The greatest gift I ever had was bestowed on me by a Dalek.
How came that about, you may well ask? Truly it was a great wonder beyond the comprehension of a man of the 18th century such as myself. Yet, the beginnings of this extraordinary tale did not augur well. I have had Daleks under my roof before but they were not then so to the fore but kept themselves private in the cellar. This time they were highly visible and highly opinionated Let it be said at the outset that Daleks are insufferably arrogant, forward creatures with little care for the niceties of social intercourse. I am reliably informed they are extremely intelligent. Indeed their intellects are formidable that it is a rash man who would engage them in debate in matters of science and philosophy. But they should learn to mind their manners and their speech. Barnabas Collins
One evening, Barnabas arose from his daytime sleep to find the house empty, empty that is of human (or humanoid) presence. He frowned and then remembered this was Thursday and on Thursdays during the summer season the sushi shop (Fuma Kotaro) and the library (Kongo of Koga) remained open until 9pm. Travis was working a night shift and Pernadis would be out all night in her taxi. As he advanced into the drawing room. He saw a note on the table. This was from Lasaraleen. He recognised her flowing hand. He picked it up and inhaled the sandalwood perfume she usually wore. Then he read it. ‘Barnabas, I shall be a little late. There is a booksigning at the bookshop this evening and I am to assist – L.’
He glided over to the bookcase and selected a history he had been trying to read. He was attempting to catch up on nearly two hundred years but it was hard work. Sitting in the wing-back chair by the unlit fire, he opened it and began to read the economic causes of the Great War. All was silent save the ticking of the case-clock in the hall. He hoped Lasaraleen would return soon so he could enjoy her delightful company alone before the others arrived.
His reverie was shattered by a harsh, metallic voice. He looked up into the burning blue eye of one of the Daleks. "Must you creep up on a fellow like that?" he snapped peevishly, shutting his book.
"You are familiar with the Collinsport Archive?"
"Why, yes. I believe it is in the old bank building opposite the church. It used to be in the crypt of the Meeting House"
"Correct. You will go there with Menalek to continue research into the Collins estate."
"But it is closed now. It is only open during the day, I believe."
"Then you will go during the day."
Really, Barnabas thought, bridling at being ordered about. No one ever got very far giving Barnabas a direct order as Julia Hoffman had discovered. He had had enough of that from his father and his aunt and had resented every minute of it. "I cannot go during the day," he said airily, waving a hand dismissively. "I am ever away in Bangor or Boston on business."
This was still his usual explanation for his ‘diurnal deadness’ as Travis (the only one other than the Count who knew of his condition) called it. His current official cover story was that he was a highly placed British civil servant who had to go to Washington on undisclosable matters but he fell back out of habit on Boston or Bangor.
"That is incorrect," the Dalek stated flatly. "You never leave the house during the day and only seldom at night."
How dare the wretched creature spy on him! Barnabas struggled to keep his temper in check. He assumed that this must be Arralek, the one Lasaraleen was bonded to. That didn’t help as it just ignited his jealousy. This horrible machine was closer to her than he could ever be. His fine white hands clenched around his book. He rose to his feet, eyes glittering balefully, and reached for his cane with one hand. He always felt the cane lent him authority.
"Therefore, you will accompany Menalek to the Archives tomorrow morning," the Dalek continued. "You may disguise Menalek in any way you wish."
"I will not be available tomorrow morning. Or any morning. Good evening to you!"
"You will obey! Obey!"
Barnabas’s eyes flashed and he rapped his cane on the floor. "Damn your impudence, Sir! I will not have you adopt that hectoring tone with me in my own house!" He paused then added, relishing what he would say next as variants of it had been said to him often enough as a child, "Now get you hence back to your room and think on how to address a gentleman."
"You will obey!"
Barnabas exploded in rage and struck the Dalek with the back of his hand across the eyestalk. There was a blinding flash and a sound like thunder as the Dalek fired its weapon point blank into Barnabas’s body. Barnabas was bathed in cold blue fire, his skeleton momentarily visible but when the effect died down, he was still standing and now really annoyed. He raised his cane and brought it down across the Dalek’s dome. The vibration of the impact ran up his arm and nearly broke the ferrule.
