Warcry of Hallatern
The Terminal Option
Second Officer Paluzzi hurried through second class. She was late for her watch. The Captain was a stickler for punctuality. Paluzzi had already been late once this week, and he'd given her an ear bashing over that. In fact, she was quite surprised he hadn't called from the bridge already to bawl her out. Never mind that she had been up half the night, issuing small arms to the crew and trying to get the communications systems fixed.
She hadn't been getting enough sleep lately. Twice now, she'd had to cover for MacBride when he failed to turn up for his watch on time. Did he get in trouble for it? Did he hell! The Captain was safely tucked up in bed by the time MacBride's watch started - he didn't know what went on.
Turning a corner, Paluzzi heard some sort of commotion going on ahead. She watched as a cabin door flew open, and a middle aged man fell to the floor of the corridor. She recognized him as a secretary to Trau Osterberg. She took a couple of steps towards him, to see what was going on. If a passenger was in distress, it was her duty to do something about it.
A man emerged from the cabin, in the white tunic of a steward. It was Escott, whose duties were in first class. He was out of place here, but more out of place was the high calibre carbine he carried. The security alert did not extend to stewards, and in any case Paluzzi had only issued pistols.
Escott hadn't seen her yet. He levelled his carbine at the man lying on the ground. "Now let's have no more trouble," he snapped. "Get up and move to the first class lounge."
The secretary's eyes flicked towards the second officer. Escott followed his gaze, and swung his carbine round to cover her.
But Paluzzi was already moving. She launched herself at Escott. He fired his gun, but the shot missed her. Fortunately, stewards did not receive weapons training. She hit him square in the chest and knocked him over before he could get off another shot.
Escott fell to the floor, his carbine clattering along the corridor. Paluzzi struck a blow to his temple, and rendered him unconscious. There was no time to ask questions. She drew her own sidearm, and moved along the corridor to pick up Escott's weapon. A quick examination revealed that its firing mechanism had been damaged when it hit the floor, rendering it useless.
Dropping the carbine, Paluzzi turned to the secretary, who was sitting up in a daze. "What's going on?" she demanded.
The man shook his head in confusion. "They're rounding up the passengers."
"Some of the officers. Stewards, quartermasters, I don't know. I managed to slip away, but he came after me."
"Why are they doing it?" asked Paluzzi.
"To hold us as hostages," said the secretary. "They're terrorists. They're working for the Canaxxans."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Well, that's what they told us," the secretary replied indignantly.
Paluzzi thought about it. The ship was being hijacked by its own crew. That would explain why she hadn't heard from the bridge. The Captain had probably been put out of action already.
"All right," she told the secretary, "you'd better find yourself some place to hide until it's all over."
He started to struggle to his feet. Paluzzi looked down at the
unconscious steward, and then hurried off along the corridor. Escott had
been with the Greyshadow for three years - not a man you expected to
turn traitor. She realized that she didn't know who she could trust. With
no word from the Captain, she had to assume he was dead or held prisoner -
which meant that, until she could locate MacBride, the ship was now her
Captain Berlitz looked round from the duty monitoring console. MacBride's pistol was still covering him. "Well," the Captain said, "that's your course laid in. We'll go sub-light in four minutes."
"Thank you, sir," said MacBride politely.
"Look, what's it all about?" Berlitz demanded. He took an angry pace towards his first officer. MacBride responded by raising his pistol further - the Captain backed down. "What do you want?"
"Justice," MacBride replied simply. "And a recognition of the plight of Canaxxa."
Berlitz raised his eyebrows incredulously. "What must they be paying you?" he muttered.
Turning back to the monitoring console, Berlitz scanned the instrument displays and said, "We're about to go sub-light. I'd better broadcast the passenger warning."
"Don't bother. I'll send them a personal greeting." Keeping his gun trained on the Captain, MacBride reached across to the intership communications relay, and switched on the directional microphone.
"Attention all passengers," he announced, the tinny echo of his voice reverberating distantly through the ship. "The Greyshadow is now under the control of the free people of Canaxxa. If you co-operate, you won't be harmed. Our intentions are not violent. First and second class passengers are being taken to the reception lounge. Third class passengers should remain in their cabins. Don't give us any trouble, and we'll leave you alone. The ship will be leaving hyperspace in three minutes, so prepare yourselves." He clicked off the microphone, and looked up at Berlitz. "Happy?"
"You won't get away with this," the Captain said determinedly. "As soon as Paluzzi hears that, she'll be organizing the crew against you."
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," said MacBride. "If Connie
gets out of hand, we'll start executing hostages. She'll soon see sense.
Besides, I don't think you realize how much support we have amongst the
With the sound of MacBride's announcement still ringing in her ears, Rhonwen hurried along the corridor. She'd been on the verge of entering the reception lounge when the message had come over the public address system. It hadn't seemed a good idea to enter the room where the hostages were being held - she didn't fancy joining their number.
She didn't really know what was going on, but it was obvious the ship was being hijacked. With the mention of Canaxxan involvement, she couldn't help but think of Johann Ryder. Had he known anything about this? He had told her that the Canaxxans needed to force the Federation to act on their behalf. Was this the way he meant to do it? By holding them to ransom? A ship with both Krau Newstead and the Federation trade attaché aboard was a powerful bargaining tool. And it might explain why Johann had been looking for Krau Newstead's files when he was killed.
Suddenly, Rhonwen felt uncontrollable forces pulling at her. The Greyshadow was coming out of hyperspace. Swaying unsteadily, Rhonwen stumbled towards the wall. She put out her hands to support herself, and screwed up her eyes against the pressure that seemed to be crushing her brain.
Then it was over. Rhonwen straightened up, and looked around. There was
still no one in sight. She decided to head back to the stateroom.
Hopefully, she would meet up with the Doctor there - if he hadn't been
caught by the hijackers.
A group of second class passengers was pushed stumbling along the corridor. There were five of them, three men and two women. They looked like minor officials of the Sirius Conglomerate or the trade delegation. Behind them were three members of the ship's crew, holding carbines levelled at their backs.
