Warcry of Hallatern
Suddenly, Rhonwen was jolted to one side. She felt herself falling, and realized with surprise that the Kreilen had released her. Hitting the floor with a heavy thump, she scrambled round to look up and see what was happening.
From somewhere, Vardek had appeared and knocked the Kreilen flying. The two fell to the floor, locked in each other's arms. Rhonwen tried to crawl away along the corridor. She could barely draw a breath.
Vardek fought desperately with the Kreilen. Their strength was well matched, but he managed to get a grip on the Kreilen's body. He pressed down to hold it on the ground, while he fumbled for his energy gun. He set the output level to maximum, and jammed the weapon hard into the Kreilen's chest.
A wave of neural energy burst forth and washed along the corridor. Vardek saw Rhonwen literally picked up and flung against the wall. He looked down at the Kreilen. Its skin was blackening and starting to flake. It was burning away from within.
He had done it. Vardek felt a sense of exhilaration, which even the computer controls couldn't keep at bay. Was this how his colleagues had felt, thousands of years ago as they completed their missions? His final duty had been discharged. At last, Hallatern's debt to the Galaxy had been repaid.
The Kreilen's eyes seemed to glow bright red in its decaying face. Vardek felt that blazing stare bore into him. It was as if razor sharp knives were slicing into his brain.
Vardek fell onto his back, and convulsed on the floor. He couldn't believe the pain that was shooting through his mind. He clasped his hands to his head, and screamed.
After a moment, the pain eased. A new sense of certainty seemed to come over him. He knew what he had to do. Standing up, he grabbed the remains of the Kreilen, and dragged it into the unoccupied cabin where it had been hiding.
Closing the door firmly, Vardek looked along the corridor. He saw Rhonwen lying slumped at the base of the wall. He walked over to her, and knelt to examine her. She was unconscious, but still alive.
His hands reached for her neck. He could snap it in two with scarcely any effort. How weak and pathetic these creatures were. They deserved to die. Hallatern would reign supreme, and her enemies perish before her wrath.
Vardek quickly snatched his hands away. He couldn't believe what he was doing. His mind had not been his own. A murderous hatred had come over him, as if from nowhere.
He knew what that meant. He slowly got to his feet. Pain flooded his mind once more. He pressed his hands to his temples, but he could do nothing to stop it.
It was the ultimate irony. Even in his moment of triumph, his eternal
enemy had beaten him. Vardek started to run. He had to get away, hide
himself in the furthest, darkest depths of the ship, where he wouldn't be
able to do any damage.
The angry buzzing of the etheric beam locator had drawn the Doctor from the gloom of the forward holds. The Kreilen was showing a new peak of activity, and its location was somewhere above him - amongst the second class accommodations.
He ran up several flights of the second class staircase. The locator had stopped buzzing some time ago - the Kreilen's mental activity had fallen below a detectable level. But during that brief period, it could most certainly have killed again.
The Doctor had one concern - Rhonwen. He had sent her to the second class section, thinking it was the safest place for her.
He burst through a doorway, and ran along the corridor. He came skidding to a halt as he saw Rhonwen's body lying slumped awkwardly against a wall. He knelt down beside her and gently turned her over, and started to feel for vital signs.
Why had he let her go off on her own like that? She had argued that separately they could cover more ground, and she was right. But he should have insisted they stayed together. He had allowed practical considerations to outweigh his personal feelings of concern and responsibility. It was a failing of his. If Rhonwen was harmed, he would never forgive himself.
He found a pulse. It was a little unsteady and erratic, but it was still beating. There didn't seem to be any physical damage apart from a few bruises - and the distinct impressions of finger marks around her neck, showing clearly that she had been attacked by the Kreilen.
Slowly, Rhonwen opened her eyes. She looked up at him and smiled weakly. "Oh, Doctor," she croaked, and threw her arms around him.
The Doctor didn't understand human emotions too well, especially not when they were so immediate and personal. He patted Rhonwen awkwardly on the shoulder, and helped her to sit up.
"What happened?" he asked.
Rhonwen took a deep breath, and found that there was a numbing pain in her windpipe. She remembered the Kreilen trying to throttle the life out of her, and was horrified by the thought. She tried to find her voice, but all she could manage was a wheezy croak. Every breath hurt her. She briefly told the Doctor what had happened, up to Vardek's intervention and the moment she had passed out.
Listening carefully to her story, the Doctor noticed the discomfort Rhonwen experienced in breathing and speaking, but he didn't think there was any permanent damage. He could check her over later. He was just relieved that she was still alive. It was ironic really - he had been trying to keep her out of harm's way all through the voyage. He was plagued by the fact that he hadn't treated his previous companion, Ace, very well, and it had made him overprotective of Rhonwen. But that too had been a mistake, for she was too headstrong to do as she was told. If he tried to molly-coddle her, she would rebel against it and place herself in still more danger. It seemed he would have to allow her more leeway. It was a valuable lesson for the future. Their relationship could only be built upon an understanding of one another.
