The Red Lines Page

July 1, 2018

Just In Time

Filed under: Bernice Summerfield,Short fiction,Uncategorized,writing — Peter A @ 11:23 pm

In Time

Big Finish have announced a piece of work I’ve completed for them. I’m one of seven authors in the anthology Bernice Summerfield: In Time, edited by Xanna Eve Chown.

It’s published later this year – just In Time for Christmas, in fact. You’ll find it available for pre-order in printed and eBook formats.

 

Other lives

The book celebrates two decades of Bernice Summerfield at Big Finish. She was the character who launched their original audio range.

Benny had a life in the Doctor Who New Adventures at Virgin Publishing before that, as well as appearances in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. But it was her arrival in the audios, and especially the lively performance of Lisa Bowerman (pictured on the cover), that paved the way for everything else to follow.

Here’s what the book blurb says:

From a rocky start at military academy to her sudden immersion in an alternative universe – via a variety of jobs and adventures on Dellah, at the Braxiatel Collection, and in the murky world of Legion – Bernice Summerfield is a woman who can be said to have lived more than one life. But one thing’s for certain: wherever she is, Benny can always be counted on to right wrongs, get the job done and, sometimes, even have a good time along the way!

To celebrate 20 years of Benny at Big Finish, each of the brand-new stories in this collection focuses on a different time in Benny’s life. There’s an adventure at St Oscar’s, a mystery at the White Rabbit, and even a surprising glimpse into the far future. Will Benny still be digging for artefacts at 80? You bet she will!

 

Voice of experience

loifeI’ve written for her before, in  Life During Wartime, still available from Big Finish at a bargain price.

Prior to that I wrote something for A Life of Surprises – no longer available from Big Finish, and selling for a price on Amazon so ridiculous that I refuse to provide a link to it.

Life of Surprises coverUnlike those occasions, however, I’ve had the chance now to meet and work with Lisa Bowerman.

For example, she directed my play story Ferril’s Folly. Big Finish have a sale on for their Companion Chronicles series at the moment, and that’s available at a discount.

So, I had her voice in mind as I was writing. Better still, they’ve also announced an audio book version, also available for digital pre-order.

InTimeAudio.pngI think Lisa will have fun with it, and I’m looking forward to hearing my words receive her Benny diction.

Will I be delighted to see my take on Benny published in the book? You bet I will!

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April 3, 2018

Amazon update

Filed under: Blake's 7,drwho,Sarah Jane Smith,Torchwood,writing — Peter A @ 9:50 pm

I have updated my Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/anghelides

The UK one is the slightly less memorable amazon.co.uk/-/e/B000AP7UBC

Edited to add… hurrah! It looks like there are a variety of international versions:

AmazonScreenshot

Edited again: it’s created an Audible page too: audible.com/author/Peter-Anghelides/B000AP7UBC I think I need a better photo.
AudibleScreenshot

January 1, 2018

What do you think of it so far…?

Filed under: Technology,writing — Peter A @ 10:41 pm

Here is a super story, in three blog articles, about how BBC Research & Development has been working with Queen Mary University, London in an inventive recovery of a once-lost Morecambe & Wise TV episode.MandW

It’s full of interesting stuff about how TV used to work, changes in broadcast expectations of viewer behaviour, international broadcast relations, video and film technology, chemistry, physics, and software engineering.

There is an answer to that

I encountered the story first because of my interest in the Doctor Who connection with the “missing episodes” saga. But there’s plenty else to admire here about about how the BBC and QMU identified and overcame technical challenges never solved before.

  1. You Can’t See the Join!
  2. Lasers and X-rays
  3. All the Pictures. Not Necessarily in the Right Order.

 

BBCResearch

Hello folks

There is plenty more to admire in the BBC’s R&D work, if you’re interested. There’s  Artificial Intelligence, 5G Broadcast (it’s not just “another G”), object-based media, scalable and lightweight live video production over IP, Data Science research, improving ways of sharing archives on social media with speech-to-text tech, conversational interfaces, and loads more

Often it’s in partnership with universities, designed to advance broadcast technologies and models in an open way, and shared in regular white papers.

It certainly makes me proud of the BBC’s collaborative and open approach to advancing TV tech for everyone.

December 31, 2017

Blake’s 7 interview from 2015

Filed under: Blake's 7,Counterfeit,Incentive,Mirror,Warship,Warship,writing — Peter A @ 4:05 pm

ScorpioAttackThis week I’ve done an interview with Big Finish about some of my Blake’s 7 writing. It will be published as part of their Big Finish Companion series of books.

It reminded me that in February 2015, I did a similar interview with Jonathan Helm for his Blake’s 7 fanzine, published later that year.

Originally, Jonathan had asked me to contribute a 500-word review, but I thought it was more fun to do something longer about the Big Finish stories I’d worked on.

And now, nearly two years later, I thought it would be interesting to publish it here on my own blog.


Q: Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for my Blake’s 7 fanzine. I really appreciate your help.

Frontier Worlds #15A: You’re welcome, Jonathan. Blake’s 7 fanzines like Liberator and Standard by Seven were the first chance I had to share my enthusiasm for the series with fellow fans when the series was originally on TV.

Later on, I set up a fanzine called Frontier Worlds with two of my pals, and that had interviews with people involved in making the series. So it’s flattering (and a bit of a surprise) to find myself having the chance to do the same thing 30 years later.

Q: I also wanted to thank you for your input into the Big Finish range. I’ve really enjoyed your work for the series. Listening to Warship was like scratching a 32 year itch. I also have fond memories of the Frontier Worlds fanzine from long, long ago!

A: Thank you! Me too.

Q: Warship was the first full-cast release from Big Finish. How did you get this prestigious gig?

A: I’d written scripts for the Big Finish Doctor Who ranges previously – full cast, Companion Chronicles, and a multi-Doctor story. So I suppose they thought I had the right kind of experience for doing a Blake’s 7 audio.

CounterfeitProducer David Richardson knew what a big fan I am of the TV series. He commissioned a Liberator Chronicles story from me called Counterfeit [pictured]. And when that turned out well, he approached me about the “mid-season gap.”

The original idea was to have three Liberator Chronicles that explained what happened after the TV story Star One. That was going to be a box set called “The Galactic War.” I was going to write the concluding story: “What happened to Blake?” Steve Lyons was doing “What happened to Jenna?” And another writer was to do the opening story, “The Galactic War.”

There were sort of two reasons that David asked me to do the Blake episode. He thought I’d do a good job on it. Plus it was a sort of in-joke because I had, with my Frontier Worlds co-editors, been on-set at BBC Television Centre as a guest of the producer for the recording of the finale episode Blake, and so I allegedly knew how Blake had reached Gauda Prime!

Things worked out a bit differently with that box set, and I took on the “Galactic War” story instead. The original author had been keen to do it, but couldn’t fit it into a busy schedule.

Una_McCormackWhich was a shame for them, but turned out rather well for me. The three of us had met up at one of the Big Finish Days to discuss initial ideas – me, Steve and the other person. I remember meeting another author that day, Una McCormack [pictured]. She’s written Blake’s 7 audios subsequently, but at the time these ones were not announced. I had to bite my lip about what I and the other two authors were plotting.

Sorry, Una!

Q: Warship was originally to have been a Liberator Chronicles. How did the story evolve from there?

NigelFairs-240x300.jpegA: I’d persuaded David Richardson to let me write the “Galactic War” story instead of “Blake’s Story.” From quite early on, it was agreed that I could include all the main cast – which was unusual for the Companion Chronicles. I had written them with a single cast member. And at a GallifreyOne convention panel in Los Angeles, I had feigned outrage at Nigel Fairs [pictured here, from his website] when he was explaining how he’d included as many as three of them in one of his scripts. Imagine what a treat it was for me when Big Finish asked me to use five!

I wrote an outline for a Liberator Chronicle, with distinct sections narrated by Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila and Cally. Andrew Mark Sewell of B7 Media very sagely pointed out that, if they were all narrating a section, then we may as well make it a full-cast audio. As it was no longer a Liberator Chronicles story, they decided to make it a separate audio release, with a second disk of material and a special CD booklet.

An additional bonus was that the original Galactic War trilogy for what became Liberator Chronicles 6 was now missing a story, and was able to offer them a replacement for that in a story called Incentive.

Q: What are the differences in writing a full-cast play compared to writing for the Liberator Chronicles?

A: The Liberator Chronicles focus on a particular subset of the cast, because obviously only one or two characters are speaking their own lines. Or three if you’re Nigel Fairs, obviously.

CountdownThe stories are still in the spirit of the TV series, but concentrate on specific moments in a story. The TV series sometimes hones in on a particular character or two – for example, Avon and Del Grant in Countdown [pictured] – but there’s always stuff happening with the rest of the main characters elsewhere in the same episode. TV stories gallop along with the dialogue and visuals, whereas a narrated book may cover less story in more words as your characters describe events or locations or people.

With Companion Chronicles or Liberator Chronicles, you’re also exploiting the specific conventions of a narrated book. You can confine the point of view very narrowly, and pull off some tricks in an audio that you couldn’t on TV – for example, the way I smuggled Travis into my episode Counterfeit.

You can go even further that that, as James Goss does brilliantly with Three in a single conversation between Servalan and Cullen. That sort of thing never happened in the TV series.

It rarely happens in any popular drama series – EastEnders occasionally has a two-hander, but in 5,000 episodes has done it for fewer than two dozen half-hour shows.

LCVol6In a TV full-cast episode, you need to give your main cast members something to do – even if, notoriously, it’s merely sitting by the teleport. But with the audios, you want everyone to be happy: the cast members in the studio should have something interesting to perform, and listeners deserve an exciting and interesting plot that meaningfully involves their favourite characters.

The latest set of B7 full-cast audios have rather brilliantly exploited the absence of Dayna as a plot point, rather than making some feeble excuse about why she’s there but not audible. Contrast that, for example, with my story Incentive [box set pictured], which gets away with having action involving Cally, Vila and Dayna “off-mic” by concentrating on the key scenes that involve Tarrant and Avon.