The group marched in the direction of the reception lounge. When they had rounded the next corner, the door of a storage cupboard opened, and the Doctor poked his head out. Satisfied that the coast was clear, he emerged and continued on his way to the Flamels' stateroom.
A hijack was the last thing he'd expected. But it did explain what Ryder had been up to. The Doctor could only reflect how badly timed it was. He needed to be able to move freely around the ship, if he was to find Vardek in time and stop the neurovirus from spreading - and a group of armed and desperate men was likely only to hinder him.
Reaching the Flamels' cabin, the Doctor opened the door, and walked straight in. The room was empty. Clearly it had been recently occupied. Some of the Flamels' belongings were scattered around the place, and items of their lugagge were on the floor. But there was no sign of the couple themselves, nor more importantly the kaprihal crystal. The Doctor needed it to deal with the neurovirus. He didn't actually have any idea what to do - but he imagined that by analysing the neural energy patterns of the Kreilen, as recorded in the crystal, he might be able to lash up something to neutralize it. At the moment, it was the only idea he had.
He had guessed that Nicolas would be using the crystal to create an antidote to his immortality, and rather foolishly supposed he would be doing it in his own cabin. Didn't it make more sense to conduct the experiment somewhere else, somewhere he wouldn't be found?
Angrily, the Doctor stormed out into the corridor, and started to stalk
back towards his own stateroom. Events were definitely conspiring against
Suspended in the mesh of the molecular alignment grid, the Philosopher's Stone turned to charcoal black. Nicolas turned off his laser beam, and stared at the crystal.
It was a crystal no longer. It was solid like stone, matt black. Light did not even reflect from its surface.
Nicolas turned and looked up at Perrenelle. "Caput mortuum," he said reverently. It was the so-called Dead Head, the blackening of the Philosopher's Stone which preceded the release of its powers. Two thousand years ago, they would have had to wait forty days for the completion of the alchemical process. Modern technology made it considerably quicker.
Taking a glass phial from his pocket, Nicolas went into the adjoining bathroom. He filled the phial with water, and sealed it with a plastic plug. Returning to the main room, he crouched beside the table as the first hints of red started to appear in the blackness of the Stone.
He fitted the phial into the molecular grid and stood back. The crystal had taken on a dull, reddish brown colour, like autumn leaves. Nicolas placed a hand on his wife's shoulder, and then felt her hand cover his own. He had no further doubts that they were doing the right thing.
A dazzling blaze of light burst from the crystal, illuminating the whole room. Then colour danced in the light, white and green and yellow, reminding Nicolas of a peacock's glorious feathers.
The colour faded, the dazzling light diminished, until just the Philosopher's Stone itself shone brilliant white. It was like the lamp of the lighthouse, piercing the gloom of a foggy night. They couldn't look directly into the crystal for fear of blinding themselves.
The light began to dim, and colour appeared in the Stone once more. It had reached the final stage of activation, and now glowed red. Nicolas walked over to the table, and removed the phial of water from the grid. He held it up.
"Is that it?" asked Perrenelle.
"Yes," said Nicolas. "The chemical messengers have been magnetically encoded into the water. Once we drink it, the ageing process should be reactivated."
Standing up, Perrenelle approached her husband. She placed her hand around his, so that they both touched the glass phial. "A cure for immortality," she said wonderingly. "How do we know it will work?"
"How did we know the Elixir would work?" Nicolas shrugged. "I sense it.
And the presence of the Doctor offers me hope. Our immortality was his gift
in the first place. Now he has given us the Stone again. Let's not doubt
Conrad was huddled in a corner, bound and gagged. Captain Berlitz still stood at the duty console, held at gunpoint by the assistant purser, a brown haired man in his mid thirties, called Mendelssohn. Previously, his record had been impeccable. He'd been with the Greyshadow for two years. The Captain found it increasingly hard to accept the facts of this hijack. Just how many of the crew had MacBride subverted?
Over his communicator, MacBride listened to Noblecourt's report. "We've got most of the second class passengers now."
"What about the first class?" MacBride asked.
"We're having more trouble finding them," replied Noblecourt.
"All right, keep at it." MacBride pressed a control on his communicator, and called another of his associates, the ship's fourth officer. At present she was standing guard on the small arms locker. "Tyler, take three men down to secure the engine room."
"Right," came the acknowledgement.
MacBride took a deep breath, and switched off his communicator. He was still waiting for a report from the quartermaster he had sent to search Krau Newstead's cabin for her data files. Securing them was the main reason for the hijacking.
"Why don't you give yourselves up?" called Captain Berlitz. "You haven't got a chance."
"I really think you're being over-optimistic, sir," MacBride replied casually. "We have everything under control." He tried to make it sound convincing, but the Captain knew the ship and the crew as well as he did. From the engine room, the power systems could be overloaded, life support to the bridge and command decks could be shut down - that was why he needed to know his men controlled it.
His plan had been to round up the rest of the crew before they could pose such a threat - but things hadn't gone quite as planned. The security alert had meant that the crew were armed and ready for trouble, and a large number of them had evaded capture.
As if reading his mind, the Captain went on, "I can tell you're scared. The crew will be preparing to fight back even as we speak."
"The crew are being held prisoner in the officer's lounge," MacBride replied.
"Some of them," said Berlitz dismissively. "You haven't got Paluzzi, and
I've heard nothing about Mitchum being captured either. And what about all
the engineers and technical crew?" He glared challengingly at his renegade
As he rounded a corner, the Doctor found himself suddenly grabbed and thrown against the wall. The wind was knocked out of him, but he managed to turn himself around to face his assailant. "Do you mind?" he said indignantly. "I've just had this suit pressed."
He stared straight into the muzzle of an automatic pistol. He raised his hands above his head. He was facing a tall, black haired woman, one of the ship's senior officers.
"Are you a hijacker too?" the Doctor asked resignedly.
"No," said the woman. "Are you?"
"Do I look like one?"
"Then what are you doing at large?"
"Trying to stay that way," the Doctor replied. He tried lowering his hands, and found that she did not object, although her gun did not waver. "You're the second officer, aren't you?" he asked.
"Paluzzi," she confirmed.
"Do you know what's going on?"
