Warcry of Hallatern
The building was a terminal for departing passengers and freight. It was owned by the Siris Conglomerate, a key link in their exploitation of Canaxxa. The cylinder that contained the Kreilen had been brought here yesterday. There had been no opportunity during the night to enter the building and find the Kreilen. Vardek was not sure how that might best be done.
He rested now, saving his energy for the day ahead. He would have to make his move soon. As he slumped against a wall outside the space flight terminal, his mind emptied. No thoughts occurred to him that were not connected with his mission. No memories came to take him back to better times.
Occasionally, he experienced feelings of regret. His life had become meaningless. After eight millennia, any sense of his own identity had long since died. The memories of Hallatern, of family and friends, had receded into the very depths of his mind - lost forever unless the systems back up computer performed a deep scan. But Vardek had never bothered to attempt that. There was no point in recalling an existence that he could never go back to. He had made his choice long ago. The computer soon suppressed the unwanted emotions.
As the hours passed, Vardek became aware that the telepathic signal had changed. It was no longer just the automatic response of the Warcry. This indicated that the Kreilen would shortly enter its revivification cycle. Once it was fully awake, it would resume its mission of destruction. It usually took a day or so for a Kreilen to completely revive. So, there was still a little time left. He had to assume it would be enough.
People started to arrive outside the terminal building. They were mining
engineers, going home after their assignment to Canaxxa. The terminal would
soon be open. Vardek straightened up, ready for action. An eight thousand
year quest was coming to its end.
By the time Baines arrived, the terminal building was milling with passengers for the Greyshadow. The majority of them were travelling steerage, miners returning to Androzani. Fortunately, the first class cabins were much more exclusive. Baines wondered if he would have any fellow passengers. He had been aware that there was another guest staying at the Hilton, but they had not met. Baines had taken his meals in his room.
Moving through the terminal, he approached the cargo check-in desk, where he saw Quincey, talking to an official.
"I don't understand," Quincey was saying. "Everything was all right last night."
"Well," said the official, "since then I've checked with the Conglomerate's offices. They tell me that there is no record of this consignment being authorized. Particularly not to travel as private luggage."
"Oh, this is ridiculous," Quincey snapped.
Taking a step forward, Baines said, "Is there a problem?"
The official looked up at him in irritation. "Who are you?"
"Hectol Baines. I believe you're dealing with my ore samples."
"Ah," said the official, a gleam of anticipation showing in his eyes, "then you're the man I want to be talking to."
Baines glared at the official. He was a little man trying to look important in his uniform. Maybe he'd decided today to relieve his boredom by making the passengers' lives a misery. Baines was having none of it. "I take it everything is in order?" he demanded.
"Far from it," said the official. "Your cargo is far too large to go as personal luggage."
"I'll pay the excess charge," Baines said reasonably.
"It's not quite so simple. There are distinct limits on what can be exported from Canaxxa."
"I think you'll find my paperwork is in order."
"Not according to the Sirius Conglomerate," replied the official. "They've never heard of you, and they don't know anything about any ore samples."
"Now see here," snapped Baines, anger flaring in his voice, "I'm not going to stand for your petty bureaucracy. I was promised full co-operation and assistance."
There was a shimmer of red beside him, and a silken voice said, "I'm sure there's no need for all this unpleasantness." Without another word, she went round behind the official's desk.
Baines stood transfixed. He'd never thought to see Alicia Newstead again. And yet here she was, clad in a dazzling red dress, with the ridged tunic and long skirt that was so popular on Androzani. Even after ten years, she hadn't changed at all - as slim, elegant and beautiful as he remembered her. Her hair was long and blonde, and those sapphire blue eyes still had the power to rob him of his will.
She tapped something into the official's computer, picked up an input docket and signed her name on it. Then she fed it through the computer's verifier, and handed the document to the official. "I think that confirms the export clearance for this cargo," she said politely.
The official was looking at her in surprise. "Yes, Krau Newstead," he replied. "I'm sure there was just a computer error."
"Yes, I'm sure." Alicia turned to Baines, and flashed him a brief smile. "That seems to be a problem solved."
At last, Baines found his voice. "Alicia," he said.
Her smiled broadened. "Hello, Hectol. It seems I missed you at breakfast. Never mind, we'll have five days on ship to catch up with each other's news."
She glanced at the official, with an imperious look, and he turned
hastily to get Baines's container taken out of storage.
The ground car came to a halt. Perrenelle looked out of the window at the space flight terminal. A few men were crowded around the entrance, waiting to get in - miners going home to Androzani.
Nicolas climbed down from the vehicle, and opened the door so she could get out. Always the gentlemen, she thought. Old manners die hard.
The miner who had driven them looked with envy at the men entering the terminal. "I wish I was going home," he said. "My tour doesn't finish for another two months."
He went to the back of the vehicle, and opened the storage compartment, normally used for carrying ore samples or drilling equipment. He helped Nicolas to unload their luggage.
"I hope you got what you came here for," he said.
"I hope so too," Nicolas replied.
The man smiled conspiratorially, and patted the pocket where he kept his wallet. "Don't worry," he said quietly, "no one will ever know you were here."
"I appreciate it," said Nicolas.
The luggage unloaded, the miner closed the rear compartment. With a few words of farewell, he got back into the ground vehicle. It lifted on its air skirt, and sped away, dragging up a plume of dust in its wake.
Perrenelle looked at her husband. "Well?" she asked. "Are we leaving Canaxxa?"
Nicolas shook his head in confusion. "I'm not sure," he said. "I can sense the crystal. It's nearby."
"Still on the planet?"
"I think so. The crystal calls to me, but its voice is somehow muffled."
Perrenelle looked across at the terminal again. The crowd of miners had nearly all disappeared inside. "Maybe not on the planet for long," she remarked. "There must be a ship ready to leave orbit. There wouldn't be so many people here otherwise."
"We should see whether we can still get tickets for that ship," Nicolas said. "If the crystal does end up aboard, we want to be able to follow it."
"It looks like there are plenty of passengers already," Perrenelle replied. "There may be no places left."
Nicolas smiled. "I'm sure we'll be able to get into first class. Besides, it's not as if we can't afford it."
He managed to attract the attention of a couple of workmen, who came to
help with the luggage.
