Clouds: Part 4
The Winter spirit only grinned all the wider.
“Could I be anybody else?” he asked, the sarcasm apparent in his voice as he flipped himself right-side-up, landing inaudibly onto the floor in front of the Doctor. “Boy, am I glad to see you.”
“But you—you were—and the—but that’s—how’d you get in—what—I mean—and—what?” the Doctor stammered.
Jack scratched the back of his head, attempting to decipher the Doctor’s broken speech. His eyes widened as he put the pieces together. “You thought I was dead?”
The Doctor, finding his ability to move once again, pocketed the sonic. “Well, no offense, but yes.”
Jack only shrugged. “Go figure. But Doctor, didn’t you know that spirits can’t die? Again, in my case,” he added, tapping his staff lightly against his shoulder, his gaze growing distant.
It was the Doctor’s turn for a revelation. “Ah, yeah…Hate how I do that sometimes, just leap over and forget those annoyingly small little details. Makes me feel less-than-bright.” He redirected his attention to Jack. “Sorry I left you back there, then. I was in a bit of a rush to leave before they got me, too, otherwise I would have taken you.”
“Don’t worry about it. But where did you go? I mean, why’d you stay here? You coulda gotten off this ship, gone someplace way safer with the TARDIS. But you didn’t. Why?”
“It’s a little complicated,” the Doctor replied, turning back to the weapon and crouching down before it to remove a panel, the same one that he had detached just a few minutes ago in his attempts to disarm the thing.
Jack crouched beside him, sitting on the balls of his feet. “Try me.”
After a quick questioning glance at the spirit, the Doctor gave in. He spoke as he whipped out the sonic once again, loosening the plate from its counterparts.
“Once the TARDIS has landed in a certain timeline of events, she can’t move outside of that time. That is, once she or her occupants have been noticed by the other participants in those events. She—and me and whoever I travel with, if that applies—becomes a part of those events the moment something happens. In this case, it was us being seen by the Cybermen—that’s who these robot people are—and you being…Well, you being pretendedly-supposedly-somewhatedly killed. So, basically, I’m trapped in that time and those events. I can travel anywhere within that time but not outside of it. We tend to travel to times and places where things are tending to happen, so it’s pretty frequent that I get caught up in some complicated adventure ‘save-the-world’ sort of…stuff.”
Jack paused as he took it all in. “So you just jumped to a different part of the ship, knowing that these Cybermen were up to no good because that’s what just tends to be the situation with you?”
“Basically. And Cybermen aren’t exactly known for being the best guys in the universe. I just had to find out what their plot this time was and BAM, things get rolling.”
“Where’s the TARDIS, then?”
“A couple hallways down, tucked away in the corner of a maintenance room. Cloaking device,” he added, anticipating the spirit’s next question. “Quite simple, really. Unlike this.” He pried off the panel, laying it to his side and beckoning Jack over to take a look.
What next? was all that the Winter sprite could think.
Staring him in the face with nothing but thin glass between them was an iridescent light blue substance that was neither solid nor liquid. It seemed to have some sort of current in it though. Millions upon billions of microscopic specs floated in it, only visible by the metallic glint that each one took on as it bypassed the open panel, catching the faint light that streamed in from the hole. In all of its entirety, it seemed to be…alive.
“Nanobots,” the Doctor clarified. “And that liquid in there, that’s meant to be shot into the atmosphere of say, oh, a planet that can support life via a sort of capsule—ejected via this tubing here, which seems to be capable of hooking up to this ship’s guns for shooting at a distant target—and react with the chemicals of that atmosphere it will ‘evaporate,’ in a sense, becoming more of a water vapor-like substance. A cloud, you could say. But this ‘cloud’ won’t stay up in the stratosphere. No, it’ll continue to dissipate, taking over the air in the trophosphere below as a heck of a fog for all of the inhabitants that can breathe to breathe in.”
“In other words, the Cybermen plan on shooting this stuff into the atmosphere for everybody to inhale, nanobots and all.”