Paluzzi shook her head. "I haven't heard from the Captain," she said. "I can only assume they took the bridge first."
"It would seem logical," the Doctor replied. "A spaceship's like a chicken. Cut off the head, and the rest of it runs around aimlessly."
"Well, maybe I'm not prepared to do that just yet," said Paluzzi determinedly. "It looks like I'm responsible for the passengers and crew now."
"What about the first officer?"
"Didn't you hear the tannoy announcement? That was MacBride. He must be one of the hijackers. I never did like him."
"He could have been coerced into making the statement," suggested the Doctor.
"He didn't sound coerced," Paluzzi replied. "Anyway, in the absence of better information, I have to make that assumption." She glanced hurriedly up and down the corridor. "It looks like they've searched first and second class already. If you hide in one of the cabins, you'll be safe for the time being."
The Doctor nodded, although he had no intention of doing that. He started to move off, but turned back. "What are you going to do?" he asked.
"Organize some resistance," said Paluzzi. "Assuming I can find any of
the crew who are still loyal."
A dull pain in his head, like a lead weight pressing down, hindered Chief Brunner's attempt at recovery. He reached up and grabbed hold of the instrument panel, and used it to haul himself to his feet. Standing up seemed to make the pain worse, and he found himself swaying giddily.
Dimly, he was aware of the door opening. He turned round as quickly as he dared, thinking that Noblecourt might have returned. Memories of his assistant's sudden attack were starting to drift back to him.
A stranger was standing in the doorway. He was not a member of the crew. His manner of dress proclaimed he was a steerage passenger, one of the miners returning from his tour on Canaxxa. He had close cropped dark hair, almost a military style.
Brunner's head swam alarmingly. He winced against the pain, and looked up at the newcomer. Trying to muster what authority he could in his present state, he said, "This area is restricted, sir. Crew only."
He took a step forward, stumbled, and grabbed at the console for support. He missed it, and fell heavily to the floor. Looking over to the door, he saw that the miner was still standing there, watching him.
"I'm sorry," Brunner called. "Look, can you help me?"
The man came into the room, and took hold of Brunner under the arms, lifting him up almost effortlessly.
"Thanks," the chief said. "I'm sorry about this. I had a little problem with crew discipline."
The stranger had him tightly gripped by the shoulders. He suddenly swung Brunner round with immense strength, smashing him into the edge of the instrument console. Changing his grip, the assailant grabbed the engineer behind the neck and slammed his head hard into a computer display screen mounted on the wall. The screen shattered, sparks bursting from it. Brunner felt blood running down his face, before he lost consciousness.
Throwing the engineer's body to the ground, Vardek stood back and surveyed his work. An inferior being lay at his feet, an insignificance that dared to exist in the face of Hallatern's glory.
Crouching down, Vardek started to beat Brunner's head to a pulp. The insult would not be tolerated. Hallatern was supreme, and all her enemies would be vanquished.
After some minutes, he stood up again. Brunner was dead.
Vardek pressed his hands against his temples. It had been all too easy. He had killed the engineer without even a second thought. It had seemed the single most natural thing to do. The neurovirus was taking him over. It acted much faster than he had supposed.
There was little time to lose. He remembered why he had come here. Crossing to one of the instrument panels, he tried to access the ship's engineering files.
After a moment or two, he was studying deck plans. The ideal location soon presented itself. There was a narrow access shaft running from this control room above the ship's reactors. It led to a power transfer node, situated just forward of the first class section. There was a weakness in the ship's structure at that point. Several large rooms for first class use meant there was less bracing of the hull than in the other sections, with their smaller compartments. Vardek ran some simulations in his head. The inbuilt computer agreed with his analysis. It was the most practical place to set the terminal device.
He went to the far wall, and located the access hatch to the maintenance
shaft. He opened it, and hauled himself inside. The shaft was narrow, and
there was barely enough room to get his shoulders inside. Its sides were
smooth metal, and it was difficult to haul himself along. But he had to do
it. He had to complete this final act and destroy the threat of the Kreilen
forever. And he had to do it whilst he still had control over his actions.
Moving cautiously along the corridor, Rhonwen approached the final intersection before reaching the stateroom. She peered around the corner, but there didn't appear to be anyone in sight. The door to the stateroom was about thirty yards along the corridor. A feeling of relief swept over her. She had made it without running into any of the hijackers.
She was about to hurry the final distance, when a movement at the end of the corridor made her halt. A man had come around the far corner. He was a quartermaster, in his late twenties with dark hair, clad in a petty officer's uniform. He carried a carbine, held ready for use. Rhonwen didn't know whether he was a hijacker, or one of the crew working against them. She couldn't take the risk though.
Another flurry of movement at the far end of the corridor caught her attention, as the tweed clad shape of the Doctor came sauntering around the corner, as if he was out for a Sunday stroll. The quartermaster spun round, and covered him with his gun.
Raising his arms placatingly, the Doctor said, "It's all right. I'm on your side."
"Are you sure about that?" the quartermaster responded.
"Do I look like a hijacker?" asked the Doctor.
"No. You look like a hostage. You should be in the lounge with the others."
The Doctor sighed. "Oh dear," he said. "And I used to be such a good judge of character."
The quartermaster gestured along the corridor with his carbine. "Move!"
Resignedly, the Doctor moved past him and started towards the intersection where Rhonwen was hidden. Suddenly, he spun round and grabbed hold of the quartermaster's gun, forcing it down towards the floor. The hijacker struggled with him, and evidently pulled the trigger in the confusion. A bullet ricocheted off the metal floor. The Doctor threw a punch, which caught the quartermaster under the jaw, making him stagger back against the wall. Grabbing hold of his gun arm, the Doctor tried to wrest the carbine away from him.
Braced against the wall, the hijacker was able to maintain his balance. He lashed out with his free arm, and punched the Doctor hard in the stomach. The wind knocked out of him, the Doctor doubled over, and let go of the gun. His assailant brought the weapon to bear upon him once more, and held his aim unwaveringly.
He glared at the Doctor angrily. "That wasn't very clever," he snapped. "You're lucky I didn't kill you. But we don't want unnecessary bloodshed. Just behave yourself, and you won't get hurt."