I was especially pleased with Incentive, because I used the presence of a third character, Bracheeni, in a way that made a Liberator Chronicles more like a full-cast audio.

warship bookQ: Warship was the first full cast audio play in the Blake’s 7 range. Was this intended to be a one-off?

A: When I wrote it, we hoped it would do well. Big Finish were trying it out to see if it would succeed, because it meant getting a lot of principal cast members together and that makes it harder have lots of other guest cast.

They also wanted to see if it sold well, because it’s obviously more expensive to have that large cast. It was important that the actors enjoyed their experience in studio – for it to be a fun environment with good colleagues and an interesting script, with something substantial for each of them to perform.

And it had to be a critical success, too, in order to encourage future sales of similar full-cast audios in the range. The e-Book of Warship [pictured]was another way of generating interest for the episode – and fulfilled an ambition of mine to write a novelization.

We always hoped it would be more than a one-off, but couldn’t guarantee it. I’m obviously very happy that it worked out so splendidly.

Q: Was it tricky trying to juggle so many main characters and giving them all something to do in Warship?

Warship A: I always want to give each character something significant to do in a story. On that occasion, I knew it might be our only chance to do a full-cast audio. I didn’t want to miss the chance to write for each of them. And it was important for this first audio to make each of the actors feel fully involved, too.

My draft of it as a Liberator Chronicles story already had narrated sequences for each main character. I even thought I might get away with a short section narrated by Orac at one point. I reasoned that, if Alistair was going to play Zen then I should ask Big Finish if they’d let him do Orac, too.

And when they said yes to that, I asked if I could include Servalan – because I knew that Jacqueline Pearce had agreed to do some of the other Liberator Chronicles. Working out her availability, they agreed I could include a short sequence for her, too. If I’d know they’d already made contact with Brian Croucher, maybe I’d have pushed my luck and asked to include a cameo flashback involving Travis!

Alistair Lock had already played Zen in a 2010 B7 Media story called Escape Velocity, because Peter Tuddenham had died three years previously. Alistair was also closely involved with Big Finish as a sound engineer and musician. So B7Media were happy to let him reprise the role in my story.

BLAKEZENUp until that point, if we’d needed Zen to say anything in a Liberator Chronicles story, the principal cast member had to do the lines. In the studio for Counterfeit, Alistair and I spent some time trying to explain the correct intonation of “Confirmed” to Gareth Thomas [pictured, getting pronunciation advice from Orac].

So, by the time we’d agreed to make Warship a full-cast audio, I’d already worked out key things that involved each of the main cast — Blake and Cally’s investigation of Megiddo, Vila delousing the hull, Jenna’s brave flight into the alien fleet, Avon confronting Blake on the observation deck, Servalan’s attempt to capture the crippled Liberator, and so on.

And of course, once I knew I had the entire cast, I also looked for opportunities where they could all interact in the same scene – inevitably, given the storyline, that was on the flight deck.

Q: You’re a big fan of the series. Is this a help or a hindrance when writing for Big Finish?

A: It’s a bit of both. Personally, I need to feel an enthusiasm for a series, and some sympathy and interest for its characters, before I agree to write for it. That’s what made it easy to say “yes” when Big Finish invited me to get involved.

I remember the TV series with great affection, and enjoyed having yet another excuse to rewatch the DVDs. Is suppose a risk when you’re writing about something you know really well is to feel constrained by what’s gone before. Whereas you need to bring something new and interesting to it, just as the writers of the original TV series did each week.

You want to innovate and extend the franchise without disrespecting or ignoring what made you fall in love with it in the first place.

Q: How do you feel the TV series handled the departure of Blake and Jenna?

incentiveIt made the best of the situation at the time. I imagine [the BBC] wish they’d called the series something other than “Blake’s 7” at the outset, though. The original idea was to make Season C more about the hunt to find Jenna and Blake, but that changed once they got into the scripting.

On the other hand, it did give me a good excuse to write Incentive [starring Steven Pacey and Paul Darrow, pictured in studio] as a way of exploring why that had happened. Crayoning outside the lines.

I wish they’d mentioned Jenna a bit more. Right up until the finale, I don’t think she even gets as a namecheck in 23 episodes.

Q: Was it tough to handle tie all the dangling threads together while still telling a compelling main story/were you given a detailed story brief?

A:  The brief was quite succinct: explain what happened between the end of Star One and the beginning of Aftermath, an exciting and compelling explanation of the previously unseen Galactic War.

Actually, it was commissioned as “The Galactic War” until I convinced them that “Warship” was a better title. I thought my alternative identified a central “character” in the series, sounded more like a Blake’s 7 episode, and located a key location in the episode

Script for WarshipQ:  How important is it to get the continuity right?

A: It’s that thing about being a fan again – I want it to be Blake’s 7, after all. Big Finish is run by professional actors, writers, directors, producers, script editors, sound engineers and so on who are fans. We love the stuff we work on. That’s as true for “Blake’s 7” as anything. For the past couple of years, I’ve also doing continuity reviews of the novels.

You have to resist the temptation, though, to be constrained by the TV series. I’ve learned to recognise in myself a fannish desire to “join the dots.” But dot-to-dot is not very creative, nor does it produce especially interesting pictures. You have to sketch freehand, and sometimes crayon outside the lines.

Some fans grumbled about how Simon Guerrier [pictured] wrote into one of his Liberator Chronicles scripts that the Liberator had an observation deck — because that had never appeared before. I thought, “So what?” It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t actually contradict the TV series.

SimonGIt’s not like we ever exhaustively explored the ship on screen. And there were places mentioned maybe once on telly for a plot point, and rarely or never heard of again – the hold we see in Time Squad, or the room full of jewels we hear about in Cygnus Alpha.

So, why not introduce a gymnasium, or a laboratory, or an observation deck? Besides, it gave me an excuse to extend and develop the observation deck in Warship as the ideal location for a key scene between Avon and Blake. Thanks, Simon!

When I write something, I need to decide what’s relevant to the story and what makes it work. I was particularly conscious of continuity in Warship. To take just one example – how long did the war last?

CallyStarOneThe continuity about that is contradictory in the TV series, anyway. The war gets mentioned as late on as Animals. I can think of several ways of accounting for how so many of Justin’s pupils were killed during the war – and whether Justin’s Federation scientific warfare team was already in place before the war broke out. There are brief mentions of the war in Children of Auron and Moloch that don’t give much clue about its duration. But Volcano is set on a planet right in the middle of the war zone, and where some of its greatest battles took place. That implies a more extensive conflict.

But the evidence of our eyes in is that the war starts in the final episode of Season B and concludes in the opening episode of Season C. CallyAftermathWe also see that Avon, Vila and Cally are still wearing exactly the same clothes [see Cally’s in the example pictures here] as they escape from the Liberator in Aftermath that they wore on the flight deck at the conclusion of Star One – which shows that there’s not a substantial gap between the two episodes.

And as it happens, that’s also appropriate for the structure of a full-cast audio episode in the spirit of the original series that connects the two TV stories. Though I also included some sections within the pacing of my episode that allow a bit of wiggle room for fans to make up their own minds a bit.

And I have a whole blog post on whether Orac is “he” or “it.” Don’t get me started. http://is.gd/wmWO3W

B7Series1Q: Did you re-watch the episodes as research?

A: I don’t need any excuse to rewatch Blake’s 7! But yes, I did do a lot research – and not just the two episodes either side of my story.

Q: Were you happy with the critical reception for Warship?

A: I was delighted. One of my favourite reviews was someone rating it nine out of ten because they wanted to have a score available if subsequent full-cast audios were even better than this one. (Had they never seen This is Spinal Tap? Go up to 11.)

Q: You went on to write Mirror for the ‘Series B+’ range. Was it tricky fitting your story into the wider ongoing storyline?

A: Script editor Justin Richards outlined broadly what the episodes needed to cover, and what key aspects of the overall story had to be in each. Otherwise, it was up to the writers to fit things together. I had the chance to read all the other scripts, and comment on broader Blake’s 7 continuity in them. That gave me a good opportunity to ensure my script tied in neatly with them, and offered links from mine into theirs.

Blake's 7: MirrorThe brief for my story suggested a title that I thought gave the game away too much, and I proposed Mirror [pictured] as a more Blake’s 7 title — plus something I could exploit as an ambiguity. When I read one of the earlier scripts, it had some reference to a mirror or mirrors that I thought would pre-empt the twist in my story, so I haggled with Big Finish to play that down or remove it (without compromising the other script, obviously).

I was keen to include some continuity with the broader Big Finish audio series, which had the additional benefit of giving Jenna motivation for her actions in Mirror by involving the character Space Major Kade. You don’t have to know who he is, but it’s a little bonus for fans of the other audios.

I also included a tribute to the original series director and producer Vere Lorrimer. In studio for Warship, Michael Keating had joked that we ought to have a planet called Vere, and I thought “why not?” It raised a few affectionate smiles in the studio for Mirror.

Q: Do you prefer writing for the Blake led crew or the Series C line-up?

A: I like it all. The dynamics are different in each, and it’s great fun to write stuff that plays to the strengths and enthusiasms of the different actors.

I must confess, though, that it was a particular treat to write that first full-cast audio, and then get a chance to write the first script that Steven Pacey recorded for Big Finish.

Q: Are there particular characters you enjoy writing for?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have written for so many of them. Vila is great fun. Perhaps that’s because I sit at the back of the director’s booth on recording days and laugh as Michael Keating reads out my jokes in the dialogue.

Maybe it’s odd, but I also enjoy writing dialogue scenes involving Orac. He’s particularly good value in scenes involving Avon, of course. And I even managed to write a dialogue exchange between him and Zen in Mirror. Or should that be “it”?

Q: Would you like to write for the range again?

CavanScottA: Definitely. I think there’s plenty more to do in the Big Finish Blake’s 7 universe. New producer Cav Scott [pictured] is another big fan of the series. I’ve talked to him potential stories and ways that Big Finish Blake’s 7 can expand. I’d love to explore them further.