Quincey directed two Canaxxan workers in their handling of the ore container. They were the same two who had demonstrated a superstitious reluctance to move it yesterday. He kept an especial eye upon them, just in case they were tempted to drop it.
They placed the metal cylinder onto an antigrav lifter and pushed it through the departure lounge, causing the waiting passengers to scatter out of the way. Arriving at the transmat station, they picked it up once more and deposited it on the ground with quite a hefty thump. Quincey cast a concerned eye over the container, but it appeared to be undamaged. Baines was back in the departure lounge, talking with the delectable Krau Newstead - it appeared they were old friends, if not more than that. Baines had never mentioned her before - sly old devil, thought Quincey.
Dismissing the two workmen, he took over the responsibility of guarding the container himself. Suddenly aware of a presence behind him, he spun round and discovered a dishevelled figure bending over the cylinder. It was an untidy, scruffy man, in shabby and very dusty clothes. He was unshaven and his hair was unkempt. Quincey realized that it was the same man he had caught lurking near the hovervan outside the hotel yesterday.
There was a wild, almost desperate look about the stranger's eyes. He ran his hands over the container, trying to seek some purchase on its surface, as if to prise it apart with his bare hands.
"What do you think you're doing?" Quincey demanded.
The man looked up, temporarily startled. This passed in an instant, and his face took on a keen, alert expression. He looked straight at Quincey with piercing eyes. "Is this your container?" he asked. His voice carried a thick accent, which Quincey was unable to place. It wasn't Cannaxan, nor from one of the Sirius colonies.
"I said, what are you doing?"
"What is inside this container?" the stranger insisted.
Quincey found his stare rather unnerving, but he wasn't going to be intimidated by a social misfit. "Some ore samples," he said, "which are the property of Doctor Baines. I'd thank you to leave them alone."
The man seemed to sink deep into thought for a moment, then said, "Where did these samples originate?"
"What's that to you?" Quincey snapped. "You seem to have a lot of questions about matters which don't concern you."
The stranger shook his head. "It is always my concern," he said. "I must have an answer."
Quincey stood his ground, and fixed him with a stare equal to his own. "And I'm telling you, my employer is a first class passenger. That means something, you know. If you don't stop making a nuisance of yourself, I'll get one of the port officials to throw you out of the terminal. Then where will you be?"
The stranger faced him for a moment, then turned and disappeared into the crowd. Quincey nodded to himself in satisfaction. You just had to be firm with these people. They soon recognized authority.
Baines appeared at Quincey's shoulder. "Who was that?" he asked.
"I've no idea," said Quincey. "He was nosing around your container. He looked like a drop out - sounded like he came from out on the Rimworlds. I suppose he thought it contained something valuable, something he could steal."
Baines nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, doubtless that was it."
Vardek sought refuge in the shadows behind a storage bay. The systems computer started to run an analysis of his situation.
The scanners had detected the Kreilen's bio-rhythms clearly enough inside the metal cylinder. The computer gave it only a twenty per cent chance of surviving the revivification process. After five thousand years of suspended animation, it might have deterioated considerably, unless the conditions of its suspension met certain specific criteria.
But without a thorough examination, Vardek could not be sure. He could not abandon his mission until he had seen the Kreilen deactivated with his own eyes.
He had assessed the scene inside the flight terminal. The container was shortly to be sent by transmat to a ship in orbit, prior to her departure. First class passengers and their belongings would board before the rest of the assembled crowd. Money bought privilege in this society.
Vardek knew he had to be in a position to locate and destroy the Kreilen. Therefore he had to get aboard the same ship. He had little money left, and no documentation. He would be unable to acquire passage aboard a departing vessel by any conventional means. A decision was made. Vardek scanned the immediate area for a viable target.
He identified one a few moments later. A man was walking towards the entrance of the terminal. He carried a couple of small cases, suggesting that he was intending to depart soon. Vardek completed another quick scan. This particular area was unobserved.
He darted forward and grabbed the man from behind. Clamping a hand around his neck, Vardek gave a sudden twist, applying the necessary power through his bionic servos to break the man's neck cleanly. Killing him was necessary, but there was no reason to prolong his suffering.
The man's body went limp, and Vardek pulled him quickly back into the shadows behind the storage bay. He made a thorough search of his victim's pockets. He discovered a third class ticket for a ship called the Greyshadow, departing in about an hour's time; a passport and identicard in the name of Thomas Kilgannon; and a wallet containing a few banknotes of small denominations.
Vardek started to strip the corpse. He would have to rewrite the
identicard's data chip, to show his own personal details. But the
documentation, together with Kilgannon's clothes, would provide a more
effective means of infiltration.
The transmat station was being powered up, which meant the Greyshadow was now ready for boarding. A uniformed port official had appeared to organize the embarkation order. Naturally enough, the first class passengers were to receive priority. Baines glanced around at the departure lounge. The two workmen had slouched off somewhere. Who was going to lift his container onto the transmat platform? Surely they didn't expect him to do it himself? He was a first class passenger. He sent Quincey to fetch some help.
Alicia Newstead clutched her valise firmly in one hand. "It looks like I'm first in the queue, Hectol," she said. "It's a perk of the job, I'm afraid."
Baines smiled. He'd learnt that Alicia was now an important executive with the Sirius Conglomerate, and hoping to go on to higher things still. He had no doubt she would succeed - she certainly had the ambition and the drive. That was a quality he had always recognized in her, even ten years ago. The reason why he'd known she wouldn't stay with him for long.
Alicia stepped forward onto the transmat platform, and waited as the official operated the controls. She was bathed in a glow of swirling light, and vanished from sight.
On the far side of the room, Baines saw Quincey talking to one of the port officials. Satisfied that something was being done, he began to relax. He waited for his turn to transmat out to the Greyshadow.
A voice spoke at his shoulder. "Trau Baines?"
Spinning round, Baines found a young man standing beside him. He was tall and lean, in his late twenties. His hair was fine and blond, and drawn back into the short pigtail that was now becoming the fashion for the upper classes of Sirius. "It is Trau Baines?" he asked.
"Yes," Baines nodded lamely. "I'm sorry, I don't recall your name."
"There's no reason why you should, sir. I attended some of your lectures at Androzani University."
"Ah," said Baines, "then you're an archaeologist?"
With an apologetic shake of the head, the young man replied, "I'm afraid not, sir. I just took archaeology as a minor subject to make up my degree course."
