Well, obviously I'm not being published by Big Finish, because if that were the case I'd have driven the town dry. Even if my town is Wyong and by the time I'd have driven there I'd be unable to buy anything alcoholic anyway. I'd have... drunken all the castor oil or something. Gotten inventive, like in Bottom.
Anyway, now that there is no danger of it being sold for money, here is the story that I really shouldn't have submitted...
When Peri had stepped onto the train she had thought that her feet would stay on the ground. She was an old-fashioned thinker like that. But now she was squealing, being flung rudely through the air and buffeting against the roof. In her travels in the TARDIS she had gotten a little used to these sort of harsh Newtonian hissy fits that the Universe threw her way, but she was still expecting to come back to the floor and had screwed up her eyes in preparation.
"Doctor, why aren't I falling?"
"You are, Peri. You just happen to be falling up."
She opened her eyes, and the Doctor indeed seemed to be right - the floor was hovering gently above her eyes. She was, for whatever reason, frightened that her head might fall off so she swivelled it only slightly, allowing herself a glimpse through the corner of her eye of the revolting technicolour eiderdown that the Doctor called a fashion statement. Just a glimpse was all she really wanted.
"But why?" she asked.
"At a guess I'd say because we are travelling at a sizeable portion of the speed of light."
"Perhaps this a special train? For those who are very late for very important dates? Come on, we want get answers bobbing around like anti-gravitic mullets.."
A 'special train' may well be an understatement, but intriguingly it looked like anything but. From Peri's experience of 20th century public transport the train was largely unremarkable - it had broken luggage racks, illegible graffiti, gunmetal walls, grimy windows and furniture and carpeting festooned in the most awful beiges, olives and plaids yet concocted by humanity in the arms race of abhorrent taste. Indeed, the only difference in these 22nd century trains were the occassional hologram station, the fact that there were an awful lot of more of them, and they were built to hold more people - this train had four floors, making the anteroom with the doors where they floated feel like a cavernous and slightly sinister space.
As they pawed their ways along the ceiling and walls into one of the warren of stairways and into the carriage proper, however, things did not improve. Peri found the claustrophobia much worse, especially as the tunnel between the tombstone rows of high-backed chairs was illuminated only by the worryingly faded crimson emergency lighting.
When her eyes adjusted, it became even worse.
The carriage section was, unthinkably and improbably for a train designed to hold 500 upwards in each carriage, completely empty. Not so much as a flea or louse, or any other living thing was in this space - a heavy sense not of death, but of sheer oblivion was hanging heavy in the air, along with a heavy musky smell that seemed to make the air grey. In spite of this, everywhere around them was the evidence of people. The carelessly abandoned candy wrappers and half-full drinks crowded the floor, but half the seats were littered with phones, game stations, clothes, lunchboxes, thermos, laptops...Peri looked harder, wishing she could stop and saw scuff marks in the hideous and shallow carpet, still fresh. And a window pane that was fogged up... the winking smiley face that stared back at her was all too visible.
"Doctor," Peri managed, her eyes starting to itch at what she was seeing "I really think we should go."
"So do I. But we cannot do that until the train stops, can we?" The Doctor's voice was heavy. "There's no emergency brake. And I've been looking, believe me. Very careless, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, Peri. I was trying not to think about that."
The silence hung in the fetid air. Why wasn't the air being circulated, Peri wondered? She pulled her collar up over her mouth. It seemed to be closing in, an army of dust marching against her eyes and mouth. She started pulling herself through the forest of seating with her free arm, needing no prompting to get the hell out of this tomb. The Doctor clearly thought it was a good idea, and followed her closely.
"Yes... I think a visit to the driver might be in order, Peri."
They continued to maneuver their way through the thick, hanging air until they came to the door between the carriage and the next. Before he opened it, the Doctor set about reenacting the William Tell Overture with his fingertips and frowned in consternation.
“Dwarf Star alloy…” he murmured darkly.
“Is that…. An airlock?”
