derekfetters

Cage of Demons

This story was an entry in a contest to be published by UK publisher Big Finish in their Doctor Who short story collection, Short Trips: How The Doctor Changed my Life. This story features the 6th Doctor and his companion Peri.

—————————————————————————

‘No, sir, I am not a clown! I am a man of high fashion, of trousers proudly striped and yellow, of which your Gallic neighbours to the northwest will one day refer to as “de rigueur”. Do not mock me out of trouser envy!’ The Doctor ranted as Peri pulled him by the arm, dragging him from the Roman centurion who had questioned him about his clothing.

‘Doctor, calm down,’ petitioned Peri.

‘Just because their civilization has centuries yet to discover trousers they have the nerve to insult my ensemble,’ the Doctor fumed.

‘That’s still no reason to make a scene. You could do a little more to blend in. After all, your suit doesn’t exactly match the fashion of pre-common era Rome. Actually it doesn’t match any fashion unless we land on a planet of colour-blind harlequins whose clothes are made of leftover quilts.’

‘Peri, I never have to change my attire. I have chosen a style that is beyond style.’

‘I just thought, ya know, “when in Rome”…’

‘I’ll tell you what we should do in Rome. Escape before our world crashes.’

‘What?’

‘No, the world will crash into the lesser plane. We must leave or the prison will devour everything.’

Peri, confused, looked into the Doctor’s eyes. They were somehow not his own.

And before she could react to this, the sky opened up, and what fell out was impossible. It was larger than any of the Roman buildings, including the Coliseum. All sides of it, including the inside and outside, were simultaneously visible as they continuously shifted, folded, expanded. It was a living kaleidoscope vision of a city or fortress and it hovered above Rome, blotting out the sun. Parts of the impossible thing expanded and collided with buildings, streets, people, leaving a blank space or a crumpled husk of what it once was, before the extension contracted back into itself. From horizon to horizon, everyone was screaming.

The Doctor spoke to Peri, not as the Doctor, but someone else. ‘You must find an outsider who lives in our world above yours, one living free. Maybe they’ve been trained to release us.’

Peri grabbed and shook the Doctor. ‘Snap out of it.’

After a moment, the Doctor’s gaze looked like his own and he batted away Peri’s hands.

‘To the TARDIS.’ And off he ran.

‘What is going on?’ Peri yelled, rushing to keep up.

‘A four-dimensional experimental chamber is intruding into three-dimensional space,’ the Doctor yelled back as he ducked into the alley where the TARDIS had landed. ‘And the mind of one of its inhabitants intruded upon my own.’ The Doctor fished the TARDIS key from his coat pocket.

‘A dimensional what now?’

‘I thought that might be a bit much to take in one gulp.’

As they entered the TARDIS the Doctor immediately went to the console, pressing buttons, pulling switches, and reading gauges. ‘You do know how Euclid determined three methods of measuring an object: by length, width, or depth. Then Einstein determined there was a fourth dimension which he simplistically referred to as space-time. You, Peri, walk around in and perceive a realm of three-dimensional space, while the inhabitants of that chamber above Rome do the same in four-dimensional space.’

‘Okay, so, who are they? Why are they here? And what happened to you back there?’

‘“They” are hyperbeings whose ancestors were captured by trans-dimensional engineers, placed in a four-dimensional terrarium, as it were, in order to study their behaviour and the physics of their world. Their people have lived for generations inside that prison. When the government of the Xaphen-Chazek system deemed such experiments were immoral, many of these hyper-cages were simply abandoned, left to inter-dimensionally drift, sometimes settling, sometimes crashing into three-dimensional space. We just witnessed the beginning of a crash.’

‘Beginning?’

‘Oh yes. It’s bound to get worse. Four-dimensional objects project into three-dimensional space in frightening and unexpected ways. For example, the mind of one of the hyperbeings was accidentally projected into my mind for an instant. But because of that I know much more about them than I did. And I know what we must do now.’

‘And that is?’

With a flourish, the Doctor flicked one last switch and said, ‘Find an outsider,’ and the time rotor glowed, lifted, whirred.

‘And what and where are these outsiders?’ Peri asked.

‘While some four-dimensional chambers were abandoned some were dismantled. The inhabitants were freed and re-educated so they could live freely in four-dimensional space. Their descendants are the Outsiders. They have led a much more privileged life than the generations left in those chambers, who eke out a mean existence with limited resources, a growing population, and no escape.’

‘Ok, but where do we find one?’