The Doctor straightened up, and the quartermaster gestured along the corridor, this time with a jerk of his head. He didn't take his gun off the Doctor for a single instant. They started towards the corridor intersection, the hijacker keeping his weapon trained on the Doctor's back.
Rhonwen looked frantically around her for somewhere to hide. There was an alcove a short distance behind her, a vent for the air filtration system. Quickly, she darted along the corridor and slid herself inside it, pressing back into the shadow.
The Doctor and his captor walked past. The quartermaster was too intent upon guarding the Doctor to look around for anyone else at large. They disappeared along the corridor, and Rhonwen was left alone.
What was she to do? From the look of it, there were hijackers everywhere. She supposed she was lucky to have remained at large for so long. She didn't know how long she could continue to do so. It was obvious that she couldn't defeat the hijack single handed. But she had to do something to help the Doctor.
The only thing she could think of was to get help from somewhere else.
If she could find the radio room - or whatever the equivalent was on a
spaceship - she could send a distress signal. Emerging slowly from the
alcove, she peered along the corridor. There was no one in sight. She moved
off in the opposite direction to that in which the Doctor had been taken,
keeping alert for any sign of movement.
Paluzzi had made it as far as the officers' quarters, one deck below the bridge. So far she had run into no opposition. The corridor ahead was decorated simply, in tasteful white. Several doors on either side led to the cabins. For senior officers, the accommodations were about the equivalent of second class staterooms. All the real luxuries were reserved for first class passengers.
Paluzzi had no clear plan in mind. Her one idea was to rush onto the bridge and try to recapture it. But she didn't know how well it would be guarded. Logically, the hijackers would be certain to hold the bridge securely. Any heroics on her part would just be a suicide mission.
A door opened ahead, and a uniformed figure emerged, a pistol held casually in his hand. Paluzzi breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that it was Baigent, the fifth officer, who served on her watch.
He looked up and saw her, and instantly brought his gun round to bear upon her. Paluzzi cursed herself. She had known she couldn't trust anybody, but she'd let her guard drop upon seeing a familiar face.
She didn't pause to contemplate her error. Even as Baigent raised his gun, she dived to the floor, and rolled over, shouldering open one of the cabin doors. Bullets impacted on the deck behind her.
She slumped inside the doorway, which afforded her a little cover. She aimed her own pistol, and managed to get a shot off, which hit the floor at Baigent's feet. He jumped back a couple of paces.
There was a moment of stillness, then he called to her. "Now look, sir. I don't want to have to shoot you."
"Then throw down your gun," Paluzzi countered. But she knew there was no chance of that.
"I can't do that, sir," said Baigent. "We don't have to fight, you know. We have no quarrel with you. If you give yourself up, you won't come to any harm."
"And you know," replied Paluzzi, "I can't do that."
"Don't make it hard on yourself."
Ignoring this last comment, Paluzzi thought over her options. She could stay pinned down behind this door all day. Baigent might not want to kill her, but he could wound her the moment she broke cover.
She'd just have to risk it - she wasn't helping the ship by staying here. If she went straight for Baigent, and prayed that his reluctance to kill her was genuine, it might just give her a chance.
She manoeuvred herself into a crouching position, and launched herself out into the corridor, running at Baigent. He brought his pistol up quicker than she'd anticipated.
The bullet took her through the shoulder, bringing with it a pain like she was on fire. She was jerked back slightly, but her momentum carried her through. She smashed Baigent hard in the chest and knocked him flying.
She came down heavily on top of him, trying to jam her pistol under his chin to force him to surrender. But Baigent hadn't given up just yet. He brought his knee up into her stomach, and tried to push her away.
His own gun came up, aimed straight for her chest. Paluzzi didn't have time to argue. She threw herself to one side, unpinning Baigent, as his next shot missed her by inches. It seemed he had no qualms about trying to kill her, despite what he'd said. Even as he was turning on the floor to cover her, Paluzzi pulled her trigger, and shot him through the chest. Baigent slumped back, and his head lolled loosely. Blood bubbled and spluttered at his lips, and then he was still.
Paluzzi got quickly to her feet. She was in danger here, exposed. The hijackers on the bridge must have heard the exchange of fire. They would come to investigate. She had to get out of here.
She darted into the nearest alcove, and ripped the grille off the air
filtration vent. The metal shaft beyond was smooth and almost vertical, but
there were footholds fashioned into it for emergency maintenance. She'd
have to risk the climb, and hope she didn't wind up a bloody mess at the
bottom of the shaft. A plan was starting to form in her mind, which
required her to get to the engine control room.
The sound of gunfire had come to them from the deck below. From where he stood at the rear of the bridge, MacBride glanced briefly at Mendelssohn, who tightened his grip upon his weapon and kept it trained firmly on the Captain. If an attempt was going to be made to storm the bridge, they could hold it off by using Berlitz as a hostage.
The Captain raised an eyebrow, and lavished a smugly satisfied look upon his first officer. MacBride avoided his gaze and turned away. He knew there was a very real possibility that Paluzzi and Mitchum had got together and organized some resistance - he didn't need the Captain to remind him of the fact.
After a few minutes, the shooting stopped. MacBride tried to raise Baigent on his communicator, but there was no response.
"Oh dear," said Berlitz sarcastically. "It looks like things are starting to go wrong."
Through gritted teeth, MacBride replied, "It would be much easier, sir, if you spared us your comments."
"Touchy, aren't you?" the Captain retorted.
Ignoring the remark, MacBride turned to Mendelssohn. "I'm going to take a look. Guard him."
Keeping his eyes fixed firmly on Berlitz, Mendelssohn nodded.
MacBride turned and left the bridge. He walked along the corridor to the nearest lift, and took it down to the next deck.
He drew his sidearm as the lift came to a halt, and drew back behind the frame of the door, to give himself as much cover as possible. He wanted to be ready in case the door slid open to reveal someone armed and hostile.
The corridor appeared empty however. MacBride stepped cautiously from the lift, keeping alert for the slightest hint of movement. Any one of the cabin doors could conceal an ambush.