He and the Dalek backed away from each other, equally dismayed., each glaring poisonously, knowing neither could harm the other. The standoff was broken by another Dalek voice, deeper than Arralek’s, and speaking their own language. The other accursed machine was blocking the doorway. It would be no problem to transform into a bat and fly over its head but Barnabas had no intention of ceding ground. The second Dalek glided towards him and said, in a softer, insinuating voice, "What is it that you do during the day, Barnabas Collins? You do not leave the house yet we can detect no human life signs within this structure."
Hell and damnation, was there no end to these pestilences? Soon they would have his secret. "What I do is my own concern," he replied, lifting his chin and looking down his aristocratic nose at them, taking advantage of the 5 or 6 inches he topped them.
"The only life signs detected in this structure during daylight hours are those of sixty specimens of Cavia aparea porcellus," the Dalek continued. Barnabas was reminded of an uncle on his mother’s side who would never let go a topic once he’d seized on it. At least the Dalek wasn’t talking about the King Over the Water and the glories of the Cameron Clan.
"Oh, very well. You have smok’d me. I spend the day abed," Barnabas said in mock exasperation.
"There are no human life signs. If you slept there would be life signs…"
Why do Daleks not have a neck so that I might wring it? Barnabas wondered. Aloud, he snapped, "Devil take your ‘life signs’ and you into the bargain! Be damned to you! I will speak no further!"
He set his mouth into a thin line and folded his hands over the wolf’s-head on his cane. The two Daleks looked at each other and then away. There was a short silence.
"By the Goddess, why are you bailing up poor Barnabas?" came Lasaraleen’s musical voice from behind Menalek. The two Daleks turn toward her and moved to one side. Barnabas was very much reminded of the guilty look of a pair of cats surprised at stealing a slice of bread from the kitchen despite his aunt’s express forbidding of them in the house. Cats are not the only ‘Devil’s playthings’, Aunt Abigail, he thought. He hoped Lasaraleen had not heard too much, particularly the Daleks’ persistent question.
"I have had a tiring day and return to find you most disharmonious," she complained, coming into the room and sitting on the sofa. "Have you not some research to attend to?"
"We obey," they said in unison, then Arralek added as it left, "Ask Barnabas Collins what he does during the day."
Barnabas wanted to scream or seize the spiteful black machine and dash it from Widow’s Hill. And they call me catty, he thought.
"What in the Seven Gates was that all about?" Lasaraleen wondered when they had gone.
"Oh, some fancy they have got into their – er, heads," Barnabas said dismissively.
"I heard something about a lack of life signs when the house is empty…"
"Simply their senses are so faulty they cannot distinguish between me and the cavies."
Lasaraleen stared at him and pushed her thick black hair off her neck. "Do talk sense, Barnabas. A Dalek can detect an insect on a blade of grass a kilometre away."
Barnabas swallowed, realising he was ‘well in it’ as Travis might have said. He could try and lie his way out, try and change the subject or tell the truth. The first option had become increasingly difficult and telling the truth was not in the least appealing. "Have you eaten?" he asked brightly.
Lasaraleen glared at him. "Barnabas," she said warningly.
"I will fetch you a cold drink. You are hot…" He was all concern.
A finally shaped ivory toned hand seized his arm in a grip of steel as he turned to go. "Barnabas. Daleks can be as children and play mind games if not checked. I expect more from you. They do not lie to me. Will you?"
Barnabas squirmed. To be thought less than one of those infernal machines by the woman he loved was mortifying. Trapped, he gazed around the room, fixing on the carved cornices on the ceiling as if they would provide inspiration. They didn’t. He took a deep breath. "The reason they cannot discern my – ‘life signs’ during the day is that I have none when the sun is up. I am effectively dead or rather I am undead." He stole a sideways glance to see her reaction, prepared for either disgust or disbelief. Instead, she looked rather bemused. "Is that all it was about," she remarked.
"I will tell you plainly before one of those venomous creatures whispers it to you. I am a vampire."
"Of course you are, sweetheart!" At Barnabas’s look of astonishment, she added, "That was obvious the night we destroyed the gateway to the Demons of the Outer Darkness when you transformed into a bat with the Prince in order to drop the dalekenium bombs on the reef off the point."
"Oh." Barnabas felt a little deflated. All this time, he had been at pains to conceal his true nature and she had known all along , and yet had said nothing.
