CHAPTER BIGHT. THE NEW DAY DAWNS

When Ace awoke,. without the aid of a clock, or any kind of signal coming from Ichabod, the teddy bear was again tucked into the bed beside her. Ace felt a little bit creepy about that. She picked up the bear and threw it into a corner. It cried, and scampered away, refusing to be her friend any more.

"You lied, Ichabod. You're watching me. Stop playing games."

"It's no game, Ace. Everything that you have seen and heard is quite real."

"Teddies don't cone to life, Ichabod.... Scarecrows are only alive in children's stories.... like Worzel Gummidge...."

A blur began to become a straw figure in front of Ace; it mumbled with bare coherence about ‘cups of tea and slices of cake’.

"Put that away," Ace growled. "Stop patronising me Besides... you'll probably get sued for copyright for making that...."

The new scarecrow vanished. "I'm just trying to help you understand me."

"Well, can't you do it without making silly things come to life? I'm a big girl now. As much as I like your virtual reality set.. I can understand things if you just tell se about them. "

"This is much more than virtual reality Ace. My Matrix Banks allow me to create things with far greater semblance to reality than a few computer enhanced graphic images could ever hope to achieve."

"It's still just a mirage though..."

A clown suddenly stood before Ace. She recognised him from the Psychic Circus. Ace barely had time to remember how much clowns had frightened her as a child, as he hit her full in the face with a custard pie, and vanished, laughing. The custard felt real. It was cold and sticky. Ace started to peel it from her eyes and her hair, but found it had already gone.

"Watch this." Ichabod said. A giant Octopus tentacle rose out of the floor. It moved and swayed about in front of Ace. It was about twenty foot long. After a moment, s second one appeared. It looked identical to the first. Ichabod asked his hostage to spot the difference between then. She couldn't.

"They're both the same." she said. Ichabod asked her to touch the tentacle to her left. reluctantly, Ace tried, Her hand vanished through the creature as though it was a ghost. "So what", Ace said, imitating a yawning sound.

"That was an illusion, a product of your so called virtual reality. Haw touch the tentacle to your right."

Ace moved towards it, but the tentacle swept with out warning right around her, and started to pull her down into a deep murky pool of freezing cold water. Her lungs felt as though they were going to explode. The tentacle started to constrict in on her, and then it let her go. She lay back on Ichabod's main control room floor. She was quite dry, and swearing away at her captor, who simply chuckled,

"That is the Matrix field. A little better than virtual reality, I think you'll agree. Now, a third Tentacle for you to touch, No, don't back away... I won't let it hurt you...."

Ace touched the arm, which looked and felt like elephant skin with suckers, and lip like cups on it. The tentacle flinched as though it was being tickled, but didn't attack Ace. "The Matrix again?" she asked.

'No," . said Ichabod, as his face appeared not only in the roundels, but in the flesh of the tentacle itself. "This is actually me."

Ace stepped away from the creature. in disgust, but as its purpose was now served, it sank away, back into the floor

'It's me Ace, really. 'I can alter my entire external shape, or I can change my inner composition to create anything I like. You slept on and in me last night. I hope I was comfortable".

"I feel ill, actually." She meant to sound flippant, but her churning stomach made her realise it was true.

The door to her room moved towards her. Ichabod advised her to get some breakfast. "You will feel such better with some food inside you."

Ace stepped out through the door to find a table in the control room, with a full English breakfast prepared there for her. 'Good morning, child. I trust you slept well," said the voice of the old man in the roundels.

'Is this an illusion too?' asked Ace.

"No, it is real food, fresh from the food replicators. Eat up. you have a very busy day in front of you.'

The food tasted good, and Ace was ready for it. "What are we doing today?" she asked finishing off the last rasher of bacon.

'See for yourself, Dorothy. It's all there, in the morning Paper ."

Ace picked up what could only be described as a comic, which had Today's Hews written on it, in felt tip, and a series of linked cartoons and drawings, depicting the fight on Earth in which Ichabod had captured Ace, and the Doctor's TARDIS. The next page showed scenes of Ace as Dorothy watching the play enacted by the lionised robot-scnrecrow, and her departure for bed. The third page showed Ace reading the paper over breakfast, and her shock at seeing a report there of what Ichabod had become. The fourth page showed Ichabod turning from a giant Rolls-Royce, into, first a copy of the Doctor s TARDIS and then into n Giant Planet. Around the planet, other worlds were exploding, and plummeting out of their orbits. It looked like n gratuitous scene from a dull super-hero graphic novel. Ace knew that it wasn't.

"You're actually going to do this, aren't you?"

"I've already started doing it, my child," the man in the roundels said. "I am now the biggest planet in the Doradi system. Would you like some more fried bread?" Ace pushed her plate away, up the table. "No thanks. I think I've just lost my appetite.'

The planet's shape reminded Ace of a world she had seen, at least on film, and in photographs. "That's Mars, isn't it?"

"Similar," said the face in the roundels. "But about forty tines bigger."

"I'm inside that?" Ace exclaimed, as the full horror of her situation dawned on her.

"Yes, you're right in the middle of me. Do you still think you can escape, my child?"

She stood up, excused herself, ran quickly to the little bathroom, and threw up violently. When she case out through the doorway again, the control room, the hearts, the breakfast table, the roundels and the very walls had vanished. She was in a completely white environment. The brilliance of the whiteness caused her eyes to smart. She looked around to the bathroom door as it too dematerialised. Ace shouted to Ichabod, but her words came out slurred, and vacuously unintelligible. She stepped forward and fell slowly, as it became apparent that the floor had also disappeared. She found herself floating in zero gravity. She felt sick again, and grateful that her stomach was now empty.

Ichabod's voice came back to her, as a gentle, near seductive whisper. "What am I playing at now?" That's what your thinking, isn't it? But this isn't n game any more Ace. Where are you? In the Zero Room.... Oh, forgive se.,. your precious Professor's TARDIS hasn't got one any more, has it? He jettisoned that before your time. Relax, enjoy the ride. Feel the total lack of sensation. You've heard of sensory deprivation experiences. This is better.... Much better. Relax. Good, now, you are feeling very sleepy, my child."

Ace realised that he wasn't trying to encourage her to sleep. She committed herself to resisting his hypnotic suggestions. She reminded herself that only those who wanted to be hypnotised could ever be entranced The Master had failed to control her that way. Ichabod would fail too. He'd fail. He'd fail. He'd fa....

An image popped into Ace's head. An image of herself as a little girl. She was sitting n an old man's lap by the fire. Though her Mother was also there, the old man was not her father. It was....

The image pleased her. A mild whispering voice continued to say, "sleep, my child. Sleep."

Ace found her eyelids getting heavier.

Ichabod was pleased. It was all going so easily. The Subliminal message devise used against him, by The Doctor. What a useful idea that was. The anonymous warnings from Thryxx that one was being employed against him was invaluable. It told him that Galifrey was being plunged into a crisis even without his assistance. Someone was trying to control him, or ally themselves with him. He would soon deal with them. Ace would help him in that, The girl was almost ready....

He felt a great deal of regret; she wasn't really his daughter, but he wished she had been. She would soon be sacrificed to a higher need,.... As he'd said to Maxil, "All gods sooner or later devoured their own children."

"I'll miss you, Dorothy,' he whispered. "I love you."

"I love you too." Ace murmured as she spun gently around in the Zero Room "I love you."


© Copyright. Arthur Chappell