The Doctor nodded, confirming Jack’s suspicions.
He risked another question, dreading the answer. “But what do the bots do?”
The Doctor’s frown—which he had been wearing for a while now—grew deeper. “Let me explain to you one other thing, Jack.”
He felt a lump grow in his throat, fighting to keep his stomach in check. He already knew he wasn’t going to like what the Doctor was going to tell him, but something told him that it was, once again, going to be something far beyond what he had already imagined and braced himself to hear.
The Doctor kept his eyes fixed on the nanobots, looking at them but not really seeing them. “The Cybermen were once a wonderful, advanced race. They found cures for fatal diseases, technology beyond many in the entire universe, all of that sort of thing. In their pursuit of technology, knowledge, and prolonging their lives, they slowly incorporated the machines that they had created into themselves. With time, they became less and less of their original race, and more and more metal. In gaining longevity, knowledge, and their understanding of superiority, they lost not only the ability to succumb to disease and such, but also their emotions, which they now believe to be a disease that they have overcome but still plagues the rest of the universe. So, in their infinite wisdom they believe that this ‘disease’ should be eradicated, that none should suffer from it, and so they will that all beings of the universe will be ‘upgraded,’ as they call it, to be like them—cold and unfeeling, nothing but a brain in a suit of wires and metal.
“And now this. This is their latest plot in converting everybody. These nanobots, once inhaled, will take over the host’s body, eating away at all things that the Cybermen believe to contain connection to emotions and can succumb to aging, disease, whatnot—which is basically everything plus a part of the brain—until there is nothing left, at which point the bots will grow and combine together as individual molecules do to form into the suits that you saw walking around this ship.”
The Doctor looked at the timer on the machine. The clock switched to one minute and fifty-nine seconds just as he did so.
“Nobody will be safe if this is activated.”
“Tell me what I need to do, Doctor,” came a voice, seemingly from a completely different universe.
The Doctor looked over at Jack. He had to try to keep his mouth firmly shut.
Never before had he seen so much determination in a face. Not since her, anyway, and even then, this one rivaled hers. And it was only amplified by the shockingly blue color of his eyes.
I’ve heard of you before. But this. It seems as if I still have a lot to learn. I’m glad you’re on my side. Well, at least for now, if you don’t turn against me when…
The Doctor managed a smile. The truth will come when it will come, and breaking it out now, with this particular technology before them would just create too many complications. Time will permit when time does. “Okay Jack, here’s what I need you to do. The nanobots and liquid that they’re in have been safeguarded against my sonic screwdriver. But only against my screwdriver if it’s working on its own. So here’s where you come in. I need you to—”
“—Freeze the stuff to slow it down enough for your screwdriver to do its thing, maiming the nanobots, deactivating the device and other stuff to render it useless?” broke in Jack, staring intently at the weaponry.
“Yes, exactly!” The Doctor said. “But how did you know?”
Jack chuckled. It was lighthearted, fun, and had just the slightest hint of mischievousness. “Easy enough. You looked ready to go somewhere in search of some tool you needed until I popped up. And what do I do? I freeze stuff. Basically. Just anywhere?” He inquired, pointing at the machine as he looked at the Doctor for approval.
“If you could, the nose of the machine. Try to cool the whole thing, metal first and then going inward. It’ll work best if we cool the whole metal casing instead of just some of the liquid at a time, keep ‘em moving slow. Besides, the cool will move faster that way instead of moving through the solution. Especially with the time we have left. Oh, and Jack?”
The spirit, who had already risen from his crouch, turned around. “Hmm?”
“How in the name of Boe did you get in here?”
Another toothy smile. Jack laid his hands on the weapon, his staff caught between the metal and palm of his left hand. Then, one word. Just as the Doctor had spoken to him what seemed to be so long ago now. A few syllables, small and yet significant in the history of their lives.
And ice began to spread out from his palms, engulfing the metallic surface.