FREE STORY: Pyramid of the Cybermen

Posted: September 8, 2011 in Stories

Ancient Egypt, 1500BC

The night sky hangs like a velvet cloak over the darkened Nile valley.  All is silent, in the bazaars, in the temple and in the palace of the Pharaoh.  But, with a sudden flash, the inky blackness is rent asunder by bright light.  The star falls Earthwards in silence, casting long shadows as it descends.  The High Priest is wrenched from sleep by the ground-shattering impact and stands at the temple window as he watches the afterglow fade from the sky.  He closes his eyes in sorrow at the event, before turning to the hieroglyphs on the chamber wall.  For this was foretold by the ancients, the falling of a star in the Valley of the Kings.

Egypt, 1921

The ancient brickwork collapses as the men force their way through into the chamber, their lanterns and torches fluttering in the fetid darkness.  The small vault is lined with hieroglyphs and scattered with the relics of an ancient civilisation.  But the torchlight flickers on the most dominant objects, three sarcophagi stacked against the far wall.  The left and right coffins are of medium height, golden masked and bejewelled beneath the dust of ages.  Small silver scarab-beetles are strewn across the floor and these glint in the yellow light.

‘Amazing,’ breathes the archaeologist.  ‘Completely undisturbed.  The grave-robbers never penetrated this far.’  He shines the lantern on the centre coffin, which dominates the other two.  It is far larger, and mostly silver rather than gold, except for the mask, which shines untarnished.  The golden mask has only blank ovals for eyes and a slit for a mouth, in contrast to the elaborately carved features of the other two coffins.

One of the labourers hisses in shock and drops his torch casting a shadow over the room.  ‘Effendi,’ he cries, ‘it is cursed!’  The two labourers throw down their torches and flee in terror, leaving only the wan lamplight of the archaeologist’s lantern, which shines upon the centre coffin.  And, on the stone floor below, the silver scarabs stir as darkness descends upon the room.

London, 1976

‘What do you think?’  The young bearded man in the Deep Purple T-shirt hunched eagerly over the table.

‘I like it,’ said Philip, a relatively young man in his early thirties.  ‘What about you, Robert?’

The older man Robert nodded.  ‘It’s good.  It’s got everything.  Cybermen, ancientEgypt, horror. It’ll certainly get a few letters from the Viewers and Listeners’ Association, all signed by Mrs Whitehouse.’

Derek sat in silent anticipation.  The good news was usually followed by bad news.

Philip scratched his chin.  ‘Only problem is that it might be repetitious.  God knows we get enough stick for that at the moment.  We’ve done Egypt with the Pyramids of Mars last season, and the Cybermen in the first season’.  He turned to the dishevelled figure at the other end of the table.  ‘What do you think, Tom?’

Derek cringed inwardly as the Doctor leaned on the table, head in his hands.

‘I like it, in fact I like it a lot.’  The Doctor was bored of the stuffy room and the pubs would soon be open.  ‘It reminds me of Tomb of the Cybermen, and maybe we could pay tribute to that.  Would Pat Troughton be interested in a cameo?’

Derek sighed in relief and tried to focus on the ping-pong of the three way debate between the script editor, producer and the Doctor.

‘Probably not unless it was a Three Doctors type thing again,’ said Robert.  ‘But I like the idea of an ambitious Cyberman adventure, and to be honest we’ve done nothing really good with them since Invasion.’

‘Revenge of the Cybermen was a bit crap, to be honest,’ said the Doctor. ‘Running around those caves. We could definitely do better.  Maybe we could use some stuff from the British Museum?  Mummy cases, you know, that sort of thing?’  He lit up a cigarette.

‘Good idea,’ said Robert.  ‘It’ll save on production costs.  I know some people over there, from documentary work.  They’ll be happy with the publicity, particularly with all the cuts hanging over us all.  In fact we could even film some of it on location, in the storage vaults.  That would save on studio time, and I doubt they’d let us take anything offsite anyway.’

The Doctor slapped the table. ‘Wonderful,’ he boomed.  ‘Well done, young Derek.  Now who fancies a pint?’

Derek nearly slipped on the twisting stairway down into the basement of the British Museum.  He couldn’t understand how the crew had got the equipment down there, let alone the sarcophagi.  When he reached the whitewashed corridor at the bottom, he understood.  There was a service lift just opposite.  Doorways opened up into a number of vaulted chambers, and he followed the power cables to the third entrance on the left.  He nearly gasped as he looked inside.

