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Fiction — Maroonment

First Published:
Strange Matter #6

Publish Date:
Late 1990

I wrote this for a Year 11 English communication project. Most of the formal feedback for it ended up coming from fellow students as Strange Matter has rarely been known for coming out on time’ I left it all a bit late, though, and the ending is a bit rushed for my liking. As for the title — urgh!

It was a dark, dank tunnel. All was still and deathly silent. A drop of murky water fell from a stalactite to its partner stalagmite, building on a thousand years work. Then, from seemingly nowhere, a figure appeared — yet one so large and distorted it could not possibly be human. It strode forward, shattering the stalagmite with an armored foot, and let out a horrific roar. For seemingly forever, it lingered in the air as it echoed again and again, becoming all the more terrifying. As it finally died down, another sound was distantly to be heard — a groaning, wheezing sound.

’Not having trouble again there, Doctor?’ inquired Turlough, with more than a hint of sarcasm. The Fifth Doctor’s youthful face looked up.

’Of course not’, he said airily, stretching his back which had been hunched over the TARDIS center console for the past few minutes. ‘Whatever makes you think so?’

Wisely not waiting for an answer, he strode around to the facet of the console showing the current coordinates. Slipping out his half-rim glasses and putting them on, he checked the tiny figures on the computer display, and then let out a rather exasperated, and exaggerated, groan.

’Where are we, Doctor?’ asked Turlough, who had come around with him. The Doctor suddenly found himself engrossed in polishing his glasses, and Turlough, realizing he was not going to get an answer from him, hit the key that would, rather than showing the mathematical coordinates, reveal the common name for the planet and time. The screen went blank very temporarily, and then came the flashing answer: EARTH, WALES, 2597AD. Below a map showed the precise location and time, but Turlough barely glanced at this.

’Earth! Again? Maybe the TARDIS could do with a little adjustment, Doctor?’

Rather meekly the Doctor agreed. ‘True, the TARDIS does have an alarming tendency to return to Earth.’ Then, as if to put that well behind him, he strode for the TARDIS doors, just remembering to open them at the console. ‘Still, while we’re here, it would be a shame to lose an opportunity to see what Earth is like now. I’ve haven’t been to this time before.’ His voice lingered off as he went out the doors.

Turlough shook his head in resignation and headed for the TARDIS doors, only to run into the Doctor as he returned to the TARDIS. ‘Torch, torch.’ Then, seeming to notice Turlough for the first time, he added brightly ‘We’re in a cave!’ and continued to the store room of the TARDIS.

Deep within that very cave system, the right arm of the monster seemed to momentarily spasm, and then it strode purposely forward, roaring again.

The Doctor, returning to the console room, heard it clearly, as did Turlough. Without losing a second, he plunged past Turlough toward its source, ignoring Turlough’s attempts to distract him from his objective. For several minutes they strode in quiet through the damp tunnel. Occasional roars kept them on track, and told them they were nearing its source. Suddenly, distantly, rifle fire rang out, but quickly ending with an anguished scream. The Doctor accelerated to a run wordlessly, but Turlough tried once more. ‘Is this really wise, Doctor?’

Not showing any of his personal nervousness, the Doctor ran on. ‘I’m sure it isn’t!’ he said, and his eyes fairly twinkled in the dim light of his wide beam torch. Then they hardened again as he thought of the unsettling fact that it was rifle fire they heard, not lasers or such. This was, after all, 2597AD…

Two hundred metres from the Doctor and Turlough, Anar was getting very worried. He, too, had heard the shots, and as C patrol was twenty minutes overdue, he was afraid they had fallen to whatever was in the lower caverns. A flurry of footsteps came from outside the main cave, and Anar leapt to his feet, desperately hopeful. But it was only B patrol, back ten minutes early and looking rather breathless. ‘Anar!’ gasped Roger, the leader of B patrol – in reality three scruffy, bumbling, scared men. They were now a trio of very tired men who slumped to the floor. ‘Anar!’ repeated Roger, getting his breath back.

’What? Where’s Hal?’ He asked the question with little hope of receiving a positive answer. He got none. Roger smiled grimly, and gave the expected but still devastating answer.