Q: Thanks again for your help.

A: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for asking.

December 12, 2017

Dual career path

Filed under: Another Life,Blake's 7,drwho,IBM,Torchwood,twitter,writing — Peter A @ 11:51 pm

IBMangledlogo

On 4th  January 2018, I will have worked at IBM for 30 years. That’s not something I anticipated when I joined.

It’s been a terrific three decades, during which I feel I’ve been able to make a difference by working in many interesting roles with wonderful people all round the world.

 

Another Life

twFor a lot of my time at IBM, my colleagues didn’t know I had a parallel career as a writer of Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Blake’s 7 tie-in fiction. It’s not the sort of thing I’d typically discuss at work.

Nevertheless, I have been writing that sort of stuff even longer than I’ve been at IBM – certainly since primary school, and then in fanzines at school and university. I’ve been professionally published since 1996 (a mere 21 years) –  so a private joke was to call my first Torchwood novel Another Life.

In later years, my work colleagues became more aware of my “second career” because other IBMers would tell them. Though it rarely works the other way round – people who know me from my books and audios tend to be unaware of my IBM career.

I don’t hide it, as you’ll see in my LinkedIn profile, which lists my fiction writing alongside my IBM intellectual property publications. And my Twitter feed talks about IBM stuff, my writing, and lots of other nonsense besides.

 

Wiki leaks

WikiGoneFor a number of years, there was a Wikipedia entry about me, and of course that gratifyingly flattered my ego. Like the entries for all the other Doctor Who novelists, it was written by a fan enthusiast with a completist attitude to documenting the TV show and its spinoffs.

The Wikipedia article described all my fiction writing, with links to my blog, the BBC website, and so on. But it said nothing at all about IBM.

One result of this was being introduced at an event as an invited IBM speaker like this: “I looked him up online, but the only information I could find was about this other Peter Anghelides who writes Doctor Who books, and that obviously can’t be him.” There are so many people called Peter Anghelides that I could understand her confusion

Not that this is a problem any more. Earlier this year, one of the Wikipedia content moderators decided that the article wasn’t well enough written, and it has therefore been deleted. You’re not allowed to write Wikipedia articles about yourself, so at least I can blame someone else for this (while, obviously, sulking in my office).

 

Celebrating in style

BadgeIBM recognises employees at various career landmarks. For example, on reaching 25 years you’re enrolled in the Quarter Century Club. I got a nice meal, a certificate from the IBM Chairman, and a pile of gift vouchers.

I was also able to add the Quarter Century Shield to my ID badge, and that’s a nice conversation starter when meeting new colleagues or clients or business partners.

 

The 30 Years Words

For someone like me now reaching 30 years, IBM makes a “personalised congratulatory page” available for a month beforehand. This is the online Recognition Centre, where people are invited to post messages and photos, and see what everyone else has written. The celebrant sees the final thing on the anniversary date.

30YearsMessages can be posted by anyone who gets an invitation to do so, IBMers or otherwise. Participation very much depends on whether the IBM internal social media, or the employee’s manager, sends invitations to anyone. And whoever is invited to contribute can themselves invite others to participate.

I suppose it’s like a benign Ponzi scheme, where everyone has a bit of fun and no-one joins Bernie Madoff in jail.

 

Open invitation

But here’s something I didn’t know until last week: the celebrant is also able to invite people.

And because I like to test these things out, I went ahead and invited… myself. So not only can I now add comments, I can already see some of the nice things that people are saying.

This prompted a naughty thought. What if I invited not just people who I know from IBM… what if I invited people I know through my other writing work?

This is not an effort to fish for compliments! What would greatly amuse me, and enliven proceedings, is if my Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Blake’s 7 pals each posted something in the Recognition Centre about their favourite TV story or memory, and I will respond with a corresponding story or anecdote about IBM.

 

Want to play?

QuestionMarksIf you fancy giving it a go, and you know me from my non-IBM life, contact me at the usual address and I will send you a personal invitation to contribute.

Remember that whatever you write will be visible to all other contributors and associated with your name, because each invitation needs to be unique.

The closing date is Wednesday January 3rd 2018.

December 5, 2016

A few comments on recognition

Filed under: Articles,IBM,ISTC,writing — Peter A @ 11:59 pm

istcThis year I was honoured by the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC), which is the industry body for information development. They awarded me their Horace Hockley Award for 2016. And then they elected me as an Honorary Fellow, in recognition of outstanding service to the profession.

I was pleased to accept both, make an acceptance speech at this year’s conference, and write an article for their journal Communicator.

Here’s what I said in the article.

 

A few comments on recognition

Horace Hockley Award 2016 honoree Peter Anghelides says “thanks for the feedback”


How splendid to receive this year’s Horace Hockley Award. Major Hockley established standards for the technical communication profession, and was himself recognised with an OBE in the 1968 New Year Honours list.

We should welcome feedback about our work that’s timely, evidence-based, constructive. It’s a culture shift in our industry: to seek professional feedback instead of mere evaluation.

That’s important to us at IBM, where our mission is to deliver the right content, to the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

The feedback firehose

Communicator.jpgFeedback can be overwhelming. It may be from our peers, our editors, our engineers, our clients. And the explosion of feedback is a consequence of how we’ve slashed hardcopy entitlement, increased softcopy, integrated online information, and incorporated documentation in development environments and platforms like Eclipse or IBM Bluemix.

We get comments from IBM support, in the IBM Knowledge Center, in forums and collaborative environments like Stack Overflow, or repositories like GitHub. Not to mention the freeform firehose of Twitter and YouTube.

More than half of visitors to ibm.com go there for technical information, and a third of them use IBM Knowledge Center (millions of unique visitors, every week). IDC research (Technology Marketing Blog, October 19, 2012) revealed that vendor information is the second biggest pre-sales influence for technology buyers.

Delighted clients are advocates for our company. And our technical content reveals our company to our clients. That’s why we welcome feedback. We crave it.

Take a page out of my book

But when I first joined IBM in 1988, feedback came via the Reader’s Comment Form (RCF). This was back in the days when you might get your IBM machine delivered on one pallet and your documentation on the next two. Each of those big hardcopy manuals might have hundreds of pages, with one RCF at the back of it. We invited our clients to fill these in, with a request for assessment on Clarity, Accuracy, Completeness, Organization, Retrieval, and Readability.

What optimism! Our hope was our reader would tear this page from the back of the manual, complete it in detail, fold it neatly, and return it by pre-paid post to IBM in Mechanicsburg, PA where our product documentation was printed. IBM Mechanicsburg would then bundle up the RCFs and post them to the appropriate development lab – in my case, IBM Warwick Lab.

For years in Warwick, one client kept sending us RCFs that were completely blank. Nothing on Clarity. No insights into Accuracy or Organisation. We knew they came from one person, because each had the same postmark.

Was our mystery correspondent shy? Using invisible ink? Or a really furious client trying to bankrupt a multibillion dollar corporation one pre-paid envelope at a time?

Then the blank RCFs stopped. For months, we wondered what had happened, until they suddenly began arriving once more.

“What a relief,” said my manager, Roger Amis, “I was beginning to worry that something had happened to him.”

Roles and responsibilities

Roger is the man who hired me into IBM. Over the following three decades, I’ve been a technical author, project lead, talent manager, globalisation expert, and accessibility advisor. I’ve line managed information developers, human factors engineers, designers.

At one point, I even acted as IBM’s Translation Service Centre Manager for UK English (we never had a busy week).

I completed two worldwide assignments for the three IBM Corporate Directors of Documentation, Globalization, and Design. Those were wonderful opportunities to support strategy, process, and tooling for the biggest tech comms population in the world, through times of great transformation in IBM’s core businesses, and therefore great change in how we delivered product  documentation in dozens of languages.

I’ve helped my company change from IBM-specific tools and technology, like BookMaster, to establishing and sharing open standards, such as DITA. I’ve seen a company-wide renaissance in design thinking that puts user outcomes at the heart of what we do.

Technical communication is now an institutional competency within IBM. As an upline manager, the latest transformation I led was to integrate information development into the engineering squads, instead of being a separate organisation.

Multi-disciplinary teams mean that design and technical writing are no longer “add-ons,” but integrated with engineering from the outset – essential ingredients in a mix of skills for successful software development.

Staying the course

HoraceHockleyAward.pngThere have been many colleagues, managers, and mentors in the UK and around the world. But I reflect it was the IBM manager who hired me in the first place who made this all possible.

You sometimes hear it said that “people join companies, but leave managers.” Well, Roger Amis is a big reason why I stayed the course.

By happy coincidence, he also introduced me to my wife.

I’d like to recognise Roger as a role model for what it means to be a technical communicator, a manager, a collaborative colleague, and a mentor. He made it possible for me to set off on this path.

And I thank the ISTC for this much-appreciated recognition of my subsequent journey over the years.

Peter Anghelides is Outreach and Publicity Officer, IBM UK Lab Campus

E: peter_anghelides@uk.ibm.com  W: ibm.biz/knowledgecenter  T: @anghelides 

This article was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Winter 2016.

May 22, 2016

Frontier Worlds

Filed under: drwho,Frontier Worlds,Novels,Uncategorized,writing — Peter A @ 4:24 pm

Winner! Best Eighth Doctor novel in the annual Doctor Who Magazine reader’s poll.

First published by BBC Worldwide in November 1999, ISBN: 0-563-55589-0

fwAfter writing Kursaal, I kept in contact with the other writers of the BBC Eighth Doctor range via e-mail. We would discuss forthcoming books, offer support and advice to each other, and encourage better continuity and continuing development of the series – especially the characters of the Doctor and his companions.

BBC Books editor Steve Cole let us in on a big secret—the idea of a story arc kicked off by Lawrence Miles’ book Interference, and which would centre around a new companion introduced in that book, called Compassion. The rough outline of how Compassion would develop was established over an initial five-book plan, and authors were invited to pitch for the five available slots.