"I see," said Baines. That unfortunately was the reason most of his students had taken up archaeology. Alicia Newstead for instance had been far more interested in economics and marketing strategy than she had the wonders of the past. Of course, there had been compensations in her case.
"But that's not to say I didn't find the subject fascinating," the young man went on hastily. "In fact, though of course I haven't specialized in the field, I've retained an interest to this day. I'm sure your lectures were what inspired me."
"Well, that's very kind of you, Trau..." Baines broke off hesitantly.
"Johann Ryder. Like I said, you probably wouldn't remember me. You must have had many students. You gave up teaching in the end, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Baines. "I took up a post at the Academius Stolaris - there was more opportunity for field work, you see. As an archaeologist, I've always believed that I should be getting my hands dirty."
"Oh, I quite understand," said Ryder. "Your passion for it came across very strongly in your lectures."
Baines smiled happily. It was quite unexpected, and rather gratifying, to find he had had such an effect upon one of his students. With a very few exceptions, he never saw any of them again.
"So," asked Ryder brightly, "is it archaeology that brings you to Canaxxa?"
"Yes," said Baines, "I've been conducting a dig."
"Any interesting finds?" Ryder frowned suddenly, and his obvious enthusiasm faded. "Oh, I'm sorry. You'll want to make a proper study before announcing any results."
"No, that's quite all right. All the finds went to a local museum. There's a cultural export ban in place on Canaxxa."
"Oh yes, I heard about that. Wasn't it something to do with the mining concessions?"
"That's right," muttered Baines darkly. "The Sirius Conglomerate got themselves into trouble a couple of years ago on Ranx - they violated some sacred tribal grounds to get at the mineral deposits. I don't think they expected anyone would mind very much."
"The big corporations control the Federation," said Ryder.
"Well, that's going a bit far, I think," Baines replied, "but I take your point. Anyway, some of the more liberal members of the Federation Council kicked up a fuss about it. There were debates and committees, and protests from all the usual pressure groups. But eventually, the Federation came up with these strict rules to govern mining on underdeveloped planets. There are restrictions on how much duralinium the Conglomerate can extract, on where they can mine, and then there's the cultural export ban."
"It's all very laudable," remarked Ryder.
"Yes," said Baines, frowning. "The only trouble is that innocent archaeologists get affected as much as the miners."
Before Ryder could say anything more, Quincey returned with a couple of men in uniform. They were dock supervisors from Sirius, not simple native workers. Under Quincey's direction, they carefully took hold of the container and carried it towards the transmat platform.
Baines turned to Ryder. "It looks like it's my turn," he said. "You are travelling on the Greyshadow, I take it?"
"Then perhaps we can continue this conversation later."
"I'll look forward to it, sir."
Perrenelle watched the port official tapping information into his computer terminal. She glanced briefly at Nicolas, who stood a little away from the check-in desk, seemingly in a daze, his eyelids drooping.
"This is most unusual, madam," said the official.
Perrenelle turned back to him. "I'm sorry?"
"Booking passage at such short notice," the official continued. "It's not normally done."
"Is there some sort of problem?"
The official frowned. He looked at the money Perrenelle had just given him, ten thousand talmars in hard cash, a neat little bundle of notes sitting on the desk in front of him. More than enough to buy first class passage on the Greyshadow. Slowly he said, "I can't seem to find any record of your arrival here. All passenger flights to Canaxxa come through this terminal, so your names ought to be on the computer."
"I'm sure there's a simple explanation," murmured Perrenelle. She nodded towards the roll of bank notes. "It was all decided in rather a hurry, you see. That's why we're paying cash. We didn't have time to arrange a credit transfer." She smiled sympathetically. "I suppose you'll have a problem changing cash."
"Well, it is so unusual these days," the official said.
"Never mind," said Perrenelle. "You can keep the change. We just have to get aboard that ship. Do you understand?"
The official licked his lips slowly. Even with the cost of their passage, there would be over three thousand talmars to spare. He knew that this couple were up to something illegal. But that didn't concern him. He reached out surreptitously, and slipped the wad of notes into his pocket. The problems with the computer meant there was little likelihood he would be found out.
"Well," he replied calmly, "we've been having problems with our mainframe. Some of the booking data was lost." He smiled. "I'm sorry for the confusion. There are some first class staterooms still available, so accommodating you won't be a difficulty."
He tapped at his terminal, and their travel documents were printed off. "At such short notice, your room won't have been prepared. Nor will a steward have been assigned to you."
Perrenelle shrugged. "I'm sure that the crew will be able to cope."
She glanced again at Nicolas. His eyes were closed now, and he seemed to have slumped back against the wall. Checking that the official was busy with his computer, Perrenelle moved near to her husband. "What is it?" she whispered. "Are you sensing something?"
"A sense of loss," Nicolas murmured. "It's gone."
"Are you sure?"
"I can still feel the crystal somewhere, but it seems much more distant."
Perrenelle closed her eyes, and sighed exasperatedly. "They're boarding the ship now," she said. "Whoever has the crystal must have been transmatted out there."
"Yes," replied Nicolas. "You're probably right." There was an uncertain tone in his voice. Was he still having doubts?
Turning around, Perrenelle saw that the official was watching them intensely. Their eyes met, and the man immediately turned his attention back to his computer, working with renewed vigour.
"You'll have to excuse my husand," Perrenelle said. "He's not in the best of health. I expect the journey will do him some good. A change of scene, you know."
"I'm sure it will help, madam," replied the official dutifully.
And not just the change, thought Perrenelle. They were nearing the object of their quest now. This space voyage would see an ending to the torments of immortality - assuming Nicolas would go through with it in the end.
The official tore various documents from his printer and enclosed them
in a plastic folder, which he handed to Perrenelle. "You'll have to hurry,
madam," he said. "The other first class passengers will already have
boarded. But if you show this to the official on duty, he'll let you on
ahead of the steerage passengers. When you go aboard, hand these documents
to the purser. He'll sort out your accommodation."
Baines watched carefully as two of the ship's crew lifted the container from the transmat platform. It was situated to one side of a reception lounge, where comfortable chairs were arranged around tables - the ideal place to share a drink with one's fellow passengers before dinner. Indeed, the entrance to the dining saloon was in the far wall.
"Now, you understand what you're to do with that?" Baines called.