But he encountered no one. Baigent's body was lying on the floor, a bullet wound in his chest and a congealing trail of blood extending across his face from his open mouth. His eyes were staring and unseeing. There was no chance for him, but MacBride knelt to check his vital signs anyway - they only confirmed that Baigent was dead.
Getting up, MacBride looked up and down the corridor. It was deserted. "Had a busy day, haven't we, Constanzia?" he said aloud. He took out his communicator. "Tyler, come in."
There was no response. He tried again, but there was still nothing -
which meant the engine room was quite possibly in hostile hands.
He had reached the right place. Vardek lay back in the narrow metal shaft, and allowed himself a moment to relax. It was a mistake. A desire to kill came over him suddenly, quite unbidden. It was becoming harder to fight off the urges. At least crammed into this tight space, there was little harm he could do.
He concentrated his mind on the task in hand. He drew back the left sleeve of his jacket to expose his forearm. He dug in his fingernails just behind the wrist, and peeled back the layer of synthetic skin to reveal the plastic and metal surface of the bionic mechanism.
He touched a hidden release control. For a few seconds nothing happened. But then a panel slid open in the metal of his arm, grinding slowly for it had become worn with age. A recessed compartment was revealed, which contained a cylindrical metal device, about five inches long, held in place by magnetic grips.
Vardek lifted it clear and examined it carefully. As far as he could tell, the terminal device was still viable. Having carried it around inside his arm for eight thousand years, he had wondered whether it would still work. There was only one way he could make certain.
He reached out his hand, and punched a hole through the metal of the shaft above him. He activated the terminal device, and pushed it through the opening, lodging it inside the maze of cables and circuits that formed the power node.
Lying back, Vardek let his mind wander again. When the device exploded, it would almost certainly kill many of the inferior life forms, the enemies of Hallatern. He found himself laughing in gleeful anticipation of such a glorious result.
Then gritting his teeth, he beat his fists repeatedly against the metal sides of the shaft. The pain helped him to focus his mind. He had not become a Kreilen yet. He would fight the neurovirus for as long as he could.
He thought rationally about what he was doing. There would doubtless be loss of life when the terminal device exploded. He could do nothing about that. But he could not say for certain what effect the device would have. After eight thousand years, its power source had possibly corroded. He hoped that several sections of the ship would be destroyed. Perhaps the hull would even be broken in two. The sudden action of explosive decompression might cause the structure of the vessel to give way.
But more importantly, if he remained here, directly beneath the blast, he would be killed. That part of the Kreilen's soul that had possessed him would perish along with him.
No! What was he thinking of? If the ship were not completely destroyed,
people could be left alive. People who were enemies of Hallatern. People
therefore whom he had to kill. And the desire to kill filled him very
strongly. It was getting harder to control. One thing was certain. He did
not want to lie here and wait for the explosion. He needed to protect
himself, to survive as long as possible. It was his duty to kill those who
remained alive. Slowly, he started to haul himself back along the shaft.
The crewman guarding the end of the corridor put away his communicator. He glanced around him, and then walked to the nearest lift. He went inside, and the door shut behind him.
After a few moments, Flamel emerged from around the corner of the next intersection. He checked the corridor, then turned and called, "It's all right. He's gone."
Perrenelle stepped out to join him. "That was lucky," she said.
"It looks like he was called away in a hurry," Nicolas replied.
"Maybe their hijack isn't going according to plan."
Nicolas looked along the corridor. The walls were simply painted in plain white, and the closeness of the doors together indicated how small each cabin was. It wasn't pleasant to travel third class. He had been rich for so long that he couldn't remember what it was to go without.
"It's a good job they didn't want to round the steerage passengers up as well," he observed, "otherwise the place would be swarming with hijackers."
"I shouldn't think they could handle that many people," said Perrenelle. "All the hijackers we've seen looked like members of the crew."
Several times, they'd had to duck into alcoves and empty rooms to avoid being caught themselves. The announcement had said no one would be harmed. Whether they believed that or not, they wanted to be alone and together at this time. They had swallowed the preparation made from the Philosopher's Stone - it was a major turning point in their lives which they didn't feel like sharing with anybody.
"If they tell the steerage passengers to stay put, and have the odd guard moving around, they probably hope they can get away with it," Perrenelle added.
"Just as well," said Nicolas. He started to walk along the corridor. "It's this way, I think."
They hurried along the corridor, Nicolas casting worried glances continually behind them. He couldn't believe that they had come this far without being caught - surely such good fortune couldn't last forever? Perrenelle was supremely calm, and just took it all in her stride. Nothing ever seemed to perturb her. Even after two thousand years, he marvelled at her calmness, and tried to draw inspiration from it.
They passed through two of the ship's pressure compartments - the slots in the walls and ceiling showed where the airtight bulkheads could be moved into place in the event of the hull being punctured.
Eventually, they arrived at the far end of the corridor, where a door led to the observation deck. This was a far cry from the spectacular dome in first class, with its sumptious fittings. Simple windows were set into the chamber's plain metal walls, and the only seating was in the form of metal benches. There was no one inside, all the steerage passengers presumably obeying the edict to stay in their cabins.
Nicolas went to one of the windows, and looked out at the stars. Perrenelle joined him, and he placed his arm around her shoulders. "Do you think our destiny is written there?" she asked.
"No," Nicolas smiled. "I stopped believing that a long time ago. Besides, the constellations are different out here. How would you draw up a horoscope?"
"What do you think will happen to us?"
Nicolas turned his head to regard his wife's visage. For the first time, she sounded uncertain. It had been her determination that had taken them along this course to its conclusion. It was a little too late to start having second thoughts now. He tried to reassure her. "I foresee happy years of retirement for us, my beloved. A few final trips to the Galaxy's pleasure spots. Then we'll find ourselves some nice planet and settle down for the last few years."
"Maybe we can live a normal life then," said Perrenelle. "Make a few friends, and have proper relationships with them. That's what I really miss."
Nicolas nodded. None of their acquaintances had ever lasted more than a few years. They had to continually break them off and move somewhere else, because any new friend would soon notice that they hadn't aged - and it wasn't possible to explain their secret. The lack of social interaction made them feel increasingly like outsiders. "Yes," he said, "we can have friends again. We can rejoin the human race. Once we're settled in one place, there are so many things we can do. I've always wanted to plant a garden. And maybe I'll write my memoirs."