As part of these discussions, I provided a very candid assessment of why I thought Compassion would be extremely difficult to write for, and that as a character she introduced lots of problems for writers.

However, after some nagging from Steve (who also provided a somewhat pained defence of Compassion against some pushback from the writers), I rashly provided a proposal for the third book in the arc, and found I then had to write for the character!

Rather than ignore what I saw were problems (by sidelining her), I decided to give her a central role in my novel. And, by the end of it, I decided I quite liked her as a character after all. (I’m so fickle.)

You can see from draft 2 of my proposal to the BBC that I wanted readers to join the story mid-way through the action; so the Doctor and his companions have been there for a while before we join them. Have a look also at Chapter 2 to see some of this in the published version.

At the proposal stage, Steve and I judged that some of the stuff about Compassion was too obvious, and so I played that down a little. In the outline, the subplot of Reddenblak is not so much to the fore, and two characters from earlier books (Alien Bodies and The Taking of Planet Five) make a cameo appearance – which I subsequently removed from the finished book. Other stuff was introduced into the novel while I was writing it, as usual.

I was more involved in the design of the cover of this book than for any of my other published novels.

The book received very positive reviews, and won the Doctor Who Magazine 1999 poll for Best Eighth Doctor novel. I also did a short interview for that magazine.

In-jokes: Fitz adopts the persona of Frank Sinatra, and all the chapter titles are songs that Sinatra sang. In the acknowledgements I name “Francis Albert” – which are Sinatra’s christian names. And “Frontier Worlds” was the name of a fan magazine I devised in 1979 with my friends Peter Lovelady and Tony Murray. They came up with the name of the fanzine—I had wanted, foolishly, to call it “Darkling Zone”—so Peter and Tony get an acknowledgement in the novel, too, for bringing me to my senses two decades previously.

 

Frontier Worlds: Blurb

Filed under: drwho,Frontier Worlds,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 4:22 pm

A big hand for this bookThis page is one of several on this site about my novel Frontier Worlds. They are all linked from this main blog post here.


What strange attraction lures people to the planet Drebnar? When the TARDIS is dragged there, the Doctor determines to find out why.

He discovers that scientists from the mysterious Frontier Worlds Corporation have set up a base on the planet, and are trying to blur the distinction between people and plants. The TARDIS crew plan to prevent a biological catastrophe – but their plan goes wrong all too soon.

Compassion finds her undercover work so engrossing she risks losing her detachment. Fitz seems too distracted by the local population to keep his eye on Compassion. So when the Doctor gets trapped in a freezing wilderness, who can stop him falling victim to a lethal experiment in genetic modification?

For something else has been lured to Drebnar, something that Frontier Worlds Corporation will ruthlessly exploit without care for the consequences – an ancient alien organism which threatens to snuff out Drebnar’s solar system.

This is another in the series of original adventures for the Eighth Doctor.

Frontier Worlds: Proposal

Filed under: drwho,Frontier Worlds,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 4:22 pm

A big hand for this bookThis page is one of several on this site about my novel Frontier Worlds. They are all linked from this main blog post here.


This is the proposal I sent to the BBC in May 1999. Because I’d already discussed the development of the continuing story (which some people have called “the Compassion arc”), this outline is perhaps a bit more detailed than you would usually expect. If you’ve read the book, you’ll also notice that there are several sequences which were not in the original outline.

This can happen when you’re writing a book – you find you’ve got to get the characters to a particular place, or someone’s motivation isn’t clear enough. In the case of Frontier Worlds, examples of this include: the third-person narration for the seventh sequence, the change to third-person narration at the book’s conclusion, the Prologue and Epilogue; and (my favourite) the combine harvester chase.

You can also download a PDF of my proposal here: Frontier_Worlds_proposal.


Proposal for a Doctor Who novel featuring the eighth Doctor, Fitz, and Compassion

“FRONTIER WORLDS”

Proposal for an 85,000-word Doctor Who novel by Peter Anghelides
Draft 2, 27 May 99 (6,600 words)

Introduction

Opening sequence (Doctor’s POV)

Second sequence

Third sequence (Doctor’s POV)

Short fourth sequence

Fifth sequence (Fitz’s first-person narraton)

Sixth sequence (Doctor’s POV)

Seventh sequence (Fitz’s first-person narration)

Introduction

The planet Drebnar is one of a number of frontier worlds settled by humans in the future. Drebnar is a rare find – a planet with substantial areas of fertile land, no intelligent life forms, and stable tectonics. At this stage in its history, with the planet being ground-broken by exploratory Earth corporations, it has a population of only about five million. (This will seem a lot to Fitz – it’s more people than live in the London of his era.). The planet has become the breadbasket of the array of nearby planets.

This is a story about genetically-modified organisms, and an attempt by a group of humans to extend their lives by adopting a plant-like regenerative cycle. There is, of course, a pleasant irony that this mirrors not only the Doctor’s regenerative abilities but also the way that Fitz (Kode) and Compassion were repeatedly regenerated in the Remembrance Tanks (in Interference).

However, there are no dependencies on other Eight Doctor novels or previous Doctor Who continuity – despite a couple of nonessential references to Alien Bodies and Interference. As third in the five-book arc, it does introduce further evidence of Compassion’s continuing slow evolution into a TARDIS, but the idea is that you don’t need to know that… it’s just nice for regular readers if they notice it.

Other books in the story sequence seem to separate Fitz and Compassion, so I have kept them together in this book. This also plays to the Doctor’s agenda for Compassion.

Opening sequence (Doctor’s POV)

The Doctor is on the very edge of a research station, which is perched on a craggy outcrop of a snow-covered mountain-top. The Doctor is trying to persuade a man, Dewfurth, out of throwing himself to his death on the rocks below. The Doctor fails, and Dewfurth vanishes onto the jagged rocks below. The Doctor then hurries away to join Fitz, and the two of them start fleeing from some unnamed pursuers from the research station.

During the chase, we learn something about what they’re doing – investigating a research corporation called Frontier Worlds, which is involved in dubious research on the planet Drebnar. The TARDIS was drawn here by odd fluctuations, which may have come from the Weather Control Platform above them. (This is a crude arrangement – a huge football-field-sized atmospheric balloon tethered by giant hawsers, holding up what is effectively a low-orbit satellite. Cheap, ugly, nasty, efficient.) Fitz and Compassion have been trying to break into Frontier Worlds Corporation, while the Doctor has been investigating a similar biodiversity company called Reddenblak elsewhere on the planet. His investigations at Reddenblak’s Market Intelligence group led him to this Frontier Worlds facility, and contact with Dewfurth who wanted to sell out to the rival Corporation – hence this rendezvous.

At one stage during the ensuing chase, the Doctor and Fitz are forced to flee towards a Lake of Ice, as they attempt to get round a convoy of big green loaded motorised sleds. Fitz strays on to the ice, but the Doctor draws him back – below the ice are weird piranha-like creatures, who can track sound above the ice and break through the thinnest parts to devour unwary prey. (We see a local animal being dragged to its death this way.)

The Doctor points out that their pursuers are only aware that he was in the research station – Fitz should try to get back down the mountain to Compassion, while the Doctor draws them away. (As it’s the Doctor’s POV, we can learn that this is still part of his plan to have Fitz and Compassion spend time together to “humanise” her). Don’t worry, says the Doctor, I’ll e-mail you instructions. Fitz reluctantly agrees, though he’s only just getting to grips with this new electronic communications stuff: “The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,” he observes.

Unseen now by Fitz, the Doctor races off – across the ice! Behind him, the pursuers halt by the edge of the lake, take aim, and fire weapons at the Doctor. The Doctor is shot, but struggles to the side of the lake and into rough undergrowth.

While hiding, the Doctor sees the pursuers stop. Their leader, Temm Sempiter, has found the Doctor’s fresh blood in the snow. Sempiter scoops up a handful in a curious gesture… even if he gets away, they can track him down. He taps his foot in the snow in a characteristic, impatient gesture.

Second sequence

We’re in first-person narration by a man called Frank. Frank has worked on Drebnar for the Frontier Worlds Corporation for two months. We get a distinct, somewhat cruel perspective on Frank’s colleagues at Frontier Worlds, the dull days, his network of friends, his main squeeze Alura Trebul, and his sister Nancy. Eventually, we’ll twig that Frank and Nancy Sinatra are actually Fitz and Compassion; Fitz is livening up his undercover work in the way only he can. he’s quite fond of quoting Sinatra lyrics in conversation, explaining that he is descended from King Elvis, fully aware that the other workers don’t get the gag.

Fitz and Compassion have already been working in Frontier Worlds HQ for about two months. (When Fitz asked why he wasn’t working with them at Frontier Worlds, the Doctor alleges that he somehow failed the job interview.) After obtaining some information about the mountainside research centre Fitz had gone to join the Doctor on their earlier rendezvous (previous sequence). After their close escape, and with the Doctor still not in contact, Fitz has returned to his undercover work.

To one side of the Frontier Worlds HQ is the mountain, to the other is forest and jungle, and beyond that are supposed to be further Frontier Worlds facilities.

So Fitz is working as personal assistant and dogsbody to Griz Ellis, a huge and grubby man who is conducting research at HQ into the effects of electromagnetic forces on plant life. Fitz has been inoculated – but isn’t sure whether this is to protect him from research accidents or from Ellis’s dubious personal hygiene. Ellis drives Fitz mad with his pedantic corrections and unwelcome advice about everything: “You’re doing it that way? Oh, big mistake. And that way too? Big mistake. Mega mistake.” And his constant harping on about how he wished he could go back to Earth where he was a biologist – “back to the land, putting down some roots”. It’s all talk – he’s doing nothing about it.