‘We’re already there, Peri. The temporal vortex. The TARDIS, as it travels four-dimensionally, instinctively avoids objects and beings. I’ve basically reversed this function so that it would purposefully run into and materialize around a hyperbeing.’ And as the Doctor said this, the TARDIS whirred and groaned to a stop. ‘And there we are. Hello.’

‘Whoa,’ said Peri at the sight of the Outsider.

What stood in front of them was impossible. Peri found it confusing enough that he looked like a moving cubist painting, but his body also simultaneously folded into itself and expanded in the same kaleidoscopic action of the object that appeared above Rome.

‘What am I doing here?’ the Outsider asked.

‘Instead of conversation it would be quicker if you’d insert your mind into mine…’ And before the Doctor finished, the Outsider did so.

Both stood silent for a moment. Then the Outsider spoke.

‘No, I can’t help them,’ he said.

‘What?’ said the Doctor, aghast.

‘You have a dimensionally transcendental vehicle. Why don’t you enter their chamber and help them?’ asked the Outsider.

‘I cannot,’ said the Doctor, ‘not as effectively as you could. Besides, they want one of their own and to be honest I don’t blame them considering the difficult relations that have existed between three- and four-dimensional beings. When hyperbeings, free or caged, have fallen into Earth’s space, humans have reacted with fear, calling them demons, ghosts, duppy, qlippoth, unseelie, kuei, goblins, petro loa, which all essentially translate into “dangerous beings from beyond that we do not quite understand.”’

A light on the TARDIS console flashed in sequence with a harsh buzzing. The Doctor flipped a switch. The alarm died, but the Doctor’s brow rose as he read the instrument panel.

‘The cage has made a second crash point in Ireland 385 CE. We are running out of time,’ the Doctor told the Outsider.

‘I cannot help you, Doctor. I may be one of them, but I have no idea what they require. I have lived away from beings in such a situation. I don’t know them. I am, as they have described, an outsider, and as such have nothing to offer them.’

‘That’s ridiculous,’ the Doctor responded. ‘I’ve done my best work as an outsider.’

‘But I have no personal experience of their situation at all. I do not know what powers they expect me to have. And I do not believe they would receive me as being one of their own any more than they would you.’

The Doctor scowled. ‘I see. You aren’t worried about your abilities. You’re just scared. Your problem isn’t that you’re an outsider so much as you’re rubbish at it.’

‘That’s kinda harsh, Doctor,’ said Peri.

‘Yes,’ the Outsider responded, ‘what can you possibly know of my situation that entitles you to criticise me so coldly?’

The console beeped and flashed again. The Doctor again clicked it off. ‘The cage has now crashed into ancient Egypt. So firstly, I’m being harsh because the time for niceties is quickly diminishing.

‘And secondly, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about being an outsider. While you may feel self-pity because you are free, educated, and choose to live away from your kind, my family and I were forced to live in exile from my people for centuries.’

‘Oh,’ said the Outsider.

‘Yes, “oh”. And when my people did eventually find me, they arrested me, forced my face to change, which is akin to capital punishment, and exiled me, again, far away from my people.’

‘Oh.’

‘Yes. Indeed, “oh”. So you see I know something about this outsider business. But before you weep for me, let me tell you that being an outsider is powerful. If I hadn’t been exiled I wouldn’t have been able to defend my people from an attack that rendered their world powerless. And it was because I was an outsider that I was able to defend them from countless internal and external threats they were not prepared to perceive, let alone stop.

‘In fact, I am the ultimate outsider. There is no one more outside than me. Half the time I live outside normal time and space, within the temporal vortex. There’s nowhere that I land that I can call home. I am outside every civilization in every period of time. And yet, who dares to stand once they’ve set against me? The most fearsome armies of the universe have crumbled before me because I exist outside and bring things to bear which they could never imagine. There are consequences to being an outsider, but don’t forget there is also power. Don’t deny that to yourself. Otherwise you do yourself and the universe a disservice.’

The alarm buzzed again.

‘It’s intruded into Haiti 1790,’ the Doctor said. ‘We must act now. Two more intrusions and it permanently punctures Earth space-time.’

‘And of course that’s bad?’ asked Peri.

‘Only if you consider the planet collapsing so it gets swallowed into a trans-dimensional prison bad,’ the Doctor responded.

‘And what do you need the Outsider to do?’ Peri asked.

‘Release the prisoners form their cage,’ the Doctor said.