"What alchemy did for me, by Nicolas Flamel," laughed Perrenelle. Then she frowned. "All assuming we survive this hijacking."
"I live in hope," Nicolas replied. "I always have."
The door of the reception lounge opened, and the Doctor was pushed half stumbling inside, the quartermaster's carbine at his back. He regained his balance, and looked around the room. There were about ten second class passengers, huddled together in small groups. Some of them were talking in low murmuring voices, but the majority were silent. The guns of Noblecourt and the stewardess were still trained upon them.
The quartermaster, one eye kept warily on the Doctor, walked over to Noblecourt and started to converse with him in a low voice.
The Doctor spotted Alicia and Trau Osterberg, sitting nervously in the centre of the room. He walked over to them, and sat down on an available chair. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"They haven't harmed us," said Alicia. "They say they don't want bloodshed."
"Well, let's hope they mean it." The Doctor took another look around the lounge.
"Where's Krau Jones?" Alicia asked.
"Not here, fortunately," the Doctor replied. He'd seen her at the end of the corridor when he bumped into the quartermaster, so he'd done everything possible to occupy the hijacker's attention - allowing Rhonwen the chance to get away without being seen. "I hope she's found somewhere to hide, and doesn't try anything heroic."
But, as he considered it, he realized that was precisely the kind of thing Rhonwen would do. Even if she was scared, she wasn't the sort to crawl into a corner and hide. She would face her fear, and do something about it. Whatever she was up to, he just hoped she was being careful about it.
"There's no sign of the people from your dinner table either," Alicia remarked to Osterberg.
"The Flamels," he replied. "Seemed quite a nice couple. A bit distant, but friendly and polite. I do hope they're all right."
"I'm sure they will be," said the Doctor.
Alicia smiled apologetically. "I should be doing the introductions. Unless of course, you already know each other."
"No," said Osterberg. "Should we?"
"Well, in your position, I just thought..." Alicia shrugged. "You see, Trau Smith is an investigator."
"Of sorts," the Doctor commented.
"Which department sent you?" asked the attaché.
"I'm not at liberty to disclose that," said the Doctor firmly. Hopefully that would stave off unwelcome questions. He wondered how Krau Newstead had formed her impression of him. Maybe there was something of the dogged detective about him - or perhaps the hunter. Rat catcher maybe, he reflected with a smile.
Osterberg was looking warily at the three hijackers. "I wish we knew what they wanted," he said.
"It's something to do with Canaxxa," Alicia replied.
"I imagine they want to stop the mining," the Doctor speculated. "Either that or limit it. Or maybe the Canaxxan people just want a share."
"What would they do with that sort of money?" asked Alicia. "What would they do with all that duralinium, for that matter? They've got no use for it. They're little more than savages."
"Like Ryder?" retorted the Doctor.
"Well," said Alicia, ignoring the remark, "what I don't understand is how these crewmen got involved. What could the situation on Canaxxa mean to them?"
"Maybe they're like Ryder."
Alicia thought about it for a moment, and then her eyes widened in surprise.
"Well, you didn't think he was an isolated example, did you?" the Doctor continued. "A Canaxxan who gets himself a Sirian education, who lives among you as a member of your society? How likely is that? No, there must be many of them. It seems like part of a carefully orchestrated plan."
"But what does it all mean?" asked Osterberg.
"I don't think Canaxxa is as primitive as you believe. There must have
been a division in their society some time in the past, perhaps when the
Kreilens overran the planet. One group clung to their civilization,
determined to see it reborn one day. The others reverted to barbarism.
Until now, you've only seen the second group, the savages. The civilized
Canaxxans have been waiting behind the scenes for the chance to claim back
their heritage. I suspect that their plans have been brought forward by the
exploitation of their world's resources. It all adds up. First Ryder steals
the files, and now this."
The door of the purser's office was shut. On the wall opposite, just where Rhonwen remembered it, was a computer display of the ship's deck plan. She moved across to it, and pressed the touch panels. After a few moments, she worked out how to operate it, and called up the communications room.
It flashed on the deck plan. Rhonwen was relieved to find she was already on the correct deck. The room was several compartments further forward. If she could make it there undetected, she could send a distress signal, and perhaps attract the attention of other passing spaceships.
She looked around her once more. Twice, she'd had to hide from members of the crew. Whether they were hijackers or not, she couldn't tell - but they all carried guns, and she couldn't take the risk. There was no one around now. She started to hurry along the corridor, towards the forward compartments.
Her plan was pretty vague, but at least it felt like she was doing
something. After that, perhaps there was some way she could rescue the
Doctor. She didn't know how, but she knew she had to try.
Vardek settled down in a corner of the engine control room. The battered body of Chief Brunner lay awkwardly on the floor. He couldn't bring himself to look at it. It was not that he was squeamish about death. He had seen too much of it in his time, indeed he had killed many times in order to further his mission. But the killing of the engineer was a pointless murder - in this case, the end did not justify the means.
Vardek doubted that the engineer would be his only victim. He could not control the effects of the neurovirus - for the time being at least, he could still fight against it, but the desire to exterminate the enemies of Hallatern loomed large on the horizon of his thoughts. The virus was breaking down the interface between the computer and his brain, making it much harder to suppress emotions.
He should have stayed in the access shaft, to die in the explosion of the terminal device. But he had dragged himself out. The Kreilen had made him do that. He was the host of its soul, the instrument of its murderous intent, and the Kreilen would not allow him to perish. Vardek felt oppressed. He was little more than a spectator to the conflict of the impulses vying for supremacy inside him. He could only hope that the terminal device would cause enough damage to wreck the ship, and kill him in the process. But deep down, he knew that was unlikely.