Fitz originally established a relationship with Hannaw Applin, who is executive secretary to their main boss, Temm Sempiter. Hannaw likes a good gossip, and although they’re no longer seeing each other, she will call Fitz up during the day (on his mobile phone, which is in a headset with speaker and ear piece) to bleat at him about her problems and then, when she’s dumped on him, let him talk; Fitz can tell she’s not listening after this point, because he can hear her typing in the background and the sound of her having a sneaky ciggie. Applin does reveal information to him about Frontier Worlds’ big rival company, the Reddenblak Corporation, who also have research facilities on Drebnar.

Compassion, in comparison, is working as a humble data entry clerk. The Doctor wangled them accreditation when they joined the Corporation (though they still had to provide the usual – ugh! – tissue samples when joining a food company). After this, the Doctor had left in the TARDIS – Compassion can sense that it is no longer nearby. She loves to get plugged into the Frontier Worlds planetary network (though is constantly frustrated by their security measures and company firewall). Compassion’s brain, like the TARDIS, is self-teaching, self-repairing, ever-evolving. Cut off from the TARDIS and unable to absorb information from there, she spends long periods attached to the Frontier Worlds systems, devouring what information she can.

Fitz is a bit worried about this obsession, particularly since they haven’t heard recently from the Doctor. Compassion is beginning to receive data from the newly-formed and still-growing parts of her own mind (these are the scaled-down versions of the TARDIS’ block transfer systems developing right there inside her own head), but she thinks she’s getting instructions and directions from the distant TARDIS. (The Doctor will later tell her that this is impossible.) This all comes out in a conversation with Fitz about how he can understand the alien tongues on this planet.

Since Compassion seems preoccupied with her work, however, Fitz spends more time getting familiar with Alura Trebul’s alien tongue. Alura is amused by Fitz’s apparent paranoia about his apartment being bugged. We know, from his own narrative, why he’s worried about being caught as a spy. He doesn’t let her into any of his spying secrets.

Compassion’s colleagues include Natalie Allder, a rather dim office worker who strikes up an unlikely friendship. Natalie used to have a “thing” with Ellis, they were practically married, but he’s gone all distant and strange recently.
Before all this office intrigue gets a bit too dull, you’ll be pleased to hear, Compassion uses a cipher than Fitz has managed to get out of Ellis, and discovers that there are genetic experiments happening on Level X of the building.

She’s also discovered one of the samples that they’re experimenting on… a DNA sample which she recognises as the Doctor’s. (Reference to the 69 chromosomes divided into 23 homogenous triads, mentioned in Interference.)
Fitz goes to investigate Level X, using Ellis’s authority pass which he has appropriated. He meets an ill-looking Sempiter in the lift, bumping into him by accident; Fitz bumbles about with an apology, saying that he was going to deliver a printed report to Sempiter. Sempiter mumbles back that Fitz should e-mail it to him. “The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,” Fitz says, and hurries away. Sempiter still looks a bit groggy, so Fitz leaves him to it.

While looking around Level X, Fitz is surprised when Sempiter coming in after him! Sempiter doesn’t notice him, and looks pretty grim and grey, tapping his foot rhythmically as usual. Sempiter takes a swig of baby bio, slumps in a chair, and appears to drop dead. Then, worse, he shrugs off his outer “skin”, and a wrinkly new Sempiter slumps forward onto the desk. Fitz throws up in a bin and leaves before the new Sempiter opens his pruney new eyelids and sees him, but bumps into Ellis on the way out. Ellis doesn’t realise that Fitz has been in the room, so Fitz gives him his authority pass back (as though he’d just dropped it when they collided). Ellis is distracted because he’s telling Sempiter that two visitors from Reddenblak have arrived. Sempiter groans – Ellis will have to deal with it, he needs to get to the mountainside research centre – his assistant Applin has his car ready.

Compassion was unable to join Fitz on his investigation, because just as she was setting off she was assigned to chaperone a couple of customer visitors to a meeting. She explains all this to Fitz when they meet up: she was puzzled by the request, and a bit suspicious, because she’s supposed to be a data entry clerk But, she explains, she went along anyway – the two customers had come to find out about the wonderful new foodstuff that Frontier Worlds has created, a genetically-modified crop called “Darkling” (because it grows throughout the night as well as the day).

Compassion is unnerved by this visit – not because she recognised them (she didn’t), but because she can’t understand how they knew about the Top Secret Darkling Project that she’d just unearthed on the computer system. Suspecting it must be a test of her loyalty, she warns Fitz that they may have been rumbled. Did they show on the planetary records, asks Fitz? No, says Compassion, they were off-worlders. Their names were Mr Homunculette and Ms Marie.

The twist here is that regular readers (only) will recognise these characters, and expect them to play an important part in the novel. But we know that they’re just there to monitor Compassion’s development, and they won’t play any further part in the novel, so it will be doubly unnerving… first that they appear here in the first place, and secondly that, by the end of the novel, they haven’t reappeared… so what’s going on? Casual readers will assume that the point is that Fitz and Compassion have been rumbled, and later that the two customers really work for Reddenblak.

Third sequence (Doctor’s POV)

The Doctor has been hiding out in the mountains, having survived his gunshot wound. He is surprised to stumble across Dewfurth again, who miraculously survived his fall – he is half-naked, and the Doctor discovers him near to the shrugged-off remains of his previous body. Dewfurth is in despair – he can’t even kill himself!

The Doctor comforts the distraught man. Dewfurth reveals how he had been experimenting with fast-yield crops which could better exploit the very fertile land which covers much of Drebnar. The other two majority shareholders in the company were an engineer, developing machinery to expedite crop production, and a physicist, developing a weather control system. But they soon realised that none of them would live long enough to enjoy the results of their lives’ work. Then the engineer, Sempiter, discovered that he was dying from a wasting disease. He tried to develop a mechanical device, a robot to continue his work in his likeness, but that failed because he couldn’t find a suitable fast-growing synthetic flesh. And then they discovered an extraordinary source of alien tissue on a mountainside site near their research facility…

Dewfurth takes the Doctor to the site. The Doctor is amazed to see the decaying corpse of a long-dead Raab, a huge plant creature the size of a blue whale, smashed into the mountainside. Raab travel for hundreds or thousands of years through space, absorbing the minute amounts of energy and sustenance as they travel between planets, and usually land heavily on barren asteroids or small moons; the impact spreads their seeds all over the immediate area. A handful of the many billions of seeds will make it through the rest of the cycle: growing with dramatic speed (mere months) as they absorb hugely greater amounts of sustenance than they did in space, until they’re large enough to be able to spring their small new shoots from the asteroid, and continue to grow over the next hundreds of years in space as the cycle starts again – searching for another asteroid. What could have brought it into the gravity well of this planet?

What could have brought both of them, asks Dewfurth. Both of them, repeats the Doctor? And then he discovers that, just over the hill, there is another Raab, which is still just alive, and being guarded by Frontier Worlds security. The Raab has been so confused by the signals that it wasn’t prepared for impact, and its huge seed load is still contained inside its tough outer husk.

Both Raab are being guarded because they’re being exploited by Frontier Worlds. More horribly, they’re being gouged into chunks and fed into portable shredders carried by the security guards; the chunks are then being carted back to the research centre in the convoy of big green loaded motorised sleds that we saw at the start of the novel. Dewfurth says he helped to conduct the first Raab analysis, and he and his fellow scientists were able to change the DNA of some fish (which reproduced quickly, and showed early results). Then the scientists changed their own DNA by using the same invasive tissue from the Raab. Then they discovered that it was changing the fish – they are the piranha creatures in the Lake of Ice.

Sempiter still thinks it’s a triumph, and now wants to extend the methodology to more conventional foodstuffs. Dewfurth knows what he has surrendered of himself to achieve this kind of immortality… the Raab element grows stronger with every “rebirth” that they endure, and although they only change annually, or when they are fatally injured, that’s still too fast to stay at all human. That’s why Dewfurth tried to kill himself when the Doctor tracked him down: he is responsible for the DNA changes, and he will be responsible for what happens to the rest of the planet when Frontier Worlds succeeds in growing its first crop of Darkling.

The Doctor is alarmed by this, but Dewfurth has finally gone over the edge. He stumbles off towards the Lake of Ice. The Doctor struggles with Dewfurth, fighting to prevent him going onto the ice as he becomes more delirious, seizing him by his torn jacket. What’s bringing the Raab here? What is the Darkling crop, and where is it? Dewfurth looks to the skies, and while the Doctor is distracted by this gesture, slips out of his jacket and stumbles off towards the Raab crash site. The Doctor is unable to reach him before he throws himself at one of the security guards’ shredders (yuk).

The Doctor reasons to himself that the Raab must be crashing unwillingly to their doom, drawn off course by the climate control system. And that control system is housed beneath the huge tethered balloon in the distance. In the torn jacket, the Doctor finds Dewfurth’s personal authority card.

The Doctor uses the authority card to get up to the Weather Control Platform beneath the atmospheric balloon, using a cable car attached to one of the giant hawsers. Up there, he sabotages the mechanics which are both controlling the weather and drawing the Raab creatures off course and to their doom on the mountainside. He also hunts out some information about Darkling, and learns about the Reddenblak Corporation. Reddenblak are looking to increase their market share by a strategy of: diversify, embrace, extinguish. (This is the same method that the Raab would use, unwittingly, if the seed load scattered on this fertile planet – with no way for the new seedlings to escape from the planet’s gravity.) The Doctor makes some changes to the computer systems and the company firewall, but when he tries to contact Fitz and Compassion he realises he’s been discovered and captured. Captured, in fact, by a robot guard which behaves uncannily like Temm Sempiter, right down to the impatiently tapping foot. As the conversation proceeds, the robot starts to pick up characteristics of the Doctor’s.

The Doctor is put into a cable car, which makes its way down one of the huge hawsers towards the mountainside research station. He is frustrated to find that he can’t get out, but notices an escape glider attached to the side of the balloon (also frustratingly unreachable).

When the cable car touches ground, the Doctor is taken to see Sempiter, who is present at the mountainside research centre. Sempiter is looking a lot fresher than when we last saw him. (He’s also, bizarrely, brought with him his pet budgie in a cage. It’s a robot bird.) As the Doctor is hustled into the room, he can overhear an argument that Sempiter is having with Ellis (who is still back at Frontier Worlds HQ, at the base of the mountain).