The scenery people had worked wonders with his idea.  Sheets hung from the vaulted ceiling, painted to resemble stone blocks carved with hieroglyphs.  The centrepiece was a deathly triptych of three coffins, the middle one upright against the wall.  This was the largest, and clearly constructed of plywood, unlike the other two artefacts.  The blank cyber-face was styled in gold, cybernetic cables and piping outlined in silver and paste-stone gems.

‘Good, isn’t it.’  The man held a clipboard with storyboard sketches.  ‘I’m Justin, assistant director.’

Derek shook his hand and glanced around at the wider activity in the vaulted room.  Two cameras had been erected, and a boom mike hung over the set.  Arc-lights cast a hot glow on the set and some polystyrene blocks were stacked to one side, to be knocked out later by the archaeologists.  Painted plywood plinths held genuine Egyptian artefacts, canopic jars and busts of the jackal-god Anubis, Lord of the Dead.

‘Those two are Unknown Mummy from the 5th Century and the Priestess of Amon-Ra, 6th Century.  They’re not getting paid for this, or even credited.  So the production manager loves this.  We’ve reused some of the stuff from Pyramids of Mars and some art students painted the tarpaulins, just to get on the credits.  The union won’t like it, but we’re on location so they probably won’t know.  And these relics set the whole thing off wonderfully.’

What about the crew and cast?  What do they think?’

‘Bit of grumbling, as it’s too far from the canteen.  But the Doctor loves it.’  Justin smiled.  ‘He’s found a wine bar in Bloomsbury where he lunches with his cronies. He pops in now and again, usually pissed as a fart.’  The assistant producer laughed.  ‘In fact, he was in here yesterday, as we were setting up.  He was mobbed by children and must have signed a hundred autographs.  Then he threw up in the toilet.’

Derek realised something was missing.  ‘What about the Tardis?’

‘It really is smaller than it looks from the outside.  It’s assembled on location.’

A man rushed over, carrying a headset.  ‘Justin, we have a problem.’

‘What is it, Dave?’

‘No sound tapes.  They haven’t been delivered. I phoned the workshop from upstairs, and they don’t have a record of our order.  They’re all in use.’

‘What?  That’s just fucking ridiculous.’

‘They lost a batch on Jim’ll Fix It.’

‘Maybe they should write in and ask Jim to fix them some new fucking tapes!’  Justin threw the clipboard on the ground in frustration.

‘If you go across, you might be able to throw some weight around, or get Philip onto it.’  Dave shrugged.  ‘I’ve done all I can, and the guys are just sitting around upstairs.’

‘Okay.’  Justin sighed.  ‘Tell the guys to knock off for the day.  They won’t be paid, but get them a round in, when the pubs open.’  He handed over a crumpled note. ‘I’ll see if I can sort this shit out for tomorrow.’  He turned to Derek.  ‘Could you do me a favour, mate?’

‘What’s that?’

‘Hang around here for a bit.  Tell the rest of the crew and cast to pack it in for the day, when they show up.  We’ve got two Egyptians, an archaeologist, a Pharaoh and a High Priest.  That’s three actors plus the make-up girls.  Then ask the porter to lock up for the night.’

‘Okay.’

‘Cheers, I owe you one. You’re working for free, you see.’

Derek was left alone in the vaulted room, dimly lit from the light bulb dangling above.  The crew had switched off the arc-lights before leaving.  He picked up the storyboard, flicking through the sketched images and scenes.  Shortly afterwards, the make-up girls appeared, and he sent them homewards, unhappy and unpaid.  Then, the actors came and went, more sanguine as they were used to this sort of thing and were slightly tipsy anyway.  And, once again, Derek was left alone.

He walked around the vault, running his hands over the mummy-cases.  Their painted faces looked up at his own, dark eyes of the priestess still lustrous even after centuries and millennia, the unknown mummy’s features harder to discern.  The musk of mummification seeped through the coffins, an odour of mildewed linen, dust and spices.  And, in the centre, was the imposing sarcophagus of the Cyberman, gold mask over the plasterboard lid.  He pulled it ajar.  Inside, the silvery carapace gleamed in the dim light, as did the golden mask over the familiar head.

Derek froze as the light overhead flickered.  Something was coming down the stairs, thump after thump.  Then a shadow loomed in the doorway.

‘Good afternoon,’ boomed the Doctor.  He held up a bottle of wine, half-empty. ‘Or maybe it’s half-full,’ he roared.   ‘You’ve been examining my arch-enemy, I see?’

‘Just having a look,’ mumbled Derek.  ‘It’s quite a display.  That’s not actually a person in there, is it?’  He felt stupid asking the question, even as it had formed on his lips.