"Daleks do not understand these things. There is no such tradition on Skaro, neither among the Kaleds nor the Thals," she explained. "Consequently, they cannot resolve the anomaly and so they make you pay for it."
Barnabas sat, or rather his legs gave way beneath him so he folded on to the sofa next to her. He pulled himself together and smiled at her, taking her hand, "Am I forgiven?" he purred.
A little later, the others returned except Marcus who was in Boston again. Then there was the usual round of dinner preparation and consumption, gossip and banter. Given the lateness of the hour, this didn’t last long and soon Barnabas found himself alone again in the drawing room with a book. This one was something less of a cure for insomnia than the economic history of World War 1. It was a study of the reign of Akhnaten. A knock came to the door. He glanced up, "Enter."
The door opened causing a draught which made the candles flicker and shadows to dance under his gaunt cheekbones and under his deep set eyes. A darker shadow glided into the room which resolved itself into a Dalek as the candlelight picked out the lights on the silver hemispheres and the black casing. Barnabas sighed in irritation and put his book down. "What do you want, Sir?! I have nothing to say to you or your kind."
"I have a request." The white lights flashed vividly against the dark as it spoke. The hall clock chimed three.
"It is necessary," the Dalek resumed when the chimes faded away, "to search further in the archives. The data so far obtained are incomplete because the institution closed at sunset."
"Yes, yes, we have been through all that. I cannot appear during the day."
"You cannot but perhaps your body can."
It then proceeded to outline an experiment which Barnabas was sure Travis would have labelled ‘another bonkers Dalek idea’. A colourful turn of phrase had that man. What it proposed was so outrageous and so daring that Barnabas now began to understand why they were so feared. Nothing, not even the laws of physics, let alone a witch’s curse, would be permitted to stand in their way. It would exchange consciousness – or souls – with him so that it would inhabit his body and thus in human form walk into the archive and continue its research while he would be in the Dalek’s body. Barnabas cautioned that the curse was on his body and that even though an alien mind inhabited it, it still might be subject to that curse. He was not sure if the Dalek fully understood what he was saying, not through any want of intellect but because this was so far outside any concept it had. However, the creature was still willing to attempt the transfer.
"How will you do this?" Barnabas wanted to know. The Dalek approached as close as possible and extended its arm to rest the sucker tip on his forehead. Barnabas repressed a shudder. Up that close it looked even more alien and unhuman than ever.
"You must relax and open your mind. Now look into my eye. Concentrate. No harm will come to you. This is done frequently among Ensovaari bonded to Daleks."
Barnabas stared hard into that burning blue light until it filled his whole vision. He started to see spots and wanted to turn his eyes from that brightness but forced himself to keep looking. His eyes watered then something happened, a wave of dizziness and a wrench. He tried to blink and found he could not. The blue light had gone and he saw – himself staring at him.
"Transfer successful," came his familiar well-modulated baritone.
The vampire looked down and saw a black metal casing with silver hemispheres instead of legs encased in white silk stocking and black velvet knee breeches; a rod tipped with a suction cap and a gun instead of arms clad in black velvet with lace ruffles at the wrists. He could not bring himself to speak. He did not want to hear those inhuman tones. The other seem to divine his unspoken question and explained, "This is not permanent. It cannot be maintained for more than 24 hours at a time."
He remained frozen while the Dalek in his body walked out of the room. It being summer, dawn would soon be upon him. He wondered what would happen then. He put himself into a sort of trance as he tried to adjust. The light turned grey, then brightened. He retreated from the sun’s rays now coming through the window. Oddly he did not feel the lethargy which normally came over him. Curious, he extended the Dalek arm into the sunlight, expecting it to catch fire. Nothing happened. He looked at the thin shadow it cast. He then inched forward, the prow of the casing now bathed in sunlight. Still no pain, only the sensors registering the warmth. On an impulse, he moved fully into the light and into the hall, then continued into the ballroom which was ablaze with sunlight. Without pause he glided out of the French windows fully into the daylight. And stopped, totally overwhelmed.
For the first time in over 200 years, he could see the sun, stand in the sunlight unharmed. That was astonishing enough. Even more so was the sudden realisation of what it was to be a Dalek as sounds and images washed over him from all directions. Every movement, even the least blade of grass, the whisper of the breeze, the buzzing of flies near Widow’s Hill, the scuttling of some creature in the underbrush in the forest, the colours in the tiny flowers or on the wings of a butterfly – everything so intense, so immediate, so vivid. Data were constantly streaming in through the sensors in the hemispheres as well as through the audio and visual inputs in the dome. It would take a Dalek to process it all as well as carrying out routine tasks and conversation. The human mind was not meant for this, Barnabas thought.