Ellis is explaining that representatives of the Reddenblak Corporation have asked to meet the Frontier Worlds board to offer an agreed buyout of the company. Ellis thinks they should sell up, accusing Sempiter of being a control freak – they could still carry on their research, while letting Reddenblak take the strain of the day-to-day business; but Sempiter refuses, and is furious when he realises that the Reddenblak people obviously know about the top secret Darkling crop. Who could have leaked the information? A check on all outgoing e-mail reveals it was Dewfurth. But Dewfurth killed himself, surely? And the last person seen with him was… that intruder (the Doctor) at the research station! A search of the Doctor reveals that he has Dewfurth’s authority card.

They take the Doctor to a laboratory, where they plan to investigate his DNA, which has intrigued them since they got the tiniest sample from his blood earlier. Sempiter notes that the Doctor’s gunshot wound seems to be healing remarkably quickly – in fact, the ordered nature of his unusual DNA suggests that he could be even more useful than anything they’ve found on this planet so far (reference again to the triple-helix mentioned in Interference – these are the results that Compassion recognised earlier on in her database search).

Sempiter also wants to know who the Doctor was trying to contact in Frontier Worlds HQ just before he was captured – could there be others like him? Sempiter gets his assistant, Applin, to instigates a search of employee DNA sample while he gets on undisturbed with taking a larger DNA sample from the Doctor. A fairly substantial sample in fact… not something he’s likely to survive.

The Doctor stalls the experiment by exploiting what he’s learned from the late Dewfurth, quizzing Sempiter about the Raab, explaining how terribly risky it is to use the Raab corpses, and discovering (to his horror) what Sempiter is now doing. Sempiter reveals he and his research colleagues have changed their own DNA to prolong their lives, using Raab tissue. Now he is extending this to natural foodstuffs, and has created the Darkling wheat crop on the fertile ground of this frontier world – and what’s more, he’s fertilising it still more with the Raab mulch (ikk!). This will get around the problems they currently have with the altered DNA, which requires a painful annual “shedding” of their outer layer to survive. It is also a more subtle way of extending the programme to the rest of the population and, eventually, other frontier worlds who will be dependent on the output of Drebnar.

The Doctor tells him that this help the Raab wipe out the human race on all the frontier worlds. Sempiter seems strangely unmoved by this intelligence. Besides, Sempiter and the Doctor seem very much alike – they both have tissue-deep regenerative abilities. The Doctor manages to escape his shackles in a neat feat of escapology, and locks Sempiter in the laboratory. There’s no way that Sempiter can contact anyone while he’s locked in here, says the Doctor. To demonstrate this, he pulls the wires out of the wall to disable the intercomms system: “The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,” he tells Sempiter. Then he waves something at Sempiter and vanishes.

Short fourth sequence

This is Sempiter’s POV, for the first time in the novel). Thirty minutes later, Applin comes to see how Sempiter is getting on with his dissection. Sempiter recognised the Doctor’s comment about e-mail, because Fitz used the same phrase to him earlier in the Frontier Worlds HQ. Sempiter tells Applin to search out the specific DNA samples for Frank Sinatra, and anyone hired about the same time. Applin says no need – that must be his sister, Nancy. (And to think she once fancied him, the traitorous git.) Sempiter sees the DNA results for “Frank” and “Nancy”, and realises that they have regenerative qualities in their tissue. “Nancy” is particularly interesting.

Applin says that she will call Fitz and activate his phone headset, then keep busy while the guards move in. They can then recapture the Doctor when he tries to contact or reach his associates. Sempiter makes a call of his own. Then he decides to go back to the HQ for himself – and realises that what the Doctor was waving at him when he left were the keys to his flyer, pick-pocketed from him.

Fifth sequence (Fitz’s first-person narraton)

In Fitz’s apartment: Alura is quizzing Fitz about his career plans again. Fitz fobs off her growing suspicions with a metaphor from his days on Earth, which he’s never told anyone else… how in another life he could have been Franz-Joachim Kreiner, if his father had made a different choice. Alura (who thinks that Fitz is called Frank Sinatra of course) confesses that she’s found who she wants to be; she’s exactly the Alura Trebul she wants to be, now that she’s with him. (Ahhh!).

Fitz and Compassion discover lots of dreadful genetic experimental horrors, lashing around on Level X. Compassion has mysteriously been able to tap into the computer network and get them unlimited access (what is this strange power she has?).

Fitz takes a call from Applin. He suspects that she’s trying to keep him occupied, find out where he is – because she’s not talking about herself, and he can’t hear her having her sneaky ciggie and tapping on her keyboard. He makes an excuse to pause the conversation, and tells Compassion that they’ve been rumbled. Compassion wants to escape immediately, but Fitz wants to go back to the apartment to take Alura – she’s waiting at home for him, but he cannot get through on the phone to her. Compassion isn’t convinced, but reluctantly goes with him. Fitz leaves his mobile phone headset behind, leaving the line to Applin open.

They find the apartment is wrecked, and Alura (waiting at home for Fitz) has been murdered, and the phone is off the hook – connected to the security services! Alura must have been calling the cops, but was killed. As Fitz and Compassion make this horrible discovery, the cops arrive – except that they’re really Frontier Worlds security staff! Fitz and Compassion flee out the back way. As they’re leaving, they run into Griz Ellis in the street. He says he’s come to find Fitz – he’s discovered the experiments on Level X, and is shocked and surprised by them, Sempiter’s been keeping things from him! Ellis flees with them, much to their disgust – otherwise he’ll take the rap for the experiments.

Making the best of it, Compassion gets Ellis to let them use his company short-range flyer, planning to get them to the mountain and search for the Doctor and the TARDIS. But they are pursued by the security staff. Ellis infuriates Compassion with his unwanted advice (“not a good idea”/”Bad move”/”Big mistake”/”Mega mistake etc.).

Compassion steers the craft on a collision course with the pursuing craft, and the chicken run results in a collision. The other flyer is destroyed in mid-air, while their flyer plunges into the jungle far beyond the HQ. Compassion is hurt, Fitz is remarkably unscathed, and Ellis is knocked out. Compassion takes an axe from the wreckage, and they start to hack their way through the jungle. She also persuades a reluctant Fitz to leave the unconscious Ellis behind.
In the jungle, it’s going to be a long trek to the other side of the jungle – where they will find the Darkling facility (and perhaps a way of escaping). Compassion doesn’t want to eat, so Fitz guzzles what rations they’ve taken (He’s wildly overloaded, of course, having overestimated what he can carry on their trek. Compassion takes the pack off him, and carries it effortlessly for him.)

Fitz worries about sleeping in the jungle. In fact, he’s worried about what he will dream. Compassion will not be drawn on what she dreams about, but Fitz explains to her that he’s worried about how he’s been remembered by the Faction; usually, you worry about how you will be remembered in the future (posterity) – he’s worried about how he was remembered in the past. Are his dreams really his? Some nights, he’s frightened to sleep. The TARDIS was supposed to bring him back to his previous self – but has it changed him?

They are surprised when Ellis catches up with them. They struggle on until they choose a spot to camp for the night. Overnight, they leave him again – Compassion seems to need no sleep, much to Fitz’s tired disbelief.
Despite her injuries in the crash, Compassion’s body seems to be slowly reconstructing itself, piece by piece (as though concentrating on one injury at a time). She seems to have a high pain threshold. Fitz is beginning to despair, so she gets him focused again by boosting his morale about his role with the Doctor, etc. He believes her, and they get going again.

Then Ellis catches up with them again, full of his usual irritating confidence (“You’re doing such-and-such. Oh, big mistake.” etc.). In a quiet moment, Compassion reveals to Fitz that she can detect faint transmissions – even without her ear piece in (how odd, Fitz thinks). They set off without Ellis once more, but Compassion gets them to double back so that Ellis is ahead of them. Then she examines Fitz, and discovers that he has a bug under the skin of his upper arm, where he was “inoculated” by the Corporation when they joined. She removes the bug – somehow displacing it, but she can’t explain how any more than she can explain how Fitz can sing in tune and she cannot. Ellis turns up again, having doubled back himself. In the ensuing conversation, Ellis asks Fitz whether he knows of an employee called Franz-Joachim Kreiner. Fitz realises Ellis can only have heard that from Alura – and at the apartment that morning. There’s a struggle, and within moments Ellis is holding Fitz and Compassion at gun point. And yes, he’s been using the “bug” in Fitz’s arm to track them at close range.

Ellis had hoped that they would lead them to their accomplice, or that their accomplice would come to him. Before she died, Alura had muttered only the name “Franz-Joachim Kreiner” (who Ellis had assumed to be their accomplice). Ellis was aware of the Level X experiments all along, of course, and what’s more he was aware of the unique properties of Fitz’s DNA ever since he joined the company (how else would a complete newcomer get a job as his personal assistant?). But Ellis doesn’t trust Sempiter any more; he thinks that he can do a deal with the Reddenblak Corporation to offer them his own research, including Fitz as research material – he’ll just have to do without the accomplice now. Sadly, Ellis adds, he will also have to do without Compassion as well – he can only manhandle one hostage with him. He seizes the exhausted Fitz, and aims the gun at Compassion. Compassion flings the axe at him with unerring accuracy, and slices his head open. “Big mistake,” she tells his corpse. “Mega mistake.”

Fitz insists that they rest. He’s exhausted, and rather shaken by Compassion’s risky rescue. He sleeps for a while, and Compassion wakes him when they hear a noise nearby. To their horror, they find that it’s Ellis – through the wound in his head, a newly-growing head is emerging. Ellis is another of the DNA-modified scientists. Compassion takes the axe and dispatches him for good. Fitz, of course, is appalled by this. It’s an example of Compassion’s dispassionate, amoral approach – she can kill without compunction, because that’s what she must do to survive. While she’s at it, she also takes Ellis’s authority card.