 ‘No,’ said the Doctor, in a serious tone.  ‘That’s a pain in the arse job, being a Cyberman.  The head is screwed on, and you can hardly see out of it, and you sweat like a pig.  They’ll have put a dummy in there, for the time being.’  He walked around the deserted equipment, fiddling with the cameras.  ‘Wonder how these work?’  After tweaking a few knobs, he gave up.

‘What do you think?’  The Doctor gestured with a sweeping arm.  ‘Wonderful, isn’t it?’

‘It’s great, they’ve really captured what I was thinking about,’ said Derek.  ‘I’m really pleased you like the script.’

‘I loved it!’ boomed the Doctor, as he plonked himself down on a faux-stone block.  ‘It’s what the children want, to be thrilled and scared.  They love a bit of horror, or at least I did when I was a lad.’  He swigged from the wine bottle.  ‘But some people are on their high horse.  Mary bloody Whitehouse, for a start.  Even Robert Holmes reckons that young ones shouldn’t watch it.  But he’s wrong, because I speak to kids all the bloody time!’

‘What – ‘  Derek couldn’t get a word in edgeways.

‘It won’t last forever.’  The Doctor sighed.  ‘I tell myself I might as well make the most of it.  Most of the time I think I am the fucking Doctor.’  He laughed.  ‘Except bloody jelly babies.  I can’t stand them.  I carry this scarf around all the time, just in case there are kids around.’

He flicked the end of the scarf at Derek.  The clothes weren’t too dissimilar from his on-screen wardrobe, shabby and subdued browns.  All he needed was the hat.

The Doctor took a swig of wine.  ‘They’re always trying to change the show, but they don’t understand the Doctor the way the kids do.  The number of times I’ve had to put my foot down, it’s unreal.’  He looked Derek straight in the eye with a piercing glare.  ‘I wrote Liz Sladen’s departure, do you know that?’  He shrugged.  ‘I suppose not, it hasn’t been aired yet, but that’s why Sarah Jane was written out of your script.’  After another mouthful of wine, he sighed.  ‘They’ll write me out as well, eventually, and it’ll be younger, fresher, hipper, more appealing.  Or so they’ll tell themselves.’

Derek looked at his watch.  ‘Err….I think they might be locking up soon.’  He grinned.  ‘Fancy a pint, though?  It’s great talking to you.’

‘Okay!’  The Doctor staggered up from his seat.  ‘Lead on, my faithful assistant.’  He lingered by the camera.  ‘In fact, let’s get a shot of you beside the Cyberman, just for posterity.  Now where can I put this?’  He waggled the half-empty wine bottle.  ‘Aha!’

The Doctor placed it on the mummy case, none too gently.

‘Should you be doing that?’  Derek was nervous.  ‘That’s an ancient artefact.’

‘As long as it isn’t cursed!’  The Doctor laughed, echoing throughout the chamber.  ‘The Grand Illustrious High Priestess of the Khazi! How about that for a fart-efact?’  He thumped the bottle down again, spilling a little wine.  It looked like blood in the dim light.

He shambled over to the camera.  ‘Lights….camera…’  After some fumbling and fiddling, it whirred into life.  ‘Come on, let’s get a shot of you beside the Cyberman.’  Something crunched under his foot.  ‘Oh fuck, I think I’ve killed a Cybermat scarab thing.  I wish it was that easy on the show.’

Derek posed uneasily beside the centre sarcophagus.  ‘Are you sure you should be doing that, with the camera?’

‘Shut up, I’m the fucking Doctor.’  He aimed the camera at Derek. ‘They can wipe the tape anyway and reuse it.  The bastards have  done that to most of Pat Troughton’s episodes.  Just open the mummy case, and put your arm around it.  For posterity.’

Derek opened the flimsy lid of the fake sarcophagus.  Cyber skin glinted from the gloom, and the overhead light made skull-like hollows of the blank eyes, above the expressionless slit-mouth.

‘Take that gold mask thing off the Cyberman.  Put it beside that other gold thing.’  The Doctor waved towards a plinth with a bust of a large-chinned face.  ‘That’s Osiris.  I remember him from the Pyramids of Mars, a very nice chap indeed.’

Derek did as he was told.

Then, the light bulb flickered and dimmed, and the Cyberman lurched into life.

‘What the fuck!’  Derek screamed as the Cyberman lurched towards him, gloved hands outstretched to seize his throat.  ‘This is a joke, isn’t it?’

For once, the Doctor was silent.

Derek jerked backwards and the silver glove closed on his arm with a vicelike grip.  It wasn’t a joke.  Only the sweat on his forearm allowed him to wriggle greasily free.