He heard the door slide open. Lifting his head, he saw a blonde female officer being thrust into the room, followed by three crewmen. Behind them came several other crewmen, with pistols trained at their backs. The four prisoners were made to kneel on the floor, their hands on their heads. Vardek realized that he had become caught up in the hijacking of the ship. He found himself seized with a desire to kill all the newcomers, but that was no good. They were heavily armed, and could easily kill him. No, he would have to bide his time. Vardek groaned, and tried to force such thoughts from his mind. In despair, he realized he had even inherited deviousness from the Kreilen.
What did he care if he was killed now? If they gunned him down, they would be doing him a favour.
The armed crewmen appeared to be led by an officer, a large man with a square head and heavy features. Vardek thought he was the ship's purser. The officer looked down at him for a few moments, then turned his attention to the chief engineer's body. He swung round angrily to face the kneeling prisoners. "What happened to no unnecessary bloodshed, Tyler?" he demanded.
The captive officer looked up at him defiantly. "We didn't do that."
"You don't expect me to believe that, do you?"
"We were still on our way down here when you overpowered us," said Tyler. "We hadn't even been near the engine room."
Mitchum frowned, and turned again to look at Vardek. "Are you hurt, sir?" he asked kindly.
Vardek said nothing.
Mitchum smiled reassuringly. "It's all right. We're not hijackers. We caught this lot in the corridor outside." He gestured towards Tyler and the other prisoners. "I suppose you were hiding in here to avoid them."
Vardek nodded. His alibi was being supplied for him, so why should he object? "That's right," he said slowly.
"I don't suppose you saw them kill the chief?"
"No. He was like that when I got here. I thought I would be safe in here."
"You will be now," said Mitchum. "Just relax, and we'll take care of everything."
"Now look," shouted Tyler, "it's quite obvious we didn't kill Brunner. How could we have killed him if this man was in here and never saw anything? Like I said, you caught us before we got here."
"All right," Mitchum responded, "so Noblecourt did it. It doesn't really matter to me. The fact remains that you're pirates and traitors."
He turned away dismissively, and started to examine the control panels. "Damn," he muttered, "I really needed the chief's help with this. It's no wonder you took him out first. He was the one person who could cripple this ship."
He looked towards the group of crewmen under his command, who stood inside the doorway. He had managed to gather together a band of ten after the hijack had started, mostly maintenance staff from the lower decks, some quartermasters, and the two communications officers. The hijackers seemed to have got everyone else. It was obvious MacBride was in charge of things, and he didn't know about Paluzzi. As far as Mitchum was concerned, he was the senior officer at the moment.
He signalled a couple of the technical crew to join him. They at least could make some sense of the ship's power distribution system. "Let's see if we can isolate the bridge," he said.
Vardek stayed huddled in his corner as they worked, turning his face
away. Feigning fright meant he would be overlooked for the time being. He
particularly didn't want the two communications officers to recognize him -
that would seriously jeopardize his safety. He needed to remain as
inconspicuous as possible, until he was in a better position to kill these
inferior life forms.
The Doctor took out his watch once more, studied the face intently, then put it back into his waistcoat pocket. He looked at Noblecourt and the stewardess, still holding their carbines trained upon the prisoners and watching the room nervously.
Alicia said, "You seem very concerned about the time, Doctor."
"I'm trying to calculate how long it would take for the neuroviral infection to spread," the Doctor replied, without looking up.
Suppressing a shudder at the thought of contamination, Alicia asked, "Are you sure it's serious?"
"Yes, very. Unless the virus is contained, we'll have a ship full of fanatics regarding each other as the enemy."
"I though we already had that," muttered Trau Osterberg, nodding towards the hijackers.
"Well, at least they're not violent fanatics," said the Doctor. "But that's what the neurovirus will cause. An unreasoning desire to kill everyone else."
"I don't understand," said Alicia. "You said this virus was projected as neural energy by the Kreilen. But human beings don't have that sort of mental apparatus, do they? How could they spread the disease?"
"Oh, it's much cleverer than that. The virus infects the pituitary gland with a chemical substance, that reacts violently with the pituitrin hormone. The chemical energy released by the reaction is converted into neural energy, and that makes you a transmitter. Believe me, Hallatern's geneticists thought of everything."
Alicia nodded. The military applications were enormous, and the profits that could be made from it immense. Although the Kreilen was badly damaged, something could possibly be salvaged from it - maybe even the secret of longevity. Whatever, the remains of the Kreilen were safely stored away in a cryogenic freezer. On the other hand, this neurovirus was walking around somewhere on the ship, waiting to spread. Slowly she asked, "Do you know who the virus has infected?"
"Oh yes," said the Doctor. "Vardek."
"That scruffy looking man who helped you hunt for the Kreilen?"
"The same. It must have infected him around eight hours ago. There can't be much time left."
"Well, surely we have to find him," said Alicia.
"I agree," murmured the Doctor. "Unfortunately, I don't think our hosts will quite understand the urgency of our situation." He glanced up at Noblecourt and the stewardess.
"Their political activism isn't going to get them very far if we all wind up dead," said Alicia.
"Well, perhaps you'd like to be the one to tell them that," the Doctor invited.
Alicia acknowledged the sarcasm with a bittersweet smile. "So what do we do?"
"Look," put in Trau Osterberg, "I haven't a clue what you two are talking about, but it sounds serious. Perhaps if I tried to distract the guards, you might be able to get away."
"We'd have to be quick," said Alicia. She didn't fancy getting a bullet in the back because she hadn't run fast enough.
"I don't like it," said the Doctor. "They'd be likely to just start executing the other hostages."
"Well, we can't just sit here."
"No, we can't." He stared down gloomily at his shoes, as if deep in
thought. "All right," he muttered. "Maybe this will work."
Rhonwen moved forward through the final corridor section. She had made it. The door up ahead had to lead to the communications room. She started to hurry towards it.
A white clad figure suddenly appeared in the doorway. Rhonwen tried to duck to one side, pressing herself up against the wall. She had thought her luck was too good to be true. There was no doorway to dive into here, very little cover at all. It would be a miracle if she wasn't spotted. She doubted she could even make a run for it without being shot.
The figure started to come towards her. It was no good. The best thing was probably to surrender, and hope they were serious about not wanting bloodshed. She looked round into the face of Escott, the first class steward. She breathed a sigh of relief. Did that mean this part of the ship was in friendly hands?