"Yes, sir," said one of the crewmen, panting with exertion. "It's to be taken to the stateroom adjoining your own."
"That's right." He'd paid for two staterooms, one exclusively to house the container. He certainly wasn't going to leave it in the ship's hold.
Baines turned to Quincey, who was standing to one side, looking out of a window. The grey sphere of Canaxxa was displayed beneath them. No matter how many times he went into space, Baines still felt somehow disconcerted about being able to look down on a planet from high above.
"If it's all right," he said, "I'll leave you to supervise this, Quincey. Come and let me know when the container's safe and secure."
Quincey nodded abruptly. He was starting to feel like Baines's servant rather than his assistant. He had never known Baines to take him so much for granted.
With one more glance at the efforts of the crewmen, Baines turned and left the reception lounge.
Under Quincey's watchful eye, the two crewmen started to manoeuvre the container towards the door. Outside in the corridor, they had an antigrav lifter, but it wouldn't fit through the door into the lounge. Heavy cargo was usually transmatted straight to the hold, where there were proper facilities for dealing with it. Baines's insistence on treating the cylinder as personal luggage meant they were not equipped to cope.
They hefted the container through the doorway. But one of the men had not made sure of his grip. The cylinder suddenly slipped from his hands, and he was unable to stop it from crashing down hard onto the solid metal floor. There was a sound of glass shattering.
For a terrible moment, it was as if time froze. Quincey stood staring at the container, and expected to see it disintegrate and disgorge its contents all over the corridor. He was being foolish. The metal was far too strong - it wouldn't even be dented by such a knock.
He went forward to examine the container. The crewman who had dropped it was mumbling an apology, his eyes cast abjectly downwards. Ignoring him, Quincey crouched down and removed his glove. He felt beneath the bottom of the cylinder, where it rested awkwardly against the edge of the antigrav lifter.
A sudden pain in his finger made him snatch back his hand. He had cut himself on a jagged piece of glass. As he had suspected, the instrument displays on the depressurization system had been broken. He had drawn a little blood, but otherwise the cut did not appear to be too serious.
The container was another matter. The delicate mechanism might have been broken. If the atmosphere seals were ruptured, then air would be drawn inside. Could that damage the ore samples?
He sucked a drop of blood from his pierced finger, and started to pull on his glove again. He became aware that one of the crewmen was speaking to him. The man at the front end of the cylinder was leaning over. "Is it all right?" he asked.
"Yes," said Quincey, rising to his feet. "It should be fine if you're careful with it."
"What's inside it, anyway?"
"Valuable ore samples. They're very fragile. I'm sure Trau Baines would be most upset if they were damaged."
Gesturing that the crewmen could pick up the container once more, Quincey thought over what he should do. At the end of the day, he was dependent upon a good report from Baines for his research grant at the Academius Stolaris to be renewed. It was the only reason he put up with Baines's ordering him around.
To that end, he decided not to tell Baines about this little incident.
Tonight, after Baines went to dinner, he could subject the cylinder to a
more thorough examination.
Entering his stateroom and dismissing the attendant steward, Baines locked the door behind him. He briefly took in the room. The walls were white with gold trimmings. In one corner was the bed, neatly made with fine silk sheets. A mahogany writing table with matching chairs was just before him. First class accommodations were always luxurious. He might have been back in the Hilton hotel.
Baines sat down at the writing table. He reached into his pocket, and drew out his argonite lined box. He opened the lid, and looked at the strange stone inside. Once again, he thought he was detecting some light shining out from within it, as though it were made of crystal.
He thought back to the time he had found the stone, lying right next to
the preserved body in the stinking mud. He was still amazed that he had
made the discovery, because he shouldn't have been there at all - his work
on the Cannaxan settlement had been all but finished. But instead of
packing up his gear, he had found himself strangely drawn to the swamp.
Almost as if something had been calling him.
Captain Berlitz surveyed the view from the bridge of the Greyshadow. The planet Canaxxa was beneath them, the stars lay ahead. Shining brilliantly amongst them, he could pick out Sirius clearly with his naked eye, a mere ten light years away.
His first officer, MacBride, strolled onto the bridge. A tall man with dark curly hair, he had served on more than twenty vessels, of all sizes. Although he had not been with the Greyshadow long, he brought with him a wealth of experience and a cheery disposition that could wring miracles from the crew. Berlitz had found him an invaluable asset.
"Good morning, Captain," he said brightly. "How's it going?"
The Greyshadow was in a stationary orbit over Canaxxa, to facilitate the easy transfer of passengers and freight aboard. Berlitz had been keeping half an ear on the communications between the bridge and the dock control below, but he left most of the task to his third officer, who was on watch with him. It did not warrant the captain's personal attention.
"We're on schedule," he replied perfunctorily. Then he looked round at his first officer. MacBride ought to be asleep in his cabin. His responsibility was the low watch through the night, and he had only retired five hours ago. "Is there anything I should know about?" the Captain asked.
"No, sir," MacBride said. "I can never sleep through a departure."
Berlitz nodded. There was something majestic about seeing a planet shrink to a point of light astern, as the ship moved towards the distant stars. His mind was wandering a little, as he anticipated the voyage ahead. Space travel was his one true love. It was the only part of his job he truly enjoyed. As master of the vessel, he was expected to act as host to the passengers. He could do it - he knew he was a popular captain - but he would still rather be on the bridge than in the dining saloon.
The bridge was built to a simple design, almost a throwback to the oceangoing vessels of ancient history. It was nothing more than a large room, with an observation window at the front that overlooked the ship's bow. Were it not for the modern technology, the mariners of old would not have felt out of place - for instance, a navigational database, housed in a computer bank behind the bridge, removed the need for a chart room.
From here the duty officer and a subordinate could control the ship. The day was divided into three watches, commanded by Berlitz in rotation with his first and second officers.
MacBride went forward to the duty monitoring station, and glanced over the shoulder of Third Officer Conrad, who stood there. "Cargo loading is completed, sir. First and second class are aboard. They're starting on the steerage passengers now."
That would take about an hour, Berlitz thought. "We should make our departure on time," he said.
A vision in red suddenly swept into view, drawing the attention of all three officers. Berlitz turned round in anger, although he hid it beneath a pleasant joviality. In his position, he wasn't allowed to become upset. But he had rules, and one of them had just been broken.