"You didn't see where Vardek went?" he asked.
"I told you," said Rhonwen, "I was knocked out."
"I'm surprised he didn't wait around, or come to find me. And where's the Kreilen's body?"
"Maybe he hid it?"
The Doctor got to his feet. "Yes, maybe," he muttered. "Where did it come from? Which room?"
"The Kreilen?" said Rhonwen. She thought back, and tried to remember. She pointed to a cabin door. "That one, I think."
The Doctor tried the door, and found it unlocked. He slowly pushed it open and peered into the cabin. Sure enough, the body of the Kreilen was lying on the floor. It was blackened and withered, as if its flesh had been eaten away. Clearly Vardek had given it a full blast of neural energy, and so completed his mission - which made it even more surprising that he wasn't around now. Why would he have just disappeared like that? A nasty suspicion started to form in the Doctor's mind, but he needed to make a detailed examination of the corpse to be certain.
He closed the door again, and turned to Rhonwen. She had got to her feet, and held her hand to her throat, breathing uncomfortably.
"We can't leave the body here," the Doctor said. "We'd better find Krau
Newstead. If she's won the first officer over, he can organize getting it
moved to somewhere more secluded."
Alicia was waiting in Baines's cabin when they arrived. She had tidied the place up a little bit, the most obvious change being the removal of the dead bodies. She sat in an armchair, reading a magazine, and looked up as the Doctor and Rhonwen entered.
"Where's the first officer?" the Doctor asked.
Laying her magazine aside, Alicia smiled. "He had to run along. Things to attend to. He's a busy man. But he's giving us his assistance."
"Does the Captain know?"
"No, Trau MacBride seemed to agree with me that there was no need to make a fuss just yet."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. He found that very surprising. But then again, there were a number of unexplained things happening on the Greyshadow. "Where are the bodies?" he asked.
"MacBride was very helpful," Alicia said. "He's given us the full use of the isolation ward attached to the sick bay. We stored the bodies in cryogenic freezers."
"Good," the Doctor nodded. "That should make a more effective mortuary. I need to conduct some autopsies."
"What about the Kreilen?"
"It's dead. Practically destroyed."
Alicia felt her spirits sinking - to her, the Kreilen represented an opportunity to be exploited for profit. She hoped something could be salvaged. "Where is it?"
"Second class," said the Doctor. "We need to get it down to the isolation ward."
"That's all right. We can use a cargo pod. MacBride let me borrow one." Alicia stood up and went to the door.
The Doctor started to follow her. But then he stopped and turned back to Rhonwen. "How do you feel?" he asked.
Rhonwen put her hand to her throat and said, "It's still a bit sore."
Delving into his pocket, the Doctor produced the medical scanner. He held it before her throat and pressed some controls. The device whirred, and information scrolled across its screen.
"It's all right," he announced. "There's no lasting damage. You just need to rest your throat for a while."
"What should I do?" asked Rhonwen.
"Go back to the cabin, and have a lie down." He saw her expression of frustration, and raised his hands to ward off a protest. "I'm not trying to get rid of you," he said. "I'll be in the isolation ward most of the day conducting an autopsy. You can be there if you want."
Rhonwen shook her head. "No, maybe not," she wheezed.
"You don't have to go to bed if you don't want. Go for a walk on the observation deck, or get yourself something to drink. I wouldn't eat for a while though, not while your throat's so tender."
"All right," Rhonwen said. "I'll see you later."
The Doctor patted her gently on the arm, and followed Krau Newstead into
The engine room was hot and noisy, reverberating with the dull throbbing of the ship's power generators. Even though the work of the engineers consisted mostly of monitoring the instrument panels in their control room, theirs were still the most uncomfortable working conditions in the entire ship.
Noblecourt was sitting before one of the consoles when MacBride entered. The young engineer kept a casual eye on the instrument displays, but there was little there to occupy his attention. The ship was running smoothly.
Looking up at the first officer, Noblecourt said, "Is there anything I can do for you, sir?"
A small calibre automatic pistol was resting on the console beside him. The Captain's security alert had certainly made the hijack plan easier - all MacBride's men were now armed and ready to move. Of course, the rest of the crew had weapons issued as well, but if they moved fast enough they could catch them unawares. The first priority was to seize the small arms locker and issue heavy duty guns to all their compatriots - which would provide more effective firepower than the small bore sidearms the rest of the crew possessed. MacBride had given the task of securing the weapons to Tyler, the fourth officer who served on his night watch.
But at the moment, he wasn't sure they could still go ahead with the hijack. There had been a number of developments that he needed to discuss. He asked, "Are we alone?"