“Maybe a reality lock…”
It was surprisingly simple for the Doctor to open, and once they were on the other side what they saw made Peri feel her eyes were bleeding. The world around them, outside the train was a whirlpool of… what felt like everything. If she focused on any one area she could see… every city. Every colour. Every shadow, ever person, every thought, every soul, every secret in the world. She tried to not focus on anything. But then she could feel everything. Every kiss, every dream, every death, every…
The door slammed shut. Somehow they had gotten through to the other side.
The Doctor brushed himself off, and floating further into the next carriage. “Well, at least now we know what’s outside, this won’t seem quite as bad.”
In fact, it was still dreadful. Every inch of Peri’s skin itched and she tried to look at nothing as they floating slowly through another carriage.
“Can you smell anything, Peri?”
“I’m trying very hard not to.”
“Methane, sulfur, carbon monoxide, an alchemical smorgasbord of death.”
As the Doctor clambered between the seats he snaked his free hand down to pluck up a dusty plastic skirt, and glanced at it before throwing it away to float to the ceiling.
“Everybody on this train got zapped, didn’t they, Doctor?”
“Getting straight to the point as always, Peri. Have you.. well… felt anything unusual?”
“We’re in a.. metal tomb traveling the speed of light,” Peri laughed a humourlessly, nervous laugh that the Doctor had given her all too many opportunities to practice. “Believe me, I’m feeling a lot of weird things. But – I’m happy to say none of those weird feelings have felt like I’m about to evaporate.”
Peri gave a weak smile to herself “And, trust me, I’ve been looking for that one…”
Another reality-lock, another swift two-step with death in the intervening maelstrom and another carriage with no trace of life other than that that had been snuffed out decades ago. Peri reflected on just how banal the amazing and terrifying could become – her survival instinct was so honed by now that she was completed relaxed, setting herself to be ready to tense when death itself was truly immediate and only then act. Until that moment she was a coiled spring, biding her time and letting the rest of her mind wander. Her mind did not linger on the children’s toys and shoes occasionally littering the compartment or lulling lazily through the air, but bent itself to enjoy the feeling of zero gravity – to focus on the unusual freedom and control over herself she experienced, only just reflecting that she did so on a sealed death trap far out of her control.
With her mind wandering so they made their way through four carriages, each as cavernous as the last, and each as empty of life and as full of cold, sterile and tenderly aged misery. The Doctor chattered, as he did, expounding with the force of twelve thesauri on any scrap of evidence he found indicating how exactly the train worked. Listening to every second word was more than enough for Peri to hear all the vital details – the train seemed to be built across Universes – parts from different realities, it had mostly likely worked by releasing the pent up potential energy in every passenger, a process called chronokinesis by anyone made enough to contemplate it. The whys were still highly elusive, however.
The Doctor was very disappointed when they finally reached the driver’s compartment – the door took no effort at all to open.
“Honestly, Peri, they stitch this together across 13 Universes and can’t even make a decent lock? To think I brough my sonic lance for nothing…”
Once inside, they were met with a pitiful scene. The driver alone was still at his seat, gazing through the windshield into an endless maelstrom of reality and surreality – he looked like he was an ordinary man around 2000 years ago. He was a mummy that somehow, still had living eyes. And the monstrous beehive-hub of controls that glowed a demonic read had a lance of wires thrust straight into the pitiful creatures belly, humming with a dull everyday menace. The Doctor said hello, quite politely, and then asked him a few questions. Then a few more questions. Then a few jokes and an anecdote about Winston Churchill.
“Look at me when I talk to you, man!” the Doctor’s face flushed “I have dealt with a lot of craven, talking corpses and they have ALL been a lot more civil than you are!”
“Doctor!” snapped Peri. Such was the authority in her voice that the Doctor turned to face her and closed his mouth for a moment. “He doesn’t know that we’re here,” she pointed out, as if to a child “And that might explain a lot.”
Peri laughed, a bubbling release of far too much repressed stress across the past hour “Well why we’re not DEAD, for starters!”
The Doctor shrugged a little peevishly “Alright, that did have me a little confused I will admit… I suppose we are foreign to this precise spatial-temporary milieu, unlike the other poor cattle that was on this train – which would also probably suggest things have gone badly wrong, because frankly this train doesn’t seem to be designed to stop right now…”
His brow shot up and his eyes bulged. The strength of the expression made Peri hear the penny drop.