The new arrival was a cool and attractive woman, in her early thirties. She had blonde hair, and wore an expensive dress. She looked around the bridge with interest.
"So this is the nerve centre, is it?" she asked lightly. She turned to the Captain and smiled. "Don't mind me. I just like to know what's going on."
Sensitive to his captain's foibles, MacBride coughed politely. "I'm afraid that passengers aren't allowed on the bridge, madam."
"Oh, I'm just looking around. Don't let me distract you."
Captain Berlitz felt his right hand slowly clenching and unclenching. The bridge was his personal kingdom, the only place he could forget about the passengers and just concentrate on the thrill of space travel. He did not need it invaded. "It's not as simple as that," he said, trying to keep his voice as level as possible. "We're preparing for departure. It's a busy time, and we can't accommodate sightseers."
The woman raised an eyebrow. "Sightseers?" she said sardonically.
"If you speak to the purser," said Berlitz, "I'm sure he'll be able to arrange a tour of the bridge for you at some more convenient time." Preferably when I'm not here, he thought to himself.
Another smile formed on the woman's lips. "Ah, but I'm here to see you, Captain," she explained. She placed her valise down - on top of a navigational monitoring console, Berlitz noted - and opened it. From inside, she drew a plastic folder. "Sealed orders," she said. "A bit melodramatic really, but I'm afraid Trau Morrissey insisted."
Bemusedly, the captain reached out to take the folder. The name of Morrissey rang a bell. As for his new acquaintance...
"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't quite catch your name."
"Alicia Newstead. I'm chief executive of the Project Development Division. I answer only to Trau Morrissey, and through him the board." She smiled again, but this time there was something slightly sinister about it. "I suppose," she purred, "that makes me your superior officer."
Berlitz frowned. It was true that the Greyshadow was owned by the Sirius Conglomerate, and that he worked for them. But a vessel in deep space was a very different place from a corporate boardroom. A ship could only have one captain. Anything else was asking for trouble. He sensed he was going to have problems with Krau Newstead.
Calmly and firmly, he said, "Federation shipping regulations state clearly that the captain is the master of his vessel - regardless of any employer's instructions, only the captain can make decisions that might affect the welfare of the passengers and crew."
"Well, how fortunate to have the law on your side," replied Krau
Newstead. "Don't worry, I have no intention of interfering with you. I've
more than enough to occupy me on this trip."
Perrenelle surveyed the stateroom appreciatively. It was very well appointed, better than she had expected in fact. She had stayed in the finest hotels in the Galaxy, so she was accustomed to luxury, but it was unusual to find accommodations of this quality on a tramp freighter, even in first class. In fact, only the big luxury liners were usually so impressive.
The stateroom was not yet ready. The bed had not been made up, and nor had several of the fittings been put in place. At the doorway, Nicolas was exchanging words with a heavy man in an officer's uniform. His large head bore thick set features, but he seemed pleasant enough.
He was the ship's purser, and had introduced himself as Mitchum. He said, "I have notified the chief steward, sir. He will make the necessary arrangements to get your stateroom prepared for you in the shortest possible time. Until then, might I suggest that you go up to the observation deck and watch the ship's departure."
"Thank you," replied Nicolas. "No doubt we shall follow your advice in just a moment."
Mitchum nodded politely and withdrew. Nicolas pushed the door shut, and then fell back, half slumping against it.
Perrenelle moved towards him, and touched him gently on the arm. "What do you feel?" she asked. "Are we on the right track? Or will we just be making a voyage for nothing?"
Nicolas closed his eyes. "I can't seem to get a grip on my sensations," he said. "Perhaps if we can get hold of a deck plan, I might be able to try dowsing."
"Perhaps we should ask the purser," replied Perrenelle. "But the crystal is definitely aboard this ship?"
"Its pull is weak. It seems to come and go. But when I can feel it, it is close. Yes, I think we shall find it aboard."
Perrenelle frowned. "There must be more than five hundred passengers, counting third class. Any one of them could have it."
"It has never been an easy task," said Nicolas philosophically. He stood up straight, and offered her his arm. "Shall we follow that good advice? Go to the observation deck and watch the departure?"
"Why not?" Perrenelle replied, allowing a small smile to play over her lips. If they did indeed find what they were looking for, they wouldn't have very much longer to savour new experiences. Therefore they would have to embrace those experiences fondly whenever they presented themselves. Like familiarity, immortality bred contempt. Once they had reversed their condition, they would be able to appreciate the beauty of existence for what it was.
Perrenelle took her husband's proffered arm.
He had been taken deep into the ship, and far forward towards the bow. There he was left in a small room with three other men. Vardek made some quick scans and calculations. The ship had a double skin, with a thin layer of shock absorbing foam in between, as a protection against meteoroid damage. This room was right against the inner hull, and thus less than a metre from the vacuum of space.
The narrow cabin had four bunk beds, two along each side. The bedding was plain and simple, although it was better than Vardek had become used to. The only storage space he had was a drawer under his bed, but then he had very little to stow away. The walls were painted plain white, and a single wash basin and mirror were affixed between the two sets of bunks.
The three men with whom he was sharing the cabin seemed not to care about its starkness. Just a few short days would see them return home after a long and gruelling tour of duty in the mines. One more slight discomfort now was not enough to upset them.
Vardek found memories rising of his own home, distant in time as well as space. He forced them back into the depths of his subconscious. He had a mission. He needed no distractions.
The three men were not friends, although two had met before in the
mines. Third class accommodation had clearly been allocated at random.
Vardek watched as they entered into an easy acquaintance, good enough to
last them the few days of the voyage. He did not get involved. He could not
reproduce such easy banter. Stowing away Thomas Kilgannon's belongings, he
slipped from the cabin, and made his way up to the observation deck.
"Dock control reports boarding complete, sir."
Captain Berlitz looked up from his holographic starchart, towards Third Officer Conrad, who stood at the duty monitoring station. "Are all the passengers aboard?"
"Apparently two haven't turned up," said Conrad. He was a fresh faced young man in his twenties - he'd only acquired his officer's bars a few months ago. The Greyshadow was his first assignment, but already he had proved himself efficient and trustworthy - better than some of the more experienced men assigned to the ship - which was why Berlitz had appointed him third officer.
The Captain shrugged. He couldn't be responsible for late passengers - the departure times were clearly announced. He glanced briefly at Krau Newstead. She didn't react to the news, so it was clear she was not expecting anyone to turn up.