Noblecourt nodded. "The chief's gone to lunch. What is it?"
"Ryder's dead." There was no other way to say it.
Noblecourt gave an involuntary glance around the engine room, as though they might be overheard. "Have we been discovered?"
"I don't think so," said MacBride. "He just seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Then we can still go ahead with the plan," said Noblecourt.
"I'm not so sure," replied MacBride. "Even putting aside his exalted rank, Ryder was our co-ordinator. He had everything worked out."
"Well, you'll have to assume that responsibility now."
"I'm just not sure we should proceed without Ryder. How can we reclaim Canaxxa without him? He was the focus of everything we're trying to achieve."
Noblecourt frowned. "Then perhaps you should carry on for his sake. As a memorial to him. I don't suppose you can talk to our benefactor?"
"Not with the communications inoperative," said MacBride. "He piggybacked a message on the last hypercomm transmission we received, telling us to continue as planned."
"That's what we should do, then. We haven't really got time to rethink our plans now - not when the operation's set for this afternoon."
"No," muttered MacBride. "But there's something else going on. Ryder got caught up in it, and that's why he's dead."
"What are you talking about?" replied Noblecourt.
"There's an investigator on board, the communications have been smashed, and now I'm told that some kind of monster is roaming the lower decks." He realized that Noblecourt was regarding him incredulously. "I don't understand it all myself," he added, "but I think we should postpone the hijack."
"No," said Noblecourt firmly. "It has to be now, while Krau Newstead is aboard. You know that."
MacBride nodded. The timing of the operation was crucial - it had been especially arranged that all the conspirators were aboard the Greyshadow for this particular voyage.
Noblecourt said, "Look, we'll take care of the passengers as we planned. Tyler will issue weapons to our people. You handle the bridge and the Captain. The only thing left is Krau Newstead and her computer files. We need her alive and the data blocks intact."
"I guess I can deal with that," said MacBride.
"Then there's no problem. With Ryder gone, the others will look to you as a leader."
"I can't really get out of it now, can I?" MacBride sighed.
"I'll pass word to them," replied Noblecourt. "Let them know what's happening." He fell silent, and his eyes flicked towards the door.
Turning, MacBride found himself facing the chief engineer, Brunner, a powerfully built man with small eyes and a thick black beard.
"Trau MacBride," he acknowledged.
"Chief," replied MacBride. "I'm just checking that the security alert is in force."
"What's it all about, anyway?" asked Brunner.
"It's just a precaution. There's nothing to worry about."
The observation deck was empty when Rhonwen entered. The prospect of totally opaque windows was clearly not much of a draw.
She stood where she had with Johann Ryder the night before. If she closed her eyes, she could almost see him standing there, talking impassionedly about the exploitation of Canaxxa.
And now he was dead, his body hidden away somewhere in the Greyshadow's isolation ward. Travelling with the Doctor meant that the spectre of death was looming very close behind her - indeed, she had almost got herself killed today. She was really beginning to understand what a dangerous life style she had adopted.
She suddenly sensed a presence behind her. The coincidence of her recent thoughts prompted a moment of irrational fear, that death had come for her. She spun round with a start, but instead found herself staring into the round and scruffily whiskered face of Nicolas Flamel. Rhonwen heaved a sigh of relief.
Flamel smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry if I startled you," he said. "I always seem to be frightening people these days."
There was a woman with him, blonde haired and pretty. She said, "You seem troubled, my dear. We don't wish to disturb you, but you have to help us."
"I don't understand," said Rhonwen. "What do you want me to do?"
"Well," began Nicolas hesitantly. He stopped himself, and looked between her and the blonde woman. "Rhonwen, isn't it? I didn't introduce my wife, Perrenelle."
Rhonwen looked curiously at her. "Are you immortal too?" she asked.
Chuckling to herself, Perrenelle nodded. "I have shared everything with my husband. It's about that we wish to speak to you."
"Well, what can I do?"
"You are a friend of the Doctor," replied Nicolas. "We need to speak to him urgently, but we can't find him. We've tried his cabin, the coffee lounge, everywhere - it's almost as if he's disappeared."
"He's been a little busy," Rhonwen explained.
"But do you know where he is?" asked Perrenelle.
"Will you take us to him?" Nicolas added. "You see, he has the one thing
Alicia closed and locked the door of the isolation ward behind her. She turned to watch the Doctor opening the lid of the cargo pod, a white plastic dome mounted on an antigrav lifter. Pushing it through the ship had drawn a few intrigued looks, but it was obviously preferable to openly carrying a body around. The relative paucity of first and second class passengers meant there were few people around to see them.
The isolation ward was plain and spartan, its walls blank and sterile metal. There were three beds in the room, all of them bare, with life support mechanisms attached to each one. Set into one wall was a row of metal cylinders, housing cryogenic freezers for patients with serious infections - now they contained the bodies of Baines, Ryder and Quincey. Against the furthest wall was a work bench with some medical instruments, a computer terminal and a chair.