‘What good will that do?’ asked Peri. ‘It’ll still crash.’

‘Its walls were designed to expand as the contained population increased,’ the Doctor explained. ‘If no one is inside it, the chamber will dwindle down to nothing.’

‘Doctor,’ the Outsider spoke up. ‘Impassioned speech aside, I still don’t know how I’m expected to accomplish this task.’

‘Yeah, Doctor, maybe he’s telling the truth and he’s really powerless,’ said Peri.

‘We have limited time. Do I really have to explain this to the both of you?’

‘Yes,’ they both said.

‘Oh, this is pointless, Peri. To explain this to you is like a hypercube trying to explain its hypercubeness to a square.’

‘Don’t you mean “to a cube,” asked the Outsider, ‘since you are in three-dimensional space?’

‘No, it’s become obvious to me that the girl’s make-up is purely two-dimensional,’ the Doctor said. ‘Despite her apparent bumpiness, her third dimension must be illusory. Ow! That’s my shin!’

‘Yep, just what I was aiming for,’ said Peri.

‘I stand, and limp, corrected. The kick proves she’s solid enough. Fine, I will spell it out for both of you,’ the Doctor said emptying his pockets onto the floor.

Crouching, he arranged four toothpicks into the shape of a square. He placed a penny inside the square and another outside.

‘Now imagine the floor is a plane containing only two dimensions: length and width. The penny outside the square cannot see the penny inside the square or even know it is there. However, since I contain not just length and width but also depth, not only can I see the penny in the square from above, I can also do this,’ and the Doctor reached down and took the penny.

‘So, you’re saying the Outsider can reach through four-dimensional space into places that appear enclosed to us in three-dimensional space,’ Peri said.

‘Yes, that’s true,’ said the Doctor as he stood up, ‘but if you extrapolate even further you’ll understand that the Outsider can reach through five-dimensional space and release the hyperbeings trapped in the four-dimensional prison.’

‘I’ve never done such a thing,’ protested the Outsider.

‘But you can do it,’ the Doctor rebutted. ‘What the engineers didn’t realise is that your species isn’t four-dimensional in nature. It’s trans-dimensional. You are beings beyond measure. If you want, you can will yourself through infinity.’

‘I have no idea of what you are speaking,’ said the Outsider.

‘Then I will show you.’ The Doctor started pressing buttons and flipping switches again. ‘Although it will be of great personal danger to me, I will program the TARDIS to move fifth-dimensionally up to the edge of the prison, and then tell it to stop. Normally the TARDIS dampens the inertia of those inside so that we stop with it, but I’ll program her to increase my inertia, and when she stops, I’ll jump into the fifth dimension. I will see entry into the prison from there, but I’ll be stuck unless you come with me and release those within.’

‘You would risk your life for these being you don’t even know?’ asked the Outsider.

‘To save a planet, rescue a trapped civilization, and show you the power of being an outsider: yes.’

Flash. Buzz.

‘And,’ the Doctor continued, ‘Alabama 1963 has been encroached upon. We have no time. Take my hand. I’ll explain the rest once we’ve jumped.’

The Outsider stepped towards the Doctor then paused.

‘I know you’re frightened, but you have two simple choices. Allow your fear or indifference to doom a planet and your people, or let me show you that to be an outsider is to be a hero.’ The Doctor extended his hand.

The Outsider grasped it. The Doctor pressed a button. They vanished.

Peri stood alone in the TARDIS for several minutes. Nothing appeared to change. Then, the warning light flashed once, but only once. Peri could see through the viewscreen that the chamber was shrinking. In ancient Egypt, Rome, Ireland, Haiti, and Alabama, the four-dimensional prison dwindled smaller and smaller, leaving no trace of its existence in time or space, until it vanished. It was as if it never existed.

However, as the Outsider found his power and released his brethren, his mind entered the mind of an individual in each period of time, leaving an impression that would irrevocably alter each moment. In Ancient Egypt, a stuttering shepherd became divinely inspired to petition pharaoh to release his people from bondage. In Rome, a gladiator decided to take on an empire in an attempt to lead slaves to freedom. In Ireland, a foreigner, who would become the land’s patron saint, became inspired by his new faith and dedicated his life to preaching against avarice and slavery. In Haiti, an educated and free black man led his people to freedom as they threw off the chains of colonial oppression. In Alabama, a young Baptist minister, in jail for a peaceful protest, became inspired to write a letter to his fellow ministers on the importance of being a radical.

%d bloggers like this: