Warcry of Hallatern
The Philosopher's Stone
Rhonwen sat forlorn with a dry martini, or something that tasted like it. The reception lounge was almost empty now - only a single stewardess was hovering in the background, and probably wishing she would finish her drink and go to bed.
Rhonwen felt in a rebellious mood - she resented the Doctor telling her to go back to the stateroom. He seemed to be a bit overprotective at times. She could look after herself.
She had to admit she'd come to the lounge partly in the hope of seeing Johann Ryder again - but there was no sign of him. It was unlikely he'd appear this late. She might as well finish this drink and retire.
The sound of voices drew her attention to the door. The Doctor entered with the scruffily bearded little man he had been talking to before dinner. Seeing her, they stopped their conversation.
The Doctor approached her and sat down opposite. "I told you to go to bed," he said indignantly.
"I wasn't tired," Rhonwen replied. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
The Doctor scratched the side of his nose thoughtfully, and then said, "Why not? This is Nicolas Flamel."
Taking a couple of steps forward, Nicolas smiled nervously and nodded his head in greeting.
"Not the Nicolas Flamel?" Rhonwen asked jokingly.
"You've heard of me?"
"No. Well, what I mean is there was an alchemist in the fourteenth century with the same name. Perhaps you're a descendant?"
Nicolas frowned, but didn't reply.
"Oh no," said the Doctor, "he's the original."
"Doctor!" implored Nicolas, slumping down in a free seat. He wanted his secret to remain one.
"It's all right," the Doctor replied soothingly. "Rhonwen is a friend of mine."
Nicolas seemed to relax, but he still looked at Rhonwen a little askance.
She gazed back at him, uncomprehending. "It's ridiculous," she said.
"What is?" asked the Doctor.
"If he was Nicolas Flamel, he'd be over two thousand years old."
"And I don't look a day over fifty?" Flamel rejoined.
The Doctor turned to face Rhonwen. "You clearly know something about Nicolas Flamel," he said. "But he wasn't on our syllabus, was he?"
"I do read more than just my course text books," Rhonwen replied pithily.
"So," the Doctor went on, ignoring the remark, "you must know about his supposed achievement."
"The transmutation of base metals into gold."
"The discovery of the Elixir of Life," added Rhonwen reluctantly. "But it's just a story. It's not true."
"Well," said Nicolas, with just a tinge of sadness, "I am fabulously wealthy, and two thousand and eighty two years old. Draw your own conclusions."
Rhonwen shook her head, but somehow she found it hard to disbelieve them. There was an air of sincerity about them - the Doctor especially she couldn't believe would lie to her about this.
She swallowed the last of her drink. "I'm tired."
The Doctor smiled gently. "Why don't you turn in now?" he suggested. "I'll explain everything in the morning."
She rose, and muttered good night. The Doctor and Nicolas watched her departure. "She is your travelling companion?" Nicolas asked.
"For the moment," replied the Doctor.
"Yet she found it so hard to believe us."
"Well, she's an historian. She's been taught the official version, and it can be hard to put that aside. She'll learn."
Nicolas nodded. "So, let us discuss our business."
"Why do you wish to end your immortality?" asked the Doctor.
Nicolas shrugged. "I wasn't that keen to begin with. It was Perrenelle's idea - my wife."
"I remember her."
"Well, she said she wanted to grow old gracefully. Personally, I'd have stayed immortal - at least for a while longer. I don't think I've yet experienced everything I want to."
"Growing old can be an experience," said the Doctor. "An important part of life."
"That's what Perrenelle says."
"In fact human life would be less meaningful without it."
"Yes," replied Nicolas. "In the last fifty years or so, I've come to agree with that. Perrenelle's right. We shouldn't go on forever. But I just feel we can squeeze a few more centuries in before the end. There are thousands of things to do or see yet."
"We all go to our graves with a few regrets," the Doctor pontificated. "A few promises unfulfilled. It's part of what life's about." It was true, even for a Time Lord. He'd lived for a thousand years, and he hoped to get at least as many again - maybe more if he managed his regenerative cycle better than he had in the past. But ultimately, he wasn't immortal. There would come a day when the end was in sight - when he'd look back and wonder about all the things he should have done, if only he'd had the time.
"You'd get on with Perrenelle," said Nicolas.
"I must meet her again," the Doctor replied.
There was a commotion from the doorway. The Doctor looked up to see the tired stewardess suddenly spring to life, and talk animatedly to someone trying to enter. Beyond her, stood the dishevelled figure of Vardek. Jumping up, the Doctor walked across to the door.
"You can't come in here," the stewardess was saying. Her tone was far from pleasant. "This lounge is for first class passengers. You've got your own recreation facilities in the bow."
"It's all right," the Doctor said calmly.
Turning, the stewardess regarded him. "I'm sorry, sir, but it isn't. There are certain rules that have to be adhered to, and one of them forbids steerage passengers from coming into these parts of the ship."
"Doctor," said Vardek, talking past the stewardess. "We must speak. It is important."
The Doctor nodded. He turned back to Flamel. "Nicolas. I have to go now. We'll have to talk some other time."
"But Doctor..." began Nicolas, jumping to his feet. He had to try and
get his hands on the crystal. But before he could say anything more, the
Doctor slipped past the stewardess, and disappeared along the corridor.
As soon as they were out of earshot of the lounge, the Doctor turned to Vardek. "Have you decided to co-operate with me?" he asked.
"Maybe," replied Vardek. "But I do not understand your involvement in this matter."
"Let's just say I'm a champion of life," the Doctor said. "I'd like to ensure that as many people keep theirs as possible."
"Then you may not appreciate what I have to show you."
Captain Berlitz surveyed the wreckage of the communications room. He stood in the doorway behind the two officers. One was a young woman, still completing her operational experience; the other a seasoned veteran, a middle aged man with a lined face and heavily lidded eyes, called Crispin.
"And you say one man did all this?" Berlitz demanded.
The two looked at each other, but neither seemed to know what to say. Crispin turned to the Captain. "We only saw the one, sir. He knocked us out with some sort of stun beam. There could have been others waiting, I suppose." He sounded uncertain, but that was more a result of his disorientation. He had a headache the size of the Greyshadow's main reactor - the last time he'd felt as bad as this, at least the night before had been pleasurable enough to justify it.
"How long to repair it?" asked Berlitz.
Crispin shook his head. "Hard to say, sir. We've scarcely been able to assess all the damage yet - but it looks like every system has been taken out. We might get basic ship-to-shore in a couple of days - if we're lucky."
"All right, carry on. I'll see if the engineer can spare anyone to help you."
Berlitz turned around to face MacBride and Paluzzi, who were looking in from the corridor - the communications room wasn't big enough to accommodate them all at once. They fell back to allow him out into the corridor. "What do you think?" he asked them.
"It's senseless," said MacBride.
"No," muttered Paluzzi. "It's systematic."
"Right," said Berlitz. "To my mind, there's only one explanation. This is the prelude to a hijacking."
"Surely not," MacBride replied. "Why destroy the communications? The hijackers would need to broadcast their demands."
The Captain barked a hollow laugh. "I hardly think we're grand enough for a political publicity stunt, Trau MacBride. No, I meant simple piracy. The ore we're carrying is worth a fortune."
"I have to agree," said Paluzzi.
"What are your orders?" asked MacBride.
Berlitz started off along the corridor, adopting a brisk pace and a brisk manner. "Put the crew on alert. Krau Paluzzi, open the small arms locker and issue the men with sidearms."
"And keep an eye on the comms crew - I want all systems restored as soon as possible. It would be nice to be able to send a distress signal if the need arises. Trau MacBride, you will organize a security drill for the crew. And try to keep the passengers in the dark."
"Very good, sir," said MacBride.
"Better put a guard on the communications room as well," the Captain added. "I don't want our unwanted guests to try again."
"Leave it to me," MacBride replied. He certainly wanted the communications systems repaired - how else would his people's demands be broadcast when the ship was taken? He was rather worried about this latest development however. It had never been part of the plan to sabotage the communications - therefore, he had to assume the culprit had no connexion with Ryder's conspiracy. If the Captain was right, and there were pirates aboard, it could seriously complicate matters. He really needed to talk it over with Ryder.
"If there's nothing else," Berlitz added, "I'll go back to bed." He disappeared along the corridor.
Well, that was the Captain's prerogative, thought MacBride. He gave the orders, he didn't have to carry them out. The old boy was more concerned than he was letting on - the safety of the Greyshadow was always his absolute priority. But he never allowed himself to get flustered - or at least, he never showed it to the crew.
MacBride turned to Paluzzi. "Break out the small arms, Connie, then you
can turn in as well. I can handle it for tonight."
The Doctor looked around the small storeroom. He was a little surprised to see the body of a man secreted awkwardly inside, jammed under a shelf of cleaning materials. A plastic sheet had been pulled over the corpse to try and hide it. Crouching down, the Doctor pulled the sheet back to reveal the face. "Ryder," he said.
"Do you know him?" asked Vardek.
"Not really. We met very briefly." The Doctor gave the body a quick examination. Rigor hadn't set in yet, suggesting he'd only been dead a few hours. "He didn't die in here, obviously."
"No," said Vardek. "This was the first convenient place to which I could move the body. I did not wish attention to be drawn to the activities of the Kreilen."
"Where was he?"
"One of the staterooms along the corridor. Number A-46."
"That's Krau Newstead's cabin," murmured the Doctor. "I wonder what he was doing there."
Vardek reached into a pocket and removed a plastic case. He opened it to reveal a collection of data storage blocks. "This case was open and the blocks scattered on the floor. There was a computer terminal on the desk - the victim had evidently been scanning them."
The Doctor picked up one of the transparent plastic pyramids thoughtfully. "The Kreilen's unlikely to have mistaken these for kaprihal," he said.
"I agree," Vardek replied. "But driven by the desire to find its control crystal, the Kreilen could have been indiscriminately searching the body - and then it discarded them in frustration."
"It seems reasonable." The Doctor got to his feet, and reached out his hand for the plastic case. Vardek surrendered it without complaint. The Doctor replaced the data block, and dropped the case into his pocket.
"You know," he said, "you must be the only living Hallat in existence. I never realized there were any of you left."
Vardek gazed into space for a few moments, and there was a look almost of sadness in his eyes. "Whilst there still exists a Kreilen, there will exist one of us. We swore to track them down. When one was neutralized, the man responsible could give up the life of the hunter - he could age again, and enjoy a few normal years before death. I sensed the other Kreilens being neutralized - I knew my colleagues had succeeded. The last was over fifteen hundred years ago. I knew that I was the last survivor."
"It can't have been an easy life," said the Doctor.
"Maybe not," Vardek conceded. "But I do not feel regret." He tapped the side of his head.
"Ah yes, that computer in your head. It governs your emotional responses?"
Vardek nodded. "I am not permitted to feel anything for myself - my mission is everything I am."
"The computer cannot suppress the sadness you feel," the Doctor remarked.
"No," said Vardek. "But it keeps it under control. I have not seen Hallatern for over eight thousand years - and I never will again. I am aware of the destruction of my society."
"Then why do you go on? Surely you could deactivate that computer, and restore some semblance of normality to your life."
"Not when there still exists one Kreilen - as I am the last survivor, it is my responsibility. The computer assists me, it does not control me. This is my choice, and I must live with it." Vardek fixed the Doctor with a piercing stare. "Can you understand that? I made a promise to my world, to my people. I volunteered with others to give up my life for Hallatern's sake. You see, it had been five hundred years since we forged our empire. The Kreilens did that for us. But time brings change, and the people recognized the great evil that the Kreilens represented. So, we gathered them in and destroyed them."
"But the Kreilens weren't prepared to come quietly," the Doctor commented.
"They were intelligent creatures, Doctor, though that intelligence was directed entirely towards death and destruction. One hundred and thirty seven Kreilens escaped, wreaking a trail of havoc across the Galaxy."
"So one hundred and thirty seven men volunteered to go after them?"
"And I was one of them," said Vardek. "My promise was never to stop until I had completed my task. And though the people to whom I swore it, and everything I swore by, are now gone, I cannot break my word. Do you understand?"
The Doctor nodded. He recalled a promise he had made to his wife nearly eight hundred years ago - he hadn't always kept it, but from now on he would endeavour to.
"All right," he said, rubbing his hands together briskly. "There's a lot
to do. We need to move quickly. First, I think we'd better put this body
somewhere safe. Then there's something I want you to look at."
Alicia awoke with a feeling of distinct unease. She hadn't slept well, not after the traumatic events of yesterday. As a result, she wasn't at her best this morning. But it was something more than that. She still felt an almost physical presence in her cabin. Was it just a corporealization of her grief and shock, or was there some other explanation?
She finished dressing, and thought about breakfast - maybe some food inside her would make her feel better. She turned to pick up her valise, and then she knew what the problem was. The lock had been forced. Fearing she had been robbed, Alicia quickly opened the case. Her personal artifacts all appeared to be present. Even her computer terminal was still here, which would surely be the first thing a thief would take. For a moment, she started to relax. But then she realized that the case of data blocks was missing.
Jumping up, Alicia began to look around the room. She knew it would do no good. One of her fellow passengers was obviously an industrial spy, and had helped himself to her files. But the implications were far worse - the information on those data blocks would incriminate the Sirius Conglomerate in shady dealings on Canaxxa. So maybe she was facing more than industrial espionage. The culprit could have been anyone from a political agitator to a Federation investigator.
"Looking for something?" asked a voice from the door.
Alicia spun round to face the Doctor, who seemed to be watching her movements closely. Now, here was a possible undercover man - his eccentric historian was a superb cover story. He seemed far too harmless for anyone to suspect him. But he did seem to know too much about everything that was happening.
"Doctor," she began. "I didn't hear you knock." So which was he, she wondered, a government snoop or an industrial spy?
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor matter of factly. "I just wondered if you were looking for this." He held out the plastic case of data blocks.
Alicia snatched it from him and opened the lid. All the blocks appeared to be in place. "Where did you get this?" she demanded.
"Someone was found trying to steal it last night."
"Who? And where are they now?"
The Doctor smiled. "What's in these files?" he asked casually.
"Nothing," Alicia stated. "Just some company reports."
"About the mining operation on Canaxxa?"
"Mostly, yes." Alicia looked him in the eye. "Why are you so interested?"
"I was just wondering why Ryder would want to steal them."
"Ryder?" Alicia repeated. "Johann Ryder?"
"That's right. He's in Baines's cabin now."
Rhonwen stared at the body on Baines's settee. The Doctor had covered it with a sheet, just as he had Baines's own corpse, but Rhonwen still knew it was Johann Ryder. She couldn't bring herself to lift the sheet and look at him.
It was hard to believe. She'd only been talking to him last night - and now he was dead. The worst thing was that she realized she had become more than a little fond of Ryder, and that made his death harder to accept.
Perhaps for the first time, the reality of life with the Doctor came home to Rhonwen. She had already seen several people die, but they had been strangers. The exception was Douglas Shelley, a fellow student at the LSE, who had died right in front of her - but she had managed to keep her feelings in check by recalling how obnoxious he had been to her.
Now when she found herself beginning to like someone, he was abruptly killed. Was it always going to be like this? She wondered how the Doctor could cope with all the death and destruction around him.
The door opened to admit Krau Newstead. She looked determinedly around the room, seeking something. Then her eyes fell upon the sheet covered corpse, and her spirit was suddenly deflated. She turned to the Doctor, who had followed her inside. "Is that him?" she asked, pointing to the body.
The Doctor nodded.
Alicia reached out, and pulled back the sheet. Rhonwen tried to turn away, so she didn't have to look at Ryder's face - but she wasn't quick enough. She caught sight of a large gash in the side of his head, from which blood had streaked across his face. She sat down in an armchair, and closed her eyes in horror.
Alicia didn't display such squeamishness. Even with Baines's body lying just a few feet away, she maintained an image of calm indifference. She asked, "Who killed him?"
"The Kreilen," said the Doctor. "It seems it stumbled into your room because it was the only one inhabited at the time - we were all at dinner. When it found Ryder, it killed him."
He slowly approached the corpse, and rubbed his hands together. Then he reached out and turned Ryder's head to look closely at the wound. As if satisfied, he stood back and removed a magnifying glass from his pocket. He pulled open Ryder's eyelid, and peered intently through the lens into the dead iris.
Rhonwen took deep breaths to calm herself, and opened her eyes. It filled her with horror and sadness to look upon Ryder's body, yet a kind of morbid fascination made her watch the Doctor at work. "What are you doing?" she whispered.
"I've got to conduct an examination," the Doctor replied calmly.
"What? Here?" Rhonwen found herself plagued with frightening images of the Doctor wielding a scalpel and cutting Ryder open.
"Yes," added Alicia, "shouldn't you go to the sick bay?"
"Then I'd have to explain to the ship's surgeon what was going on," said the Doctor.
"Ah yes," muttered Alicia, "that's a good point. You'd better carry on."
The Doctor looked across at Rhonwen. He could see she had been upset by Ryder's demise, and he wanted her to be spared any further pain. He smiled reasssuringly. "It's all right. It won't be a full post mortem. I already know how he died. I only have to scan his brain for traces of neuroviral infection. That should tell me how far the Kreilen's development has come."
He reached into his jacket pocket and removed a grey box, with an illuminated display panel. There was a soft pad on one side of it, which he placed against Ryder's forehead.
"What's that?" asked Rhonwen.
"A medical scanner," the Doctor said. "I, er... borrowed it from the sick bay this morning." He pressed a control, and a mass of figures scrolled across the display screen.
"Well?" Alicia demanded.
"There's no trace of the neurovirus."
"Is that good or bad?"
"I'm not sure," replied the Doctor. "I'd have expected the Kreilen's victims to be infected. This could mean the Kreilen is no longer capable of producing the virus."
"Well, that's a relief," said Rhonwen.
"Then again, in its present debilitated condition, it could just be that the Kreilen will need more time to generate the virus. That danger could still be waiting for us."
"Well, we'd better hurry up and find it, then," said Alicia.
"Yes," murmured the Doctor absent mindedly. He was studying the information on the medical scanner intently. "That's interesting."
"What is?" asked Alicia.
The Doctor removed the scanner, and placed his hand behind the back of Ryder's neck. He gently pressed the skin with his fingertips. Looking up, he announced, "This man is a Canaxxan."
Rhonwen looked from the Doctor to Ryder's still form, much as the sight of it filled her with dread. With this revelation, a great number of things about Ryder made sense.
Alicia couldn't accept it however, and she stared at the Doctor in disbelief. "That's ridiculous."
The Doctor shrugged. "Canaxxans have two small glands slightly protruding at the back of the neck - and his internal organs are markedly different from a human's."
"But the Canaxxans are a primitive race."
"Not always," said the Doctor. "There was an advanced technological civilization there once."
"Yes," added Rhonwen. "Johann told me that the original culture had survived. He said it would rise again one day."
"Well, it's possible he was talking from personal experience," the Doctor replied.
Alicia looked at the case of data blocks clutched in her hand. "Maybe that's why he was interested in my files," she mused.
"Very likely," said the Doctor.
"He accused the Sirius Conglomerate of exploiting Canaxxa," Rhonwen explained. "He said proof was needed to expose you to the Federation."
Alicia said nothing, but her grip tightened upon the plastic case, as if she were making doubly sure it was safe.
The door opened, and Vardek slipped silently inside. Alicia stared uncertainly at the unkempt figure, and put the case of data blocks away in her pocket.
"Now we're all here," said the Doctor, "we'd better make a start." He carefully drew the sheet back over Ryder's body.
"I'll speak to the first officer," said Alicia. "We might need his help."
"All right," the Doctor replied. "But don't attempt to hunt for it on your own. This time we need to be better prepared. Meet us back here in a couple of hours."
Alicia nodded, and moved towards the door. She slipped warily past Vardek and went out.
Her reaction was no surprise to Vardek - he had become used to people treating him with fear and suspicion.
From his pocket, he took a long metal cylinder - one of the neural projectors the Doctor had rigged up the night before. "I have examined this, Doctor," he said. "I think it will work."
"That's reassuring," the Doctor replied. "I was rather guessing when I put it together last night."
"It should be effective at least in stunning the Kreilen."
"That's good enough." The Doctor took back the projector. "I presume you have your own weaponry?"
"Then we're as prepared as we'll ever be," the Doctor said.
"What do you propose?"
"The Kreilen must be somewhere dark and secluded. We should start by searching the holds."
"Equally," said Vardek, "there are a number of empty cabins. It could have hidden in any of those."
"Well, we can deal with them later," the Doctor replied. "When we find out what the first officer has to say."
"Very well." Vardek moved towards the door. "I shall search the aft hold compartments."
The Doctor glanced at Rhonwen. "We'll take the forward," he said.
MacBride was woken by a presence in his cabin. He had always been a light sleeper, which sometimes made working the night watch difficult - he found it hard to sleep in the daytime with the bustle of shipboard life going on around him.
Someone was moving towards his bed. He slowly inched open an eyelid. In the gloom, he could just make out the figure. As it approached, MacBride suddenly stretched out his arm and grabbed the intruder firmly by the wrist. There was a cry of shock and pain, as he tried to pull the stranger off balance.
MacBride reached for the lamp beside his bed, and switched it on. It cast a pool of light over the features of Alicia Newstead, struggling against his grip.
Releasing her, MacBride demanded, "What the hell is going on? Why were you creeping up on me?"
"I didn't know if you were awake or not," Alicia replied, trying to straighten her clothes. "I didn't want to startle you."
"What do you want?"
"As a matter of fact, I want your help."
"Really?" said MacBride.
Alicia perched herself on the end of the bed, and smiled at him. "You see, there's something going on here. It might be serious - I can't really say at the moment. But it would be useful to have the assistance of one of the officers."
"I don't understand you," MacBride stammered. His mind was still addled with exhaustion.
"I can't explain," said Alicia. "But if you come with me, you'll be able to see for yourself."
MacBride rubbed his eyes. Did she know about the coming hijack? That scarcely seemed possible - and if that were the case, why was she talking to him in this clandestine manner? "If there's some danger to the ship," he asked, "why aren't you talking to the Captain?"
"For the moment," said Alicia, "I don't want him to know. In fact, the fewer people who know the better. I'm sure your discretion can be relied upon." She placed her hand gently on his arm. "I can make it worth your while."
MacBride smiled. "I'm sure you can," he whispered. Whatever she knew, he
had to find out about it. If she had uncovered the planned hijack, she
needed to be silenced. If it was something else, it could have a
detrimental effect on the hijacking - the damage to the communications room
was already enough of a problem to deal with. Either way, he had to make
sure. "I don't suppose it can do any harm," he said casually. "I'll get
The Doctor glanced at his etheric beam locator, but it gave him no reading. He put it back in his pocket and went back to adjusting the neural projector with a screwdriver.
Rhonwen watched him. "What will that do?" she asked.
"Basically," said the Doctor, "it will produce a low level etheric beam similar to the energy pattern of the kaprihal crystal. It should serve to lure the Kreilen out of hiding."
"Is that wise?"
"Well, hunting it has done no good. There are too many places it could hide. We need to draw it out into the open."
"Why not just leave the crystal as the bait in a trap," Rhonwen wondered, "like you did last night?"
"Because it didn't work last night," replied the Doctor. "All it attracted was Flamel. No, it seems the energy pattern is too weak to be detected all over the ship. We could wait days for the Kreilen to be active in the right place at the right time. And we haven't got days. We need to find it before the neurovirus becomes viable."
"So we do have to hunt it?"
"Not exactly. We don't have to find its precise hiding place - just to check every section of the ship. The neural projector will do the rest." Finishing his work, he picked up the slender silver rods and went to the door.
Rhonwen glanced back at the body of Johann Ryder, covered by the sheet. She felt anger rising up within her - anger at the injustice of his senseless killing. And also at losing the opportunity to know him better.
She turned, and followed the Doctor into the corridor. Forcing her grief to one side, she tried to concentrate on something else - something that had been playing on her mind. She had to get an answer. "Why did the crystal attract Flamel?"
"I think," said the Doctor, leading the way towards the ship's bow, "that he's got some kind of psychic link to it."
"Is he really Nicolas Flamel, the alchemist?" Rhonwen asked.
"Oh, yes. No doubt about it."
"Then you've met him before?"
"A long time ago," the Doctor replied. "He'd come across an ancient text containing alchemical secrets, but he couldn't understand it. Then he met a man called Canches, who explained the lost principles to him."
Rhonwen shook her head in disbelief. "But alchemy is just a lot of superstition. There was no truth to it."
"On the contrary," said the Doctor, "alchemy was the major science of its day - right up to the eighteenth century in fact."
They arrived at a staircase, and started to descend. The Doctor continued, "It's true that many of alchemy's practitioners were obsessed with finding the Philosopher's Stone, transmuting base metals to gold, that sort of thing - that's why it gets such a bad name in the modern world. But it was more than that, much more. It was the study of the world and the universe, the elements, and man's relation to them. It was the foundation stone for modern science. Would it surprise you to learn that great thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were all accomplished alchemists?"
"All right," said Rhonwen, "even if I accept that, you can't expect me to believe that Flamel has discovered the secret of immortality."
"Flamel was the only alchemist who was successful in achieving the great goal. He discovered the Elixir of Life in 1383, and he's been like that ever since."
"Well," began the Doctor, "you see, alchemy represented the last remnants of an ancient scientific knowledge, lost to the people of Earth after wars and the collapse of earlier civilizations. And that in turn was derived from alien technology."
He came to a halt on the steps, and reached into his pocket, extracting the argonite lined sample box. Opening the lid, he showed Rhonwen the kaprihal crystal for a moment. "This is the Philosopher's Stone. Or something very like it. A number of crystals similar to this found their way to Earth, way back in the ancient past. Ultimately, they were lost. They got scattered over the planet, and their meaning was forgotten."
"But what are they for?" Rhonwen asked.
"They focus the energies of the cosmos. The kaprihal crystals were the basis of civilization on the planet Quinnis. They were used to literally redesign matter." He dropped the box back into his pocket, and continued down the stairs. "In genetic manipulation, for instance, kaprihal enabled you to customize your DNA. That's what the Hallats did to make the Kreilens so long lived - and Vardek too, in a sense."
"So Vardek's got a crystal in his head as well?" asked Rhonwen, as she hurried after him.
The Doctor smiled. "Well, actually he has, but it's not the same thing at all. His crystal is an interface to convert digital information to neural energy."
They emerged into a third class corridor - the plain white paintwork was an immediate contrast with the opulent decorations of first class. The Doctor pulled out his etheric beam locator, and studied the readings intently. Without looking up, he said, "Vardek's immortality comes from a benign virus, that continually renews his cell structure. It's a masterpiece of genetic engineering."
"It makes the Kreilen seem very crude," Rhonwen remarked.
"That's because it is crude," the Doctor replied. "A very pale
attempt at emulating the Quinnista." He put the locator away and strode off
along the corridor, so suddenly that Rhonwen was unable to ask him anything
more. She hurried to catch him up.
MacBride entered the stateroom cautiously. He had no idea what Alicia was leading him into. The shutters were drawn across the windows, and the room was in semi darkness. He could only detect a few vague shapes.
Closing the door, Alicia switched on the light. MacBride looked around, and immediately realized what the sheet covered shapes were. "What's going on here?" he demanded.
"I'm not entirely sure," said Alicia.
"Are these men dead?"
MacBride marched over to the nearest body and pulled back the sheet. It was Ryder - a severe head wound appeared to be the cause of death. A wave of desperate panic swept over MacBride. What was he going to do now? Without Ryder, there seemed to be little point in going on. Fighting hard not to betray any trace of emotion, he looked up at Alicia.
"His name's Ryder," she said. "One of the passengers."
MacBride nodded. He didn't know what to think. Was Ryder's presence an indication that the hijack attempt had been uncovered? He had to find out what Alicia knew.
"The other one is Baines," she went on.
"I think you'd better start at the beginning," MacBride said.
"All right." Alicia took a couple of steps towards him. "It seems that Baines dug something up on Canaxxa."
"What?" asked MacBride. It didn't surprise him that the exploitation of the planet extended to cultural treasures as well, despite the Federation's much lauded export ban.
"Some sort of alien creature," said Alicia, who didn't want to give too much away. "Apparently, it had become buried there and was dormant - but it seems it wasn't dead." She gestured towards the bodies.
"You mean it's going round killing people?" said MacBride incredulously.
"Not exactly. It kills at certain times, such as when someone threatens it. Baines and Ryder were just unlucky." Alicia stopped, aware of a suspicious look in his eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, "I should be telling this to the Captain, shouldn't I? It's just that I didn't want to start a panic."