’Dead.’ It was a simple statement of fact. ‘One of those monsters got him. Didn’t leave a thing. We couldn’t go any closer — one of those monsters cut us off. We managed to follow them later, though — they went down tunnel…’ and here he glanced at a crumpled hand-drawn map he had taken from his tunic pocket, ‘… tunnel F24. And at the end of it the whole rock face just hinged away, and they went in.’ There was a slightly fanatical and even triumphant gleam in Roger’s eyes, and Anar decided it was a dangerous look. Roger was unpredictable, volatile, impulsive. Those characteristics could be useful, but not when you wanted to stay alive — not in these times. Roger continued. ‘We were surprised by one of those monsters, and had to run. I managed to get a few shots at it, and then we just got back here as quick as we could.’

Anar was more interested in the door. ‘How was that door opened? Was there some button or lever?’ Despite himself, Anar found his mood becoming like Roger’s. With an almost visible effort he calmed himself down.

’No,’ replied Roger. ‘It must be controlled from behind the door somewhere. We’ve got to get in there, to stop…’. And then stop he did, for smashing into this part of the caves the men called home was one of the monsters he had told Anar about.

It was only a little over two and a half metres in height, but far more solid than any human could ever be. It vaguely resembled a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but one with infinitely more powerful forelimbs. Two bloodshot eyes glinted, and rows upon rows of monstrous fangs seemed to smile grimly. A series of spikes started at its head and ran down its back. With yet another roar, it started to lumber towards the startled men.

Roger, ironically enough considering Anar’s recent thoughts, was the first to react. With the speed that comes only in times of direst emergency, he flung himself to the left and scrambled desperately into the passage behind the monster, just avoiding the slow-moving monster. Encouraged by this act, Anar and the two other men split up, using their speed advantage to the fullest. With a liberal dose of luck, they all managed to pass and reach the waiting Roger. With survival the only issue on the agenda, they tore down the tunnel, leaving the powerful but clumsy monster behind. Barely slowing, they rounded a corner — and met another of the monsters.

It may have been slightly smaller, but it was just as ruthless. Before any could react, one of the men was viciously and efficiently slain. With astonishing quickness, Roger was suddenly transformed and would have thrown himself at the monster in a fit of utter rage had Anar not restrained him. The sight of three twisted claws whizzing above his head restored him to sanity almost as quickly, and he fled along with Anar and the other member of B patrol.

The Doctor and Turlough had their own problems. They, too, had come across one of the dinosaurs. Rather than running, however, they had found a crevice in the cave wall that was too narrow for the dinosaur and simply waited. Much to Turlough’s annoyance, the Doctor had been more fascinated than fearful of it. ‘A Herrerasaurus,’ he breathed. ‘What is that doing here?’ Turlough thought it more important what it now did, not how it had come here, but kept that to himself. Then his attention was diverted by the arrival of Anar and Roger.

Anar and Roger had managed to avoid their pursuer, and had slowed to an exhausted walk. Now they met yet another of the dinosaurs. Fortunately, it was not facing them as they entered, and indeed did not notice them, so intent was it on the Doctor and Turlough, until Anar’s foot stubbed an irregularity in the rock floor. Despite himself he gasped, and the Herrerasaurus swung around to its new prey. This time, however, there was to be no escape through a convenient side-tunnel…

Their lives were saved were saved by the sacrifice of another’s. The final member of B Patrol finally burst into the area, having been left behind by the fleeter-of-foot Anar and Roger. His last thought was one of surprise as he was disemboweled by a casual blow from the creature.

’Over here!’ called the Doctor to the stunned Anar and Roger. They managed to shake off their surprise at this new twist, though, and scrambled to the crevice as the Herrerasaurus turned back to them.

Once in the relative safety of the crack, they stared in disbelief at the Doctor and Turlough. ‘Where have you come from?’ asked Anar. ‘We thought this area had been cleared out except for our group.’

A slightly bemused Doctor gazed back at him. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand you… incidentally, this is Turlough and I’m known as the Doctor. You are?’

Anar remembered his manners. ‘I’m Anar, and this is Roger.’ He was still unsure of the Doctor and Turlough, though. ‘Are you from the south — I’ve heard things are getting worse there…’ His voice tailed off as he realised that both the Doctor and Turlough had no idea what he was talking about.

Turlough broke the silence. ‘Where has that thing…’ and here he gestured with his thumb to the dinosaur still watching them ‘… come from? It’s hardly native.’

’I found their base — or their master’s base — today,’ burst out Roger. He took out his map, pointing to places as he spoke. ‘This is where we are. Our home is up here, and that place I just found is here. There was no way to see it unless you knew it was there.’

Much to Turlough’s concern, the Doctor seemed determined to follow this up. ‘Could we see this door? I’d be most interested.’