Slowly, he concentrated on only a few things at a time and ignored those he didn’t need. After a while, he had enough of the raw data under control or filtered that he could think about moving and enjoy this wonderful gift. To move merely required he think about where he wanted to go – forward, left, right, back. He had done it instinctively in the house. Now he glided across the lawn, marvelling at the smoothness of the movement. He wondered if he would go to Widow’s Hill. Almost as soon as the thought was formed, the ‘eye’ tracked towards the cliff, bringing the area into sharp focus. As it did so, he was vaguely aware of a strange, alien script running down the side at the edge of his vision, doubtless telling him the distance – or range. He set off in that direction and reached it in less time than even a vampire would take. He forced himself to slow down, to savour every precious moment in the sun. Simply because the Dalek could move at inhuman speeds if necessary, there was no reason for him to do so.
He stood on the cliff and watched the water sparkling in the sun. It was a calm sea with only small waves washing over the rocks below. Out towards the horizon he could see a sail – no, a small sailboat with people in it. One was preparing to dive overboard while the other was making coffee. He could even hear their conversation if he concentrated. They were on holiday from New York City and would be here for a fortnight. He turned his attention away as he followed the path along the cliffs. A speedboat went by, sounding very loud until he dampened the audio.
As he rounded a bend, he was brought up short as he saw in full daylight the ruin that was Collinwood. The infernal Dalek vision showed him in unsparing detail every crack, every weed, every tumbled brick, every soot-blackened rafter as the alien script calibrated and catalogued the damage. The tower stood like a finger pointing to the sky while the east wing sagged, roof fallen in and the west wing was a mound of ivy-covered rubble. He slowly approached, now seeing rusty barbed wire around some holes in the ground and half sagging from wooden posts as if someone at sometime had thought the place worth preserving from intruders. There was nothing here now likely to draw a thief or even a trespasser. A sign faded by the elements lay on its side. His Dalek vision was able to make out ‘For Sale’ painted on it and something which may have been a telephone number. Obviously Spofforth had not been successful in acquiring it. Or maybe that had been wiped out by the time fluctuation.
The nearer he drew, the more he found his way impeded by rubble. His impulse was to jump over the debris. The next thing he knew, he was flying – literally flying – over it. He hovered near the infamous tower room, scene of various alleged hauntings, and looked inside. It seemed fairly intact though covered in dust. Seagulls cried and wheeled as he recalled waiting in there for Millicent. Poor Millicent, his victim, eventually driven mad through blood loss and his own hypnosis. There were no happy memories for him in this one untouched part of Collinwood. Indeed, the house held little happiness for him. Here they had taken Jeremiah to die after he shot him; here Josette lived for such a short time before ending her life on the cliffs at Widow’s Hill.
Suddenly, the whole place felt oppressive, depressed him and he moved on, landing gently some distance away. No, Collinwood was not for him, it was for the Collins family. Its survival meant their survival. That was why this timeline must be undone and for good or ill, that Black Dalek, Menalek, was his last best hope.
His attention was drawn by a meadow of tiny white flowers, each one perfect despite its size. Beneath them and among them, he could see small beetles and ants, each going about some mysterious task. There was a whole microcosm he had never considered. Doubtless their world, their line of beetles or ants was as important to them as the Collins family was to him.
At the edge of the meadow a rabbit leaped up and bounded away and Barnabas followed it on a whim. Soon he found himself at Eagle Hill Cemetery among the long neglected graves. The rabbit’s white scut disappeared into the tall weeds and he pushed a path between the overgrown headstones, the prow of the Dalek body cutting a swathe through the tangle of vegetation. Here was Josette’s but buried beneath moss and weeds. He looked around for something to clear it. Finding nothing, he reached out with his arm extended, the suction cup grasped the nettles and pulled them out. He worked silently until the headstone was free. He then turned the gun on it at the lowest setting and blasted the moss away so the inscription could once again be read clearly.