She showed no intention of leaving the bridge. Berlitz was annoyed, but he didn't make a fuss. There was no point antagonizing her. She could probably make trouble for him if she wanted - and the Conglomerate would have no trouble hiring another captain.
"We are cleared for departure," announced Conrad.
"Secure the ship," said Berlitz. "Prepare to break orbit."
He turned to Krau Newstead. "This is where it gets busy," he said, trying to manage an apologetic smile. "I'm afraid you'll have to leave the bridge now."
She smiled at him, flashing him a set of perfect white teeth. In her position, she could afford expensive dental work. "Of course, Captain," she said. "I wouldn't want to distract you."
"Trau MacBride, perhaps you'll escort our guest back to first class."
MacBride took a couple of steps towards him. "Well, sir..." he began, but he couldn't think of an excuse. He was on duty, in so far as a senior officer must always be on duty, but he was not actually on watch until after dinner tonight.
Alicia took his arm. "What a good idea," she said. "Lead the way, Trau MacBride. No doubt I shall see you at dinner, Captain."
"I expect so, madam."
MacBride led her towards the door. Berlitz heaved a sigh of relief that she was out of his hair. His attention was drawn by Conrad.
"The ship is secure, sir. Ready for departure."
"Slow ahead starboard," Berlitz ordered.
The Doctor stared into the crystal instruments at the centre of the control console, that slowly rotated to gather information about the ship's surroundings. He straightened up with a satisfied grunt, smoothing back his light brown hair. "Well," he announced, "we've made it. The source of the Warcry is very close - no more than a few thousand yards away."
Rhonwen moved a little closer to him. "It shouldn't be too hard to find, then."
Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, the Doctor said, "We don't want to rush into this. A Kreilen can be extremely dangerous. With any luck, it won't have emerged fully from its suspended state yet."
"Well then," replied Rhonwen, "surely it will be easier to deal with if we locate it quickly."
The Doctor turned on the scanner screen. There wasn't much to see. The TARDIS appeared to have settled in semi-darkness. The only light came from some dim lamps mounted high up. They cast little more than a hazy glow, allowing the outlines of a large chamber to be vaguely discerned. Shapes loomed around the TARDIS, but they were too dark to be defined.
Although the scanner told him very little about their new location, the Doctor glanced again at a warning light that was flashing on the far side of the control panel. Its meaning was clear enough.
"We ought to tread carefully," he said. "We wouldn't want to alarm anyone. Word travels fast in a closed community, and it's easy to start a panic."
"What closed community?" asked Rhonwen.
Gesturing towards the flashing light, the Doctor said, "That means that we're still moving through space, even though the engines have stopped. We've landed inside another vessel."
"A ship? You mean a spaceship?"
"Yes," replied the Doctor. "I think the best way is for us to mingle with the passengers, and see what we can find out."
"Is there any easy way we can find the Kreilen?" asked Rhonwen.
"Well, it's stopped sending the Warcry now, so we don't have anything to
trace. We'll just have to keep our ears open for anything unusual. Once it
becomes fully activated, we'll soon know about it."
Vardek emerged onto the third class observation deck, a bare metal chamber with several windows that revealed the scene outside the ship. A few metal benches provided seating. It was situated in the bow of the ship, forward of the bridge.
The deck was swarming with people, most of them third class like himself. They clustered at the windows, watching as the globe of Canaxxa started to swing away on the ship's port side. For the miners, it was probably a relief to see the back of the planet.
The note of the ship's engines changed in pitch, and a gentle vibration
could be felt throughout the entire vessel. Slowly, she started to move
forward, turning towards the shining point of Sirius. As she started to
gather speed, Vardek looked around him. In just a few hours, the
Greyshadow would make the jump to hyperspace, and become completely
isolated from normal space. The circumstances could not be more ideal.
There was nowhere for the Kreilen to run.
Rhonwen peered out into semi-darkness. She could dimly make out some large shapes around the TARDIS. They looked like rectangular metal containers, each one several yards tall. It was too gloomy to make out the entire chamber, which seemed to be the size of a cathedral - but from what she could see, it appeared to be filled with such containers. "I suppose we're in the ship's hold," she said.
Behind her, the Doctor was locking the TARDIS door, using the light of his pen torch to illuminate the lock mechanism properly. He sniffed the air, taking in the odour of lubricant oils. "Yes, I'd say so. One of its compartments anyway." Absent mindedly, he gave the TARDIS shell an affectionate pat. He was glad she had chosen a secluded landing site.
"What are those metal containers?" Rhonwen asked.
"They're storage tanks for carrying refined metal ores and minerals. This ship is probably on a freight run for a mining corporation."
He started to stroll off between the towering metal tanks. Rhonwen hurried after him. "I suppose the Kreilen might have been unearthed during the mining," she suggested.
"Very possibly," said the Doctor.
"Then it could be inside one of these tanks."
"No no no. Ore screening and refinement is much more advanced than that - even back in your time, an impurity the size of a body would have been removed. No, the Kreilen's being kept somewhere else." He stopped, and looked around him. Then he started to walk again. "The way out's over here."
"How are we going to look?" asked Rhonwen, hurrying after him.
"Well, let's get settled in first. It'll give us time to get our bearings. According to the TARDIS's navigational readings, there's a planet just a few hundred kilometres astern."
"So, the ship must just have left there. She wouldn't manoeuvre so close to a planet otherwise. Besides, you can feel from the engine vibration that we're travelling sublight."
Rhonwen decided to take his word for it. "What does that mean?" she asked.
"It means," said the Doctor, "we can pretend we've just come on board. If anyone asks, we were up on the observation deck admiring the view before going to our cabin."
"What cabin? We've only just arrived."
The Doctor stopped before a metal hatch set in one wall. Its locking mechanism contained a keypad, with numeric buttons, and a large red control to open the door. Flexing his fingers, the Doctor reached out to the keypad, and pressed the red button. The door slid open with a rumbling sound. "I didn't think it would be locked," he said.
"Isn't the metal ore valuable?" asked Rhonwen.
"Yes, but how could anyone steal one of those storage tanks? They wouldn't fit through the door. The only way to get the ore out of here is to transmat it to the ground or to another vessel." He stepped through the hatchway, into a long metal corridor. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"The purser's office. We need to find out where our cabin is."