“It’s a bomb, Peri,” breathed the Doctor in wonderment. “The most tremendously insane bomb that has ever been devised..”
“Erm… okay,” said Peri, trying to make sense of it all “Is it going to go off?”
“If it could, Peri, we wouldn’t even exist. If this train were to move faster than light via conventional propulsion it would start operating in a plane of inverse physics – perpetual motion and infinitely exponential mass. With those sort of forces operating around the Earth’s entire surface… the planet would be crushed in seconds.”
“No,” said the Doctor, still fixated on the monstrous controls “Well, yes, but mostly no. This bomb operates in eleven dimensions and across several Universes – the Earth would cease to have ever existed. Anywhere. And the chain reaction would destroy the entire Web of Time...”
Peri frowned. “What kind of freak would want to do that?”
“There are more things in Heaven and on Earth, Perpugilliam..” whispered the Doctor with a smile. He stared into the middle distance a moment before turning back to the withered creature at the controls and his face fell.
“Do you think this could be their agent, Peri – somebody who gave his life to destroy a world he despised, or just a train driver who stepped into this nightmare in the same way that we did?”
“Are you asking me just because you can’t ask him?” said Peri with a raised eyebrow.
Tentatively she stretched out her hand and brushed the man’s forehead. She could feel more than she wanted – the crackling, parchment-like skin that was stretched thin over bone that was feeling like crumbling concrete – but the man himself might as well have been a grotesque in Madame Tussaud’s for all the response he showed.
“No matter who he is he couldn’t have deserved this,” Peri said to herself sadly.
The Doctor had nodded and had pried open the wasp nest-like hub of the control panel, that was hooked into the driver’s gut. “Clearly all the train’s energy is coming from this poor soul, so…”
Peri grabbed the Doctor’s wrist fiercely “Wait a minute – have you thought about what’s going to happen once you cut that line?”
The cherubic face looked genuinely aggrieved “Oh, Peri, OF COURSE I’ve thought about it! Quite a bit, in fact!”
Peri released her grip “Well… if you’re sure then..”
“And I’ve come to the conclusion there’s only one way to know for certain!”
The world turned into a searing, blinding white light for a moment, before all falling away, and soon there was blackness. Peri triple checked that her eyes were not somehow screwed shut without her say so, but they definitely were not – and what she heard was bewildering. 50 tons of steel flying away into the ether, a control panel exploding, a primal roar that turned into the feeble gurgling of a toddler and in the midst of it the Doctor admitting a little too calmly that this wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
Peri got concerned when she realised that she couldn’t feel her feet. She then got even more concerned when she realised she couldn’t feel anything else at all. When she concentrated on this, she found suddenly the world was not black emptiness, but a grungy section of 25th century railway where an inappropriately grinning Doctor was waiting for her.
“Ah, Peri, I knew I could count on you!” he lied merrily through his teeth “You popped out of reality for a moment there, had me a bit worried.”
“The train’s gone,” Peri commented. In moments like this she liked to look at the big picture first, before coming down to personal details like nearly having fallen into a parallel Universe, or the awkward realization that an explosive shower of chronons had turned the emaciated corpse of a driver into an baby which she was know holding and politely trying to deny access to her blouse.
“Yes…” agreed the Doctor on the immutable point that had been tabled, nearly speechless for a rarefied moment. “But in a way it never really existed.”
“Really?” Peri held up the babe gently “Then where did this little guy come from? Pixie dust?”
The Time Lord kicked a rock and blew his cheeks out. “I said ‘IN A WAY’, Peri! Try to be a bit open minded! If I’ve tried to teach you anything-”
“-it’s that you need to, okay, why are you running?”
This time he heard the train whistle and saw the light.
As Peri ran for her life, desperately looking for any side access tunnels in the towering concrete walls to duck into she was overtaken by the Doctor. He was not only moving faster than she had ever seen, but grinning wider as well.
“Terribly exciting, isn’t it?” he said exactly as he would have in a cinema.
Peri had to laugh. It was just another one of those days…