If she told the Captain, thought MacBride, he was certain to post guard patrols in every section, and issue the crew with maximum firepower - the old boy took threats to the ship and the passengers very seriously indeed. And if that happened, it would make the hijack attempt very difficult - if not impossible. MacBride had to serve the cause now - by a stroke of fate, Krau Newstead had chosen to approach him with this little problem. "No, it's all right," he said. "I think you might have done the right thing."
"Well, it may all be over soon," Alicia went on. "The Doctor's got an idea how to track down the alien."
"Trau Smith, one of my fellow passengers."
"I see," said MacBride. "What's his connexion?"
"I believe he's some sort of undercover investigator," replied Alicia. "He certainly seems to know what he's talking about."
"Right. Well, I suppose I'd better talk to him."
"He'll be back later."
MacBride nodded. So, there was an investigator on the ship. Had the Federation sent him? Or the Sirius Conglomerate? Such a man might be a hindrance to the hijacking - on the other hand, he might be just what they needed when they exposed the evil of the Conglomerate.
But before he could consider that, there were matters to attend to. He had to keep these deaths under wraps, for fear of making the Captain even more jittery than he already was. That would do the cause no good at all. Although his nerves were fraying by the second, MacBride felt a sense of relief filling him. Ryder's death, terrible though it was, seemed to be just a ghastly coincidence - he felt sure their conspiracy had not been discovered.
MacBride reached inside himself, trying to find some sort of strength in his heart. He was sure that Ryder would have wanted him to go on. He settled on a course of action, and looked up at Alicia firmly. "You can't keep two bodies in here," he said.
"Three," said Alicia.
She nodded towards the door of the adjoining stateroom. "The other one's in there. Quincey, Baines's assistant. He was the first victim."
MacBride grunted. "Well, they're already starting to putrefy. The steward might come in at any moment and discover them."
"We wouldn't want that."
MacBride thought about the problem. "I can probably get the use of the isolation ward in sick bay - it's locked anyway, unless we're transporting plague victims. We could store the bodies in the cryogenic freezers there."
"Wouldn't anyone find out?" asked Alicia.
"No. The ship's surgeon is hardly ever on duty. He wouldn't even know we'd been there."
MacBride was desperately tired, but he forced himself to stay awake and think straight. Something strange was going on - Alicia's tale of an alien killer did not explain the damage to the communications room. But whatever was happening, if the Captain was alarmed and doubled the ship's security, the hijack would have to be called off. So, for the time being, he would have to play along with Krau Newstead.
Opening the door slightly, MacBride glanced out into the corridor. There
was no one about. "Let's get on with it," he said. "We can use cargo pods
to move the bodies - that shouldn't draw too much attention."
They had gone down another few levels - still in the bare, functional corridors of third class, but only just above the ship's holds. There was a deep rumbling sound coming from somewhere nearby, which was caused by the ship's reactors.
The Doctor came to a halt, and gazed thoughtfully at his etheric beam locator once more. "Still nothing," he muttered. "Well, I didn't expect miracles. The Kreilen's life energies are very unstable. That's what you get trying to copy the Quinnista before your technology can handle it."
"I don't understand who the Quinnista are," Rhonwen said. "Where do they fit into all this?"
"The Quinnista were a race of intelligent amphibians from the planet Quinnis," the Doctor explained. "They were masters of genetic manipulation - they built their society upon it. As long ago as fifty thousand years, they perfected the immortality virus. Quinnis was one of the most advanced civilizations in the Galaxy. But it all came to an end when the planet was hit by a comet."
"What happened to them?"
"They were forced to leave their world, and look for a new one. Eventually, they found Hallatern and colonized it. The Hallats had a simple tribal culture in those days - the Quinnista conquered them easily, and ruled over them for five hundred years. But eventually the Hallats rose up against them, and the Quinnista were forced to flee. They left behind some of their kaprihal technology. To begin with, the Hallats worshipped the crystals as religious artifacts. It took something like twenty thousand years for a technological civilization to develop to a level where they could make use of kaprihal for genetic experiments. That's when they created the Kreilens."
"He comes from about five hundred years later," the Doctor said. "By that time, the Hallats had done extensive research into kaprihal, and they could reproduce the immortality virus."
"And what became of the Quinnista?" Rhonwen asked.
"No one knows. They died out. Some of them came to Earth, but they didn't survive. All that was left behind were some kaprihal crystals, which laid the foundations of alchemy."
Rhonwen shook her head in wonder. "And Flamel? Was he able to reproduce the immortality virus?"
"I imagine so," said the Doctor. "I certainly don't think he's walking around with a crystal stuck in the top of his skull." He frowned. "Mind you, Nicolas didn't actually have access to any kaprihal when I met him before."
"So how did he get hold of it?"
"I don't know. But he did have some powerful connexions who could have helped him. I'll have to ask him." The Doctor seemed to sink into thought for a few moments. "There's another mystery - I wasn't in this body when I knew Flamel before. He shouldn't have been able to recognize me."
"Maybe he's psychic," Rhonwen suggested. "I mean, if he can sense the crystal."