’Sure,’ said Roger. ‘All we have to do is get past that thing.’ He made a meaningful nod to the dinosaur still blocking their passage.

’It’s a Herrerasaurus, not a thing’ said the Doctor, not a little annoyed at Roger’s attitude to it. He continued. ‘I had a look at the back of this passage before you came, and I think we could just slip through. Would your map show that?’ Seeing the blank stares of Roger and Anar, he sombered. ‘Well, we can but try.’ And he started off deeper in the tunnel, with the others following and a very frustrated Herrerasaurus left behind.

Half a hour later, without incident, they arrived at the door. With Roger keeping a lookout for passing Herrerasaurs, they took a close look. The fit, as Roger had warned, was incredibly tight and there seemed to be no way of opening the door — more of a gate, really, thought Turlough, as it had to be big enough to take in those dinosaurs.

’Well,’ said the Doctor when he had completed his examination of the door. ‘It certainly wasn’t made by the Herrerasaurs. They couldn’t build anything, let alone something this fine.’ He turned back to Roger. ‘You say the Herrerasaurs went in here?’ Seeing his nod, the Doctor turned back to the enigmatic door. Who or what could be behind there…

Fifty metres behind the door, a warning light flashed and a regular beeping began. The response from the creature there was automatic, swift, efficient. With practiced hands, with grey-green scaled hands, if activated several switches, then leant back. One could almost imagine it was, if not happy, very satisfied with its actions…

The Doctor had returned for another look at the door. It had proved just as futile, until suddenly, yet ever so slowly, the door began to open. Turlough and Anar leapt to their feet in anticipation. The door finished opening, to reveal — nothing. Just two regular tunnels lit weakly by artificial lighting. All was in some dull metal, even the back to the door. Cautiously, they entered — the Doctor, then Turlough and Anar with Roger catching up behind. Then the apparent peacefulness of the scene was shattered, as two Herrerasaurs emerged from the shadows within, pouncing at the Doctor.

Turlough reacted instinctively. With sheer desperation, he knocked the larger mass of the Doctor out of the way. With the Herrerasaurs momentarily off-balance, and the automatic shock dispelled, all four ran for their lives.

Turlough found himself, because of his action, isolated from the other three, cut off by two menacing Herrerasaurs. With a last regretful glance at the outer cave, he turned and ran in sheer panic deeper into the complex.

Roger, at the rear at the time of the ambush, had managed to flee much sooner. He quickly left the Doctor and Anar behind in his race for safety. Eventually, he calmed and came to a halt. With a shock, he found he had come to an area too far east — or was it west — for his map to cover. He was lost. With a resigned sigh, he started to retrace his steps as well as he could.

The Doctor and Anar had not had such a good start. Despite all their ingenuity and nimbleness, they could not escape their pursuers. Caught like flies in a trap they stood with back to wall as the Herrerasaurs moved in — and stopped. And then one of them spoke.

’You will come with us. You will not resist. Move ahead now.’ With almost a sense of relief the Doctor realized it was a synthesized voice, but that raised even more questions than it answered.

’They couldn’t be robots — they’re far too lifelike,’ he muttered, more to convince himself than anything else. Besides him, Anar was shocked silent.

Then the Doctor saw the "pack" the dinosaur wore — once he noticed it, it seemed so obvious — and things started to make sense. From the compact pack the voice had come. Also extending out of it was a thick wire which embedded itself in the back of the neck of the dinosaur. Regaining his normal composure, he explained to Anar. ‘That wire and the pack must effect some rudimentary control over the Herrerasaur. I wonder who’s at the other end?’

’Move!’ repeated the dinosaur in the same synthesized tones.

The Doctor and Anar moved.

Roger trudged his way back through the damp tunnel. Suddenly hearing a noise, he leapt for cover. To his relief it was not another of those Herrera things, but something far more mysterious. It was man-sized, but obviously not man, even in these dark conditions. In the darkness all he could perceive was grayish scaled skin, protruding flat ears and a large snout. It was carrying a device set on a tripod, and staggered slightly as it passed Roger. Once it had passed, Roger rose and began trailing it.

After a few minutes following it, it was clear to Roger, even without his map, that it was heading for the surface. His theory proved correct a little later as the creature emerged to an overcast day. All this time it had been getting groggier and groggier, at one time even falling to its knees. But as it finally came out into the open, it collapsed and did not recover for a few minutes. With clumsy hands, it set up the device, flicking switches and turning dials. Finally, it seemed satisfied. Desperately it tried to rise to its feet and return to its cave but found it could not. It fell, dead, to the ground.