The Doctor reached into the pod, and lifted out the remains of the Kreilen. Although still recognizably a humanoid shape, it was really no more than a mass of charred flesh. The remnants of the skin flaked away every time it was moved. Alicia turned away in disgust, but the Doctor seemed to have no qualms about handling it.
He placed it carefully on one of the beds, and stood back. He took off his tweed jacket, hung it over the back of the chair, and started to roll up his shirt sleeves.
"What are you going to do?" asked Alicia.
"I'm going to dissect it," the Doctor replied in a matter of fact tone.
The Doctor went to the work bench, and picked up a surgical laser. He returned to the Kreilen's body, and carefully prodded the blackened skin of its forehead. "First incision here, I think," he murmured.
"Is this really necessary?" asked Alicia.
"Oh yes," said the Doctor. "There are a few things I have to know, and this is the only way to find out."
He activated the laser, and used the thin beam to slice through the Kreilen's forehead.
There was a knock at the door. Alicia looked concernedly at the Doctor, who switched off the laser beam and replaced the tool on the work bench. Then he picked up a plastic sheet, and used it to cover the body.
Satisfied with the precautions, Alicia inched open the door. Peering through the gap, she found Rhonwen waiting outside. Alicia stood back to allow her inside the room.
Casting her eyes over the form beneath the plastic sheet, Rhonwen hovered just inside the door. She took in the sight of the Doctor in his shirt sleeves, and decided she didn't want to be witness to whatever was going on here. She could scarcely believe that Krau Newstead wanted to stay. She said, "Doctor, there's someone outside who wants to talk to you."
Alicia rounded on Rhonwen with an angry glare. "Do you mean you've told someone that we're here?" she demanded. "After the trouble we went to keeping everything under wraps?"
"It's all right," replied Rhonwen firmly. She wouldn't let anyone speak to her like that, and she returned Krau Newstead's stare evenly. "I don't think this person means us any harm."
"Yes," muttered the Doctor, rolling down his sleeves and fastening his cuff links. "I'll talk to him." He picked up his jacket, and went to the door.
With a final glare at Alicia, Rhonwen turned and went out. The Doctor followed, slipping on his jacket as he went.
In the corridor outside stood Nicolas Flamel. He glanced around nervously, and then looked up as the Doctor approached.
"What can I do for you, Nicolas?" the Doctor asked.
"You know what I want, Doctor."
"There's someone here you should speak to," Flamel said. He gestured towards the entrance of an adjoining corridor.
The Doctor turned, and regarded the waiting figure of Perrenelle. He smiled his most charming smile. "Madame Flamel," he murmured. "It is a great delight to meet you again."
Perrenelle smiled. "It's a mutual sentiment, Doctor. And it is good to hear French once more."
Rhonwen listened to the conversation in confusion. It was only then that she realized the Doctor and the Flamels were speaking fluent mediaeval French - what was most surprising was not that she understood every word, but that she hadn't even noticed.
"I have come to add my voice to Nicolas's entreaties," Perrenelle continued. "We know that we have no right to demand anything of you. But we beseech you to help us now."
"You know that there is a price to pay for the secrets of the alchemist," said Nicolas. "We have decided to give up what we have gained."
"As an immortal yourself," Perrenelle added, "you must appreciate what we are going through. I do not know how you have come to terms with the burden, Doctor. Perhaps you can share it with us."
The Doctor smiled. "I'm not immortal," he said simply. "That's my secret."
"But after two thousand years," stammered Nicolas, "you're still here. How can you say that?"
"Don't ask me to explain. There are some secrets that even you can never attain."
Flamel looked crestfallen. The Doctor reached into his jacket pocket, and removed the argonite lined sample box. Now that the Kreilen was dead, the kaprihal crystal had lost its significance. "This is what you want," he said, handing the case to Flamel. "Do what you must with it."
"Thank you, Doctor."
"I must have it back," the Doctor went on sternly. "But for now, it's yours."
Nodding, Nicolas put the box away into the pocket of his tunic. He profferred his arm to Perrenelle, and they walked away together along the corridor.
The Doctor turned to Rhonwen. "All right?" he asked.
"Not really," she said. "There are things we need to talk about."
The Doctor gave a surprised grunt. "Of course," he muttered uncertainly. "Let's talk."
Looking over his shoulder, Rhonwen saw Krau Newstead appear in the doorway of the isolation ward, and watch them impatiently.
"Not now," said Rhonwen. "I think I will go and have a lie down."
"I'll come and see you when I've finished here," suggested the Doctor.
"Yes." Rhonwen gave him a sad smile, and turned to leave.
The Doctor watched her departure, puzzling over her subdued and wistful manner. Once again, it seemed, he was baffled by human emotions. He wondered whether she'd been alienated by his recently overprotective manner - a possibility which had occurred to him already today. What if she'd had enough of him, and wanted to be taken back to Earth? He didn't think he could bear that.
Suddenly, the Doctor realized that he needed Rhonwen's company. He had seldom travelled alone, and he didn't want to start now. And more importantly, he was fond of her, though he found it hard to show in a way Rhonwen could understand. He was half tempted to go after her, to try and patch things up - but he was in the middle of dissecting the Kreilen, and that was a task he couldn't put off.
He turned back towards the isolation ward, and followed Alicia inside. Crossing to the work bench, he picked up the laser cutter once more. He pulled the sheet away from the remains of the Kreilen.
A look of distaste passed over Alicia's features. The Doctor said, "Look, if you'd rather not stay, I can do this on my own."
Alicia shook her head. She had to know what there was left of the Kreilen. Perhaps enough genetic material could be salvaged to understand the secret of its long lifespan. That was the real source of wealth - advances in military technology were as nothing compared to the reversal of the ageing process. Who wouldn't pay for an extended lifespan? If you controlled ageing, you controlled the Galaxy, in the only way that mattered - financially.
"All right," the Doctor replied. He turned his attention to the
Kreilen's head once more, and cut another incision with the laser beam.
Glancing at his watch, Noblecourt saw the appointed hour approaching. He slowly reached for his sidearm, resting on top of the control console, and picked it up. He got up from his seat, and started to move towards the door.
On the far side of the control room, Chief Engineer Brunner looked up from the instrument banks he was checking. "Where are you going?" he asked. "It's not the end of your watch yet."
"I'm sorry, chief," Noblecourt said. "But I've got a prior commitment."
"Now look here," began the chief, starting to walk towards him. "This doesn't sound like you. You've always been one of my best men."
"It was necessary to create a good impression. This moment has long been planned for."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Brunner.
"I'm sorry about this, chief," Noblecourt sighed. He swung the butt of his sidearm round, and struck Brunner hard under the jaw. The chief's head was snapped back, and he smashed it against the instrument bank behind him.
Noblecourt watched as he slithered unconscious to the floor. "This is
something I have to do," he said, as if trying to explain to his superior's
inert form. Then he went to the door, and started to make his way up to
The Greyshadow's flight continued uneventfully. Captain Berlitz cast a glance over Conrad's shoulder at the monitoring console. There was a slight vibration in the starboard engine baffle, but nothing serious. He'd ask Chief Engineer Brunner to take a look at it later.
Berlitz turned as MacBride strolled through the door. "Shouldn't you be in bed?" the Captain asked, walking back to his usual position at the rear of the bridge.
"I can't sleep, sir," said MacBride nonchalantly.
"Well," muttered Berlitz, raising his eyebrows, "as long as you're bright and awake at midnight."
"Oh, there's no doubt about that, sir." MacBride moved forward and stood looking at the observation window. The glass had been blacked out of course, but the ship's trajectory information was projected onto its expanse. "Is there anything I can do for you while I'm here?" he added.
"No, not especially," said Berlitz.
MacBride nodded, and glanced casually at his watch. It was time. He reached over Conrad's shoulder, and punched some co-ordinates into the navigational computer.
"What are you doing?" demanded the Captain.
MacBride ignored him, and addressed himself to Conrad. "Take us to this new course heading."
Conrad shook his head, and turned round to seek the advice of the Captain. "This will take us sub-light," he protested.
"I'm aware of that," said MacBride.
The Captain started to move forward. "I don't know what you think you're playing at," he snapped. "I suggest you confine yourself to quarters until I decide what to do with you."
"I can't do that," MacBride replied. He quickly drew his sidearm, and held it levelled at Berlitz. "We have to change course now. I don't think I can make it any plainer."
From the corner of his eye, he saw Conrad reach for his gun arm. MacBride let him get close, before swinging his elbow back, knocking Conrad off balance. The young third officer slumped back against the duty console. MacBride struck out with a vicious blow to his head, and he fell unconscious to the floor.
Berlitz took advantage of the distraction to launch himself at his first officer. He knocked MacBride to the floor, and they grappled for the pistol. MacBride brought his knee up into the Captain's stomach, and winded him. He pushed Berlitz away, and got to his feet, keeping a firm grip upon the gun. He aimed it at Berlitz. "All right," he said. "Now get up, and don't try anything like that again."
Berlitz climbed shakily to his feet, breathing heavily with exertion, and regarded his first officer warily.
"Now take the controls," MacBride ordered, indicating Conrad's position with a flick of his gun. "Lay in the new heading."
"This is mutiny, Trau MacBride," said Berlitz.
"Yes, sir," replied MacBride. "I suppose it is."
The Doctor extracted a pair of tweezers from within the Kreilen's skull, and held up the shrivelled remains of some kind of body organ. Alicia grimaced. It looked like the skin of an orange that had been blackened by fire and squashed flat.
"There we are," said the Doctor, with some sense of elation.
Turning her head away, Alicia swallowed, and asked, "What is it?"
"Well," replied the Doctor, "this is the part of the brain that produces the neurovirus. As you can see, it's been activated."
"Can you be sure? Couldn't that just be damage from when the Kreilen was killed? Or the result of age?"
"No," the Doctor murmured, carrying the organ over to the work bench. He placed it under a microscope scanner, and switched on the computer terminal. An enlarged image of the organ was displayed on the screen. He increased the magnification, revealing a strange, honeycombed structure. A mass of data started to scroll across the screen. "It uses chemical reagents to generate neural energy, and focuses it as etheric beams. Analysing the chemical messengers shows that the reaction has taken place. The virus has been transmitted."
"So what does this mean?" Alicia asked.
"It means that the spirit of the Kreilen has outlived its body." The Doctor stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, and started to pace the room moodily. "This confirms my suspicions."
"I need to track down the victim of the virus," said the Doctor, "before it spreads further." He marched determinedly towards the door.
"What about the Kreilen?" Alicia called after him.
Pausing in the doorway, the Doctor turned back to face her. "Oh, it's no danger to anyone now. It's just a mass of dead flesh."
Alicia looked from him to the remains of the Kreilen. She found it hard to believe that there was nothing of value there - surely the DNA structure could be analysed, and its secrets uncovered. The Doctor seemed to have no interest in the vast profit to be made from the Kreilen. Alicia wasn't about to mention it to him. She said, "That's a relief."
The Doctor nodded and went out. As the door closed behind him, Alicia
looked at the remains of the Kreilen. As distasteful as she found it, she
knew she would have to handle it, and get it inside a cryogenic freezer.
She needed to ensure that as much of it was preserved as possible.
Slumping against the base of an ore tank, Vardek pressed his fists against his temples. The pain burning through his mind was unbearable. His thought processes were being changed, his very desires and purpose altered. The computer was just managing to keep it in check, but he was not sure how long it could continue to do so.
He had always known there was a possibility he would be infected by the neurovirus. It had been allowed for, and adequate precautions taken. At least his mission was completed. The Kreilen had been destroyed. But its threat would linger behind it for a short time yet.
The hold made a good place to hide. It was secluded and undisturbed. He could remain here safely until he needed to go hunting. Vardek cried out in horror. He was even starting to think like a Kreilen.
He could not go on like this. He had to take steps to deal with the problem, once and for all. He reached an inevitable conclusion. The only course left open to him now was the terminal option.
He had always known he might have to take such a step. It was part of the responsibility he had accepted along with his mission. Slowly, he staggered to his feet, clutching the ore container for support. The engine reactor was the best site to position the terminal device. It was guaranteed to cause the most damage.
Vardek started to make his way towards the door of the compartment. The prospect of the terminal option filled him with an uncommon exhilaration. There would certainly be plenty of deaths. That was after all his purpose.
He took a deep breath. He had to keep these thoughts under control. He
needed to proceed with the terminal option, while he was still capable of
doing so. The cost in human terms would be heavy, but the end had to
justify the means.
The Philosopher's Stone sat calmly on top of a bare writing table. There was no white linen tablecloth, for the cabin was not in use. The bed in the corner had not been made up either. In fact, it was clear that this particular room hadn't been occupied for a while. The furniture had been covered with dust sheets. Perrenelle had removed one of these to sit in an armchair.
She gazed into the depths of the cube of kaprihal, marvelling at its shifting appearance, one moment a shining crystal, the next a solid opaque stone. It was almost mesmerizing. She tore her eyes away and turned her attention to the door, for her husband was returning, carrying a suitcase retrieved from their stateroom. He had decided that they should conduct the alchemical experiment here, where they were unlikely to be discovered. Perhaps he feared that the Doctor would change his mind and take back the crystal. And with a great adept like the Doctor, who could tell what he was thinking?
From his suitcase, Nicolas removed a laser cutter, and a molecular alignment grid. The latter looked like a complex web of fine wires, suspended within a cuboid frame. It was one of the key components of a transmat system. It reassembled matter from energy. With a few adjustments, it could be used to create matter, drawing on the hidden energies of the Philosopher's Stone.
Flamel placed the grid carefully on the table, and positioned the crystal inside it, suspending it in the web of wires. Then he took the laser cutter, a pen shaped cylinder of black metal, and activated the beam. He aimed it into the heart of the Stone, reflecting on the days when he had to conduct his experiments with crucibles over open fires. Modern technology certainly made the practice of alchemy much easier.