Eventually, Fitz and Compassion get out of the jungle, and find themselves at a small anonymous research facility where the darkling crop is being grown. They realise that, unlike the jungle, this whole site is unnaturally quiet – no insects, no birdsong, just the sound of the wind through the crop. (This is the “silent spring” element of the novel – Frontier Worlds are disrupting the food chain, and by making crops insect-resistant they’re killing the insects; no insects means no birds; no birds means no birdsong; no birdsong means a silent spring.)

Fitz and Compassion break into the facility, and set fire to the entire 100-acre field. At which point the Doctor turns up, furious with them – they think they’ve sabotaged the Frontier Worlds Corp. plan, but actually what they’re doing is scattering the delicate seeds all over this extremely fertile planet! They watch glumly as the flames lick out of control, hot air rising and carrying seeds into the night sky.

(This is also the point where we realise that Fitz’s first-person narration has been to “you”, where “you” turns out to be the Doctor… “That was the point, of course, when you finally showed up” sort of thing.)

Sixth sequence (Doctor’s POV)

The Doctor has an idea (phew). He could use the Weather Control Platform to get things sorted out. Meanwhile, Fitz and Compassion had better get to the HQ and destroy the genetic experiments there. What with, they ask. Weed-killer, explains the Doctor.

On the Weather Control Platform, the Doctor programs the whole area for torrential rain, to force the seeds out of the atmosphere and drench them in so much water that they will not grow. He has to fight off Sempiter’s robot guard, arguing about what Sempiter’s plans are – what the dangers are to the whole planet, and can’t the robot see that logically? However, in the struggle the controls for the cable car are damaged. The Doctor flees for the roof, trying to reach the emergency escape glider, but the robot pursues him, denying the Doctor’s lies about Sempiter.

They fight on the roof, and in the struggle the robot slips, clutching at the balloon hawsers which become detached. The Weather Control Platform starts to drop. The Doctor clambers into the escape glider, and manoeuvres it to safety. But it has no power…

Seventh sequence (Fitz’s first-person narration)

Fitz and Compassion have been dropped off by the Doctor at Frontier Worlds HQ. They get in using Ellis’ identity card, and shut down the genetic experiments, but are unable to escape – they are confronted by Sempiter and his guards. An attempt to spray Sempiter with Roundup is not a great success, he just stands there tapping his foot in his usual infuriating manner. They try to pull rank, saying that they now have Ellis’s authority (and produce his authority card as proof). Sempiter points out that actually Ellis’s estate goes to his former main squeeze, the delightful Natalie Allder. Natalie turns up, and is given the authority card.

Just as Fitz and Compassion are being escorted from the building, the Reddenblak party arrive again. They confront Sempiter in the main reception, and inform him that their take-over has been approved. They will buy Frontier Worlds and shut it down, because they have their own food crop – the Darkling crop would be too successful, and would put them out of business (like Philips faced with the prospect of an everlasting light bulb). They’re here to complete the transaction, as they now have a majority voting for the merger.

Sempiter doesn’t believe them (and he’s looking a bit grey around the gills by this point). They point out that the votes of Natalie Allder and the Doctor (who currently owns Dewfurth’s share) outvote Sempiter’s. In fact, it was the Doctor who originally contacted them about this take-over plan – where is he? At this point, there’s a terrible crash as a glider smacks straight into the building’s foyer.

The Doctor steps out, and shows his authority card to the Reddenblak purchasers. He tells Fitz and Compassion that they must now go back to the mountainside and ensure that the corpses of the Raab are destroyed. Sempiter is naturally a bit put out by this, and lunges at them with a machine guns snatched from a guard. Fortunately, another guard shoot him down, smashing him out into the muddy street and the drenching rain. But he gets up anyway, and makes a run for his flyer, shouting that he will free the Raab.

The Doctor, Fitz, and Compassion decide they must go after him to stop him – because he is now mostly Raab himself, he can fertilise the dying Raab and destroy the planet. They collect enough of the weed killer from Level X, and then take a company vehicle up the mountain.

On the way, Compassion scorns the Doctor for throwing her and Fitz together – she’s “learned” nothing from her experience (which the Doctor had hoped), and she used Fitz when she needed to (e.g. the morale boost in the jungle). The Doctor thinks there has been some change in her. She says it’s just more information, more data.
Fitz argues with her – he tells her she has changed. She’s even harder than she was when they first met. He reminds her of her behaviour in the jungle, of his human concerns about his dreams, how the Faction may have mis-remembered him. Whereas she has evolved over years and years, and seems less human than ever. Whereas he was changed back into his frail human self by the TARDIS (at the end of Interference). How can Compassion know what it’s like to be changed like that, he sneers? “We’re all evolving, Fitz,” she says.

They’re travelling out to the Lake of Ice in the rain, which is finally easing off. The Doctor and Fitz make towards the Raab remains, while Compassion goes to search for Sempiter. Just as Fitz and the Doctor are about to hose down the huge Raab, Sempiter staggers out and confronts them. Beside him is Compassion, who is being held in a fierce grip by the battered but functional Sempiter-robot, which survived its fall from the falling satellite.

The “real” Sempiter’s wounds from the attack at Frontier Worlds HQ are healing swiftly; in fact, he’s now a rather gruesome-looking naked creature, half-man and half-Raab, and brandishing a flare gun. He’s going to graft himself onto the dying Raab on the mountainside, and get it to explode its spoors into the atmosphere, suitably affected by his genetically-modified DNA.

The Doctor tries to reason with him, pointing out that he’s no longer human, that he’s endangering the whole planet, that his original aspirations have been perverted – just look at what his experimentation did to the insects and birds in the Darkling zone, what it did to the piranha-fish. Sempiter, he says, doesn’t understand the value of life… you could see that from the way he ignores it, preferring to create and control robotic creations like the bird – and even that is still caged.

Fitz realises that the Doctor’s actually addressing all this to the Sempiter-robot, which is obviously moved by the Doctor’s reasoning, releases Compassion and seizes Sempiter. The robot carries the wildly-struggling half-man half-Raab across the Lake of Ice. It stops in the centre, tapping its foot imperiously like Sempiter did, but also cocking its head to one side in a Doctor-like gesture. The piranha creatures break through the ice, and Sempiter and his robot plunge through to their doom.

As they finish their gruesome task of dispersing the remains of the dead Raab, Fitz says he isn’t worried about dreams any more – now he’s more likely to have nightmares! What does Compassion dream of, he persists? She says: “The Time Vortex”. That sounds like a cue for us to leave, says the Doctor, and they make their way to the TARDIS. What does the Doctor dream of? “A nice cup of Earl Grey tea.”

The End

© Peter Anghelides 1999, 2016

Frontier Worlds: Excerpt

Filed under: drwho,Frontier Worlds,Novels,writing — Peter A @ 4:22 pm

A big hand for this bookThis page is one of several on this site about my novel Frontier Worlds. They are all linked from this main blog post here.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Frontier Worlds. The Doctor has escaped from a mountain-side laboratory by dropping on to a cable car rof. Inside the cable car, Fitz is waiting to meet him. I like the Kipling misquotation by Fitz; I used to use it as the concluding footnote (the .sig file) on all my e-mail.


Chapter 3: ‘Here goes’

The Doctor felt as though both his shoulders were going to dislocate. Fitz was hauling him up onto the roof of the cable car. But he could see the anxiety in Fitz’s eyes, even through the maelstrom of ice and wind: his face as white as the snow, his cheekbones more prominent and the stubble more extensive than the Doctor remembered from their last meeting. He thought of Dewfurth’s eyes, staring back at him through the storm on the station roof. So hurt. So distrustful.

The pine trees loomed close. The Doctor risked a look down, and realised for the first time that he couldn’t see the ground below. Were there rocks, standing out like teeth, ready to devour them if they fell? Would he and Fitz drop to the distant earth in silence, uncaring?

‘Now!’ he yelled, and leaped for the branches of the nearest tree.

The journey down was agonising. The sharp pine needles cut into their arms as they struggled down, branch by branch. The storm seemed to be subsiding as they got lower, and gradually the punishing sting of ice and snow on their faces and hands receded. Even so, the slippery tangle of branches meant it was more than half an hour before they reached the lowest bough. The Doctor felt weaker than ever, his breath whooping out of him like an exhausted athlete.

Fitz was able to scramble down the lower part of the trunk, cursing loudly as he struggled over the sharp bark. He was ready to help the Doctor down, but the Doctor simply dropped like a stone into a deep pile of snow. He was aware of Fitz scrabbling desperately to dig him free.

Then they heard the engines.

‘They’ll have searched all the cable cars by now,’ said the Doctor. His uneven breaths formed white clouds in the still air. ‘And they’ll work out what we did. They’ll be searching for me.’ The sound of engines grew louder, and the Doctor gestured away from the trees and towards a wide expanse of flat white in the middle distance, a frozen lake which reflected the sun towards them. ‘We have to go that way. We’ll leave no tracks on the ice.’

They scrambled down the shimmering bank, ploughing a meandering, uneven furrow through the undisturbed snow.

‘We won’t make it in time,’ said Fitz, gasping for air. He gazed past the Doctor, staring at the smooth dome of snow which covered the hill behind them. The roar of engines grew louder.

Then the dome seemed to explode into millions of fragments of ice, filling the air with glittering particles in the mid-morning light. The Doctor flung himself backwards into the snow, as though trying to burrow to safety. After a moment, he seized Fitz by the back of his trenchcoat, and dragged him down into cover.
The explosion of snow subsided to reveal an enormous green motorised sled. The wipers scraped away furiously at the windscreen of the square cabin at the front, the driver’s dark face peering out. The sled churned its way across the slope of snow, dragging a trailer containing a heaped pile of something roped in place under a thick black tarpaulin. Pipes to either side of the cabin spewed snow, like factory chimney stacks, up into the air and over the surrounding area.