Something  scuttled over his foot.  A Cyber Scarab.  Searing needles bit into his ankle, and he screamed.

That brought the Doctor to his senses.

‘A Cyberman,’ he boomed.  ‘Quick, catch this!’  He tossed  one end of the scarf towards Derek, who grabbed it.

Light shimmered on the Cyberman’s bulky form as it loomed towards the two men, hands poised to grasp and rend bone and flesh.   It stumbled forward as if uncertain of it’s new mobility, blank circular eyes and slit mouth emotionless in its sheet-metal faceplate.

‘Pull!’  The Doctor and Derek pulled the scarf tight, both men crouching on the ground .

‘Tally ho!’  The Doctor leapt towards the Cyberman, dodging a swinging fist, and Derek followed him.  Together, they wrapped the scarf around the silvery legs, three times in total.  It was too slow to catch them with its clumsy blows and collapsed forwards.  But the scarf was just wool, and would not last for long.

‘What do we do now?’  Derek was shaking in terror, as they retreated towards the doorway.

‘Get out of here!’  The Doctor darted out into the corridor and ran for the stairs.  He grasped the door handle and twisted it in vain.  ‘The bastards have locked up for the night!’

Derek wrenched the handle downwards as well, but the door was solidly locked.

‘Are there any other doors?’  Derek glanced nervously down the stairs.  ‘It’ll be free soon!’

‘They’ll all be locked, the lift as well.’  The Doctor rummaged in his coat pocket.  ‘But I’ve got an idea!’

‘What is it?’  Derek laughed shrilly.  ‘A sonic screwdriver?’

‘You need to get back in that room.  I’ll lure it along the corridor.  But be quick, or I’ll be dead.’

‘Why?’

‘Get that statue of Osiris.  Gold will kill it.’

‘But that’s just made up, for fuck’s sake!’

‘And so is that metal bastard downstairs!’  The Doctor’s staring eyes locked with Derek’s own eyes.  ‘Just fucking do it!’

At the bottom of the stairs, a shadow fell across the corridor floor.  It was coming.

‘By the moons of Gallifrey, I wish I wasn’t so pissed,’ mumbled the Doctor as they crept down the stairs.  ‘You hide here, and I’ll distract it.’

Derek hid on the shadowed stairs, as the Doctor jumped out into the corridor.

‘Fancy a jelly baby, you bastard!’ he yelled, as he threw a handful of sweets at the Cyberman.  Then, he ran away down the corridor, pursued by the Cyberman.

Derek cowered against the whitewashed brickwork as the Cyberman lumbered past.  He dashed out just behind it, and sprinted for the chamber.  Dodging the scurrying Cyber Scarabs, he grabbed the bust of Osiris.  It was heavy, and the gold warmed quickly in his hand.  He rushed back into the corridor, nearly too late.

The Cyberman bore down upon the Doctor, at the other end of the corridor.  It grabbed his shoulders and squeezed.

‘I think I’m going to puke,’ gasped the Doctor.’  And he did, wine-tinged vomit spraying over the metallic faceplate.

The Cyberman released him, wiping the vomit from its face, and the Doctor scuttled between its legs.    ‘Quick,’ he yelled, ‘ram that statue into its chestplate!’

The blank metal face turned towards Derek as the Doctor ran past him.  Derek thrust the bust of Osiris forward, against the grille on the Cyberman’s chestplate, grimacing at the stench of vomit clinging to the metal faceplate. The hard metal tore into the soft gold, fragments falling into the holes of the grille.

The Cyberman grabbed Derek and threw him along the corridor.  He landed painfully beside the Doctor.

‘Quick,’ muttered the Doctor, ‘in here!’  He grabbed Derek and dragged him into the chamber where it had all began.  ‘Something’s wrong here,’ he murmured, ‘and I don’t know what it is.’

Outside, the Cyberman lumbered along the corridor, getting closer.

Derek whimpered in terror.  ‘What are we going to do?’

‘The mummy!  It’s the mummy!’ cried the Doctor.  ‘Its’ meant to be cursed, sank the fucking Titanic or something.  I remember now.  Right, give me a hand.’  He darted across to the mummy case and grabbed one end.  ‘Let’s get this onto the ground.’  Derek seized the other end, and they lifted it roughly from its plinth onto the ground.

The Doctor placed the heel of one boot onto the cracked face of the mummy-board. ‘Right, you desiccated fucker,’ he growled, ‘I don’t know what we’ve done, but we’re sorry.’  He raised his foot.  ‘But if you don’t call off that Cyber bastard, then I’m going to grind your bandaged bones into dust!  Starting with your skull.’