After a few more cautious moments of watching, Roger rose from behind the rock he had hid and went to have a closer look.

The Doctor and Anar had been guided back to the door by the Herrerasaurs and bustled in. After what seemed like endless corridors all made of the same dull metal — it appeared to be lead, the Doctor noted in his usual observant way — were imprisoned in what looked like your typical cell. The door slid shut via some unknown means, leaving the two alone.

Suddenly, before either could make any comment on their new home, a violet light started pulsing above their heads. Looking up, they could see the two banks of tubes from whence it came. Anar, however, was more occupied in what seemed to the Doctor to be an arm band. Its color was slowly changing from yellow, and by the time the strobing lights finished, it was a dark navy blue. Anar was incredulous. ‘Look, Doctor,’ he said. ‘My radiation-meter is measuring none at all. Somehow those lights just got rid of it!’

To the Doctor, it was a double shock. What radiation?! But then, he thought, it did make sense. Why else should Anar and Roger be underground? He had not asked enough questions. Briefly, he wondered what Turlough would think of this new revelation — once again he had not paid attention to the TARDIS sensors. He should have noticed.

’What radiation?’ he asked. ‘I mean, where did it come from?’ But personally, he was pretty sure he knew the answer. It was too much to hope that man would use nuclear weapons only twice in the seven centuries since they had been invented. Anar confirmed his fears.

’Nuclear war erupted about fifty years ago. That’s why we live in these caves — the radiation is considerably less. It’s all I’ve known in life. Even now to go on the surface for any long period of time means death — surely you knew that?’

Things were becoming clearer and clearer. Now the walls made sense — the lead kept the radiation out. ‘But…’ the Doctor mused aloud ‘… if they, whoever lives here, can remove the radiation, with those lights, so quickly, why are they staying down here? There must be some other reason they don’t emerge. I wonder what it is?’

Turlough had, by more luck than skill, manage to evade the Herrerasaurus that had followed him, losing it in the labyrinth of tunnels. Finally coming, as had Roger, to a more calm level, he had begun to look around at his surroundings. The main thing he noticed was the quietness — all seemed still and dead in here. As silent as a tomb, he thought, and then wished he hadn’t. Thus when he heard voices through a closed door in the tunnel wall, he was quick to listen in.

There were two voices, and both spoke in flat monotones, with little emotion coming across in their voices. What they said, however, seemed to be of utmost importance.

’He must succeed,’ said the first, who Turlough took as the higher ranking. ‘If he does not, then we shall be tied forever to this diseased planet. How goes his progress, Isthor?’

A small pause preceded the reply. ‘He has made it to the surface, and seems strong enough, Ytter. He is currently setting the device.’ A shrill beeping started. ‘See, he has now activated the device. May our hopes be responded to.’ Another, lower-pitched, beeping went off. ‘Our comrade has fallen victim to the dreaded radiation that the ape-creatures released. If we do escape, he shall become a martyr to us.’

For a while neither spoke. Then the first spoke again, and Turlough could hear perfectly the disgust in the voice. ‘Let us now see the mammalian vermin. Whether we succeed or not, they shall soon have this planet.’

The door that Turlough was leaning upon suddenly began to open, and he tried to leap back into cover. But he was too slow, and was left in the open to be seen, and to see. He did not like what he saw, though it made, in hindsight, perfect sense. What he saw, and what Roger had just seen on the surface, were one and the same, except these ones were quite alert. What looked like third eyes, set into the foreheads of the two beings, suddenly began flashing quickly and erratically. At the same time he suddenly felt faint-headed and queasy. Just before the mental attack completed its job, and he fell to the floor unconscious, he found himself wondering why the control panels in the room were of two totally different styles.

Some indeterminate time later, Turlough felt himself being shook awake. He had a splitting headache. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. The Doctor was there, with Anar hovering behind. Turlough sat up, ignoring the pain in his head.

’Doctor, there are Silurians here!’ Then he saw the Doctor already knew, for with a gentle gesture he showed how the Silurians were conferring behind him at what Turlough thought was one of the newer console panels. Quickly Turlough told the other two what he had overheard, and the Doctor informed him in kind of his and Anar’s actions. Anar, meanwhile, was still very much confused.

’What are they?’ he hissed.