He stood a while looking sadly down at the grave. Oh, Josette, if you could but see your Barnabas now, as he stands here and in what form...Would you run from me now, in this body as you once did so long ago, fearing the vampire? The sun burned down on him, its warmth lifting his spirits, then he recalled it was not his body feeling that warmth but another’s. If he could move around by day then it followed that Menalek was trapped as one dead in a vampire’s body. He hoped the creature had remained inside and sought a place out of the daylight otherwise he would be in this body forever and Menalek would be dead. It did seem he had got the better part of the bargain. Still he had warned the Dalek that this might happen.
Consciousness returned suddenly to Menalek. Its first thought was that its vision was impaired or it had suffered a systems failure. Then it recalled it was in a human body as it took in its surroundings. A cellar with barrels along one wall; walls of brick; stone flags on the floor. If this was what humans found acceptable in sensory devices, they truly were inferior. It could scarcely see the door or even the ceiling. When it moved, it had no input as to what was behind it and not much to the sides. It was as if it was sealed in a damper field. Certainly, it had blended consciousness with its Ensovaari partner and had seen through her eyes but her vision had been superior to this, though not as acute as Dalek eyesight. This was insupportable.
It took a deep breath – or rather the body did leaving the Dalek to wonder why. Then it mounted the stairs. Fortunately, locomotion was instinctual. Once on the upper level, it was momentarily dazzled by the light even if it was that inefficient type derived from wax and thread. It opened the door to the drawing room.
"Oh, Barnabas, there you are. Where the devil have you been? Was going to send out a Saint Bernard for you!"
It focused on the speaker. Travis, Space Commander, late of the Terran Federation in that galaxy the Ensovaari called ‘Mirror’ and the Daleks called ‘Red’ whose Earth had once been part of the pre-Conquest Empire. "Good evening," it said, having noted that this phrase was usually uttered by the Barnabas entity on arrival.
"Yes, well, let’s get going, shall we? Are you wearing that?"
Thought processes were slower in this body but even if it had until the next millennium, it doubted it would comprehend those sentences, unrelated as they appeared. It settled on, "Is there something wrong with this costume?"
"No, nothing at all – if we were going to a fancy dress instead of dinner with David and some of his friends. Wake up, Barns, and lose the 18th century glad-rags. Do try to get into the 20th century even if you can’t manage the 21st!"
This was all a mystery to the Dalek. Human garb was absurd at the best of times as was the undue importance they assigned it. It failed to see much difference between what its current body was wearing and what Travis had on except that Barnabas’s clothing was more elaborate and had more decoration.
Travis seemed irritated. "Barnabas! Earth calling Barnabas! Gawd, he’s on Planet Collins again. Go and put on some modern clobber and ditch the lace and velvet number. Quick as you can!"
To its horror, Menalek realised it had no idea where Barnabas kept such garments let alone which ones were required. Fortunately, the one called Fuma Kotaro appeared and said, "Ah, Kotora-san, I took liberty of collecting your suit from drycleaners. Here it is." He held out a plastic bag containing dark clothing.
"You will assist me."
Kotaro looked a little surprised but did as bidden. Menalek emerged in a charcoal grey suit and went outside to sit in the car. It could hear Travis saying to Kotaro as he picked up the keys, "What’s got into him? Looked like a man who’s forgotten what time of day it is. Not unusual for him, I admit. But he didn’t thank you for getting his dry-cleaning and that’s not like him. He always remembers his manners."
They drove in silence into Collinsport. As they drove down the main street, Menalek noticed that the Archive’s lights were on. "Stop!" it commanded.
Travis did do, mainly because the lights were red and not because ‘weird Barnabas’ wished to disembark. By the time he realised what was happening ‘Barnabas’ had lit out of the car and was entering the Archive. "Bloody hell," he muttered and had to drive around the block to find a park.
Meantime, Menalek had discovered that on this day, every second week, the Archive was open until 9pm. The archivist was most accommodating. "Of course, Sir Barnabas. No trouble at all. Let me get you those records right away."
Travis came storming in. "What the hell do you think you’re playing at? We’re supposed to meet David and Thornton Stokes for dinner at the Collinsport Inn!"
‘Barnabas’ swivelled its head, turned a baleful glare on him and said coldly, "I am conducting research. I will remain here. If you require food, go to the Inn."