Above them, the light flickered.

Outside, the shadow loomed along the corridor.  Then, with a wheeze and a crash, the Cyberman collapsed to the ground.

‘Come on!’ yelled the Doctor.  ‘Let’s try the door again.’  As they ran out the chamber, the Doctor grabbed his scarf.  ‘Miracle of miracles, it’s in one piece!’

They climbed over the Cyberman and ran up the stairs.  Derek got to the handle first, jerking it downwards.  This time, the door opened, at the bottom of the South Stairs.  He crept up the stairs and looked round the corner

‘They haven’t locked up yet,’ whispered Derek.  ‘But it must be close to closing time, because there’s no-one around and it’s dark outside.’

‘Let’s get out of here!’  The Doctor pushed Derek forward.  Heads down, they walked briskly towards the front door, grateful that no one was around to observe them.

Once outside, they breathed in the cool night air, walking leisurely towardsGreat Russell Street, leaving the pillared plaza behind them.

‘I need a drink,’ muttered the Doctor.

They found a pub and the barman handed over two double Scotches.  Derek reached for one, and the Doctor grabbed it.  ‘They’re both for me.  You’ve got a pint coming.’  He emptied the first glass in one swallow, grimacing at the bite of the alcohol.

The barman handed a pint to Derek.

‘What do we do now?’

The Doctor bowed his head in thought.  ‘Nothing,’ he said.  ‘We saw nothing, you left early, and I was never there.  They’ll think some pissed-up students broke in and did it.  And they won’t be happy, with at least one damaged exhibit, so they’ll probably call the police.’

‘Shouldn’t we tell someone?’

‘Not on your flaming life!’ hissed the Doctor.  ‘They’d probably shut down the show!  Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone. Ever!’  He downed the second Scotch and stood up, leaving Derek sitting at the bar alone with his pint.

And so the show went on.  But not for Derek.  He was given his marching orders the next day, the scapegoat for leaving the door open.  The Museum staff decided not to call in the police, much to the relief of the BBC, mainly because they assessed the damage to artefacts as thankfully minor.  As for the Doctor, he finally fell from a radio telescope tower on 21 March 1981, his downfall witnessed by some six million viewers who declined in numbers with his each successors, until the series was suspended in 1989.  The Doctor’s decline was mirrored by Derek’s ascent.  Minor scripting credits led to larger commissions, until he landed the job of his dreams:  script editor of the new Doctor Who series, which aired twenty-four years after the Doctors’ fall, after an interval of sixteen years.

And, during these years, the tapes from the infamous ‘cancelled Cybermen episode’ lay gathering dust in an archive, until someone found them.

East Sussex, 2011

 Tom was greatly amused by page five in the Evening Standard.  Some footage had been released on the internet, showing the apocryphal ‘cancelled Cybermen episode’, or at least something purporting to be that.  So that night he sat in his study, staring at the computer screen as the video played.

There was no sound.  Just grainy half-light footage of someone opening what appeared to be a mummy-case, and what definitely looked like a 1970s Cyberman stumbling out.  For much of the video, there was little action, from the point where the Cyberman fell to the floor and staggered upright, to the moment when a shadowy figure grabbed something and fled from the room.  Later on, it looked as if a mummy case was shifted to the ground by two people, with someone standing on it, until the people finally left.  One of them looked a bit like the Doctor but, unlike the distinctive Cyberman, only the shadow of his curly hair laying claim to this possible identity.

Opinion was divided.  Some reckoned it was genuine, some shouted ‘fake’.  A few people recalled some forgotten scandal at theBritishMuseum.

Tom laughed as he remembered the incident, all those years ago.  Then he flicked across to the BBC website.

‘DOCTOR WHO SCRIPT EDITOR BATTERED TO DEATH’ screamed the headline.

The article had little detail beyond the name – Derek Adams – and the fact he had been ‘beaten to death’ by one or more assailants in hisLondon flat.  There was the inevitable police appealed for witnesses or information.

Downstairs, something rattled.

‘Is that you?’

There was no answer.  Maybe it was the wind.

Then the lights flickered.

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Comments
  1. Huey Isaack says:

    Nice review! This is exactly the type of blog post that should be shared around the internet. Shame on the Yahoo for not ranking this blog post higher!

  2. Great Bowden says:

    Arthingworth…

    […]FREE STORY: Pyramid of the Cybermen « blackdogtales[…]…

  3. Goblin says:

    Iain, just read your Cyberman story…genius and fucking hillarious! G

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