Alicia Newstead looked out at the stars. Canaxxa was already nothing more than a point of light - she doubted whether she could now pick it out from amongst the heavens. Hopefully she wouldn't have to go back there for a while.
"The observation deck offers exciting panoramic views all around the ship," explained First Officer MacBride, sounding like a travel brochure.
The first class observation deck was arranged as a passenger lounge, in a Regency style, with armchairs and sofas arranged around coffee tables. The whole room was enclosed by a gigantic glass dome. It was situated on a raised section at the stern of the ship.
"The glass is polarized of course," MacBride went on, "and darkens automatically to prevent sun glare when we enter a solar system."
"Most considerate," Alicia replied absent mindedly. She looked around the observation deck for any sign of Baines, but he was nowhere to be seen. The only other passengers were a couple sitting on the far side of the dome - a round faced man, and a pretty woman with curly blonde hair. She'd never seen them before, which was odd considering the relatively small number of people who visited Canaxxa.
"What time is dinner?" she asked.
"Twenty hundred hours, ship's time."
"And will I be seeing you there?"
"I'm afraid not, madam," said MacBride, smiling apologetically. "I shall probably be asleep. My duty is the low watch - midnight to eight."
"Well, that's a shame," Alicia murmured. She found, much to her surprise, that she'd taken a liking to MacBride's easy going manner, rather a contrast to the stiff formality she encountered in the office every day.
"I believe," said MacBride, "that you've been placed on the Captain's Table. A passenger of your importance would be - well, we have so few first class passengers."
"Well, in that case, I ought to prepare. I want to look my best for the Captain's Table."
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," MacBride said.
Alicia decided to take the remark as a compliment - something she rarely received. Most of her staff were so utterly afraid of her that they walked on eggshells around her. She could make or break careers, so perhaps they were right to do so. But it was a pleasant change to meet someone with a different attitude.
"Your steward will be able to fill you in on the arrangements," MacBride continued. "Would you like me to show you to your stateroom?"
"No, I think I'll find my own way," Alicia replied. "Thank you for your time."
"It was a pleasure," said MacBride.
They made their way up from the hold by a succession of staircases, and emerged into a more hospitable environment - a long corridor, painted a golden brown colour. Doors led off to passenger cabins on both sides. It was more brightly lit than the lower decks, and the atmosphere was maintained at a pleasantly warm temperature.
The Doctor led the way across a corridor intersection, and along another short passage which opened into a wider area. There were a few seats lining the walls, but they were empty. There was no one about.
"This looks like the place," the Doctor said.
Rhonwen followed his gaze towards a door, on which was marked the word Purser. Beside it was a large serving hatch, through which the purser would presumably collect and return people's valuable items. At the moment, it was locked shut.
The Doctor approached the door, and examined the lock. It was a small rectangular box, a standard electronic device operated by a datakey. No doubt only the senior officers would have access.
"It's at times like this that I wish I still had my sonic screwdriver," the Doctor muttered. Stepping back, he rubbed his hands together and cracked his knuckles, like a safebreaker in a detective film. He felt carefully around the edges of the lock, and then tapped it firmly with his fingertips, three times.
A few seconds later, the door slid open.
"How did you do that?" Rhonwen asked.
"It's just a little trick I learnt once," the Doctor smiled. "Fortunately, I knew the man who designed this particular kind of lock. He was always locking himself out - very absent minded, he kept losing his datakey. That's very embarrassing for a security systems designer. So he built a little shortcut into it. You'd better keep watch."
He slipped inside the purser's office. There was a large safe built into one wall. In the centre of the room was a desk with a computer terminal.
The Doctor tapped a few controls on the computer keyboard, and called up a passenger manifest.
"What are you doing?" Rhonwen called from the door, in a loud stage whisper. She flicked nervous glances up and down the corridor.
"I'm looking for our names," the Doctor replied. "Here we are, Doctor Smith and Krau Jones." He entered some data, and cleared the screen.
Retreating into the corridor, the Doctor pressed a control to close the door. The locking mechanism was automatic, so the door sealed behind him.
"What did you do?" Rhonwen asked.
"I just updated the passenger manifest," said the Doctor. "It did say that we missed the ship's departure - now it says we came aboard at Canaxxa."
"Yes, that must be the planet the ship's just left." He crossed to the far wall, on which there was a computer display screen. Pressing some touch panels, he displayed a deck plan of the ship. "There's our cabin," he said, pointing to the screen. "First class. Nothing but the best for us. This way." He started to move off along the corridor.
"I don't understand," said Rhonwen as she followed him. "How can we have a cabin when we've only just come on board?"
"Oh, that's no problem," replied the Doctor airily. "Just remind me to
stop off at the Sirius Conglomerate's offices some time last week, and I'll
Quincey looked at the ore container, sitting incongruously in the middle of the stateroom. The room had not been prepared for a passenger - the furniture had been pushed to the sides, and the bed had not been made up. Baines had the adjoining stateroom, with access through a connecting door.
The door was open, and Quincey could see Baines adjusting his clothes in the mirror, ready to go to dinner.
"It looks safe enough," said Quincey, gesturing towards the container. The broken atmospheric gauge was on the far side of the container, hidden from Baines's view. The cylinder had been locked, no doubt with Baines's personal datakey.
Baines turned and looked at him. "It should be," he replied. "It'll be hard to move without an antigrav lifter, and no one should be able to steal it without being spotted."
"Who's going to steal a few ore samples?" asked Quincey, coming back through the door into Baines's stateroom. He glanced around, and spotted Baines's wallet lying on top of a desk.
"Who indeed?" Baines seemed to sink into thought for a few moments, then turned back to the mirror, and studied his reflexion. He would certainly pass muster at the Captain's Table. The invitation card was sitting proudly on the writing table. He was a little surprised that he was considered important enough to eat at the Captain's Table. But then again, there couldn't be that many first class passengers on the ship - he was probably included just to make up the numbers.
"I'm sorry you're in second class," he said to Quincey. "The Academius budget wouldn't stretch to three first class staterooms."
"It's all right," replied Quincey. "The accommodation is acceptable."
Baines glanced at his watch. "Well, I'd better not keep you from your dinner. Do you need to dress?"
"They don't stand on ceremony in second class," said Quincey pithily.