Like her husband, Perrenelle's eyes were fixed on the Stone. It absorbed
the energy of the laser beam, and started to glow with a dull yellow
Opening her eyes, Rhonwen saw the Doctor standing over her. He smiled. "Did I wake you up?"
"No, I don't think so," said Rhonwen. "I wasn't really asleep anyway." She was glad to find that most of the pain in her throat had gone. Her voice had lost its hoarseness. She sat up, and put her hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn. "What time is it?" she asked.
"It's about three in the afternoon," the Doctor said. "Are you feeling better?"
"Yes," replied Rhonwen. "I'll be able to have dinner tonight."
"Well, I'll just check you over." The Doctor took the medical scanner from his pocket and switched it on. "Just lie back for a minute."
"What for?" asked Rhonwen in puzzlement.
"So that I can make sure," replied the Doctor reasonably.
Rhonwen sighed, and lay back on the pillow. The Doctor placed the pad of the scanner against her forehead, and studied the data that flashed across the display screen. He grunted to himself in satisfaction, and then removed the scanner. "You're all right," he said.
"It's my throat that's affected," said Rhonwen indignantly, "not my head. There's something you're not telling me."
"I didn't want to alarm you," the Doctor muttered, looking away from her.
Rhonwen sat up. "What's going on?" she demanded.
The Doctor went through the door into the sitting room, seemingly wrapped up in his own thoughts. Rhonwen got up and followed him.
In the doorway, she stopped and watched as he inspected his own reflexion in the mirror. "Doctor," she insisted.
He turned round absent mindedly, and raised an eyebrow. As if he had only just heard her question, he said, "I examined the Kreilen. It's dead, but it didn't die soon enough. The neurovirus got out."
"So that means someone's infected," said Rhonwen.
Rhonwen caught her breath suddenly. "You don't mean me?"
"It was a possibility," the Doctor admitted. "But you're clear, you're unaffected."
Heaving a sigh of relief, Rhonwen said, "For a moment there, I thought..." Her voice tailed away and she looked at him accusingly. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Like I said, I didn't want to alarm you," replied the Doctor lamely. "Especially if it turned out to be nothing."
"You're treating me like a child." There was great resentment in her voice. Again the Doctor was plagued by the fear that she might want to leave him.
He frowned, and turned to look at himself in the mirror again. He honestly thought he had Rhonwen's best interests at heart, but he seemed to have misjudged her every step of the way.
"Why don't you trust me?" Rhonwen asked.
"It's not that," said the Doctor. "I just worry about you."
"I can look after myself," she replied firmly.
"Well," the Doctor murmured. He didn't necessarily think that was true - Rhonwen was totally unprepared for many of the things she would encounter on their travels. But then again, she had ably demonstrated her resourcefulness and determination, human qualities that would stand up well in the face of adversity.
Besides, he had come here to try and make peace with her. He didn't seem to be doing very well so far. "Of course you can," he agreed. "I suppose I was afraid you'd find it all too much, and change your mind about travelling with me. I'm just being selfish," he added awkwardly.
Rhonwen looked at him curiously. There was suddenly a vulnerability in him, a sense of loneliness she hadn't seen before. The cool, unflappable Time Lord had gone. She reached out, and laid her hand gently upon his arm. "Maybe you're the one who needs looking after," she said.
The Doctor thought about it for a while, then looked up at her plaintively. "Why don't we look after each other?" he suggested.
"All right," said Rhonwen, smiling warmly.
The Doctor smiled back. "What do you want to talk about?" he asked.
The question came out of the blue, and it took Rhonwen a few moments to remember that she had indeed wanted to talk. She sat down in an armchair. "Oh, I'm just upset about Johann Ryder. I didn't think much of him at first, but then we started to get along. And then he was dead. It just seems so unfair."
"Yes," replied the Doctor softly. He was just relieved that she didn't want to talk about leaving him. "I'm sorry about that."
"I somehow thought you'd tell me how to get rid of the pain," Rhonwen said, staring down at her shoes, "but there is no easy answer, is there?"
"You have to come to terms with this in your own way," said the Doctor.
Rhonwen sat lost in her thoughts for a while. "You never seem to feel any grief."
"It's just that I show it differently," explained the Doctor. "Perhaps it's because I know that in the end, good will always triumph over evil."
Rhonwen looked up at him wonderingly. "Do you really believe that?"
"Of course I do," the Doctor replied in mock indignation. "I've spent my life fighting evil and injustice. You don't think I'd pick the wrong side, do you?"
He tapped idly at his waistcoat pocket, then pulled out his watch. He wondered how long there could be. He was in uncharted territory. He knew all about Hallatern and the Kreilens, but he had no knowledge of the effects of neuroviral infection, nor its propagation. He really couldn't afford this time talking, but he knew that he'd had to speak to Rhonwen. Their relationship would grow stronger as a result.