Then she saw his carbine, and caught her breath.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. "You should have been caught with the others."
Rhonwen's heart sank. "So, you're one of the hijackers as well?"
"We are freedom fighters," said Escott. "I have lived my entire life for this, as have generations of my ancestors before me. Believe me, we mean you and the others no harm. You are not our enemies. If you co-operate with us, we will see you remain safe."
He sounded sincere, at least. Rhonwen tried smiling sympathetically. "Look, you don't have to worry about me. I'm on your side."
"Of course you are," said Escott sceptically.
"It's true. Johann Ryder was a friend of mine. Remember, you saw us together on the observation deck. He told me all about Canaxxa. I agree with everything you stand for. It's a crime what the miners are doing to it. You've every right to be angry."
She saw Escott frown, and his determination seemed to waver. Keep talking, she told herself. You can get away with this.
"You don't have to imprison me, you see," she went on. "Just let me be. I won't get in your way."
For a moment, she thought she'd carried it off. But then Escott gestured
back along the corridor with his gun. "I wish I believed you," he said.
"And if you do mean it, you'll understand why I have to do this. Now,
please turn around."
MacBride listened to the voice of the quartermaster over his communicator. "I've turned Krau Newstead's cabin upside down. If the files are here, I can't find them."
MacBride closed his eyes in a moment of dismay. When he opened them, the situation didn't look any better. He was aware of Captain Berlitz watching him like a hawk. He couldn't afford to let his control slip. Raising his communicator once more, he said, "Are you quite sure?"
"Yes," replied the quartermaster. "There's nothing here."
"All right," said MacBride, thinking quickly. "She must have them on her person."
"Are you sure she didn't deposit them in the purser's safe?" asked the quartermaster.
"No, I checked that." MacBride came to a decision. "Get to the first
class lounge. I'll tell Noblecourt to search Krau Newstead."
Suddenly, the Doctor leapt to his feet, and walked quickly to the far side of the lounge, stopping near the door to the dining saloon.
His sudden action took everyone by surprise, but Noblecourt was not slow to respond. He swung his carbine round to cover the Doctor, and shouted, "What do you think you're doing?"
"I've got cramp," the Doctor replied. "What do you expect if you make us sit still for hours?"
Following the Doctor's lead, Alicia stood up. "Yes," she said. "These are terrible conditions. You won't do your cause any good if you mistreat us."
Noblecourt and the stewardess moved their guns uncertainly between the two of them. The Doctor hoped they wouldn't get too worked up and start shooting. If his theory was right, they wanted Alicia alive to expose the Sirius Conglomerate's strip mining of Canaxxa. However, he personally was probably considered expendable. It wouldn't do to push his luck. The Doctor felt a little better as Alicia came and stood beside him at the door of the dining saloon - hopefully, the aura of sanctuary around her would also extend to him.
Then Osterberg stood up as well. "Now, be reasonable," he suggested amiably. "I'm sure your demands will get a fair hearing if you treat us well. It's bound to weigh in your favour." He started walking towards Noblecourt. "At least open up the dining saloon, and let us move around a bit."
Noblecourt turned his carbine determinedly on the Doctor. Clearly, Osterberg was considered an important hostage as well, and Noblecourt couldn't risk harming him. On the other hand, he might well choose to make an example of the Doctor.
"No," Noblecourt declared. "We can keep an eye on you all in here. I'm
sorry if it's uncomfortable, but it won't be for much longer." He looked at
Alicia and the Doctor, an angry look in his eyes. "Now, please come and sit
down," he snarled. His gun was trained firmly on the Doctor. "Don't make me
Several decks below them, rammed into the centre of the power node,
Vardek's terminal device reached the end of its activation cycle. Its
detonator slammed into position.
The rumble of an explosion came from somewhere below them. The Greyshadow rocked violently to one side. Everyone in the lounge was thrown off balance. The stewardess fell to the floor, dropping her carbine.
Osterberg scrambled forward and tried to grab hold of it. He stumbled, falling flat on his face, but his hand closed around the butt of the gun. Noblecourt turned away from the Doctor and Alicia and staggered round to cover the attaché with his carbine - and the Doctor immediately slammed the control to open the door of the dining saloon.
The floor of the lounge erupted in flame, fragments of metal bursting upwards and tearing through the carpet. The shards tore the stewardess's body to pieces, before she was engulfed in the fire. Osterberg disappeared into the conflagration, falling screaming through the hole in the deck. A piece of metal sliced through Noblecourt's sleeve and forearm, spattering blood over his tunic. He fell sideways and landed awkwardly. But he kept hold of his carbine.
The Doctor pushed Alicia through into the dining saloon. On the other side of the lounge, the second class passengers had got the door open, and those who weren't too shocked to move were streaming out into the corridor.
Noblecourt ignored them. He turned his gun on the figure of the Doctor and fired. The Doctor threw himself flat onto the floor. The bullets bounced off the wall above his head. The tables and chairs were aflame, but they were between him and Noblecourt, blocking the engineer's view of him.
A strange groaning sound reached the Doctor's ears, even through the noise of the fire. He doubted whether anyone else could detect it. He glanced across the room, and saw the far wall starting to bulge alarmingly outwards. The structure of the ship's hull was giving way. Beyond was the vacuum of space.
With a sound like the cry of a wounded animal, metal buckled and tore, and suddenly a rent appeared in the wall, opening the ship to space. A rushing wind sped through the lounge, as the atmosphere raced out through the gap. Every loose object was carried with the escaping air, bottles, glasses, serviettes, books and papers, spewing out through the opening.
Several of the second class passengers were pulled from their feet and sucked out through the gaping hole in the wall. Noblecourt was picked clear up from the floor, and flew across the room. He was smashed against the side of the rent, and tried to grab hold of the fractured metal to save himself. The torn edge of the hull was razor sharp, and cut into his fingers, scraping the skin clean off as he was dragged out into space.
The Doctor had clutched the edge of the door frame for dear life, as he was lifted from the ground by the rush of air. Only the grip of his fingers kept him anchored. But the pull of the decompression was too strong, and he felt himself starting to slip.