There was something rather uncanny about that head movement and the cold black stare. He was oddly reminded, fleetingly, of Marcus: the same regal bearing, the same ‘kiss my foot’ attitude. Then he remembered that Barnabas’s eyes were brown not black. "All right, I’ll tell them you’ll come later. After dinner maybe. Gawd knows, you never eat anyway."
Well, that was a rum do, Travis thought, grumpily. Why are Barns’ eyes black, totally black, iris and pupil, even the whites? Is it a Collins thing? Something to do with the full moon or being moved off-planet or something? Doesn’t talk much like Barnabas, either. Mainly because he doesn’t talk. Barns, like most vampires, would talk under wet cement. He’s hardly said two words and those have been clipped and to the point. No 18th century curlicues.
Travis found David in the lobby of the Collinsport Inn with a man a little younger than himself, a quiet, studious man with dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses. This was Professor Thornton Stokes, a nephew of Professor Elliot Stokes. "Where’s Cousin Barnabas?" David wanted to know after mutual handshaking.
"Stuck in the Archive, up to his ears in cadastral maps. Says he’ll be along later."
"Oh, really, this too much!" Whitney, David’s wife, complained. "You always said he could be a bit absent-minded, David, but this is ridiculous."
"Oh, it’ll be all right, I’m sure. I’m rather looking forward to meeting such a scholarly gentleman" This was Crystal, Whitney’s friend from Georgia, a tall, willowy blonde in a smart black and white suit.
After a few drinks, the party went into the dining room. Travis was feeling fairly uncomfortable. After all, these people had more in common with Barnabas than him. He really didn’t have a lot to say to them. Fortunately, everyone was too preoccupied with ordering, then eating the first course, or rather waiting for it to arrive. Stokes asked Travis where he had met Barnabas and then reminisced about his uncle’s memories of the English Collins. "Of course, Cousin Barnabas is something high up in the British Ministry of Defence," Whitney gushed. "He has been knighted…"
"Yeah, a Kindly Call Me God," Travis muttered, trying to attract the attention of a passing waiter to discover whether they had had to send someone out to kill the chicken that formed the basis of his meal.
"A what?" Stokes asked, bemused.
"A KCMG – Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George. Where’s my dinner? I ordered it three-quarters of an hour ago and all we’ve had is this poxy bowl of oil and stale bread."
He stared hard at the hapless waiter who replied, "That is foccacia, sir."
"Stale bread. So where has it got to? Doing the scenic route from farm to Collinsport via Gauda Prime?"
Whitney looked somewhat embarrassed even though she had not been fed either. "Yes, Sir Barnabas goes to Washington a lot on government business to talk to his opposite numbers in the Pentagon. Highly classified," she chattered, hoping to distract the table from Travis.
"I will see where your order is, sir." The waiter wilted under Travis’s one eyed glare.
"You do that."
About ten minutes later, Travis’s meal turned up, followed a further ten minuts later by everyone else’s. Travis was not overly impressed. "Lazy sods, took the easy way out. Cream sauce as a binder – too much cream sauce at that. Typical of an establishment with pretensions to haute cuisine," was his verdict.
They were waiting for dessert when ‘Barnabas’ arrived. Travis was working his way though the ‘stale bread’ and the wine to alleviate the boredom. "Good evening," ‘Barnabas’ said and removed its Inverness. A waiter appeared and took it to hang on a rack. ‘Barnabas’s’ head swivelled around as it shot him a look, then it sat down.
Perhaps it was the wine but Travis suddenly recalled where he’d seen that whip-like head movement and the icy glare at some hapless human. Not Marcus, only in the lordly way of sitting and issuing orders he noted in the Archive. No, something else also found in the Old House. He leaned over and said, "You’re a Dalek, aren’t you?"
"Yes, but keep your voice down."
"So where’s Barnabas?"
"In my body."
I’m not having this conversation, Travis thought. Still it explained a lot. How or why. He didn’t want to know.
"So, Sir Barnabas, did you find what you wanted at the Archive?" Whitney asked, all Southern charm. Barnabas had that effect on women, even, apparently, when inhabited by a Dalek.
"Would you like dessert?" David offered.
"Best not push our luck. They’re having enough trouble remembering us five," Travis interposed.
"Some wine?" David poured a glass.
"Moet et Chandon. I have heard of that."
Travis looked at the Dalek-in-Barnabas with new interest. Obviously the wine ration on Skaro was above the common run.