"You say Vardek was with you when the Kreilen died?" he asked.
Caught unawares by the change of subject, Rhonwen looked momentarily startled. "Yes," she stammered. "At least, he rescued me. I fell unconscious when he started to fight with it."
"That's what I thought." The Doctor gazed moodily at his hands.
"What?" asked Rhonwen.
"If the Kreilen was dying, it would transmit the virus as a final desperate step. And the person it would infect would be the person nearest."
"Vardek," gasped Rhonwen.
The Doctor darted towards the door. "Stay here."
Rhonwen got to her feet, and looked at him indignantly. "You're doing it again," she accused.
"Well, I'm only going to look for Flamel," the Doctor explained. "I need to get the crystal back. I'll need it if I'm to do anything for Vardek."
"I can help you look."
The Doctor smiled. "Yes, so you can. I'll look in Flamel's cabin. You try the lounges and the dining room. We'll meet back here as soon as possible."
"Right." Rhonwen moved to join him at the door.
"And be careful," the Doctor insisted.
He gave her arm a gentle squeeze, and they set off in opposite
Alicia took a drink from the stewardess's tray, and sipped it appreciatively. It was a little early for her, but she had a lot on her mind.
The reception lounge was deserted save for the ever present stewardess. It usually only saw use before and after dinner, and that was still several hours away. Alicia welcomed the solitude. It gave her a chance to think. She had placed the Kreilen inside a cryogenic freezer. If there was anything left of it, she had saved it. And with Baines dead, she now had effective control of it. When Trau Morrissey turned up to collect it, he would have to bargain with her to get his hands on it.
The one unpredictable factor in her equation was the Doctor - he had pronounced the Kreilen dead, but obviously the matter had not ended there for him. He claimed that the Kreilen had transmitted a neurovirus before it died. Did that mean that even now there was an infection slowly spreading through the ship?
Alicia found herself in two minds. Part of her shook with fear of contamination - and yet another part analysed the potential profit to be made out of this virus. Bacteriological warfare was still a boom industry.
A shadow fell over her. Alicia looked up into the face of Trau Osterberg, the Federation trade attaché. "Krau Newstead," he said, "we haven't seen very much of each other this trip. May I join you?"
Alicia smiled acquiescently. "Please." She didn't really want to speak to him, but she recognized the value of maintaining friendly relations with government officials - especially those who could effectively put her out of a job.
Osterberg eased himself into the next armchair. He was a tall and heavily built man, his brown hair drawn back and woven into the tight pigtail favoured by the rich and famous of Sirius. He wore a smart tunic, expensive but plain. "Was your trip to Canaxxa successful?" he enquired.
"I think so," replied Alicia. "I was only organizing an efficiency drive. We want to maximize production and distribution of duralinium ore."
"Well, I can't say it isn't needed," said Osterberg. He glanced around conspiratorially, and lowered his voice for dramatic effect. "Between you and me, the Federation Council is very worried about developments on the border. It could be that the Daleks are gearing up for war. So you see why it's vital the flow of duralinium doesn't slow down."
"The terrorist attacks haven't helped, of course."
"No, I suppose not. Still, if the situation becomes intolerable, the Federation will act. There are some things more important than cultural heritage."
Alicia smiled to herself. Osterberg didn't speak with the voice of the Council, but his interpretation of political reality was accurate enough. She'd been wrong in thinking that he held any power over her. Even if he discovered everything about the Canaxxan mining operation, there was little he could do to harm the Conglomerate. The Federation needed the duralinium urgently, and only the Sirius Conglomerate could get it - besides, real power had always been vested in the huge corporations, ever since the days of the first Earth colonies, over a thousand years ago.
She glanced over Osterberg's shoulder, and saw a junior officer appear in the doorway. She didn't recognize him, but she thought his uniform insignia denoted he was an engineer. Not the sort of person who should frequent a first class passenger lounge. Standards were obviously slipping. Alicia decided she would speak to the Captain about it.
Noblecourt signalled to the stewardess. From behind the doorway, he suddenly produced a gun, a small but powerful carbine, which he threw over to her. The stewardess caught it neatly, and spun round to cover Alicia and Osterberg, much to their combined surprise.
It had all happened so fast. But Osterberg was not slow to respond. He rose to his feet, and turned to the stewardess. "What is this?" he demanded harshly.
"Sit down please, Trau Osterberg." The stewardess gestured with her gun. "We have no desire to harm you."
"Better do as she says," whispered Alicia.
The attaché regained his seat, and turned to Alicia. The look on his face was not of puzzlement or shock, but anger. A man in his position didn't expect to be treated like this. Alicia felt pretty much the same.
Noblecourt came forward into the lounge, and they saw that he too was carrying a carbine. He stood before them. "If you co-operate," he announced, "there will be no problems. This ship is now under the control of the free people of Canaxxa."