Moments later, another spray of ice and snow announced the arrival of a second sled, belching smoke and snow like some arctic dragon. And then a third hauled itself over the horizon, shaking the ground as it powered its way after the others.

Above the growl and roar of the sleds, the Doctor could hear the tinny buzz of smaller engines. Through the haze of thrown snow, he could make out half a dozen smaller vehicles, snowbikes humming around the larger vehicles like birds around elephants. The drivers were heavily coated, with thick dark goggles poking out of the front of their hoods. They were scanning the surrounding area, and their machine guns were starkly visible behind them, black and ominous against the lime-green of each driver’s uniform.

The monster sleds passed within two hundred metres of where the Doctor and Fitz lay sprawled and helpless. The vehicles continued their unheeding progress down the mountain’s lower slopes, and slowly the artificial snowstorm faded and settled. The Doctor sat up, noticing that their previous tracks were now covered.

The roar of the sleds and the high-pitched buzz of the smaller vehicles had faded, but the Doctor could still hear the puttering sound of an idling snowbike. The driver was examining the furrow in the snow which led back to the pine trees, his back to them.

‘Time to go,’ said the Doctor to Fitz. They continued their slow progress towards the frozen lake. Well beyond it, looming like a stormcloud, was the grey shape of the geostationary balloon. As the air cleared, the Doctor could see the black oblong of the weather station beneath it, and a dozen curving dark lines leading upwards. He could just make out a smaller dark shape making its way up the steep angle of the nearest of these hawsers.

‘Of course,’ said the Doctor. ‘The line of cable stanchions curves off towards the research station—I didn’t realise we were so close.’

They reached the lake, slipping down the frosted banks. The wind had cleared the all traces of the powdery snow from the ice, and through its translucent surface they could see weeds waving in the underwater currently directly below their feet. Two hundred metres along the bank was a tangled clump of bushes, leading up to an untidy pile of snow-dusted scree which had tumbled against the sheer face of the mountain.
There was a sudden clattering noise above them, and they flattened themselves against the hard mud of the bank. Fitz gave a little squeal of fear as several furry quadrupeds skittered down the bank past them and onto the ice. The Doctor studied his reaction, amused to see him struggling to regain his composure as he got his breath back.

They watched the little creatures tumble onto the ice. There were four of them, each the size of small cats, round and dark brown, with thicker back legs which they thumped like rabbits, as though signalling to each other. They had large pear-shaped floppy ears which tapered to a point, and which sat up to attention and rotated side to side like radar dishes. Their soft fur and large liquid eyes suggested they were young animals.

’I think they’re just playing,’ smiled the Doctor. ‘You’ve seen Bambi, haven’t you?’

‘Yeah,’ muttered Fitz. ‘I remember what happened to his mother, too.’

The animals’ ears perked up again, scanning rapidly until they all comically pointed in the same direction—towards the Doctor and Fitz. The Doctor could just hear what had alarmed them. It was the sound of approaching snowbikes.

Three of the four animals skittered further out across the ice, leaving the fourth as it scavenged scraps of food. The Doctor noticed a flurry of activity below the ice, dark shapes following the animals. Then from over their heads he could hear the snowbikes spluttering to a halt.

Fitz began to stray further on to the lake, trying to make his way along the bank under cover of the overhanging branches. Again, the Doctor noticed a flurry of dark shapes below the ice, and was startled to see a shoal of fish staring up at them, like spectators at an aquarium. ‘Stop, Fitz!’ he hissed, seizing the tail of his trenchcoat. He stooped to look at the creatures below the ice. From what he could make out through the ice, they were each the size of his hand, with broad foreheads which were glowing a soft red.

From above their heads, up on the bank, a muffled voice shouted: ‘Mr Sempiter! The track ends here.’

Another voice, too far off to distinguish, and then growing louder. A nasal tone, imperious, confident. ‘I’d prefer him alive. Do you think you could manage that?’

Out on the ice, the three startled furry quadrupeds set up a rhythm of foot-stamping, warning the fourth one of the danger. There was a sudden flurry of movement beneath the Doctor’s feet, and the strange fish darted away towards the centre of the lake. Dark shapes seemed to be converging on the same spot from other directions too.

Within seconds, the ice was softening, melting. Two of the three quadrupeds fell through the cracking surface with an eerie shriek, and the water threshed and bubbled. The third animal turned to flee. But two of the bizarre, big-headed fish leapt through the fresh hole in the ice, seized it by one of its ears, and dragged it squealing into churning, bloody water.

Fitz stepped back towards the Doctor, and immediately more dark shapes moved back under the ice towards them. The Doctor gave a rapid gesture with his thumb, and he and Fitz hopped swiftly back onto the frozen mud of the bank.

‘What happened?’

The Doctor stroked his lips thoughtfully. ‘They were attracted by the vibrations, I suppose. They hunt in shoals, and I think they must channel warm blood into their foreheads and melt the ice. I’ve never seen anything quite like—‘

He broke off as the muffled voice sounded above them. ‘Just a clutch of baby leppos, Mr Sempiter. Learning the hard way. Bye-bye, furry friends.’

‘The tracks are too deep for leppos.’ Nasal voice again, Sempiter. ‘Check for him again.’

There was a flurry of fresh movement above them, and the Doctor realised that the guards were moving closer. He put his mouth close to Fitz’s ear. ‘They don’t know you’re here. Get back down the mountain. I’ll draw them away from you, I can hide out here—‘

Fitz hissed back: ‘You’ll freeze to death, especially in your condition.’

‘Nonsense. I have a much stouter constitution than you, a lower body temperature, and I can survive for much longer than you in these conditions. Rejoin Compassion, and I’ll contact you like before.’

‘A postcard pushed under my bedroom door, right?’

‘An e-mail containing encrypted instructions,’ said the Doctor with exaggerated patience.

‘The e-mail of the species is more deadly than the mail,’ said Fitz.

‘Very droll,’ said the Doctor.

‘I’m misquoting Rudyard Kipling,’ said Fitz, obviously very pleased with himself.

‘Yes, I know,’ said the Doctor, and then added: ‘Good luck, Fitz.’ He stepped out onto the ice, immediately aware that the bizarre fish were moving towards him again. Testing the soles of his shoes for purchase on the slippery surface, the Doctor made off across the looped section of ice that separated him from the next section of bank, and the shelter of overhanging bushes.

He thought he was going to make it, half-running and half-sliding, conscious of the shoals of dark shapes converging on him beneath the ice. Then he heard an angry shout from above and behind him, and the sudden clattering noise of a machine gun. He risked a look back, but Fitz had already gone. Above their former hiding place, two figures in bright green were clearly visible above the bank. One figure stood half-turned towards him, and seemed to shudder as his automatic weapon discharged. Ice spat up around the Doctor a second before he heard the rattle of the gun, and he flung himself onward as the surface of the lake cracked behind him.

He had almost reached the bank when he felt a punching pain in his shoulder which threw him into the overhanging branches. He sprawled on the ice, his cheek pressed to the surface. The sight of the fish gathering beneath him spurred him on, and he dragged himself up into cover, scrambling up the bank, trying to ignore the fresh agony in his shoulder where he had been shot.

At the top of the bank, he flopped down onto the untouched snow. From far away, he could hear more shouting. The guards were coming around the bank. With a weary groan, the Doctor slipped back into the bushes, pondering his options.

The dull ache sounded through his whole body like the slow, bass note of a tolling bell. His inner voice was telling him to sleep, to recover, to protect himself; his rational mind fought to stay in control, until he could convince his instinct that his companions were safe.

Fitz would be able to get back down the mountain, he told himself, to rejoin Compassion. That was the plan all along, after all.

Within a minute, he could hear the two Frontier Worlds men scrunching over the snow, and coming to a halt above him. Through the bushes, he could only see their legs. The guard with the machine gun stood stock still, listening. Sempiter, standing next to him, was tapping the toe of his snow boot repeatedly in the snow, an unconscious gesture of irritation. It was a kind of warning, like the leppos, of present danger.

‘He must be close by,’ said Sempiter. He stooped down, and the Doctor could see his face for the first time. A hawkish nose protruded beneath the snow-visor. He removed the goggles, revealing cold, pale eyes. Sempiter’s mouth was a grim, lipless slash in his faded grey face.

The Doctor could see that Sempiter was pointing at a shape in the snow, and realised with a little thrill of horror that it was where he himself had fallen at the top of the bank. There was a small, stark patch of pink snow where he had bled from his shoulder wound.

‘He’s still very close.’ Sempiter removed his thick gloves, revealing long hands, greyish skin with gnarled knuckles, like a living marble statue.

Suddenly, in the distance, the Doctor heard the sound of a snowbike’s engine over-revving, then wailing off into the distance. The guard standing by Sempiter swore, then apologised.

‘So,’ said Sempiter, scooping up the patch of bloodied snow in his bare hands. ‘Not as close as we thought.’ He breathed a long stream of air through his nose, a sibilant signal of resignation. ‘See if we can cut him off before he gets down the mountain.’

‘And if we can’t? ‘

‘You’re head of security, Kupteyn. I’d have thought he’d try to break in at HQ, wouldn’t you?’ Sempiter’s tone brooked no argument. ‘Meanwhile, you’ll need to start walking… it’s a long way back to the research station.’

Kupteyn stepped away from Sempiter, speaking rapidly into his communicator, issuing fresh instructions to capture a man fitting the Doctor’s description who had stolen a snowbike. His snowbike.

The Doctor felt his hearts-rate slowing. He was rapidly slipping into a protective coma. Through his fading vision, and peering through the dense foliage, he could see Sempiter was still crouched down in the snow. The grey-faced man was putting a sample of the blood-stained snow in a plastic container.

‘You can’t escape forever,’ said Sempiter, his voice a whisper now. He was… sniffing his fingers? ‘I love the smell of DNA in the morning.’

Then he stood up. The last thing the Doctor saw before his breathing slowed to nothing was Sempiter’s foot, tapping its unconscious rhythm in the flattened snow.

© Peter Anghelides 1999, 2016

 

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