"Indeed a tasty drop," Stokes put in, further surprising Travis who had thought him a bit of a boffin. Obviously he took after his uncle in more than just brains. "Tell me, Sir Barnabas, what are you researching?"
"The geological and geophysical history of the Collins estate. I wish to trace…"
Travis kicked ‘Barnabas’s’ shin rather harder than he need have. After all, it isn’t every day you can actually kick a Dalek and hurt it. And get away with it.
"…the effect types of rock and soil have had on the extent and diminution of the estate over time," ‘Barnabas’ continued smoothly as if it had not had a steel-capped boot slammed into its leg.
"I’ve done some research into the Collins family myself, based on my uncle’s work," Stokes replied. "If we could compare notes, the result would be quite fascinating, two sides of the coin as it were."
Travis started to subside. A deadly little dinner party just got deadlier, boffins comparing notes. "I wonder if we should send out for dessert. I hear MacDonald’s do a nice ice-cream dish," the Space Commander said loudly.
"The service is rather slow," Crystal agreed. "We’ll be here until midnight at this rate."
"I wonder what’s wrong. It isn’t usually this slow," Whitney commented.
"Tell you what," Stokes went on, "I’ve got my notes right here on my laptop. Uncle Elliot said you were quite the expert on Collins history, especially the 18th century. Perhaps you’d take a look."
Stokes reached down, opened his bag and placed the laptop on the table. "It always takes a while to boot up," he explained, half apologetically. "There, that’s it. Oh, why is it booting up in safe mode? Drat! I’ll reboot and…"
"Let me see," said ‘Barnabas’ and pulled the computer across the table. Its fingers flew over the keyboard and it made a sound of disgust. "Primitive operating system is totally inefficient. There is also a virus in here and extraneous code."
"Oh, yes, well, it has been a bit slow," Stokes noted. "Especially after I loaned it to my sister’s boy for his homework."
David decided to resume control of the conversation. "Whitney and I will be visiting the south of France later this year. Have you plans to return to Europe, Sir Barnabas?"
"Pity. I thought we could meet up. You could join us at our little place near St. Tropez or we could call on you in London. Cadogan Square, isn’t it?"
Smart Dalek, never says too much and gets tangled up in porkies unlike the face it wears, Travis thought. Barns is always too elaborate and says too much. The Space commander noticed that ‘Barnabas’ was typing a lot of code into the laptop while it talked and listened. For talk it finally did. The topic of global warming had come up. Travis was tempted to cheer the company up by telling them that the nuclear winter would cancel it out. However, ‘Barnabas’ had turned cold black alien eyes on them and said, flatly, "There is insufficient evidence for this" and proceeded to curtly dismiss the various claims as mere theory being based on insufficient data since detailed meteorological records had only been kept for a mere two hundred years. Travis hoped it wasn’t then going to make unfavourable comparisons with Skaro. "Even if this should be the case, there are any number of reasons the climate may or may not be changing. It is typical of the arrogance of humans to assume they are the cause," it added and went on to draw up a number of formulas for various hypothetical scenarios (it stressed ‘hypothetical’ a number of times) on a table napkin.
It then launched into a scathing commentary on the intellectual poverty of the debate, the lack of rigour displayed by all sides and the unhelpful role played by the media which was more concerned with creating a sensation or serving some ulterior purpose than providing accurate reports of the research to date. From this it went into a blistering attack on the nature of much research in general which, it had noticed, seemed to be dictated as much by the desire to serve some cause or interest group as much by a desire for scientific truth. "It is no wonder human technology has remained inferior to – not as developed as it might be." By this time it had lost all but Stokes who advanced some theories of his own only to have them subject to the same alien intelligence and shot down.
"Oh, brother, "Travis muttered, studying the bottle of Moet et Chandon.
"My, Sir Barnabas, "Whitney said a little nervously, "I had no idea you knew so much – science."
"Yes, I always took you for a humanities man myself," Stokes added after he had recovered. "A historian and a lover of literature, Uncle Elliot said."
"I have repaired your computer," ‘Barnabas’ said handing back the machine. "I have improved as much as I can in this short time the primitive operating system, removed the viruses and installed a firewall which will prevent further invasions. It will run with moderate efficiency now, 95% instead of 45%."