"No," Baines muttered. He didn't usually dress for dinner himself. It just seemed to be the done thing when travelling first class - a throwback to older times, older social systems.
Examining his reflexion once more, he realized what he was missing. He stepped into his dressing room.
Quincey took advantage of Baines's absence, and picked up his wallet. As he had hoped, the archaeologist's personal datakey was in the usual pocket. Quickly, he slipped it out and stuffed it inside his tunic. Baines used it to lock his office at the Academius, and his safe deposit box at the Usurian Bank on Androzani Major - and now the ore container. Since there was a different, ship issue datakey for the stateroom door, Quincey hoped the absence wouldn't immediately be noticed. He could slip the key back tomorrow.
Baines returned from his dressing room, an ornamental pin attached to the front of his tunic. "I'll see you in the morning," he said.
Quincey nodded, and went out. He made his way along the corridor, thinking about dinner. It was very likely that he would miss it tonight - it was more important for him to get back to the ore container and check it thoroughly for any damage. Perhaps he could get the second class stewardess to bring him something cold from the galley later.
He found a small alcove a little way along the corridor. It was in
shadow, and it afforded him a good view of the door to Baines's stateroom.
He would wait until the archaeologist went to dinner.
Rhonwen looked around the sitting room. It was decorated to evoke an earlier age - white alabaster walls and ceiling, and gold trimmings. There were even red velvet curtains on the windows. There were two bedrooms adjoining, each with its own private bathroom and dressing room.
In her dressing room, she was surprised to find several cases, all neatly labelled with her name. They contained several changes of clothing, in the peculiar styles popular in the thirty fifth century.
Returning to the sitting room, she asked the Doctor, "Where did all these cases come from?"
"Ah," murmured the Doctor, "I'll drop them off later when I book our passage. It wouldn't look right if we came aboard without any luggage."
"But why are there so many?"
The Doctor smiled. "We wouldn't want you to run out of clothes."
He looked round suddenly towards the door, which had opened. Standing in the doorway was a balding, middle aged man in the white uniform of a steward. Seeing them, he blinked in surprise. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know anyone was in here."
"Well, this is our suite," the Doctor replied.
The steward looked at him in puzzlement. "Well, forgive me, sir, but this suite was reserved for Doctor Smith and his ward."
"That's right. I am Doctor Smith. Krau Jones here is my ward. And you are?"
There was such an air of authority about the Doctor, the steward found himself answering automatically. "Escott, sir. First class steward." He hesitated, and shook his head as if to clear it. "I don't understand, sir. I was informed you had missed the departure."
"There must be some mistake," the Doctor said, getting to his feet.
Escott shuffled his feet nervously. If there had been an administrative mix up, he didn't want to get in trouble for insulting a first class passenger. The easiest way was to check with the purser. "As you say, sir, a mistake," he mumbled. "Is there anything I can get for you?"
"No thank you, not at the moment."
Escott smiled gratefully. He stepped back into the corridor, adding, "Dinner is at eight." The door closed upon him.
"Eight," said the Doctor, taking out his watch. "That doesn't give us much time. You'd better get changed."
"What's wrong with what I've got on?" demanded Rhonwen. She looked down at her clothes. She was wearing a miniskirt, with a chessboard pattern of alternating black and white shapes. It was the height of fashion, and the white boots set it off very nicely.
"It's hardly appropriate for the first class dining saloon of a thirty fifth century ship. This society has invented its own snobbery." He crossed to the writing table, and picked up two small printed cards. They must have been left there by the steward earlier. "Besides, look. We're invited to the Captain's Table. We want to look our best. You'll find something suitable in your cases."
"All right." Rhonwen moved towards her bedroom. She paused at the door. "What about you?" she asked. "Don't you need to change as well?"
Frowning, the Doctor glanced down at his tweed suit and brushed some
fluff from the lapels of his jacket. "Nonsense," he said, straightening his
tie for good measure. "My sartorial elegance fits in anywhere."
Quincey moved along the corridor towards Baines's cabin. From the alcove, he had watched the archaeologist set off on his way to dinner. Stopping at the door of the second stateroom, where the ore container was stored, Quincey reached into his pocket and extracted the datakey. It was fortunate that Baines had given him a spare key to the room - it saved a lot of trouble.
He glanced up and down the corridor, but there was no one in sight. It wasn't that he had no business to be entering the stateroom - after all he had a key - but if someone saw him and mentioned it to Baines, he'd have to explain the reason for his visit, something he'd prefer not to have to do.
Opening the door, Quincey slipped inside the cabin and switched on the lights. He moved towards the ore container, and slid round behind it to examine the atmospheric gauge. Despite the broken glass, the display appeared still to be working. It registered a full, normal atmosphere inside the cylinder.
So, the seals had ruptured. Quincey decided to check inside. Hopefully the ore samples were undamaged. More importantly, he might be able to repair the seals in some way. If not, perhaps he could bribe one of the ship's engineers to do it.
He took out the datakey he'd borrowed earlier. Unlocking the lid of the container, he opened it and looked inside.
With some surprise, he found himself looking at the naked body of a young man. He was aged perhaps in his middle twenties, and looked almost comfortable, just lying there on his back. His eyes were closed, and Quincey could not tell whether he was dead or merely unconscious. But one thing was certain. This was clearly not a collection of ore samples.
Quincey found himself staggered and confused. He had worked with Baines for three years. To suddenly find such an esteemed archaeologist transporting a body across space defied belief. Quincey began to feel he didn't know the man at all.
He reached into the cylinder. With some distaste and trepidation, he laid a hand upon the body, seeking a pulse. The skin was quite cool to the touch, although not deathly cold. Maybe the young man was still alive.
Suddenly, the body jerked. The eyes snapped open. Quincey jumped back in fright. The young man hauled himself up out of the container. He reached out and grabbed hold of Quincey's arm.
He possessed immense strength. Quincey tried to pull himself free, but the grip was like an iron vice. The man gave a vicious tug, and Quincey was pulled towards him, stumbling and tripping. He came down on his knees, crashing towards the metal cylinder. He put out his arms to break his fall.
The young man jerked him up over the side of the container. With incredible speed, he shifted the position of his hands so that they were clamped around Quincey's throat. He started to squeeze tightly. Quincey struggled, but the pressure around his throat was too much. Already he felt weak, and darkness was closing in around him.