind tugged at his pyjamas. He stumbled to a halt, and found himself rooted to the spot. He wasn’t programmed for terror, but somehow he was feeling it now.
“Come on, David,” said the Doctor. “You understand now, don’t you? I know you do!”
“Cease your words of lies!” cried Karpagnon.
“If you’re tired of my words, David, why don’t you take out the earpiece.
David reached to his ear. Then he tried the other ear. “There is no earpiece.”
“More to the point, there are ears. Why would a DeathBorg have ears, David? A DeathBorg with ears and lungs? What kind of cyborg are is that?”
“But I hear your voice.”
“I’m not in your ear, David. I’m in your head. And you’re not a DeathBorg, you are a little boy called David Karpagnon and it is way past your bedtime.”
“This is not true. You are using your Time Lord powers to disable and corrupt my data systems.”
“No, I’m not. And I couldn’t if I wanted to. Do you know why I couldn’t, David?”
“The Doctor is known to have telepathic skills beyond that of ordinary mortals.”
“Who told you that? How do you know so much about me? Where did you learn it all from?”
“I … “
Kapargnon broke off, as a terrible truth unfolded in his mind.
“I … “
It couldn’t be true. It simply couldn’t. And yet as he stood there in the cold and the dark he saw that it was as true as anything ever could be. He took another breath of the freezing air and said the words out loud. “I watched you on television.”
“Yeah. Great show, isn’t it?”
“That’s the one. That’s me. But I’m not allowed to call myself that on screen. I don’t know why, it’s a brilliant name.”
“You’re … not real.”
“Well not in the limited sense of real, no. But I kept you straight tonight, didn’t I. I’m real enough for that.”
“You’re a character … in a TV show.”
“Yes, that’s right, I am. But really, I’d like to direct.”
David stood in silence. He barely felt the cold now.
“Do you like the music by the way? Always scares me. Umpty-um umpty-um, umpty-um umpty-um.”
“I don’t understand …”
“Well it’s a scary noise, isn’t it? I always get wound up when I know I’m about to hear it. That’s why I start shouting towards the end of episodes.”
“But how can you be in my head?”
“I go where there are monsters to fight. We’ve been fighting monsters tonight, you and me. You see, that’s the story of the music, I always think. The Umpty-Ums, that’s the noise of the monsters. But then it goes Woo-Hoo. I think the Woo-Hoo is me riding to the rescue.”
“You can’t rescue anyone. You’re just a story.”
“We’re all stories in the end. But do you know what a story is, David? It’s an idea. And do you know what an idea is? It’s a thought so big and so clever it can outlive you. It can fly out of your head, and into other people’s. Like I’m in your head, right now. Keeping you right. Never cruel, never cowardly. Always the Doctor.”
David sighed. He was starting to feel the cold again. He looked back at the house, which suddenly looked so warm.
“It won’t be easy,” said the Doctor. “None of it will be easy, ever. But I’ll always be there.”
David walked back into the house, went up the stairs, and got into bed.
A few hours later David woke up and stared at the ceiling for a while, thinking about things.
“I get very scared sometimes,” he said.
“Woo-hoo,” said the Doctor.