"Good Lord, he’s right. Look at it boot up and now when I put in my USB, it loads up right away with no problems. Thanks a lot, Sir Barnabas. You’ve obviously studied computers in the years since you were here. Have some more – oh, you haven’t touched your drink. Let’s have a toast to Sir Barnabas."
This’ll be good, Travis thought, gloomily untangling himself and raising his glass. "Sir Barnabas". Then, bending so his lips were almost on ‘Barnabas’s’ ear, he whispered, "You’re supposed to propose a counter toast and drink."
"I do not require liquid."
Travis sniggered nastily as he considered the type of liquid Barnabas’s body would require at some point and just how the Dalek would react to that. "You don’t require liquid in your Dalek form, Sunshine, but you do in human form. So get on with it."
He found himself lanced by a cold black stare. "Very well," it said, then declaimed something in a musical language Travis vaguely recognised as Ensovaari, raised its glass and with a grimace downed it entirely in one gulp. It then looked rather green about the gills as if about to throw up. "This is disgusting," was all it said.
"Just because Daleks are such sublime creatures," Travis couldn’t resist needling, "that they don’t need food and drink like us lesser mortals…"
"The inefficiency of the human system is well known. It needs no further rehearsal here," was the tart response. Raising its voice above the hissing whisper it and Travis had conversed in, it asked Stokes, "Have you the data ready you wished to show me?"
"Right here, Sir Barnabas."
"I’ve often wondered why people find my family and its history so fascinating," David said rather plaintively. "When I was a kid, there was that Julia Hoffman – she turned out to be a loony doctor on sabbatical which seems somehow appropriate. Then there was Elliot Stokes and now Thornton. And some others I’ve forgotten. Poking around Eagle Hill Cemetery, poking in attics and cellars, going through old diaries and trunks – someone did write a book on the family about 1966 based on family records so why reinvent the wheel?"
"Highly edited, according to Barnabas. Or sanitised," Travis pointed out.
"Edited or overwritten by temporal anomalies?" "Barnabas’ asked, suddenly focusing on the conversation. Travis ground his teeth knowing the creature, having moved across to Stokes, was too far away to kick again.
No one had an answer to that, indeed, they behaved as though they hadn’t heard the question or believed it rhetorical. "I think I’ll just give the kitchen a ‘hurry up’," Travis announced grimly, getting to his feet and marching off in that direction.
He returned shortly after. "Cook says the puddings will be ready in about fifteen minutes. The order got lost."
"Highly inefficient," ‘Barnabas’ commented.
"Yes, I’d exterminate them if I were you. Actually, I’d exterminate them if I were me, too, come to think of it. Come on, Barns, old darling. Time we were going. Don’t have time to sit around for AWOL puds." When ‘Barnabas’ appeared to be about to protest, the Space Commander fixed it with a baleful glare and added, "Past my bedtime and you’ll probably start turning into a pumpkin soon, too."
‘Barnabas’ stared at him blankly and it opened its mouth to speak but Travis picked up the Inverness and put it on the creature, then took out his wallet. "Here’s my share. I really have to go and as I’m Barnabas’s wheels, he has to come, too. Thanks for inviting us."
"Not at all," David assured him. "I had no idea of the time, the service has been so slow. We’ll be leaving, too."
Travis, who had been prepared to frogmarch ‘Barnabas’ out of the premises, was pleasantly surprised when it preceded him out of the hotel and even told him to hurry up. "Is that what happens to Barnabas Collins?" it asked once they were in the car.
"Does the Barnabas creature turn into a gourd during the day? Is that why no human life signs can be detected? How is this possible?"
Travis rolled his eyes as he started the car. "It’s a metaphor, means who knows what in your situation and a warning anything can happen and probably will assuming Barns wants his body back."
"He may have it back with the compliments of the Dalek Empire."
Travis glanced sharply at his companion. Was that an example of Dalek humour? Barnabas looked as blank as ever then he frowned. "Travis, why am I in your car on the road to Collinwood?"
The Space Commander strangled and resisted the urge to slam on the brakes and demand an explanation. Very calmly, he asked, "And where else would you be?"
"I was in the drawing room and then suddenly I was here."
"Your Dalek pal just went home."
"And why do I feel so light-headed?"
"Because while in your body, that Dalek downed a whole glass of champagne in one gulp."
"Really? How crass!" Barnabas remarked disapprovingly. "I shall have to speak most particularly to Menalek."