’You mean who,’ corrected the Doctor. ‘They are Silurians, the original owners of this planet. They reigned over even the dinosaurs. Around two hundred million years ago they went into hibernation in underground chambers, thinking that a rogue planet was about to sweep past the Earth, taking away much of the atmostsphere. They thought the atmostsphere would eventually return, and then air pressure devices would note that and awaken them. But their calculations were wrong. That rogue planet was captured by the Earth’s gravitational field and later became known as the moon. Because very little of the atmosphere was taken away, the devices never recorded the return of it. They slept on forever. Over millions of years, nearly all have been destroyed by shifts in the very structure of the Earth. But some survived, and were somehow woken… including this one,’ he concluded.

Turlough had a sudden burst of inspiration, temporarily clearing away his headache. ‘The nuclear war! If a bomb went off relatively near the detector, and assuming it wasn’t destroyed, the superheated air would be at a great pressure — that could set it off!’ Turlough sat back, quite pleased with himself.

The Silurians finally seemed to come to some decision, and one of them approached the party. Turlough noted it was neither of the two he had overheard.

’You shall immediately leave this area. You will tell your kind this. We shall restrict the Herrerasaurs. All we ask is that you stay away from here.’ It seemed he would go on, but then a light on the console started flashing. Instantly, chaos reigned.

On the surface, Roger had not been able to determine much from either the dead Silurian or the device it had set up. Suddenly his attention had been distracted by seeing his radiation-detector turning red. Quickly he had made up his mind — whatever was good for this creature couldn’t be so for him and Anar. So, putting thoughts to action, he had taken a large rock and slammed it into the device, smashing it. Little did he know the chaos he was causing.

Slowly the tempo of the underground room was restored to as before. The Silurian approached the three again. ‘You,’ he said, pointing to Turlough, ‘shall take a new device up to the surface of this planet in case the first has not achieved its function yet. You are less vulnerable than us. We shall attempt to keep the Herrerasaurs away from your path.’

The Doctor’s attention was caught by this. ‘What device? And you don’t sound like you have total control over the Herrerasaurs, either.’

The Silurian humoured him. ‘The Herrerasaurs are too primitive for us to truly control — their instincts are too strong. If they come across someone, their instinct is to kill. But we can ‘feed’ them ideas, and unless they are totally contradictory to their nature they will follow suit. It was most difficult bringing you in. As for the device, you need not know. Assuming it works, it will not harm your kind. Indeed, it will help you in one sense.’ What might have been a Silurian sigh echoed through the room. ‘And we will be freed.’ Then he became more businesslike again. ‘We will show you what you must do,’ he said to Turlough. Turlough shrugged and went over to see the device.

Minutes later he had been briefed. ‘Your friends will be freed as soon as you have set up the device.’

Turlough nodded, but hissed as he passed to the Doctor ‘It’s some kind of faster-than-light communication system!’ The Doctor nodded, but inside his mind raced with this new information. Abruptly quite a lot made sense — but to check his premise he would have to see those old computer panels. With amazing subtlety he slipped over to them. Unnoticed by the Silurians, so rapt were they in Turlough’s progress, he took only minutes to confirm his staggering theory. Then, with what appeared to be extreme casualness to Anar, he sat down and waited for Turlough to complete his task.

Turlough returned a half hour later. True to the Silurian’s word, they were instantly freed. The Silurians were, to all but the Doctor’s astonishment, now totally oblivious to the three. The Doctor said little, and seemed preoccupied himself, as he urged them all back to the surface. Producing a small telescope from one of his pockets, he scanned the now-night skies. Finally he found his objective. Passing it to Turlough and then Anar, he showed them what he meant.

’That’s an intergalactic level spaceship — coming here!’ murmured Turlough. ‘How did you know?’

’Just a flash of inspired brilliance,’ said the Doctor modestly. ‘From what you overheard, we knew the Silurians were to leave this planet to the humans, one way or another. When I found out what they wanted you to set up, things just fell into place. I suddenly realized that they could never have evolved at such an early stage in the Earth’s history — after all, the next most sophisticated creatures were the dinosaurs. And they had to be expecting a response to their call. How could they know that, unless they were from outer space themselves? In fifty years they discovered their true background and designed that transmitter. Now they’re calling to their own kind for rescue from this planet. They’re going home!’

And so they sat back, and watched the last of the Silurians escape from the Earth after a maroonment of two hundred million years.

End of Story

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This page last updated by David J Richardson on Sat, 1 Feb 2003.