"Well, when he repatterned his genetic structure, some of the energy patterns of the kaprihal must have been imprinted on his neural pathways - it would create a sort of attraction to the crystal. But it wouldn't give him the ability to read a Time Lord's telepathic signature."
"Something else to ask him," said Rhonwen.
The Doctor smiled. "Come on, let's look for this Kreilen."
Rhonwen nodded. She felt a great desire to see the Kreilen dealt with. Perhaps she was seeking revenge for Johann Ryder - no one deserved to die, but his death seemed somehow worse than Baines's. Ryder had had no involvement with the Kreilen. He was just a victim of circumstance.
"Do we need to stay together?" she asked.
The Doctor looked round at her, concern showing in his face. "I'm sorry," he said. "If you'd rather go back to the cabin and wait-"
"No," Rhonwen interrupted. "That's not what I meant. I think we should split up."
"I don't think that's wise," said the Doctor.
"We can cover more ground that way," replied Rhonwen firmly.
"All right." With some trepidation, the Doctor handed her one of the neural projectors. "You can search the second and third class accommodation areas in the bow."
Rhonwen realized that he was directing her towards more public areas, where she was less likely to run into any trouble. She didn't protest. She supposed the Doctor felt easier about granting her request this way. Besides, she wasn't entirely sure she was as brave as she wanted to think she was. Grief and anger were driving her forward, but she had no idea what she would do if she had to face the Kreilen head on.
The Doctor explained the controls on the neural projector. "Just give it a full charge of energy. That should render it incapable, long enough for Vardek and me to do something about it."
"What happens if I shoot someone else by accident?" Rhonwen asked.
"I don't think it would have any effect on a human being," said the
Doctor. "Apart from a bad headache, maybe. It's only harmful to a
Vardek stalked slowly through the aft holds. In each compartment, there were far too many hiding places to make a thorough search. The Doctor's idea of simulating the energy pattern of kaprihal was an intelligent suggestion. Vardek had set his energy gun to produce just such a low level signal.
He made his way through the rows of massive ore containers, his senses on the alert for the merest trace of the Kreilen's mental activity. The scanning computer was stretching beyond its normal parameters, but still to no avail.
Then suddenly it happened. Warning messages flooded his mind. The bionic servo mechanisms started to power up, ready for a combat situation.
Vardek completed a full scan. The signal was weak as yet, but it indicated that the Kreilen was entering a new period of lucidity. The source was distant, and it took a few moments to locate it. Vardek realized he was in the wrong part of the ship. The Kreilen was somewhere forward, much closer to the bow.
Turning, he ran towards the door of the compartment.
Rhonwen moved carefully along the corridor. On either side of her were the doors to second class cabins. They remained closed as she passed.
Only once did she see anyone in the corridor, a middle aged man with a harried expression - some kind of businessman or official by the look of him. He gave her a friendly smile, and continued on his way.
In her hand, Rhonwen clutched the metal rod the Doctor had given her. She held down the control to broadcast the signal that would lure the Kreilen.
Her eyes darted back and forth over the corridor ahead, looking for any possible hiding place. What would happen if the Kreilen jumped out at her? She hoped she'd be able to bring the neural projector to bear, and fire it in time.
She wished she had stuck with the Doctor - he at least would know what to do in a tense situation. Quite why she had insisted on making her own search, she didn't know. Obviously, it was partly out of anger, and sentiment for Johann Ryder. Then again, she resented the way the Doctor had been overprotective of her last night - maybe she just had to prove that she could take care of herself.
She heard a click from behind her. Turning her head, she saw a door opening. She gripped the neural projector tightly in her hand and lifted it. A young man emerged from the cabin, and looked at her. He had short dark hair, and wore a smart tunic, although it was a bit crumpled.
Rhonwen felt herself relax. The young man's expression was blank and emotionless. He extended his hands and started to walk towards her.
She suddenly realized that she was facing the Kreilen - the Doctor had warned her of its appearance, but she hadn't really been prepared for the fact. She expected a monster to look like a monster.
The Kreilen grabbed hold of the end of the neural projector, as if trying to tear it away from her. Rhonwen screamed in fright, and tried to trigger the full blast of neural energy. Her fingers slipped on the controls.
With a sudden yank, the Kreilen pulled the silver rod from her hands. Its fingers literally tore at the metal, as if trying to rip it open - searching for the kaprihal crystal it believed to be hidden inside.
Rhonwen tried to back away along the corridor. The Kreilen was not fooled for long. It flung the neural projector clattering to the floor. Turning in panic, Rhonwen tried to run. She lost her balance in her hurry, and crashed into the wall. She steadied herself, but the Kreilen was upon her. Its hand closed around her arm in a vice-like grip. Rhonwen screamed, as she tried to struggle.
She could not get free. She was spun round, and the Kreilen's other hand clamped around her throat. It closed its fingers tightly - and Rhonwen found herself fighting a mounting sense of panic, as it became more difficult to draw each breath.